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?
Perfect balance is a Utopian myth. Anything that is alive is in a constant state of flux and, therefore, a constant state of imbalance and readjustment.
How about this characteristic: The “perfect” Body/structure is one that is keenly adept at falling and getting back up again.
Actually … when you responded to Ryan, I believe you included something about Gary Larsen’s “Boneless Chicken Ranch.” Which is one of his funniest cartoon’s ever and made a perfect mental picture for the whole thing … well … it did for me.
Now, I’m going back to read the rest of your post.
Right you are, Sonja. In my college days you could literally walk into the lounge in my dorm and say the caption from any Far Side cartoon and everyone would laugh. “Anthropologists, Anthropologists!” ;^)
Good insight, Bob. Let’s begin with resilience for falling down and getting back up, just as you’ve described it. The fleshy bits help us not get injured in the falling and the bony bits help us stand back back up again.
I think in my earlier comments I also quoted John Mellencamp, “I know there’s a balance, I see it when I swing past.” You’re right, of course… we can’t maintain the balance, the best we can do is see it when we swing past and know that we need to shift back a little… a continuous process but one where I hope that our practice over time will result in smaller “swings past.”
BroM, mechanically you’re right–the fleshy bits cushion, the bony bits lift. But more important is the spirit within the body that has the humility to admit it has fallen and the determination to stand back up again. I don’t care if you can bench press 200kg or if you’re a quadriplegic–it’s the spirit that drives both to achieve.
Oh, this is getting good… Sonja, you finished reading yet?
Characteristic #2: humility
Characteristic #3: knowingly indwelt by an indomitable Holy Spirit
Or you could quote John Mellencamp saying “I fight authority, authority always wins…”
I am enjoying this post and discussion, not quite ready to weigh in yet…trying to find the balance of what I want to say, lol.
hehe … I finished reading and now must percolate whilst I complete the important task of creating my Simpson’s avatar.
But, an old saying of my grandfather’s surfaced this weekend that I’ve been letting simmer in regards to things emerging and I wonder if it might not have some significance in this arena so I’ll put it out there and see what happens (while I finish my avatar … because that’s important today ;-) ): … as independent as a hog on ice. Just think about what that looks like for a while.
RE: Bones et al. A jellyfish has enough structure to move without having bones. I’m just not sure structure = rigid. And although I’m not a biologist, it would seem to me that a jellyfish must not stand still or it will sink. So I see something like that.
However if we are stuck with the imagery of the Body of Christ, and knowing He was human (had a human body), I could see how it would be assumed bones would be in order.
Then again, do we have to stick with the human body as the basis of the “body” metaphor – or do you think the “Body of Christ” was meant to suggest living and breathing and possessing a spirit, rather than the actual physiological structure? After all, we are created in the image of God, and I don’t see Him as having bones, per se.
So in a nutshell, I don’t know.
On another note, where’s your Simpson’s avatar? Hehe.
I’ve been thinking for a while that we tend to want too much structure and not enough at the same time. Which seems to be a conundrum. But it’s like this.
I know what I need to grow and thrive in the world. I know what sort of structures (skeleton to use the body analogy) are necessary for me and what sort of soft tissue is good. By the same token in my local body (if I had one at the moment) I would likely be sensitive to the Spirit’s direction in those areas. So the kind of skeleton that is necessary for my local body might not look the same as your skeleton in your local body. (am I making sense so far?)
Now (to jump the tracks and change analogies a bit I’m going to move over and use a house which doesn’t work quite as well … but bear with me). Some of the properties of the structure of each body might be the same. Just as when one builds a house or any sort of structure the “bones” look similar. But they might be made of wood or steel or something else entirely (but don’t ask me, I’m not a builder). Then the external structure is put over those “bones” and built in such a manner as to accomplish the purpose of the building. Every building has it’s purpose and not all are alike.
I think we fall to pieces when we discover a piece of the Truth (God’s truth) which works in our little place and decide that it will work for all people in all times and all places. IOW, that those bones are meant for every structure. Or to go back to the body analogy, all the local communities should be based upon ulnas or tibias or something like that. Or maybe we’re a bit more flexible, and say we can all be metatarsals (feet) … the point is that some communities are going to be feet, others arms, others legs and still others might be eyes (which have no bones) or noses which have cartilage or ears (ditto) … how about lungs? No structure there at all. Yet entirely necessary for the processing of oxygen for the rest of the body.
Now this is the part that’s really difficult for me to describe. I think that each local community is a complete body unto itself. Yet it’s also incomplete and functions as part of the larger worldwide Body of Christ. So that while each of us is to our local body, the local body is to the Body of Christ … all of which probably makes me a heretic or something horrible. And I’ve probably confused things an awful lot too … sorry … I should have kept to avatars ;-)
Whoops … I forgot to tie in my silly “hog on ice” thing.
In any case. Often times, our local body becomes too independent. As independent as a hog on ice … so to speak. Which is when I think things become either too rigid or too flexible and go awry. So …
That would be one of my very favorite analogies … there are five of them. One gets the trunk, another the ear, another the tail, another the leg and the last gets the tusk. So the one with the trunk describes an elephant as a hose or a snake, the one with the ear describes the elephant as a wing, the one with the leg describes it as a tree, etc. None are really incorrect, yet none are correct either.
Back to the lung, and we need to remember that lungs also need ribs for protection (my bad).
Thinking through structure beforehand is important, simply because most of the dumb things that churches/gatherings do are forged in the heat of the moment.
