the weblog of Alan Knox

The Interconnected Church

Posted by on Jan 9, 2009 in community, definition, fellowship, members | 11 comments

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post called “The Interconnected Church“. In that post, I compared the church as we see it in the New Testament to blogging communities. Instead of having isolated groups of people, we see much more interaction and interconnection. I still think this is a good analogy. What do you think?

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The Interconnected Church

There is a list of blogs that I frequent on the right side of this web page (now on the left). If I go to most of those blogs, they will also include a list of blogs that the author visits regularly. If you navigate through those links, you will find other lists of blogs. And the cycle continues indefinitely… well, not indefinitely, but for many, many links.

There are a few people (a few more now) who frequent my blog. They interact with me through comments. I occasionally visit other blogs and interact with them through comments.

Could it be that this is a metaphor for the church in the New Testament?

Consider a believer in the New Testament. Let’s call him Joe. Joe knows several other believers. He interacts with them through normal relationships: family relationships, neighborhood relationships, work relationships, civic relationships, etc. Since these people are believers, they also gather regularly. Now, they may not all gather together at the same time. Perhaps some gather regularly at Joe’s house. Others gather regularly at Sally’s house. Joe occasionally meets with those at Sally’s house because he knows most of the people there. Also gathering at Sally’s house is the Smith family. They do not gather with the people at Joe’s house regularly, because the Smith family does not know them well. However, since they love Joe, and want to interact with him more, they will meet at his house on occasion. Meanwhile, once in a while, Joe will meet with another group with the Smith family. In this way, the interconnectivity is strengthened and grows.

In this scenario, there is interconnectivity among the church based on relationships. There is the church in Joe’s house, and the church in Sally’s house, and a few other churches; but they all recognize that they are the church in their city – because of the interconnectivity of relationships. They also recognize that they are somehow connected to groups outside their city, also through the interconnectivity of relationships.

If this is a valid view of the church in the New Testament, then could we be missing something today? Usually, when we talk about churches being connected to one another, we speak in terms of leadership networks, associations, etc. In other words, those in leadership from one church are connected to those in leadership from another church. This connection is not based on natural relationships, but on associations intentionally created to make connections. Meanwhile, many people in each church (specifically, those not in leadership) may find that they have very little connections with those outside their group, even with other churches with whom their leaders “associate”. Why? Because instead of being interconnected, the churches consider themselves mutually exclusive.

Are there any scriptural indications that an interconnected view of the church is valid, or that this view is not valid? What are some problems that might be caused by taking this view of the church?


11 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-9-2009

    There are certainly people I “know” from blogs better than people I went to church with. We attended a very large southern baptist church near Cincinnati a few years ago, and sat in the same place by the same people every week. There were probably 400 people in the church who were there every week but I didn’t know their names and couldn’t have picked them out of a police lineup.

    Certainly I don’t think that blogging is a replacement for gathering, but there is a valid point about the lack of interconnectedness we see in the institutional church. There are all manner of people who I have connected with all over the country that I never would have met without blogs.

  2. 1-9-2009

    I’m not so sure the point would be for us to be interconnected with other churches, but pushing our church members to be more connected with each other – members of the same church – is, I think, a valid principle we can draw from the New Testament.

    When you say “isolated groups of people”, are you meaning local churches? We really should remember that we are unique in church history with our transportation practices and abilities.

    The area I pastor is a great example. There’s our church, then another baptist church 5 minutes away in all four directions. Thats seems silly to us now, but remember 80 years ago, those 5 miles or so were a long way away. So the church was planted within an ‘isolated’ community. There are more similarities with that world (80 years ago) than with ours when we come to the NT.

    So we are, in some ways, unique in our cross-local-church interaction abilities. Is this something that that church was missing out on for 1900 years or so? I don’t think so. I think the church can function just fine in isolated communities, as long as the people in those communities have a high level of connectedness.

    If modern transportation and communication allow us to branch out more, then thats an added benefit, but not a paradigm shift for the church.

    I may not be understanding exactly what you mean, so if what I wrote above isn’t really to the point, feel free to ignore it. :)

  3. 1-9-2009

    Arthur,

    I must not have been clear in this post. I agree that blogs should not replace gathering together with brothers and sisters.

    Instead, I was hoping to use the interconnectedness of blogs as an analogy to the way the church should be interconnected.

    Brent,

    In Romans 16, it seems that Paul knew by name and meeting location several brothers and sisters in Rome without visiting the city and without the aid of modern communication and transportation. I think this is one example – among many – that illustrates that the church in the New Testament was more interconnected than the church today.

    I think one of the reasons that we are not as interconnected today is that we consider “our church” to be the people that we meet with each week to the exclusion of brothers and sisters who meet down the street or live next door. I’m not sure this is unity.

