One definition of a fossil is an animal that “failed to adapt during times of transition”. Unfortunately, that could actually be descriptive of much of the institutional church. In many cases the traditional church has become dormant and lifeless. Obsolete would be a fitting word for it. The apostle Paul warned about this in his warnings about the last days in 2 Tim 3:1-5, where he talked about holding to a form but lacking in power.
What is needed is a fresh examination of the Scriptures for that which is universal and timeless, but can be pragmatically applied to this present hour. We need 21st century strategies rooted in the universal truths of Scripture concerning the Biblical definition of church.
So how does the Scripture define this thing called the church? Let’s look specifically at some scriptural descriptions of the church. The following are 7 analogies commonly portrayed in Scripture that give us insight into the nature of the church. – A Sheepfold – A Family – A Vine – A Bride – An Army – A Spiritual Building – A Body.
The church as a SHEEPFOLD… with Jesus as the Door to the sheepfold and the Shepherd of the sheep. (John 10:1-18) Relational focus: toward God and the personal nature of our relationship with Him. This analogy speaks to us of belonging and protection. Scripture teaches a very clear membership to the church. You are clearly in or clearly out. To be “in” is a place of protection and safety.
The church as a FAMILY… with God as our Father, Jesus our elder brother, and we as brothers and sisters.”But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (also Matt 6:9; Eph. 2:19; 3:14-15; Heb. 12:5-9 etc..) Relational focus: Primarily toward God the Father and our relationship with Him; secondarily one another. This speaks to issues of relationship, fatherhood, and discipline.
The church as a VINE… With Jesus as the vine and we as the branches. (John 15:1-17) Relational focus: toward Jesus and our relationship with Him on an ongoing basis. This speaks of fruitfulness through being connected (and staying connected) to Him.
The church as a BRIDE.. with Jesus as the Bridegroom. (Eph. 5:22-32; Rev. 19:7,8) Relational focus: toward Jesus and our corporate relationship with Him. This speaks of love, affection, devotion, loyalty and covenant.
The church as an ARMY… With God as the Captain of the Hosts. (2 Tim. 2:3-7; 2 Cor. 10:3-4; Eph. 6:10-18; Lk. 10:18-19; Rev.12:9-12 etc..) Relational focus: our adversary. This picture speaks of spiritual objectives, order, rank and authority.
The church as a spiritual BUILDING… with Jesus as the Cornerstone; the key frame of reference; the plumb line from which the rest of the building is constructed. (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-6) Relational focus: toward one another and toward the foundation of the building. This picture speaks to issues of the “connectedness” and structure of the building, and the unique worship experience that is found there.
The church as a BODY…. with Jesus as the Head. (Eph 1:22-23; Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:14-18,21-22,27-28; Eph 4:11-16) Relational focus: toward one another – our “connectedness” and our function.
The apparent fact is that each of these pictures has a relational focus. The first four pictures of the church primarily focus on our relationship with God. The church as an army deals primarily with our relationship to our adversary. The last two primarily focus on our relationships with one another, and give us insight into how the church ought to be connected to one another.
Church – A relationally connected reality
In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul the apostle states that we are no longer alienated, but rather fellow citizens with the saints; that we are being “fitted together” and “built together” into a dwelling of God. To be a “related” church simply means we are “connected” by relationship with one another.
God insists that we be rightly related to one another. The Scriptures in 1 John 2:9-11 & 3:19-21 imply that if we want to stay in right relationship with God, we must be about the work of maintaining a right relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means the task of building and maintaining right relationships is not an optional sideline but rather an essential ingredient of our Christian life, and an important part of how we define “church”.
CONCLUSION: Throughout history past, and into eternity, the concept of being rightly related to one another is a value we must never take for granted. Put differently, LOVING GOD and LOVING ONE ANOTHER is the essence of authentic Christianity, regardless of the context. It has been said that advances in technology, communications, travel, education, and social media simply give us more sophisticated ways to sin or more sophisticated ways to love. I believe the following two components of the church, if they remain in the church, will insure that the church will never be obsolete – the love of God and the power of God poured out toward one another in love.
Is the church obsolete? Part 1 of 4 (introduction)Is the church obsolete? Part 2 – The church and information technology
Is the church obsolete? Part 3 – The Church and social networking