Who is the church?

By Ron Simkins, from his teaching on January 31, 2010

In my teaching this week, I suggested that any fellowship/church that is attempting to follow Jesus must be (1) a voluntary association for participation and ministry;  (2) an open table welcoming and reaching out;  (3) an organization/institution;  (4) a community learning to apply doctrine/theology as disciples in the real world of the 21st century; (5) a worshiping community; and (6) Jesus’ extended family of sisters and brothers.

We are each personally more drawn to some of those roles than others. As a fellowship, we emphasize some of these aspects more or less at various times. But ultimately, they are all necessary to functioning as “the Body of Christ,”  and they all represent opportunities to serve and opportunities to express the gifts of the Holy Spirit in building up the body of Christ.

Of course, these various aspects of “Body Life” not only complement one another, but also are in dynamic tension with one another and pull against one another at times.

For example, being an open table community that reaches out to all who wish to be closer to Jesus can seem almost the polar opposite of growing closer in brother-sister relationships.  Being a spirit-filled worshiping community can seem the polar opposite of honoring the organizational structures and time charts of the Sunday School and Nursery needs of children ready for lunch.  Realizing that doctrine/theology is always in process in terms of understanding and application can create tensions between sisters and brothers in a manner that looks more like dysfunctional family relationships than like the extended family of Jesus.

It is important for all of us to understand that there is no single, one-time resolution for how to relate these dynamic tensions properly.  The narratives and letters of the New Testament show us this dynamic tension at work in every church and every decade of the Biblical writings.  Every new season, every new adventure, every new opportunity, demands that a Fellowship practice polarity management with empowering of the Holy Spirit. We all intuitively know that over-emphasizing one area (excepting our own favorite area, of course) to the exclusion or serious diminishing of the others leads to chaos, confusion, and often heresy.

So, in our Fellowship—and in every fellowship/church—there is always A REASON TO BEGIN AGAIN in learning to be the Body of Christ in a manner that honors all the gifts Jesus gives us. This means there is always a reason to continually pray for every area of our life together to be filled with more of the Holy Spirit, in order to “build up the body of Christ in love.”  (Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Corinthians 12-14)

What do you think we should be emphasizing most right now?  Why?

5 Comments On “Who is the church?”

  1. Pingback: New Covenant Fellowship of Champaign IL» Blog Archive » A new blog post by Ron

  2. The underlying recognition that there is a dynamic tension operating that we cannot get away from is unique in my experience. To honestly embrace complexity, and even the sense of being conflicted about priorities, is just a real part of life. It isn’t always easy to decide between healthy food and fried cheese. (See this piece on rational vs. emotional brian power – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122781981)

    Too many times in life we look for the *right* answer. We feel comfortable when things can be settled but that just isn’t the real world much of the time.

    My sense is that creating real community to establish a context in which we can work out these tensions is critically important. Even there, however, what many people view as a loving family looks a whole lot like an exclusive clique to others.


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  4. Great thoughts, Chuck. I really like how you put this: “My sense is that creating real community to establish a context in which we can work out these tensions is critically important.” And yes, there’s tension in the process of creating that community, too, but it seems that’s just how it’s going to be.

    But maybe if we could all move away from the idea that there’s one “right” way to go about things, we’d be well on our way to a healthier place. Maybe we’d be able to move toward the idea that we’re going to work together to do the best we can where we are, realizing that approach will more than likely change later, when we’re in yet another new spiritual/intellectual/emotional place.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that letting go of the perfectionism and high expectations (without letting go of our focus and determination) could be enormously helpful in community building and Jesus following.


  5. Chuck and Kristin,

    I think you are both right and perceptive in expressing the need not to fear the dynamic tensions in all of life and in community, and not to fear the lack of clarity they sometimes generate as they pull and push against one another. Thanks so much for your insightful and thoughtful comments.

    The so-called AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT has given us many gifts, but one of the deep mistaken beliefs this modern religion has perpetrated is that given enough reason and resources, we humans can resolve any problem and reduce it down to one dimension and one answer.

    The more important parts of human life never really fit that paradigm. Anything that is personal and relational demands risk and responsiveness on all sides, and thus can go down many paths. That includes our relationship with God and with one another.

    I would suggest that we not throw out the word “right,” but instead insist that this dynamic relational view of human reality is the right way to approach REAL LIVING and REAL HISTORY in the REAL WORLD before a VERY REAL RELATIONAL GOD. Where in the world did we ever get the idea that the God who made us is a no-risk God? Certainly not from the master narrative of the Bible though a few verses out of the overall context can be cited to perpetuate this very Greek idea.


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