Sometimes it seems as though it is our ecclesiology that splits us into different denominations and separates churches. Whether it is the way the music is played, how often communion is taken, or what form of church government rules above it, all of these things are certain to create problems between believers. Yet, it seems at many times that everyone is right, whether they are extremely for one side of the argument, or very much against it. But it is in my opinion that there is a middle ground to many of these debates that is often times overlooked, and it is there in the middle ground that the Spirit has full potential to move. People tend to leave either too little space for the Spirit (or sometimes none at all), whereas on the other side of things, there may be too much room for the Spirit where the entire congregation is not edified by what He is doing (1 Cor. 14:26). Therefore, the form of ecclesiology that I wish churches to adopt, and the form that I find myself in favor of is that of a Spirit-led service with structure.
Having a Spirit-led church with structure is obviously not a new idea. There are plenty of churches doing so right now. But if we take a look at the past and the New Testament church, we find that one of the only Scriptures explaining how we should “do church” has a similar ecclesiology. In 1 Corinthians 14:20-40, Paul lays out an ecclesiology full of structure that includes the Spirit. His idea of order in the church is as follows: listen to a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, and an interpretation. So yes, Paul has a structure. But Paul is also capable of giving the Spirit space within that structure. Not only do they have time in their service to speak in tongues (a gift from the Spirit) and share revelations from the Spirit, but in the same passage, they are also told to prophesy. The way Paul “does church” is neither evangelical nor orthodox, yet churches today have only adapted pieces of this Biblical account into their structures.
Now there are other avenues outside of the ones that Paul laid out that our churches have found important to be included, such as music. Now music isn’t expressly noted in Paul’s structure but we find it important today. And on top of that, there is a possibility that the psalms they shared in the New Testament churches were sung since they are, after all, psalms. Today, worship music is one of the areas that many churches tend to cut the Spirit out of. At the extremity of evangelicalism, we find that the worship songs may be timed out to end at an exact second in order to stay on a very strict and rigid schedule. On the other side of the spectrum, however, churches may worship up to four hours, leaving plenty of room for the Spirit to do what He feels fit. The only thing wrong with worshipping for four hours is that you may never get a chance to get to some of the other basics of church.
But when it comes down to it, there is nothing seriously wrong with such an extension of time allotted for worship. There is, however, something wrong with cutting the Spirit out of worship completely. Worship through the avenue of music needs to be understood as important as it is one of the most universal ways to give praise. Realize that the debate here is not on the genre of music a church plays, but the space left for the Spirit to move through it.
One of the things that evangelicals are obsessed with in today’s age is making their churches relevant and cool to the society that we live in. There are also, as you might have guessed, churches that could care less. The Eastern Orthodox Church is obviously one of these churches as they are incredibly ingrained in a very ancient form of tradition and claim that their way of doing church is the only right way. Once again, it seems to me that the Spirit moves best somewhere between these opposing viewpoints. It does not matter to Him what millennium it is, as He exists and moves regardless. It is obvious that He is moving in some very modern churches, just as He is in those that are very traditional. But I would again suggest that He is given the most freedom to do His work in between the arguments. In this particular case, I believe it is easier for Him to reach out to unbelievers when the doors of a church do not present him or her with culture shock.
Paul had a concern about the church reaching the unsaved. He believed that the churches of his time could reach unbelievers through the gifting of the Spirit. He points out in 1 Corinthians 14:24 that through prophecy, God made Himself real to the unbeliever. Now first off, churches would have to start teaching and practicing prophecy in order to show an unbeliever God in such a way. But in order to get an unbeliever into a church in the first place, it doesn’t hurt to have a church that can minister to the era they live in. This takes us back to the issue of music, as it is really one of the biggest tone setters for a church. While it may have its flaws, contemporary and modern music is where my heart lies and I feel that it has a max potential to reach unbelievers. But that is an argument we will not get into right now.
While making the church an environment for unbelievers to come to is good and all, that does not mean that we need to dumb down every fabric of her being. Doing such a thing actually gives the Spirit less room to move (if any at all). More specifically, I speak about the messages preached every Sunday. The church is hungering for a deeper, more intimate understanding of God and His Scriptures and the Spirit is longing to give it to her. But some of the messages pastors preach today are so watered down that the Holy Spirit has a hard time trying to find a serious (or at least a new) application to give to the body.
I believe that is why churches like Rob Bell’s in Michigan and Francis Chan’s in California are flourishing. Bell delivers some of the most in depth and well rehearsed messages you will ever hear and people show up because they love to hear it. Chan, on the other hand, delivers messages that may not be quite as deep, but are so real to the listener that he or she cannot leave untouched by the Spirit. The pastor of a church is not meant to be a businessman. He or she should actually spend time with the Spirit to find out how He wants to move. Revelations are important to knowledge and message-giving and the passing on of that knowledge is important to growing in God.
And then there is still the subject of Sacraments, some of which were commanded by Jesus Himself. Obviously we need to look at these as important, which the traditional churches have done much better at than the modern, even though both have an extreme side to them. Communion, for example, is basically dead in evangelical churches and has the potential to be dead to those that are more orthodox. When a church does not practice Eucharist rarely or at all, they are really leaving out an important practice of Jesus’. But when a church practices it all too much, the very reason for its existence can be lost in Christian legalism. My current idea is to have communion once or twice a month, but practice it more regularly in other venues such as small groups. I would also perhaps have a day each week where a communion service takes place for anyone who would like to come. That way the Spirit has a chance to make communion real to people in the right dose for their particular understanding.
When it comes to the sacrament of baptism, my approach is much like that of the Free Methodists. Dedication as a child is appropriate, but baptism should be approached as an adult. Therefore the Spirit has led a person to claim baptism for his or herself rather than have a fellow Christian claim it for them. This is meant to be a serious moment in one’s life and it should be undergone at an age of understanding and by the work of the Spirit within them.
When it comes down to it, I can definitely identify my ecclesiology as Spirit-led and structured. The problem with many churches is that they are either too hot or too cold on an argument when many times, the Spirit seems to be sitting in the middle of the debate whispering, “It’s balance.” Too often we support our debates by closing doors. We think that the best way to believe is to set our minds on something and never ever change it. Sometimes Jesus Himself could come knocking with the answer and we could completely lock Him out!
The truth is that the Spirit works in many ways. Through the traditional and the modern; the Orthodox and the Evangelical. By restricting Him, we are hurting the body. He may not always need to lash out in an all out charismatic fest. Maybe He just wants to whisper something. But it is in the balance of the structures that perhaps we find the most efficient service. Mix that with the Spirit and that church comes alive. However we decide to run our churches, we must realize that “all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40).