I've spent the better part of my nearly 19 years of ministry in the "local church." I've pastored 3 churches in three different states. I've actually ministered in 3 different denominations: The Southern Baptist Convention, The Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, and the National Association of Free Will Baptists. I mention this just to establish that I've "been there," and I know whereof I speak.
In my last post, I ended asking the question, "Does the local church...have part in this [Body of Christ]?" Does any denomination, institution, para-church ministry, mission board or even local church participate in the "Body of Christ," and it's ministry on earth? And for that matter, why does it seem I'm so hard on the local church and other institutional Christian organizations?
In the past, I wasn't. From the time I first sensed God dealing with me as a rising Senior in High School, and at the World Congress of Fundamentalists in 1983, I've been involved in local churches. I've believed in local churches. I've even worn blinders for the sake of local churches. Let me explain...
As with other "made with hands" institutions, when humans are involved, even "believers" in Christ, their suppressed yet potent depraved natures cannot help but "leak out." In my experience, I've known Pastors and other ministers who were liars and cheats, I've known deacons who followed their examples. I knew a deacon once who was a drunk. One Pastor I was acquainted with was a serial adulterer -- he'd had at least two affairs in the church he served. I could go on, and I could reveal much worse. I'll spare you. I mean, "We're all human, right?"
God did not entrust His message to humans so they could shame it, smear it, and spit on it. Yet, too often, the actions of "church leaders" do exactly that. The actions of "church members" are as bad or worse. The testimony of "the church" is not a plus for the building of God's Kingdom.
But you might charge that I am basing my generally negative views about the "institutional church" and its subsidiaries on the actions of a few, or only on my own experience. Well, examine the Scriptures.
When we look at the New Testament, we find all the Apostles who write of "The Church" as the "Body of Christ," understand it to be very positive and pure. But when the term "the churches" is used -- or when a single local church is mentioned (Corinth, Laodecia, Thyatira, etc) -- it's usually in the context of the troubles it's having.
For example, after Pentecost the young church in Jerusalem boomed. They rode a wave of blessing and growth hard to conceive of in our day. Yet, within three years or so, "there arose a dissension between the Grecians [Hellenistic Jews] and the Hebrews [Palestinian Jews]..." (Acts 6:1). This lead the young church to appoint "Deacons" -- the seven men who would meet the ministry needs of the Grecian Jewish converts, and thus solve the problem. Though necessary, this indicates a pattern that continues to this day -- when there is a problem, let's start a committee, or two.... So the institution grows, but how long before the cure to the original disease become a disease in itself?
Divisions within a local church, or in larger Christian institutions, are notable and numerous. Consider the split in the Church in 49 AD regarding how one becomes a Christian (Acts 15). Or, consider the Corinthian Church -- of all the Apostle Paul's "church" plants, this one was the worst. "Now I beseech you, Brethren...that there be no divisions among you...For it has been declared to me that among you, my brethren...that there are contentions among you" (I Corinthians 1:10,11).
Time and space forbid me to explore the myriad examples in the New Testament of "local churches" that were corrupt -- whether in outright immorality, divisions, deviant beliefs, etc.. And it is no different today.
Consider that of the seven churches named in the book of Revelation 2-3; only 2 were not judged or criticized by the Lord. Smyrna was too busy being persecuted to be unfaithful or untrue to the faith; Philadelphia is portrayed as having "a little strength" because they "kept the word of [God's] patience" (Revelation 3:8). It is debated why Philadelphia had "little strength," but it is clear that they were faithful -- and just as clear -- they were the exception.
Today, the "local church" that reflects faithfulness to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, to the Purposes of God, and to the principles of His Word, are rare. Certainly, there are exceptions. But, "local churches" are only exceptions to the rule of the failure of the "made with hands" institutional churches to the extent that they are loyal to -- and diligent in -- faithfulness to God and His Word....No matter what the denomination, Bishop, Session, hierarchy, Canon Law, the World or the Devil Himself says.
So, is "The Church" in a given area only found in a "local church," or is it manifest in different places, under different conditions and circumstances, without the made with hands structures, bureaucracies and consequent corruptions?