Thursday, March 11, 2010

A What Church?

I recently posted on Facebook that I joined the Organic Church Today network (which itself has a Facebook format). I've had many people do the Victrola dog head tilt when I've mentioned "Organic Church," but a long-time friend from high school days, had a response that made me "Lol."

Her post: "organic ~ like, you don't spray anything on it?" She later asked for a definition.

Another friend stated that he did not like the term "organic" since he had heard it used too often as a marketing ploy in reference to food and such by "self-absorbed people."

"Organic" has been a word and concept for longer than any trendish reference to it - just as "gay" was before the 1960s.

I believe the use of the concept in describing the effort to recapture the deeper purpose of God's intention for the Church is warranted. But I have also discovered that it is difficult to "define" what it means probably because of the challenging combination of a person's idea of "organic" coupled with a person's idea of "church."

I am thankful for the great effort done at the CrossLife website to define what cannot really be defined. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus meant in giving God's Kingdom a cryptic (woops! - stumbling block buzzword) *secretive* character.

This is not so much a definition. Instead, it serves somewhat as a manifesto; at least, a manifesto for CrossLife. We do not consider ourselves revolutionaries. We are certainly not the first people to question the status quo. We are, by far, not the first people to leave the institution of established religion. We are not the first to ignore long-held traditions of men while choosing, rather, to be led by a sincere desire to follow Christ alone. We are not the first to make many mistakes in a pioneering journey away from the acceptable and known, and into the freedom of the unknown. We are not at the forefront of any movement.1 We are not charismatic leaders with great hordes of followers. We are few, simple, normal, marginally educated, yet passionate lovers of God and people.

Now that we have cleared the air of clich├ęd platitudes, false impressions, and hollow humility, we can be very real.

First, and we think foremost, organic church is not reactionary, against-everything-traditional, or change-for-the-sake-of-change. It is not all about “doing” church outside of institutional structures such as buildings, budgets, programs, traditions, and hierarchical leadership. It is not about being different, better, or new. These are issues that tend to attract the most attention, but they are not central to the practice of organic forms of church. Organic church is not an attempt to avoid perceived wrongs, but is rather a significant, Spirit-lead moving of God toward “being” the church of God in real life.

Second, organic church is not a model. It is not a structure. It is not a system of actions that can be manipulated for a desired gain or outcome. It is not a scheme into which we plug people into for the purpose of making them into something else. It is not so much a way of “doing” church as it is the Way to “be” the church every day. It is a holistic approach to life, spirituality, and the Kingdom of God through a personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Third, it has become obvious to us that organic church is probably not for everyone, everywhere. While we believe our practices are direct applications of Scripture for our 21st Century setting, we find that many Christians reject some of these positions. Whether these reactions are substantiated by the Spirit or are just a reaction to anything perceived to be “different” is a matter of opinion. We are not here to convince, but only to share and follow God’s leadership in our lives. You must decide for yourself through Scripture and historical evidence whether these concepts represent the Truth or man-made fabrications.

Fourth, we don’t have a chip on our shoulder. We are not against institutional forms of church.2 While our ideas, values, practices, and often vocabulary stand in contrast to institutional expression, we believe ourselves to be a part of Christ’s collective family of the redeemed. We love our brothers and sisters in Christ and only hope to offer the world a candid view of what Jesus taught and the Way He lived. While few would debate the various post-third century, Constantinian structures adopted by most medieval and modern institutional churches, we are convinced that these systems often prevail as subtle substitutes for authentically living the Way of Jesus.

Finally, we, in no way, claim to have this whole thing figured out. We are in process. We are on a journey. We are discovering increasingly more the freedom Christ offers from sin, the trappings of the world system, and the religious bondage that holds many captive. We have much to learn. We claim no authority or exclusivity. God is working in and through His people all over the world to bring the Kingdom into our reality. We only offer ourselves to be a tool in His hands to accomplish His work.

