By Krystle Chan
When people ask about my religion, naturally I reply, “I’m a Christian.” This often leads to follow-up questions such as, “Yeah, I know you’re Christian… but what kind are you? Catholic or Protestant?”
And when I reply, “Neither, I am just a Christian”, I am met with confusion, a barrage of questions and generalised statements such as, “What does that mean,” “If not Catholic, means you’re Protestant,” “Do you pray to God or Mary? God, means Protestant la!”
When we read about Christianity in the Bible, did the first century Christians have this problem? Was there a kind of Christianity? We read in Acts 11:26: “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
There was no need to ask what kind of Christian or to clarify what their practices/beliefs were to identify them as disciples of Christ.
Somewhere along the way, something changed. Branches of Christianity started and introduced this concept of denominationalism – different churches and different types of Christians. Christianity became confusing.
Is this the way that God intended it to be? Certainly not. 1 Cor 14:33: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
In John 17:20-23, Jesus, before he was crucified, prayed for the unity of the disciples: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
In 1 Cor 1:10-13, Paul wrote: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
In light of this, we know that we ought to be one. We need to examine for ourselves, how do we know what this “one church” is supposed to be like? What does it mean to be just a Christian? Why are we called the Church of Christ and not the Church of St. Paul or St. Stephen or any other apostle? Why do we do things differently from our denominational friends in the world?
How do we answer our friends when they ask us why we don’t celebrate Easter? Or why we don’t use musical instruments in worship?
As part of my job as a strategy consultant, we help to design our clients’ organisation to achieve their strategic objectives. This involves designing and defining the organisational structure, governance, high level processes, policies, KPIs and the like. These will in turn impact what the organisation does and how it will operate. How do we approach this? Doubtless, there are many decisions that need to be made whilst designing an organisation. How do we make those decisions? Arbitrarily? Choose what we think or feel is right? Follow what others do? No – we anchor these decisions on a set of design principles which are decided upon by those with the authority to make such decisions, often the highest levels of management (i.e. C-suites).
As a church, what is the basis of our ‘design principles’? The answer to our friends’ questions – what we are, what we do, how we do it and why – what is it anchored upon?
To answer this question we need to ask, who is our authority?
Matt 21:24-25: “But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?”
We have two options for our authority: from heaven, or from men? Who truly has the authority over the church? Who has the authority to decide how the church is governed, what we do, how and when we worship?
Of course, the answer is found in the Bible – Col 1:18: “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”
Jesus is the head of the church and He has all the authority. Matt 28:18: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
In the Old Testament, God gave very specific instructions and patterns directly to His people. For example in designing and building the ark in Genesis chapter 6, God gave Noah detailed design, dimensions and material specifications. And in Exodus 25:9 “According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.” And in the proceeding verses, God details the pattern that they should follow in making the tabernacle, emphasising and reminding them of the importance of keeping to the pattern once again in verse 40.
Today, God does not speak to us directly as He did previously. Heb 1:1-2: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.”
God speaks to us today through His Son. How then do we know what Jesus’ decisions/guidance is on matters pertaining to the organisation of the church? How do we know what the pattern of the Church or Christianity should be?
In John Chapter 1, we read in verses 1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” and in verses 14-7: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Here, it is revealed to us that Jesus is the Word – the word of truth. John 17:17: “Sanctify them by Your truth, Your word is truth” This means that the word of God – the Bible is our one and only true source of authority.
Why then has the majority of contemporary ‘Christian Church’ designs changed since the first century?
Nowadays, it is often quipped that “the only constant in life is change.” In today’s day and age, things are rapidly changing and shifting and we are forced to learn, change and adapt to them – disruption is everywhere. The organisational design principles crafted for corporate organisations are typically revised after 3 to 5 years, to reflect changes in the market conditions, purpose, or direction. Don’t we then need to revise our Church principles also? Sure, using human reasoning this would make complete sense, because as humans, the decisions that we make today may not be entirely future-proof.
However, the church design principles did not come from human reasoning or wisdom – it is based on the everlasting word of God. Luke 21:33: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Some may ask “Aren’t the Church practices outdated? Shouldn’t we adapt and change with the times?
My reply to them is this – Dare we say that God’s perfect design is flawed, outdated and that we know better? We are God’s creation – He is the potter and we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8). Romans 9:20 “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”
Our authority – Jesus does not waiver or change. Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever”.
Yesterday, today and forever, the church bases its beliefs and practices on the unwavering, perfect word of God and this, I can confidently say, more so than any man-made strategy or design, will enable us as a church to reach our goals.