What is the purpose of the Church, anyhow? What is it we are supposed to be doing?
Israel was supposed to be an example nation. It was supposed to be the shining light for all. The Church should be the same.
It should be evident that the Church does need to be organized in some manner. God is not in favor of chaos (1Co 14:33), and certainly church services should be orderly (v 40). Paul certainly felt that there were occasions for organizing to fulfill a specific purpose (1Co 16:1-4).
However, Christ also means freedom (1Co 7:22; 9:1; Gal 4:26; et al). Freedom is not freedom when someone else’s will is imposed upon you.
I want to present to you the following evidence:
1. God calls for repentance. He does not force someone to repent, but rather holds the individual responsible for his or her actions and attitudes.
2. While Paul made it evident that the Church has some authority (2Co 1:23), he also made it abundantly clear that the Church is there to assist one in the faith rather than dominate over it (v 24).
3. God did not force Adam and Eve to choose either of the two trees in the Garden of Eden, but rather He allowed them to make their own choice in their own time.
4. James and John desired special power and privilege to be granted to them (Mk 10:36-37). However, Jesus’ reply was that it is the gentiles, not Christians, who exercise overt control and oppress others (vv 42-45).
The freedom of a Christian comes not from the oppression of God’s Law upon the Christian, but from the Christian voluntarily submitting to it. One thing that comes through time and time again is that a Christian is to be in control of himself or herself. The Book of Judges is full of examples of a severe lack of control, both self control and governmental control. A bishop is charged to be “temperate” (Tit 1:8). Temperance is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
So, to say that a Church should not exercise any control is wrong, but to say that the Church should dictate every detail in a member’s life is just as wrong.
So, what is the “godly” or “biblical” model for organizing the Church? The honest truth is that it does not say. There is no command that “Thou shalt obey the Pastor General” or that “Thou shalt have a council that convenes every year”. It just doe not exist! Any attempts to justify particular forms of church government by the Scripture invariably lead to reading into the text.
The main problem with looking for governmental organization within the Scriptures is that it ignores the fact that there are different levels and types of authority within Scriptures. People who engage in such a search almost always make the exact same mistake that Bible skeptics make: They confuse the governance roles within Scripture.
For example, the skeptic would ask, “If you believe in the Bible literally, then why don’t you stone adulterers?” The obvious answer is that 2 or 3 witnesses are required for the death penalty. These witnesses must appear before the judges. In other words, this is a penalty to be carried out by the civil authorities.
Is this confusion really any different than the elder who grills a member about eating sugar or white bread because “the body is the temple of the Spirit”? Actually, it is different. In fact, it is worse, because here you have someone who is supposed to be representing Godly authority doing actual harm to a member in the name of that authority. This elder is confusing Church authority and the responsibility for governing one’s self.
A proper Church authority, then, would have certain characteristics. Chief among them would be recognition of the proper delineation between types of authority. What are these types of authority?
1. God and Jesus Christ. They are overall all; They are over everything. That does not automatically extend to succeeding levels.
2. Religious/Church. Note how in the OT, the tabernacle and temple system had control over certain aspects of events.
3. However, one thing that is evident in the Book of Judges is that there was a void in the civil government.
4. Authority within a family. In modern terms, “A man is king of his castle.” We have lost sight of much of this in our nanny state civil government culture.
5. Personal authority. We are to work out our “own salvation with fear and trembling.” We are to become self-governing agents, “temperate” in all things.
Rather than focusing on the form of government, the Bible focuses on two things: 1. The One in charge, and 2. Results. The focus is never on the form of government! It seems to me that some have made an idol out of the form of church governance. They have lost sight of Who is supposed to be in charge. They do not get results because they focus so much on the form instead of focusing on the core.
Results are what counts. There are certain things a Church is obligated to do within its domain. Do any of these ring a bell? How well does your organization hold up?
1. Show love for one another, your neighbors and even your enemies.
2. Take care of the poor and those who cannot help themselves. By the way, I do not see where that is restricted to only church members.
3. Preach the Gospel.
4. Support the ministry.
5. Encourage spiritual growth.
6. Equip the saints.
I’m sure the list could go on.
HWA looked at worldly organizations to form his ideas of governance. Frankly, what he did was not wrong until he started assuming that they were successful because they were following some type of Godly standard.
Are there lessons we can learn from others, then? Sure! In fact, we need to look at organizations that do things that “work”. We need to look at organizations that get results. However, the results should not be to make money. That was the first problem with HWA’s connection. The organizations he viewed as successful weren’t about spreading the Gospel message or about equipping the saints. Their goals were very different.
Here is my challenge to you: Find out where this quote is from.
“As our numbers increased, it was evident that without some form of organization there would be great confusion, and the work would not be carried forward successfully. To provide for the support of the ministry, for carrying the work in new fields, for protecting both the churches and the ministry from unworthy members, for holding church property, for the publication of the truth through the press, and for many other objects, organization was indispensable.”
Then, my next challenge is to identify what is different about that organization that makes converts worldwide while the COGs seem to get smaller year by year. Can we learn something from how they are organized? Can we learn something from how they go about their “work”? Can we, like HWA, look at another organization and learn from it, or will we look down our noses at it because we didn’t come up with it?