We’ve been doing some evening talks recently on Christians and politics. This past Sunday we were thinking about the relationship between church and state. Thomas Jefferson wanted a ‘wall of separation’ between the two, and Alistair Campbell famously said ‘We don’t do God.’
It struck me in preparing that its pretty crucial to understand what you mean by the word ‘church.’ A few years ago I read Bannerman’s The Church of Christ. In his opening chapter he outlines the various NT uses of the word ekklesia. This got me thinking about Kuyper’s distinction between church as institution and organism. Is there a biblical warrant for the distinction. I also read, last week, Matt Banks’ dissertation on Kuyper’s distinction and Matt made some helpful critiques and suggested that local/scattered might be a fruitful way forward.
I went back and did a little work on ekklesia myself to help me get my head round it and came up with the following, which may (or may not) be helpful:
- Institution refers to the local church organized around the Christ given congregation recognized office-bearers (think of some of the instructions in the pastoral epistles)
- Organism refers to the wider church as vine, bride, temple, church of Christ (Eph 1)
- Gathered refers to the church as Christians together for a purpose (end of Acts 2)
- Scattered refers to the church as Christians apart (think Paul’s persecution of the Jerusalem ‘church’ [sing.] by going house to house to imprison Christians – seems to refer to church not gathered, i.e. scattered)
And so some of the suggestions in the boxes:
- Institution gathered is Sunday worship (1 Cor 14 – when you come together . . .)
- Institution scattered refers to those things done in the name of the institution, but done outside of the gathering – eg. homegroups, community work in its various forms (Acts 6 seems to fit the bill)
- Organism scattered refers to individual Christians on their personal front-lines at work, home, or wherever (think instructions in Col 4 or Eph 6 to slaves and masters working for the Lord)
- Organism gathered seems to refer to Christians from a number of different ‘institutions’ coming together for a purpose – think parachurch work (an interesting example seems to be the collection in 2 Cor 8:23 – those who administer the collection are described as representatives of the churches)
I’d value your comments on this as I continue to dwell and refine. I think its useful but would value help in sharpening it up. In particular I think it helps us think and talk more carefully about what we think the ‘church’ should do. Should the church feed the poor? Should the church be involved in politics? Should the church run debt-counselling services or food-banks? I guess part of the answer is what do you mean by ‘church’? Would love your thoughts.