Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Future of the Church: The Form

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Romans 12:4-5

What is the architecture of the church? In other words what should a church look like? What should a church look like in the future? We agree that the church, as in its current state is floundering, struggling for its life. It has forgotten that it is the ecclesia - "the called out ones." We agree that the church needs to refocus on its "life in the Trinity" and primarily recoup an understanding of the Spirit's work in its midst. Indeed, cooperation with the Spirit is crucial! But then what will this living and breathing organization 'look' like?

At some point in its 2000 plus year existence, the church became identified with the structure in which it met. Like a temple or synagogue, it had a sanctuary, an atrium and like the early Roman house churches a water source for baptisms. Within several hundred years, the church building took on a particular form and by the sixteenth century Reformation had found its ideal architectural style. In contemporary America, most people know a "church building" - it can be white or usually brick, a raised roof, stained glass lining the sanctuary and a steeple of some sort. Any one of these or a combination of these elements are indicative of the church building with or without a sign. But is this the church? According to our preliminary studies, the answer would have to be no.

Well, here are some preliminary thoughts:

1) The church is the community of believers, drawn out of the world (ekkaleo), by the Spirit, in Christ, to participate in the program of the Trinity.

We are a community of people, readily identifiable by our character in the Spirit, constantly pointing to Christ as our source and the Father as our glory.

2) The church looks and acts, like a "body."

Paul consistently referred to the church as the "body" of Christ. See Romans 12 especially.

3) The church functions as priest to the world.

The closest any other Biblical writer comes to Paul's vision of the church as "body" is Peter, in 1 Peter 2:5 - "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

We stand as witnesses to a lost and dying world of the absolute love of God and point to the salvation that is to be found in Him alone.

With those thoughts in mind....

4) In the future, buildings will be irrelevant. Indeed for many churches in North America, function already trumps form.

This will be hard in a transitional age. There are many in North America who have so closely identified church with building that the shift in understanding will bring bewilderment, resentment and even anger. See the "emerging church" on this polarization. Nevertheless, as the church recovers its identity as the Body of Christ, an increasing focus will be given to mission and radical discipleship. The idea of catechetical instruction will return.

5) In an increasingly secular and antagonistic culture, the places where the church meets will increasingly focus on functionality - as staging points for ministry.

Locations of where the church meets, might even shift on a regular basis due to the emphasis on functionality and the possibility of antagonistic response by the secular community. This is already the case in third world, socialist or Islamic countries.

The signs of liturgy and sacramental beauty - such as bright brass crosses and communion vessels, stained glass and carved wooden symbols of our faith - will become portable and even hidden. The main form of worship will return to prayer and gentle singing. (See Ephesians 5:19)

6) The church will become a movement.

Different denominational expressions of the church in the community will dissolve. Much of the membership will be lost to secularization while a few will reform as the movement of Christ. The Holy Priesthood, the Living Stones, the Body of Christ will go about doing the miraculous work and ministry of Christ with no permanent place of worship; they simply will utilize what they have on hand to affect worship and make disciples.

7) The church will be anonymous. There will be but one name: Christ.

No more first, second and third churches. No more this street and this avenue churches. No more consumer based church shopping and hopping. No more church splits. No more personality driven ministries. There will be but one body, one Spirit and one baptism. The members of the body will exercise their Spiritual gifts in the name of Christ to the glory of the Father.


In an era where the institutional church has forgotten who she is, a younger generation of Christians is working over time to recapture the roots of the Christian faith. Especially in Protestant Baptist life, where we are so focused on Scripture and the revivalist tradition. This younger generation has finally said, "enough!" to the constant bickering over buildings and the nuances of biblical authority. They see it for what it is, the quest for power and division by the enemy. So the institutional church has given them no choice if they want to find the roots of their faith: start over. And they are. They are going to different denominational or non-denominational faith expressions. They are returning to the Roman church. They are forming house churches.

Although the church is fragmenting now, in my life time we will still have church buildings, traditions and beautiful stained glass. There will still be believers who love the liturgy and the beauty of where they worship. They will love the organ, the praise band and the Christian music stations. We will spend time in Christian bookstores and watch Christian movies. Nevertheless, we must prepare for the future and refocus our lives as the Body of Christ and invest ourselves in the concerns of our Savior.

Food for thought my friends.

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