An Organic Church Challenge

For those who follow my blog, you know I’ve been reassessing my understanding of “organic” church life in the NT. As I mentioned in a few recent posts, I’m finding that it’s not really helpful to use the term, especially since it has gone viral.

I agree with much of the contrast that is drawn between the church as institution vs. organism. So, I’m currently opening myself up in order to imagine a church life that does not grow out of reaction to the abuses of the organized church, or from the neglect of the NT by those who believe they have obtained something of Christ that others have not.

Here are some thoughts I’ve been having.

It is entirely understandable that many people hear what some “organic” folks are advocating (as I have also advocated) sounds like an abandonment of all ecclesiastical structures. It then becomes confusing for folks to hear them say that it’s OK to have some sort of skeletal structure, you just need to find the “balance” in it all.

What does that look like? We can all say, “It doesn’t look like this or that…” but I don’t see how it’s possible to judge one church from another on whether Christ is truly reigning in their meetings based off our prescriptive readings of the NT. I’m fine with saying there are things the NT does not explicitly teach, advocate, or allow—even prohibits—things that are antithetical to every-member functioning. But beyond that I think we need to be careful how we proceed in setting boundaries.

It seems to me that the “organic” promoter viewing another person’s practice of church life (with all of their biases, interpretations of Scripture about church practice, good/bad personal experiences, etc.) could make many wrong judgments about many churches because they don’t fit their own vision of NT church life. This concerns me.

Something else that troubles me is the constant downplaying of teaching and doctrine. At the same time I hear “organic” advocates affirming that teaching and doctrine are good for the church. Huh? Which is it? Naturally, folks in and outside of these house churches hear this and think that doctrine can only divide and that it’s not conducive to “gathering around” Christ.

I don’t think that’s what the “organic” leaders mean, so I think it really needs some clarification if they’re going to help others hear what they’re trying to say about Christ and the church.

I also think it assumes that we have a prescriptive church life, instead of a descriptive one contained in the NT. It might at times be necessary for a church to become a forum for discussing doctrine. Just like there are times the church needs to adapt for other concerns facing the community. I believe the unveiling of Christ can happen during these times as well.

Could it be that assuming Christ can’t be unveiled during these times is also a reaction that equally leads to wrong conclusions?

Having spent a few years in “organic” church life, I’m beginning to think that we should keep a big vision of Christ and a small vision of the church, as far as our ideas and expectations are concerned.

We can learn this from those who first pioneered the house church movements within China and the United States.

This would require us celebrate Christ in community wherever we find it (calling others to that), and say less when it comes to critiquing the church practices of others who sincerely love the Lord and are being faithful to him where they are.

I hear more lines touching on what church life is not, than what it is. Which seems to translate that there are tons of things that folks serious about church life will not do if they want to meet around Christ. I don’t think that’s what is intended, but I feel that’s what those on the outside hear. I heard that on the inside, and I’m now hearing it as I have put a little distance between myself and the “organic” folks.

I tend to think a generous ecclesiology that is Christ-centered in community, is not continually preoccupied with denouncing what may be “pagan” Christianity, but rather it is concerned for sharing the Christ you know and leaving it at that. Are “organic” folks OK with that?

Some days I’m not so sure.

I don’t think this means there isn’t a place for deconstructing the church, (cause I do!) especially among those who are asking questions and are open to rethinking the wineskins. However, if we’re not careful, we can easily set ourselves up against those that don’t meet like us or share the same vision for the church. We can easily build more walls than open up doors.

We can forget our visions of Christ at this point… they will only edify those that agree with us. Though in the end it’s not edification, just spiritual narcissism nicely contained in elitism masked as dreams and visions.

Since it is a “balance” that we seek (one that is hard to reach and know when we’ve reached it), I don’t see how it’s honest and edifying to talk like we know exactly what the church is supposed to look like when we’re getting it right (or when we think we are). Lord, help us!

In a nutshell, we need more humble recognition that the Lord moves through the church in more ways than one. Then we may rejoice with others receiving their own revelation of Christ and being faithful to their calling.

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

14 responses to “An Organic Church Challenge

  • Josh

    Yep. Another good article, bro. I think the problem will persist as long as we go on defining “churches” according to any particular other than what the New Testament shows, which is simply the fellowship of all God’s people in a given place. Then it is not a matter of denominational v.s. non-denominational or organic v.s. institutional, but simply of the church in our city. This is the best context I find for developing a real consciousness of our oneness as fellow believers in Christ, regardless of what we might think is the best way to meet.

  • Edem Morny

    I think both you and Milt Rodriguez have been thinking of the same thing in recent times, because just wrote something similar to this here: http://miltrodriguez.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/10-myths-about-organic-church-%e2%80%93-part-3/

    I do share your thoughts on what church should be, and I find myself confronting the same issues in my own personal deliberations in recent times. I hope more and more of us come to the same mind concerning Jesus himself, and his church.

    Cheers bro.

  • Eli

    Another Amen! I think a challenge is many of us have been brought up with an all or nothing mindset. So either god is fully at work in a church, and it has his full blessing… or its all man and god has mostly departed.
    On a personal level, honestly some areas of my life I feel yes I am pursuing christ in ways that resonate increasingly with NT narrative… but in other areas not so much or not at all. I think thats true of all believers individually and corporately.
    Thanks for this word in season, well I think its worthwhile being reminded of this constantly.

  • John Metz

    David, I inadvertently deleted the link to your blog! Please forgive me. I have corrected my mistake.

    I want to reread this one and hope to comment. Thanks for your posts.

  • John Metz

    David,
    This is not a very in-depth response–just a few comments.

    1. You seem to be traveling in your realization of what the church is. I mean this in a good way.

    2. You ask, “What does it look like?” Well, it looks like something! It should reflect the principles of the New Testament. You are right to say it is easier to say what the church does not look like.

    3. The church should be a place for the truth of the Scripture, for gospel preaching, for mutual care, for growth, and a place full of Christ. I share your concern for these things.

    David, I appreciate your musings.

    • David D. Flowers

      As always, thanks John. I agree that it should reflect those principles of NT church life. I intended to point out that lots of organic folks say it’s about the principles, but they clearly have a specific idea in mind as to what those principles should look like in the church (e.g. unorganized house church only). They should be honest and say what they mean if this is what they think is real church life, or even the best kind of church life. Either they see a rigid non-organized church with little that resembles anything of the organized church (and they need to be clear about that on many levels), or they see those principles fleshed out in many different ways. Which is it?

      I’m saying to them… don’t leave a vague picture when it sounds like you’re intending to be very specific about what church life should look like.

      Instead of just laying out principles, if they have something specific in mind, they need to say it and not leave folks wondering, “What does that look like?” or “Is he saying…?” I understand that there are some things folks just need to experience, but we can still be clearer about what we are and aren’t saying. I’m calling for clarity. Also, I’m challenging the view that those principles can only look a certain way, and that anything that reflects the institutional church should be rejected. I disagree with this thinking.

  • esther

    So totally where God has me right now. I can find God in the church and outside of the church and in various gatherings of believers from a variety of backgrounds. I celebrate the diversity of a God whose love knows no end.

  • John Metz

    David,
    Thanks for your reply. It was very helpful.

    I am not of the particular “organic church” movement and have always found what little I know about it to be too vague, too free. A human body is organic but it has definite shape and definite functions and a very definite make-up. All of these are controlled by the human life within that human being. And all human beings are largely similar. As to your specific criticisms of that movement, I cannot comment much.

    What do you think of the description of the churches in Revelation as golden lampstands? I have found this picture to be very helpful.

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