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The Church - A New View


Church is not where God is happening.

Most of what God is doing seems to be outwith the confines of churches - of congregations or buildings. God is 'happening' in the lives of ordinary people, and that's the way God planned it to be.

When David proposed building God a building, a temple, one of the first parts of God's reply was "Did I ever criticise one of the past leaders for not building me a house? All that time, I was moving about among the people." God let David build a 'house of God', not because God wants a special house, but because David's heart was right. That God did not consider 'his' temple to be important is confirmed by God deliberately letting 'his' temple be destroyed, not once but twice, by Babylon and by Rome.

In some cultural situations God works via churches, but in others God works outwith them, and often in spite of them. In the UK and America, church is in a crisis - evidenced by falling numbers and a host of 'new ways of doing church' being explored. Is this because church is not of utmost importance in God's eyes?

Is church important? Why? And how do we overcome its problems? - by 'fresh expressions', being 'messy', by better teaching and preaching, or what? Perhaps we need to rethink the meaningfulness of church in God's eyes.

By the way: What should we see on church websites?

A 'New View' of Church

This 'New View' in theology and practice provides a way to address these questions, not by address them head-on, but by coming at them from a different angle. This different angle first answers some foundational questions about the meaningfulness of church in God's Cosmic Plan. Only then is it ready to answer these more visible questions. Unless we gain a clear understanding the the cosmic meaningfulness of church - which does not make the presuppositions of the twentieth century - we cannot understand what the problems are.

'The Church' has many meanings. Many meanings of 'church' include: the worldwide people of God, a denomination or grouping (e.g. the Methodist Church, RCCG, or New Frontiers International), an organisation (e.g. the Church of Scotland), a congregation (e.g. Edinburgh City Fellowship), a building (e.g. the church in the main street), and so on. In all senses it represents something of God to the rest of the world, to a greater or lesser extent. Each meaning is useful in God's Plan, and is discussed below. However, the main one we discuss when we say 'church' is the organisation that people encounter everyday, i.e. the congregation with its building(s) and activities.

Traditional Christianities today give priority to the church. To this New View, church is not a major issue, but is a sub-issue of the main issue, which is Representing God.

I trust the page is useful.

Cosmic Meaningfulness of Church

We have argued that God's Cosmic Plan is to bring about a varied creation in which all bless each other with 'shalomic rejoicing' in the way God would. To summarise this Plan, God created, humankind turned away, God instituted a long-term rescue plan, which involved God entering His creation as a human being, Jesus Christ, to enact three dimensional salvation, in which Christ's people represent God in a number of ways for a couple of millennia, and this eventually becomes consummated in a new heaven and earth.

The church is an institution or organisational reality that contributes to part of that - Christ's people representing God for a couple of millennia. However, it is not the church that is important, but representing God that is important, and the church is one aid to that.

So, our answer to "Why the church is important?" is "The church is a social vehicle that helps Christ's people represent God." Let us examine each of the components of that.

Social. Humankind is inherently and inescapably social, meaning that we live and work together, agreeing or disagreeing as we go. Social functioning is more effective than a collection of individuals functioning, because social functioning (working together with different roles) 'amplifies' individual functioning. Part of social functioning is to create organisations. Some such organisations are churches. Churches might be defined as organisations that are led by a faith purpose. This is perhaps fairly obvious, and already found in most thinking about, and practice of, church, but it is useful to make it explicit.

Vehicle. A vehicle is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The church is a vehicle to help Christ's people represent God in all these ways. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Christ's people representing God. What is elaborated elsewhere about representing God is summarised here, as the purpose for which church exists and towards which it aims. There are six elements to representing God:

This provides an answer to "Why is the church important?"

Current State

Unfortunately, in practice, most church leaders tend to talk and act and plan, and many church people tend to assume, that church is almost an end in itself.

Traditional Christianities give priority to church for various reasons. Do some do so as an antidote to the individualism that besets Western thinking and mindset today? So some do so because of the self-seeking of Christian leadership? Do some do so because of the rivalry between different churches?

Today some of Christ's people are fed up with church, and drop out of church, though not necessarily out of Christ. Various new 'ways of doing church' today, such as café church, messy church, church without walls, emerging church, etc. have arisen. Many of these are attempts to recover the main purpose of church, which is variously seen as evangelism, justice, community for Christ, etc. These are portions of the New View, which is that church is part of God's Plan that his people will repressent him.

