Dr. J. N. Manokaran A Civil Engineer by profession. God called him and his family to be missional leader in Haryana as cross cultural missionaries for eleven years. Since, 1997 they returned back to Tamil Nadu to help missionaries and pastors to build their capacities by teaching, training and writing
“The Church is an organism and not an organization,” is a common statement made by many leaders in the Christian community. There are some Christian vocabulary that are not directly derived from the Scripture. Words like trinity or ‘mission’ is commonly used but not in the Bible. The church as organism is also similar word not used in bible.
Organization of New Testament Church
The New Testament Church organizes itself in the first few chapters recorded in the Acts of Apostles. On the Day of Pentecost itself 3000 members were added to the disciples. (Acts 2:41) Listing the names itself is a character of an organization. The church gathered in specific places – in homes. There was a need for
co-ordination and communication, which is again a character of an organization. The purpose for existence of organizations is to meet the needs of the people. The needy people were cared for. In that, there was allegation about discrimination, hence effective mechanism was introduced. (Acts 6:1) Conflict resolution happened. Criteria for identifying the widows and listing them for help is another job done by an organization. Financial management was also there as people gave liberally, sometimes all they had. The Church at Antioch sent out missionaries and they came back and reported what they did or accomplished. (Acts 13) Commissioning and accountability is found in this.
There are some good features in both organization and organism. In this context, from the human perspective, it is better to integrate the best of an organization and an organism for the church to fulfill the task in the world. The Church has to minister in an imperfect world. The Church is not perfect, but moving towards it as the Coming of the Lord draws near.
Flexibility and Creativity
The Church is both flexible and creative. In that sense the church is not an organization but organism. Organization tends to be consistent with rules, with zero tolerance for deviations. Such organizations cannot create space for creativity. At the same time the church cannot be recklessly flexible, causing chaos by disbanding all rules, norms and laws. Out of the box thinking is needed to reach the uttermost part of the earth and bring the Kingdom of God on this earth.
Sensitive not sentimental
Organism has the capacity to be sensitive and also become sentimental – overwhelmed by emotions. An organization in contrast is rather insensitive and could respond in a familiar and predictable pattern. The Church is sensitive like organism but also structured and consistent with the attributes of God in the response. The Church reflects the glory of God.
Hierarchy vs. service
An organization functions according to hierarchy. It is command and control model of management. In contrast, an organism functions as one unit and has definite role for each part. Each part does work voluntarily and does not exceed the parameters. The parts of the body like heart or brain or kidney should fulfill its part. The Church has hierarchy as well as definite role or service or mission for each part.
Self initiated vs. external motivation
An organism could be self motivated. Also it has the capacity to respond to environment and challenges from outside. An organization generally needs motivation from outside. The person who controls the organization may respond to the environment according to his/her orientation. The Church is an organism if this criteria is applied. Paul writes, Christ love compels us. (II Cor 5:14-15) The Church also responds to external contexts. For example, a tsunami could galvanize the church to be involved in relief and rehabilitation work. The Church responds to external realities because of the inner conviction and motivation that comes from the Christ’s love.
Grace vs. Law
An organization functions according to law and regulations. Exceptions are rare. Organism as a living entity has the capacity to demonstrate mercy and grace. The Church has rules, regulations and discipline. If a person does not confirm to the norms of the organization he/she could be disciplined according to prescribed procedures. The Church could help that individual to change or transformed as there is love and discipline. The nurturing environment in the church could provide spiritual healing. So, the Church is unique that it combines organization and organism.
Judgment vs. Redemption
Organizations are rigid and execute judgment with no option for forgiveness. The Church is an organism that could provide redemption and nurture redeemed people. The Church could provide several opportunities for a person to reform, repent and be transformed. Exhortation, inspiring models, loving discipline, nurturing atmosphere, and accountability are unique features of a church.
Horizontal and Vertical accountability
The general understanding is that an organism has only a vertical accountability, i.e. the parts of the body is only accountable to the central authority: Head. An organization has accountability at appropriate levels and is collectively accountable to the top management. Again, the Church is integration of both kinds of accountability. Individual believers are accountable to the Local church. There is mutual accountability. The missionaries who were sent out by the Church at Antioch gave reports. When there was a conflict regarding circumcision, there was discussion, debate and decision. If the two groups claimed that they are right as they have direct connection with the Head, there would not have been consensus. Today, there are multiple denominations because, they consider Church as organism and neglect mutual accountability.
Bond of chains or bond of love
An organization is connected by links, like a chain. That connection is with nearest section of the organization. Organism is not connected by links but a unifying aspect. A body has blood permeating all cells. The blood supplies oxygen to all parts of the body. This bondage may lack in an organization. Paul writes that we are bonded by love and peace. (Gal 3:14 and Epehsians 4:3). The Spirit of God unifies all members into One.
Decay, Defeat and Death
Organization or any living organism on the earth faces decay and defeat. All living organisms in the world die and perish. The Church does not decay, instead grows from glory to glory. The Church is victorious and can never be defeated. The Church would be caught up to Heaven and be the Bride of Christ forever and ever.
An institution or an organization can have a leader for a certain period of time. After that period they retire or die. A new leader has to take over. However, the Church is different. There is one and only Head forever and ever: Lord Jesus Christ.
Growth is Supernatural for the Church
An organization could grow by recruiting new people. An organism could grow or multiply by reproduction. However, the Church grows because God adds people to the Church. (Acts 2:47) Yes, the Church should organize evangelism outreach, send out missionaries, preach the gospel, baptize people, take care of poor and needy, speak out for the voiceless and grow in fellowship. However, the conversion and addition is not from human will but from divine decree. (John 1:12,13)
Organization, Organism, Organizer
If the Church is an organization, then it reflects the general characteristics of an organization. If the Church is an organism, it would reflect the traits of an organism. However the Church reflects the characteristics of the Organizer, Founder, Lord Jesus Christ. The Church demonstrated the love, grace and power of Lord Jesus Christ in the world. Organization could have temporal goals and organism could have mundane purpose, only the Church could have eternal goals and purpose, as the Founder is Eternal God.
The Church is both an organization and organism, in that sense Church is Supernatural. However it is not unnatural. The Church is both visible and invisible. The Church is Heavenly, but temporarily engaged in the World. Yes, the Church is a Mystery and cannot be defined and illustrated with worldly analogies and examples. No language could capture the definition of the Church. We can always rejoice, be grateful and worship the Lord for including us in His Body the Church.