from

CLUB-LIKE CHURCH
to

RELATIONAL CHURCH

Marius Potgieter

Vol 1

FROM CLUB-LIKE CHURCH TO RELATIONAL CHURCH
Marius Potgieter
... that which they (the faithful) have in common is precisely no “thing”, no “it”, but a “he”, Christ and His Holy Spirit. ... as the body of Christ it (the Church) has nothing to do with an organization and has nothing of the character of the institutional about it. Emil Brunner

Chapter 1:

The Club-like Church

Although most christians are unaware of it, the great majority of churches (and congregations or assemblies) do not conform to the Biblical pattern for the “ekklesia” of Jesus Christ. Most churches have the distinct characteristics of a social club which is in essence people forming an organisation around shared interests and opinions. Doctrinal agreement had played a major róle in the history of the church: those who did not toe the line were seen as heretics and excluded. In modern times the style of worship also plays a róle: people who are dissatisfied with a certain style of worship, quit the specific church. Church members share a lot of things that are determined by tradition or “that is how we always did it”-style. Through the centuries the church came under the influence of a worldly pattern of thought: e.g. there must be leaders that can manage all the affairs; there must be money to finance the activities and pay the officials; more paying members need to be canvassed in order to meet the financial requirements; marketing becomes necessary to reach more people; for marketing a brand-name must be established; etc. As a result of the fact that there are competitive “clubs” in the same domain, the primary focus of the “club” is almost always exclusively directed inwardly – to enhance the acceptability and competitive edge of the specific church. Let us focus on the specific characteristics of the club-like church and compare that to the aspects that Scripture shows to be decisive for the life and efficiency of Christ’s ecclesia or the Biblical church. Denomination The church is denominational. “nomen” meaning “name”. What does it mean? The word is derived from Latin

It is an organisation that delimits itself from others, especially through a distinctive name and on such grounds as doctrine and style of worship. Delimitation however, nearly always leads to division. Through the ages people’s idea of church was connected to the notion that the truth of doctrines binds people together as church. Before the reformation the truth was simple there was only one church in the western world. After the reformation a problem arose:

the reformers called the Roman Catholic Church a false church and now there were two churches, the true and the false, depending on which side you stood. The problem became worse because the reformation (although unintentionally) was directly and indirectly the reason for the formation of numerous churches that functioned as exclusive denominations. One congregation or church views itself as different from others and its existence must be justified. It must therefore establish and maintain the specific character and actions that distinguishes it from other churches. A tradition or culture then starts to form around these specific, distinctive traits, which makes it virtually impossible to work with other churches or to make unity a reality. Delimitation is therefore the one outstanding characteristic of the denominational church: it delimits itself from the "world" (whatever that might mean to any specific church) and it delimits itself from other churches. Different degrees of unacceptability are being applied to other denominations: in this way there is being distinguished between sects with serious heresies and churches with minor theological errors. There can be dialogue with some but unity is impossible! The amalgamation of two churchlike "clubs" will certainly destroy the existence of at least one of the two. To sidestep the biblical message of one church, some theologians argued for the plurality of the church. This means that unity must be understood as a spiritual unity which can only be a matter of faith - because of our differences unity can not be experienced in this broken world. The real problem, however, lies in the club-like structure of the church as we know it – if this does not change, unity will never be expressed or experienced. True church unity is impossible in a denominational structure. Personal and social needs The basis upon which people join a denomination (congregation), is personal needs that have to be met. Even though we speak of "spiritual" needs, the club-like church exists primarily to meet and satisfy personal and social needs of individuals. People need love and attention during difficult and crisis times such as death or disease. Through the ages, the natural development of a person was embedded in religion, with special attention to transitional thresholds: • • • • • the christening of babies is the birth rite; the confirmation is the coming of age ritual; the church wedding is the marital ritual; the confession and (in protestant circles) pastoral visit, is a ritual of social accompaniment; the last anointing and the funeral are the exit rituals.

