“I believe in one holy universal and apostolic church”
The church parochial or the church apostolic? We’ve huddled in the former. We won’t march until we have the latter—which has been God’s intention from the first. It’s time we got back to it.
Introduction—The Nicene Creed asserts the church is apostolic. But what we see in the US is a parochial church, that is, a church that is parish driven, parish led, parish guided. Parochial in our thought, practice and action, we are marked by selfishness and small mindedness. We cannot, as a church dominated by parochial thinking, put our arms around the larger vision of the “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” So we abide alone, alienated, and protective while the world tides swell around us, missing both the comfort of the greater church as well as the mission that demands she be globalized. But if the parish cannot embrace the apostolic church, the apostolic church can put its arms around the parish, can nurture it, lead it, mobilize it, bring it into the apostolic fold of Christ. The Creed, in calling us to apostolic Christianity, is right. Our parochialism is wrong. It’s time for change.
The Church of the Lord Jesus is designed to be apostolic, or, put in a more contemporary way, missionary. The American church is less than that, however. What it is is parochial, that is, parish defined, parish driven, parish limited. This is what is wrong with it. More on that in a minute.
The Greek word from which we derive apostle and the Latin word from which we derive missionary mean the same thing, to be sent. Thus, to be apostolic (or missionary) is to be sent. In terms of the Church, Christ has sent it into the world. This sent Church in turns sends her message and her messengers into the world around her.
The early Church was marked by the apostolic impulse Christ had given her leadership, the Apostles. Marked by this missionary impulse, the Church, both through its leadership and its membership, invaded the known world with the message of the risen, redeeming, ruling Christ.
An apostolic church in any age will be marked by the outward moving force of the Christ behind it, the destiny in front of it, and the out-flowing power within it. Thus, an apostolic church is ever on the offensive. It does not sit still, does not circle the wagons, does not let the battle come to it. It is always sending. Always moving out. Always attacking the gates of hell. And ultimately, always winning.
The apostolic church is centrifugal. Centrifugal means to flee the center. The apostolic church flees the center, flees centralization, flees bureaucracy, flees a static state. It moves out and on and into the battle. Like David running towards Goliath with sling in hand, the apostolic church runs to the battle. Like the stone released from David’s sling, the message of the apostolic church speeds toward the head of God’s enemy, and impacting it, slays it. And when the battle is over, the apostolic church develops, builds, beautifies, educates and improves the new territories it has won in battle.
The non-apostolic church—the parochial church—is centripetal. Centripetal means to seek the center. The centripetal church faces inward, not outward. It consumes its resources on itself. It bureaucratizes. It circles the wagons whether there are enemies about or not. It locks in a perpetual orbit around an introverted, self-serving leadership. It becomes ingrown. It sits in paralysis around its Sauls as Goliaths taunt it. It has its horsemen, but they ride the plastic horses of the merry-go-round, going in circles that never move out in an attack vector. It gardens within the compound but neglects to plow and plant new fields that await development outside the city walls.
The apostolic church invades the world of thought and action, always seeking to subject thought and action to the obedience of Christ. An apostolic church first captures, and then makes use of the institutions that lead and influence a society. Society benefits greatly when the apostolic church flourishes.
To be apostolic, the church needs apostolic doctrine, apostolic mission, and apostolic leadership. Of these three elements, apostolic leadership is the key to imparting the other two. Apostles, or if you prefer, Missionaries, are ordained by God to lead the church. (See I Corinthians 12:28). We cannot have a truly apostolic or missionary church without missionary leadership. Where missionary leadership is absent, the introversion and paralysis that marks parochialism is evident.
(Let me clarify something: I use the word apostle or missionary in this sense: the Apostle (or Missionary) is a senior minister of proven character, great vision, evangelical power, doctrinal depth and compassionate heart who is particularly adept at winning souls, establishing churches, articulating truth, confronting hostile power structures, and mobilizing Christians to impact every aspect of culture through positive, developmental endeavors. I do not use the word apostle or missionary in a way that seeks to equate today’s expression with that of the Apostles of the Lord Jesus, who were unique in church history.)
The non-apostolic church does not have apostolic leadership. And where apostolic leadership is absent, absent also is apostolic doctrine and mission. The decline of doctrinal orthodoxy and missionary power at home offers painful evidence of the absence of missionary leadership.
The US Church, on the whole, is not apostolic. Its doctrinal deficiencies are profound. Its lack of missionary vision and practice is evidenced by most local churches’ negligible impact on the city, and the national church’s negligible impact in national life. In terms of what we call “foreign missions” the US is now a net importer of missionaries—we receive more than we send.
Consider the primary expressions of the Church in the US: (1) local churches (2) parachurch ministries and (3) seminaries. In terms of people and resources, the local churches (including the denominational structures which tie many of them together) are the most dominant expression of the Church. In terms of community impact the parachurches are the most dominant expression. In terms of intellectual impact (for good or bad) the seminaries are the most dominant expression. Apostolic leadership marks none of these dominant spheres. In the real day to day of the church world, pastors occupy the top positions of leadership. In the parachurch world, administrative executives most often steer the ship. In the seminary world, teachers rule. Bureaucracy is generally deeply entrenched in each of these spheres, and more often than not, does the real ruling. Again, what is generally missing in each sphere is missionary (or apostolic) leadership.1
he absence of missionary leadership contributes directly to the parochial introversion that so marks so many expressions of Christianity.2 It helps us understand why most local churches spend little on foreign missions and even less on ministries that impact the local culture. The absence of missionary leadership helps us understand why so many Christian academics (seminary professors) write mainly for themselves, live in the monastic seclusion of an ivory tower lined culture, and turn out so few evangelically charged world changers. The absence of missionary leadership also helps us understand why the parachurch ministries which fill in so many gaps and serve in so many niches ignored by local churches (and whole denominations) often labor under a sense of second class citizenship and alienation in the parishes where their workers are members. Missionary leadership, you see, would turn the local church out into its community and its world, would turn out apostolic invaders from the seminaries, and grant the sense of divine commission and approbation to the parachurch worker who labors in tasks that range from menial to educational to evangelistic.
In calling for apostolic Christianity I am in no way calling for the abolition of the parish or the pastor. Quite the contrary. The Church cannot be truly apostolic without presbyters and bishops who fulfill the pastoral ministry. I am reminded here that our Lord, who was and is the ultimate Apostle, also was and is the ultimate Shepherd. The Church He governs needs both. The Apostolic Church has both, and in the best of all possible orders, both work together in an harmonious division of ecclesiastical labor.3
Nor am I saying that apostolic or missionary leadership is hierarchical, impositional, bureaucratic or feudal. To say that is to miss the point that the apostle or missionary is primarily a sent one. It is as he goes from the Church into the world that his life, example and ministry pioneer the path the expanding Church of Christ needs to follow. You see, it is the missionary’s going, not his staying, that pulls the church out of its centripetal orbit and releases it to outgoing vectors that lead to the discipling of the nations. And when the missionary does turn his attention to the parish, it is never as a permanent member of it, but rather as a servant guest called to serve Christ’s greater purposes in it. The Apostles of our Lord offer splendid examples of these things. These men didn’t thunder from Olympus or rule from Rome. They established no fiefdoms. Rather they served, respected, encouraged and prayed for the churches, and themselves got on the front lines of the crucial first battles for the soul of the planet.
I believe that true pastors want apostolic leadership, even cry out and thirst for it. I know I did when I was a young pastor struggling with questions, insecurities, doubts and fears about the awesome responsibility that was on my shoulders as a shepherd of God’s blood bought sheep. And the few true modern day apostles I have met long and work hard for the emergence of true pastors to love and care for the flocks of God. Men from both offices who are shaped by Apostolic doctrine and guided by Apostolic mission are hardly incompatible. On the contrary, they are made for each other.
Since childhood I have confessed the Nicene Creed. One of its lines is I believe in one holy universal and apostolic church. I believe in the one universal church. I believe the one universal church is designed by God to be apostolic. I also believe the church as we know it is far from being truly apostolic. As long as it is primarily parish driven and parish guided it cannot be truly apostolic. To be apostolic requires a return to the apostolic doctrine of the inerrant Bible, a return to the apostolic mission of a world population discipled by the Word of Christ, and a return to the recognition and acceptance of apostolic leadership. This last (apostolic leadership) is needed for a fresh impartation of apostolic doctrine and mission. The apostolic leadership we need in this generation will not be the equals of Peter, James and John, or of Paul, but they will be what we need. A few Whitefields, Calvins and Luthers will do—as long as they have the world changing vision of an Ignatius Loyola. Let us pray for Christ to send them to us. May we receive them when we meet them.
1 Most of my pastor friends—and they range from mainline to newline —confess to being leaderless. Most of my parachurch friends express grief over the absence of ministerial leadership in their lives as it pertains to their specific missions..
2 If parochialism marks the church, an anarchistic reaction to this parochialism often colors the parachurch. Either way, parochialism is at the root of the problem. Only in apostolic Christianity are both parish and parachurch integrated into the overall structure of The Church Apostolic.
3 I am of the opinion that the Church without apostles collapses from without; the Church without pastors collapses from within. But that is another essay. □
Towards an Apostolic Church in the USA, #2
THE NEED FOR LOCAL MISSION STRUCTURES
By William Mikler
We live in a new Dark Ages. It will take more than the congregational expression of Christianity to mount a redemptive invasion of our darkened secular culture. To the carry the light to the many and various sectors of society that reside in darkness we will need to see the emergence of truly evangelical missions.
For the Church to do her job in the world she needs both mission and parish structures. We have plenty of the latter—some would say too many—and not nearly enough of the former. It is about the former, the mission structure, that I wish to write in this essay. But before I go on let me clarify an important point. In using the words “mission” and “missionary” I’m not talking about a structure that focuses on overseas ministry, but rather about local and regional mission structures that can launch and sustain ministerial initiatives into every essential sector of the local society. I am of the opinion that because of the present falleness of our culture it is critical that the mission structure come to the fore. Nothing less than a whole series of redemptive missionary invasions can bring light to the surrounding darkness of American society. The parish can’t do it all. The fact is, it isn’t supposed to. The sooner some of us quit placing unrealistic expectations on our parish structures and get to work building mission structures, the sooner will the redemption of America’s peoples and institutions be accomplished.