So, what is organic church?3 Frank Viola4, an innovative organic thinker and practitioner, offers one of the best statements as to what organic church is and looks like practically:

“By ‘organic church,’ I mean a non-traditional church that is born out of spiritual life instead of being constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grass roots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every member functioning, open-participatory meetings (opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gatherings. Put another way, organic church life is the experience of the Body of Christ. In its purest form, it’s the fellowship of the Triune God brought to earth and experienced by human beings.”5

Organic forms of church life are appearing everywhere. They are as diverse as they are numerous. No single definition exists, which leads to a valid conclusion: organic church is not definable. The leading thinkers and practitioners of organic churches offer no methods to copy or systems to implement. The basic meaning of ‘organic’ offers some direction: natural. Something that is truly organic has not been manipulated by people in order to yield a particular outcome. True, organic church is simply the result of obeying the final command of Jesus:

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NLT)

Jesus never said to go start churches. In fact, earlier in the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus said,

“I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18, NLT)

Jesus clearly gave His disciples instructions to make disciples for His Kingdom, while He would be about the work of building His church. Jesus doesn’t need our systems, organizations, hierarchies of power, budgets, or any other institutional structures.

Be sure, this doesn’t mean that any random, free-for-all gathering of believers is considered a church. Organic doesn’t imply that no structure or organization exists. In fact, an overview of early church history in the book of Acts illustrates the developing organization of early churches. These churches were growing and multiplying at astronomical rates. By Acts 6:7 we can see that the number of Christ-followers had exploded and were indeed being multiplied, not just added. As organization was needed, churches made the appropriate choices. This organization wasn’t derived and forced; it was spontaneous and fit specific needs.6 One would expect that if the need for a particular structure no longer existed, that structure would be put aside. In like manner, as various forms of organization were needed they would be added with a specific purpose.7

History, however, reveals that structure after structure and tradition after tradition was added to church life with few, if any of them, being tossed aside when their usefulness concluded. Organic, spontaneous, Spirit-driven life was slowly and inadvertently replaced by layers of bureaucracy and tradition. These rigid structures replaced servant leadership with positional authority, free-will offerings with budget demands, spontaneous gatherings throughout the week with program-driven schedules of performance activities, the priesthood of all believers with a separated clergy who is hired by the church to produce spiritual goods for the consuming audience, and the list continues. While various factions and denominations developed their own versions of institutionalism, the effect was pretty much the same: only the few (the clergy) had a “special” calling to run the institution. This, in turn, left everyone else to occupy a pew and volunteer for programs.8

Today, we are convinced that God is breathing a fresh wind into the world. Some observe this development as a passing fad. Some see a turning away from the faith. Yet, many recognize this as a great opportunity to bring freshness to the cause of Christ.9 Some see the situation as the challenge of our generation to show the relevance of the Master who gave His life for the world 2,000 years ago. Our passion is to see people follow Christ into His work of expanding His Kingdom.

One thing is for certain, church is changing. For years culture wars have been waging within churches over dress codes, music styles, various programs, and budgetary issues. Many people have been caught in the crossfire and burned by situations outside of their control, often leaving a negative impression of church. Years of institutional struggles have left a new generation desperate for authenticity. From the ashes of unfortunate battles rises a cry to simplify. A fresh question has emerged: What can churches eliminate and still be the church of the New Testament? Church planters, pastors, and even ordinary Christians are asking this question in one way or another in ever-growing numbers. While the debate will always wage among theologians, we have come to understand that the church, at the cellular level, is simply a gathering of believers who seek to follow the Way of Jesus. Yet, this transition to simplicity is not easy, often becoming a great source of pain for those on the journey. Leaving that which is accepted is not popular. As Dresden James said,

“A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn’t the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn’t flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.”10

We must not, however, throw caution to the wind. We must not gather up everything we don’t like about church, bundle it together, and toss it into the burn pile. We must be students of history. We must be clear about our objectives. We must be careful with our criticisms, and focus more on what Jesus Christ is calling us to be, rather than to be against. As stated earlier, organic church is not so much about what is better or worse organizationally, but rather concerns expressing the life of Christ in all that we do. Our focus must be on making and developing disciples of Christ. Let Jesus build His church. Let organization develop naturally without human manipulation to get the “results” we think are right. Let us break free from the institutional mold developed over the years, while remaining faithful to the Word of God.

This is but skimming the surface of what “organic church” is…
I hope someone comes up with a better word/term, but for now, I think "Organic" is very appropriate.

No comments: