The Seven Pillars of Ministry
Pillar 6: The Church Is an Organism, Not an Organization

(These notes are based on lesson notes by Pastor Tommy Jones, Connection Pastor at Hoffmantown Church)

Review:  The first five pillars in the series are: Today: - Pillar 6: The Church Is an Organism, Not an Organization

The first five Pillars of Ministry dealt with how True Ministry is related to God. He comes up with it, He assures that it works, we get it from Him, we yield to Him to let it work and He is glorified by it. Today we take a little different view, by looking at the vehicle that He uses to accomplish True Ministry, to accomplish His Will, the Church.

So, just what exactly is the church and how should we look at her?

We use the term church is so many ways, most of which have nothing to do with what we are talking about today. We call the building we gather in a church, but of course we are not talking about our buildings. We also talk about going to church, which is an activity, a function, but that not what we are talking about. We also talk about groups of local congregations which are affiliated as a church, like the Southern Baptist Convention. But that is not what we are talking about. Then we talk about the Protestant Church, the Roman Church or the Eastern Church, the big general Christian theological designations., But that is not what we are talking about either.

So, what exactly is the church? Who makes up the church?

We don’t have time to conduct an exhaustive study of church history; however, we can look at the Bible and determine some of what God has to say about the church and about our relationship to her.

The title of our lesson is: The Church is an Organism, Not an Organization. Many of the uses of the word church that I just went through are organizations, not what we are talking about.

Let’s start with two words here that are open to many interpretations.  According to Webster, the definitions of the two words in question are:

Organism = a complex structure of independent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole … a social organism … a body made up of organs, or other parts that work together to carry on the various processes of life.

Organization = 1. the act or process of organizing or of being organized; 2. an administrative and functional structure (as a business or political party).

When it comes to organization, the Church, in its day-to-day operations, must certainly have some degree of organization. We all understand that The Church carries out much of its work through churches, which include the buildings and the congregations and the affiliations etc. We operate with staff and church officers (i.e. elders). To say that some type of business structure is not found in the operation of a church or The Church would be incorrect. Our God is an engineer (my concept) and is a God of order and structure. Though we may see some organization in function, The Church, however, is not an organization by definition. The Church is a living organism. It is not some irresponsive, inert “thing”. We find The Church pictured many different ways in the New Testament: a loving bride, a serving body, a nurturing family and a marching army, to name a few. She is built on the life of Jesus Himself and each member is interdependent on another member. When I speak of member, I speak of those being placed in the spiritual body of Christ by the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion, not those whose name are on the church membership role. We assume that those whose names are on the membership role are also in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but this is not always so. The Church is made up of born-again believers in Jesus Christ as Lord. This is how the Bible sees it, and the Bible is surely the authority here.

Let’s first look at the word “church”. It comes from the Latin word kirk or kirkus. The Greek word for church is ekklesia or “the called out ones”. The moment we are confronted with this word, we understand one truth in particular: the ekklesia of Christ is speaking of people, and not some “thing” or “it”. An “it” would refer to an organization. The church then speaks of somebody, not something. The church, the ekklesia of Jesus, is the called out ones, and not an organization.

As one writer states: “The Bible does not talk about the difference between an organization and an organism. The so-called visible ekklesia does not take on a life of its own independent of a living relationship with her Lord. The ekklesia of Christ does not have an ounce of authority on her own. She speaks for Christ only when she speaks His words. She represents Christ only when she repeats what her Lord has spoken … the ekklesia emphasized in the New Testament is not an institution, or organization that you join, but it’s a spiritual body into which the Holy Spirit has baptized you. Everything is determined by the phrases “Christ in you” and “you in Christ”. It is this truth that the New Testament scriptures emphasize. Men can, and do, create institutions, or organizations, and call them churches or fellowships, but only God the Holy Ghost can create the ekklesia of Christ. The ekklesia that God alone can create is the Body of Christ, the House of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, etc. Every person in that ekklesia is “in Christ”, baptized into His body, a part of His House, a living stone in His Temple, etc.”

If we had to simplify the matter, we may say that the Church is an organism and not an organization because the living Spirit of God indwells the members of those who constitute his spiritual Body. Thus, that Body moves, flexes, bends, grows as the Life in it does. The members of the Body are connected to one another and grow up together “in Christ”.

Wayne shared how each member of the Body functions according to their spiritual gift, how the whole is the sum of her parts. In our lesson today, we will see that the living Church of Jesus is:

1. The Living Church is Anchored to its Corner Stone:

Let’s start with 1 Peter 2:4. In this letter Peter is writing to the new Christians scattered throughout the territory. He is teaching them the doctrine and how to understand their new condition, who they are now that they have accepted Jesus as their savior.

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,  you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”  This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,”  and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light... --1 Peter 2:4-9
We see here the church pictured in a symbol, a metaphor. She is described as a spiritual house or dwelling built on the foundation cornerstone of Jesus.

“In the building technique from which the figure is drawn, the cornerstone of the foundation would be the first stone to be put in place. Since both the angle of the walls and the level of the stone courses would be extended from it, the cornerstone must be square and true.”  -- (Edmund Clowney, The Message of I Peter)

“The cornerstone of the foundation is Christ Jesus Himself. The cornerstone was the major structural part of ancient buildings. It had to be strong enough to support what was built on it, and it had to be precisely laid, because every other part of the structure was oriented to it. The cornerstone was the support, the orienter, and the unifier of the entire building.” -- (John MacArthur, Ephesians)

Jesus is the cornerstone of this spiritual house, The Church. He is the first One put in place. Everything else comes after Him. He gives it support, orients everyone coming after Him in the building process and holds it all together. Notice however, this cornerstone:

Rejected by men:

The stone which the builders rejected, has become the very corner stone... --1Peter 2:7.  This is a quote from Psalm 118 in the Old Testament:

The stone which the builders rejected
    Has become the chief corner stone. --Psalm 118:22

Jesus himself quoted this in Matthew, in a parable about the wicked tenants.

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone’” --Matthew 21:42
In this parable, Jesus spoke of the leaders of Israel rejecting the Son sent by God to receive what was His due.

John writes in his gospel:

The world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. --John 1:19-11

Peter now sees Jesus as the very cornerstone of God’s house, rejected by His own people and nation. He was rejected by the religious leaders in Jerusalem as well as by the Gentile ruler Pilate.

Psalm 118:22 has some tradition behind it that goes back to the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem:

“Well, the tradition is that at the beginning of the project a very large, fine-looking stone came up from the quarry, but the builders couldn’t fit it in any place; so they moved it to one side. Because it was in the way, eventually they just pushed it over the brow of the hill to make room for the other stones that they were receiving and forgot about it. Finally, when all the stones had been delivered, they sent down word to the quarry, ‘Send up the cornerstone’. The building was ready to start except for the cornerstone. Word came back, ‘We sent the cornerstone to you at the very beginning.’ Then they remembered, ‘That’s the stone we pushed off the hill!” So with a great deal of effort, they had to haul that stone back to the top of the hill. If this tradition is accurate, it certainly explains the verses before us.” -- (J. Vernon McGee, The Epistle of I Peter)


Peter said in verse 8:

...and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. --1 Peter 2:8
This verse is quote from the Old Testament in Isaiah 8
Then He shall become a sanctuary;
    But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over,
      And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. --Isaiah 8:14
In Isaiah, God tells Isaiah not to fear what the people of Israel fear, but rather to fear Him for He will be the safe dwelling place Isaiah; but for Israel, He will be a stone of judgment. Peter takes this verse and applies it metaphorically to Jesus Christ — He is the one that people will trip and fall over, to their own destruction. If they reject Christ, it will spell doom for them.

Why do they stumble over Christ?

Peter explains they stumble and fall due to their rejection of the gospel message. Once they’ve rejected Jesus in this gospel, they are doomed, for this is the state God has “appointed” for them.

Peter says that this cornerstone is “Precious in the sight of God”.

… but is choice and precious in the sight of God, … For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, … This precious value...” --1 Peter 2:4,6,7
This is a quote from Isaiah 28:
Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone
     A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed. --Isaiah 28:16
Isaiah is calling God’s people to build their lives on the solid rock of the Lord, immovable, steadfast, dependable. He does this as God brings a warning to Jerusalem’s leaders who have bypassed God in their quest to build political alliances. God likens Himself to a builder who is going to begin a new building in Jerusalem (“Zion”). He is going to lay a foundation stone of His own design and choice. God’s building will be one of justice and righteousness. God beckons them to build their lives on this rock … this stone. Peter applies this stone to Christ, God’s foundation of a new temple, the church. Those who build their lives on this cornerstone of God will never be ashamed, disappointed or dishonored, but rather, will be honored before God for their obedience. God’s stone, Jesus, is “choice” (selected by God) and “precious” (of inestimable worth and value) to God.

Then Peter says

This precious value, then, is for you who believe. --1 Peter 2:7
This honor to be linked with Christ is for believers. Only believers can love and value Christ in the same way.

2. The Living Church of Jesus is Advancing from its Foundation Stones:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God... --1 Peter 2:4
In the formation of Christ’s Body, The Church, we move from the placement of Himself as the chief cornerstone to the building up of His house, beginning with the Apostles and Prophets. Paul said in Ephesians 2:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. --Ephesians 2:19-22
Once again, the Church is being seen as a building, a dwelling place of God’s Spirit. This building is spiritual, made up of believers. Paul is telling us here that the Apostles and Prophets were the ones to begin laying down the foundation of Christ.
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers… --1 Corinthians 12:28
Ephesians 4:11 helps us better understand Christ’s process of building His Body.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers... --Ephesians 4:11
Here, we see that the Apostles and Prophets completed their work and gave way to: “evangelists, and … pastors and teachers”. They all laid down a foundation of Christ. For even Paul refers to Christ as the foundation in First Corinthians:
… you are … God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. --1 Corinthians 3:9-11
So how do we correlate Ephesians 2:20 (..having been built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets) with I Corinthians 3:11 (for no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ)?

In his work on the book of Ephesians, Skevington Wood writes,

“From 1 Corinthians 3:11 … some would take it that Paul is here referring to Christ as the foundation on which the Apostles and Prophets themselves built, or on which they themselves were built, or which they themselves laid and on which others are built. The most obvious interpretation, however, is that the Apostles and Prophets themselves constitute the foundation as being closely associated with Christ in the establishment of the church. They were the witnesses of his resurrection appearances and the preachers of the good news. ‘The Church rests on the total unique Event of which Christ is the centre, but in which the Apostles and Prophets, filled and guided by the Spirit, and doing their work in unique closeness to Christ, had an indispensable part.’” --(Quoting John Allan, Epistle to the Ephesians)
Therefore, we may determine the following: the Apostles and Prophets, et al. were in a sense a foundation of the church; however, their foundation was the message of Christ in the preaching and teaching of the gospel. Their message formed the foundation layer connected to that Cornerstone, Jesus Himself.

3. The living Church of Jesus is assembled out of Living Stones:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. --1 Peter 2:4-5
We are living stones that are members of Christ’s Body and related to each other.
...and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. --Colossians 2:19
Paul is warning the believers in Colossae that they may be led astray by false teachers if they don’t hold “fast to the head”, which is Christ. When we speak of Christ as the Head of the church, we mean he is the controlling power and influence in the church. Consider the words of John MacArthur: “He is not only the sovereign Head and ruling Head but also the organic Head. He is the source of power for all functions. As the brain is the control center of physical life, so the Lord Jesus Christ is the organic source of life and power to His Body, the church”.

Christ is not only the Living Stone — the Cornerstone — but He is also our head to which we are all attached. It is from “the head” that the “entire body … grows with a growth which is from God”.

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. ... For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.   If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?   But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” --1 Corinthians 12:12,14-21
We each have a function. Some of us are ears, some eyes, some knees, some armpits, some toes, some mouths, etc. God has given us a gift and a True Ministry to use in The Church for the functioning of the Body. Without us doing our part, our church misses our gift. Separately, we are a member of the body, and collectively, we make up the Body of Christ. Eph 4:15 … we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Paul tells us we are to “grow up” in “all aspects into Him”. This means we are to be totally yielded to His power and obedient to do what His Spirit and Word commands.

MacArthur comments: “…the close, tight, compacted correlation of function in the Body as an organism is the result of Christ’s power. Christ holds the Body together and makes it function ‘by that which every joint supplies.’ That is to say, the joints are points of contrast, the joining together or union where the spiritual supply, resources, and gifts of the Holy Spirit pass from one member to another, providing the flow of ministry that produces growth.” When we are operating in our gift, and taking up our rightful position in the body, then we see “the proper working of each individual part”. MacArthur concludes: ‘The sum of all that these truths affirm is that every individual believer is to stay close to Jesus Christ (letting Jesus be Jesus in us), faithfully using his spiritual gift in close contact with every believer he touches, and that through such commitment and ministry the Lord’s power will flow for the ‘building up’ of the Body ‘in love’” (parentheses mine).

Is the church an organism or organization?

The Scriptures make it clear — it is an organism. We are described as a building and a body — an ever-growing building and an ever-growing Body. We are living stones attached to one another by the cement of the Spirit of Jesus. We are body parts attached to one another and getting our life and power from the Head, Jesus Christ.

By illustration: There is a famous story from Sparta. A Spartan king boasted to a visiting monarch about the walls of Sparta. The visiting monarch looked around and he could see no walls. He said to the Spartan king, “Where are these Spartan walls about which you speak and boast so much?” The Spartan king pointed at his bodyguard of magnificent Spartan troops. “These”, he said, “are the wall of Sparta, and every man of them a brick.”

The same may be said of each believer, a living stone in the Church of the living God.


Next Week: Pillar 7: The Role of Leadership