Page 1

AFES

Church Discussion Paper

© Peter Hughes

Peter Hughes AFES Sydney Area Director pete_hughes@email.com

Introduction The AFES Policy on church planting begins with the words “AFES, as a “parachurch” organization…”1. The assumption is that AFES is not a church in itself, but is a ‘parachurch’. The difficulty with this is that ‘parachurch’ is a relatively new term, really only formed in the last couple of hundred years. The difficulty is what do we, as AFES, do when we want to theologically reflect on who we are and what we do. The question of “what is a parachurch organization?” has received much debate throughout the C20th2. The question I specifically want to address here is what is the theological relationship between parachurch and church? The question of this relationship is an obviously big question for AFES to answer as we have groups running on most university campuses in Australia. As we run these groups are we seeking to run them as mid week church fellowships, or as evangelistic missions, or is there a difference between these two, etc.? A number of people have attempted to answer the question of the relationship between church and parachurch in various ways3. I will not attempt to interact with others who have tried to answer this question except to observe that very few explain theologically what they mean by ‘church’. Hence I would argue that they begin with a faulty or at least unfocussed doctrine of church, which I believe lies at the heart of the matter. At this point I should also add that I do not intend to give any completed answers to this question. This paper should be seen as a step towards further discussion rather than an outline of a comprehensive conclusion4. What I do intend to do is to outline and clarify a model of church that has been recognised by a number, though not necessarily all, of AFES staff and apply this to the AFES affiliated groups.

The Knox/ Robinson Model of Church To discuss the question of the relationship between parachurch organisations such as AFES and church we need to have a clear understanding of church. This is of course far from an easy exercise5. Since the early church dispersed and began meeting in other places the relationship between the unified body of Christ and that of these discrete communities has been discussed6.

! &'()* ) + / 0 1

9

4

"

" ,

&'%1* 5

5

4

-

!

$ &7

.

0

, 3

$

6 $ . $ ':;**

& 0

!

86 ''9*

$ 05 $ ! $0 0 0

%

2 )'

. :

# $

0 0

$ 0

#

&

':

3

1


AFES

Church Discussion Paper

© Peter Hughes

I would like to submit that what has been commonly known as the Knox/ Robinson Model of church to be the best starting point for our debate. I will briefly outline their approach here. Methodology D. B. Knox7 and D. W. B. Robinson8 had in common the methodology of establishing a doctrine of church from a Biblical theological perspective taking the approach of tracing the theme of through the Bible. This method did not have its starting point with Acts 2 as the beginning of church. Rather they started with the meeting at Sinai9. The reason for this starting point was simply that places like Deuteronomy 4:10 and Acts 7:38 use the cognates in describing the meeting at Sinai10. This meant for Knox “…the Old Testament assembly or church was a physical gathering of all people of God in the presence of God, first at Mount Sinai, and then later at Jerusalem.”11 This is an important point for our discussions on New Testament church. Heavenly Church The significance of this is the contrast that is expressed in Hebrews 12:18-24. As far as Knox and Robinson are concerned this is the contrast between the churches of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament. In both cases all the people of God are gathered and all are gathered around God. While there are numerous differences between the New Testament and Old Testament churches, we will focus on the key one for our debate – the location. The Old Testament church gathered around “…what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest” Hebrews 12:18 (ESV), namely Mt Sinai. On the other hand the new covenant people have: “…come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”12 The location of said assembly is argued to be heaven for the following reasons. Firstly, the language of such things within the passage the “heavenly Jerusalem”, “innumerable angels”, “the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven”, etc suggests a heavenly setting for the assembly. Secondly, the meeting is to be made around Jesus. Jesus is clearly in heaven (1 Peter 3:22, Acts 3:21, 7:55, 2 Corinthians 5:8, etc). Elsewhere we have seen that we are gathered to him at least on an individual level (Colossians 3:1, Ephesians 2:6). Since we are gathered with him we are assembled with him in heaven. This is the primary understanding of church for Knox and Robinson. “We are participants in the group or gathering around God’s throne which Christ is forming in the presence of God. This is the basic use in the New Testament of the word ‘church’”13. I would like to highlight here that this is the primary for Knox and Robinson.

