Partnership with the Church
One of the most interesting (and potentially divisive) subjects to study in theology is the topic of church government. Over the last twenty centuries, Christians have developed several forms of church leadership. The Episcopal Form relies on a distinct organization which includes bishops and other titled clergy while the Presbyterian Form relies on a hierarchy of elders, with a “session” of laymen governing local congregations and a “presbytery” leading groups of churches in a region, while a “general assembly” operates at the national level. The Congregational Form consists of mostly autonomous local churches operating under the authority of a pastor or group of pastors, sometimes with elders and deacons contributing to leadership. Although the Bible does not prescribe any single type of church government, each of these forms has, at the very least, implied examples in Scripture and a long tradition within the history of God’s people. Often, in fact, many churches and denominations (or even non-denominations) operate with a hybrid model in order to try to most effectively minister to the people of that particular congregation.
Now, depending on one’s point of view, this difference of governing forms can either be seen as the genius of the Lord in handling a highly diverse family spread across time, geography, and cultures…or it can be seen as a big old mess. I prefer to think of it in light of the first view, and I admire my brothers and sisters who seek the Lord together in forms which vary significantly from my own. However we understand these groupings of Christians, one thing is certain, the Christian family handles its business with a unity of purpose but not necessarily a unity of practice!
What in the world could help Christians with such distinct practices find common ground in how they approach day to day life? How can we, from the kneeling rail to the Communion tray to the plexi-glass muffled drum set, occupy a common space with a real understanding of the greater unity we are given in Christ? Hymn holders alongside hand raisers, stoles and robes next to jeans and graphic tees…who can bring together people like these? The Holy Spirit, in perfect wisdom, has given us many ways to be unified within the Body. We can work side by side to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). We can go out together to minister to our community until the work which Christ has begun in us comes to its completion (Philippians 1:6). And we can come together as a family within a family to share ministry and information and time and effort in the education of our children. We can all be living parts of a Christian school.
Moses’ famous injunction in Deuteronomy 6, that those who follow the Lord should take it as a priority to see that their children are instructed in the truth the Lord has given us…that is to say, all truth that exists…is a virtual manifesto for Christian schooling. Church iconography was an early form of educating a largely illiterate Christian population, using pictures rather than letters to pass down the Bible’s great narratives to the next generation. An explosion of literacy like the world had never seen followed the Reformation in the 1500’s as both Protestants and Roman Catholics insisted on the ability of common people to read the hundreds of doctrinal pamphlets which flew off printing presses. In its earliest organized forms in America, education was centered around a common literacy in the Bible. C.S. Lewis stated, “One of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.” The word “doctrine” is from Latin and simply means “teaching.” Any way we consider it, education and Christianity go hand in hand.
And who are these Christians doing all this teaching and learning, all this advancing and educating? They are us, all of us, in our families and homes. Whatever our households look like, however intact or chaotic or small or numerous they may be, the Christians who are to ensure understanding for our young ones are the Christians looking back at us in the mirror. The home produces the environment in which we grow, the church provides the environment for our edification, and the school is the environment in which all we learn is shaped and given context. The Christian home, the Christian church, and the Christian school…a threefold cord is not easily broken. Where can this amazingly diverse group of people in all its various forms and locations find unity and strength, understanding and truth? In the education of the hearts and minds the Lord has given us, an education designed to sanctify and unify and to make disciples who carry the Gospel to the nations. At the kitchen table, the Communion Table, and the school desk…we find our places in the Body of Christ.