    -Alan

  4. 1-9-2009

    Unity between members of different churches is certainly a good thing. I guess I would say most churches I have been in struggle to forge much real community even within their own church, and I think that should be a higher priority for us.

    Your question about the interconnected church being biblical: Sure, there was some interaction between the different churches in the NT, but we run into a problem when we begin to look at the church as a amorphous blob of universal church members rather than as local churches as the main manifestation of the church.

    I think the church discipline passages in Matthew and 1 and 2 Cor. show that local churches were clearly defined groups, with membership, accountability, etc…

  5. 1-9-2009

    Brent,

    If you read through my description in the post, you’ll see that I’m not promoting “church as a amorphous blob of universal church members”. However, I would also not define the church by a membership list. Instead, I’m suggested that churches should interrelate to other churches, and believers should interrelate with brothers and sisters that they may not meet with regularly.

    I’ve written about church discipline on my blog. I don’t think structure and organization help church discipline. Church discipline can only occur where there is relationship. That relationship can be in a very structured environment or a less structured envioronment, but relationship is paramount. With structure but without relationship, the person disciplined simply moves to another church organization.

    -Alan

  6. 1-9-2009

    Where in the Nt, is there more than one church per locale? I think we should break bread from house to house. The danger and problem is when the Lord makes this clear to you, you can “leave the instutional church” and begin to be obedient to this call, or you can throw your hands up and say “that’s not practical today”. If you “leave”, you face the danger of being too self conscious that you “left” and can allow yourself to become the very thing you left: you only have fellowship with those “outside the system”. Clear as mud? On the other hand you can “stay” and start working towards “interconnectivity” and find that people will think you’re nuts when you try to live out the one another commands. I found I wasn’t on the right committee, and we ” already have someone appointed for that job.” or “well, so and so can come and watch, but he can’t speak from the pulpit, because his views on so and so aren’t right. Then you are faced with either shutting your mouth, and going along with the charade they call unity, or quietly going away. I think most folks are fine with being interconnected, but when it comes to laying down your life for your brother, that might entail giving preference to someone with “wrong” doctrine, or bad odor, and that is a bit much to put up with more than 2 hours a week.

  7. 1-9-2009

    Anonymous,

    I agree with almost everything that you said. In Romans 16, there appear to be several different groups of believers that, I think, could be called churches. This does not negate the fact that all the believers in the region could also be called the church.

    Thus, there may have been churches that met in specific places, but they were not exclusive the way local churches are thought to be today.

    -Alan

  8. 1-9-2009

    Alan, the amorphous blob comment wasn’t directed at you, but at the extreme position we need to avoid. I do think you’re a little too far in that direction with a few of your comments, and I think you’d be better off with some room in your view of the church as being comprised of members with their names on a list.

    If there aren’t clearly defined boundaries as to who is and is not a church member, then church discipline can’t really function either. Once again its both/and not either/or. We need both relationship and clear boundary (structure).

  9. 1-9-2009

    Brent,

    I think there is “clear boundary” given in Scripture: We are in convenant with God and related to one another as brother and sister in Christ. I think any other distinction fails at the command to “accept one another” – along with many other “one anothers” in Scripture. We do not get to pick and choose our family – God chooses, not us.

    Church discipline works great with relationship and without structure – I’ve seen it work. Church discipline does not work in most churches because there are few who actually have relationships with one another.

    -Alan

  10. 1-10-2009

    Alan,
    I feel like I’m getting to be a broken record here, so I apologize if my comments are seeming tedious. But once again in the above comment, you articulate very wonderfully one side of the issue. The problem is it sounds like you’re ignoring the other side if the issue, equally important and biblical.

    You say:
    “We are in convenant with God and related to one another as brother and sister in Christ. I think any other distinction fails at the command to “accept one another” – along with many other “one anothers” in Scripture. We do not get to pick and choose our family – God chooses, not us.”

    But the problem with that is it doesn’t seem to leave any room for the biblical command that we are to judge those inside the church!

    1 Cor 5:12-13:
    For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

    I also think you’re wrong about why church discipline doesn’t work in most churches – I think its because its never tried!

    I’m having a hard time understanding why you’re so opposed to there being any kind of structure to church discipline. I agree it must be relational along with you. But I think 1 Cor 5 (and other texts) show there is a clear structural element to it as well.

  11. 1-10-2009

    Brent,

    I think you misunderstood. I’m not “opposed to there being any kind of structure”. That’s not what I said.

    I said that church discipline only works when there is relationship. If there is relationship (and structure or no structure) then church discipline – as well as discipleship, teaching, etc. – will work. If there is no relationship (and structure or no structure), then church discipline will not work.

    I have no problem with 1 Cor 5:12-13. We have the responsibility of judging those in the church – all of those in the church who God has placed in our lives.

    -Alan