The grace of God and the powerful presence of the Spirit have created and maintained in the world, even within the entanglements of religious institutionalism, a "peculiar people" which the New Testament calls the Ekklesia. This simple, living fellowship or koinonia, was replaced by (not produced by, as many would think) the "churches," which have attempted to express spiritual life in institutional, creedal and ceremonial form. A careful study of this Ekklesia reveals certain basic truths, which we have sought to clarify in the preceding chapters but which it might be helpful to summarize here:
The center of Christianity is fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. This relation to God is simply the state of having personal faith in the Lord Jesus, that is, of being in living union with Christ in the new, spiritual life which the indwelling Spirit gives the true believer. All who are truly in living relationship to God are joined to all others who have this relationship in this same kind of fellowship. This koinonia with other believers is called "the Ekklesia" and is, like the koinonia with God called "salvation," based upon the common possession of the life-giving Spirit. The Ekklesia, as the Body of Christ, is a living organism, composed of all who are in fellowship with God. Institutions, or organizations, creeds, doctrines and ceremonies are not essential to this fellowship. None of these serve to determine who is truly a member of the Body and who is not.
Each member is designed by God for a necessary contribution to the whole Body. The gifts of the one Spirit, as He works through individuals, makes them more or less different from one another, though all have the same fellowship with Christ. The inherent unity of he Body of Christ must not be impaired or hindered by anything. The organization, doctrines and ceremonies, which some may use to express their life in Christ, should never restrict the fellowship, or be made its center. Differences in understanding and practice are normal, and even healthy, and not a reason for division and pride among Christians.
Now, in reaching the conclusion that fellowship with God in Christ is the true center of Christianity, we find that many problems are solved. For example, Christians will come naturally to live as one Ekklesia, in fellowship with God, where this can never be as long as we retain our present conception of the church. Also, this reveals why many so-called orthodox Christians, though they confess the best doctrines, act very un-Christian, while others who doctrinally are rather far from orthodoxy often are more worthy be called Christians in their way of life. The former, though doctrinally correct, have missed the essence of Christianity, and their behavior reveals it. The latter, though perhaps confused somewhat in their minds, have pressed through to life and the fruit of that koinonia with God is evident to all.
Another stone of stumbling to many is the seeming difference between the teaching of Paul and that of Christ in the Gospels . Jesus stressed doing, while Paul taught faith. However, when it becomes clear that the center and final essence of both their teaching is life-union between God and man, we then see that the difference is a matter of emphasis and any argument about "Christ or Paul" is absurd.
Again, formerly it was believed that a militant defense of the orthodox doctrine was one sacred duty of Christians, thus the emphasis upon the head and knowledge rather than the heart and its reaction to the dealings of God's Spirit. Now, we realize this to be misplaced zeal. It is union and fellowship with God--the new life in Christ--that must be defended and proclaimed, and then the needed doctrine will follow naturally from its true and proper source.
History bears witness to what I am saying. If institution, organization, creeds , rituals, etc. become the center of Christian faith, then either the life of the Christians ceases to be the life of Christ, as in Catholicism, or the Church is broken into many fragments as in Protestantism.
When we see this simple truth the "golden rule" (Matt. 22:37-39) is seen in its right light and becomes vital in the life of the Ekklesia. Though no one has ever doubted that this law of love is the noblest teaching of Christianity, there have been many in Protestantism who, in their insistence that man is saved by faith alone, have failed to recognize this as the basic expression of koinonia with God.
Sad to say, the ecumenical church movement is moving on the same mistaken road as earlier organizations. It is good that they seek unity among Christians, but they would better to emphasize toleration and love among all the sects and denominations and to make the institutional and organizational boundaries of these groups as loose as possible, instead of trying to create one super-organization--the ecumenical church. This, at least, would put the movement on the right road and be a healthy start toward the full realization of the Body.
Another point of perplexity has been the importance of the writings of John in expressing the fundamental truth of the Ekklesia. As John's teachings were practical and experimental rather than logical, they did not find their rightful position in the theology of the Church. Instead, the epistles of Paul, because they were more, theoretical and logical, were overemphasized by the institutional organization, to become the principal source of theological disputes and divisions.
The New Testament is only an extension and fulfillment of the Old in presenting koinonia with God as the central truth. And Paul and John are one with Christ in teaching the same truth, only from different angles.to top