It was the week before last that we were discussing church structure in our very own “smackdown” and we got to talking about the fact that, yes, of course, some structure is a practical necessity. Ryan put it well when he said,
[L]etâ€™s take the analogy furtherâ€¦ when you say â€˜ossifyâ€™, …is this intended to be good our bad? â€˜Cause my body happens to enjoy the fact that some parts of me are in fact boneâ€¦Iâ€™d be a useless blob if this were not the case. It is no â€˜coolerâ€™ to be elastic and flexible than it is to be rigid and stiff when it comes to the whole of the bodyâ€¦it is all intended to work together. The new branches on a tree should be thankful that there is indeed hardwood and bark beneath itâ€¦it is foolish to look down and mock — â€˜why canâ€™t you be more greenâ€™.
I responded to that by saying,
I think though that a healthy proportion of bone to fleshy bits is in order, with error on both sides. …I think I may have tried to imply, but to be more clear, it appears to me that the Bible is a lot less concerned with these ideas than we areâ€¦ meaning God gives a lot more latitude than we do. As with many doctrines, the Bible seems to be general and weâ€™re specific; it seems to provide leeway but we do not. All that to say that perhaps there is no one right, proper, and absolute form or structure for the church, but instead there are characteristics to which each form or structure must hold or aspire.
Now, there’s a good nugget of insight at the tail end of that bit, if I do say so myself. What I did not say was how much structure is enough — or, how much do we need and how much is too much? The answer, after a couple of weeks’ thought, turns out I think to be rather straightforward. We need just enough structure to move, but not enough to stand still. This, I submit, is the perfect balance, and represents the exact amount of structure that is appropriate for the church.
Sadly, I’ve not provided an answer that is absolute or, I must admit, measurable in any way. Nonetheless, I still contend it’s the perfect answer. Or nearly so, let’s say. You see, I’ve been reading Capon again, and I have this habit of reading something he said and applying it in a way he wasn’t contemplating at the time. It all comes of his delightful annoying habit of being pithy, insightful, and inarguably right all at once. But most pertinently, he speaks in some generality that allows application of principles to other questions. This time he said,
The only right dogmatic answer to [the question of whether there will be babies in heaven] in this day and age is, “I don’t know, and neither does anybody else. Let’s just say that if God can be trusted to bring heaven off at all, he can be trusted to do it nicely for all concerned.” What the dogmatic theologian needs above all, you see, is horse sense. Once he admits how little he really knows, he can cut the ground out from under almost all his critics.
Now, I remind you that we were talking about the analogy of the church as the Body of Christ. This body analogy is both perfect and flawed, but it’s what we’ve got and we’re stuck with it. Back to Capon, where we’re in the middle of a chapter in which he invites the reader for a picnic and intersperses the thrust of his argument with little asides like, “Have a little more wine and pass the jug” or “More pie?” while carrying on about the offering of dumb-sounding answers to dreadful questions, where the answer would actually be reasonable were the question not so horrible.
When I say that God knows, I am obviously using an analogy: I don’t understand what the divine knowing is really like; I am simply grappling for it with the only concept I have. But the same thing is true when I try to describe knowledge that is on a lower level than mine. When I say my dog knows something, I may, in my arrogance, presume that I am an expert about all the details of his knowing. But I am really just as much in the dark about him as I am about God. He knows; yes, indeed. There is an analogy in being between him and me, and it works nicely. I spend time—and profitably—training him to know what I mean when I say “Fetch my slippers”; I do not, unless I am an idiot, spend any time trying to train the ottoman to do likewise. But even when I have trained him to know, how do I know how he knows? Am I in the least aware of what it is really like for him to recognize and understand on his own level? I would be a even bigger idiot if I thought I was.
Horse sense. Or dog sense. All human language about non-human things is anthropomorphic for the simple reason that the only talking animal we have so far discovered is dear old muddleheaded anthropos himself. If our language about God turns out to be invalid, it will be so not because it was human, but because there was no God to talk about. If there actually is a God, however (and that, obviously, is another question), what we say about him is like what we say about everything else: It is a poking about in the dark by means of analogies. It may be tricky, but it isn’t necessarily false.
Have an apple.
Thanks, I believe I will. And there you go. We really are stuck with it, and we ought not get too dogmatic in our interpretation of the analogy. The metaphorically anthropomorphic church needs a bone here and there to help it move, but should not become so ossified that has any desire or inclination to stand still. Any more or less of one or the other, and the ergon of the church would simply not get done.
I would suggest again that there’s no absolute answer… provided the structure is like this and expresses that and characterized by the other — all the good bits — then we’re on the right track insofar as it isn’t somehow also like this and expressing that and characterized by the other in reference to the bad bits. Then we need to adjust. What this means, practically speaking, is that you could put an episcopal church on the other side of the street from a house church; a high church opposite a low one, and inasmuch as the aforementioned unlisted characteristics are in place (the good ones and not the bad ones), all the forms are “correct,” if the word is in any way suitable to this context.
This we can surmise by the fact that each local church gets issued a different set of building materials with which to work, as well as a different set of blueprints and a different lot on which to build… but there I go, switching metaphors.
Before we begin to consider just what exactly these elusive characteristics might be (and I’m ready to start when you are, so comment away), how are we doing so far? Can we posit that the perfect balance is a necessary factor but not an absolute measure?