Friday, September 05, 2008

Frank Viola's Reimagining Church-- Part One


REIMAGINING CHURCH: by Frank Viola (David C. Cook Publishers).

Frank Viola is a creative guy. He writes well too. And in his latest book, he is free from the shackles of having to write things others insisted he include in the book Pagan Christianity, so if we want a close glimpse of the constructive project (rather than the deconstruction of the paradigm of what he calls the institutional church which was one of the main aims of Pagan Christianity), Reimagining Church is the right place to start. There are certain aspects of what I will call traditional churches that make Frank break out in a rash--- hierarchial structures for example, with which he contrasts organic churches where any one can speak any time they feel led to do so, and there are no traditional leadership structures. The claim is that Christ is being the head of the gathering or meeting, and so human ‘heads’ are not required.

Frank left traditional churches in 1988 and set out on a journey to find, and help create more organic churches, free from the encumbrances of traditional leadership structures, free from liturgy (instead spontaneity is seen as a spiritual sign of being ‘organic’). He simply professed boredom with traditional worship, saw it as too leader dominated, and too often a performance. And so he set off on his quest seeking what he viewed as a more perfect representation of what he took to be the NT model of what church was supposed to look like. He describes very straightforwardly how he reimagines how the church ought to be-- “organic in its construction; relational in its functioning; scriptural in its form (aha! it has a form); Christocentric in its operation; Trinitarian in its shape; communitarian in its lifestyle; nonelitist in its attitude; and nonsectarian in its expression.” (p. 26). Now that’s a tall order. Let’s see how he develops these ideas and blueprints for the 21rst century church.

At this juncture, I want to make a disclaimer and lay some of my own cards on the table for all to see. I have no problems with what I would call ‘close fellowship’, really treating one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. I have no problems with people exercising their spiritual gifts, including in worship and in fellowship meetings. Joyful exuberant worship and fellowship is great. I have no desire to quench the Spirit. What I do have a problem with is how much of the NT ecclesiology one has to either ignore, deny, or reinterpret to come to the conclusion that ‘organic body life’ is THE model that the early church followed and that we ought to follow. I also have a problem with those who have a problem inherently with the notion of hierarchial leadership structures, because in fact such structures are Biblical not merely in the OT, but in the NT as well, as documents like the Pastoral Epistles and Acts make clear.

And so I want to say up front, small gatherings in homes like Frank describes are not in themselves a problem, though even in those kinds of meetings some Euthychus’s of this world can fall asleep, or even become crashing bores during them! All too often boredom you see is not caused by dead worship services but by a state of mind of a person who lacks imagination— including imagination about art, and liturgy, and stain glassed windows and robes, and crosses, and candles and organs and string instruments and people actually trained in what they are doing musically and otherwise as they help worship to happen in ‘authentic’ and traditional ways. But I digress.

What I am going to stress in what follows is that the body metaphor is only one of the many metaphors used to describe the church in the NT (the temple and the bride being two others), and it was not meant to be taken literally, or for that matter ‘organically’. Indeed, the function of the body metaphor in 1 Cor. 12 is not to uphold a vision of organic church, but to oppose the divisions and factions and fissures in the Corinthian congregation by stressing that all the body parts are crucial and essential, and no one can say to another member of the body ‘I have no need of you’. In other words, the metaphor doesn’t describe a mode of worship or a way of doing a fellowship meeting or an organic way of doing church, it describes a way of treating one’s fellow body members with love and respect whether you are meeting together or not. Nor does the metaphor itself describe at all what Christ’s role might or might not be when the meeting is held in a home. In fact, Christ is not even said to be the head of the body in 1 Cor.12! The issue there is the relationship between the members, not the relationship between Christ and the members. That comes later in Colossians and serves a very different purpose. More on this shortly.

On pp. 27-28 Frank gives us his paraphrase of Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech. Basically it states his wish for a more ‘organic’ and spontaneous church where everyone is actively engaged and sharing their gifts. I am sure he meant no offense but I am equally sure that many African Americans would have problems with turning a speech about social justice and opposition to racism into an ode to a specific sort spiritual concept of church life, especially when what is envisioned is rather different from the black religious and black church experience in various ways.