The club-like church is expected to care for its members on a social-spiritual level. Furthermore the club-like church acts as a non-governmental organisation with a welfare function that must care for those in need. It must be remembered that the community of believers is of necessity a caring community. Ever since the Biblical age the ecclesia (the Greek word “ekklesia” is translated as “church” or “congregation”) has cared for each other and has also spread care to the broader community outside the (often small and closed) circle. That was, however, a relational structure with family-type relations and not an institution which formally guided and supported people through official and paid officebearers. It was not a welfare function, but rather a ministry of compassion.

The club-like church is also seen as responsible for the creation and maintenance of ethical norms and values in society; sin is pointed out through preaching and social action is encouraged. In some communities the church often becomes a fighter for the rights and views of a specific social group or for the defence of culture or cultural norms. All these functions point to one important aspect: these viewpoints cause the majority of congregations to focus on their own members and are therefore inwardly directed. That makes it difficult to focus on the world and actively and purposefully spread the Lord's love. Furthermore, often only people of the same social class are included, even people without a real personal relationship with Christ. In that way, the church becomes a spiritual club of which the office bearers (especially the full time minister) have to care for their own church members and have little or no time available to attend to other people. This attitude strengthens the exclusivity of the club-like character because the successful satisfaction of specific needs attracts people with those needs to a specific church and sub-consciously (in most cases) alienates other people. Spiritual life The club-like church is an additional social facet of people’s lives - it is something extra, outside or adjacent to normal life. Like any other club, the club-like church does not occupy a person's whole life - only the so-called “spiritual” aspects are influenced. It is a general perception amongst church members that the spiritual aspects are the invisible things such as the spiritual world of God and the angels, church services and other church functions, the Bible, prayer, etc. The “spiritual” is separated from the natural life, the normal life. This seriously restricts the influence of the church in society. This re-inforces the perception that the church has no real understanding of the normal person and his daily life with all its problems and battles - they are only busy with “pie in the sky”. Many people believe that the pastors or ministers are full-time occupied with spiritual things and have no real insight into the normal world. On the other hand, more and more people become uncomfortable in the church or become unchurched in modern times. In a sense the church becomes redundant. The most important reason for this is probably the fact that the traditional church does not satisfy the real needs of people anymore. The world we live in and the needs of people have changed so much that the church no longer addresses the needs of modern society and especially those of the younger person. It is understandable in the case of a person who does not live in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. There are, however, many committed believers, re-born people who choose to live without a “church” and who still sincerely want to serve the Lord. Seen from the perspective of the true Biblical ecclesia of Jesus Christ, it is impossible for a true believer to be outside the church. Like the Roman Catholic Church, the protestant reformers have clung to the view that there is no salvation outside of the true church: a person can not live in a faith relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and at the same time separate him/herself from the community of believers (see the Belgian Confession, Art 28). We have to be careful not, as was so easily done in the past, to identify the church in the reformers’ confession with the denominational church of today. They saw the congregation as a “collection” or “meeting”, but these words did not mean public worship. What they meant was the relational unity of life amongst believers on the basis of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

