Organic Essence of the Church

There is no mistaking the fact that “organic” is a current buzzword. In contemporary culture, everything is organic. The reality is that everything has always been organic, but recently the world seems to have awakened to this truth. The dictionary defines organic in the following terms:

1. of or involving the basic makeup of a thing; inherent; inborn; constitutional
2. made up of systematically interrelated parts; organized of, having the characteristics of, or derived from living organisms 3. grown with only animal or vegetable fertilizers, as manure, bone meal, compost, etc.

Organic vegetables have nothing added to them. They are allowed to grow in a ‘natural habitat’ or at least in an artificially created environment that is as natural as possible. My current perspective of the church is organic. Organic in the sense that it discards the additives and preservatives that are current attachments of the institutional church and discovers how the living body of Christ might flourish if allowed to live and grow naturally. Some of these institutional elements (non-organic)are current leadership and administrative structures, programs designed to enhance congregational viability and attractiveness, and resources deemed necessary for churches to function, e.g. buildings, educational materials, financial resources, strategies, long range planning, budgets, etc.

These elements nullify much of the organic nature of the church. The church is best understood in ecological terms. At its core, it is designed by God to be organic both in form and substance. Corresponding to the natural order or eco-system, there is a spiritual order, the body of Christ. To aid in understanding the organic nature the church must consider the ecological sphere.

According to the usual definition, “ecology is the scientific study of the relationship between organisms and their environment in their fullest meaning.” Environment is inclusive of physical, biological, and living components that make up an organism’s surroundings. Relationships include the interactions among the various organisms within the physical world of life forms participating together within a given ecosystem.

The term ecology comes from the Greek words oikos, meaning “the family household,” and logy, meaning “the study of.” Literally, ecology is the study of the household. It has the same root word as “economic,” or “management of the household.” We should consider ecology to be the study of the economics of nature.

The major focus of ecology is the ecosystem. Organisms interact within the context of the ecosystem. The eco part of the word relates to the environment. The system is made up of a collection of related parts that function as a unit. A household is a system consisting of interrelated parts and subparts. Within this household are people who live together, extended family members, and other friends and relationships that are in continual interaction as they recreate, eat, sleep, and work together as interacting parts that support the whole. In this regard, all the parts and components of the Church universal together form an entire eco-system. The organisms of this eco-system are the local congregations, denominations, mission groups, and para-church organizations that are components of the larger Church universal eco-system.

A forest is a natural ecosystem. The physical (abiotic) components are the atmosphere, climate, soil, and water. The biotic components include the different plants and animals that inhabit the forest. The relationships are complex as each organism not only responds to the physical environment but also modifies it and in so doing, becomes part of the environment itself.

Scriptural terminology suggests there are similarities between the Church and an organic eco-system. Organic implies that God grows the church using means that correspond with growth in the natural world. This is illustrated in Jesus’ “Parable of the Sower” as recorded in three of the four gospels, regarding the kingdom of God. From this simple parable, we see that Church begins in the fields, where people are.

Nearly all the New Testament metaphors for the kingdom and the Church use natural organic concepts and identities to describe them. Just as God breathed life into all living creatures (Genesis 2:7), He also breathed life into His Church (John 20:21-23; Acts 2).

As Howard Synder states in LIBERATING THE CHURCH

The church in its most fundamental essence is nothing less than an interdependent, life-pulsating people indwelled by the presence of a resurrected and reigning Christ.

Therefore, the Church is an organic life-form designed by the Spirit to give expression to who Jesus is.

The New Testament employs terms like “household of God,” “the people of God,” “the bride of Christ,” and “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” Ninety-six word pictures of the church have been identified in the New Testament. “Yet the image that permeates the New Testament understanding of the church and serves as an umbrella for all other metaphors is that of the church as the body of Christ.”

Because these images are so prevalent in Scripture, it is necessary to comprehend the church realistically and correctly in organic terms. Howard Snyder goes on to suggest that the North American Church is in need of a fundamental paradigm shift in its self-understanding, one that would allow us to view the church as part of God’s economy. He states:

Where the model is the institutional-technical-hierarchical of contemporary pop Christianity, a whole set of assumptions follows which make it difficult to really grasp the New Testament picture of the Church. But where the model is that of the body of Christ, the household of God and the community of God’s people, the door is opened to understand the economy and ecology of God and to see the church as charismatic organism….

To be organic is to possess life. And for the church, that life is spiritual, given by the Holy Spirit. The church as the body of Christ is a living social, spiritual, charismatic organism, it is alive. The central biblical images of the church are all organic and ecological: body, bride, family, vine and branches. Even static “building” and “temple” images become organic: “living stones,” “a growing building,” “a temple animated by the Spirit” (see 1 Peter 2:4-6; Ephesians 2:19-22).

The church is a divine organism mystically fused to the living and reigning Christ who continues to reveal himself in a people whom he has drawn to himself. In all dimensions of life and ministry, the church is designed by God to be essentially organic in function and form.


2 Responses

  1. Hi Rob, the phrase “organic church” actually appears in a number of books prior to the turn of last century, according to the google book archive.

    Back in 1851, as an example, this volume was published: Organic Christianity: Or, The Church of God with Its Officers and Government and Its Divisions by Leicester Ambrose Sawyer – 1854 – 455 pages.

    Godspeed, brother.

  2. Zane,

    Thanks for so much for the information. We so often think we are the first to use certain terminology. How wrong we are.

    Blessings! Rob

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