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[Home]>[The Man-Made Church]>[1. Organism - Not Organization]
This is the 1. Chapter of "The Man-Made Church."
by Frank L. Preuss
The church is an organism - not an organization. The Bible pictures the church as a body of a human being and its members are like members of a human body. One is a foot, one a hand, one an ear, another an eye. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12). There is no organisation that runs a human body and keeps it alive. What runs a body and keeps it alive is the spirit, because when the spirit leaves a human body, then this body is dead. The same with the body of Christ - the Church of God. To keep it alive, we need the Holy Spirit. When we start to replace the Holy Spirit with an organization, then the Holy Spirit leaves. The Holy Spirit leaves because he cannot guide the members anymore, because the organization is doing it now. When the believers come together, the individuals are not led any more by the Holy Spirit, but by the organizational forms imposed by the organization. The Holy Spirit is not given any more liberty and he leaves. The moment the Holy Spirit leaves, the church is dead - spiritual dead.
The key to understand an organism is to see that an organism has only one head. Everything is directed from this head. In the Church of God this head is Jesus. And to understand this main characteristic of an organism - to have only one head - is to understand unity. If every member focuses on Jesus, then we have unity. If certain members start to focus on something else, like men - I follow Peter, I follow Apollos, I follow Paul, I follow Luther, I follow Calvin - or organizations, that are outgrowings of this urge to follow men - then we have the unity disturbed.
So I am simply in unity with the Christian next to me by being in tune with Jesus. And I am in unity with a Christian on the other side of the world by being in tune with Jesus. It is that simple. When the Christian next to me starts to speak to me, unity is already there - even before he has said the first word. The same with the Christian on the other side of the world, if he writes a letter to me, he is already in unity with me while he is still writing - before I even receive the letter, because he is tuned in to Jesus and I am.
We have to see the difference between an organization and an organism. When we see what the difference is between these two, it will be much easier for us to see the difference between a man-made church and the true church.
Let us first have a look at an organization. An organization has various links between the top person and the member at the end of the chain of command. At the top you have got the archbishop, the moderator, the pope or whoever the different denominations call their top man. And then you have the next level: bishops, cardinals etc. Another level is dominee, pastor, priest, reverend. The last person in the chain is the member of that organization. The whole thing is structured like an army: different officers and at the bottom the private or airman or sailor. The private talks to his superior officer, let us say to the sergeant. He does not go to the captain to report, he does not go the general, no he just goes to the immediate superior. If he would report to several levels higher up, the whole organization would not work. It might even kill him, because his direct superior cannot act, because of lacking information. The whole army might even get defeated.
Now let us look at an organism. In an organism every member is directly linked to the head. In the true church every believer is directly reporting to the Lord and is directly led by the Lord. If a believer does not know the Lord directly, he will be defeated, he will even die, because the Lord does know him and he is therefore not really part of God's family. When it comes to the crucial point in his life he will be like the five virgins. Jesus said to them "I don't know you" (Matthew 25:12). They had just second hand knowledge of Him. They were dealing with merchants. It is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of life and death not only for the one individual but for the whole organization - or denomination - he belongs to. Jesus does not know them because they never had contact with him, because they were always reporting and receiving orders from their denominations and not from him.
If in an organisation the chain of command is not followed, the organization will be defeated and many members or even all might lose their lives. If in an organism the direct link with the head is not maintained the same might happen: death.
But the working of an organism is completely different from the working of an organization. The inclination to go for an organization is always preceded by some simple things. These are things like jealousy, pride, love for the things of the world, not recognizing the body of Christ, following men instead of Christ, boasting about men, taking pride in one man over against another. And the result is carnality. And all this follows the urge to form an organization. This urge is also often accompanied by the hope to become somebody important in this organization. And then of course there are those who want to have their own kingdom and are instigating the forming of an organisation.
Now in order to understand how an organism like the true church operates, we want to look at examples where members of the body are directly led by the Lord and are responding to this leading of the Holy Spirit.
Our first example is Ananias in Damascus. The Bible describes Ananias as a disciple. He was not an elder or an apostle or an evangelist, he was just a disciple. But he received direct orders from the Lord (Acts 9:10-19). The Lord and Ananias discussed the assignment Jesus gave Ananias and Ananias did what he was told by Jesus. Ananias did not report to the elders of the church in Damascus and he did not try to get their blessing or approval. There was no council meeting to discuss if that approach toward the enemy was really the right thing to do or to discuss if Ananias really got instruction from the Lord or if it just was the idea of a zealous church member.