One of the core problems is the influence of a dualistic worldview which separates the “natural” and the “spiritual” (nature and grace) and see it as two different worlds. This is a cultural development which dominated the whole Western-European way of thinking and which greatly influenced the protestant church after the reformation. In the past it did not have such a confusing or negative influence. In the post-modern world, however, this unbiblical principle causes alienation; people’s lives are not being touched by the “spiritual” church anymore and therefore they do not feel at home. Building and meeting centered We find that in the club-like church, the meeting place (church building) and the bigger congregational meetings (public worship) are the focal points of church life and these determine the character of the specific congregation. The church building is called the “church” and is the visible locality where the invisible congregation gets a visible form. That is the central point of the congregation's activities and therefore gets an all-important value. No wonder that the church building very often plays the róle of a cultic temple and is often called “the house of the Lord”. The worship service is seen as a “meeting” with God and the liturgy follows a form of dialogue: God speaks to his people and they answer Him. In the worship service the actual transference of God’s saving and edifying grace takes place: that is where sin is forgiven when people repent; thére they hear what God says to them through the “message” ... That is where (according to the Calvinistic approach) the sealing of the covenant takes place through baptism and holy communion becomes a covenant meal which is a sign and a seal of the reality of God’s grace in Christ. That is where the inherited sin is washed from babies through christening and the body and blood of Christ becomes reality in the mass so that people can be saved from judgement (Roman Catholic approach). The use of rituals and symbols has to help believers to experience spiritual realities. The cathedrals were built with high vaulted domes, coloured lead glass windows, huge organs and an altar in the apsis. Church buildings are mostly designed with the purpose of giving expression to invisible truths: a high steeple shows the alignment to God; the pulpit and liturgical space is central and placed in such a way that that all eyes can be focused there; cross motives and other ornaments are used. During the worship service there are rituals, e.g. moments of silence after one has entered; the entering of the church council members and the liturgist pronouncing a greeting with extended hand. In our country it is important for people to dress neatly and appropriately for this meeting with the Holy God. The liturgist's clothing must point him out as the priest-like figure who facilitates this conversation between God and man. The idea is that one cannot grow in one's faith without the worship service. In recent times the theological accent has shifted somewhat so that the “worship service of life” is also mentioned, but then as a continuation of the cultic worship service which is the centre of congregational life. In the holy Scriptures we find a different viewpoint. In the Old Testament, the larger temple played a national-cultic role. The Jews went there for big festivals. The temple area was probably the centre for the busy social and business life in Jerusalem. No meetings actually took place inside the temple, as only the priests were allowed inside. Except for the cultic ceremonies of the different sacrifices and the regular feasts at the temple the real service to Jahwe took place within the Jewish family where Jahwe was worshipped and prayed to. There the exodus was regularly commemorated and the children raised in the fear of God. In the heart of the (extended) family, the sabbath was celebrated weekly, the Passover was celebrated every year and circumcision was performed.

God's people in the Old Testament did not adhere to a liturgical order during their “worship services”. Neither did the New Testament believers have worship services like we are accustomed to. No sign of a liturgical order is found anywhere in the Bible. Though the early church had adopted some elements of the synagogue, the meetings in the synagogues were not meant to be worship services, but were aimed at teaching but they eventually developed a cultic meaning. Worship services as such are obviously not wrong; and the church building is a practical resource. The fairly general accent on worship services in the church building as the essence of church life, however, does not come from the Word of God. It has a cultural origin. Leadership The axis around which the survival of the club-like church revolves, is the leadership. In the high church tradition, the parishes are like branch offices of a big business and the bishop or higher office plays an extremely important róle. In the protestant congregations, the minister/pastor is usually the chairman of the club, who functions like the managing director of a big business. The growth and welfare of the congregation depends on his personality and influence to a great extent. Through the years, specific expectations have developed around the person and the work of the minister or pastor. In short, he has to manage the congregation and has to exceed in all areas of his ministerial work, be it preaching, liturgy, management, pastoral visits, pastorate for the sick and dying, marriage counselling, evangelism, prayer, etc. He must always be available to everyone. It takes an exceedingly gifted person with an extraordinary personality/temperament to meet all those expectations. Furthermore, the expectations of church members as well as the church system, demand that from such a person must have excellent interpersonal skills. Because there are very few people like this available for this task, most ministers/pastors don't feel that they can meet these expectations and this often leads to frustration and burn-out. In a club-like organisation there are always socially explainable phenomena like group forming and internal fights. This also applies in a denominational church. To survive, ministers/pastors also make use of different forms of church politics: they try to win the favour of people who stand out as opinion makers in the congregation. They will often lobby to get certain decisions from church council meetings or to achieve certain positions in the church hierarchy. Truth often has to bow before opportunism. The most obvious sign that churches have a club-like character, is the fact that the minister has a formal position and functions as an official. In some denominations people have to apply for posts and are approved, not on the basis of their spiritual gifts, but on their general suitability for the “job”. In these cases there are also a job description which is adhered to and according to which the work is judged; the problem, of course, is that the visible performance of the leader is not judged by the inconspicuous aspects like prayer, preparation and study. The fact that a pastor receives a salary and other benefits is another sign that we are dealing with a worldly organisation, a spiritual club. This perception that the minister is a “spiritual leader”, comes from the unbiblical perception of hierarchical leadership. This has great adverse consequences for the church, of which the most important is the fact that the real Leader, Jesus Christ, is hidden behind certain people “acting on his behalf”. People say that Jesus is the Head of the church, but in reality the minister is expected to have all these supernatural characteristics and performance, which can really only be done by Christ. The argument that the leadership of Christ is delegated to the office bearers like the minister, bishop or pope is

an idea which is already found in the early Roman Catholic theology but is definitely not in accordance with the message of the Bible. Structural unity As in any club, there is often a heavy emphasis on and an urgent search for “unity” in the congregation. The members have to feel that they form a part of the congregation/church and they must be loyal. Unfortunately this “'unity” is structural, which differs totally from the unity which the body finds in its Head and his ministry. An “esprit de corps” has to be built which will inspire everybody and which will ensure that the church will please people and which will attract newcomers through the experience of unity and contentment. One symptom of this approach is the intolerance with regards to the variety of opinions and ministries. The management (church council) tends to exercise strict control over everything that happens in the congregation in order to stop or get a firm grip on anything that is out of the ordinary. Even church members not serving on the church council but with influence in the community, often exert control which prevents the existence of openness to other viewpoints or ministries. In the broader church life the councils like the synods also exert control; this is theologically justified by the argument that these councils have authority which was given them by God. What is seldom heard is that there is no other authority in the ecclesia that the authority of the living Word, Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures – only to the extent that these councils bow themselves under that authority may they speak on the grounds of what the Scripture teaches with the authority of Jesus, the Head of his ecclesia. Another symptom which makes this aspect visible is the unwritten rule that the congregation has to be served as a whole. Everybody has to be treated in the same way; there is often little or no leeway for the office bearers to serve each of those believers who are on different levels of spiritual growth in a different way. Every year, everyone has to receive a pastoral visit; every opportunity should be available to everybody. Everyone should be motivated morally and otherwise to be involved in everything. This “everybody” principle causes them to be program-driven, which becomes less and less attractive. Members fall away and leave because they are not motivated to participate in the activities which, as power abusers put it, is expected from them by “the Lord”. To be a successful congregation, a corporate vision and mission is formulated with specific goals which have to be reached. More often than not, these goals have not been tested against the message of the Word of God. To have a congregation function as a unity, it is absolutely necessary to have a leader. This task is normally given to the minister/pastor; in contrast to what the Scripture states, the function of the minister has been degraded, yet overloaded with unbiblical content. “Pastor” and his wife have to see to it that the ship stays on course in accordance with the expectations of the club members. In the club-like church the main goal is often the creation of a parish pride. Unfortunately, that draws the focus away from the kingdom of God: the Kingdom is rather understood as a grand organisation and structure in stead of a personal and collective life of obedience to the King. In practice that often means that the congregation or church becomes more important than God’s Kingdom. Imperialism the clubmentality is a dividing factor; the club-like character is the reason why church unity will never become a reality. Outreach is canvassing (mostly among members from

