Church Of Redeemed People United in Service
The Church is the body of Christ in the world (I Cor 12, Eph 1; Col 1, et.al). We really need to think about that more. We are members of the body of Christ in the world! Seriously–what could possibly be a higher calling? We are adopted into the family of God (literally princes and princesses of The Kingdom!) and commanded to manifest our Lord Father’s love, truth, character, and beauty throughout His creation in the power of His Spirit to the glory of His name.
There is one Church in the world. It has millions of members who belong to millions of local churches that are part of thousands of denominations throughout hundreds of countries. God has arranged us all in the Body just as He desired (I Cor 12:18). No local congregation, awesome as it may be, is everything the Church should be. God has distributed His gifts, opportunities, resources, obstacles and children in a rather uneven fashion all around the world. Even a very large congregation is a minuscule part of the Corpus Christi (body of Christ) of which Christ is the head.
CORPUS is all about living out the “Church as Body” reality in this glorious, beautiful, dangerous and hostile world…together. Like all good churches, we’re united for worship and growth and encouragement. However our structure is designed to give heavy emphasis to the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry. God has filled us with His Spirit to love. God has blessed us with with local fellowship and elders to be instructed and encouraged in love. God has given us spiritual gifts and resources and opportunities to manifest His love. The CORPUS structure is designed to equip the saints with time and money to maximize our love. Because, as the parable of the good Samaritan illustrates, love can be very expensive and time-consuming. We all have very little discretionary time and money. Let’s not spend it on ourselves–let’s spend it manifesting the love of God in the world!
What follows is a new model for doing church. I’m not saying this is the way everyone should do church. I’m not saying that this way of doing church is better than every other way. All I’m saying is that this is a way that you could do church, and it would have some very positive advantages.
This is not necessarily a house church model (although I imagine most CORPUS congregations would start that way). I can imagine CORPUS congregations with thousands of members. I can also imagine CORPUS congregations of 5. The model is very adaptable. What follows is a concept. It is not a constitution or a set of bylaws. It is intentionally designed this way as we want it to be very flexible and adaptable to a wide variety of contexts.
Major Principle 1: There is only one Church in the world.
Basically this informs our whole identity. Many independent evangelical churches take on an exclusive “us 4 and no more” kind of feel. They start because they don’t like something and see themselves as the cutting edge. After 500+ years of Protestant Reformation-evolution, they are the highest form of life. CORPUS doesn’t view denominations in an evolutionary sort of way–rather a body sort of way. There is one Church in the world—the “body of Christ” and Jesus is the head of it. But for good or ill the visible church is the visible church. While we recognize and understand the concept of the “invisible Church”, it is visible only to God so it is not particularly practically relevant as far as our fellowship-in-time is concerned. The Church is the body of Christ in the world. What is visible is not pure (and never has been); nevertheless, it is the only manifestation of Christ in the world that real people can objectively identify. We are identified with it (“in it” or “as it”) by divine mandate. Basically, if you can say the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed (and mean it) we belong together (or “are together”), whether we like it or not. Again, this doesn’t mean that we believe that all in the church are truly born again—only that all in the church are the church. Only God knows for sure who’s truly in the Church.
Major Principle 2: Giving is really only giving when it is given.
When we give to the church and the majority of it is spent on ourselves, it really isn’t giving. If a fiancée is promised a $75,000.00 engagement ring and she receives a 1/8 carat diamond in 10 karat gold, she will feel disappointed even after the (former!) fiance’ explains that in order to get the ring he had to buy a new bass boat to get across the lake and then a new pickup truck (plus insurance and gas) in order to drive from the other side of the lake to the pawn shop where he bought the best ring he could get with what was left of his $75k.
The church’s giving needs to be given. Therefore, CORPUS will never be the recipient of any money and we’ll never own anything or have any paid staff. We’re not saying it is unbiblical to pay pastors. We’re simply saying that in the current American context, paid pastoral staff may not always be necessary in order to get adequate pastoring/teaching. [The Mormons and JWs seem to be doing OK w/o paid staff.] We’re not saying it is wrong to own property. We’re just saying it is not required, and in some situations it may be best not to own any.
Major Principle 3: Doctrine really does matter, but having lots of doctrines can be counterproductive.
One tendency that evangelical congregations/denominations (particularly of a Reformed nature) have is that they want to create a lot of doctrinal requirements. There is a wise concern behind this practice–history shows a strong tendency for all churches to develop a creeping doctrinal deterioration over time, which always leads to a decrease in general godliness and meaningful ministry. However, holding the truth in love is a very hard thing to do, and extensive doctrinal requirements can often become a tool for division and strife over secondary issues. This can easily distract from true worship, fellowship and brotherly love. Therefore, CORPUS will have only a few doctrinal requirements that must be held to be in membership (similar to an evangelical mission board or interdenominational seminary). We have elders, and are presbyterian in our polity. However, it is not required that a each member be a Calvinist in soteriology, (or a complementarian in marriage, or non-charismatic in worship, young-earth creationist in science, etc…)
Major Principle 4: Discretionary money and time are rare. Equip the saints with them!
This is related to Major Principle #2. Evangelical Christians agree that the church should be equipping the saints for ministry, and ministry occurs out in the world as we show truth and love where God directs. However, it seems that (by necessity!) spiritually mature people have so many church-related time and money obligations (committees, work projects, infrastructure maintenance, personnel management/provision) that they have very little time and money left for ministry outside of the church building.
As the good Samaritan parable illustrates, love in the real world is expensive! The fact is, a typical tithing family (and there are way too few of those) with kids has very little discretionary money and time left after their in-house church commitments. So, in the CORPUS structure, ministry is largely decentralized. Each family is its own missions committee. Small groups are a diverse assortment of ministry teams. Each family/individual is free to respond to God’s guidance for ministry where He puts them. We don’t have committees; we don’t own property; we don’t take offerings, we don’t staff a nursery or do Sunday school; we don’t have employees; we don’t do paperwork. Our desire is that no one works on Sundays at the church meeting. Members are equipped for ministry—not just with knowledge and encouragement but with the valuable and powerful resources of time and money!
Major Principle 5: We travel together—meaningfully.
African Proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Question: If we don’t have paid staff and we don’t own any stuff and we don’t institutionalize any programs, what do we have? Answer: God, each other and elders.
This is not “church lite” where we just give a wink and a nod to corporate fellowship while we major on our own personal ministries. We travel together—meaningfully. Our church membership means a lot to us. We really embrace our responsibilities to each other and diligently pursue the goal of fervently loving one another from the heart (1 Peter 1:22). We don’t institutionalize our fellowship, but, like a family or fraternity, we work together towards our common goal of loving God with all our heart/soul/mind/strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are all in this together, but all week long we are loose in the world manifesting the work of God in the power of the Holy Spirit wherever He leads, using the resources He has given us to do it with. The fellowship of the saints is an amazing resource and part of what it means to be a Christian.
We are presbyterian in our church government. We recognize the scriptural mandate for spiritual leadership/authority and rejoice in the provision of elders who have nothing to do in their meetings but pray and shepherd the flock with diligence. There are no salaries and no property concerns to take up their time. They are about the people and work of the congregation.
God has brought us together and we must, in obedience and stewardship, be together. Close interpersonal relationships are important on several levels as we work, worship and grow together in Christ as we fulfill our calling as a congregation (which includes all the callings of our members).
IMPLICATIONS OF OUR 5 MAJOR PRINCIPLES (and a few weird church practices)
Principle #1 Church Growth:
All Christians must be committed to church growth and church ministry. However it seems that “church growth” is often equated with “my congregation’s growth”. CORPUS believes that we must be committed to Church growth. We will deploy our resources in the way God leads us—even when that means that we will be promoting growth in other congregations and locations. We believe that when we do our part to build the Church, God will bring all the folks that He wants to be a part of our particular congregation. There is no particular goal for our congregation to be bigger. We are not trying to impress anyone with our success. Whether our group is big or small is of little concern. Whether the Church is big or small is of great concern. We are passionate about doing our part in the growth of the Church, regardless of whether our particular congregation grows in number or not.
CORPUS believes that no congregation has to offer every good thing that a congregation can offer (any more than each individual believer must attempt to do everything good that a human can do). We need to be well who we are. If a person needs something that we don’t provide, we can help them connect with a congregation that does. Again, our ministry is about Church growth not our-congregation growth. If someone fits best with us, we welcome them. If someone fits best somewhere else, we’ll help them move. At the end of the day, there really is no “us” and “them”. There is just “Us”. We are all in this together.
