The Church: An Organic Picture of Its Life

by Robert Brow

Brow Publications, 1996

Chapter 13

Body and Bloodstream

We come at last to mission, the lifeblood of the body of Christ. Mission is our major concern, but the preliminaries had to be discussed, since all mission is the product of local churches. If sending congregations are deficient in spiritual gifts, missions also will be anemic; and where missions fail to function, the churches in turn will suffer. Moses already knew what modern medicine is rediscovering-that "the life of the flesh is in the blood," "the life of every creature is the blood of it" (Lev. 17:11, 14). In Chapter VI we used Paul's analogy of the variety of cells in the human body to illustrate the variety of functions in the church. These functions are what make up our local congregations, the relatively fixed bones and muscles and tissues of the body. The bloodstream is distinct, although it is related to the local church at every point. Its distinction is that it moves to give life to the whole.

The purpose of blood is to bring oxygen, vitamins, food energy, repair materials, hormones, and much else to provide what is needed for health. In the Christian church this corresponds partly to what has been called mission, though the term mission has been too restricted. "Missions" are often assumed to be Overseas, exotic, patronizing, and colonial, with an emphasis on savage tribes, the underprivileged, and certain back-door concerns such as slums, alcoholics, addicts, Eskimos, and Indians on the reservation.

In this chapter and the next we shall look at the bloodstream functions illustrated in the New Testament. At the outset it should be clear that this is no distinction between home and foreign, privileged and underprivileged. The bloodstream goes wherever the body is. Mission is what moves to give life to the church everywhere. In modern-day situations it includes Billy Graham and the traveling evangelists and teachers, student movements like Inter-Varsity, S.C.M., and Campus Crusade for Christ, Sunday School organizations, conference and retreat centers, which though fixed obviously minister to the whole body. To these we must also add the seminaries and Bible colleges, Christian writers and radio programs, the Bible societies and translators, as well as most of what is usually called missions. All these can be distinguished clearly from local congregations, which have their own responsibility and are in fact the front line of the church. The laymen of these congregations are touching the world at every point. They are the infantry in close contact, and they occupy the ground that is captured. The bloodstream brings them the ammunition and supplies, the materials needed to repair the breaches, and the trained specialists to assist them in their task.

The neglect of the bloodstream has been the major cause of flabbiness and weakness among Protestants. It has been the strength of the Roman Catholic Church. On the one hand there are the parish congregations linked together through priests, bishops, and archbishops in every country. They are fixed and occupy the ground. Quite distinct is the Roman bloodstream that is rich with Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, Marians, Knights of Columbus, and a host of other orders. These may have special emphases and they may concentrate more particularly in certain areas, but they are essentially worldwide in outlook. They are not confined to foreign countries, as most Protestant missions have been, but they keep watch on the whole body, giving specialists and other assistance Wherever there is an opportunity of growth, or the need of repair, or evidence of sickness in the Roman Church.

By its very nature the bloodstream cannot be controlled; least of all can it be confined in the local parish structures, The Roman orders at home and Protestant missions overseas have learned that it is not their business to interfere in local church administration. If converts are won they must be left to organize themselves in local churches that are independent of b mission control. Any ministry within local churches must e by invitation, and should not continue too long. On the other hand the orders long ago discovered what Protestant missions are now learning painfully, that missions cannot be placed under the Permanent control of local congregations or even synods. Parishes are meant to be parochial in outlook, and missions are meant to look to the interests of the whole body; neither can control the other.

The failure to understand this basic theological distinction between denominational structures and missions is the root of the present confusion in the ecumenical movement. Beginning with the assumption that denominations should be united, or at least in a state of oneness so that dialogue can take place, the movement foolishly concluded that separate missions did not fit. The logical Outcome was the dissolution of the International Missionary Council and its incorporation in the hierarchical structure. The theory was that there would be no more missionaries, but instead fraternal workers would go from one group Of churches to work under another group. This serious mistake in strategy has only recently been discovered. If the unity of the body of Christ is to be promoted, it must be tackled in two distinct ways. First, the aim should be to attain intercommunion, free transfer of membership, and free transfer of ministers at the local level. The other need is to encourage inter-mission cooperation in the bloodstream by such things as the use of a common Bible, mutual recognition and cooperation among seminaries, and the sharing of literature, know-how and experience. Within the bloodstream there will inevitably be hundreds of mission agencies and orders, and ways must be found for local congregations to know what these have to offer and take what they need from each.

To arrive at this concept of the body of Christ some drastic changes are needed in our theology of the church. By its very nature the bloodstream is interdenominational since it ministers to the whole body. As we saw, the evangelist will be frustrated if he is forced to make Anglicans or Baptists out of his hearers. The Bible teacher cannot say, "I will only teach those of my own denomination." He has to teach wherever men need to be taught and are willing to listen, whether he is invited to a Pentecostal church or to the Vatican. To some extent the best radio preachers and theological and devotional writers already have an audience right across the spectrum of denominational groupings. To extend this approach would require churches to release their best men into the bloodstream to feed, strengthen, heal, and repair the body of Christ regardless of denominational or even geographical boundaries. Ordinary church members are already very free privately to read the books and bear the preachers of other denominations. Local churches will need to learn how vital it is for them to draw what they need for their life from the missions in the bloodstream.