other churches). This becomes a form of church imperialism which produces strain between churches and does not serve God's Kingdom. Clubs that operate on the same sphere most of the time see each other as opponents and feel threatened. Especially when finances call the tune, other clubs cannot be supported or encouraged because it can mean the downfall of such a club. The same happens between churches with a club-like structure: there are subtle (and less subtle) ways of maintaining or expanding membership numbers at the expense of others. "Sheep stealing" is not an incomprehensible sin, but an inevitable effect of the club-like character. There are a lot of vested interests that have to be protected. Where a congregation focuses on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus makes the true character of the church visible, we find the church growing spontaneously. Organised outreach or canvassing is not necessary. The natural inclination is to canvas members from other churches to help them understand “the Truth” or to supply a “spiritual home” for their specific needs. At the same time it strengthens the membership and increases the specific church's income - both aspects that would help to ensure survival. It does sometimes happen that clubs reach agreements between themselves. In any case there is always an underlying agreement between the various congregations of the same denomination not to overstep boundary lines. It does, however, happen (in recent times more regularly, thank the Lord) that churches realise that they must work together for the Kingdom of God and not for their own kingdoms; in spite of the tension between churches, agreements to work together are reached. This would have been so much easier if the club-like-character and its inevitable effects were removed. People seldom understand why church unity is such an insurmountable problem. In a unification process between churches with a club-like character there are always winners and losers - and congregations with a specific tradition are not prepared to easily surrender that which it holds dear. Often the motive for unity is not scriptural - it is about the strengthening of the church and to achieve a greater influence in society instead of being Jesus for the world through the attitude of a servant. One must not superficially try to find structural unity in the church. If it could somehow become a reality, it would be false in any case. The unity of Jesus' church, the ecclesia, is a given; it is a reality. There is no need to find it; it can only be expressed. This unity must be lived and it will only occur spontaneously when our relationship with God in Christ, with the world and with fellow-believers are realities. The life of the ecclesia should spontaneously give expression to this (like a tree bearing fruit) and opportunities for experiencing this unity must be utilised.

Chapter 2: ECCLESIA, THE RELATIONAL CHURCH
The greatest majority of churches have a club-like character which is clearly not the character of Jesus' ecclesia. Quite a number of Biblical principles for the ecclesia are missing or twisted. To name a few: First principle: Ecclesia is a way of life The ecclesia is not something that is added to one's life; it is inherently part of the life of the believer. It is the way in which believers live together under the rule of God our King. In the Old Testament the Israelites did not join a “church” - they were obviously part of God’s People. In the New Testament, believers became part of a new family and nation, because they were turned out of their Jewish families as well as the Jewish nation. The ecclesia is the new social life of the believer; it is a spiritual family who live together and not something he/she can “join”. No one can become a member of the ecclesia because membership already implies a club-like institution. A person gets born into the family of God. You become part of the body of Christ or, as another metaphor puts it, you get inoculated onto the vine. A person does not join, but is joined to the others by the Lord and this happens through our unity with Jesus. We become united to Him and we are therefore a limb (not a member) of His body (not an organization). Neither can a person “resign” from the ecclesia - just as you cannot resign from your own family. A membership certificate is in conflict with the essence of the ecclesia; the early church knew nothing about this; there was only an introductory letter which was given to the believer so that the other believers would know he was not a spy but a fellow-believer and a part of God's family. It is totally wrong to see “Confirmation” or “Induction” or even baptism as obtaining membership of the congregation. In the early church new converts from paganism were baptised in the presence of other believers to confirm that they now had a new life in Jesus and that they were now part of God's family. Children of believing parents would most probably have stated their own beliefs when they reached adulthood - not to become members, but to declare that from now on they will as adults fulfill their own responsibilities. Children do not become part of God’s people through baptism; as children of believers they are God’s property through birth, and baptism is a sign and surety of that. They do not as yet, have a personal relationship with the King, but this will develop as they grow in understanding and in maturity within the faith community. Ecclesia is a lifestyle - it embraces the whole life of believer: *The foundation of the ecclesia is the relationship between God and the believers in Christ. Because you are part of Christ, and because He is the Head of the body, you are bound to the ecclesia night and day. You can never escape it. *The goal of the ecclesia hinges around the relationship of the believers with the world; it is to make Jesus' concrete, practical love visible to people who are in need; furthermore, to make God's Kingdom visible in all the different spheres of life where we work or play. *The existence of the ecclesia is through the relationship of fellow believers with each other as the body of Christ. This is supposed to be a continuous supporting and formative relationship between believers – not only when they are gathered but also when they are busy with their normal life. Second principle: Personal relationships

