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Trying to explain my understanding of the church (i.e., my ecclesiology)

Posted by on Aug 6, 2013 in definition | 12 comments

Trying to explain my understanding of the church (i.e., my ecclesiology)

I often have a hard time explaining my understanding of the church (that is, my ecclesiology) when I’m talking to people. I’ve talked about this with many friends who have a similar understanding of the church… and they agree with me.

The main problem – as far as we can tell – is that we start from different places when it comes to the church. And, if you start from different places, then it’s going to be difficult to understand each other.

Three years ago, I wrote a short series while I was thinking about this problem. This series started at the beginning… with God:

  1. The Church: It All Begins With God
  2. The Church: God’s Children and God’s Family
  3. The Church: The Character of God’s Family
  4. The Church: When We Gather Together

To me, each of those steps are important and necessary in order to understand the church. But, it’s difficult to answer a question like, “How do you think elders should be chosen/appointed?” with, “It all begins with God…” But, in reality, if we don’t begin at the same place, then we are not going to understand each other.

The way I see the church, we must understand God’s desire for a relationship with people, our identity as God’s children and God’s family, how we display the character of God’s family, and the reason for us to gather together before we ever begin tackling questions like, “How should elders be chosen/appointed?” or “How/When do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?” or “How long should the sermon last?”

In fact, if we take the time to work through the first few points, we may find that the original questions become unimportant and unnecessary to ask.

Unfortunately, many people don’t want to start at the beginning with God and work through those other important points. They want to jump to the BIG issues… So, we often end up talking without understanding each other.

If you have time, please read the four posts above. Whether you agree with each item in those posts or not, I’d love to hear what you think about my approach to understanding the church. Is something missing? What would you add, change, delete? What needs to be expanded?


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

  1. 8-6-2013

    I think we do a great disservice when we try to define “church” by what it does and doesn’t do. This places function before community. Function arises from community. Function often separates before community is formed.

  2. 8-6-2013

    Miguel, I agree totally. That’s why so much of the “how to” and “cookie cutter” approach to “organic/simple church” has failed. It is putting form over substance by trying to create community from form. It doesn’t work. Never has, never will.

    However, many of the essential principles of “organic/simple church” – to the extent they are truly Biblical, like ministry one to another – do work, so long as they emerge “organically” in the context of the unique qualities and characteristics of each community. I am content to lay a simple foundation, then let each fellowship learn to function within their own cultural context.

  3. 8-6-2013


    This is a very intriguing statement: “Function often separates before community is formed.” What does that mean?


    I like this statement: “[T]he essential principles of ‘organic/simple church’ – to the extent they are truly Biblical, like ministry one to another – do work, so long as they emerge ‘organically’ in the context of the unique qualities and characteristics of each community.”


  4. 8-6-2013


    Let’s take the outdated (in my opinion) “Marks” of the Church:

    Preaching of the Word – Usually means separating the Pastor/teacher from the rest of the congregation. (Disunity)

    Administration of the of the sacraments – usually meaning clergy class does the work while laity remains passive (disunity)

    Church Discipline – you know the rest…

    These functions of the church, when used to define the church, start it off with sectioned off community. These functions presuppose division.

  5. 8-7-2013

    Miguel is on to something here. Pews are a function to facilitate “church” but rows and viewing the backs of heads prevents community. Music and music style aids function but separates by ability, preferences, etc. churches ‘preach’ community but then only define it by the Sunday event, small groups (recognized and approved by…) etc. but these are to facilitate function and define a very synthetic and shallow form of community. We all could go on with similar examples.

  6. 8-9-2013

    Hello Alan,

    This one is simple, which is a key right there.

    keep things simple–How????

    Well the church has to come to the STANDARD, the Word of God. HOW?

    Simple–rightly-divide the Word and the Word will give you the true standard on what to do in any situation, like above.

    This may explain a lot of confusion with in the church, some have the true Word and are applying it and some don’t. Some with in the church are applying someone’s opinion instead of the Truth, which in return causes confusion and other just want to talk about themselves. The word never comes up in an given conversation, mmmmm.