Church and Mission: The Two Basic Structures of the Church
In his seminal 1973 essay entitled The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission,1 noted missiologist Ralph Winter asserts there are “two basic kinds of structures” that make up the world Christian movement. One structure is something most of us are familiar with, the local church. Included in this structure is the denominational grid that connects the local churches. Winter calls this structure a modality. The other structure is the mission—something we are not so familiar with—which Winter calls a sodality. Winter’s basic thesis is that the Church needs both structures to succeed in her mission. I believe Winter’s thesis is a correct one. I have been both a pastor and a missionary. I know first hand the structural differences necessary to both enterprises.
Differences between local church and mission
Both local church and mission have essential roles to play in God’s economy, but those roles are very different. The local church is (or should be) marked by shepherding care for the flock of God. The mission, however, is usually a militant body bent on effecting redemptive change in society. And whereas the local church is a gatherer—centripetal (center-seeking) in orientation—the mission is a sender—centrifugal (center-fleeing) in orientation. The church pulls you in, the mission sends you out. The parish is a church for sheep, the mission a “church” for soldiers. The parish and the mission are simply two different institutions in the Church universal, and both of them are not only legitimate, but necessary.
In looking at the two structures it is important for us to not place large mission expectations on local churches. The parish structure as we know it, while essential to the care of God’s people, is not, nor is intended to be, the primary agency God has called to fulfill the missionary (“go ye”) mandates of the Great Commission. The historic record of the Church bears this out. Writes noted missiologist Peter Wagner,
There are some notable exceptions to the rule, but throughout history churches as churches have not been particularly effective instruments for carrying the gospel into the regions beyond. The outstanding success stories in world evangelization have usually come from situations in which the church or churches have permitted, encouraged, and supported the formation of specialized mission structures to do their missionary work. (Peter Wagner: On the Crest of the Wave [Ventura: Regal Books, 1983] p.72.)
But if we cannot expect the parish to lead the way in mission work, we can expect the mission to do so—if we will permit and participate in its establishment.
Why LOCAL Missions are Now
We have grown accustomed to thinking of missions structures as serving foreign fields. Now, however, because of the widespread depravity and moral darkness that prevails in much of America, and because that darkness has put the Church under siege, we now need to “get missionary” about America. The “regions beyond” are no longer just in far off places—they are also right next door in our own neighborhoods, towns and institutions. If we do nothing to resist these forces we will succumb to them, and that just isn’t an option for godly people. So we must move to a war footing. We must mount redemptive counterattacks and invasions against the forces of darkness that encircle us. Missions are simply better suited to such apostolic initiatives than are local churches.
We don’t live in Mayberry anymore. Sheriff Taylor’s usually empty office jail cell has been replaced by a huge overcrowded county jail outside of town. A SWAT Team has replaced Barney Fife. Aunt Bea has taken in foster children. Opie is confronted with temptations to drug and alcohol abuse; many of his peers have Sexually Transmitted Diseases; and he’s getting a lousy education at the local public school. The parish system as we know it in America developed during the Mayberry Epoch—a time of peace—and simply isn’t equipped to marshal troops for the war for America’s soul. For that kind of work we need missions.
Over the centuries, redemptive changes have most often come to civilization and the Church as a result of mission initiatives. Historically, mission orders have pioneered the gospel in new regions, planted churches, advanced education, led in economic development, established mercy works, and impacted vital areas like law, art, literature, medicine and civil government. There is no reason to believe that new mission structures wouldn’t do our nation great good by providing the leadership to salt and light every sector of American society. Given the interior rot that dominates so much of the national fabric, the building and mobilizing of mission structures is something we cannot afford to delay.
A Little Mission History
The concept of mission structures shouldn’t be new to us. The Lord Jesus formed a missionary structure with the twelve. Later, the Apostle Paul functioned with a college of co-workers in the missionary extension of the gospel. At other junctures of church history various mission teams formed to do things that the parish structure was neither called nor equipped to do. As Wagner pointed out above, historically great extensions of the faith were more often than not launched by men and women committed to missionary enterprise and supported in and by a missionary structure. During the Middle Ages it was the Roman Catholic monastic orders which advanced, sustained and generally led the Church, not only in terms of various mission initiatives, but also in terms of rebuilding its basic parish and denominational structure.