It is impossible to be a part of the ecclesia without belonging to a spiritual household with intimate relationships, an “extended” spiritual family and a spiritual nation. For the Biblical ecclesia close personal relationships between believers is essential and not just optional. In the club-like church, it is an extra which one can do without. The ecclesia is a covenant church. It is purposely different from the club-like church: there is no possibility of it being an impersonal or formal organization. It is inseparable from the person of Jesus Christ, and (through personal relationships) with fellow-believers who form part of his Body. Considering that significant relationships can only be possible amongst a limited number of people, the intimate relationships within the spiritual family is essential for the existence and functioning of the ecclesia. We are not speaking about the occasional social contact, as theologians often interpret “koinonia”; it is often seen only as additional support for church members, but not as an essential aspect of ecclesia. Neither does the idea most theologians have about “koinonia” imply a commitment; it is seen as superficial social contact. The covenant binds people together as a nation of the Lord God; the building blocks of this nation are the spiritual families of brothers and sisters who are bound together by God often unlikely associations of people that one would not normally expect. They do not choose one another, but are chosen for each other – just as in a natural family. They have the wonderful experience of being unconditionally accepted - just as in a normal natural family. They take responsibility for each other, despite how they may feel about each other; they exhibit Christ’s serving love towards each other, which is not emotional or sentimental love in the first instance. The spiritual family is the basis of the ecclesia; this is where things happen. Every believer is called and is equipped (together with the others) to make God's love practically visible, to accept His reign as Lord and to live in obedience. The ecclesia has no evangelical outreach program but every spiritual family is involved in people’s lives as representatives of Jesus Christ - and the Lord uses this lifestyle to bring people to faith in Him. People who are being born again are accepted as babies who have to be fed and nurtured. The ecclesia thus has no follow-up programme, but is a relational structure which normally accompanies new believers along their path with Christ. Believers must be prepared for the life of faith; this is not an unusual or strange life - it is the normal life, but in full time service of God and His Kingdom. Third principle: Unity The unity of the ecclesia is anchored in God. Because there is only one God and King, so the believers are one new people. There is no instruction in Scripture for believers to become one but only to be one, to experience the unity that exists. There is just one people in God, and this unity can only be experienced as believers start to think of church in a different way - they should understand ecclesia as a way of life and not a club-like organisation. The unity of a nation mainly exists in having the same ancestors and culture. It is also true of God’s people, his new nation; we have the same Father, because we are born of Him, and we develop a new kingdom culture of love and obedience. What are the requirements to be part of Gods people? None; we can do nothing to become part of God's people. We can only believe, that is to trust God and accept what He has done for us.

What are the characteristics? Only one: a double birth - one of flesh and one of the Spirit (John 3: 5-6). A water birth points to a natural birth in which we all have part, and birth by the Holy Spirit points to the second birth in which those who believe in Jesus have their part. Citizenship in the nation of God cannot come through naturalisation, only through birth. The time has arrived for us to realise that people who do not have a relationship with God in Christ cannot be regarded as part of the nation of God, the ecclesia. There is an unholy patience with people in the church who do not wish to serve the Lord. These are most likely the ones who usually criticise the way a congregation should operate because the club-like church is regarded as a democracy! Apart from our unity through our new birth, we also have the same “culture” i.e. a value system and manner of behaviour that shows God's practical Lordship over our lives. Normally this unity is not seen because the difference between the children of God and other people is not visible enough. Because the kingdom-lifestyle is not seen in believers’ day to day lives, the focus is shifted to the differences between the denominations. Faction fighting often starts, because christians tend to fight each other, instead of the actual enemy, satan and his cohorts. Of course doctrine and other differences play a part. Differences, however, especially in conviction and experience do not cancel unity and does not imply that certain people are not part of God's people. Differences should never be used to separate, but to strengthen. Like a family, believers should accept each other and tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies. Unity is not similarity. Should the ecclesia not be watchful for false doctrine? Of course; in the Scriptures doctrine is an indication of the believers' whole life including his thoughts and deeds. It does not mean separate “truths” as such (Titus 2). It is precisely within the religious community with its diversity that such doctrine can be tested and corrected. How can someone be helped and moulded, if such a person with whom we might differ is forced out to go and join "another church". Unity does not mean that we must always agree on everything, but to live in love and truth with one another with the mind of Christ. Because it is a Kingdom, we are all called to serve God and be obedient to Him. It implies a living relationship with Him so that we can hear and obey His loving instructions. If obedience born from love is lacking, then compassionate discipline by the Christian community must set in. If persistent resistance to the Lord is visible, a question mark as to the person’s regeneration by the Holy Spirit will arise. In the long run, the Holy Spirit will in any case change the life of a believer because his renewing work can not be resisted and the “good tree” (the new life of Christ planted in the believer) will in any case bear good fruit. The Belgian Confession states: "It is therefore impossible that this holy faith will not bring anything forth in a person …" (Art. 24). Unity does not mean that there will be no conflict and only peace. Fourth principle: The calling of God is the deepest reason Although God knows our deepest needs, and wants to fulfil them through Christ and his victory, what we want cannot be the basis on which the ecclesia functions. In the first place, we normally don't know our deepest needs - it is only our Father who knows us so well. He has, in his Love, already blessed us with all His heavenly blessings that we receive through Jesus Christ. We must accept this promise in faith and start to live in these blessings.

