Island Nations

I may be getting my facts mixed up, but in his best-selling book Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond describes the history and fare of several people groups located in the South Pacific. At least in that book, theirs is the story of non-ascendancy in the face of the continuous, precipitous rise of Western, continental nations. To summarize a 300 page award-winning book in only a few words, they were destined to be conquered because they were isolated. As these islands were settled, they arose to precisely the level of density that the land could support, a level too low to develop specialization, on islands too isolated to acquire technologies in the normal interactions of men. Their first contact with foreigners inevitably came in the form of invaders with vastly superior armaments.

The odd thing about these islands though, is that it was rarely as simple a situation as one nation per island. Sometimes a nation would consist of one island, but it was just as likely to be several kingdoms on a single large island, or an “empire” reaching across an archipelago. This strikes me as remarkably similar to the churches I grew up in.

Sometimes a church consisted of those who met in a single building. Sometimes you’d find an association of churches in a single town who considered themselves fundamentally distinct from other groups of (orthodox, Christian) churches in the same town. Each of these churches, while assiduously refusing to deny the legitimacy of the other groups, nevertheless went about their business as if theirs was the only true church. At the same time, you were likely to find a denomination or movement which claimed member churches in little islands across a whole region. To make another political comparison, the modern Christian church looks remarkably like the political situation in Europe around 1100 A.D.

Now I ask you brothers (and sisters) is this the way it’s supposed to be?

The churches that I grew up in were what you might call small, independent churches. That is, they were between 100 and 500 members (though, in Massachusetts, 500 members is commonly called a megachurch), and they weren’t structurally associated with any other churches. So small and independent is what I’m used to; it’s what I like. I’ve nodded approvingly when I heard pastors of 1000+ member churches criticized (like robber barons) of selfish ambition, accused of “empire building.”

A proper church, as everyone knew, was no more than 500 members. How can a pastor be a pastor when he cannot even say the names of everyone in his congregation? And yet I’ve been wondering, as I study myself to become a pastor, if the island nation really represents everything that Jesus Christ intended the church to be.

We all know Jesus’ “High Priestly” prayer in John 17, in which he asks the Father to make us one even as the Father and the Son are one. It’s easy to read that verse into our modern context, though, and assume it means something relatively easy, like taking a stand against racial discrimination, or perhaps publicly admitting that Roman Catholics are Christians too.

The one thing we never consider, which we may not even countenance, is that Jesus intended us to be united not merely in some mystical sense, but that he actually expected us to form some kind of worldwide unified institution. Surely not! Didn’t even Jesus say, “My kingdom is not of this world”? Yet the view of Christians from the earliest times, while they did not grasp for political power, was that the church was supposed to be an institution, worldwide in its scope, with real authority over its members, its leaders endowed with the power to say who was in and who was out.

The first biblical reference that I am aware of which refers to the church as something separate from the people of Israel is in Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, and we all know the story of how he wouldn’t tell his soothsayers what it was, but God revealed the dream to Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar saw a statue made up of different elements, each element representing a different empire in succession. Then “a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image.” All the elements which composed the statue

> became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

It should be easy to see that the stone which struck the image of man’s government was Christ, and that the mountain that filled the whole earth is the holy church, but what seems difficult for we moderns to grasp is that since the image was composed of public, visible institutions, so the mountain which replaced them should also be a public, visible institution. The “kingdom that shall never be destroyed” is intended by God to be an empire, if you will, and not a collection of island nations.

Author: KB French

Formerly many things, including theology student, mime, jr. high Latin teacher, and Army logistics officer. Currently in the National Guard, and employed as a civilian... somewhere

6 thoughts on “Island Nations”

  1. How about a nation of tribes? — as the Lord set up Israel; each with his own banner,coming together in unity for worship & warfare but otherwise distinct and seperate. Even the Lord did not say that the Messiah would simply come from the nation of Israel but from the Tribe of Judah.

