Look at church history and you will see many repeated patterns. For instance, in every generation there are differing opinions regarding the church. First you have those who think the prevailing institutional church of their day is where it’s at. These folks are either unconcerned about the disparaging difference in form and appearance between the many churches of Christendom today and the churches of the first century, or they believe that what exists by and large nowadays represents the natural development an infant church to the more mature thing that exists in Christianity today. These are our more traditionally-minded brethren.
In the next line you have the reformers. They sense the need for change-even radical change perhaps-but their way of going about it is by changing the structure from within. Rather than “bucking the system,” these brothers and sisters advocate using the system to achieve God’s end, though they themselves admit that the system itself is contrary to His design. Within this camp there are two kinds of reformers, the passive and agressive. Your passive reformer advocates for peace over any radical upheaval. He is willing to wait many long years if necessary to see gradual transformation take place. The aggressive reformer, on the other hand, says things need to change and they need to change now. For a good example of the difference between these two types see Erasmus and Luther during the time of the Reformation.
Then go one more aisle over and you have the third bunch. Crazy lot, these people. Known throughout church history as “separatists” or “dissenters”, these brothers and sisters claim that in order for God’s end to really be reached we must go outside the camp entirely unto something wholly different. No point in trying to change the establishment, they say, but rather to start anew. Even among this group you might say there is somewhat of a distinction between the passive and aggressive. The passive brother is hesitant to join himself to any kind of visible expression of the church, perhaps for fear that it might become the same thing he once separated from in order to be one with all fellow believers (which is a healthy fear, I might add). The other brother says that though the risk may indeed be great, the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose demands a visible testimony. Therefore we must dare to come together as His Body-apart from all institutionalism and traditionalism-and gather regularly as a true expression of Christ’s church, as true an expression as is humanly possible at least.
So, what do you think? Is this a fair assessment of church history? Where do you fall in this lot? What are your reasons for feeling the way you do about the church and how she is to reach God’s end?