On p. 31 we have an interesting quotation from one T. Austin Sparks, which reflects the usual exaggerations about how spontaneously pneumatic all early church life was and how all knowledge and understanding of the Bible comes from the Holy Spirit. Sparks is quoted as saying “We cannot obtain anything in our New Testament as the result of human study, research, or reason. It’s all the Holy Spirit’s revelation… Everything [in the early church] then was the free and spontaneous movement of the Holy Spirit.” I honestly don’t know why Frank would use such a quote when he knows perfectly well that at both ends it is false. Frank is a diligent student of the NT. He knows we need to use all the powers God has given us, and all diligence to understand the Word of God, and of course in addition to this we especially need the illumination of the Spirit, indeed the latter is the most essential thing. It is not however by any means the only essential thing.
Frank is not an anti-intellectual, but you would never know it from this quote.

It reminds me of the student who came up to class one day frustrated and said “I don’t know why I need to do all this research, and writing and studying of the NT. Why I can just get up into the pulpit and the Spirit will give me utterance.” I rejoind: “Yes, you can do this, but it is a shame you are not giving the Holy Spirit more to work with.” And on the second point—No, everything in the early church was not all the free and spontaneous movement of the Spirit. Often it involved the will, and hard work of ordinary mortals, such as Paul when he sought to make the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Often it involved setting up a order of deacons or elders or even widows to perform certain tasks.

On p. 32, Frank allows there are many images of the church, which he then claims are all ‘living entities’. This is not quite true. A field, for example, is not inherently a living entity. Dirt has no life without seeds and water. And while the temple imagery in 1 Peter does indeed refer to living stones, what Frank fails to note is that this is an hierarchial image of church. Buildings have structures, just as the church has organization and structures. It is quite impossible to make a hard and fast distinction between an organism and an organization, even when the subject is the church. And more to the point, the NT writers don’t want us to make that sort of mistake either.

On this same page, Frank makes a dramatic contrast between organic church life “naturally produced when a group has encountered Jesus Christ in reality (external ecclesiastical props being unnecessary) and the DNA of the church is free to work without hinderance.” He seems to think that by contrast “the modern institutional church operates on the same organizational principles that run corporate America.” (p. 32). This is a grotesque exaggeration of the facts. Frankly, most traditional churches would have been shut down long ago if they were businesses! And most are certainly not run purely on some sort of business model. I have pastored six traditional Methodist Churches, and served in numerous others, and not a one of them could be characterized in this way. Decisions are made after much prayer, often involving whole church meetings, discussions, long prayer sessions and then further reflections. I don’t know many businesses in America that make decisions that way. Are there some churches that have sold their souls to a business model? Perhaps so. But in the hundreds I have preached and taught in around the world, I have never found one that truly fits that caricature.
One of the foundational principles for Frank’s approach to church life is that the Trinity itself is a sort of blueprint or model of unity in the midst of relationships for church life (N.B. he seems to think Gen. 1.26 is a reference to the Trinity, but in fact most OT scholars would tell you that this is probably God discussing matters with his court—the angels. The Trinity does not show up as a concept until the NT era, and for a very good reason. The Son was not revealed before the Incarnation. The Hebrew who wrote Gen. 1.26 would have been stunned to discover that he was referring to the Trinity! No, he would reply, it refers to Yahweh and his retinue, his court see e.g. Isaiah 6).

Now part of the major premises of Frank about the Trinity, is that there is no hierarchy, even a functional hierarchy in the Godhead itself. So for example on p. 35 we hear about the mutual submission of all members of the Trinity to each other. But in fact this is not quite true. We hear a good deal about the submission of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Son and the Father, but nothing at all about the submission of the Father to either the Spirit or the Son. It is always the Father’s will about which Jesus prays, and teaches his disciples to pray, and it is the Father’s will to which he himself submits.

And actually this is not simply a temporary expedient during the life of Jesus on earth when he once walked amongst us. Indeed 1 Cor. 15 says quite clearly that when Christ returns, his task will be to subject all things to the Father. Listen carefully to what Paul then says about what happens at the end of the process of subjecting all things—“Now when it says that everything has been put under Him [i.e. Christ] it is clear that this does not include God [the Father] himself who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to God [the Father] who put everything under him, so that God [the Father] may be all in all.” That is, even at the eschaton, and the end of all human history, the Son will be submitting himself and all things back under the rule of the Father. Now this submission of the Son to the Father is not an ontological one, it is a functional hierarchy we are talking about here. If then we accept the premise of Frank and others that the Trinity provides the blueprint or pattern for how the church should be viewed, ordered, structured, then we would naturally expect the church to have a functional hierarchy. If its good enough for Jesus, it should be fine for us as church as well. But there is more.

Frank goes on to say “The church is the organic extension of the triune God. It was conceived in Christ before time (Ephes. 1.4-5) and born on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.1ff.).” (p. 35). There are several serious theological problems with this sort of assertion: 1) it violates the Creator creature distinction the Bible insists on from first to last. The church is not a natural or organic extension of God on earth! To the contrary the church is a distinct entity, like a bride, that God has chosen to unite himself to, through spiritual relationship and koinonia. This is a very different matter indeed. Any idea of church that suggests that any group of human beings is simply the natural extension of God on earth has badly misunderstood what Paul and others are talking about. 2), Ephes. 1.4-5 is not about the conception of the church pre-temporally. All of the Greek here is clear enough that what the author is talking about is happening to and ‘in Christ’ not to and in ‘us’ the church. It was Christ himself who was chosen before the foundations of the world to be our savior. We, as church didn’t existent then. These things are only true of believers by extension because NOW (not then) we are in Christ. You do have to exist before you can be ‘in Christ’, and no human being existed before Adam.

Frank goes on to say that the church possesses the very same life that God himself possesses. This also is not quite accurate. God has eternal life—he has always been and always will be. We however, through a process called the new birth obtain everlasting life--- life that begins at a particular point in time, and goes on infinitely into the future. God has his eternal life quite naturally. We obtain everlasting life as a gift from God. There are then clear differences here. To this we must add that when God gives us everlasting life, had he truly given us exactly what he has, we would have had no need for either the Holy Spirit or anyone else to indwell us, fill us, revivify us again and again and so on. We would have been divinized, which we aren’t. It was the voice of the snake which promised ‘you shall be as gods”, not the voice of God. This is not Christian theology, but it certainly is Mormon theology. What being partakers of the divine nature means (2 Pet. 1.4) is that we are given spiritual union with the one who has such a nature, and it transforms us, not into God or gods, but into true and godly human beings. It doesn’t make us the natural extension of God on earth either, though I have met some church folk who think they are God’s gift to humanity.

Frank’s disconnect here appears to be between the notion of hierarchy and the notion of equality. He can’t seem to imagine the two going together either in the Godhead, or in proper church community. He states for example, that while Jesus was on earth he simply voluntarily submitted to the Father. While I grant that he certainly did do this, it wasn’t just pro tempore, or during the period of time while he was on earth. 1 Cor. 15 is equally clear that he will do so again once the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of God, and all evil and enemies are placed under his feet.

So here is where I stress that ontological equality, and functional subordination have always been and always will be compatible, and the blueprint Godhead provides us with a reason to expect that in the church there will be a hierarchial pattern of ordering things. I would hasten to add that it does NOT lead us to expect that this pattern will involve a gender hierarchy. No, it will involve a leader and follower, shepherd and sheep, pastor and congregation, apostle and co-workers hierarchy--- something Frank wants to avoid at all costs, seeing it as either inorganic or simply fallen human structures.

Alas, however, it is the divine design, mirroring the functional subordination that indeed has and does exist in the Trinity. When the Bible says ‘honor thy father (and mother)”, it never conceives of a day when somehow the son ever ceases to be a son, ceases to owe respect to the father, ceases to be ordered under the father in these ways. There will always be an ordering in that relation and so a hierarchy. Likewise, there never comes a day when the only begotten Son becomes the Father, or somehow the Father changes roles and becomes the only begotten Son. Equality and indeed mutual love and respect do not in any way necessarily rule out an ordering of relationships, or even functional subordination in such relationships either in the Godhead, or in Christian community. I am afraid that what has affected and infected this discussion is secular notions of equality that assume that equal must mean ‘the same’ in all respects, or ‘the same’ in all functions. But this is not what the Bible either says or suggests.



