How the Church Must Function

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December 29, 2014
The Church as Function

by R. J. Rushdoony

aaefe260-a142-4738-b398-dbb0248d791f.jpgThe church began its history in the Roman Empire, in the midst of a Greco-Roman culture. Jerusalem itself reflected that fact and was richly subsidized by the emperors because of its strategic importance. Keeping Judea peaceful and happy was a basic policy. Judea’s failure to appreciate its "privileges" led to the intensity of Roman vengeance during and after the war of AD. 66-70.

The church was both influenced by that Greco-Roman culture and also hostile to it. Herbert B. Workman, in Persecution in the Early Church (1906), noted: "By Roman theory the State was the one society which must engross every interest of its subjects, religious, social, political, humanitarian, with the one possible exception of the family. There was no room in Roman law for the existence, much less the development on its own lines of organic growth, of any corporation or society which did not recognize itself from the first as a mere department or auxiliary of the State. The State was all and in all, the one organism with a life of its own. Such a theory the Church, as the living kingdom of Jesus, could not possibly accept in either the first century or the twentieth." Many churchmen then as now tried to accommodate themselves to the sovereignty of the State or emperor rather than Christ. They were willing to confess, "Caesar is lord." The church in part was preserved from absorption by Roman persecution. The intransigent, uncompromising Christians preserved the church by their refusal to compromise.

All the same, however, some things were absorbed, i.e., neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, asceticism, and the like. An important borrowing from Rome was organization and bureaucratization. The church was in a very real sense a continuation of the synagogue, and in the Greek text of James 2:2, the word translated as assembly is actually synagogue.

The church, unlike the synagogue, was not only an Hebraic organization but it was essentially an organic body, a corporation: the body of Christ. Now the members of a body (i.e., hands, feet, etc.) do not hold offices; they have functions. The words translated as office in the New Testament make this clear. For Romans 11:13, I Timothy 3:10 and 3:13, the word used is diakonia in Romans and diakoneo in Timothy. The word, in English as deacon, means a servant, service; it refers to a function. In Romans l2:4, office in the Greek is praxis, function. In Timothy 3:1, it is episkope and its meaning is supervision or inspection to give relief or help. In Hebrews 7:5, the reference is to the Old Testament priesthood, hierateia, and refers to the sacerdotal function.

Thus, what we call church offices are in reality functions of the body of Christ in this world. This fact is very important. Offices lead to a bureaucracy and a ruling class, whereas functions keep a body alive. Continue reading this article…

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