the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
Difference of opinion concerning ecclesiastical polity has bedeviled the Church for centuries; I am not interested in debating that topic in this article. However, the need to imitate Trinity in the institution of the Church remains, regardless of the form that Church government might take. Indeed, when we apply Trinitarian thinking to the institution of the Church it is not necessary to consider the structure of ecclesiastical government at all.
The primary consideration in seeking to imitate Trinity is that the Church should be characterized by unity not uniformity. As the apostle Paul wrote: “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Rom 12:4-5). Frankly, this balance is often difficult to maintain.
It is essential for the local Church to maintain unity concerning its particular vision for community ministry. At the same time it is necessary that each individual in the local fellowship maximize their specific abilities in the pursuit of that vision. The vision (unity), for ministry is provided by the leadership but the practical outworking (diversity), of that vision is the occupation of individual Church members.
Thus the primary function of Church leadership is to preach and exemplify the Lordship of Christ in every area of life. The primary obligation of the congregation is to manifest the reign of the Messiah in their sphere of influence. Since every person’s experience is different, the unity of purpose must be presented in such a way that the principles of the kingdom may be easily adapted to individual circumstances. The mark of a Church that has embraced Trinitarian thinking is a Body that takes the singular message of Christ’s lordship into the marketplace in a variety of ways. In other words, the Pastor teaches through the Bible, explaining the principles of the kingdom and the congregants apply those principles in their work as doctors, lawyers, farmers, salesmen, homemakers, policemen, politicians and so on. Moreover, a Church that seeks to imitate Trinity is characterized by a variety of ministries to the community: Bible studies, outreach to children, ministry to unwed mothers, prison ministries, prayer meetings and so on. In each case, the ministry activity is initiated by individual members of the Church whose gifting is evident in the particular way that they implement the unified vision of the Church.
Problems arise when there is a conflict between the particular purpose of the local fellowship and the desires of individual members. This issue is addressed in the letter to the Hebrews: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). Furthermore, in a properly functioning fellowship, leadership and laity alike will remember not to “think of [themselves] more highly than [they] ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3), and to “esteem others better than [themselves]” (Phillipians2:3). The issue is not who is in charge, but understanding and implementing the Gospel. This cannot be properly done unless there is unity of purpose and diversity of action. Neither the cult-like church where everyone is the same nor the anarchist body where no one is in charge is able to accomplish the work of the kingdom. Strong leadership and a strong laity are the result of Trinitarian thinking in the Church and both are required to advance the reign of Christ on earth.