Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ed Stetzer Continues The Discussion on Church and Mission (Plus Some More Thoughts/Questions From Me)

Agreed or not, I think this post by Ed Stetzer is well written as a follow up to his critical review of What is the Mission of the Church.

A couple questions/thoughts from me:

My two main questions surrounding this whole discussion would be mainly in reference to Michael Horton's post that I linked to yesterday.  These are also related to the discussion raised by the book from Kevin and Greg:

1.  When specifically does the church function as the institutional church?  On Sunday morning?  When two or three believers are gathered?  Based on the content of the Sunday service?  On the content of the preacher's preaching?  Based on how the church spends it's money?  Based on the church calendar?  When does the institutional church begin and end?  Based on what the church leaders emphasize from the front, in private conversations, or small groups?

I have yet to hear a concise, exegetical answer to this question.  That may simply be because I am ignorant to the right resources.  I am certainly open to that.  But if we are going to draw strict lines then I think we should be able to give strict answers to the above questions.

If the definition of institutional church is strictly the content of Sunday morning then I completely agree.  We are not going to be canceling Sunday services at The Vine so that we can collectively do acts of mercy on Sunday morning.  On Sunday morning we are going to sing, hear the Gospel in preaching, and participate in the Lord's supper.  But what about during the week?  Do we do anything collectively during the week?  If so, what are the boundary lines to keep the mission of the church pure?

What specifically marks the times when the church is functioning officially as the church as institution?

2.  If all acts of service are relegated to individuals and not the church (as I believe Horton implies, correct me if I am wrong), does that imply the privatization of acts of mercy?  Meaning, if bunch of believers from The Vine travel to Louisiana to help with hurricane relief, is that out of the bounds of appropriate Christian mission?  Or is that seen as collective neighbor loving but wouldn't constitute the church?  What if I as the pastor, announced this on Sunday morning?  Would that cross the line?  What if I, as an official pastor, went with them and we announced it on Sunday morning?  The examples could be legion.  Do we have an orphan care ministry that seeks to help families with interest free loans?  What if each small group has an emphasis on reaching the poor, not individually, but together?

I believe that local churches should preach the Gospel.  As Paul lays out in Eph. 2:8-10, the Gospel being heard and believed will lead to good works.  Since we know that church is also family, it would follow that they would probably want to spend time together doing these good works together as the implications of the Gospel are carried out through their collective lives.

Doesn't that, at least in some measure, sound like how the church should function?  What am I missing?


Dan Snook said...

#1 Both Horton and DeYoung-Gilbert draw the Institution/Organism distinction from Bavinck. “The church is both a living organism gathered by the Holy Spirit and charismatically led, and at the same time an institution structured by a specific polity.” (Reformed Dogmatics vol.IV pg 274) Here, and again on pages 305 and 330 he ties the Institutional Church to the formal offices of the church.

So it seems to me that all these authors use the terms institution to mean any action directly promoted and overseen by the elders and deacons of the church. I think that could include not only the Sunday services as the focal point but also any Bible studies, missions trips, mercy ministries, and how money is spent. It would not however include private conversations, or any actions taken up by individuals, families, or groups of church members not directly overseen by the officers. They are calling attention to the distinction between the implicit actions of a church member as opposed to the explicit actions of the body.

For thoughts on this from DeYoung and Gilbert read pages 232 and 233.

#2 I think you may have misunderstood Horton. While it wasn’t as explicit in his recent blog post here are a few quotes from his book The Gospel Commission.

“According to the New Testament, making and serving disciples involves ministering to the material needs of believers. This extends not only to members of the local congregation but also to the wider communion of churches. Just as the pastors and elders are representatives from local to broader assemblies, so too are deacons in the collecting, overseeing, and dispensing the goods and services of Christ’s body to those members in need.” pg 222

“I am not suggesting that the church should only extend diaconal services to its professing members or that a church cannot support relief efforts in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Obviously, deacons are to use their own discretion on the ground. What I am suggesting is that there are myriad causes that are good, bad, and indifferent for which the church has no special competence or commission.” pg 225

And in a similar line of thought, quotes from DeYoung and Gilbert:

“It seems to us that there are two questions to think through: Can the church institutional spend its time and resources doing those things? And must the church institutional spend its time and resources doing those things?” pg 233 emphasis original

“generally speaking we would suggest that a local church should tend toward doing those activities and spending its resources on those projects that more directly, rather than less directly, further its central mission. Again, that doesn’t mean that the church will only ever do activities that are a direct fulfillment of its mission.” pg 235 emphasis original

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't\wouldn't the word "Church" or "ecclesia" help us here: 'called out & gathered together.' Aren't we also confusing 'equipping saints' and 'making disciples'...? just some thoughts.

David said...

Read John 9-10 specifically 9:34-38 we know Christ said nothing without making direct points for something to meet those at that time and our time. When did the blind man see Christ? When he was cast out of the temple. Think on that for a minute. I think maybe he was speaking to the blindness of the traditions and that we need to constantly look to him alone. Now do not take me wrong I do believe in the church called out and working together for the King's glory. We need to be careful when an instituion goes to the musieum phase. Programs never die but should for the sake of the Gospel. Just my 2 cents.