His Church or Ours?

We (I am assuming that the reader agrees with me) profess that the Church is the spiritual body of Christ. Christ is the head, who gives leadership and each believer serves him as an integral member of the body. So much for the doctrinal aspect. Now comes the difficult part: If this is true, then why do we have more than one church? Why does every individual church denomination or local body of believers, organized or not* have its own set of rules, regulations, constitution and bylaws, doctrinal statement or covenant? Why is there a membership list? Why do we have church leaders? Before you rip up this paper and trash it, please be kind enough to hear me out. I am not an opponent of the above mentioned things, but just want to get you thinking.

The obvious answer to my questions is that what the Bible describes as the church of Jesus Christ and what we call the church of Jesus Christ are not one and the same thing, nor can they be. Christ sees his church as it really is, but we know the church only for what we perceive it to be.

I would appeal to every believer to recognize that there are many human elements in our local churches and denominations. These are not necessarily wrong, but must be interpreted by spiritually endowed Christians and carefully formulated in order to be understood by less experienced or less spiritual Christians (some aspects even by the secular world!). To neglect this can lead to spiritualizing of that which is profane, equating it with scriptural truth. A church’s name, it’s rules and regulations, constitution and bylaws, membership lists etc. can be quite helpful in eliminating long debates which distract from the church’s main purpose; in situations where church discipline is necessary; where an abbreviated formulation is needed or helpful, and in helping new believers. These human concepts must be periodically and carefully scrutinized in the light of scriptures and sometimes reformulated, updated, changed, replaced or even eliminated. Some criteria in this process are as follows:

New enlightenment: Sometimes, a ruling or statement was formulated by persons who misunderstood the Scriptures or a specific situation Ex.: A church may have required a certain form of baptism for membership, which it no longer sees as scriptural.

Clarification: Ex.: A church has been growing, and recently voted to start two Sunday morning worship services. A trustee who openly stated his preference for building expansion, called the vote unconstitutional, because the latter stated that the church shall always have two Sunday services. Another business meeting had to be called to determine the original intent of those who drew up the constitution.

Response to new situations: Ex.: Statement of position regarding LGBT, certain movements, trends or fashions.

New or different emphasis, program or philosophy: Ex.: A downtown church may find that its outreach must be more evangelistic and include social work among the impoverished lower classes.

There are Christians, who attempt to be the body of Christ here on earth without any further definition. They reject names, membership lists and claim that the Bible is their only rule book. This sounds great on the surface, but there are great difficulties in implementing the concept. Because Christians are not purely spirit beings, membership of the body must take a physical form. Whether that form is one person or a thousand, it includes physical characteristics that in no way are representative of the body of Christ as defined in the New Testament. What each Christian is, has, does, says and thinks is part of the person and thus part of the group. If we so much as admit that one member of the body is in any way imperfect, then our contention that we are the body of Christ can be called into question.

All such groups that I am familiar with are extremely exclusive by nature and have difficulty fellowshipping with anyone outside their group. They also tend to be extremely legalistic and rudimentary - more structured and exactly defined than the churches they criticize.

Instead of accepting God’s Word “Without me you can do nothing” (Jesus in John 15:5), it is the church which tells God "Without me you can do nothing!"

The Scriptures are full of reminders that each and every person needs to be personally responsible to God. Each of us is accountable for his own actions and relationship to God. But all Christians must be collectively accountable to God and each other for the church’s actions, non-actions, relationships and non-relationships. When our Lord taught us to pray, he began with the words, “Our Father”.

Ralph V Harvey