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Community Churches - a Misnomer

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It is the belief of this writer that a 'Community Church' is a misnomer - a wrong name. Also, the idea behind a 'community church' is itself an error.

What is meant by 'community church'? If we mean that the church building is used for community projects, then there is little harm in that, providing the projects are suitable and are not inconsistent with Christian belief or practice. To give some examples: a meeting place for the elderly, if none exist elsewhere, is fine. But, a disco for young people, playing dubious music and songs, would be out of character with Christian witness. A bahy crèche is fine, but not a yoga class. And even those projects which appear to be 'fine' must be carefully examined and monitored.

If we mean that the church fellowship (that is, Christian people) is made available to all and sundry in the surrounding locality, then we enter into strange and sometimes forbidden territory. This especially applies to the pastor and deacons. The pastor's role is strictly confined to the needs of the Flock of Jesus Christ. As a pastor he has nothing, strictly, to do with the unsaved, even in the community immediately surrounding the church building. We know that the community concept is inherent in Anglican and Roman Catholic circles, but it is flawed and unbiblical. It is true to say that a pastor may, on occasions, have a leading of the Holy Spirit to do something which is outside his strict role as under-shepherd of the Flock in his care, but that is separate from his role as pastor. He can be a pastor only to the local Flock and to no-one else.

Deacons*, too, are not within a church to serve the wider community. They are deacons to their local church, that's all. Again, individual deacons may also be led, on occasions, to do a work amongst the unsaved, but that has nothing to do with his role as deacon. (* the word is used in the Biblical sense, not in the erroneous Anglican sense).

The first God-ward duty of the saved is to praise God. The first earthly duty is to be as one with their fellow Believers. Work done amongst the unsaved, even evangelism, does not take precedence over our duty to God or to our fellow Believers.

So, a local church is not at the beck and call of the community at large. Nor are its facilities open to wider use by the community, unless all members of that local church believe that God is calling them to offer such facilities. A pastor has no mandate to marry unbelievers or to bury them. Indeed, he has no spiritual call to do so, for his role is to care for the Flock. Facilities are in existence to serve the Flock, not others. Others may enter the building as guests, not as a right. (In the UK, a local church must keep its doors open to all people, if it is to enjoy freedom from local taxation/rates. Such freedom is dubious if it means allowing ungodliness into the use of the building/services. The same danfers apply if Christian churches or ministries become charities).

A church that offers such facilities and services must ask itself some questions: is the use made of the building in opposition to God's holiness and will? (For example, a church building must not be used for, say, a conference held by spiritualists!). Even seemingly 'good' enterprises must be examined, such as, say, shelter for the homeless (see separate paper on this topic). Not all homeless people should be helped by Christians. Those who are unrepentant and unchanging drunks, for instance, should not receive our unstinting help as routine. Individual cases, whose help is prompted by the Holy Spirit, may be permissible. But, 'wholesale' help for the unsaved cannot be regarded as either 'spiritual' or Biblical/Christian. Rather, it would be foolish, unwise and despairingly wasteful.

The church must also ask itself if it is helping the unsaved for the right reasons. If there is the ulterior motive to save souls, then it is unbiblical, because it is furtive and hidden. Besides, preaching, not various 'helps', leads to the salvation of souls!

More importantly, is help being given to the unsaved at the expense of the saved? Many, many churches give generously to Third World schemes run by Christians, or to global anti-starvation plans. Yet, how many will help local Christians, or Christians in need in their own country? In God's eyes, to help the unsaved overseas (or at home) in His Name, whilst ignoring the real needs of the saved, is tantamount to blasphemy. This also applies to the use we make of church buildings.

It may be claimed that we do not know of Christians in need. Then look closer! Often, there are Christians in need within our own churches. Then why don't they make their needs known? This writer has personal experience of such need: when the need was made known, it was immediately regretted, for the persons who were told merely told him to 'pray about it'! His need was left unaided and he was thus greatly troubled by many pressures. Few Christians will admit to needing help, because of the status given to them by others. They prefer to suffer in silence than to be met with the stone-faces of their uncaring brethren, who prefer to give to the unsaved in other countries or, to church schemes involving the community at large.

Furthermore, in many cases, local Christians may require constant support; giving an occasional gift abroad is not the same as showing real Christian concern on a local, continuous basis! We must always be aware of who is in need within Christian circles (not necessarily within our own church, re the Macedonian gifts of money). Their plight must be given first priority. One of the best such helps to be conceived was a home for the infirm elderly members of the church I was attending. But, it came to nothing. Yet, it should have been given top priority! We must look after our own.

So, a 'Community Church' is an error. There is a 'local church in the community', but that's as far as it can go. Does this mean we must not help those in the community? No, it does not. Does it mean we must not offer our buildings for suitable community works? No, it does not. Does it mean the unsaved must not be made welcome if they enter our buildings? No, it does not. Does it mean we must not help those in poor countries? No, it does not. What it means is that before we give help to the unsaved, we must take care of our own. It means that there is no such thing as a 'Community Church', unless the community it refers to is 100% Christian!

© July 1993

Published on

Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom