Today I am pressed down. On all sides there are those who believe, who teach, who forcefully declare that the singular purpose of the Church is to pronounce the Gospel and save souls. Broad evocations of parables and allusions to the so-called “Great Commission” are all used to support what is seen as an inescapable and universal conclusion. In fact, if one questions this teaching one is considered suspect from the very start. The question is not open to debate.
However, I am a child of the evangelical generation. My generation is unique in that a larger percentage of my generation was involved in para-church evangelism during our formative years than any other generation before us or after us. No other generation of Christians has been so separated from the local body while simultaneously growing in doctrine, in understanding, in worship and in fellowship with our fellow believers. No other generation has spent more time outside the local church body than inside the local church body.
Some will be quick to defend the para-church organizations by pointing out that where two or more are gathered, there Christ is with them. They will infer that a para-church organization is a type of church. And if we do not look deeper we may be tempted to agree.
While I do not mean to criticize any particular para-church organization, I do want to distinguish between a para-church organization and the local church as established by the apostles and church fathers. I do not mean to refer to the universal Church as established by Christ, but I do mean to speak to the quality of the universal Church as expressed in the form of the local body of believers as taught by the apostles, by the church fathers and by Christ. This local body was not homogeneous in any way other than location. There is no indication that believers were separated by doctrine, by age, by race, by socio-economic status, by gender, by education or by any other factor other than distance.
Contrast that with the para-church organization which exists solely for the purpose of focusing on something less than the total needs/purpose of the local church body. Whether it be a para-church organization for building homes, ministering to college students, promoting a social agenda or simply providing a unique outlet for worship – they are by their very charter and existence and purpose a means of dividing the local body of believers one from another.
Many para-church organizations will defend this division by encouraging their members to attend a local church in addition to their activities. They will refrain from any type of activity on the sabbath. They will promote attendance by example and persistent encouragement. But in the end, they will divide the attention, the energy and the love of their members from that attention, energy and love they should be giving to the local church.
Other para-church organizations will defend the isolation as necessary due to some deficiency within the local body or some inability for the local body to meet a certain need. However, there is usually a complete lack of evidence of attempts to obtain to their goals within the local body.
However, again my intention is not to deride the para-church in general, but point out that my generation grew up more in the para-church than in the local body. Is it any wonder then that they have adopted the mentality of the para-church when addressing the purpose of the local body? Most all para-church organizations are focused on evangelism. Whether the evangelism is promoted through face to face meetings, through indirect ministries of love, or through worship – the intention is to evangelize. And how, my generation has adopted that mentality wholly into their hearts and minds and having outgrown their para-church organizations have now brought this evangelical focus into the local body.
But is this right? Is this Godly? Am I crazy to question this assumption?