Why this all sounds like some strange new thing
Evangelical thinking is typically dominated by a “local church only” mentality that rules out even conceptualizing mission structures as being an integral part of the Church. Other than a faceless denominational mission board that sends missionaries to far off places, John Q. Christian simply can’t conceive of a local body of missionaries impacting his own surrounding civilization. (Nor does he know what to do with those parachurch organizations that send him so much mail!) This is flawed thinking that has its roots in the great reformer himself, Martin Luther.2 To cite Wagner again:
“One of Martin Luther’s blind spots was that he reacted so strongly against the corrupt aspects of the monastic movement (he belonged to the Augustinian Order) that he failed to appreciate what they were doing well. It did not occur to him to reform Catholic missions while he was reforming the Catholic church. So the Protestant Reformation movement ended up all congregational structure and no mission structure [emphasis mine]. There is no doubt that Luther himself desired that the gospel should be carried throughout the whole earth. Luther sharpened the missionary message, but with all his brilliance he never came clear on missionary structures.” (Wagner, pp. 72-73)
Roman Catholics are way ahead of us evangelicals
When it comes to understanding the need for both mission and parish structures, the Roman Catholic world is way ahead of us evangelicals. In addition to parish ministry, the Roman Church has had organized mission structures in operation for 1500 years. Such structures are not recognized as “parachurches” but rather as bonafide ministries of The Church. Let me quote Wagner again:
“The Roman Catholic Church learned this lesson through the centuries. Early on, they discovered the value of mission structures….While the missionary movement of the churches of the Protestant Reformation was zero3 in the sixteenth century, the Jesuit order was formed in France to carry Christianity throughout the world.” (Wagner, p. 72)
Ralph Winter states that the Roman Church’s harmony between churches and mission orders is their great organizational advantage. His exact words follow:
“The harmony between the modality and the sodality achieved by the Roman Church is perhaps the most significant characteristic of this phase [Middle Ages] of the world Christian movement and continues to be Rome’s greatest organizational advantage to this day [emphasis mine].” (Winter, p. B-51)
The Protestants finally catch on
But while the Roman Catholic Church has had both parish and missionary structures for centuries, the Evangelical church was very slow to catch on. Wagner again:
“The great Protestant missionary movement began only when the heirs of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli stumbled onto the importance of the missionary society.” (Wagner, p. 74)
What happened was that the Protestant Reformation basically sat in its European church houses for 300 years while Roman Catholic mission orders—especially the Jesuits—sent their missionaries to the far reaches of the globe. The Protestant missionary movement didn’t really get going until the early 1800s. The movement’s main inspiration was a book by William Carey entitled An Enquiry, which proposed “the use of means for the conversion of the heathen.” The “means” Carey had in mind were the establishment of missionary sodalities. The Baptist Missionary Society resulted from Carey’s work, and is, writes Ralph Winter, “one of the most significant organizational developments in the Protestant tradition.” (Winter, p. B-54) Winter goes on:
“Organizationally speaking…the vehicle that allowed the Protestant movement to become vital was the structural development of the sodality, which harvested the vital “volunteerism” latent in Protestantism, and surfaced in new mission agencies of all kinds, both at home and overseas. Wave after wave of evangelical initiatives transformed the entire map of Christianity, especially in the United States, but also in England, in Scandinavia and on the Continent. By 1840, the phenomenon of mission sodalities was so prominent in the United States that the phrase “the Evangelical Empire” and other equivalent phrases were used to refer to it…” (Winter, p. B-54)
But then ecclesiastical opposition began to arise. Eventually many formerly independent mission sodalities were brought under the administrative rule of the modalities (i.e., the denominations) and as a result, they dried up. In other words, the connected parishes—denominations—co-opted the missions. From the end of the last century and well into this one it took the reemergence of new independent mission agencies to mount successful foreign mission initiatives.
How Wrong Thinking Hurts Us
Dominated by “local church only” thinking the typical Christian just doesn’t have the intellectual grid to conceive of missionary structures as being critical to the success of the Church right here at home. Without the grid there is no blueprint, with no blueprint there is no building. Without the building there is no mission. Without the mission there are too few missionary initiatives into the surrounding culture.
The Evangelical blind spot about mission structures not only prevents or hinders the building of mission structures, it also places unfair expectations on pastors and parishes to do jobs they simply aren’t equipped for. (Expectations for “local church” involvement in critical issues like pro-life are usually only exceeded by disappointments over its widespread failure to do so.) But wait a minute! What if the pastor’s primary job is pastoral? (As I think it is.) Can we expect him to go off a-warring and leave the flock back home? Can we expect a really conscientious pastor who spends much of his day operating on wounded sheep (or feeding healthy ones) to quit the operating room (or pasture) and go to the front with rifle in hand? Hardly. The tension dissolves if we have both pastoral and missionary structures in operation in our local communities.
Mission Base Camps
In order to mount missionary invasions into secular America we must build missionary base camps—structures, in other words—from which initiatives can be planned, launched and sustained under missionary leadership. The base camp’s primary purpose must be missionary, not pastoral, that is, it must have as its primary purpose the extension of the Kingdom of God into the world that surrounds the Church, thus enlarging the borders of the Church and its influence in society. I believe the establishment of mission base camps is a critically important strategic next step for the Church in our generation. To amplify an earlier comment, these mission base camps are essentially small “churches” for marching missionary soldiers.
What should these mission base camps be like? Let me suggest some basics below.
Missions led by missionaries
Because missions are part of “The Church” they should be led by men Christ has anointed for ministry (see Ephesians 4:11-12.) The lead ministers of missions should be missionaries themselves, men with a centrifugal orientation who lead from the front. We certainly don’t want some Harvard MBA type running things from a soft leather chair behind a walnut desk—as is often the case in some large parachurch bureaucracies—nor do we want a pastor whose orientation is the care and protection of sheep. To lead a mission you certainly need to love the sheep—but you also need to love wolf hunting and be often about it.
Missions should be self-governing in the sense that local church and denominational boards have no administrative authority over them. (If a mission is founded by members of a particular denomination there should be doctrinal regulation by the wider body, but the administration of the mission should be independent of denominational control.) But independence from denominational control doesn’t mean independence from accountability to a wider council of fellow missionaries which can provide oversight, checks and balances, and leadership to men leading local or regional missions.4
One thing that differentiates a mission from many parachurch organizations is that members of a mission worship together. The mission is their “church.” It has doctrinal and procedural standards, accountability, a sense of community, and clearly defined purpose. So whereas many parachurch organizations’ workers scatter on Sunday to different local churches, the members of a mission gather on Sunday for worship.5 The worship, in fact, is central to the work and warfare that the members of the mission are engaged in during the week.
