The Functional Church Blog

koinonia * kerygma * diakonia * marturia

Archive for March, 2010

Building the Kingdom: Essentials vs Non-Essentials

Posted by functionalchurch on 2010/03/29

Had an interesting discussion in our School of Ministry yesterday. We were talking about how the church is to be an example of the Kingdom of God on earth by exhibiting its values and by being a true community.

Of course, our discussion eventually ended up at the old axiom: “in essential matters, unity; in non-essential matters, liberty; in all other matters, charity.” My colleague, William Camba, pointed out that we don’t really seem to have trouble over the essential matters – we aren’t always discussing within our churches whether there really is a trinity or if Jesus is God or not. We do, however, seem to get caught up on the non-essentials – what colour to paint the walls, what kind of music to play, or what clothes we should wear during worship. The thing is there is also a distinct lack of liberty and love expressed during these times. William illustrated his point with a personal story about how he was recently distracted while attending a conference because the speaker was wearing flip-flops. “Why isn’t he wearing shoes?” was the question going through his mind. Upon his observation of the reactions of others to the slippers (ie no one else seemed to be offended), he eventually began to ask himself whether the problem was really his own and perhaps he was making something an essential that really isn’t essential.

The class then went on to discuss that most contentious of church issues, namely music. To be honest I wasn’t really happy with where the rest of the discussion and feel that I wasn’t able to wrap up the day on a positive note. After, however, a lot of thought, I realise we really need to have a way of determining what is essential and what is not so that we can avoid conflict in these areas in the future and so that we can practice the liberty and charity that we want to.

So what makes some things essential and other things non-essential?

Other than certain foundational theological truths that we can’t mess with, we are surrounded by a vast amount of stuff that can be classified as personal preferences – the songs we sing, the words we use, the Bible version we prefer, the clothes we wear, etc. How can we navigate this quagmire?

The key is that we need to return to the essentials of the church. For example, the Bible describes a church that is not merely to exist but to function properly. Some call this being missional but for the past few years we at SEATS have been talking about the Functional Church. Our churches are to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ (kerygma). They are also to exhibit the values of the Kingdom of God (koinonia). They are to be centers of service to both God and Humans (diakonia), and they are to bear the truth, even to the point of death (marturia).

In determining if something is essential, we need to return to these basic functions. Take the earlier example of music in the church. When we think about being functional in proclaiming the Good News we need to see what is essential. It is essential that the Good News be proclaimed in our public singing but the form that public singing takes is not essential. As long as it gets the job done in the best way possible.

We also need to declare the truth through our music. The form, however, is non-essential. As long as it is effective in declaring the truth then we should do it. If it is not, then we need to modify or change it.

Is it possible to serve through music? As long as the music is functional then its form is secondary. The same goes for proclaiming the values of the kingdom.

You may have noticed that forms are very much based upon societal norms. Keeping music as the example, if we want to reach fans of emo, then we can use emo. If we want to reach fans of country music then use country. If rockers, then rock. And on and on it goes. What is clear is that there is no longer only one societal norm.

So how does the church deal with these issues? One way is by having some kind of multiple services, each one targeted for a different society. (Of course, if you want to check out a different society’s service, prepare to misunderstand it ☺).
Another option for churches is to use the following statement: “We are not doing this particular thing for you – it is for (name of target).” This must be combined with a follow-up: “This is what we are doing for you.”

Paul saw his acting like a Jew or acting like a Greek as nonessentials. He didn’t force people to conform to his preferences but rather conformed to theirs. In light of Paul’s attitude, we need to have the following conversation in our churches:

What is our goal at our church? To have newcomers conform to our list of preferences or to conform to their preferences so they might more easily learn the essentials/become disciples? How can our _______ best fulfill this function? What forms need to be modified? What forms need to be changed? What forms need to be redeemed?

What are your essentials? I encourage the members of SEATS Schools of Ministry to give their opinions on the discussion board on the SEATS Facebook Page.

But just remember: liberty and charity.

