Re-Discovering The Church

Rediscovering The Church

Campbell Campbell-Jack

The Word spoken by God in Christ is undoubtedly modified by the church, and not for the better.’           Jacques Ellul

The Politics of God and the Politics of Man p.98


The problems which confront Christians today are to a significant extent caused by those distortions in the life of the church which are inevitable when the institutional church takes precedence over the organic church. Numerous Christians are in a position similar to that of many outside the church, searching for greater spiritual reality and effectiveness in life, and finding in the institutional church a form and structure which stifles and inhibits growth. This short essay is a plea for a recovery of the realisation of the foundational importance of the local fellowship1 whatever ecclesiastical and institutional structure we choose to employ, if the church is to function as the living and growing people of God. Everything which hinders the development of the lives and functions of the people of Cod is destructive of the peace of the church.

Our Present Situation

Our civilisation is in a turmoil of competing ideologies in which there is no clear voice heard. In our post-modern world any overarching concept of unity has disappeared and we find ourselves in a splintering and increasingly intolerant world motivated by the competing ideologies of self-interest We are surrounded by the symptoms of decay and a disintegrating society, and within this situation the institutional church functions as a bolt-hole from reality. If we consider that there are thousands of Christian congregations in Scotland, that there are well over a million members of Christian churches, that Christians are present in the decision making levels of law, politics, education, finance and industry and yet in Scotland there is poverty, homelessness, despair and addiction, then we must conclude that the church is dead, or at best anaesthetised, to the pain and bewilderment of the lost and hungry, to the corruption and violence of a world in which it has been placed as salt and light. In the midst of this society the church is declining in numbers, influence and effectiveness and the main items on its agenda are survival and coping strategies. The witness of the church is mostly to itself, reassuring those inside that there is, within the institutionalised cult, a place of refuge and shelter in which we can be safe from the realities of the world and the radical call of the gospel.

The Local Fellowship

The local fellowship is the church. In the history of the church the movement from local fellowships of believers to widespread denominational or national church structures is too often the story of growing institutional power and declining spiritual reality, of growing influence in the kingdoms of this world and declining influence of the kingdom of Cod. Whenever we begin to design structures to help the people of God to be the people of God we must be aware of the inherent tendency of the structures to create a life and dynamic of their own which can distort the true life of the church, the servant too easily becomes a dictator. Today the institutionally established traditions are so powerful that they have distorted and stifled the life of the church.

Within such institutional structures the focus of our Christian activity is drawn away from prayer, devotion and the mutual ministry of encouragement in the midst of the fellowship, and instead becomes centred upon the servicing of bureaucratic structures. Courts, committees and central planning absorb incredible amounts of thought, energy, resources and time, and deflect the church from confronting unbelief where it is found, on our doorstep in the communities in which we live. An example of this distorting tendency is the ecumenical movement where money, time and energy is spent in devising structures to encompass institutional rapprochement Councils and committees have been created, conferences and congresses called, most of which have had almost no impact whatsoever at local level. Genuine ecumenical activity does take place, however, where individuals and congregations find agreement at a basic level in Christ and, ignoring their institutional structures, act upon that basic agreement in joint outreach, prayer, Bible study and praise.

Underlying and reinforcing the increasing Christian irrelevance of the denomination is the fact that our attention and activity becomes focused upon the church as an institution and drawn away from the reality of the church as a living organism. This gives rise to the ascendancy of the ecclesiastical politician and power broker, whilst meanwhile the church is denied an active part in its own life. In the institutional churches in Scotland we have a situation where the organic church exists to serve the needs of the institutional church; the people of God exist to fill pews, pay ministers, secure buildings, and maintain a power base for influencing other structures in the state and ecclesiastical organisations. In effect the church is disenfranchised and has become a meek gathering of hewers of wood and drawers of water for our spiritual superiors. We must come to a fresh realisation of the simple truth that the Bible is more concerned with people who are oppressed by religious institutions than it is to promote such institutions.