C.P.O. said...

I think you make some good points about the Trinity, hierarchy, and functional subordination. My only question with it is that I hope it is not a view of hierarchy that is more informed by Weber's bureaucratic theory and modernity than by the possibilities in scripture and the practices of the earliest churches. I think that ordering and structure somehow must be possible without resorting to hierarchy. Perhaps interdependence or heterarchy would be better ways to conceive of trinitarian life and church life than hierarchy?

Unknown said...

Thank you. It's so nice to get such in-depth and balanced reviews. :)

Ben Witherington said...

When you have the unilateral and not reciprocal submission of one member of the Trinity to another, that is textbook hierarchy. Mutuality and equality are not ruled in or out by hierarchy.


Jilliefl1 said...

Here are other reviews written by people who read the entire book.

In "Reimagining Church," Frank Viola is at the top of his game, showing a serene, soaring mastery of the theology of church as organism rather than organization.
- Leonard Sweet, Professor at Drew Theological School and George Fox Seminary
Dissent is a gift to the Church. It is the imagination of the prophets that continually call us back to our identity as the peculiar people of God. May Viola’s words challenge us to become the change that we want to see in the Church ... and not to settle for anything less than God’s dream for Her.
- Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution
True to form, this book contains a thoroughly consistent critique of prevailing forms of church. However, in "Reimagining Church," Frank Viola also presents a positive vision of what the church can become if we truly reembraced more organic, and less institutional, forms of church. This is a no holds barred prophetic vision for the church in the twenty-first Century.
- Alan Hirsch, author of The Forgotten Ways and The Shaping of Things To Come
There are other reviews and interviews at

Sarah Blake said...

Thank you for your thoughts about this book. You've given me things to think about personally in addition to perspective on Viola's writing.

Corpus Christi Outreach Ministries said...

Frank and Ben, like both you guys. Finished Pagan christianity, agreed with most, felt some was a little off. these are a few posts from my blog God bless.(818)The recent discussion over ‘pagan church practices’ and the organic versus the ‘church building’ model have been good. It might have surprised some of you to see me ‘defend’ to a degree the ‘church building’- let me explain. Some teach a type of ecclesiology [church govt.] that says ‘you have the institutional church’ [church building, denominational, organized] and the ‘organic’ church. The distinction they seem to be making is ‘although there are Christians in the institutional model, the ‘out of church’ brothers are really the ‘truest form of church’. Sort of like trying to trace ‘your roots’ thru out church history. I covered this concept in the study we did on the book of Acts [read the intro and conclusion]. The problem I have with this is it seems to trace the ‘truer church’ as to a specific historical group of believers, who thru out the centuries resisted the ‘intuitional church’ and these ‘out of church’ believers have really carried the torch for the Gospel. I see this idea fundamentally flawed. It seems to not take into account that many of these groups were outright heretics! It also seems to miss the fact that many believers who were in the ‘organized church’ were actually part of the ‘organic church’ in the sense that they were a living, breathing functioning part of Christ’s church! So you might very well have had a true believer in the ‘organized church’ and an unbeliever in the ‘unorganized church’! That is you really can’t trace ‘the true church’ along these lines. Now, I believe there is a fundamental fault line that does run thru the collective mind of many Christians. Too many of us seem to not make the functional distinction between ‘Ecclesia’ versus ‘church’. We do need to be challenged in the way we read the New Testament and apply current miss-concepts of ‘the local church’ to the text. It is a fact that as far as we [we being those who try their best at studying the history of the 1st century church] can tell, the idea of the modern Pastoral office, along with the strong ‘go to church’ idea was absent in the 1st century church. Some scholars have made a noble effort to present the other side [institutional] but the weight of historical evidence falls on the ‘organic church’ model. As we struggle to become ‘the church’ in a more biblical way in the 21st century, we need to be careful that we don’t give Christians the idea that all ‘church building’ churches are outright pagan! The fact that many true believers worship according to this model shows us that the ‘organic Body of Christ’ is truly being represented in them. I thank God for all the recent discussion over these issues. It was a much needed ongoing conversation. We need to have this conversation with much grace!

