More and more, as I read books about the church, authors are recognizing that in Scripture the church is not an organization or an institution, but people. Four years ago, I wrote a post called “The Church as Relational Organism.” In that post, I referred to a few quotes from a book that I was reading at the time. The author was emphasizing the relational aspect of the church.
This is more than rhetoric. If we truly view the church as relational instead of organizational, it will change the way that we interact with one another.
A few days ago, in a post called “What is a ‘traditional’ church?“, I mentioned a new book that I was reading: Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2007) by J.D. Payne. Primarily, I picked up this book because of the title and because it was written by a Southern Baptist. I haven’t read much concerning “missional” or “house” church from the perspective of other Southern Baptists, so I was intrigued by this combination.
Overall, I liked this book. As with almost all books, the author and I hold differing opinions on a few things. For example, when he is defining the Church/church (he uses “Church” for “universal church” and “church” for “local church”), I think he makes more of a distinction between “universal” and “local” than Scripture makes.
However, I appreciated his organic and relational definition of the church (I will use one term for both, like Scripture does):
What is clear from the Gospels is that Jesus came to establish a new community… The citizens of this new community were part of a divine kingdom and lived according to the kingdom of ethic that involved 1) love for the King, 2) love for others in the kingdom, and 3) love for those outside the kingdom. (26-27)
For the most part, the church today is defined and understood in institutional and compartmentalized concepts… On the other hand, the Scriptures advocate that the church… is primarily understood in relation to the kingdom of God through organic metaphors emphasizing 1) the relationship of believers to God, 2) the relationship of believers to one another, and 3) the relationship of believers to unbelievers. The church is primarily to be understood in simple relational terms. (35-37)
Similarly, when Payne discusses the various metaphors that the authors of Scripture use to describe the church, he begins with my favorite metaphor – the family:
The obvious meaning behind this metaphor is that the bonds holding together the citizens of the kingdom are as strong, if not stronger, than the bond of blood. Just as an earthly family loves, honors, protects, encourages, and cares for one another, the church must do likewise. (29-30)
My thinking about the church changed drastically when I began seeing the church as a family instead of seeing the church as an organization. I began interacting with people through the relationships that God created through his Spirit instead of interacting with people through positions and functions. We are brothers and sisters with the same father. That relationship is stronger than blood.