Variety—different mission strokes for different folks
Historically, particular missions have tended to specialize in one thing. The Jesuits, for instance, are famous for educational leadership while the Cistercians have a storied history in agricultural development. The point is, evangelical missions could and should arise to pioneer a wide range of different initiatives in American society. The result should be improvement in all the sectors of society as they are impacted with the gospel’s liberating power. In today’s crumbling America we need a wide variety of missions to target the various niches of society in need of redemptive rebuilding. The range of possibilities before us is covered by an umbrella as expansive as the Kingdom of God.
We need local missions for local battles
The main reason we need local missions is that many of our battles are local. Want to take on pornography? We need a local mission to lead the charge.6 Want to develop positive developmental initiatives in education or art? Local missions could lead the way. And so on. “Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away” (Proverbs 27:10).
WHAT ABOUT Parachurch Organizations?
The widespread collapse of American society in recent years has created a need for numerous new Christian parachurch organizations. Perhaps most of these new organizations would not have been necessary had evangelical mission structures been functioning properly in the first place, or if the local church had more strenuously involved itself in redemptive and developmental outreaches beyond its own borders. But be these things as they may, the parachurch is now a fixture in American Christianity, and for the record, I’m glad it is because it provides many of the basic building blocks we need for building healthy mission structures.
The word parachurch means “alongside the church,” and carries with it connotations that range from “alongside the local church to help the local church” to “not the church and therefore illegitimate” to “outside the church and therefore not relevant” to “who cares anyway—?—my local church is all that is needed.” Much of the confusion over parachurch standing is rooted in the evangelical blind spot about the need for mission structures. Given the general Christian public’s confusion about parachurch organizations, is it any wonder that many parachurchers feel like second class citizens, or that some feel their worst enemy is the local church?
Generally speaking, however, there are some weaknesses in our current parachurch system that need to be addressed. For one, many parachurch organizations function with little or no ministerial leadership and are thus left to find their way without the ministers Christ has ordained to equip and mobilize the Church (see Ephesians 4:11-12). (I’ve been often told by parachurch leaders that they want ministerial leadership, but just don’t know where to go to find it.) Another problem has to do with a lot of unnecessary duplication of effort. Yet another has to do with nonexistent or fuzzy doctrinal standards that obscure the real Christian reason for a cause, or hinder its effective fulfillment. The establishment of mission structures under duly ordained ministerial leadership could go a long way towards solving these and other problems in the parachurch community. In some cases a mission could give guidance to a parachurch organization, in others the parachurch organization could be incorporated into the mission itself in a mutually beneficial way. One type of mission may simply need to provide a “church home” for a general community of parachurchers.
Before I leave this section let me say that some parachurch organizations are in fact, full fledged missions. May their tribe increase!
The primary thing I’m calling for is the establishment of free standing mission congregations which exist primarily for outreach minded believers and key parachurch leaders (and their families.) Such mission congregations would combine the strengths of both the local church and parachurch in one structure. It would give mission types a “church home” that is centrifugal. It would make worship—an essential element in both work and warfare—relevant to those fighting important and dangerous battles. It would provide a covenantal community of like minded believers upon whom one could call in either distress or joy, in either war or victory. Such congregations would be church base camps for soldiers on the front. The congregations would likely be small, but influential. And their functioning should in no way threaten existing parish congregations. In time a central mission could subdivide into specialty missions, or reproduce itself in neighboring geographic areas.
Having said that, several other options suggest themselves as being practical in certain situations. Large churches could form an intra-church congregation for their own parachurch leaders and outreach minded members. Though this option wouldn’t provide for a truly separate mission structure, it could go a long way towards providing specialized care for parachurch workers and their families within an already known environment. Any healthy large church will have a significant minority involved with various important outreach ministries, and it shouldn’t be difficult for the ministerial staff to conduct a census to find out who their own “local missionaries” are. Once discovered, the Senior Pastor could then provide specialized ministry to this body on a regular basis, and perhaps even delegate a pastor to be the “chaplain” for these warriors on the front. Call it a “wheel within a wheel” church. Eventually a free standing mission could be birthed from the home church.
Another option that may be workable sooner than many of us think would be the formation of a “Pastors and Mission Leaders Council” that on a metropolitan (or regional) basis provides ministerial care to various parachurch and Christian service organizations. The Jerusalem church witnessed a wonderful cooperation between Apostles (missionaries) and Elders (pastors)—and while that model may seem beyond our current reach, could we not use it as a blueprint to build in our cities and regions viable working leadership grids that make for real harmonies of interest between parochial and missionary causes that concern us all? Such a council could identify its various parishes and missions, discover ways to work together, even delegate one or more of its members to serve as “chaplains” to the parachurch community—and thereby strengthen it immeasurably.
It will take more than the congregational expression of Christianity to mount a redemptive invasion of our darkened secular culture. To carry the light to the many and various sectors of society that reside in darkness we will need to see the emergence of truly innovative evangelical missionary structures. This is not to say we need do away with the local church, but only to say that the Body of Christ moves forward best when she walks on two legs, and works best when she has two arms and hands to employ in the service of God. May God grant grace to believers in our generation to rise and build both parish and mission structures. In Jesus’ name, Amen. □
1. PERSPECTIVES ON THE WORLD CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT, Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, editors. Winter essay entitled The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission [Pasadena: William Carey Library, rev. ed. 1992] p. B-45.
