restoring the function

August 30, 2005 | 12 Comments

I come from a tradition that is all about restoring the New Testament church. For this very reason, we like to call ourselves the Restoration Movement. The movement came out of a desire to strip away all of the muck that built up around denominations over the years, and to simply try to be like the church was in the New Testament. Its a great concept, but as I sat in my church history class last week, it occurred to me that it is the wrong one.

The very nature of the church is not the form it takes, but the function it has. At its elemental level, the church is completely organic and without form. It exists for the sake of it’s purpose, not for the sake of its institution. It is a continuation of the work that Jesus started, and it’s function is to teach people what it means to follow Jesus and live within the Kingdom of God. As Lee Camp said, in yet another quote from Mere Discipleship: Typically, many interpret Acts 2 as an account of the “birth” of “the church,” a fair enough interpretation to a great extent. But the assembly of people described there only continues the story of Jesus’ ministry.

This does not mean that the church should be without form, but it does mean that the form the church takes is for the purpose of continuing it’s function in whatever cultural setting it is in. We very much see that, in the first few chapters of Acts, the church was about the relationships that people had, and the apostles passing along what Jesus had taught. However, in Acts 6, we see the church formalizing for the first time. There was a problem with the way food was being distributed. The apostles new that there was more going on than they could care for, so they formally appointed people to care for this issue.

This is the first instance of the church creating structure, and it was in response to what the church was facing within the culture. As history goes on, we see that everytime the church institutes different forms, they are in response to what is happening around the church. In order to respond to heresy, bishops were appointed to designate who truly carried on the work of the apostles. The canon of the Scriptures was formed because heretics were trying to say other books had equal authority.

What does this mean for us today? Is it wrong for the church to exist as an institution? Should the church only exist as underground cell groups. Absolutely not, although that is one way it can exist as well. The church began to form itself to help it pursue it’s mission from the very start. However, we must always remember that any forming that the church does is so that it can best pursue the mission and function of the church within the culture it is in.

I find great freedom in this. Rather than critique how others do church, let’s just evaluate ourselves. Let deeply look at how we do things today that are a result of forms the church has taken, and not a result of us wanting to BE the church in our culture. Lets continue to look at how we can restore what it means to be a follower of Jesus today, and how we can assemble together in pursuit of that.

  • so well put. John you often, and much more elopuantly, articulate the very thoughts and concepts i am thinking through but cant seem to get words around. Thank you for your post brother.

  • I’m not sure what elopuant is, but it sounds like something I want to be!

  • I’m not sure John — elopuant, I’ve heard they have a cream for that.

  • Andy

    Good stuff. I agree wholeheartedly.

  • evaluating ourselves is very good. do you think there is a point where you should evaluate or critique another model? ie Luther?

  • Jamie,
    Luther was in a different setting than we are. The Catholic church of the time was very corrupt, but also the only church in existance in that part of the world. They claimed that outside of the Catholic church, none could have salvation.

    That being said, I do think ongoing reform is needed at times when handled with as much respect and love as possible. However, I think our best tool is too explore how we can best live out the mission of Christ/function of the church, and invite others along with us.

  • yeah it was supposed to be eloquant… i guess i cant use the excuse of two keys being right next to each other on this one. I just mispelled it.

  • jonwren

    indeed – lots of times we’d rather critique what others are doing instead of wrestling through what we in our own ministry community are doing. the kingdom is big and there is room for lots of different takes and initiatives on how to accomplish the continuation of christ’s ministry. although i would have to say that any church with a waterslide is definitely above any reproach.

  • Hedrick

    you are smart, I are dumb

  • All right, that’s it.

    I’m taking away your Lookout and Christian Standard magazine subscription away until you say twelve “Hail Barton Stones”.

  • Great post! Keep up the good thinking.

  • jonwren

    its Barton W Stone!!!