...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Who or what is the church? Part II

I feel like I need to expand on the church-as-force and church-as-accident idea I put forth yesterday, since these are kind of odd terms.

First, I don't mean that the church is in any way accidental or happenstance, only that the CAA camp tends to view what happened to the church after the Apostles and before the Reformation as a series of chance events. God certainly did not have a role in protecting or preserving the faith in this time, and the church (if it could still be reasonably called that) went on its merry, heretical way adopting ever greater and more encumbering man-made traditions. Nor do I mean that God has no purpose for the CAA church. Every CAA Christian would affirm that God does, but it is equally clear that this purpose really applies to the local body, or perhaps a denomination if it is cohesive enough to support a common mission in that way. While a CAA Christian would affirm the totality of the body of Christ, their view of the church is actually cellular. Each local congregation, or even each person, has their own God-ordained purpose that may or may not line up with what the cell down the street is doing. In fact, cells may be working in opposite directions or for completely different goals and yet still be regarded as accomplishing God's will, if only to their own respective members.

This type of cellular thinking, of course, raises some difficult problems. If my church is working for the opposite goal of your church, how can we be sure which of us is actually doing God's will? For instance, the current debate over homosexual marriage has been joined on both sides by various Christian groups. Both believe they are doing God's will and both believe the other side is wrong, and both really have no way of proving anything. The only authority that either can ultimately appeal to is their own experience - both ultimately feel that their understanding of the text is correct or that their calling is legitimate. From the present divisions within and among churches today, it is clear that appeals to experience can be dangerous as far as unity is concerned.

That is obviously a very contentious issue, but the same holds true of smaller, less charged areas of ministry. There are literally thousands of mission agencies and boards, and many of them sponsor missions to the same geographic areas. Each puts thousands of dollars of support into their missionaries and their ministries, and each also put a pretty good amount of money towards their own respective overhead. It seems clear that incorporating these boards, if only bringing the smallest ones together, could reap significant benefits in eliminating overlap, wasted time, energy & money, and yet it doesn't happen. Why? The most simple answer is because each cell believes their way of doing church & theology is the best way. Not that other agencies or churches are necessarily wrong, just that their beliefs & practices miss the mark by varying degrees. Each cell tends to view dissimilar cells with some amount of suspicion and is hesitant to partner with them. And rightfully so - why compromise your mission & message with a group that believes differently?

From a certain perspective, all of this is fine. Some may believe God does give different missions to different groups even when those missions appear to be contradictory. But for me, the question is really two-fold. 1) Is this biblical? 2) Does this conform to the historical understanding of Christians throughout the centuries, particularly the first 200 years of the faith? I think on both counts the answer is a resounding no. It certainly does not match up with the call to unity in John 17:21 - "that they may all be one; even as You, Father are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me" - and it doesn't seem to line up with the ideas of the earliest Christians. Theirs was an organic unity, one that did not even appear to grasp the concept of a fractured body.

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