Unless we recover a fresh picture of the church more in accord with the Scriptural image of the body of Christ, who resisted the satanic temptation to employ earthly power, we face a future of growing frustration in the church, declining spiritual reality and increasing irrelevance to the world. We have the promise that God will not leave himself without a witness, we don’t have a promise that we will automatically be that witness. At various times the churches of Turkey and North Africa were vibrant, faithful and fruitful, today they are a remnant living a harried life in the midst of a spiritual desert There is no guarantee in Scripture that God will continue to tolerate a lifeless church in Scotland.

We have already become a church which doesn’t look for life from God, is even suspicious and afraid of it breaking in to our corporate life. Too often we readily embrace an ersatz church life, substituting neighbourly kindness for Christian love; formal worship for deep praise from the heart; routine prayer for wrestling with God; social friendliness for Christian fellowship; routine offerings for sacrificial service in time and giving; doctrinal orthodoxy for listening to God. We may be at a point where if we do not seek renewal and revival now there will be nothing left to revive for a succeeding generation.

The institution should always be subject to the Word and should define its vision and structures according to the Word. If the church is to be the church, the people who are gathered by and listen to God, then the Word must be free to do its transforming work. This means that the Word must not remain the province and occupation of a coterie of religious specialists. The Word must become the book of a people who trust completely that God has worked in the past and continues today to lead his people.

The Whole Church

In the New Testament the church is the ecclesia the ‘called out ones’ the congregation.2 This corporate life is embodied in and focused upon a fellowship of people called together by Christ for worship, fellowship and service. The entire congregation is called to these tasks, and being called is equipped. Each one is given gifts ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up’ Eph 4:12. These gifts from God are given to the entire fellowship through each individual member 1 Cor 12:4-7. According to Scripture we do not merely have an equipped ministry of the ordained, ministers and elders, we have an equipped ministry of the entire fellowship of Christ This ministry may not be trained or employed, but it exists, neglected and abused.

The church is the local fellowship of believers. As broken and hurting women and men gather together at the call of Christ and actualise the Spirit born faith which is theirs we find Christ active and healing. We are commanded to gather together in order to encourage one another Heb 10:25 this is not the task of one person up at the front, it is the privilege of the whole body. We have substituted the ministry of a group of self-appointed priests for the corporate ministry of God-called believers.

Nature of the Gifts

It is not only in the court of the Mikado that people like making little lists. The systematising impulse which seeks to formulate lists of types of gifts or evaluate the precise nature of the gifts tends to lose sight of the fundamental nature and purpose of the gifts of Cod as the equipping of the entire church with whatever is needed to build up the body. The mentions of gifts in the epistles were recognitions of what was actually occurring in the church rather than a defining closure of categories. Can we continue, like some, to restrict spiritual gifts to those listed in passages such as 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4 and Romans 12? Whilst such incautious use of charisma can lead positively to the empowerment of some, it can also result in the disenfranchisement of others who do not possess the gift of ‘tongues’ or ‘healing or ‘teaching or any other apparently supernatural gift. Any list can lead to a hierarchy, perhaps this is why the three sets of lists in the above passages are incomplete and marvellously unsystematised.

The word charisma literally means a gift of charis which denotes Cod’s unmerited love to us. In the New Testament we do not find this word restricted to the ‘gifts’ usually listed in charismatic writings. Apart from 1 Peter 4:10 the word is exclusively Pauline and is used in a variety of contexts. The most important use of charisma is in Romans 5:15,16 where it is used of God’s gift of eternal life. The fruits of the mutual fellowship which Paul expected to result from his visit to Rome Romans 1:11 are termed charisma. Other gifts of grace include marriage, or celibacy 1 Corinthians 7:7. There are also those gifts which we might consider beyond the normal such as healing, tongues or exorcism. The way in which Paul makes no distinction between so-called ‘common’ and ‘supernatural gifts in Romans 12:6-8 would indicate that he saw no ultimate theological difference between them no matter how much they might differ as forms of activity. These gifts, such as tongues, miraculous powers and healing which can also be found outside the church, are blessings when they are received as the activity of God amongst his people and function in building up the body of Christ Employed as personal activities outwith the context of building up the fellowship they become curses. After telling the Corinthian church to long for the best gifts, Paul, in the next verse, begins his great hymn of love 1 Corinthians 13 in which he speaks of the ‘most excellent way.’