%

6 # ( ,

<= $ # ;;)* =$ 9 &'%1* 9:2 :

"

6 -

<"

", ",

# $% & &> ! 8 ! 8

06

"

0

0

>$ >$

&'%%*

: 2:) '

>< ;

" / ) "

'21; ><

01 ; 6 <" 2 1 &> ?* 6 <"

# $% &

'

# $% &

;

2


AFES

Church Discussion Paper

© Peter Hughes

That there is a visible and invisible church, hence local and universal nature of church has been long recognised by theologians14 and easily discerned by a reading of 1 Corinthians 11-1415. However this model both emphasizes the invisible nature of the church and hence the fact that we are called and saved by Jesus Christ, rather than enter into a new community16. It also explains how the universal nature of church, commonly articulated but rarely described, is an assembly. Hence the question of how can we be universally a church and not physically assembled is resolved in us being assembled in heaven17. This is an important point since “Neither in classical Greek nor in the LXX does ekklesia mean anything other than 'assembly'.”18 Earthly Church While this is the focus of church it is not the only expression of church19. We will designate them as ‘heavenly’, which we have already seen, and ‘earthly’, as the physical gatherings in Corinth and Ephesus for example. These two, earthly and heavenly, are closely related. “Now the heavenly and the earthly are not two fellowships, or two gatherings, one unseen, the other local and visible, but they are the same fellowship both heavenly in God’s presence and at the same time local and physical because we live in a physical environment”20 The point to highlight here is that it is because we are in heaven in assembly or church, that is to say, since we are in this heavenly fellowship that we meet together in the physical form of church that we know. Each manifestation of the meeting of God’s people is a complete manifestation not a part of the heavenly gathering. Hence Paul writes “to the church of God that is in Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2) not the “part of the church of God that is in Corinth”. Further each manifestation of the heavenly gathering has all that needs to express that gathering (1 Corinthians 1:4-7). “The local church is not part of the church but is the church in the local expression. This means that the whole power of Christ is available to every local congregation, that each congregation functions in its community as the universal church functions in the world as a whole, and that the local congregation is no isolated group but stands in a state of solidarity with the church as a whole.”21 This, I take it, is not dependent on the size or the organisation of the church. Hence the physical manifestation of the church takes place whether there are two or three gathered (Matthew 18:20) or a much larger more formal organisation with elders, deacons, etc22.

1 9

> 5 > 8 C

=8 @A 5 1 ) 0 = 0

$

0 C C

AB =

= 0

0 C $

:

!

$ 0 D % ! +" ! 8 / $ 0 > & 8 >< '(% * ') ( - $ ;; ' ! ! ' +" ' 2'( 0 $ < 0 0 0 ;" 6 <" # $% & . > 7 ! &. , '')* 9(

0 $

$ =/

0

$ $ > 05 :

;1 ;;1 $ 0

#

">

'%1

3


AFES

Church Discussion Paper

© Peter Hughes

“Fellowship is meeting and so naturally in the New Testament the word ‘church’ is very frequently used of those gatherings whether in the home or in some other place where Christians assembled”23 The Misnomer of the Knox/ Robinson Model Before we continue, we need to uncover some myths of the model. Although commonly referred to as the Knox/ Robinson model of church the term itself is a misnomer for several reasons. Firstly, Knox and Robinson did not agree on the doctrine of church. It is named after them because of the methodology that is used rather than the conclusions that they came to. Robinson, on one hand, held that church does not exist without meeting24. Therefore the average suburban church only exists on Sundays when it meets. On the other hand Knox understood that church was all about fellowship and therefore as the fellowship exists, so does it25, whether there was physically a meeting or not. Hence you assemble because you are in fellowship, not the other way around. Secondly, several other scholars have offered their own significant contributions. Both O’Brien26 and Peterson27 have added significant contributions offering their own nuances on the subject. Indeed O’Brien’s essay is an excellent example of a coherent and clearly exegeted explanation of the model and good place for someone entering the debate to begin. Peterson’s paper is a fabulous interaction with the Kevin Giles book28. Finally, this model has been considered to be a product of ‘Sydney theology’, however it is not uniquely so, as for example, Clowney29 has also headed in the same direction.

Significance The question we now need to ask is what is the significance of this model for our enquiry of church and parachurch? The key here is looking at what makes the church of God ‘church’? Briefly speaking, both Knox and Robinson agree that it is the expression of the heavenly reality. This is to be the focus of church. There is disagreement with the precise expression of the reality. For Robinson this is the actual meeting or assembly. For Knox it was the fellowship or community. Neither argues that it is structures or sacraments. I agree with Knox for a couple of reasons. Firstly, room will not permit me to repeat the emphasis that Knox places on the role of relationship in theology, whether that be in the creation of man, the essential trinity, the goal of the Gospel, etc. But suffice to say that Knox saw relationship and fellowship as ‘ultimate reality’. This is rightly reflected in his doctrine of church. Secondly, it is not adequate to say that in the New Testament always means 'assembly' or 'gathering'30. As we have noted above ‘church’ has many other synonyms and the concept needs to be nuaced by these. Hence to restrict church to mere assemblies is to underestimate it.

) 1

9 :

%

" -

6

", ", " !