2. Just so you’ll know, I was raised Lutheran. Luther is one of my heroes.
3. “Zero” is a bit strong. Missionaries from Calvin’s Geneva, for instance, went bravely into France. But Wagner’s basic point is well taken. Protestant Christianity had no formal understanding of mission structures until the early 1800s.
4. I’m part of a relatively new council of fellow missionaries who have identified themselves as “belonging” to the mission, not the parish. The members of the ruling council are from a number of different countries.
5. Worship should include thanksgiving and praise, the ministry of the Word, intercession and the Lord’s Supper.
6. The battle against pornography is simply too complex and spiritually involved for a citizens’ group to successfully head up by itself.
Towards an Apostolic Church in the USA, #3
MORE ON SODALITIES
By William Mikler
Ours is a broken and fragmented nation. From a human perspective, it seems as if a slowly convulsive earthquake has finally succeeded in tearing our once unified land into a series of unconnected islands that now float in random fashion on a sea of postmodern confusion. The answer to our fragmented nation is Christ’s gospel as ministered and modeled by a Church unified in the Holy Trinity and diversified under Him in gifts, ministries and activities (I Corinthians 12:4-6). The Church is the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), even a fragmented one. It is in Christ that all things hold together (Colossians 1:17) and in His Church that human fragmentations of all sorts dissolve into a marvelously integrated and unified whole (cf. Revelation 5:9-10) that is able to minister redemptively to our fragmented world.
THE ROD OF IRON
“You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Psalm 2:9 NKJ
Lest we despair of our national fragmentation, let us first recognize Christ’s hand in it all. The fact is, it is our national apostasy from the Christian faith which has brought Christ’s rod of iron down hard on us. We are shattered as a result, both people and institutions, like so many pieces of a broken pottery vessel.
Consider the fragments. We are ethnically divided. We are religiously divided. We are politically divided. We are morally and ethically divided. We are philosophically divided. We are divided by class and income. We are divided by envies and jealousies. Our families are breaking up (50% of America’s public school children are from single parent homes.) Fragments, fragments, fragments. The landscape of today’s America is littered with fragments.
Is there hope for us? In Christ, Yes. I am persuaded that Christ’s judgments are not without redemptive purpose, and have been wielded in large part to get our nation’s attention and to weaken her resistance to righteousness. “When your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9cd NKJ). After all, the hand that wields the rod of iron is nail scarred and is ever at the ready to extend the mercies secured on the Cross. The iron rod has thus prepared our nation for the healing power of the gospel. That is why there is hope.
Enter, therefore, the Church, the Body of Christ, the redeemed of the Lord, the stewards of the gospel message. There will be no healing of our nation and its fragmented soul without her.
The Church, however, cannot meet the challenges posed by a fragmented nation with the monolithic “local church only” structure we have inherited from former generations. For reasons that apply both to the Church’s interior life and to her mission to the world, monolithic thinking and inaction needs to be replaced by multi-faceted thinking and action. To be multi-faceted requires the development and mobilization of diverse gifts, services and activities within the Christian community. Note Paul’s divinely inspired observation: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (I Corinthians 12:4-6 NKJ). I believe that the diverse gifts, services and activities listed by Paul are divinely appointed to not only edify the Church within, but to also aid her in launching specialized missions teams into the fragmented sectors of the world around us.
Thus, the Church can best prepare to take on the fragments of a divided world by first developing her diversity within. And that brings us to the subject of this essay, sodalities. Ministry sodalities, widely diverse and multiplying on America’s Christian landscape, are important components in Christ’s management of his Kingdom and are increasingly becoming essential organs for the edification of the Church and the extension of her influence in the world around her.
So, while facing the fragmented pieces of our nation with what I hope is realistic concern, I am also encouraged that the Body of Christ, the Church, has developing within her in this hour diversities of gifts, ministries and operations that are more than capable of taking on our fragmented culture in a way that will ultimately reunite our nation in Christ. It may take awhile, but the process has begun. God is seeing to it.
Now to further the discussion on sodalities.
In viewing the historic difference between church parish structures and monastic orders, noted missiologist Ralph Winter borrowed a word from cultural anthropology to describe the non-parish mission structure. That word is sodality.1 Broadly speaking, a sodality is a smaller unit within a larger body. Applied to the Church, a sodality is a specific self-governing ministry unit which usually operates outside the governmental framework of a parish or denominational structure. Most parachurch organizations are sodalities, for instance. A sodality usually requires a commitment of its members beyond that which most local churches require, and usually specializes on one particular aspect of ministry. In writing on sodalities, both Ralph Winter and Peter Wagner [see footnote #1] have primarily emphasized sodalities which are dedicated to missions. This is a valuable and needed emphasis. But as I hope to demonstrate, the word “sodality” can also describe a ministry organ that is dedicated to tasks that focus on the edification of the Body of Christ.
Diversity in the Body of Christ
We can’t talk knowledgeably about sodalities without first being aware of the tremendous diversity God has placed in the Body of Christ in terms of the already mentioned giftings, services, and activities of its members (cf. I Corinthians 12:4-6). The reason for this is that sodalities usually form around particular gifts, ministries or activities. Thus we have teaching sodalities, service sodalities, administrative sodalities, and the like. The Gideons, for instance, an administrative sodality with a heart for soul winning, have a passion about distributing Bibles in schools and hotels.
