Church: don’t confuse the organisation with the organism

Roman Catholic teaching says that the true church is the visible organisation, the Roman Catholic Church, the church that descended from Peter and the apostles. Legitimacy for its local churches comes via the mother (outward, shell) organisation[1].

In contrast, the local church in the Bible, the ecclesia, gets its legitimacy from the Holy Spirit. It consists of a group of called out ones, an assembly. It’s not an organisation, but an organism[2]. (Yes, it may be organised, but that doesn’t make it an organisation – not as people usually think of an organisation anyway, something with structure existing independently of the people who are organised.) And since the Reformation, it will be marked by two practices: baptisms and the sacraments[3].

Unfortunately, when what begins as an organism, a few families in a home, grows, there will be pressure to create an organisation. And from then on, you have two ‘churches’: the organism, operating as God planned, and the organisation, being and doing what Caesar requires.

The first question then is whether you need this organisation. Do you really need to create something in addition to what you’ve got?

If you decide that you must participate in Caesar’s world further by creating one of his organisations to achieve the church’s purposes (worshipping God, building believers, sharing the Gospel, and doing good works[4]), how can you do that with minimal intrusion on the Biblical way of operating?[5]

Questions for both in-home churches and churches revisiting their governance to consider.

Let’s get…Back to the Gospel.



  1. From The Oxford Dictionary Church, Livingstone, E.A and F.L. Cross, Logos Bible Software, 17 May 2021Roman Catholicism. The term, which denotes the faith and practice of Christians who are in communion with the Pope, is used particularly of Catholicism as it has existed since the Reformation, in contradistinction to Protestant bodies. On its doctrinal side it has been characterized by strict adherence to tradition combined with acceptance of the living voice of the Church, which is held to expound infallibly the revealed truths contained in the deposit of faith. Whereas in the early centuries the Church had to clarify especially the great mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, and in the Middle Ages doctrines concerning the relation of God and man through grace and the sacraments, post-Tridentine theologians have been especially concerned with the structure and prerogatives of the Church, the position of the BVM in the economy of salvation, and the function of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ on earth, culminating in the dogma of *Infallibility promulgated at the First *Vatican Council of 1870. In recent years there has been some reaction against the positions developed at the end of the 19th cent. and an attempt to bring the Church into closer communication with the modern world. This movement is closely connected with the Second *Vatican Council, with its doctrine of the *collegiality of bishops, the use of the vernacular in worship, and a more liberal attitude towards Christians of other denominations.

    From an external point of view RCism presents itself as an organized hierarchy of bishops and priests with the Pope at its head. This structure has been built up during a long history and rests its claims on the powers entrusted by Christ to His Apostles in general (Jn. 20:23) and to St *Peter in particular (Mt. 16:18 f.; Lk. 22:32; Jn. 21:15–17), as whose successors the Popes are traditionally regarded. Their supremacy over the Church, though sometimes contested by representatives of the *Conciliar theory and of *Gallicanism, was widely accepted in the W. from early times, as is shown by the appeals to Rome in the *Donatist and *Pelagian controversies of the 4th and 5th cents. Papal supremacy was positively accepted at the Council of *Trent and only slightly modified by the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized the position of the bishops. Acc. to RC teaching this hierarchy represents the Divine authority to whom obedience is due. Supernatural life is normally mediated to individual Christians by members of this hierarchy in the *seven sacraments. The emphasis in recent years on the part of the whole Church and the desirability of the participation of the community, e.g. in the administration of *Baptism, has not altered the essential position of the ordered episcopate and priesthood. An elaborate sacramental theology was developed by the Schoolmen and post-Tridentine theologians, and the sacramental system covers the whole life of RCs. The centre of the liturgical life of RCism is the Mass, which is regarded as a re-presentation of the redeeming work of Christ in His passion, death, and resurrection. Frequency of Communion has been encouraged by modern Popes, esp. *Pius X, and has been made easier by drastic relaxations in the *Eucharistic fast and by the introduction of *Evening Masses. Communion is, however, required only at Easter, and should then be preceded by the Sacrament of *Penance. Attendance at Mass on the other hand is compulsory on all Sundays and *Feasts of Obligation. Other devotions are left to the free choice of individuals and the traditional extra-liturgical exercises, such as *Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the *Rosary, and *Stations of the Cross, have recently come to play a less prominent part in RC life than formerly. This development may be partly explained by the introduction of the use of the vernacular in liturgical worship obviating the need for popular services, and more particularly by the increased emphasis on the liturgical life of the whole Church which is reflected not only in the new *Missal and *Breviary but also in the customary arrangement of services at times convenient for those engaged in secular life. The reformed liturgy has laid stress on the centrality of Sunday and drastically reduced the importance of saints’ days. At the same time, devotion to the saints has been fostered by the large number of canonizations in modern times, such as those of St *Teresa of Lisieux and the *Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

  2. The top meaning at “a form of life composed of mutually interdependent parts that maintain various vital processes.” Here’s Kyper’s explanation, reported by John Halsey Wood Jr.:“In this address [Rooted & Ground], Kuyper offered an ecclesiological paradigm to meet the exigencies of modern society. The church, he said, was at once an organism and an institution. As rooted, the church had an inner organic life that flowed directly from the Spirit of God. The way to understand this aspect of the church was the various biological metaphors used in Scripture, especially the church as a body. This would also explain the familial character of the church. Whatever disestablishment may signify, the church was not a mere club but made claims even upon those born into its bosom apart from any deliberate choice. Nevertheless, the life of the church was not to be taken for granted, as perhaps a national church was prone to do. It must be deliberately built. The church was not only a body but also a house, and as such it was founded and built by human hands. This building had a solid outward form that shaped and protected the inner organism. “The church is called a multitude of priests, legitimated through birth but consecrated only through anointing,” he said.

    Moreover, these two, the hidden mystical life and the outward form, were not to be separated, but existed in a reciprocal dependence….” [Introduction—Abraham Kuyper and the Challenge of the Church, Rooted & Grounded: The Church as Organism and Institution, Abraham Kuyper: Collected Works in Public Theology, 2015, Lexham Press, Bellingham, via Logos Bible Software, 17 May 2021.

  3. For example, Grudem, Wayne, Bible Doctrine, ed. Jeff Purswell, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, 1999, page 369.
  4. For example, Grudem, page 373.
  5. An ABN (Australian Business Number) begins the journey. But do you really need one? At least ask the question.


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