    What’s the standard?

    What about measuring an inch? where do we and everyone else go? To a ruler, why, because that’s the standard and there’s no arguement is there?

    Well what about the Word of God? Confusion comes with many different opinions now doesnt’ it?

    So the really problem is finding the true standard and living it together as a church and when someone vearsssse off that standard, you help them get back to it, just like that ruler I mentioned.

    Simple isn’t it?


  7. 8-10-2013


    I wholeheartedly agree with all of your posts above, but I think you are leaving out one critical and vital thing and that is tying the church back to Christ. This is not just about what Jesus did for the church (though we can and should write endlessly about that) – but what God created the church for in the first place.

    1. The church is the bride of Christ. Ephesians 1:22 calls the church, ‘the fullness of Him’ (Christ). In Christ – the fullness of the deity dwells. In the Church – the fullness of Christ dwells. Just like Adam was caused to sleep – and Eve was taken from his side… Jesus was put to sleep – and the Church was taken from His side. Bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. The two shall be one. What God has joined together let man not separate. Christ is the second Adam – the church is the second Eve. The types are everywhere in scripture – and significantly important even to the micro church. She (the church) is custom made for Him (Jesus).

    The church is not an “it”, but a “she”. There are not two churches – the ‘universal’ church – and the ‘simple’ church. The ‘simple’ church is joined universally thru her direct relationships with others. There is one church.

    When my own bride walked down the aisle (26 years ago) – I cried – not because she was the most beautiful, radiant thing I’d ever seen (which she was and she still is). I cried because at that moment in time I saw what Jesus saw in His Bride – she is absolutely stunningly beautiful – and she belongs 100% to Him.

  8. 8-11-2013


    I see what you mean now. Thank you.


    Perhaps we should be suspect of anything that prevents one-another-ing?


    I think most Christians believe their ecclesiology is biblical, and many things are “proven” from various passages of Scripture. My concern is taking it all in context, which is a little more difficult to do.


    I’m thinking that the imagery of the church as “the bride of Christ” is part of our relationship (mostly corporate relationship) with God. But, I’ll think about how that and other images could be included in my description.


  9. 8-12-2013


    So what’s the whole context and difficulty? What’s the real problem or challenge I should say, not necessarily a problem but challenge?

    It has to come back to love, love in some way, shape or form.


  10. 8-12-2013


    The difficulty (as I see it) is that many people (scholars included) begin with the current state of the church and then “prove” that state via certain Scripture passages. It turns into something similar to a “ransom demand letter” with pieces cut out of different parts then pasted back together. The end result looks completely different from what we find in Scripture (in my opinion).


  11. 8-23-2013

    “[T]he essential principles of ‘organic/simple church’ – to the extent they are truly Biblical, like ministry one to another – do work, so long as they emerge ‘organically’ in the context of the unique qualities and characteristics of each community.”

    What exactly do you mean by organically here? Without effort? Yes, a lot of these principles can emerge organically, but I do think that sometimes you have to first identify some principles, based on the word of God, and then work in a very intentional manner to re-align yourself to it. At least that how it is for me, sometimes things just “fall into place” as a result of my relationship with God, but sometimes I identify something that is in the Bible and I’m not living, and I of course ask God to change my character, because he’s the only one with that ability, but I also have to do my part and take some practical steps.

    Now, when that’s applied to the church, it becomes a little bit more complex, because sometimes people don’t identify these principles at the same time, or have the same understanding of them. In this case I guess it depends on how you recognize authority in your life. For example, I recognize my Dad’s authority in my life, so unless God is speaking directly against something my Dad’s telling me, I obey him, even when it’s not what I want to do. But I know that not everyone believes this way.

  12. 8-23-2013


    While Jim originally penned that phrase, I’ll be glad to share my thoughts on it. “Organically” does not mean without effort or even without principles. Instead, “organically” means that it’s not programmed or dictated by others. Instead, we allow God to guide us into serving others through the talents, gifts, opportunities, etc. that he provides. This works on an individual and a group (church) level.