Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I'm Stuck

Much of what I believe and teach hinges upon the reality of the Body of Christ, His Church. We are defined in Colossians 1:18a, "And he is the head of the body, the church," and 1:24b, "...his body's sake, which is the church." The word "church" in Greek is Ekklesia and it has but two meanings in the New Testament: church (115 uses)or assembly (3 uses). The Greek Lexicon basically defines this as a group of people gathered together in a particular place. This is where I get stuck.

An entire doctrine known as the local church has been built around this word and its definition. The doctrine focuses on the place of the church rather than the people. The people are a matter of fact but the place is what has significance. Additional portions of the doctrine include church authority, leadership, discipline, sacraments, gifts, and so on.

My position is just the opposite. The locality of the church is insignificant to the people. Without people, the church simply does not exist. This is a matter of existential precedence. God's churches happen to be wherever God's people happen to be. And simply because we live and die, so do church locations.

But there are other reasons why churches come into and go out of existence. The Book of Revelation keenly describes seven specific churches. The church at Sardis was warned in Revelation 3:5, "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." God is not addressing a place but a people. Places have no place in the Lamb's Book of Life.

Well I could go on and on with examples from both sides of the argument. But it seems to be that the folks on the "place" side of the argument consistently bring in one argument, "my church" or "my denomination". They base their argument of doctrine upon the rightness of their organization, theology, statement of belief, catechism, or some other place-oriented thing.

What I find troubling with this approach is that it is contrary to Biblical authority because it attempts to supercede Biblical teaching. I have yet to read an argument from anyone, even respected teachers, who does not in the same paragraph associate the authority of his words with his particular church/denomination organization. Yet in the very same paragraph or adjacent, he will also emphatically state that we must all nevertheless accept what we believe is "most Biblical". Well folks, you just can't have it both ways.

So what I am really looking for is a dissertation of Biblical teaching on this subject. I could care less what organization it comes from and would prefer not to know that particular bias. We have made entirely too much show of our church facades and this has ultimately shadowed the true beauty of the Church Body, its people.

1 comment:

Kim said...

I'll be interested to read whatever you learn and study on this subject. I recall growing up thinking "baptist is the best," because I was raised in a Baptist Church. I actually do attend a Baptist Church now, but for years I was a member of a non-denominational church. I liked not having a label attached to my faith. Even now when someone asks me what religion I am, I cringe, because I do not want to be defined by a label, but by my faith. Unfortunately, sometimes labels are a necessary evil. For example, I am an American. I am a Pittsburgher, I am a Christian...wait, aren't we ALL Christians? Well, depends on who you ask, and how you define the term. It used to be (and often still is) that denominations were defined by doctrinal beliefs. Yes, we as believers around the world are the body of Christ--the CHURCH. The question is, WHO are the true members of the Church? There are both true and false followers of Christ in every denomination. To what extent do reach across the denominational barriers?

Case in point: Bob Jones University (where I went to school) has been at odds with Billy Graham's ministry ever since Graham began to ally himself with other faiths, receiving interfaith support and allowing those of other faiths on his executive committee. The university's stance was that if these members of the committee rejected major tenets of Christian doctrine (i.e. virgin birth, deity of Christ), Graham was blatantly disregarding 2 John 9-11 which speaks of those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ, and how believers should not be joined with them. They went so far as to insist that students not attend the crusade when it came to Greenville, SC in 1966. Rather harsh and counterproductive, to say the least, but I can understand where BJU was coming from.

When does reaching across denominational boundaries become ecumenism? I have Catholic friends, but do not believe in many of the Catholic doctrines. I can't believe that the Lord would want me to part company with these people who love the Lord and have strong faith. So how do we balance our desire to honor the Lord with our desire to fellowship with other denominations of the Christian persuasion, even if we don't agree on certain doctrines that are crucial to salvation?