I have been thinking through some issues related to Ecclesiology lately, which in part is prompted by the fact that one of my courses this semester is Sanctification and Ecclesiology (although we recently started discussions on the Ecclesiology portion). Specifically, I have been pondering what the church’s responsibility is towards educating its people with respect to the Christian faith and making sure that they are fit for service. I particularly think of this passage that I believe speaks well to that onus:
It is he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. So that we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. But practicing truth in love, we will grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16 NET)
Now first I will acknowledge that using the word ‘church’ requires a little more specificity. I see in Ephesians 3:10-11 that the church has a function as the body of believers to accomplish the purpose of revealing Christ to the world. So the local assemblies as visible representations of the invisible church, carries out its mission through the inward working of the body of Christ growing into an organism that upholds the mandate of what the church is supposed to be. The first order of business, that I think this passage speaks to is the selection of gifts that are given for the purpose of equipping the saints. That is followed by the actual equipping. Next, that results in the individual members contributing to the process through who and what they should be to other members in the body of Christ.
Specifically with respect to how the body of Christ, the corporate entity that comprises individual members, seeks to engage in the mission of representing Christ in a fallen world and engaging those outside of the body in order to present his testimony to garner faith in Christ. That is a mission that is explicitly stated in Matthew 28:19 to make disciples and inferred throughout the New Testament letters, that engaging those who don’t believe in Christ is an important task and the purpose for which Christ came.
I think this creates a natural tension between an inward vs. an outward focus. The task of the church is represent Christ but also has a responsibility to grow up to maturity. This does not happen in a vacuum but in community with other believers, as all are being equipped for works of service. And yet there is the mandate to ‘go’ and be a witness to Christ.
So what does that have to do with education? I encounter from time to time, resistance to formalized education to learn catechesis (instruction in Christian doctrine). I hear often that bible studies are fine and needed but we have to be about the work we are to accomplish. I specifically hear this in reference to the great commission, that has a subtle hint of assigning greater importance to winning the lost than on equipping the saints for the work of service. We can become too knowledgeable without applying that knowledge to fruitful application. I do agree that this is a danger with education.
However, when I look at the complete witness of New Testament scripture, I see that the commission of the church outwardly is based on its foundation and stability inwardly. In other words, it is incumbent upon the body of Christ to represent Christ through its inward growth that will result in outward application. But what I fear is that we place greater emphasis on the outward application without proper attention to the inward structure.
Moreover, I don’t think it honors the witness of Christ when education concerning Him is not taken seriously. Experience is great but I believe insufficient. Drawing a rather crude analogy, if I were a salesperson, shouldn’t I know as much about the product as possible. I could speak to the benefits that I have obtained personally, but that would be inadequate in the face of questions related to how the product functions. Can you imagine my only retort being ‘it works for me personally’? Yet, that is what is espoused when we insist on our personal relationship with Christ not requiring extensive knowledge about him or about what he has built.
So how much education is enough? I would say that education concerning God and his plan for salvation could never be exhausted. Yet, I recognize that not everyone would be inclined for institutional or seminary level training. But I believe that Michael’s last post on essentials vs. non-essentials highlights the fact that all Christians should be engaged in some form of education to understand who and what they are better in order to grow in grace and the true knowledge of Jesus Christ as well as be equipped to represent their faith adequately. That does mean understanding the basis for key points of Christian doctrine and even the historical development. The Holy Spirit was just as much engaged with the church throughout history as he is now and we can learn from those who have gone before. I think that also means a systemized study of key doctrine to determine what the whole counsel of scripture would say on them. In this way, I don’t think just reading the Bible by itself is sufficient but extracting key points of doctrine from it to determine what is most honest to the biblical text. But I also believe that teaching Christians what the bible is and how to read it is equally as important.
I don’t believe that Sunday sermons alone are sufficient. Whether it be through lay institutes, weekly bible studies (in the true sense of working through books of the bible), or small group sessions there has to be continued instruction in pertinent points of doctrine within the context of community that engages believers in a continual growth process resulting in faithful representation of who they are as the body of Christ. The newest DVD set published by Reclaiming the Mind ministries on Essentials of the Christian Faith is a good place to start. Otherwise, ‘going’ and ‘doing’ will be undermined by not ‘being’, which is the whole point of serving as a witness to Christ to a fallen world.
“Instead set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess” (1 Peter 3:15 NET)