Weird thing #1:
In order to avoid the “us 4 no more” danger of independent churches and in keeping with principle #1, we’d not meet together on the last Sunday of the month. On that Sunday we would all go to other churches. We would worship with them and learn about them. We would NOT NOT NOT NOT ever do anything at these churches that would be disruptive or appear to be recruiting members from their folks. We would go and watch and worship and learn. If someone goes to a really great church they’ll be blessed and learn things to share with us. If someone goes to a really bad church, they’ll be impacted powerfully and be drawn to prayer. Here’s the real kicker—we will be required to give 12/52 of our yearly tithe (in 12 monthly installments) to the churches that we visit.
This is kind of tricky because some churches are so bad you’d feel like you were violating I Cor 4 by even attending their church not to mention giving (sort of a “guilt by association” issue). There is a very difficult balance between affirming a brother in his sin and not judging lest you be judged—between “us 4 no more” and “worship with them all, let God sort them out”. Again, this is difficult ground with many variables and factors to consider. However, CORPUS’s inclination is to bring the congregation to the point where they understand the “biblical tension” (to use McQuilkin’s term) and enable them to make judgments accordingly. It is one thing to mentally assent to Principle #1, but regularly going and giving results in an experiential embrace of the concept. Basically, it is ecumenism without the requirement of personal doctrinal compromise. Just going alone would look suspiciously antagonistic or judgmental. However, investing 12/52 of our yearly tithe and corporate worshiping time with the visible church will change us and communicate Principle #1 to the world. It will excite us, bless us, grieve us, discourage us and compel us to prayer. It may also invite dialog on some occasions that will enable us to help other congregations.
Principle #2 Giving:
Since a CORPUS congregation never takes an offering, we are cutting out the middle man. People must give directly where their heart is as God directs them. This will likely motivate people to give more and incline people to pray and work in these areas as well. As mentioned before, each family is its own missions committee so the kids can be involved and impacted in the process. There is now no opportunity to just give to the congregation and forget about it. Doing all your own giving requires you to engage the recipients to some degree. This can only be good.
There is obviously a danger for people to “give” unwisely (or just plain selfishly). Some will be tempted to use their “tithe” to pay for their relative’s birthday presents and girl scout cookies once a year. However, it isn’t like giving directly to a church guarantees that unwise “giving” won’t occur. This is an opportunity for discipleship. Ultimately, we will all give an account to God for our giving (and keeping!). The Bible says that treasure and heart go together. Therefore, the elders will help shepherd people in this area which leads to the next weird thing
Weird Thing #2
Tithing is required for church membership. That sounds crazy and legalistic and totally contrary to Principle #3. However, it is important (and judgment is exercised by the leadership).
CORPUS does NOT believe that tithing is a current biblical requirement. The reality is that 100% (not 10%) of our $ belongs to God. There are probably many American Christians who feel good about their giving because they get their accountants to give 10.00% of their money to the church who are not giving what God would want them to give. We can imagine scenarios where people should give over 50% of their $ to ministry and scenarios where people should give significantly less than 10%. The CORPUS tithing requirement merely serves as a point of contact between the elders and each member in order to deal with money (which is probably the single biggest discipleship hurdle American Christians face). We want to work with our members to get their finances under control. It is expected that many members will take years to dig themselves out of deep holes (with the help of the fellowship of the church!) to get their finances where they need to be so that they can give as God directs. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and most Americans are seriously in debt and very immature in the area of stewardship. We are here to help not judge! Quick fixes in the money department are rare. Everyone is a work in progress. So, you don’t have to be a tither to join. However, you must agree that tithing is expected and be willing to begin the journey towards God-honoring finances (which in some cases may mean giving less than 10%). There will be help given to that end (see weird thing #3 below).
