Saturday, February 11, 2006

John Reisinger on the True Nature of the Church (the Ekklesia)

This post began as a comment on Wade Burleson's blog about Reisinger's articles, but when I got to 4 paragraphs I decided that it would be more appropriate to do my own post. These articles are timely, especially since my last post was titled What Is a True Christian Church? After reading Reisinger's articles, I would guess he would say that my question is really not the right question. Even so, I encourage anyone who is interested in the church to read what Reisinger says. These articles are lengthy, but they make you think.

The Ekklesia--Part 1
The Ekklesia--Part 2
The Ekklesia--Part 3
The Ekklesia--Part 4
The Ekklesia--Part 5

Reisinger is right on a number of things. The church is the people of God and not an instutution. Being part of the church involves being united with Christ, which unites us with all fellow believers. There is no definitive institutional/organizational model given for all local assemblies to follow. On all of these things I am in agreement with Reisinger.

While I agree with Reisinger's basic assumptions, I do see some weaknesses in these articles. I think that at times he de-emphasizes the local congregation too much. He acknowledges that the NT pattern is for the church to be grouped together in local assemblies, but he seems to see this aspect of the church as secondary to the universal aspect of the church. However, I see the NT having a lot to say both about and to local assemblies, including such matters as leadership and discipline. This indicates to me that on at least some level there was a sense of belonging to a particular local assembly, even if there was not a sense of church membership as we have today. I also disagree with his belief that the NT does not speak of a visible church that included both saved and lost people. It does appear in certain places, especially John's letters, that the NT does speak of the local assembly including unregenerate people ("they went out from us, but they did not really belong to us"). Obviously those local assemblies did not knowingly welcome such people into their fellowship, but nevertheless they were considered to be part of the group on the basis of their false profession.

I also would have liked to see him deal more with how the church can work together to carry out our mission today. As he admitted, we don't live in the same context as the 1st century church, with our various denominations and differences regarding doctrine. I would have liked for him to address how we can work with fellow believers who have very different beliefs than we do on certain doctrines. For example, I can regard someone who believes one can lose his or her salvation as a brother or sister in Christ and enjoy fellowship with him or her, but I really don't think I would want that person leading a discipleship group in the local assembly I pastor. So how does this idea of the church being one, which is clearly biblical, play out in real life?

He seems to make a similar error to one he accuses institutionalists of when he asserts that in NT times all the believers in each city met in one assembly. I don't know of any biblical statement to that effect; indeed, Romans 16:5 implies that there may have been multiple assemblies in the city of Rome. It may be safe to say that these assemblies did not see themselves as completely separated from each other, but we can't make a blanket statement that each city had a single assembly.

I like what Reisinger is trying to do in these articles, showing that there is only one church and that the church is defined as all people who have been called unto salvation through Christ. I think he makes a clear case that no group or local assembly can accurately claim to be the true church because of its organizational structure. However, I wish he had addressed how doctrinal differences relate to this issue.

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