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The institutional church, reimagined

Series: The Church in Highlights
‘The institutional church as we know it today is not only ineffective, but it’s also without biblical merit.’ That’s quite a statement, but it is one of the phrases I highlighted as I was reading through Frank Viola’s book, Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity.

Almost all my reading nowadays is by means of my Kindle and when I highlight passages they are uploaded to my account at Amazon and I can review them online. As I was reading through these the other day It occurred to me that you might be interested in some of my highlights from books I have been reading recently, so in this blog series I am reproducing some of these highlights along with brief comments.

I read the first half of Reimagining Church quite some time ago but then I got waylaid with something else and  only returned to complete reading it a couple of weeks ago. A lot of the book is focused on showing the shortcomings in what Viola calls the ‘institutional church’.  He clarifies what he means by this with the statement that ‘the church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual organism, not an institutional organization’ and that ‘properly conceived, the church is the gathered community that shares God’s life and expresses it in the earth. Put another way, the church is the earthly image of the triune God’.

I highlighted the following because I thought it captured what the author has in mind when he writes of organic rather than institutional church. ‘Because the church is truly a spiritual organism, its DNA never changes. It’s the same biological entity yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As such, the DNA of the church will always reflect these four elements:

  • It will always express the headship of Jesus Christ in His church as opposed to the headship of a human being. (I’m using the term “headship” to refer to the idea that Christ is both the authority and the source of the church.)
  • It will always allow for and encourage the every-member functioning of the body.
  • It will always map to the theology that’s contained in the New Testament, giving it visible expression on the earth.
  • It will always be grounded in the fellowship of the triune God. The Trinity is the paradigm informing us on how the church should function. It shows us that the church is a loving, egalitarian, reciprocal, cooperative, nonhierarchical community’. He continues a little further on with, ‘The DNA of the church produces certain identifiable features. Some of them are the experience of authentic community, a familial love and devotion of its members to one another, the centrality of Jesus Christ, the native instinct to gather together without static ritual, the innate desire to form deep-seated relationships that are centered on Christ, the internal drive for open-participatory gatherings, and the loving impulse to display Jesus to a fallen world’.
I would be interested to read how you respond to Viola’s four elements of a church’s spiritual DNA – why don’t you comment on this blog?

In my next post I will continue with highlights that reflect a second major theme of the book.
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Christopher Peppler



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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.