The Word of Cod knows nothing of the disastrous split between realms of nature and grace which we perpetuate. The ‘natural’ abilities are charismata when they are received humbly and devoted to the service of the Lord in the building up of his people in fellowship. Someone translates Scripture into an indigenous language and thus builds up the body of Christ, is this the gift of ‘tongues’ or of ‘teaching? No, but the translator’s ability is a gift from God, a charisma, which has been honed and put to service as an offering to God. The charismatic gifts are the gifts of God’s love toward us and are to be exercised within the context of love. They begin with redemption and go on to include the heightening of qualities or conditions already present in us, such as administration, marriage or celibacy, or teaching, as well as the special endowments we tend to regard as ‘spiritual’ gifts.

All Christians are charismatics, men and women who have received from Cod the wonder of his love and who live in response to that love by actualizing Christ’s presence in their lives and fellowship. Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus that Christ came and preached peace to them Ephesians 2:17. How could he do that? Through the mouth of Paul and others who had been equipped with gifts for preaching and teaching. Paul speaks of ‘what Christ has accomplished through me’ Romans 15:18. We can say that when other Christians bring us understanding, encouragement, help, healing or supply of our needs in any way, that Christ himself is ministering to us through his body. The ministry of Christ is the activity of all Christians. We are the body of Christ, his eyes, ears, hands, and feet, none claiming greater honour than others, all functioning together in accepting fellowship.

The Identity of the Church

Our church life at present, even in supposedly Reformed churches where we pay lip service to the priesthood of all believers, is focused upon concepts of power, with their consequent exclusions. In Reformed circles we speak of the ‘marks’ of the church, true preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments and godly discipline. These supposed distinctives which mark a true church from a false church all focus on the activity and decision making power of a group of self-appointed men who exercise control over the people of Cod; the church itself is seen as passive, it is preached to, it receives the sacraments, it is disciplined. Too often our Reformed theology is understood in terms of power and decree, and this shapes our understanding of God, the life of our congregations and our attitudes to others and ourselves. Yet surely the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners puts an end to religion as power and opens up the possibility of knowing God as the God of grace in the midst of a loving and mutually accepting fellowship.

As we look at Scripture we find other activities of the whole church which clearly mark it out in the world as a distinctive sign from God. Where we find the people of God worshipping the Lord, not restricted by rigid obedience to a code but expressing with a fullness of heart and will their self-dedication to the Lord, there we find the church ‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and truth’ John 4:23,24. The unity for which Christ prayed in John 18:23 is a measure of our reality as the body of Christ ‘until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ Ephesians 4:13. The church is the church when it acts as salt and light in a world which needs preserving from corruption and to see the light of God. When the people of God live in such a way that people ‘see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’ Matthew 5:16 there we find the church.

The activity of the entire people of God in worship, fellowship and service are ‘marks’ of the church. It is the present task of the church to break through the strait-jacket of rigid tradition and the structures which it supports to re-discover the church in Scripture and in the reality of our existing fellowships as the men, women and children of Christ in a given place live to God’s glory, and in doing so draw others to Christ The reality of the church is not found in the activity of a small group of men, it is found in the reality of the fellowship functioning as Christ’s people.

Making our Theology Live

Sharing and service, encouragement and sympathy cannot be limited to a couple of short periods on a Sunday where attention is focused through the words and activities of one man, rather it becomes the activity and life of a people living together in love throughout the week. The church must be more than a spiritual club peripheral to the daily lives of its members, a pietistic hobby or spiritual comfort blanket, the people of God hunger for more than that.

To recover the reality of the ministry of the entire church we must recover the concept that the dynamic point of the life of the church is the local fellowship small enough for all the members to know and minister to each other, to share their corporate life in Christ in a way which has meaning and purpose and to fulfil the potential riches of the corporate gifts we share in each other. We can do this through taking our theological heritage seriously.


Justification by faith, which places our lives firmly within the context of grace and proclaims we are all equal before a loving Father, is destructive of any notion of religious hierarchy or bondage and domination and creates freedom in fellowship. We are all in exactly the same place and called to the same service.

Leadership within the church is not a matter of authority over the people of God but of service under God and from within the fellowship of the people of God. This means that leaders cannot hold decision making in their own hands but rather make a contribution from their God-given skills to the collegiate decision making of the entire fellowship gathered by the Spirit around Christ Decision making cannot legitimately be left in the hands of a self-perpetuating spiritual oligarchy, rather it must become the shared responsibility of all of God’s people who make full use of the gifts God has given the church through the members of the body.

We see in the life of Christ the true leadership which is appropriate for the life of the church. This is not the weak leadership of authority imposed and obedience demanded, rather it is the strong leadership of service offered. The paradigm for leadership in the church is the Christ who knelt before his followers and washed their feet In warning his disciples against the type of authority employed in the world where leaders lord it over others Jesus told us ‘But you are not to be like that Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves’ Luke 22:26.

We see here that leadership in the church is not to be understood as the occupation of a post or position but as the fulfilment of a function of service. Scripture speaks of elders/bishops, of overseers, of leaders, but it does not speak of the authority of these people as residing in their official status within the cultic institution. Rather the authority which such leaders have is the authority coming from the recognition and willing reception given by the fellowship to the gifts given to them by God through the humble service of such leaders. The humility of such leaders is not the arrogant humility of the self-conscious cleric, but the genuine humility of the slave of Christ and servant of the fellowship.

‘Specialist’ Ministries

The ‘clergy’ must be integrated within the congregation. The pastor is a member of the fellowship and on this basis is called to a position of service within the fellowship. The very fact that specialised tasks exist within the fellowship is based upon the presupposition that there is a common calling of service for every member. The specialised task of the priest is grounded in the universal priesthood of all believers. The specialised task of the pastor is based upon the task of every Christian to bear the burdens of the brethren. The specialised task of the teacher is based upon the hunger for all to grow in personal understanding of the Word. The specialised task of the evangelist is based upon the task of every Christian to share the good news. Specialised ministries are justified only if they do not disrupt or inhibit the calling of the local community of Christ to be a centre of worship, fellowship and service. Specialised ministries must always function to facilitate the fulfilment of the common ministry of the fellowship. Ultimately the Christian community is a charismatic community, feeding upon and using the Spirit given gifts of all to the glory of God in furthering the life and service of the fellowship.

As a theologian this applies in the exercise of my gifts. Theology is not to be understood as a fixed table of beliefs which demands a sufficient number of ticks before we are accepted into the institutional structure as member, deacon, elder, minister or colleague. We who are called to be theologians or teachers must recover the idea that our theology is our exploration and understanding of Scripture which grows out of our life as part of the fellowship and which is placed at the service of the individual and corporate life of Christ’s people. The theologian is not the servant of the ecclesiastical structure, or of the university or of the academic community; ultimately the servant of God, he or she is proximately the servant of the local assembly of believers and has a duty to make clear how the doctrines of the faith impact on our lives and to share it with our brothers and sisters in the catholic church. Important as it is the acid test for the theologian is not academic peer review but spiritual peer review.

Proclamation and Evangelism

If the proclamation of the gospel is understood to be the sole province of ordained preachers and theologians the whole Christian adventure becomes authoritarian and rather pretentious. Such an understanding results in the silence of the congregation. If the messianic age began with the announcement of the good news then all who are Christ’s must be engaged in telling forth the new future which is ours, that God is reclaiming his entire creation. When we look at Acts we find the story of a community which looked forward and embodied the story ‘until he comes.’ How well do our congregations embody the eschatological hope which is ours in Christ? Is our common life a sacramental showing forth of his body and blood until he comes, or is it a cowed gathering around a priestly figure? Do we look inward or outward?

A hierarchical structure within the Church militates against the very task of the Church. Christ came to bring good news to the poor, healing to the sick, liberty to the captive. Can we embody this calling in a structure based upon or reflecting worldly concepts of power and authority? In a world which is divided into rich and poor, young and old, black and white, male and female, good and bad, the kingdom of God can only be demonstrated through willing acceptance of Christ’s clear identification with those who are exploited, despised and persecuted. Christ’s mission began by identifying with and reaching a hand out and bringing good news to the oppressed Luke 4:16-21. This mission which is now the vocation of the body of Christ upon earth can only be hindered if we try to actualise it from within institutions based upon worldly concepts of law, authority and power. Christ’s kingdom is only present where it is first present for the poor, the sick, the sinner, not as objects of pity but as objects of love and recognition of worth.