Posted in church, church impact, conflict resolution, ecclesiology, kingdom of god, marturia, service, truth-telling | 2 Comments »

How is God at work outside the church?

Posted by functionalchurch on 2010/03/25

For the past few days I have been musing about the question “What is God doing in the world?” Ed Stetzer and others (here & here) have been writing about it on the Missional SyncBlog. The background of the question is a concept that is gaining momentum in the church based upon the role of the Church in the world and the role of God. For many years we in the church have thought that the church has a mission in the world. While there is no real problem with this there a little confusion seemed to develop along the way as to who was ultimately responsible for seeing this vision to fruition. Recently, as we began to ponder the work and mission of God, we realised that it is in fact God who is working in the world and we in the church must join him in his mission to the world. So that leads us to the question above as to what exactly God is doing in the world, more particularly, apart from the church? Meaning, what things to we need to look for as we try to let God set the agenda rather than we ourselves setting the agenda? More to the point, is God saving people outside of the church as well?

Then it came to me. Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible can help us understand how God is at work in the world. John 3:16 says, “God loved the world in this way: he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him will not die but will have life that lasts for ever.”

There seems to be two things that we learn from this verse:

1. God is actively involved in loving the world.
2. God active love of the world is shown to the world in a very specific way: through Jesus.

What are the implications of this?

1. God’s love for the world does not appear to hinge upon the world’s love for him.
2. Jesus is essential to this display and experience of love.
3. The church, as Christ’s body, must then actively showing God’s love to the world.
4. Wherever we go, whomever we meet, whatever we experience, we must remember that God is in love with that place, that person, us. Asking the question, “What/Who is God loving here?” will go a long way towards us understanding his work in the world. The Parable of the Family (Luke 15:11-32)

If we think of an example we can think of the parable of the loving father. God, of course, is the father, and he loves his children regardless of whether they stay with him or not. Much has been made of the fact that “while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.” (v20) For the father, the son has never really left. He knows and waits for the day he will return. The Father also loves his older son saying, “you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours.”

The so-called prodigal son is one of those kids he loves. Who is the prodigal? He represents those who have chosen their own way over God’s way – even those who are the most offensive and hateful in our eyes.

The Father also loves the older son. Who is the older son? The older brother could be described as those who are in the kingdom but who are not appreciative of what the Father’s love means for them and for the world. They enjoy the fact that they are working hard for God but appear to be unwilling to enjoy their relationship with the Father nor to want to share the blessings with others.

The key is that the prodigal son has to return to his father’s house in order to be received by the Father. The irony is that the older son doesn’t really appreciate his own situation: he doesn’t enjoy his position in the household and he doesn’t let anyone else enjoy the goodness of the father’s home either.

So, how does this relate to the church?

First of all it is important to see that God loves everyone, both inside and outside the church. He loves those who give their lives to him. He loves those who have chosen following him as a career-path. He loves those who are seeking to destroy the church. He loves those who haven’t yet heard about him. He loves those who have chosen to live their lives in opposition to him. He loves corrupt politicians. He loves abusive parents. He loves prisoners, criminals, gang members, hockey moms, blue-collar workers, management, employees, unions, scabs, parents, teens, kids, teachers, administrators, predators, stalkers, etc. If God loves these people then we need to join him on his mission of loving them. If I want to know where God is working in the world I just need to find someone whom the world doesn’t love and start loving them.

Of course we can’t equate the love God has for the world with his condoning the practices of the world. Certainly God created everything good, but we, in our sinful state, have turned the good into the bad. We (& the world) must return to God in order to receive the benefit of salvation. God’s promise to us is that creation will not have to groan anymore as he restores everything to its original holiness.

How then does it inform us as to what God’s work is outside the church?

Without Jesus, there is no salvation. The Bible also says that unless we repent, we will not be able to share in the salvation Jesus gives. But, the Bible is also clear that God does love the world. The church as Christ’s body is the representation of God’s love in the world and is tasked with showing that love to the world.

Posted in church, church impact, ecclesiology, missional, missions, personal impact, transformation | Leave a Comment »