Having noticed all the online buzz recently regarding what some people call “organic church”, I thought I would contribute my two cents for anyone who might be interested. In the likely case that you have no idea what I’m talking about, and yet you are interested, here are some links you may want to check out first:
1) Original article by Mark Galli of Christianity Today: Long Live Organic Church
2) Initial repsonse from Neil Cole
3) and Frank Viola
Ok then. Here’s what I think. “Organic church” as a model, method, or way of “doing” church means nothing to me personally. I feel no particular passion to go about imitating everything the early church did merely for the sake of imitation. Nor do I feel some grand calling to “change the world.” I am only interested in that which answers to the longing I feel in my own heart for a deeper intimacy with the Lord. That, for instance, is why I prefer to gather in a living room as opposed to a fancy building with stained glass windows, and why I would much rather listen to all my brothers and sisters share Christ than sit through a sermon prepared by the same guy every week. I know that may seem to be an overly simplisic view of what organic church life is all about, but for me it really is that simple. For me it all boils down to pursuing those things and ways which best facilitate the full growth of His life within me. Is that too much to ask?
Perhaps a little history will help…
My own view of the church began to change one night while reading Psalm 87. The writer was speaking of Zion. At the time I knew enough to know that Zion represented the kingdom and the people of God. He said, “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God,” and, “The Most High Himself shall establish her.” These words cut squarely across my entire understanding of the church at that time. The expressions were too intimate, too majestic. As I sat reading the words of this ancient psalm I heard the Lord refer to His church as a “her,” a living being like unto Himself. This was beyond my ability to even conceive. I knew the heart of the Lord was for intimacy with His people, but it was purely on an individual level that I understood this. My conception of the church was not much more than an institution that existed for the spiritual benefit of individual Christians, and certainly nothing you could apply such intimate terms to. I wondered what the psalmist meant when he said, “Of Zion it will be said that this and that man was born in her.” None of it made much sense to me; nevertheless, a light turned on inside. A wonderful vision began to take shape in my heart… I began to see the church.
The following year the Lord led me into an experience of the body of Christ beyond anything I had ever known before, during which time I and a few others began to see and touch the Lord in new ways. Our hearts were set on fire by what we saw, and it was really then that I began to get my first small glimpse into what Paul called the “eternal purpose” and the “mystery of God.” I prayed for greater understanding and it came, transforming the way I viewed pretty much everything at the time. I saw that the church was the mystery who had been hidden in Him since before the world began. I saw that she was the reason for the cross and the object of His eternal purpose. And I saw that she is not only the object of that purpose, but the instrument through whom that purpose is worked out. In the midst of all this we were enjoying sporadic times of remarkable fellowship which not only fueled our hunger for Christ but satisfied it as well, in a way that no traditional church service ever had (marvelous as this was, it got some of us into trouble later).
I wish I could remember every single one of our times together. Many I can. They were the most life-giving encounters with the Lord I have ever known. Sometimes we just sat in awe of the Christ who was revealed in our fellowship together. I saw the gifts of the Holy Spirit work in a way that brought attention to no one and nothing but Him. The transformation it wrought in our own hearts was indescribable. I saw how it is that so many Christians in the institutional church systems go on for years without growing in the Lord, for they are without so many of the dynamics that shaped the first-century believers in their experience of the church.
This is the very point at which my dilemma over the institutional church began, for I saw that the church, on a practical level, is to be the expression of all that Christ is… that God intends for the fellowship of His people-our very life together, both in and out of the “meeting”-to be a livable, workable, touchable display of this glorious relationship that exists between Christ and His bride. And that which I had always known as “church” did little to even touch this reality.
So I am all for the organic expression of the church. May it take root and spread all over this planet. But I sincerely hope it does not fall prey to those who would make it into a movement, or, as T. Austin Sparks would say, some “thing.” Organic church life is nothing more and nothing less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, corporately known and expressed. If that is what you are talking about when you say “organic church”, then by all means, sign me up.