(817)ARE CHURCH BUILDINGS, PAID LEADERS AND PUBLIC SCRIPTURE READING PAGAN PRACTICES? There are a few reasons why I avoid ‘going too deep’ on this site. The obvious one being I can’t do it very well! Plus it has its ups and downs. I turned 46 the other day. I like taking the kids to the beach and all, growing up in Jersey it was cool to ‘show off’ and ‘go deep’. I have this inner temptation to ‘go deep’ in the Gulf. But there is also a restraining factor; It works like this- I can risk looking cool at the age of 46 and swim out real far, it might be over my head, but heck the kids will think ‘wow, he is really deep’! Then this nagging fear pops up in my mind. I see my self being pulled to shore by some 18 year old lifeguard. I am strung out on the beach with a group of spring breakers hovering over me with Budweiser cans. The local news channel has their cameras in my face as the lifeguard explains how they ‘brought me back with C.P.R.’ and the college kids are saying ‘are you all right old man’? As you can see ‘going deep’ has its risks! Now, what does the bible teach about ‘church [sacred] buildings’ ‘paid clergy [leaders]’ ‘the public reading of scripture’ ‘meeting on Sunday’ and all the other practices associated with ‘the institutional church’? Well actually these things are not as ‘Pagan’ as you might think! In fact the public reading of scripture is commanded in scripture. The ‘paying money’ to Elders is taught. Christians meeting in ‘sacred buildings’ actually did happen to a degree in scripture! Both the Temple and the Synagogue continued to be places where early Jewish [and some Gentile- ‘God- fearers’] believers ‘met’. The point is these actual practices are not necessarily ‘Pagan in origin’. Am I defending the later development of ‘the church being the church building’ along with the clergy system and all that it entails? No. I believe Christians have been confused on what the ‘church is’ and how we as the people of God should function in society. But I also believe that a strong case could be made that the present ‘ideas’ about church that are unbiblical could be traced to ‘Judaism’ instead of ‘Paganism’. The development of the church [sacred] building along with the Altar and officiating Priest can be seen as Legalistic [law mentality] as opposed to Pagan. Now I see both of these developments as bad, but the basic idea of believers having recognized leaders [Elders] who are supported financially [free will –no tithe or ‘salary’] is in scripture. The fact that Paul rented a building in the book of Acts [hall of Tyrannus- Acts 19:9] to teach in a public forum is not pagan! The whole point being we as the Ecclesia are the actual dwelling place of God. As we learn and grow as believers we have tremendous freedom to have public places dedicated to God, scenarios where leaders speak to us in a public forum. Actual ways of supporting leaders who are dedicating their time to teaching and preaching. These things are permitted and at times commanded in scripture! Where we need to re examine our beliefs is when we see the ‘church building’ and the ‘Sunday message’ and all of the things associated with ‘Sunday church’ as actually being ‘the local church’. It is the limited mindset that hinders us. Now, to simply replace the ‘Sunday church building mindset’ with ‘the house church mindset’ doesn’t necessarily fix the problem. Some teach the idea that the ‘natural habitat’ of the believer is the ‘open meeting’. That when you remove the believer from the open meeting format, that in essence you have taken him out of his natural setting and therefore he cant develop right. If you read the teachings of Jesus on how the believer is to ‘act’ and function in society. If you follow the ministry of Jesus and imitate as much as possible his life and precepts. If you do the things Jesus said to do, then you are ‘living in the designed natural habitat’ of the believer! The idea that the ‘open house meeting’ versus the ‘Sunday public meeting’ is the answer for the modern believer is very limited. The problem with most for us is not how or where we are meeting, it is our natural instinct to not want to carry our cross. To live an unselfish life. To give ourselves away for a higher purpose. The main body of the New Testament has very little to say about ‘how to meet’. Sure we have a few well-known scriptures that we are all familiar with ‘forsake not the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some’ [Hebrews]. In context this is speaking of the ‘open meeting’ idea. It speaks of exhorting one another. More like Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians. But the point I want to make [without the risk of getting pulled to shore!] is that the answer to the present day dilemma of ‘non functioning’ believers is not going to be found in changing the way we meet. Our natural habitat is not sitting in someone’s living room! It is going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature. It is being an example of living a sacrificial life as much as possible. Trying to follow the admonition of James on pure religion ‘to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and keeping yourself unspotted from the world’ [not how you meet!]. In a nutshell the problem is most of us are falling short in actually living the life! So I don’t want to contradict all the writings that I have done on this site about the need to change our mindset on ‘what is Local church’. But I feel some have tried to replace the way believers meet, thinking that this in itself is the main problem with modern Christianity. I see it a little differently.