Principle #3 Doctrine:
While very few doctrines are required for church membership, it is understood that the elders, when considering a new candidate for church leadership, would consider secondary doctrines in order to determine whether they would fit well with the current direction of the church. This will probably eventually result in disunity and a split when, for example, a woman elder candidate is rejected or accepted. When this occurs, we will split in love, recognizing that it may be a good thing (see pillar #1). We are not saying that members cannot have firm opinions on secondary matters. In fact, we think that they frequently should. We don’t need to fear a split—practically because we don’t have to worry about how we’ll pay for the building if ½ of our people leave and relationally because of Principle #1. We’re all in this together, even when we have to part.
Principle #4 Discretionary time and money:
In I Corinthians 12 the Church is described as a body. God puts each individual member in the body just as he desires. CORPUS believes that this allows for specialization. For whatever reason(s), Church resources are distributed in an extremely uneven manner worldwide. It just makes sense that a major ministry opportunity/responsibility exists in areas where resources are abundant to supply resources to the parts that are lacking. If 90% of a typical church’s giving is spent on its staff, buildings, programs and 10% is given outside the church, just image what would happen if 10% was given to the local church and 90% was given to work outside the local congregation. That would be amazing.
The fact is, we have not significantly changed the way we “do church” for hundreds of years. The world has changed significantly, though. In the past people were largely illiterate and there were very limited resources for quality Christian education. Now anyone can hear any one of thousands of sermons from the best preachers in the world on the internet for free at any time. Books are cheap and readily available and most everyone can read. We still need spiritually-mature believers to shepherd the flock and disciple people. However, the Mormons have proven that you don’t need paid expensively-and-foramally-educated people. You just need faithful, discipled, talented people who are willing to do the work. We can do them way better and provide gifted people full of the Holy Spirit who are faithful, discipled, talented and willing to do the work. Additionally, by cutting out all the hours of infrastructure maintenance (Sunday schools, committees, buildings, nursery duties, etc.) Sunday becomes restful, and people have more time, energy and money to invest “out there”.
Principle #5 Traveling together:
The fellowship of the saints is a very valuable and powerful and satisfying resource. People are communal creatures and Christianity is a team sport. Therefore, in obedience to the Scriptures (and pursuit of our joy!) we take interpersonal relationships among members seriously. The leadership will be careful to lead in such a way that close interpersonal relationships are fostered. As we share our lives together, we will begin to be aware of needs and growth areas. Interpersonal fellowship helps here. However, sometimes the leadership will need to be officially involved. A mark of a true church is church discipline. When necessary, the elders will step in to correct with a goal of restoration. However, there will probably be times where membership is revoked. This is a biblical requirement and will be made abundantly clear to each potential member before they are accepted into church membership.
Weird thing #3:
Because church members do not spend the majority of their discretionary time in a central church location and ministry work is significantly more decentralized than in typical churches, there will be less time for elders to interact with each member. This could have an adverse effect on the elders’ ability to perceive individual needs and provide adequate pastoral care. Therefore a “yearly pastoral checkup” is required for each church member.
Each member will be assigned to two elders. At least 1x/year each member will meet with their elders to discuss their spiritual health. They will address finances (accountability for tithing) and any other issues felt necessary. Female members will meet with an elder and his wife (or an elder and a female deacon). Married couples will meet separately as will members who are teenagers. This will be carefully covered during membership training, so people will not be surprised by this. Obviously, this is awkward. In a way, it is the church equivalent of a person going to their doctor for a yearly physical checkup–as the person is placed in a vulnerable, uncomfortable and possibly embarrassing position. Nevertheless, most of us regularly go through this for the sake of our physical health. Why do we think that our spiritual health is less fragile and worthy of examination by a capable third party? Many Christians are comfortable with this sort of thing (I think of devout Catholics going to confession), but most evangelical Protestants think of religion as only between the individual and his God. To change from the medical analogy, even the most successful and skilled professional athletes have a coach. Why are we so afraid to talk about our relationship with God with an elder? For the sake of our health, the effectiveness of our ministry, and the glory of God, we need to embrace this opportunity.
CORPUS is a concept. It is not an institution and this is not a constitution. I’m just casting a vision for a new way of doing church. The “foundational principles” are the theoretical foundation of what we do. The “implications of the principles” give some further practical guidance and direction. Only a few things are hard-coded in. This leaves a lot of room for adaptability.
Adaptability is a value of CORPUS. General Patton said, “Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” This is a concept. Prayerfully consider it and then do with it as God directs.