How To Solve the Problem

(This to some extend answers the third question, "And how do we overcome its problems?"

Unfortunately, many of the current attempts at solutions still treat the church as an end in itself - things like messy church, fresh expressions. It is not that these are wrong, but that their main aim is to rejuvenate the organisation we call 'church' rather than getting God's people to represent God more clearly and effectively.

I am not interested in a church that focuses on growth, that focuses its attention on its own aliveness, its own revival. I'm not interested in a church that puts a lot of attention into its own buildings and web presence, not even if it tries to be PR for God. I'm not interest in a church that has wonderful worship. I'm not interested in a church in which everyone knows each other. I'm not interested in a church that puts on activities that increasingly suck its members in and take up their time, so they fail to engage with those outside.

I am interested in a church:

Doing this does not involve doing radically new things, but rather doing current and new things in a radically new way, with a radically different motivation and aim.

It could be said that it is when church becomes a social vehicle for helping Christ's people represent God in all ways, that revival can break out. Revival is not a thing to aim for, but a result of grasping the whole three dimensions of God's salvation fully and taking them very seriously as a community.


This part briefly discusses each of the types of meaning that 'church' has, to see how each can validly be part of representing God. It also recognises that each emphasises different aspects of life, and that each has its own dangers in misrepresenting God. Thus, for each type, New View offers a means of evaluation. The types include:

Church as Worldwide People of God

This is everyday representation. Here the church is all those who have been chosen by God / have deliberately committed themselves to Jesus Christ. It is the collectiion of such people, throughout the world and across all time. In each such person the Holy Spirit lives, to make them like Christ in character (), to change their worldview (Rom 12:2), to activate them in power () and to provide comfort and help, so that each such person represents God in their very living here and now.

This is probably the most important type of representation, because it is accessible to most people, whether religious or not, because it is where God is seen and known in multi-aspectual everyday life, rather than expressing one particular aspect of life.

Unfortunately, many who claim to be Christ's do not well represent God in one or more of these ways. For example, many who are like Christ in character still retain the Scholastic or Humanist (convenience- and comfor-seeking) worldview. On the other hand, some who espouse a better worldview are working by their own power rather than that of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, God their Father is faithful and patient.

Church as Congregation

This is social representation. A congregation is a social institution or distinct group in a local community. It will (soon) have a structure (at least leaders and the rest) and a either goal or a tacit purpose (reason why it is functioning as a distinct group).

The usefulness of church-as-congregation in God's Plan is that it provides a setting for meeting together [Heb 12] as God's people, so that they help each other. A congregation also makes God's Plan more distinctly visible in each community, as the community see the church-as-congregation working together and achieving things. The following are valid activities that may be seen as part of representing God as a congregation in the community: gospel-preaching, doctrine-defence, locality-winning, mission. But "To be the church in this locality" is possibly the best expression, though it is frequently used almost as an excuse to maintain status quo and comfortable lives of members. (Note that God's people can meet together with blessing, without a congregation, just by occasional meetings in which the things of God are deeply discussed.)

Unfortunately, the church-as-congregation often misrepresents God because of scandals, rivalries and jealousies among its members, because of hypocrisy in its members, because of self-seeking by its members, because of ineptness by its members.

Church-as-congregation: why do several distinct congregations tend to form in local communities? This relates to other aspects, especially the economic and doctrinal aspects. What is preached in any congregation at any given time can be seen, in many instances, as either what the preacher has been discovering for themselves, or what they are reacting against.

Church as Building

This is physical, symbolic and aesthetic representation. The building that is 'the church', houses a congregation and other communal activities. It is seen by some theology as a 'holy' place, dedicated sacred physical space. New View recognises this might be useful in representation in some cultures, but does not accord it priority.

The usefulness of church-as-building in God's Plan is the static location so that local people know where it is, and its visibility to people. It can also express visual-aesthetically something of God and what his people think of him - hence expensive decorations. To have their own building gives comfort and dignity to a congregation.

However, church-as-building soon becomes an end in itself, diverting the congregation's focus and attention from being active in representing God to upkeep, maintenance and development of the building. Moreover, the comfort and dignity that a building gives to a congregation is often contaminated with affluence and pride.

Church as Organisation

This is organisational representation, focusing on the economic aspect of life. The church-as-organisation is a congregation with structure, rules and procedures for operating and, usually, formal links with other similar congregations. Church-as-organisation has explicitly stated aims, and mechanisms of detection and correction of behaviours that go against those aims. Church-as-organisation is conscious that resources are limited, and often has a Board of Trustees to look after its assets.

