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The Structure of the Church
by Bobby Bruno
4/18/2014 / Church Life
In his book, "Theology for Disciples" (1989, 1996), Gerald W. Stafford speaks about the structure of the Christian church at large. I will start with the three forms that he proclaims exist in the church today. Let's examine these 3 forms below.
First, Stafford talks about the Episcopal Form (Pg. 208). This form is practiced by the Catholic, the Orthodox, and the Anglican churches. These types of congregations contain Bishops who oversee the governing of the church as a whole; Elders who oversee their individual churches; and Deacons who oversee the day to day operations of their church. These churches believe that Jesus has handed down His Authority to govern the church to the Apostles, and then down to the Bishops.
The next form that Stafford mentions is the Presbyterian Form (pg. 208). This form is represented by the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches. Only Elders and Deacons are permitted to govern the church. In this form, leaders govern as an "intercongregational assembly" (pg. 209).
The last form Stafford tells us about is the Congregational Form (pg. 209). This form is represented by the Congregationalist Church and many independent churches, as well. They are governed by the believers in that church who make the decisions for all in the congregation, such as a Leadership Team or Board, voluntarily voted in by the members of the church.
Now let us turn to the church as a Social Movement. The churches of today are social movements in that we, as a body of believers and followers of Jesus Christ, obey the mandate of our Lord to go into the world and make disciples of all people and nations. Through personal change within ourselves, through a relationship with Jesus Christ, we can let the world see Jesus in us, so that we, and they, can make a difference in our communities and cultures.
Mr. Stafford says that a movemental structure has three characteristics that give it identification with the New Testament church. The first is that the church is "a missionary church with a decisive theology" (pg. 213). The church must have as its mission the desire to tell the world about, and who, Jesus Christ is. They must be of the same heart that all people need Jesus. The church must, as part of its mission, teach its own congregations the true theology of God.
The next structure talked about is that the church must be "a nurturing church that cares about people" (pg. 214). The church must put people as its first concern before other things, far above the worship music, the church building, and so on. If people are not nurtured and saved by Jesus Christ for His Kingdom, then the church has not followed the mandate to go and make disciples.
Then, third, to be a successful entity, a church must connect itself with churches of other denominations of like theology, even if we do not agree with each other's traditions. God made only one Church, not many. Church isn't about the buildings we worship in, or the way we behold our traditions, we are one Church in Jesus, if we proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and have a desire for all of mankind to know Him.
So, as we can see from all of the above, for the church of today to be considered a representation of a movemental church, it must be fully committed to the mission set forth by Jesus Christ, and not its own agenda. The church must let the Holy Spirit guide it to where He wants and needs it to be. It must make new disciples in and for the whole church of Jesus, and must include other denominations that call Jesus Lord in that mission. Lastly, the Church must be guided by missions to the outside world, and not to line its own pockets with personal wealth or prestige.
Today, the Church of Jesus Christ faces many challenges in its ongoing mission to bringing salvation to the whole world. As in the beginning of the church started by Jesus Christ, today's churches also face challenges not only from the outside world, but also from within its own walls and congregations. Today, not every church is interconnected with other local churches, even if they all believe in the same God and His mission. Too many churches have begun their own movements that do not represent or acknowledge the true church of Jesus Christ.
Many churches are tempted and then move away from the mission mandated by Jesus Christ. These churches have stopped following the Holy Spirit's leading to go out and make disciples. Their mission to the society at large becomes serving only the society within their own church doors. As the Spirit departs from these churches, two results occur: either the individual church splits over one part of the congregation wanting to follow a different, newer doctrine than the other; or the church dies a slow death, becoming a dead church the kind we see on the side of the road, who's doors are boarded up and the bell tower is empty and silent.
Then we come to the churches who teach doctrine not approved by God. Prosperity churches abound with record numbers of attending members, where personal prosperity is taught using Scripture to hold up their false teachings, and serving others is not pursued. Unfortunately, we have the cults past, present, and future who use the Name of Jesus Christ to draw non-believers in only to rob the congregation of not only its money, but even their very lives (Jim Jones quickly comes to mind).
I believe in the true church of Jesus Christ. The only Church created by Jesus Christ Himself. The mandate to go out and make disciples, to serve and help others, whenever the opportunity arises from the Holy Spirit, is the mandate I choose to follow. I don't think about church as a movement or as a form for the bible doesn't put it in those terms. Jesus made it very plain what the church is supposed to be and what it is supposed to do. His will, His way. This way of doing church is good enough for me.
Stafford, Gerald W. (1989, 1996). Theology for disciples: systematic considerations about the life of Christian faith (pgs. 208-218). Warner Press.
Bobby Bruno was saved 15 years ago in a way that left him no doubt that Jesus wanted him to reach others with His great and abounding love. He started writing at the age of 12 and hasn't stopped since. He achieved Associates Degree in Biblical Studies from Ohio Christian University in early 2014.
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