Only a charismatic community conscious of its Cod-derived powers and tasks can overcome the clergy-laity gap within the church. Only the accepting love of such a fellowship can provide an alternative to the gaps we create in an increasingly fragmented society. Only in its own Spirit led life can it overcome the alienation which is the hallmark of our society and of the institutional churches which conform to our society. The church can present a hope for the future only in as much as it embodies a healing alternative to the estrangement within society.

The liberty of the gospel emerges not through force and authoritarian demand but through invitation and pleading. Evangelism must be freed from either reliance on social pleading as in a gospel of prosperity, or from apocalyptic threats of hell and eternal punishment Such evangelising robs the gospel of the grace and liberating power which frees people to live true lives. Instead it creates and perpetuates a faith based on selfish concern and fear, a faith which demeans individuals and lampoons God. Such evangelism is pagan, the god it proclaims is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who reaches out in grace to embrace the unlovely. If we are not enraptured by the beauty, goodness and purity of God we are not Christians.

The gospel is only present when it is first of all present for the broken. Structures cannot heal and bind up, organisational hierarchies cannot comfort and encourage. The ‘courts’ of the church cannot incarnate the living body of Christ upon earth. Only broken women and men living in accepting unity around Jesus can show his life. The mission of the church can only be undertaken by the local fellowship of Christ living as the body of Christ in the midst of tine world.

A radical diaconal and an apostolic revolution go hand in hand. Most people converted have been initially touched, not by intellectual argument or emotional appeal, but by the living reality of the body of Christ evidenced in some form of local fellowship. The life of the fellowship proclaims the gospel of Christ and is in its very existence a powerful form of evangelism and showing forth of Christ. Our Lord commands us to be salt and light in the world and in doing so be the light which cannot be hidden. We are to Jet our ‘light shine before men for a purpose, so ‘that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16. The very existence of a local fellowship of Christ living together in a relationship of accepting love and acting in the community as salt and light is a potent proclamation of Christ

Life from the Fellowship

The criticisms of our churches roughly outlined above are I believe relevant and daunting, but not irremediable. The task facing Christians in Scotland today is the rediscovery of the church in the midst of the hungering fellowship. Building the living reality of our hope of the church is not impossible.

The first step towards recovery is to acknowledge our own sin. To look only at the institutional church, see its fault and to proclaim loudly its blemishes is to indulge in pharisaical superciliousness. We must acknowledge that if the structures and life of our churches have become corrupted we are not free of responsibility. None involved have clean hands. We have stood by silent and prayerless, we have supported the distortions, we have accepted the spiritual arrogance which hands down dicta from on high. We have gone so far as to choose to identify ourselves and lend our support to ecclesiastical organisations knowing them to be corrupted. A weak and ineffective, and at times corrupt church exists because we have allowed it to. To point the finger at others is inappropriate and self-serving unless we acknowledge our own part in the process. We must recognise and sorrow over our own responsibility in allowing this to happen.

The next step toward recovery is to live the remedy. If we see the present situation as one where the institution distorts the life of the church we cannot change this by an institutional assault upon the institution. This would be to become that which we reject. We do not try to stem a flood by playing a fire hose upon it If the church is the fellowship of believers the way ahead is to begin living that fellowship and actualizing it before the world. What we look for is a grass-roots diaconal and apostolic revolution within the church. Before the church can begin to practice true Christian service towards others it must be within itself a truly caring community. Either we are such a community or we are no community of Christ Unless we are a community of Christ we will never shine like lights in a dark world and draw all eyes to the Saviour of the world.