David Z Anderson said...

So, the church is an "organism not an organization."

Might it be both?

The church has membership requirements - faith and repentance. An initiation rite - baptism. A specific code of conduct. Guidelines for orderly meetings. A regular memorial meal. A world-view encompassing all things. Leadership roles having a long, long list of requirements. Etc. Frequent references are made to the separateness of those inside compared to those on the outside.

All this does not constitute an organization???

Granted, the church over time became overzealous in some of these areas but unless Viola has the power to redefine words, he might want to reconsider his analogy.

Unknown said...

David A, I believe you've missed the point of Frank's analogy. Frank's analogy in defining the church as being "organic" is that the church has been designed by God. Verses "organization" which has been designed by man. That's the point of the analogy.

Yes, an organism is both complex and organized; but that doesn't make it an organization wherein you have administrative paperwork, insurance claims, lighting bills, retail items, or real estate.

David Z Anderson said...

I did not suggest that the church wasn't an organism nor organic in nature. True, the church in many manifestations is way too organizational. Still to suggest that the church is not an organization is misleading and FALSE. If Jesus had said nothing more than to eat and drink certain things in his memory - that constitutes an organization. Read any definition in any dictionary.

To my list of organizational attributes above is to be added the right to address grievances compared to those not in His organization who use government courts.

Unknown said...

Perhaps the miscommunication is within the words we are using. Organization does not have to mean "structure." If by "oganization" one means "an administrative corporation" like GM, then there is a problem. I am taking it that you mean "organization" in this sense. Your idea of "organization" seems blurry to me.

I looked in the dictionary and there were different definitions - one that suggested that something was structured and another which meant a corporation like a business or political body.

The reason I say that your idea of "organization" seems blurry to me is that I cannot tell what you mean by it.

Also, my post was to clarify Frank's idea in his analogy. I came to the same conclusion 3 or more years before I had ever heard of him or his book "Pagan Christianity" in 2005. Yes, there were guidelines for the act of "organization," but these were not set in stone in the same sense of the OT priestly laws. What you called "regular memorial meals" did not exist out of an edict, but out of the natural love and joy that comes from someone who truly loves his Lord. They didn't have a set time or place or order of doing the meal, they did them from house to house and that's about all we know. How often did they do it? I do not know and we may not ever know.

David Z Anderson said...

Hiya friend,

The mandate to eat and drink in memory of His death is indeed an edict. An edict is merely "an official order or proclamation issued by a person in authority." When are our Lord's commands incompatible with "natural love and joy that comes from someone who truly loves his Lord?"

The Corinthian correspondence indicates that one of the purposes of coming together was to eat the meal of remembrance." The language indicates regularity. 1 Corinthians 11:20: When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper (it should have been). 1 Corinthians 11:33: Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.

If the author of RC intended to posit that the church was an organism - not a modern corporation, that is what he should have written. It is true. Having a very strong opinion about something doesn't mean we can alter word meanings. Doing so just creates needless confusion regardless of how catchy it sounds.

The idea of purpose comes up in the definitions of an organization. Surely, the church has purposes. Surely, people join together in these efforts to serve and to minister.

The Red Cross is an organization in the minds of most observers. (redcross.ORG). The early church also appointed highly qualified relief personnel to serve food to the needy. That aspect of church life would pass as organizational, I do believe.

Obviously, the English translations use neither word - organism nor organization, but the principle is there for both. 'Order' is mentioned several times - it beats disorder, I suppose.

Unknown said...

Thanks for clarifying what you meant. I see what you mean now. Sorry for not being clear with my wording of "edict" either, you are correct in your definition.

Unknown said...