Another text that suggests categories for sodalities is I Corinthians 12:27-28, which reads thusly: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.” Sodalities can form around ministries ranging from cutting edge missionary teams to translation teams, and everything Paul lists in-between. It should be noted that these various ministries are not necessarily resident in your local church, but they are resident in the Church Universal, and in some places, in the Christian community that exists in a given geographic region. In the Greater Orlando area where I live, for instance, I can identify sodalities in every one of the categories listed by Paul.
Unity in the Holy Trinity
But while the Body of Christ is diversified in its ministry specialties, it is also unified in God the Holy Trinity. Where there are “diversities of gifts” there “is the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:4). Where there are “differences of ministries” there is the “same Lord” (I Cor. 12:5). Where there are “diversities of activities” it is “the same God who works all in all” (I Cor. 12:6). The point here is that diversity in the Body of Christ finds its ultimate unity in God himself, not in some human hierarchy. As men, we have a tendency to want to create Towers of Babel that centralize all our activities and place them under a top down hierarchy which men can control. But the wide ranging diversity within the Body of Christ defies such centralization in human terms. Headship over the widely diverse ministries in the Body of Christ is reserved for the Head of the Body, Christ himself (cf. Ephesians 4:15-16). Thus the diversity of the Body of Christ rests in the integrating unity that resides, not in human government, but in God.
Diverse ministries may operate within a parish or denominational framework, or they may operate without it. More and more, however, it seems that sodalities are being formed outside of denominational frameworks. Regardless, all genuine ministries operate within the one Church of Almighty God. For instance, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association operates outside the governmental framework of any denomination, but is it any less a part of the ministry of the Church? Of course not. Parish and non-parish ministries are all part of the ministry of the Church.
Sodalities exist to give structure to particularized ministries, especially those which operate outside the administrative framework of a parish or denomination. The structure of a sodality is an important component of its ministry because it enables the sodality to convene, care for and mobilize its members, and to otherwise responsibly govern its affairs in the light of God’s word.
Targets of ministry
Ministry sodalities all operate from within the Church community, but their targets of ministry usually fall into one of two categories. One target area is the Church itself, the other is the nonbelieving community. Two examples, Crown Ministries and Evangelism Explosion, serve to illustrate the difference between ministry sodalities which target either the Church or the world beyond the Church. Crown Ministries, which teaches Christians biblically sound financial stewardship, is an example of a sodality that operates within the Church to strengthen the Church. Crown’s main focus is the edification of the believer. Evangelism Explosion on the other hand, which teaches believers how to share their faith in ways that win people to Christ, is an example of a sodality that targets unbelievers. We need both kinds of sodalities operating within the Church. The one exists for the edification of the Church, the other for the growth of the Church. There is room for both. The new convert won by Evangelism Explosion will eventually find his way to Crown Ministries for basic training in financial stewardship. These two ministries are but two of many which offer essential ministry to either the Church or the world around the Church. I should add here that both Crown Ministries and Evangelism Explosion work in concert with local churches, and expect those they train to be members of local churches.
An illustration: The big tent and booths under it
If you’ve ever been to a state fair it is likely you’ve walked under a big tent to see the display booths set up by different agricultural companies for the purpose of displaying the produce of their respective farms. In a way, sodalities are specialized ministry booths that set up under a big tent.
Ideally, the big tent under which all ministries (including pastoral ones) should operate is made of cloth woven from thread comprised of three essential strands. (I’m thinking here of the “threefold cord…not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).) One strand is that of apostolic doctrine, another that of apostolic mission, and the third that of apostolic structure. From such thread can be woven a tent cloth that God’s presence will be pleased to cover. The smaller tent over each sodality booth should be woven from the same thread, but fashioned into smaller and more particularized sections. Thus, a sodality should have a particular doctrinal specialization that arises from the larger body of apostolic doctrine contained in the Holy Bible, it should have a mission that fulfills a particular aspect of the Great Commission, and it should have structure that is compatible with the overall structure of the Body of Christ. Doctrine, mission and structure are important to the Church, they are also important to all ministry components of the Church.2 In my mind’s eye, I see a huge apostolic tent being spread over our nation and lots of ministry booths being set up underneath it. I also see something of the same sort over a number of US cities, including my own. The big tent and the booths offer redemptive and constructive hope to every sector of American society.
An illustration from the world of commerce
To illustrate the importance of sodalities in the Church, let’s borrow an illustration from the world of commerce, where business sodalities play a huge role in our free market system. The free market economic system we enjoy in America today is served by a wide range of business sodalities which in combination make possible the manufacture, distribution and sale of thousands of different products. (The shelves of any super market or department store offer evidence of the huge number of manufacturing sodalities that function in our society.) When you contrast our free market system with that of a socialist run economy, the advantages of our system stand out. Central planners in socialist states simply don’t allow for the multiplication of business sodalities. As a result, socialist states have few goods to offer their citizenry, and the quality of their goods is generally poor.
