As we look at the Church as an organization and as an organism we need to understand that there is a huge difference between the church as seen in the New Testament (ekklesia) and the institutional religious system. There is a huge difference between the clergy system and the people who populate it. There is a huge difference between the denominational system and God’s people who identify themselves by a denominational label.
Jesus Christ did not die for a religious system. He died for the Church.
The Church is God-created. The religious system is man-made.
The Church is a living entity. The system is a mechanism.
When the Lord said, “I will build my Church,” (Matthew 16) He was not talking about a denominational system. Nor was He speaking of a religious service where people sit back and observe on Sunday mornings. He was speaking of His own body, which includes you and me and all born again believers.
The word “Church” has been so abused, misused, and distorted that countless believers can’t seem to distinguish between the Christian religion, the clergy system, the denominational system, and the ekklesia of God. To their minds, it is all the same thing. But the reality is different than the way we see things.
Long ago I was a priest in a religious system. We priests use to, on occasion, criticize the religious system to which we belonged. Granted, we were part of that system, but that system was not us nor did it always represent us.
The system was one thing, the priests were another. We are all caught up in ‘systems,’ a particular way of doing things. A form, a structure, a patterned activity. It is something larger than ourselves, and it could run independent and part from any one of us. That is what systems do. It just needs a few warm bodies to keep it moving. So back to my personal example …while priests are a part of the system, we were separate from it. And so, when I left the priesthood the system continued.
When Jesus Christ came on the scene, He had major issues with the religious system of Judaism. And He challenged that system. But He loved the people in the system. And He saw them, not the system, as His Bride, the Church. (John 3).
It is the same way with the Church. Challenging – and even critiquing – the religious system is a completely different thing than criticizing the Church of the living God. In fact, historically, those who challenged the religious system were those who dearly loved the Church, and that love was the provocation behind their critiques.
So, in our thinking, it might be good to begin to separate the Church from the system; the people from the organization. Jesus loved the people and hated the system. He came to destroy organized religion.