I don't claim to know much, but I had thoughts about the last paragraph where it was stated that the relationship between Father and Son was described as a biblical blueprint and used this to argue for a functional and hierarchical subordination. I'm sorry, but at this time, I feel this dogma is dangerous. Here is my thinking:

Philippians 2:6 describes Jesus Christ not as a Son that is placed on an org chart lower than the CEO or the Father, but instead is described as being equal with God and is God. But all the status, power, privileges, and reputation that comes with being equal to God, and even being God, wasn’t made to be something to be grasped and hold; as if that was the achievement to grasp and hold. On the contrary, Jesus made himself nothing, being obedient to a death on a cross. He became nothing not because he was lower on the org chart or on a hierarchical structure; on the contrary, he was equal to God and was God. Verse 5, however, gives some indication why Jesus did this. So, that we would have the same attitude, and that this would be held as an example. As it says in verse 7-11, obedience was done not because of a class or hierarchical organization structure; but so, that God would be exalted and every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Jesus was not obedient to a functional organization; Jesus was obedient to God. This was done as an example to us; that we would not submit to a hierarchical function or organization, but that we would submit to God as worship.

But it is clear that we have different relationships. But the relationships we have with each other should not be looked at as a hierarchical or functional organization, but rather our relationships with each other should be looked at as following God’s commands as worship. I do not honor my father and mother because of a hierarchical or organization structure; I honor my father and mother because of God’s commands and He is Lord. My wife does not submit to me because I am ranked higher than she is; she submits to me because of God’s commands and He is Lord. I do not love my wife and give myself to her because she is the boss at our house; I do it because of God’s commands and He is Lord. This is worship by obeying God’s commands so that He would be Lord of our lives, and not that we submit ourselves to a hierarchical structure. In 1 Peter 2:18, it says to slaves to submit yourselves to your masters even if they are harsh not because of some hierarchical structure but instead because this is worship for this is God’s commands.

So why is submitting to a hierarchical organization dangerous? Maybe dangerous is not the right word, but I have seen first hand how it stunts our spiritual growth to those who are ranked at the bottom. I have known people where every sentence in their conversation of a Christian discussion starts with, “My pastor said this. My commentary in my bible says this. Billy Graham said this.” I respect and appreciate leadership and know full value that God uses strategic people and leaders to speak into our lives. This I feel is a given. But, in some circumstances and in some organizations, the Word of God needs to come top-down, from some credible source with respected hierarchical authority, as if God speaks to the head and information and the Holy Spirit trickles down. To those who are ranked lower, I wonder if Matt Damon needs to give the same speech he did to Michael Bolton in the movie Goodwill Hunting when Michael Bolton was making fun of Ben Affleck, saying something like, “Do you go off and talk about someone else’s ideas and pawn it off as your own just to impress some girl?” but leaving out of course the “But if there’s still a problem we can settle this outside.” 1 Timothy 4:12 maybe a verse for those ranked at the bottom, as well as a verse ranked at the top.

We are to love God with all of our hearts and all of our souls, but also with all of our intellectual minds. We fail to do this when we submit to a hierarchical organization instead of God, also failing to do as what it says in 1 John 4:1. We instead love God with all of our hearts and souls leaving our minds to be shaped to a higher hierarchical organization while hoping the higher hierarchical organization is right with God. This is the extreme circumstance that I feel can and has come out of community submitted to a hierarchical organization.

But what if there was less hierarchy organization and relationships were just looked at as God’s commands for worship? Each person would seek the kingdom first with all of their hearts and souls as well as their intellectual minds, and would do as it says to do in Luke 8:11-18. And because there are mature Christians in the mix of immature Christians, we do as it says in 1 Timothy 4:16-16 so that we can save not only ourselves but also our hearers, regardless of our hierarchical standing.

And in order to have the right relationships with each other in order to follow God’s commands as worship, we need to have some kind of relationship with each other. Therefore, we need to be involved in community: community inside the church and outside as well. So, instead of trying to determine something formulaic and say should a church be organic or should it be an organization, what if we simply said what are God’s commands for us regarding the relationships we are to have with each other in church and to those outside church, to our co-workers, our pastors, our parents, our children, etc? Never looking at relationships as a hierarchical structure or organization but as God’s design for us as worship.

I am only a humble learner of the Word, however, so please feel free to dismiss, as I continue to pray about these ideas.

God bless.