Secondly, the believers' old sinful nature continues to play a role (which is nothing else than a deep seated need to have control over one’s own life). That for which man yearns, is often the opposite to what which our Father in His wisdom wants for us. A church that is built on man's selfish desires, loses its character as an ecclesia of God and becomes a dangerous, self-destructive body. It becomes an image bearer of the devil, instead of a portrait of God's unselfish, serving love. In society there is a general perception that the church is a "hospital" where peoples’ inner hurts and struggles over life’s problems should receive attention. It is the task of the office bearer, e.g. the pastor to help and to console. This is contrary to God’s will. The existence of the ecclesia does not depend on the members’ needs, but on the calling of God. This calling is that believers will represent Him: the unconditional love of Christ must be lived and seen. The whole world now becomes the "hospital" where the healing and comforting presence of Jesus Christ becomes visible. This does not happen through the work of the pastors, but through every child of God and every revelation of his body where his love becomes visible. Of course the believer also sometimes needs to be supported and helped through struggles and hurts, and those with pastoral gifts play an important róle. This is, however, a secondary function that strengthens the actual calling of the ecclesia. It is clear that a club-like organisation cannot fulfil this calling. It is only possible where the renewed believer lives in new relationships. Only where the relationship with God has become a lifestyle and only when Jesus’ purposeful life and compassion is lived, can God's purpose be attained. Only when believers support and strengthen one another with practical love, can they be instruments of God. These are the defining elements of a relational church, a covenant church, built on the principles of the Bible. Fifth principle: Forerunner of the Kingdom of God The Kingdom of God is the worldwide government of Christ through the Holy Spirit over people and their society. The ecclesia is the forerunner of the Kingdom of God; it is those people who already recognise the lordship of God and live under Christ’s Sovereign rule. This most important basis is often overlooked in the club-like church. The emphasis is mostly on sectional interests of people and people groups. The club-like church is mostly seen as a “spiritual” organisation that must care for the “spiritual” needs of the members. In this organisation it is the clergy (“spiritual” people) who must do the work at a “spiritual” fee! Not everyone knows what is meant by “spiritual”: some see it as something to do with the soul, and others see it as a need that must be dealt with. In this way the pagan error of dualism is strengthened. The rule of God over the totality of life is slighted by this heresy: God must be satisfied with man’s “religion” – a part of life, like one day out of seven or a tithe. The rest belongs to the individual. One result of this is that the believer's deepest needs can not really be fulfilled. Another result is that the influence of the Kingdom becomes minimal - it is limited to the so called “religious” aspect of life. The representatives of the King are people who have a new life and a new spirit. They know that their life has eternal value and see every experience as an occasion to live the serving love of God in hís strength. They cannot do this alone and are therefore supported and edified by other believers who (together with them) form the body of Jesus.

Despite the misconception and even resistance of people who follow other “kings”, the believers, as Kingdom-people, have an influence in every aspect of life. They are everywhere the salt of the earth that prevent corruption; they are everywhere the light of the world that shine visibly and they live differently to other people. Their values are kingdom values. They live according to the Book - not in a narrow-minded way, as if it is a lot of dead rules, but like people who know the Author and live their life in community with Him every day. They pray every day, "let thy Kingdom come".

14 December 2002