    The things I always admired about Ted Haggard, his current problems notwithstanding, was his vision to have Colorado Springs be a city of “life-giving” churches because he recognized that people had different tastes and churches came in different flavors. His vision was that whatever your personal preference, that you be able to satisfy it in a “life-giving” church. His way of achieving that goal was to pray over the other churches in his city — that they also might….”bloom & grow”

    The other difficulty I have is my memory of my first catholic friend. She commented once that her main motivation for not committing adultry was her fear of being excommunicated. That struck me as backwards — as if the church itself had become more important that the One who gave His life to create it. Or as we have recently viewed in politics, the political party who supposedly stood for lesser government and lesser spending, went on a spending spree once they had political power. In some ways, you might say they lost their identity and simply became an institution whose sole purpose was furthering themselves.

    Or as Rick Joyner points out — when the “One” church lost it’s connection with it’s head and began functioning as a seperate entity who in it’s unity could accomplish anything….except what it had been created to accomplish which was become a living representation of Jesus on earth, the Lord once again came down and confused their language.


  2. Yes but. Confused language and different flavors of church for different people notwithstanding, you have to ask two questions:

    1. What is my relationship with other Christians, particularly the ones I’m in direct contact with (i.e., my “local church”)? Is there some kind of public structure that God wants me to participate in as a Christian, leadership that I must submit to and disciples that I have a responsibility for, or is “church” simply the word we use for any informal get-together of people who call themselves Christians?

    2. What sort of relationship should my group of Christians have with other groups that call themselves Christians? Do we ignore them? Do we concern ourselves with the way they “do church” and thus represent Christ? If somebody from another group, or even a whole group, embraces behavior and beliefs that contradict what our group believes, do we accept their church as an equally valid expression of the faith, or do we denounce them as false Christians, or do we do something in between?

    Currently, most Christians believe in the local church to some extent, though some believe that being a Christian can be roughly equivalent to being a libertarian or a communist. But most Christians are pretty wishy-washy on question 2. We feel we have a greater stake in Ted Haggard’s situation, because he goes under the banner not only of Christian, but also Evangelical. But we have a lesser concern about the current pro-gay head of the Episcopal church in America. Even less do we feel we have any responsibility for the church down the street, because “they’re Methodist,” and we’re not.

    I’m not sure how useful the concept of “tribes” is when “everyone [does] what is right in his own eyes.” I’m certainly not arguing for some Roman-style hierarchy, and I would be very comfortable with some sort of confederation among churches. But I think it’s cheating to say “we come together for worship” when the leader of “my tribe” has nothing to do with the leader of “that tribe,” but I attend a few worship services with the other group on occasion. That isn’t unity any more than if I said I had achieved unity among political parties by attending a Democratic rally. The same thing could be said for warfare. Is “warefare” just supposed to be a metaphor for prayer? I don’t think it can. Luther talked about “doing battle” with heresy. Though I’m sure he did it in prayer too, he was most well known for doing that kind of warfare in public debate. It’s a rare thing in the church to see displays of public unity in the form of citywide statements affirming even basic doctrines of the church. Why is that? I think it’s because we don’t feel the call to unity.


  3. You are probably completly correct as concerns most Christians….which may speak more to our humanity than to our “religion”. “Us four & no more” is a common mind-set the world over. However, it isn’t the only mind-set. Watchman Nee recognized the “universality” of the church….and got himself kicked out of the conference he started because he took communion with the Church of England during a visit and leaders of the Brethern sent a correspondingly bad report back to China ahead of him.

    One of my favorite modern stories is of Francis Frangipane who would not/could not hold a meeting in a church unless the pastor was regularly praying with other pastors in the city. He said that he would hear himself say, “My servant, Francis, cannot come unless….” And this was at a time when his family could have used the size of offering some of these churches were dangling before him.

    Granted that speaks to individual attitudes and not a corporate sturcture. As to a solution — I don’t have one or any inkling of how to get one. I do know this: If it isn’t conceived, birthed and over-seen by the Spirit of the Living God, any attempt to create it will be a much bigger problem than anything you now see. [the discipleship movement comes to mind: wonderful concept/disasterous results]

    One family left our church a few years ago because our pastor wasn’t submitted to an apostle. I don’t know where they are now, but I highly doubt if they found one with an apostle. And I believe in apostles….I just don’t think God’s fully released that particular office at this time….we’re still trying to integrate the prophetic. Come to think of it [seeing how some churches behave]I don’t know that we’ve fully accommodated the role of Pastors & Teachers.


  4. You know, I never thought of that. Does that come back to Paul’s statement that on whatever point we judge another, we’re guilty ourselves?


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