- $

( ' > . $ 5 );

<" # $% &( ! 8 >$ 9 &'%1* 9:2 : ! 8 >$ &'%%* : 2:) : 6 <" # $% &( ) +" ! 8 / $ 0 > > 05 & 8 >< '(% * ;; ' ! ! : ;1 ;;1 ) 8 0 &> 0. " 08 8 ! 05? ''9* );2) ;; '

:;E

4


AFES

Church Discussion Paper

© Peter Hughes

Therefore, we can summarise the answer to what is ‘church’ by saying earthly church is the expression of the heavenly reality of the assembly in heaven. Therefore what makes the church of God ‘church’ is the meeting of God’s people around God, whether that is the heavenly assembly or one of its earthly manifestations. Other features of church are less important for a definition of church. Role of Structures We are now at a point where we can examine the issue of structures in the church. The question we need to ask is not whether these should be present in the normal meetings of Christians, which is undeniable, but whether such things need to be present for church to exist. Church can be seen from a number of perspectives. For example many people acknowledge the differing perspectives of church visible and invisible and that of local and universal. We have articulated above the perspective of church heavenly and earthly. A third may be offered to help us here of church organic and organisational31. Like the others the assumption is that these will usually overlap, but not always.

Organic

Organisational

There may not be the need for as much structure when only two or three gather for Christian fellowship. On the other hand there are some Christian organisations that exist for the propagating of the Kingdom that never meet together. Hence there is some overlap, but I would argue that theologically only that which lies within the organic circle is ‘church’. Allow me to use an example from personal experience to illustrate how three sections differ. Firstly my wife and I met and got to know a girl in our congregation, Karen, whom we befriended and enjoyed Christian fellowship with. Although we met in a formal Christian setting our relationship was very informal, we would have each other around for meals, she would often drop around for coffee on her way home, etc. During these times we would share our hopes and frustrations as followers of Jesus, often pray and consider our questions of God and His Word together. This is the purely organic expression of the relationship. Karen is presently preparing for missionary work in Ireland with an organisation called “European Christian Mission” (ECM). We intend to support and partner her in this work. The relationship is now no longer purely organic it is now in the overlap between organic and organisational. There are now formal, not just loving, responsibilities on both sides of the relationship. This relationship will now be expressed in prayer letters, financial partnership, prayer, etc. The formality and organisation of these responsibilities will be important as Karen will soon be on the other side of the world and our relationship will no longer be one of physical immediacy. )

!

8

0

2 9

5


AFES

Church Discussion Paper

© Peter Hughes

The relationship will soon be expressed through the people who work in the administration of ECM as they make sure that both sides of the relationship fulfil their responsibilities. I am sure they are Christian and hence they and I are united by Christ, however I have no relationship with them, I doubt that I will ever meet them on Earth, in fact I am not even sure that they are in Australia and are possibly spread over the world. The administration of ECM are a purely organisational part of the church, existing to help organic relationships, but not organic in itself and hence not to be considered church. Other examples of a purely organisational structure are denominations. At no point does the Presbyterian Church of Australia or even the Anglican Church of Melbourne actually assemble. Representatives may attend synods and gatherings, the whole denomination does not assemble or church. The organic and organisational perspectives of church are not equal. The priority is for the organic, the fellowship concept, to have priority over the organisational. “…the structures were formed by the fellowship to serve the fellowship; and that the fellowship in turn was based on the gospel, so that in examining these structures and in revising them we must ensure that they assist fellowship and express the Gospel”32 This was expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians. The local meeting is to be one of love and therefore order. Gifts are therefore given by God to help the structure this fellowship. But such structures are always to serve the fellowship and not the other way around. I would like to extent this to all the structures of church, including the sacraments. Purpose of Church: Does the Church have a Mission? A second issue we need to address in our definition of church is that of the purpose of church. The existence of parachurch organisations has come about because churches have not or cannot reach out to certain places or people and therefore such organisations like missionary societies began33. While it has been argued that this has a theological basis such an assumption needs to be questioned. What we need to ask is whether the church should have a role in mission, or whether this is role that the parachurch organisation should fill? Hence is the existence of parachurch organisations necessary or merely an indication that ‘ordinary churches’ are not fulfilling their purposed adequately? Robinson clearly articulated that the church’s existence was for the purpose of the church34. Evangelism is to be done by evangelists sent from the church. One can assume therefore that parachurch organisations fell into this category35. Knox took a similar line “…the purpose of Christ’s gathering us in his presence is for fellowship with him and with one another by our hearing his voice which comes to us in the preaching of the Gospel within that fellowship”36. Although Knox argued that we should expect outsiders to hear the Gospel and respond as well. However, the model outlined above does not necessarily mean that the church’s purpose is for fellowship alone. Thus far in our argument, for the sake of space, we have spoken of the people of God as church, whereas we do need to have broader understanding of this.