I use the above illustration to say this: Without multiple ministry sodalities operating within her borders, the Church becomes a monolithic institution not unlike a socialist state. As such, she cannot begin to hope to meet the needs of her own members or extend her influence in the fragmented world beyond her borders. Central planners are a bane to both civil government and ecclesiastical government. A multi-faceted ministry is always God’s will for the Church, and in our fragmented nation, it is especially important. Ministry sodalities allow for the diversity of the Body of Christ to be expressed in multi-faceted ways that are capable of meeting a staggering number of needs, challenges and objectives.3
Maturity & graduation
The multiplication of sodalities within the Christian community is an indication of maturity and growth. Just as a student becomes more career focused as he progresses in education, eventually specializing in a job he has trained for, so does the disciple grow more focused on his particular ministry as he grows in Christ. Sodalities quite often provide a disciple with a structure that makes use of his gifting and calling, either within a denominational framework or without it. The more local churches graduate their mature members to the service of particularized ministries, the quicker will the army of Christian rebuilders and developers grow. Moreover, the more healthy sodalities become the better will they be able to minister to local churches and spread Christian influence in the surrounding culture.
HOME TOWN SODALITIES
Depending on their size, scope and leadership, sodalities can have international, national, regional, metropolitan or local ministry. But of most interest to us in this discussion is the sodality that functions in our own respective towns and cities.
The church in the city
Perhaps it is obvious by now that our definition of the Church needs to be expanded to include not only the local congregation where we worship but also the entire Christian community in our respective cities or metropolitan areas. This brings us to the concept of the “Church in the City”, something as old as the New Testament itself. In the above listed text (I Corinthians 12:27-28), the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in the city of Corinth (cf. I Cor. 1:2). The boundaries of Corinth, therefore, were the boundaries of the church that gathered and mobilized within it. The fact is, the Apostle Paul wrote specifically to churches identifiable by six cities (Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica) and one region (Galatia.) The Epistle to Titus was written with the island of Crete in mind and had to do with the ordination of church officers in various cities there (cf. Titus 1:5). The Apostle John, in the Revelation and at the Lord’s command, addressed seven distinct churches in Asia Minor which were identified by the cities in which they were located (cf. Revelation 1:11; 2-3). The clear pattern of the New Testament is that the Church Universal is identified locally by the city where it makes its home. Greater Orlando may have as many as 350,000 worshipping believers. That’s a pretty big Church.
So, in order for us to really understand the Church we need to understand it as one body in our own home town. This is not to say that specific congregations and sodalities within the Church are wrong. Hardly. Where local churches are concerned, we can infer from the Apostle Peter’s instructions to the elder/pastors in I Peter 5:1-4, esp. v. 3, that God allots the sheep of God to shepherds in a specific way.4 In other words, God gives specific pastors to specific people. Thus, specific congregations should be viewed as a divinely appointed component of the Church in the City, and to have lots of congregations is no threat to the Church in the city, but rather, a blessing to it.
What all this has to do with sodalities is this: When we look at the “Church in the City”—our city—we can see the place of various nonparish sodalities (as well as sodalities commissioned by local churches and denominations.) We may not have all the ministries listed by Paul in I Corinthians 12:28 operating in the local congregation where we worship, but it is likely the “City Church” in our area either has the full complement or is somehow connected to ministries afar which would be willing to work cooperatively with the local Church in localized ministry projects.
The Body of Christ is divinely programmed for diversity of gifts, ministries and administrations. It is also divinely programmed for God governed unity in terms of its functional diversities.5 Ministry sodalities which form to give government and administrative order to various ministries should thus give expression not only to diversity, but to unity. Both our diversities of ministries and our unity equip us as Christians to not only care for ourselves, but to also comprehensively evangelize our fragmented world, and as a result, eventually see it brought together in Christ. From where I sit, the “big” thing I see God doing is a huge number of “little things”. Sodality booths are being set up, perfected, adjusted—and all under the Big Tent that God has pitched, not man. May God grace each of us to “find our booth.”
We’ll continue this discussion in the next issue.
1 See Ralph D. Winter’s seminal essay entitled The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission published in the valuable collection of essays under the title PERSPECTIVES ON THE WORLD CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT, ed. Ralph D. Winter and Stephen C. Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey Library, rev. ed. 1992) pp. B-45—-B-57. The words sodality and modality are introduced on p. B-51. See also, C. Peter Wagner, ON THE CREST OF THE WAVE (Ventura: Regal Books, 1983) p. 75. Chapter Four, entitled “How the Machinery of Missions Runs”, pp. 70-85, provides a helpful historic overview of missions sodalities. Also by Wagner, LEADING YOUR CHURCH TO GROWTH (Ventura: Regal Books, 1984). Chapter Five, “Why Bill Bright Is Not Your Pastor” (pp. 141-165) amplifies the discussion on sodalities and modalities in a church growth context. See especially, pp. 142-143.
2 I plan on doing a future essay in this series dedicated to the interrelation of doctrine, mission and structure.
3 Perhaps the US Church can play an important role in modeling ministry sodalities to the rest of the Christian world. Because we think diversity in our national economic life (owing to the biblical foundations established by our godly forefathers) perhaps we are geared as a people to think diversity in our Church life.
4 The phrase “those entrusted to you” (I Peter 5:3, NKJ) is from one word in the Greek, klhrwn, a plural of a word that carries the sense of portions, spheres or allotments. The inference drawn from this text is that pastors have specific allotments of sheep they are responsible to serve. Church history bears witness to the concept of “one Church in many congregations.”
5 For a brilliant and breathtaking passage of scripture that covers unity in terms of fellowship, faith, the knowledge of Christ, and functional diversity and cooperation, see Ephesians 4:1-16.