Some suggest that we await a sign from God before we act. If we resolutely close our eyes to the clear signs which God has already given us in Scripture and in the state of the church today it is highly unlikely that God is going to give further revelation. Jesus has already answered such a request for a sign, ‘This is a wicked generation. It asks for miraculous signs, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.’ Luke 11:29. Neither can we wait for a plan to be worked out by our ‘leaders’ and handed down from on high. A legislative programme for action can only be presented in principle, and demands conformity to a hierarchy.

Concretely positive and innovative alternatives on the other hand can only fruitfully develop in the context of action within the creative tension and loving acceptance of a fellowship. What we choose to term prudent wisdom in our present situation is actually irresponsibility born of fear. To tolerate the intolerable, to bear the unbearable, to permit to endure what is clearly perverted, is to sin.

The traditions to which we cling and processes we have developed must be reviewed and challenged in a truly radical fashion if we are ever to claim the title ‘church’ again. We must learn to come to terms with basic problems once more. Instead of reading our Bibles and viewing our church and society through the tinted spectacles of our comfortable structures and traditions we must approach the demands of the gospel unshielded by the numbing effects of ecclesiastical familiarity. Our only guarantee of efficacy is our nonconformity.

Core Communities of Christ

The situation which we face today in all the Scottish churches is not one to be met by the wholesale replacement of structures or their abandonment altogether. In Scotland we commonly see one group of Presbyterians break away from their denomination in order to find spiritual freedom only to set up a replica of the structures which they left. The reality of the fellowship which nurtures and attracts is the positive alternative to either uncomfortable and grudging acceptance of the present situation or the splintering nihilism of independency. We look towards the creative response of the development of core communities of Christians within the present denominational structures.

We have to undertake the painful and difficult task of examining our foundational beliefs and relationships. This demands that we strip away the accumulated weight of generations of tradition and emotional attachment and ask fundamental questions such as: What lies at the heart of our faith? Is it our physical posture at prayer or the words we sing? Could it be the buildings in which we worship? Possibly it is our mode of administering and celebrating the sacraments? Could it be the structure of our church government? Or is it a humble relationship with Christ Jesus which listens to the distinctives of the Christian life in his Word; love of God and of our fellow sinners wherever they are found, unity in the family of Christ, and holy living in dependence on the Spirit? If it is the latter we will find ourselves asking where our core relationships lie. Are we closer to those who share our ecclesiastical stance or to those who share the spiritual direction of our lives?

Where the institution functions in its proper and necessary role, that of serving the organic church, it should be accepted and utilised as being a valid structure. Where the institution shows itself to be irrelevant to the living fellowship it should be bypassed. At present confrontation with the institution should be avoided, wherever possible, in favour of the creative, exciting and joyful alternative of re-discovering the church in the midst of the living fellowship of Christ Within the structures and congregations where we are nurtured and live out our lives as God’s people we will find ourselves in close fellowship with some. To nurture these relationships of faith and love which already exist is our primary response to that which would straitjacket love and frog-march it along the corridors of the institution.

We must make the radical choice of living in accepting love with those who share our hopes in Christ so that we can share that hope with others. We will find our vision of a pilgrim church exploring life with Christ is shared by others in our fellowships and in all the denominations of Scotland. We will find that the fellowships created by such an exploration will, as Christ promised, lead others to the praise of the Father. This is the radical choice, going to the root of our faith and letting it live. The violent choice is to accept what at present exists, this choice will destroy the church and leave the people of Scotland without hope in the midst of a society which is fragmenting.


The gospel is in itself radical. This means that when the comfortable find our work or desires acceptable they are either deaf to our voice or, more likely, we are mumbling the claims of Christ There does, unfortunately, exist a clear voice in the church, a voice of violence. This voice cries ‘peace’ where there is no peace, it has a tone which insists on remaining detached and calm in the face of the distortions of Christian fellowship prevalent in our institutions. To resist the exposure of wounds deep within the psyche of the church because of the hurt it may cause is a cruel denial of the hurt that is there already.

