The first book I received after my conversion was Loving God by Charles Colson (Zondervan: 1987). My oldest brother gave it to me to fertilize my freshly sown faith. It retains a special place on my shelf as a fantastic introduction (and extension) to the Christian life. Colson is an able story teller who weds truth to experience in unexpected ways (note to pastors: sermon illustrations abound!). Whether or not you agree with Colson about everything, you can be sure of one thing: Loving God is a great tool on which to cut newly converted teeth.
In reviewing the book recently I was struck again by the following excerpt (pp196-97):
It is the nature of man to organize. Probably since the Tower of Babel we have been setting up hierarchies, organizational flow charts, orders of authority, and all the other structural schemes dreamed up through the ages. The more advanced the civilization, the more refined the organizational schemes.
However, though structures are essential to hold society together, they are there to serve, not be served. The marvels of modern technology have produced a sophistication in systems and structures that encourages what Jacques Ellul, the French historian, calls ‘the political illusion,’ the misguided belief that all problems can be solved by structures – namely, institutions. So for each new problem, a new institution is created.
Unfortunately this mentality has invaded the church, and we treat it as a structure (and just another one of many in society at that) dependent on charts and manuals and plans and computer print-outs.
But the true church is not held together by any structure man creates; it is not an organization. It is alive, its life breathed into it by a sovereign God. Its heart beats with God’s heart. It is one with Him and moves as His Spirit moves – where he chooses and often against the designs of man.
The life function of this living organism is to love the God who created it – to care for others out of obedience to Christ, to heal those who hurt, to take away fear, to restore community, to belong to one another, to proclaim the Good News while living it out. The church is the invisible made visible.
The invisible made visible. Calvin introduced the idea of the invisible and visible church. While the distinction may in fact be, we should be always striving to close the gap between them.