So a member in the body of Christ has one head and this is Christ himself, there are no others in between. Only a spiritual person will understand this - a person who knows what it means to be let by the Spirit of God, who knows that he is a son of God, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. Here it becomes quite clear that there is a connection between being led by the God's spirit and staying away from man-made churches. We will only understand how the true church works when we also understand the leading of the spirit, when we understand the problem of jealousy and when we understand the problem of following people. We are discussing here several aspects of Christian life and only when we grasp how interconnected they are, will we start to recognize Jesus and his body.
Let us go to the second example: it is the setting apart of Barnabas and Saul for the work to which the Holy Spirit had called them (Acts 13:1-4). This setting apart was not done by the church at Antioch or by a meeting of prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch. It was done by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave the command. The prophets and teachers did not send them on their way, no, it was the Holy Spirit. In Acts 13:3 the word "apoluo" is used, when it says "they sent them off". And this "sending" in Acts 13:3 is not that of commissioning, but of letting go, intimating that they would gladly have retained them. In the next verse, in Acts 13:4, we find who commissioned them; it was the Holy Spirit. It says there "The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus". A different word is used this time. This word "sent" (ekpempo) expresses - in contrast to "apoluo" - the act of commissioning by the Holy Spirit. So it was the Holy Spirit who was in control and not men. And contrary to common opinion the work that Barnabas and Saul did was not controlled by the church at Antioch. The church at Antioch did not control their movements, did not tell them what to do, did not finance their trip. All these ideas come up again and again because people who read the Bible have a certain idea of what the church looks like and try to see that picture of a church in what they read in the book of Acts. And this certain idea of what the church looks like comes of course from the man-made church they so well know and deal with.
If we understand the difference between an organization and an organism, it will be much easier for us to see the difference between a man-made church and the real church. When we talk about the name of the church and point out that the Bible already has given a name to the church, like "the Way" or "the church of God", then we must see this as an indication to identify the real church. So when a man-made church gives itself a name, let us say "Agape Fellowship", then we know that we most probably are dealing with an imitation church. But the fact that these people gave themselves a name is an expression of a deeper problem: they did not see that the true church is an organism and not an organization. They could only think in terms of organization, the main reason probably being that all other Christian groups have the form of an organization. So giving a name to a church is very much a sign that we have an organization in front of us.
An organization needs a name. And this name must be official, because it is needed for various purposes. Without a name the "church" cannot exist in the "world". You cannot open an account for a group without a name, you cannot just print the telephone number in the telephone directory without putting a name in front of it, you cannot sent the income tax you have to pay for the salary of the pastor and the employees to the receiver of revenue without giving a name, telling the tax man which "church" sends the money. The name is just one sign of an organisation. There are others: an organisation has member lists, has members who represent the organization, has an address, has a telephone number, a tax number, an office.
And all these things are not found in the real church - an organism. There is no membership list on this earth - our names are written in the book in heaven; it is a spiritual book that cannot be investigated by the police. Our name is a spiritual name - we will not find it in the telephone directory. Our elders are spiritual people without responsibilities and rights described by the laws of the country we live in. We do not have offices and church buildings and own property because we meet in homes and our contact with the world is via individual members of the body. If the church for example handles money, then a certain member or several members will do this and will do everything that is necessary to keep the money or to transfer the money and they will be responsible for the technicalities. And the church does not employ people. Elders are people who live a normal working life and in their spare time do whatever is required. There is no "pastor" - somebody who comes to "pastor" the church and gets a salary for the services rendered. And there is no regional office and there is no head office and there is no pope and Vatican in Rome, because there is no man between a child of God and God himself. But every child of God is directly in contact with God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
There is not such a thing that the believer goes to the elder and the elder goes to the bishop and the bishop to the cardinal and he to the pope and the pope is the representative of God on earth.
Elders in the church - and there is a plurality of elders, there is multiple eldership, not a single "pastor" - are there to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13). The words "until" and "mature" are important in these verses. The elders have a function for the maturing of God's people - they play a role "until" God's people are mature. Because God's people are led by God and not by the elders; the elders are just there to help in this process, but they are not there so that people start to be led by them.
