Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Treasure in earthen vessels

Is the church an organization or people?

Answering that question is critical for identifying the focus of ordained ministry. If the church is primarily an organization, then the ministry of the clergy is to tend the organization, develop its resources, and aide in deploying its asset in mission. If the church is primarily people, then the ministry of the clergy is to cultivate people’s spirituality, viewing any formal organization only as an optional means to an end.

The Apostle Paul in his second letter to Corinth describes the Corinthian Christians as the evidence of his ministry (2:17-3:3). The context makes it clear that Paul refers to the people not to any formal, or even informal, organization. The institutional church developed to preserve and to communicate God's love, not as a goal in itself.

Established churches can easily confuse the relative importance of organization and people. In the U.S., denominations often confuse the relative importance of organization and people.

The sociological evidence on the impending death of denominations, perhaps even of organized churches (by this term I mean local congregations, formally incorporated, with their buildings, budgets, and governance structures), and the parallel growth of people interested in spirituality is clear. The data suggest that Christianity, if it is to survive, must relearn the distinction the between vessel and content, develop a fresh language for talking about the content, and again focus on people and not or organization.

The organized church is an earthen vessel, a means to an end, and not the treasure, not an end in itself. God has no ultimate need for denominations, local church structures, or the other appurtenances of organization which humans sometimes find so helpful, sometimes even worship.

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