In late November 2006 the Saturday National Post Toronto magazine ran an article titled “God finds a home on Bay Street.” King-Bay chaplaincy, a ministry with a long a solid history, is featured, but also the fact that small groups that focus on prayer, Bible study or both, are beginning to proliferate in the financial district of Toronto.
For some these spiritual oases, as one person describes them, almost function as church. George Barna, in his book Revolution, says that this sort of this is what is beginning to replace traditional church. So the question: when is a group a church?
I think Barna might say that the question is irrelevant. The theological concept of identifying what is a church and what is not a church is simply a misconception. His perspective is completely modern, that is, focused on the individual. The individual must move forward in discipleship, becoming a person who meets the marks of a disciple as found in the New Testament. That is all that matters. Any means by which an individual can get help in doing that is fine. There is no need to worry about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the service provider, so to speak.
I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I think the church is something in and of itself. The New Testament seems to make this clear – but in this piece I don’t want to go into a lengthy exposition of that. So, on that assumption, the church does have a particular place in the economy of God and her health and well being are matters of both concern and interest.
There are things which only the church can provide. These constitute the marks of the church. They include sound teaching that has an accountability structure behind it, and the sound administration of the sacraments, among other things.
At the same time the proliferation of groups and ministries in the market place has to be one of the most exciting spiritual things to happen in Canada in decades. People can and are moved forward in discipleship in these and other venues.
So, I wish to affirm and ratify such things. But, until the full ministry that God wishes to provide is provided through them, they are not church nor are they a substitute for church.
As I write this I am trying to do checks on myself to make sure that I am not doing “bunker mentality” stuff. If anyone wants to correct me, I will listen. Marks of the Church