On their mission trip Barnabas and Saul appointed elders for them in each church (Acts 14:23). That was when they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. But before that they had established these churches. So the establishment of churches comes before the appointing of elders. The establishment of churches was the decisive thing, not the appointment of elders. And from this report we also can see that churches can very well exist without the church planter remaining present. There was a new church, probably just a few weeks old, and the two men who brought this church into life left. And this church carried on existing as if nothing had happened, because these Christians received their life from the Holy Spirit and not from men. And churches can exist without elders, because after Barnabas and Saul had left and before they came back there were no elders. So there was this brand new church and no apostles and no elders. And these Christians just kept on growing, because they received their life directly from the head of the church. They were taught to have a direct relationship with the creator of the universe - and that was more than enough.
When we have a church, then we put our trust in God to run this church. This is one meaning of trusting God: not to put our trust in anybody else - also not in ourselves - only God. We actually distrust ourselves. We distrust ourselves and do not try to lead the local church; we leave it to God.
So we have to understand these things. Elders are not the people who guide and run the church and elders are not the people who guide and run the church meeting. It is the Holy Spirit who does these things. And especially elders don't run the meetings. There is no such thing that there is only one elder - a "pastor" - who has a one man show on Sunday morning.
But now you might say "Are we not supposed to submit to elders?" Yes, we are. But this submitting is the same as when I submit to a brother, or I submit to the worldly authority. If the traffic light is red, then I stop and wait until it becomes green. I submit to the rules of the authority, but it does not mean that these authorities run my life. If a brother, and it might be a brother that is very young in the Lord, corrects me, then I submit to him and I even do it if a non-Christian says something to me from which I can deduct that he is indirectly pointing out a short coming in my behaviour. When Christians come to you with this submitting business, that every Christian has to submit to another Christian, ask them to whom was Martin Luther supposed to submit. And insist that they give you an answer. The only person we allow to control us is the Lord. And this we do voluntary, we actually work at it that the Lord takes over more and more aspects of our live. We give up more and more of the throne we have sat on before we made Him Lord of our live. When we say that Jesus is our Lord, then we also say that nobody else is our boss, not we ourselves but also no other man. Submitting is an act of admitting that the other person made a suggestion that is right - spiritual right. But I submit to another's suggestion voluntary, not because others have the right to tell me what to do. Paul was an apostle to those who wanted his apostleship because they realized his spirituality. Christian who did not think that Paul had these qualities simply did not receive him and Paul did not try to force himself upon them. Still today we can read Paul's letters and do what he suggests or leave it. I can tell somebody what to do and it is up to him to accept the advice or to ignore it. That is the difference between the kingdom of light and that of darkness. The devil will always try to deceive us in order to gain control over us and when he gets control over someone then he puts that person into bondage - a bondage of death - not of life.
So we are led by the Lord and not by elders. When we study elders we will find that the emphasis is more on what elders are than on what elders do. In Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Peter 5:1-4 we find lists of characteristics of elders and little what they are supposed to do. The important thing of an elder is to be like Christ. The doing is probably best described in Titus 1:9 "to encourage others".
The real church is an organism or a very strange organization. An organization with millions of members and only one leader. And all members report to this one leader and this leader knows all the members and he knows them very intimately - he knows their hearts. Here again we can see that such a thing is only possible because it is a spiritual "organisation". It is an "organization" run in a supernatural way. Only a spiritual person will be able to understand and to accept such a set up. A carnal person - a person that does not understand how a person can be let by the Holy Spirit - will have problems seeing how it can be possible to not have an organization. They do not really believe God. They do not really believe that God is almighty. That he can know millions and millions of Christians and that he can even lead them all individually at the same time. That he can deal with millions of different aspects of his kingdom at one moment. That he deals with every individual personally - and that he controls every detail of this individual - if it is the physical or the spiritual side of his life.
So there is one body and one head. The head of the church that meets in a house is the Lord and the head of all the churches in different houses in a town is also the Lord and the head of all the churches of several towns of one region is also the Lord and the head of all the churches in a country is the Lord and the head of all the churches in the world is the Lord. This is not an organisation; it is an organism, like the organism of a human body - only one head.
And all the directions we receive are from our head, the Lord. And because we are led by the Lord - all of us - that is why we are not independent of the other members and that is why we are in unity.
We do not follow men and we do not follow organizations. And we do not have men as our masters and we do not have organizations as our masters. Jesus defined this explicitly in Matthew 23:8, you have only one Master and you are all brothers. We have only one Master and we cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve the Lord and an organization. If we are devoted to an organization we will despise the Lord. So we only can hate an organization and love the Master. There is no compromise.
See Watchman Nee: The Normal Christian Church Life.
This is the end of "Organism - Not Organization."
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