Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Assembly

You are the church, and so am I. People are the church, not the organization. "First Baptist Church" or "First Bible Church" as organizations merely designate an assembly of part of the church.
When you view the organizational assembly as the church (which is what I was brought up with) you view ministry as organized and collective. If the ministry isn't linked in and administered by the organization it is considered an invalid "para-church" ministry.
This in turn centralizes the decisions on ministry directions in the hierarchy of the organization, and your paths of ministry are in effect pre-determined by these same men, as long as you choose to stay an serve in that organization.
You can choose to do your own thing but when your complaint revolves around the ministry structure of the church you have to look at it in this light.
I am tired of people pointing fingers at churches without a lot of programs of collective organized outreach and saying they are dead. The rivers of life spring out of the Christian, not the organization. The assembly exists for the edification of each Christian, who in turn do the outreach.
...and each Christian has their own inreach ministry through the local assembly. Christian inreach is by definition collective, as it occurs as the church assembles for various purposes.
This is why when an organizational assembly becomes, for the most part, a giant mechanism for outreach, that inreach dies, and the church hollows out.
Consider I Cor 14:26:
"How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying."

The assembly is for edification, not evangelism. As individual Christians evangelize, new Christians are brought into the assembly. This is how it is supposed to work. As the teachers equip with the word of God, the Holy Spirit moves upon the rest to greater holiness and outreach. The early leaders gave themselves to prayer and the word, knowing that an equipped Christian is a going and thriving Christian. The sure foundation of Christ in I Cor 3 in all of us is built upon by the teachers of the assembly- hopefully the gold and precious materials of solid Biblical teaching, not the chaff of opinions and musings and motivational talks.
They did not need collective outreach then, and we do not need it now. That is not to say that there is no value in Christians coming together to reach out to the world- that is indeed a function of the church, but not of the assembly. The distinction is incredibly important. If it were not for door-to-door canvassing (a tactic only made possible by modern urban-/suburbanism) or street preaching (little used among Baptists outside of Ruckman circles) there would be no point in assemblies gathering for the sole purpose of outreach. Furthermore, both of these methods are showing diminishing returns as our selfish, paranoid society becomes ever more disconnected from and distrustful of neighbors that are strangers.
You can continue to insist on outreach-oriented, program-laden organizations that consider themselves self-contained churches if you like. But I have left that for good. It is a system that cannot be held accountable and is ripe for shallowness, doctrinal drift, and authoritarian tyranny.

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