Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Phantom Church

The Phantom Church

I recently read the article by Frank Viola on the subject of what he calls “The post-church phenomenon.”< http://www.ptmin.org/postchurch.pdf> in which he insists that only where believers are meeting regularly together in a locality is there true church. Those outside such fellowships are by his definition “The Phantom church.” This set me to reviewing once more where I stand in relation to Church and what it is, because I am one who has no such regular meeting together with fellow believers, as I am sure are a multitude of others.

I first went back to Scriptures which have been so crucial to my own story. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul says, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” And in v. 27 of the same chapter, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Thus I can be sure that, as a believer I am incorporated in the Body, the Church.

Then in Ephesians 2:19-22 I received fresh encouragement specially from The Message, “God is building a home. He’s using us all irrespective of how we got here in what He is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now He’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day, a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.”

Again, in the same epistle 2:19-20, “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in who you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

In 1 Peter 2:4-5, an epistle interestingly enough written to “exiles”, the Apostle tells us that, having come to Jesus, we are being built (not we are building) into a spiritual house. Then in v.9 he says , “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”

From these and a number of other Scriptures which I could quote, I am absolutely assured that I am in God’s Church, and I continue to be in it whether I am meeting regularly with others in a gathering or not. I have known the blessing of being built along with other believers in frequent meeting. Now, I do not have that particular joy, but I still meet together with others who visit me, or whom I encounter during the day or share a meal with. I talk with brothers in different parts of the world on Skype. In all of these situations I am experiencing Church.

I have said before that it is a small step from organism to institution, and when one starts to make rigid and exclusive definitions of what true Church is, the seeds of institutionalism are already present. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his little book “Living Together” has this to say in its first truth-filled chapter, “Life together under the Word will remain sound and healthy only where it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegiam pietetatas, but rather where it understands itself as being a part of one holy, catholic Christian Church.” And Thomas Kelly in “The Eternal Promise” writes, “It was a tragic day when the fellowship of the early church groups faded out into church membership.” And ,”From Fellowship to Membership is to cross a great and tragic divide.”

There is no “Phantom Church” but only one Church of the Lord Jesus Christ which He Himself is building and we who belong to Him are in it wherever and however we may meet.