)

"

)) )1

6

<"

6

$ <"

# $% &&>

"

0

0#

#

;;)*

. F

)9

8 3

):

06

<

"

# $% &

6


AFES

Church Discussion Paper

© Peter Hughes

Thompson37 argues that as the people of Christ, the body of Christ, we are to continue the mission of church. This concern for evangelism stems from the prophecies of the Old Testament promising a time when God would gather the nations to Himself38. While these prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus and then the Apostles proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus there is the implication that the gathered people of God would likewise be the ones proclaiming the Gospel to those who need to hear: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God' s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”39 Hence Thompson concludes: “Those gathered by Christ are concerned that others might be so gathered. That concern will produce a determination that the proclamation of the Gospel, centered on the work of God in Christ and calling for faith and repentance, remains the focus of the meeting. The church is not merely waiting for, or reflecting what is already going on in the heavenly gathering”40 The last sentence in the above quote indicates that an important factor in understanding the Knox/ Robinson model of church is that the relationship between the heavenly and earthly church is not one of merely mirror as the word ‘manifestation’ might suggest. While the church is manifest on earth it is affected by its earthly nature. The earthly nature, among other things, is that there are those needing to hear the good news of redemption brought about by the Gospel. Hence part of the purpose of the earthly church is to proclaim the Gospel to the world.

Denomination, Congregation and Para Church Organisation What we have outlined in this paper is the theological emphasis of church is the expression of the heavenly fellowship as Christians gather together around God and His Word. This means that while the heavenly assembly is to be the primary focus of church, the local congregation is to be secondary. This means that organisations such as denominations and missionary societies have their place, but this place is to be put under that of the priority of both the heavenly and local congregations. Independent churches are no less a church because they do not have the formal structures of a denomination. Secondly, if an AFES group does fulfil the theological requirements of the doctrine of church we should think of it as church. By the theological requirements it is not merely an organisational structure like a missionary society and it fits our definition of “an earthly manifestation of the heavenly assembly of God’s people meeting around Him”. Such an argument that is held by others:

)%

#

! 2 9 0 07 )( >3 )1 2 9E5 )' '2 ;&> ?* 1; ! 1

7 8 " '') * 1; 1' :E

$ '

#

G5

)*

& " 0

2

7


AFES

Church Discussion Paper

© Peter Hughes

“…is there any difference between the local church and a para-church? Definitely not. The local church is an assembly of believers. So is any parachurch.”41 This does raise some interesting questions of the role of AFES in the Christian community. But most of these can be resolved if we stop thinking in terms of church and parachurch and start thinking in terms of ‘denominational churches’42 and ‘parachurch churches’ or even ‘interchurch churches’43. Thirdly, since churches are held by fellowship and since people can have fellowship with more than one family at a time we can assume that it would not be unlikely that people belong to more than one ‘church’. This is a very thorny issue and needs to be dealt with in detail. We need to discuss the long term spiritual health of people, the balance we should expect between commitments to ‘churches’, that people should not be involved in too many churches that they have no essential fellowship, etc. Again terms and names could be helpful here. The name ‘non-denominational’ is a bit misleading. It should be called ‘inter-denominational’, highlighting the partnership that this particular fellowship has with other fellowships associated with other organisations. But the bottom line is that I would want to press that we have the long term spiritual health of the individual in mind so encourage them strongly to be involved in a local denominational church. Finally, a danger in considering AFES as church is that we may lose sight of our mandate to proclaim the Gospel to the university students of Australia. This need not be compromised in our discussion of AFES as church, but whatever happens it must not be.

1

;)

1

5 1) 5 $

$

C

=

$ +

0

5 0

0

8


AFES

Church Discussion Paper

© Peter Hughes

Issues for Discussion Or unresolved issues for me that smarter people with more brains can answer •

Does the above discussion on the place of mission in church really hold water? Can the Knox/ Robinson model hold mission for the earthly church adequately?

Of the other images and analogies of church what are the most helpful for further discussion?

What other models of the doctrine of church should we be considering in this debate? This implies that there might be a better model that more actually depicts what the Bible presents as church?

If we do hold to this model, should we be speaking of AFES as ‘church’ to the students or would it be confusing?

If we do hold to this model, should we be speaking of AFES as ‘church’ to the university administrations? Would it confuse or clarify what we do on the campus?

In what sense can people belong to more than one church? unhelpful for building the Body of Christ?

Should we stop doing what we are doing and start being more of a missionary society? Hence stop having public meetings and small groups and do nothing but train and send evangelists out to the campus?

When does it become

9

Parachurch  

This is a paper I wrote a few years ago on whether AFES is a church or not.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you