For example, some issue comes up with a certain person or persons, and rather than dealing with the issue on a relational, community level — which often takes time and hashing things through — churches/gatherings take the cowardly option of “making policy”. Said policy either designed to shut down a certain faction without actually listening and working things through (and therefore “policy” becomes a blunt force weapon to regain control), or the policy is created “so we won’t have to go through THAT again…” as a preventative measure (which is still, by nature, controlling).
My experience has been that, whenever you find a seemingly trite or outright stupid “policy” in any church or organization, 99.99% of the time, it was the coward’s option to deal with something that should have been dealt with in community. But once policy is in place, it’s given the status of Holy Writ and is difficult to dislodge.
So, it only makes sense to wrestle through what kind of structure will be “enough, but not too much” FIRST. Because in an imperfect world, where imperfect people deal imperfectly with other imperfect people, sometimes stuff goes sideways. It’s inevitable; thinking ahead of how to deal with community growing pains is not only wise, it’s crucial.
End of sermon. :)
Well … you’ll get a hearty AMEN from south of the border!
Two things … and then my husband has invited me out to dinner.
First is this (which I did a terrible job of saying earlier). I think that, like individuals, local communities do a terrible job with the whole plank/mote thing. IOW, they spend too much time worrying about the mote in eye of First Church of the Doodad’s down the way and not enough time worrying about the plank in their own eye … when it comes to structure and all of those things. Communities take on many of the characteristics of the humans who “run” them. So, when we should be properly worrying about our own skeleton and whether or not we’ve got (say) osteoporosis, or have become ossified, or a couch potato (or something) … instead we’re looking at someone else entirely.
Second is this … the human body (despite having a skeleton) is made up of 98% water. So make of that what you will. We’re still mighty fluid.
So wait a second, are we talking about a single church, the universal Church or the individual structures that make up one or the other? A body is made up of many parts–that sounds familiar–each one doing it’s specific job. This talk about boneless lungs has me confused.
Of course, the part should be well suited to not only perform its function but to support the whole. Inside a church this is pretty simple to understand, right? Hard to do but the theory is simple.
Like Sonja said, I think that harder part (due to centuries of “othering”) is doing this at the universal Church level. The Anglican across the street from the house church.
Maybe the reason it is so difficult to define structures is because we aren’t really called to create structures, but rather to create relationships, and therefore structures become artificial boundaries of place on relationships that should not be limited to bounded communities.
Or maybe I should just go create an avatar. ;)
Now, Grace, don’t go getting all insightful on us… ;^) We’ll add something about structure being formed relationally to our list. In this way, the structure is the expression of relationship, and not vice-versa. (Something tells me I should take close note of that last sentence.)
Bob, you bring up a good point. I continually forget to define what I mean by “church” when I launch out into one of these ideas. In my mind (and each commenter can weigh in if this invalidates or adjusts what they said as a result) when I say church, I am normally thinking of “the church catholic,” that is, the entirety of the Body of Christ worldwide. Within that, I would see the local church as various expressions, and each person as individual members not only of the local expression but of the whole.
I’ve not really cleared this up too much yet, but when I say “structure” I guess I’m really talking about the local church more than I am about the church catholic. In an ideal sense, I would really like to be able to describe a structure that works at the local church level, but scales up or expresses similar characteristics and workings in the organization of the church catholic… but I won’t shoot for the moon just yet.
So in the body analogy, I’m looking at the church catholic and seeing it break down from there into local churches and individual members, but in the discussion of structure, I’m looking at the local church (made up of individual members) first and extrapolating how it fits into some kind of structured (or not) church catholic. No wonder this is confusing.
Hmmm… I thought I was confused before.
But I think this “body” language applies nicely to the church catholic. We have hard rigid bones which span the whole earth to give reach and tie to our collective path in Roman Catholicism and high churches. We have brains in the seminaries and theologians past and present. We have hearts in small house churches and contemplative monasteries. We have hands and feet in missional churches and service/relief organizations. We have mouths in evangelistic churches. We have eyes in discerning bloggers. In all and through all is the Spirit uniting us in perfect harmony (on a macro scale) under the headship of Christ. (oops, didn’t mean to break out into doxology…)
IMO, all we have to do is adjust a portion of our allegiances (and affections) from the local body to the church catholic.
Bob, that’s beautiful. Normally I would say that with a tinge of sarcasm and a fake sniffle, but I really do like the word picture you’ve painted here… this would make such sense to me. Unfortunately as a practical matter we need some kind of structure within the various expressions of local church, and that’s where the problem comes in. Each organ or limb or whatever needs to be in harmony with itself to perform its specific function as well as in harmony with the whole in order to do it “for the common good.”
I guess where we have a problem is when the bones start describing to the muscles how they should be organized, or vice-versa. We could develop all sorts of problems if one began to organize itself and behave like the other; if the whole body were an eye…
That’s where the humility comes in. It isn’t the muscle telling the bone it should be more muscle-like. It is the muscle embracing the bone for its bone-ness and recognizing its need for that bone-ness.
From what I’ve learned from your blog, you are part of a traditional liturgical community (bones), an artsy “emerging” community (skin), and a small home based fellowship (heart). In this you have a richer understanding of the body than those who cordon themselves off in one corner. When we stop insisting that those who visit our fellowship live (be structured) like us and instead share with them our strengths/weaknesses and welcome theirs, then we start to live as the church catholic.
Gawrsh, Bob — I’m blushing.
But that’s xlnt. I hadn’t noticed or thought of it like that before, but now that you point it out I guess for me it’s a kind of balanced diet. I’ll stop there lest I mix metaphors further and end up with some kind of cannibalistic suggestion that we should be eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Body of Christ…