In Praise of the Visible Church

The pomo obsession with “spirituality” over “religion” and “churchless” Christianity over “institutional” Christianity is a ridiculous cop out. This semester I’ve had students some read Kevin de Young and Ted Kluck’s book Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. There is a cool quote in this book: “Churchless Christianity makes about as much sense as a Christless church, and has just as much biblical warrant”. That itself is based on a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The Body of Christ takes up space on earth.  The Body of Christ can only be a visible body, or else it is not a body at all.”

When I lecture on ecclesiology, I always start with a parable. Imagine if you heard two guys in a men’s room saying how their friend Fred had a fiance that she was an ugly, good for nothing, dysfunctional, obnoxious, dumb as a mule, smelly tramp. Now imagine if Fred suddenly walked out of a cubicle behind them and had heard what they had said. Moral of the story, remember that the church, for all her failings, is still Jesus’ fiance and I don’t think he really likes it when we talk smack or trash about her.

Two of my favorite church quotes are:

“You cannot have God as your Father, without the Church as your Mother”
- John Calvin.

“The church is the people, not the steeple.”
- Rick Warren

  • Simon

    You’ve got to define church, though Mike, for any of your post to be true. Is ‘church’ what most people experience on a given Sunday in a town near you? Would Paul recognise our gatherings as ‘church’.
    So, I agree that Jesus calls us to be disciples in community (a community that we call ‘church’) but that doesn’t mean we have to be part of something that looks like a typical anglican or baptist or Hillsongs congregation.

    • http://twitter.com/inchristus Paul D. Adams

      Agree Simon…sorta.
      When we talk about humans do we need to define male or female? Defining the form of something is not always required when speaking of its substance. I understood Mike’s post to mean something like “church-in-all-its-forms-whether-visible-invisible-institutional-or-spiritual-et al.”. (Wow! That’s a mouthful!!).

      I appreciated DeYoung’s and Kluck’s book and have recorded my thoughts here, FWIW.

  • Simon

    You’ve got to define church, though Mike, for any of your post to be true. Is ‘church’ what most people experience on a given Sunday in a town near you? Would Paul recognise our gatherings as ‘church’.
    So, I agree that Jesus calls us to be disciples in community (a community that we call ‘church’) but that doesn’t mean we have to be part of something that looks like a typical anglican or baptist or Hillsongs congregation.

    • http://twitter.com/inchristus Paul D. Adams

      Agree Simon…sorta.
      When we talk about humans do we need to define male or female? Defining the form of something is not always required when speaking of its substance. I understood Mike’s post to mean something like “church-in-all-its-forms-whether-visible-invisible-institutional-or-spiritual-et al.”. (Wow! That’s a mouthful!!).

      I appreciated DeYoung’s and Kluck’s book and have recorded my thoughts here, FWIW.

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  • Pjy

    You need to travel to parts of the world where ‘visible ch.’ as you define it, is impossible.

  • Pjy

    You need to travel to parts of the world where ‘visible ch.’ as you define it, is impossible.

  • John Thomson

    So does this mean Augustine’s ‘invisible’ church is a mistake?

    I agree ‘church’ needs a definition. What/who is the body of Christ in any town?

  • John Thomson

    So does this mean Augustine’s ‘invisible’ church is a mistake?

    I agree ‘church’ needs a definition. What/who is the body of Christ in any town?

  • Timothy

    Can people help me find a quote I saw somewhere that I think is relevant to this discussion? The quote is roughly to the effect that pastors should not go about criticising their congregations as there is another who is said to be the accuser of the brethren and pastors should not take his role.

    • Jared Wilson

      Timothy, you may be thinking of “A congregation has not been entrusted to [a pastor] in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.” That’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer in *Life Together.*

  • Timothy

    Can people help me find a quote I saw somewhere that I think is relevant to this discussion? The quote is roughly to the effect that pastors should not go about criticising their congregations as there is another who is said to be the accuser of the brethren and pastors should not take his role.

    • Jared Wilson

      Timothy, you may be thinking of “A congregation has not been entrusted to [a pastor] in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.” That’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer in *Life Together.*

  • John Thomson

    Timothy

    The various NT writers criticies congregations. The OT prophets criticised Israel. I assume all teachers and prophets must from time to time. Cricising is not accusing. At the very least the aim is different.

  • John Thomson

    Timothy

    The various NT writers criticies congregations. The OT prophets criticised Israel. I assume all teachers and prophets must from time to time. Cricising is not accusing. At the very least the aim is different.

  • Steven Grose

    hi mate.. think it was Cyprian of Carthage “There is no salvation outside the church” “You cannot have God as your father without the Church as your mother.”

  • Steven Grose

    hi mate.. think it was Cyprian of Carthage “There is no salvation outside the church” “You cannot have God as your father without the Church as your mother.”


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