This will have financial implications, as we shall see in Chapter XVI. At present most Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox hierarchies will only allow parish contributions to their own denominational agencies. Some denominations are so narrow that they will only recognize their own little missionary society, as if that were the only richness in the bloodstream of the body of Christ. In this respect the Anglicans of England are by far the most worthy of praise. There is no official Anglican missionary society, and every parish church is free to give to any of the twenty or more Anglican societies as well as to an unlimited choice of interdenominational groupings. This freedom has enriched the parishes greatly, and it has made possible the retention within the Church of England of a range of theological and ecclesiastical opinions unequaled in any other church. In other countries the Anglican churches have pathetically tried to insist on the channeling of all missionary giving through their one national Anglican missionary society, except that in Australia two Anglican societies, one high and one low, are given official recognition. Roman Catholic parishes have a wide choice of Roman orders to support, but the day might come when some interdenominational groupings will also be allowed. Similarly there is tight missionary control through Presbyterian general assemblies. One overseas and one home mission are usually specified, and it is the assembly that passes every detail of the budget.

This raises the question of control, which has been a constant bone of contention between the bishops and the orders of the Roman Church. As we have seen, a simple answer is to say that, though the bloodstream is entirely the product of local churches, it can never be controlled by them, nor does it control the churches that it establishes. We can see this clearly in Paul's churches. it would have been fatal for Paul's movements to have been directed by Antioch or by the churches he founded in Galatia. On the other hand the churches that Paul founded could, if they desired, refuse his ministry and transfer their allegiance to other teachers. There was a mutual independence and mutual interdependence, as in the human body, between the bloodstream and the organs and tissues. We shall look at this in more detail in the next chapter, where we deal with the function of apostles as leaders of mission teams.

Before concluding this chapter we should include within the bloodstream the various institutions that the church's life keeps on creating. In many parts of the world the first hospitals, colleges, schools, and other social Service organizations were initiated by Christians. As these were organized, the question Of control had to be decided. Sometimes they were put under a local church or diocese or denomination, but more often they were established under independent boards or societies. Several centuries of experience have proved that church control has grave disadvantages, since both the controlling church and the controlled institution are likely to Suffer. Every extra administrative headache makes concentration on the real work Of the church more difficult. Agendas become so burdened with buildings, budget, and salary-scale Problems that spiritual vision for the evangelistic and pastoral task is dimmed. High-pressure administrative experts are required, while ambitious men Must seek office in the church structure if they are to control the institutions. Institutions also suffer because the otherwise excellent parish pastors and presidents of ladies' organizations that parishes like to elect, know little about the administration of specialized institutions.

The other alternative is to set up a self-perpetuating board. In Britain this system was adopted for the colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, the great hospitals in London, the best known boarding schools, and most of the theological colleges. A similar impressive list could be prepared for the United States, including most of the Ivy League universities and the leading institutions of most cities. The advantage of this system is that it allows freedom to develop new institutions as they are needed, and freedom from a heavy load of administration so that the church can concentrate on evangelism, pastoral shepherding, and spiritual needs. In our analogy the institutions of the church come under the bloodstream rather than under the denominational organizations. They are admittedly fixed in location, but a typical church-founded college touches so many parishes that it can in no sense be called local. There is of course the objection that the self-perpetuating board may eventually fall into wrong hands, but this is the fate of all human organizations, including churches. The acceptance of this principle would have saved many headaches in overseas missionary situations, where small struggling churches were saddled by well-meaning missionary societies with vast colleges and hospitals. If missions in the bloodstream wish to establish good works in any place, they themselves should run them, or, better, put them under self-governing boards that do not burden the shepherds and sheep-of the nearest congregations.

We hear much of the sin of a divided church, but I wonder how the Lord, the head of the body, views the problem. He is in touch with every true Christian in every congregation of every denomination, so that there is in any case one body. For all these he has one bloodstream, and individual Christians take more from that one bloodstream than most of us realize. Jesus Christ's problem is freedom rather than unity, Local cells need to be freed to cooperate with the next cells. Congregations should feel free to take from the bloodstream regardless of denominational labels. Movement from local churches into bloodstream ministry could be freed from unnecessary administrative and financial controls. If all Christians were free to be themselves, the one body would be healthier. Denominations might continue as a good way of grouping Christians, and a rich number of orders and missions will be required for the bloodstream. Outsiders will be impressed by the abundant vitality of the body, rather than the tidy mergers of its denominations. Since life is what we need, we could go back to Moses to learn that "the life of the flesh is in the blood," which is why I believe in missions.

Chapter 14...