In our present situation the great advantage of those of us who are yearning for something more in our church life is that we are weak. The God who was Incarnate and shared and defined our life is one who embraced weakness. The only starting point we have is from a base of powerlessness. This is the difficult and dangerous starting point from which anything of real and lasting worth has emerged, 1 Cor. 1:26-31. We are thrown on to the life of other faltering believers in appreciation and dependency, we are thrown on to the grace of the God whose strength is made perfect in our weakness. Our great weapons are love of the fellowship and prayerful dependence upon God. How can these fail? Even if we do not actualise the vision here and now the attempt to reach out is to choose to live with Christ. The action itself carries its own validity.

1                      It is apparent that Calvin only understood two instances of the church; the church universal spread throughout the earth, and the local fellowship of believers. The same is true for his contemporary Savaronola in Florence. This view was undoubtedly shaped by the medieval world-view in which the city-state was the norm. All culture influences our hermeneutic, this should not blind us to the recognition that it was also more true to Scripture.

2                 Only fifty years after the Reformation we find in Jacobean England the translators of the AV discovering 115 instances of ekklesia in the NT and translating it ‘church’ 112 times and ‘assembly’ 3 times. The strong nation-state with its centralising tendency had arrived and the institution of the church was more politically correct and useful than the assemblage of believers which is the better translation of ekklesia or ‘called out ones.

10 thoughts on “Re-Discovering The Church


  2. I have read the writing..much is being said, an awful lot to take on board. I very much believe in the priesthood of all believers. There is nothing more wonderful than in encouraging others in faith..seeing them grow in faith and because of that seek to ask God where they can serve and in what manner of serving. Many see what is wrong with the church and because of that can be blinded in hearing God’s call that they serve where God has placed them. It can often be easier to be negative rather than positive as we look to the life of the Church. Negativity itself can be a great stumbling block to the life of the church and most certainly the devil delights when and where he sees it. Whereas positivity gives the opportunity of growth..and that the devil most fears.. I understand it can be hard to feel positive what you at times feel is a hopeless situation in church life. Feeling the lack of spirituality around you. I say yes, it is hard, but I also say if that is where God has placed you, you must believe there is a real reason that He needs your faith and person in that place. The key being able to serve in His name is, that you serve in humility and love. Bitterness and blame cause disunity….whereas christian love is the key

  3. Interesting, but the polemics against the bureaucracy of current Church leadership and the ‘one man at the front’ were not adequately answered by suggestions of practical alternatives. Attending an independent evangelical Church led by elders, I was looking for some ideas to help foster fellowship and service but am sorry to say I didn’t find any. I can say from experience that the involvement of the whole Church in decision making, which you seem to suggest at one point, is not the answer. For myself, I am extremely thankful for godly pastors, teachers, elders and deacons that have been graciously given to us and without whom the Churches would be in an even greater mess than they are.

    1. Thanks for your critique, with which I agree in part. The post is a critique of the current situation in most mainstream denominations which, like all bureaucracies, tends to become fossilised and self preserving. In no way did I intend to deny the existence, or downplay the importance, of godly people in leadership positions. However, the institutional church has to re-learn that it is not ‘the Church’ and that its purpose it to facilitate the work of the organic church. Perhaps the means of doing this would be the subject of a further post.

  4. I hope you attempt a further post. Even within a single, local independent evangelical Church, the organic Church as you describe it may in fact be a sub-set of the Sunday congregation. Hence, how do you establish the ‘organic Church?’ Or do you treat the congregation as the ‘organic Church’? If you adopt the latter, then you may well find that the dominant personalities – those with the confidence that arises from success in the secular sphere – create a mini bureaucracy, and the more humble and sometimes more spiritual are left on the fringes. Sorry to be verbose and difficult but bureaucracies can thrive even at micro level. Best wishes!

  5. I have to agree with so many points you have made and I thank you for the attempt to refocus upon the essential nature of the Church. I am sorry you did not grasp the thorny issue of baptising unbelievers, admitting those without faith into membership, the Church/State relationship. All producers of the things you mourn, all components of Presbyterian systems.

    1. You are right to point out the dangers of indiscriminate baptism which gives many the illusion that they are Christians merely because they have passed through a religious rite. This, however, is a problem for churches of all denomination,s including Baptist churches where baptism can be a familial rite of passage. For the early church baptism was the end of a long process of education in the faith and examination of life, not an open door to the beginning of a process.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s