A New View of Church:
Why Does Fellowship Seem a Little Different
from Other Churches?
Simple: the universal truth: “Form Follows Function.”
What?! What does “Form Following Function” got to do with being a church?
Everything. One doesn’t drink coffee out of a bathtub, or take a bath in a coffee cup. One doesn’t use a dustpan to sweep dust onto a broom. One doesn’t use a nail to pound a hammer into two pieces of wood in order to bind the two pieces of wood together. One drinks coffee out of a coffee cup. One takes a bath in a bathtub. One uses a broom to sweep dust onto a dustpan. One uses a hammer to pound a nail into two blocks of wood to bind them together. Typically in life, forms are designed, or take a particular shape, for a particular purpose or function.
While these examples may seem ridiculously obvious, ponder how even with respect to something as simple as footwear, “form still follows function.”
Who wants to run or play sports in high heels? Or trudge miles in the snow in your slippers? Or swim with fishing waders on? Or fight fires while wearing swimming fins (now that would be a funny sight)? No way!
Fins were designed for propelling a swimmer through the water; slippers to relax in; fishing waders to wade out where the fish are; high heels…well…I am not sure about high heels. Obviously there is something about height and fashion or attraction. Bottom line: each footwear form has its function. Shoes or forms are determined by their function or purpose.
I could go on and on, pens, paper, chairs, beds, wheels, tires, cars, stoves, refrigerators, shirts, dresses, socks, hats, caps, t-shirts, blankets, sheets, washers, dryers, plates, forks, spoons, knives, coats, sweaters, pants, fingers, hands, eyes, toes, ears, the brain, bones, nerve cells, the heart, the kidney, highways, stoplights, light switches, doors, windows, televisions, computers, radios, mp3 players, phones, cell phones, lamps, pillows, suitcases, purses, wallets, dressers, closets, bathrooms, restrooms, living rooms, sinks, disposals, waste cans, pantries, garages, sidewalks, streets, baskets, hair berets, hair brushes, scissors, combs, lotions, shampoos, squeeze tubes, glass bottles, backpacks, park benches, buses, pick up trucks, Mac trucks, race cars, family vans, sports utility vehicles, jets, passenger jets, space shuttles, kitchen cabinets, garage door openers, door handles, picture frames, knobs, handles, locks, keys, chains, ropes, water, oxygen, air, grass, trees, livestock, flowers, pets, bees, birds, fish, bearings, pistons, rods, saws, screwdrivers, nail guns, fishing rods, hooks, fishing bait, various types of sport balls—footballs, soccer balls, basketballs, baseballs, tennis balls, golf balls–eye glasses, contacts, sun glasses, pacemakers, MRI diagnostic machines, IV’s, various types of scopes, drills, cans, plastic wrap, checkout counters, signs, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, milk, soft drinks, energy drinks, medicines, vaccines…do I need to go on?
All the above are simply forms that were designed or created with a specific function in mind. Everything or form in life has a purpose or function. The same is true of the form referred to in Scripture as the church. The church is a form, just like a hammer, a nail, a broom, a coffee cup, a bath tub are all forms, each created for a specific purpose or function in mind. Therefore, since the church is a form like everything else is a form, the question naturally arises: what is the church’s purpose or function? In the mind of God, what was the church originally designed to accomplish and why is this function so critical to God’s plan?
And why is this so important? Again, one can use the hammer as a nail to bind wood, or the bathtub to drink coffee out of, but neither were designed with these functions in mind. In other words, the bath tub makes a poor coffee cup and the hammer makes for a poor binder of wood. The tub is something stationary and is designed to hold something larger, preferably a human being and a liquid, water, and even more than just water, but hot water, so that the person taking the bath can wash him or herself off with the hot water, thereby cleansing the skin of its sweat, dirt and grime.
In other words, just as it would be ridiculous to try to take a bath in a coffee cup, without knowing its purpose, a purposeless church may end up doing what it wasn’t created for.
Well then, someone could remark, “Isn’t it obvious what a church’s purpose is?”
Maybe. Maybe not. What do you think the church’s purpose is?
One might answer to help people grow closer to God. And that’s not a bad answer. It makes sense to me. I am not sure where this comes from, but it comes from somewhere—perhaps religious tradition, perhaps one’s church upbringing from childhood, perhaps from some minister or evangelist, perhaps this is what one has just been observed from having attended various churches or having watched a religious service on television? Perhaps, for some, it even comes from the Bible?
But if this is the purpose, then several more questions evolve? 1) How is the church doing in accomplishing its purpose or function, and 2) why are there so many different types or forms of churches and denominations? Are there many ways to God? Or it is a matter of different strokes for different folks? 3) And why do all these churches look or appear to be so different at times? 4) And much like shower as compared to a bathtub, a coffee cup with a lid to hold its heat in, a screw with threads over a compression nail, a vacuum cleaner or mop over a broom and dustpan, a nail gun over a hammer, a car over a horse and carriage, a truck or jet over a car, are there certain forms, tools or truths that work better than others? And can churches improve at their purpose? Can churches get better at their purpose? 5) And where does ritual, tradition and Scriptures come into play with respect to a church’s purpose? 6) And can churches look different from culture to culture?
Other questions that also arise are: Do churches have to be boring? Does the music need to be old? Can a band replace a choir? Can discussion replace lecture? Or audio-visual technology replace books? What role do the Scriptures play in the church? When should a church meet and how often? On Sundays? On Sunday mornings? Can a church meet in a home? How big or small does a church need to be? Does size matter? Can a church be led by someone that does function in a professional capacity, such as priest or minister versus a lay minister or leader? Can a woman be a priest or minister? Who makes the decisions for the church? How does a church support itself?
As the questions begin to pile up, an astute observer might begin to re-ask her or himself, “Just what is a church and what is its purpose?” If I am going to belong, participate or become involved in this thing, or form called a church, and get everything out of it that I am supposed to get from it, maybe Joe (that’s me) is right? Perhaps understanding just what a church is, starting from the beginning, and grasping just what it was designed for, might be helpful, because after all, many who have either grown up in church, left the church, become disenchanted with the church or come back to the church, have often tried many various churches out, looking for the one that works for them. In addition, they have all had various, and perhaps even, negative experiences with the church. Perhaps the clues to many a lost sojourner’s unsuccessful attempts to fit within the modern church lies within the lack of understanding, by both church-seeker and church-organizer, of the biblical purpose of a church. Perhaps if they knew just exactly what the church’s purpose is, then just perhaps they might find the church that works for them, or better yet, fearing that the perfect church might not exist out there, they might figure out how to connect to, fit in with, serve or get one’s spiritual needs met in a less-than-perfect church.
With the universal law that “Form Follows Function” not only applies to everything else in the universe, but the church as well, and perhaps that understanding the church’s purpose or function might just enlighten or heighten my church experience, we go back to the beginning. We go back to the source to not only define a church, but its purpose as well.
And just perhaps, as we attempt to answer these two questions, the answers to all our other questions might reveal themselves as well. And in fact, might not the exploration of these questions and answers have an even greater tangible impact in our lives. For if God did create the church and for a specific purpose and the purpose the Scriptures will seem to espouse, then when it is done well, might not the church change us as well? Might not a biblically-directed, well-purposed church just be the godly vessel, tool or form that man has been searching for to have a meaningful and well-lived life—a life that honors and pleases our Creator and Redeemer.
A Healthy Rethinking of “Church”
One of the goals of this study is to help you rethink your understanding of the church in light of what the New Testament says about a church as opposed to what you may have experienced or observed from culture and tradition.
After this class or study, one should be able to take the biblical purpose and environment of a church anyplace in the world — to join and help serve in a church, or even to help start a new one or renew an old one.
This study intends to be timeless in its biblical content.