This is useful in God's Plan because organisations are more effective and efficient for achieving things than are individual people or congregations. Different organisational structures can be more or less effective and efficient in achieving things of God. In the UK, "Does the structure adequately represent God?" was much discussed (and fought over) for several hundred years (e.g. congregationalism v. presbyterianism v. episcopacy).

Someone has said "The Church's main responsibility is to find out where God is working and go and join Him there." On Christmas Day 2012 Justin Whelby, preached his last Christmas sermon as Bishop of Durham (before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury). In it he said

"The job of the church is not self-preservation.
That way leads to destruction.
The job of the Church is to glorify God."

Unfortunately, many churches as organisations are self-serving, not centred on representing God. 'To grow' is a self-serving aim, even though many leaderships focus on it, because it is self-absorbing. 'Growing' is a characteristic rather than a purpose - and it says nothing about representing the Living God. Some churches-as-organisation are dominated in what they do by different gods (e.g. Freemasonary).

Church as Denomination

This is doctrinal representation, which emphasises explicit expression of the faith aspect of life. Each denomination is an organisation that espouses a particular theory about what we should believe and how we should organise and govern the church-as-organisation. Each denomination is distinguished from others by the theories it holds about these things. These theories are expressed in Statements of Faith or doctrines, and in procedures and by which the denomination runs itself.

Church-as-denomination is useful in God's Plan, to help crystallize his message and plan in each culture. So people in each culture can gain a clear explicit understanding of God and what he wishes.

However I'd like to offer a side comment on something Greg said about the RC view of tradition: I recall Tillich pointing out in class that the medieval church made the same assumption that the Jews had made, namely, that since they were God's people God wouldn't allow them to fall into error. So whatever traditions had grown up must have God's approval. Jesus rebuked that when he told the religious leaders that they were teaching the "traditions of men" rather than the word of God. And the Reformation took up the same objection. For example, the preface to the first unified Book of Common Prayer (1549) begins: "There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised or sure established, which in continuance of tame hath not been corrupted..." That difference is a fundamental one, and one that has led to the slogan "to be reformed is to be reforming." The task is never done and is why we're to compare all doctrinal creeds and theologies to scripture.

Unfortunately, the theories expressed in doctrines and rules veer away from God's important messages as found in Scripture. Roy Clouser sent the following: "the medieval church made the same assumption that the Jews had made, namely, that since they were God's people God wouldn't allow them to fall into error. So whatever traditions had grown up must have God's approval. Jesus rebuked that when he told the religious leaders that they were teaching the "traditions of men" rather than the word of God."

Often the doctrines and rules focus on just one aspect, and so are narrow and unrepresentative of God's full reality. Often this has happened because previous churches-as-organisations have ignored that one aspect, so the new organisation wishes to focus on it. But they, in turn, ignore others.

Often, the biggest battles in Christendom have been over doctrine - consider, for example, the split of Protestant from Roman Catholic at the Reformation. This led to wars. (We see similar in Islam.) Within the Protestant side of the church, further splits occurred over doctrine, but also over organisational structure as seen above. One reason why the Roman Catholic church did not further split is because it has focussed too much on church-as-organisation as well as denomination, often to the detriment of worldwide people of God and church-as-community (despite the title 'catholic').

Church as Christendom

This is global representation. Christendom is the recognisable practices, theories (doctrines) and legislature through all time of all those who call themselves 'Christian', whether they are God's people or not.

The usefulness of Christendom to God's Plan is in showing clearly that there is a distinction between religions. It can also demonstrate God's action, work and character over a long period.

However, as the author of that excellent book The Cruelty of Heresy said, for most of its life the Church as Christendom has been heretical rather than orthodox, in that it has espoused false views (theories) about God. In particular, from the period 500 - 1500 CE Christendom has been infected with the false separation between sacred and secular, especially in the Scholastic attitude. The work and character of God have been distorted.

This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2011, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext. Number of visitors to these pages: Counter.

Created: 11 December 2011. Last updated: 13 May 2012 what preached as reaction; new intro. 26 September 2012 Clouser on error. 25 December 2012 church to go where God is working, and glorify him. 19 January 2014 completely new intro and material linking church to representing God; the previous rather academic discussion of meanings of word 'church' becomes a kind of appendix at end. 10 May 2014 new intro, church not where God happening.