The essays today and tomorrow will bring this series on rethinking church to an end. As I stated in the first essay, my primary purpose has been to clarify my own relationship to the church and get a feel for a way forward. I hope that others may benefit from thinking along with me. I continue to believe that I can best help others by telling them what I see, understanding that each of us is placed differently.
A Simple Church
I wish that every Christian was part of a simple, small church. I hesitate to call it “a church” because the image of the parachurch with all its extra features inevitably comes into our minds. I prefer to think of it as the simplest manifestation of the church. Simple churches must guard their simplicity by limiting themselves as much as possible to the essential features, activities, and mission of the church, which I described in the first few essays in this series. The simple church owns no property, has no employees, and takes no collections. As far as the government is concerned, it does not exist. Its worship is not stage centered but community centered; and the community centers itself by focusing on Christ. It will—indeed, it must—have leaders and teachers, but everyone gets to participate. It is a family where even the little ones are honored. Everyone knows everyone. It is not a little church with ambitions of becoming a big church. It has no agenda and no ambitions but to love one another and help each other better to serve the Lord. It manifests the fullness of the church because Christ and the Spirit are there directing our attention to the Father.
The simple church can take many forms according to circumstances. If necessary it can be just your family, and in extreme circumstances even you alone. You may be part of many simple churches, for example, in online fellowship with far-flung friends. Your simple church gathering may welcome guests or it may be reserved for intimate friends. Worship can take many forms as long as it does not become stage centered. Keep it simple, and don’t forget why the church gathers.
Reform Parachurch Churches
In the previous essay, I proposed a concentric circle model of how individual Christians and simple churches can maintain communion with the whole church. As I argued, simple churches that close themselves to the universal church will become insular and one-sided. They will miss out on the gifts and insights God gives other believers. The parachurch church—the traditional church congregation—is first circle beyond the simple church.
I wish, therefore, that traditional churches would recognize their parachurch status and reform themselves to play that role more effectively. Parachurches cannot replace simple churches but can facilitate communication and fellowship among them and between them and the universal church. Parachurches churches can become places where the best teachers among the small groups and guests from elsewhere can share insights with the larger gathering. And they can facilitate cooperation among believers in projects that cannot be accomplished and should not be attempted by simple churches. Also, traditional churches, given their social visibility, can become a person’s first introduction to Christianity. They can provide some spiritual support for people that are not yet involved in simple churches. However, parachurches should recognize that they cannot provide intimate the fellowship and the mutual encouragement possible in simple churches. Accordingly, I hope these churches will encourage all of their attendees to participate in something like what I call a “simple church.”
Next Time: My conclusions and my prayer.
Thank you for this penultimate offering, it’s truly lovely and a blessing to read your well-considered words, inspired i believe by your shining love of God. Thank you again.
Some simple church thoughts:-
Returning to the point of #26 about churches that ‘echo’ their times, (and use contemporary structures) but also show historical failings or failures. To varying degrees our times are broken, disfunctional, selfish and greedy.
When i was a lad, living in a small town i’d know everyone i met in the street, and they’d recognize me (or worse, they would know my parents!). We called that pastoral care: whether i liked it or not, my wheel went around (my life-circle) and i was the hub supported by many many spokes…
Now i meet youngsters hanging on a single spoke, trapped inside their own mind by confusion, doubt and worry. They may find themselves in a parachurch. And they may be told ” you’ll be fine, you just might need someone to come-up-alongside, a true friend”. The church has a swimming pool full of people drowning like that, and only one float. The fact is that people can be so very lonely and helpless in a parachurch organization, and are too frightened to ask for help from those basking in the spotlight of their own brilliance. Enough now!
My point is that this is why your simple church precepts are so apposite, and so honest and so welcomed. By this route, intimacy and the powers of the Holy Spirit will no doubt expose the wants and the needs of the physically sick and the mentally ill in our small groups; and Jesus’ will be done. ” To heal the sick, to exorcise demons, to raise the dead, and to convert the lost”. Perhaps through heavens most curious gift (poetic) that is called friendship. Now in the example above, nobody bothered to preach the gospel, nor even say to the swimmers that Jesus “is” the float! And that’s all i would add, that teaching on the real fundamentals of repentance and forgiveness is thin on the ground.
It’s been a pleasure reading you.