Thursday, February 22, 2007

Parachurch: A parasite?

John Stackhouse (Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancover) has blogged here on the relationship between church and parachurch.

He says some of the things that I've said below in support of parachurch organisation.

However, he makes an interesting comment that I must disagree with.

These groups are usually, but mistakenly, called “parachurch” as if they are not the Church (that is, the worldwide Body of Christ), but instead occupy a shadowy zone “beside” the Church. I use the term “shadowy” to allude to the suspicion and even outright hostility with which they are viewed by some Christians—not least by many clergy and denominational leaders. For such groups often are seen as distractions and diffusions of the Church’s resources, not least its money.
Thus we hear pastors urging congregations to tithe first to the local—which is to say, the “true”—church, and then (perhaps) to other ministries. I respond that such groups are not churches (that is, congregations or denominations), but they are certainly part of the Church. Indeed, I see them as the Church of Jesus Christ eployed in particular modes to accomplish particular purposes.

Yet such groups clearly are Christ’s Church mobilized and active in worthy pursuits. Thus the term “parachurch” really won’t do. I suggest instead the term paracongregational.”

By making the comment that these are not ‘para-church’ but ‘church’ though not ‘a church’ I think that this needs a little more fleshing out.
‘Church’ in the New Testament is used either of ‘A church’ or the universal church. It is not used of a subset of the universal church that is not ‘A church’. This leads him to strange conclusions, particularly regarding giving and the ordinances.

Grey areas do exist in some special purpose groups, to be sure, particularly around the sacraments: Should they be administered, and, if so, by whom? But most do not ever consider baptizing or serving communion. And their utterly voluntary nature means that church discipline is not exerted (although one must allow that church discipline is hard to find anywhere on the ecclesial landscape today).

Well, I would disagree that administration of the ordinances outside of the local congregation are 'grey areas'. The ordinances were given to the church. The church is expressed locally in churches. Churches may partner together in parachurch ministries but that does not make those ministries churches.

This also affects Stackhouse's view of Christian giving.

...such groups often are seen as distractions and diffusions of the Church’s resources, not least its money. Thus we hear pastors urging congregations to tithe first to the local—which is to say, the “true”—church, and then (perhaps) to other ministries....

Why not support both, therefore, with glad hearts, open wallets, and ready hands?For the New Testament churches supported and benefited from the apostle Paul then he was resident in their congregations, and they supported him in his independent, organized ministry to benefit others when he was away. Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned and simplistic Bible believer, but this idea doesn’t seem all that difficult to me.

I have no problem with giving to parachurch organisations. But the very passage that Stackhouse quotes shows that this should primarily be the local church that is giving to the parachurch, not the individual Christian. I don't want to lay down a law here (I don't think there even are laws on 'giving' except that of generosity & no compulsion). There may be personal opportunities and friendships that would mean we would want to support particular ministries and individuals with needs we know about.

However, to suggest that the individual should have no priority of giving to the local chruch rather than the parachurch is to give in to the individualistic spirit of the day, which suggests that my personal wisdom as to what to do with the funds is higher than the combined wisdom of those that I have covenanted with, and my responsibility to my own personal portfolio is higher than my responsibility to the body to which I belong.


thebluefish said...

Mike, what do you make of this:

Serving the local church

Robbymac said...

What is your Scriptural basis for suggesting that places like YWAM (I'll be specific on that because I work full-time as a missionary with YWAM) cannot administer the sacraments?

Or for that matter, what is your Scriptural basis for saying that a house church, unconnected to any "official" denomination, couldn't administer the sacraments?

Note: I'm thinking primarily of Holy Communion and Baptism in both cases.

thebluefish said...

In UCCF we say that baptism and communion shouldn't be done normally because we want to assert the primacy of the local church - and that our ministry is serving the church by growing it... rather than drawing people away from the church.

That is pragmatic to some extent...

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

Hi Robbymac,

I would certainly agree with you that when talking about the 'sacraments', or the ordinances as I prefer to call them are limited to baptism and the Lord's supper.

The reason why I don't think that these should take place in the parachurch is because the ordinances are given to be practiced under the discipline of a local church.

The Lord's Supper: in 1st Corinthians 5, it is the church who is reprimanded by the apostle for not putting him out of fellowship. this is because, in Matthew 18, the congregation is the group given the 'keys' of church discipline. Well, perhaps at the very heart of 'accociating' with others (as is shown in 1 cor 11) is taking the Lord's supper together. thus, regular admission to the Lord's supper is the responsibility of the local church, not a parachurch.

Baptism: Baptism is not only into the Lord, his death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-7), but into his body, the church (1 Cor 12:12-13 , Acts 2:41)

Hope this is useful,


Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

As regards to denominations, I don't think that they are at all necessary biblically. I am therefore in agreement that a house church may (and should) administer the ordinances.

Denominations can be useful, but they are parachurch organisations, not churches. So, I deny that the Church of England (in which I grew up) is a church. It is an affiliation of churches (as well as a sorry number of communities that do not preach the gospel and therefore are not churches)