Sunday, 25 March 2007

Loving church

God's New Community, by Graham Beynon, is a good book. A practical theology of local church which I found challenging. I love church, and must live that love more practically.

On which note (that of loving local church), there are a few things I'd like to get clear...

Local church is fantastic. But it's not The Church. It's not where church starts & ends. One congregation is not by itself the Bride of Christ, nor the Body of Christ. It is a body of which Christ is the head, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. And certainly not when you're just effectively speaking of one congregation of one denomination (or independent congregation) out of the whole of the Church in any given city.

Since your particular local church, while fantastic, is not exclusively The Church, neither does it have the monopoly on being God's plan for mission. Mission teams do not just exist because local church isn't doing it's job properly; short term mission teams / work place mission teams / educational establishment mission teams exist because God's put us into Church. He designed Church. He didn't just design the particular local congregation you like. And you're not just a member of that congregation; you belong to his Church. You have no right to ignore Christians who are in other local churches.
Mission teams exist not because 'not every local congregation is doing church as well as yours', but because our Lord prayed that everyone who believes in him through the apostles' message would be one even as he is one with the Father. And since Jesus prayed it, it's happened. We are one. Not just in the local church you've chosen, but like it or not, with all the other gospel-believing Christians too. And why? So that the world might believe that Jesus was from the Father. Fantastic!

But that means that united witness is severely stunted if you're counting on it happening just through the particular local congregation you've joined and ignoring all other Christians in your area / street / workplace. Don't get me wrong: God uses these distinct communities, these assemblies, for the growing of his Church. But there's something very wrong if our evangelism insists on restricting itself to these. Because part of the mission strategy for which Jesus prayed was for all those who believe in the Apostles' message to be one so that the world would believe - i.e., visibly. So no matter how brilliant the evangelistic vision and practice is of the particular local congregation to which you belong, you will not do evangelism as well as a local congregation as you will if it's seen that you're part of The Church: the body of believers in which we are united by the Holy Spirit.

It's not an ideal situation, having many different local congregations, of course. But you don't follow Christ's John 17 mandate/prayer by pretending that you're the only church going and ignoring the mission-targetted unity you have with other Christians, others in God's Church.

Let's love Church. That is, let's love local church, and mission teams, and Gospel Partnerships, and other such things that go together to live out the Church of Christ which he bought with his own blood: for Jesus' sake and the sake of those around us who need to believe that he and the Father are one.

6 comments:

JB said...

Amen sister.

KidsDoc said...

Well said. Are you seeing a risk of replacing the pride of denomination with the pride of local congregation?

Luke Wood said...

Hi Rosemary,

I totally agree with what you say about local churches needing to "get some context" in terms of realising each one is part of the Church of God in any given town or city. Without such a realisation we will never be able to take the message to the ends of the earth! I've been priveleged to see this work out on a local level through things like The Feast (www.thefeast.org.uk) and Meet Jesus (www.meetjesus.org.uk). These were high-quality, joint events in Winchester and Bournemouth and reflect the deep friendship that already exists between many of the leaders in the city. When we use the language loving local church, we can think of one church or all the churches in a city with just as much validity (something I don't think you realised I agreed with you on, when you commented on my blog recently!).

I think where I disagree with you is on church. Despite Mike Reeves' excellent explanation as to why there might Biblically be a precedent for doing mission as a "mission team" rather than a church (with the appointment of elders etc), it seems to me to be tenuous and I am not convinced by it. As far as I can see, in terms of Biblical precedents, whenever the Apostle Paul preached the gospel, he also started a church. And the fact that he was a pioneer is simply part of normal church life. It is certainly becoming that among a number of streams in the UK.

For me, when thinking on the subject of "loving local church", I can easily accommodate the other churches in the city into my thinking, owing to excellent relationships. But I would struggle to include, as you seem to have here, bodies (whatever they call themselves) which set themselves up using a model which isn't a church (but often with the trappings of "a church"). In one sense, they are Church, but not A church. I struggle with that simply because I don't see it in the Bible. Yes, apostles pioneered, but this is something which should spur churches on to do more pioneering, not give an opportunity for some to build a strange hybrid of "church-but-not-church".

The Clokester said...

Good defintional separation on the local and The Church. Probably the most helpful thing to be said in the most silly in house fight in the world aka the church vs Cu debate.

Mikey C said...

Hmm... When does some christians meeting up and praying regularly become "a church"? I'm not convinced looking at what Paul did is particularly useful; he went places where there weren't churches already and sorted one out.

Probably should read Graham Beynon's book...!

Luke: I think walked into you once.

étrangère said...

Luke, not only apostles pioneered, but others in teams with them. The model is not that they built local churches wherever they went: the model is that they themselves formed short-term groups which weren't 'A church', in order to build up local churches in those communities where they were. Thus also there are contemporary short-term groups which reach into a field where there is no 'A church' ;-) in order to build local churches there in the longterm. And it happens, as Mo says. Now, where churches are awakening more to pioneering, planting, etc., is great, but I'm concerned when I see it so Our-Local-Church blinkered that pioneer irrespective of where there are already gospel-witnessing churches. But maybe that doesn't happen in your city...

But I think whether it's there in the format of today is incidental if it fits the wider theology of Church - the fluctuating subculture of university wasn't there in that day - neither was there more than one local church in a city! Does the model of a short term mission team of people from different local churches involved in building up those local churches express the unity that God's given us that the world might believe, better than 20 of said local churches each doing their own thing on campus? Er... yes. That in fact looks more like the Church as Christ prayed John 17. That was my point...

Kidsdoc - I think in some circles, that is a risk. But on pride of denomination, I'm actually concerned that that's dying, not because one-up-man-ship pride is a good thing, but because the death of the denomination is a symptom of the death of truth and a probable chronological arrogance. Methinks.