As the discussion of ecclesiomethodology has unfolded over the past few months, a number of problems have been identified and discussed. Among these problems are lack of or stunted Christian growth, “worshiptainment” (that’s a good word that Steve coined) replacing genuine praise and worship, biblical ignorance, misunderstood and misapplied roles of leadership and probably several more that I am not listing here. If you think of one that I haven’t listed, feel free to add it to the rest.
These are legitimate concerns, please do not think that I am not giving them the attention they deserve. Anyone who thinks that I am overlooking these problems need only dig through the archives of some of the blogs I mentioned yesterday (especially Steve’s) and they will find that I have already stipulated the existence of these problems. So I see no need to revisit them in their details at this point.
There are two considerations that I would like to suggest before I progress any further.
First, I would suggest that, serious though these problems may be, they are but symptoms of a larger and deeper problem within the church.
Second, while these problems are certainly present in the traditional church model, could it be that they are not inherent to that model, but are so visible in that setting only because (until recently, at least) the traditional model has been the only game in town?
Church “systems” are, I believe, a product of the evolution of the church within its culture. Look at history and you will see the impact that culture had on the way that church was “done”. Persecution of the early church caused its dispersal around the civilized world of that time. The persecution by the Roman Empire literally drove the church underground. The politicizing and corruption of the medieval church gave birth to the Reformation, etc., etc.
Even in our time, if you look around the world you will see how geography, economics, political tensions, persecution and a host of other factors impact the way that church is carried out in various cultures. Believers may meet under a tree in the Sudan, in a house in China, in a hut in the South Pacific, in ancient buildings in Europe or in modern facilities in Western settings. I believe that this suggests that ecclesiomethodology is a fluid concept, not bound by rigid mandates of scripture, but a liberty given by God to adapt to the best way of letting us demonstrate the graces of God.
In whatever form the church has appeared, there have been problems. Every “system” has had its strengths as well as its weaknesses. Like forms of government their effectiveness is largely based upon the abilities of the people who administer them (I know, the church has a spiritual source of power, I am coming to that.). Monarchy can be a good thing, if you have a good monarch. Democracy is wonderful until elected officials become corrupted (are we there yet?). Some would even argue the merits of socialism, yet history is full of examples of the abusiveness of that form of government when it is in the hands of greedy leaders.
My point is, every church “system” is a method that is developed by flawed people. The problems that each system experiences are not a result of the structure, but are a reflection of the tensions between what the church ought to be and our sinful human nature (Romans 7:14-25).
So what then? Is the church just to limp along in its humanity, limited to the abilities of its members? Not at all. It is the body of Christ. We have a spiritual head that is able to compensate for and overcome our weaknesses. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to carry out the legitimate functions of the body. We have the gifts and grace of God to strengthen one another and complement the individuality of each member.
Why then do we still have problems?
I believe the source of the problems as well as the solution is identified in the warning to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7. The Ephesian church was characterized by their work, their labors for others, their patience, their separation from worldliness, their doctrinal purity and their steadfastness. Sounds like a pretty good church doesn’t it? And yet we find they are chastised because they have departed from their love for Christ.
When the church, regardless of its format, is motivated by anything other than passion for Christ, its methods are doomed to failure. When we fail to obey the Great Commandment, we lose our connection to the source that guarantees our success. We become guilty of committing the most satanic of sins, pride.
Consider the difference that passion or Christ makes. If the Word of God is presented, whether in a sermon or around a table of fellowship, a heart that is in love with Christ will benefit from it. When music, drama or any other art form is presented by one who is truly performing as an act of worship, Christ will be glorified and it will cease to be entertainment. When leaders are motivated to serve others because of their love for Christ, abuses of leadership will not take place.
Christ is the foundation of the building, He is the husband of the bride, He is the head of the body. Whatever analogy you choose to use to describe Christ’s relationship with the church, it all comes down to this, the church’s first priority is to worship Christ Jesus. The church is about Him, not us. It is not about our needs, frustrations, hurts, or any other human factor. We are called to worship Him with all that we are.
I believe that the overall effectiveness of the body in fulfilling this priority is determined by the willingness of individual members to comply with God’s command to love Him. I have a personal responsibility to each of you as fellow-members to worship Christ.
For the sake of the body, let us look beyond our problems, our methods, our preferences, yes even beyond our ideals and return to our first love.