RETHINKING THE ORGANIC FUNCTION OF THE BODY
Sometimes in history global events transpire that drive us to rethink our theology, and in particular, our understanding of how we view certain concepts in reference to the church. The axiomatic principle that familiar passages must always be reexamined is especially true in times of social chaos during wars and global pandemics. In the global pandemic days that began in 2020, which days will continue until an effective vaccine is discovered for the Covid-19 virus, it seems that the relentless virus will be with us far into the future, as is the inflictions of AIDS, tuberculosis and influenza. What has already begun on the part of many is to rethink the New Testament teaching concerning the identity and behavior of the church.
What has transpired in these pandemic days has motivated us to rethink our faith, specifically our identity as the children of God. Because health departments around the world have taken aim at what had become the identity of many religious groups—the assembly—we have now been forced into reconsidering what defines our relationship with God, and in particular, our relationships with one another. Because of restrictions that have been placed on Christians in reference to their assemblies, what faithful Christian has not reconsidered his or her relationship with God? Is it possible to feel as close to God in one’s closet as we do when in the midst of fellow congregates?
Since many people formerly identified their faith by their assemblies, I thought it very appropriate to republish a revision of this book in order to rethink this subject. The original publication struck at the heart of the theology that Christianity is somehow identified by the assembly of the saints, particularly in reference to what the saints commonly perform on Sunday morning. But this misguided identity of the church produced a dichotomy in Christian behavior that has misled not only ourselves, but also made it difficult for unbelievers to understand the nature of true Christianity.
It seems that the unbelieving world has understood “Christians” according to their performance of religious ceremonies that take place in church buildings around the world, and not according to their behavior throughout the week. This understanding of Christianity has often led the world to harbor a distorted understanding of who Christians are and what “church” means. The pandemic may have helped in correcting this misunderstanding. When assemblies of Christians are greatly restricted, or even shut down completely during lockdowns, Christians began to reevaluate their own personal identity as Christians. The world has also started viewing Christians from a different perspective. As for Christians, these are certainly the times in which everyone must take another look in their Bibles and come to a different understanding of the Christian faith.
This book is more relevant today because readers are forced into rethinking who they are in their relationship with God. Since we had formerly been misguided to think that our faith depended on whether we were discovered in some assembly on Sunday morning, we are now home alone wondering if the Holy Spirit functions outside a church assembly. Possibly more important is the belief that we had convinced ourselves that unless we meritoriously wandered through a certain criteria of acts of worship with fellow disciples in an assembly, we were not worshiping God. And even worse, we went so far as to convince ourselves that our identity as the church was established by the performance of our acts of worship on Sunday morning during the “hour of worship.”
So now we are home alone, wondering if the church can even exist when all the members are socially distanced from one another and alone in their homes. We must take this opportunity to make sure that we have a Bible-defined understanding of the church. Our worship must be extracted from the confines of performing rites, rituals and ceremonies in public assemblies. It must now be rediscovered in the confines of our homes. For many, closets have been cleaned of cobwebs and dusted in order to restore again silence with God in prayer. Gone are all the orchestras, and guitars lie quietly in cases stacked away in the corner of attics. These are certainly times for reconsideration of what we may have fabricated over time that in itself was a drift away from a close relationship with our Father. What we defined as “worship” may have been an invention for ourselves with less focus on God, and more on our own emotional needs.
In the midst of our social distancing and isolation from one another, it may be time to again challenge the doctrine of “church autonomy.” For years this misguided teaching separated groups of Christians into independent church-house shelters where the denominated tried to validate themselves with their worship performances on Sunday morning. But the pandemic has driven us to rethink this misguided theology that we could socially distance ourselves as a group, and then think that we would all be together as one in heaven. The irony of the matter lies in the fact that the autonomous are now autonomously home alone, craving to be with any brother or sister who might happen to come their way. Maybe the good that will come out of the Covid pandemic, as in the case of wars, is that we are forced into a social environment wherein we can better understand our inconsistencies in reference to church autonomy. Such beliefs now seem so senseless since we are forced into individual autonomy, or at least greatly limited to house assemblies around the world.
It is in times as these, therefore, that we need to refresh our studies of the nature of the church, particularly our relationship with one another and God. Sometimes God must move us into extremes in order that we might come to a better knowledge of the truth. At least in the past history of the nation of Israel He did such through their captivity. The Israelites came back from that captivity a changed people, never again to wander off into self-righteous Baal religion that was so common among them before the confinement of captivity. Maybe we too must be moved so far away from one another into the captivity of our own homes before we can restore a craving for God and for one another. But more important, maybe we need to be moved away from one another in order that we might renew our one-on-one relationship with our Father, who in our former religiosity had become only an afterthought during our self-righteous ceremonies we performed on Sunday morning for our own entertainment. Once we rediscover that our salvation is totally dependent on His grace through His Son, then we can find some comfort in the fact that we are saved without all the self-righteous rites, rituals and meritorious ceremonies that we performed in mega-assemblies around the world. It is now that the world has the opportunity to understand us apart from what they observed us doing during a Sunday morning performance.
Isolation always drives us to understand that church is not defined by assemblies. Church is defined by love-driven individuals throughout the world who have been baptized into Christ Jesus in response to the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. When we come to this realization, it is then that we will find confidence in our home alone relationship with Him, regardless of where everyone else is in their homes, who are also alone.
We read in our history books of wars and pandemics that have occurred throughout the centuries. We can even read again John’s prophecy of what would happen when government would eventually come crashing down on Christians for a century and a half in the first two centuries two millennia ago. We must remember that all those Christians survived those chaotic years. We are here today because they did. There were no cellphones, no internet, no television and no newspapers during their years of persecution. And yet, those Christians who emerged from persecution, pandemics and global wars survived. They did so because their faith was not, as ours often is, centered around Sunday assembly performances, or church function that was centered around church-buildings, organization committees, fancy robes and reversed collars. Christians then were faithful in godly behavior that was born out of their living response to the grace of God. They never cease to believe that they would survive in the darkness of a catacomb, or huddled in fear in a bombed out building. They simply survived, and the darkness and fear made them better. So much better that their faith transitioned through those harsh times in order to captivate our hearts today when we read about their strength.
It is my prayer, therefore, that this book will motivate readers around the world to rethink their concept of “church.” I send the book forth in order to challenge your thinking on this matter, and in doing so, to possibly restore a faith that will permeate all trials through which we must go in this sin-infested world. In the midst of so many trails we need to remember always what the Holy Spirit said to some who stayed with Jesus about two thousand years ago when they too were to suffer through heard times:
“These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings. And those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).
[Preface from a forthcoming book entitled: THE ORGANIC FUNCTION OF THE BODY OF CHRIST]