by Jared Johnson
Before reading any further, take an extra moment to notice some details of the image above.
How might one define “airplane?”
We could use a functional definition: a plane is a human-built, heavier-than-air transport machine (as opposed to, say, a blimp or hot air balloon).
We could use a purpose/design definition: a plane is a mechanical device made to transport things of value (people or cargo) through the air (as opposed to driving or floating).
We could use an attributes definition: a mechanical device with fuselage, wings, air-dependent propulsion (i.e. not a rocket), control systems and surfaces, and landing gear.
When we see an image like the one above, we immediately think “that’s a plane.” But if we think of a plane in the first and/or third senses – function / parts – our notion that “it’s a plane” falters. This one, particularly, doesn’t have either of its starboard engines; might be missing all four. It’s missing its horizontal stabilizer, slats, multiple body panels, a landing gear door, some of the actual landing gear, rear cargo door, and more. It’s missing many attributes, thus, has also lost its capacity to function. It was originally designed to fly cargo but can’t do so any longer. The original design hasn’t changed, but the expression of that design has changed – drastically.
Is it still a plane?
There are many aircraft “boneyards” the world over, full of airframes like the one above. Are they still planes?
Jesus designed and established His Church to reach the entire world and bring His life into the lives of people in a way that Moses’ Covenant never could.
- “The Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all [ethnicities] will hear it; and then the end will come.” (emphasis added, Matt. 24.14)
- Together as one body, [the Chosen One] reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. (Eph. 2.16)
- “…My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10.10)
The world – especially the “Western” world – is populated by many congregations that don’t take the Good News of Jesus to those who don’t yet know Him. (Of course, that can and does mean both people who live next door to the church and people on the other side of the world.) So are they still “churches?” If they appear to be churches at first glance, but they don’t reach outsiders (Rom. 11.13-24) or reconcile people to God or each other (Matt. 5.24) or bring life as Jesus said in John 10, are they still churches?
“The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.8). Jesus Himself destroyed and destroys the work of the devil; if a congregation isn’t doing the same, is it still a part of His Body? The enemy came “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10.10); he’s “the father of lies” (John 8.44); he undermines relationships (2 Cor. 2.5-11), and more. Are these types of anti-godly, wicked behaviors and traits noticeably fading in our congregation or are they allowed to fester while we drift in “maintenance mode?”
Yes, I do understand that “God does the work, we don’t,” but through the direct prompting/action of His Spirit, the Church – His Body and Bride – does His work. If a congregation isn’t “destroying the work of the devil” maybe our standards aren’t high enough. Maybe our expectations aren’t biblical enough. How brightly is our lampstand (Rev. chapters 1-2) shining?
If a machine doesn’t fly, if it’s missing a wing, an engine, some of its flaps … is it still a plane?
If a congregation isn’t deliberately, measurably, beating back the kingdom of darkness in the brighter and brighter light of Jesus, is it still a church?
I’m not now a preacher nor have I been; I’m not an elder at my church nor am I on staff in any capacity. As “just a regular guy in the pew,” I do know how I answer that question for myself.