Once we view the world through these illegitimate lenses, we start to live accordingly and end up making some foolish decisions. For instance, one parachurch ministry exists to reach college students. They insist on being in the parachurch camp for many reasons. Since they need to raise their support from the church and exist to serve the church, they never want to be seen as competing with the church. Because they are “parachurch,” they do not start churches (unless it happens to be overseas where the new churches wouldn’t be seen as competitive with their support base), so this organization does not function as a church (at least according to a very limited understanding of what makes a church a church). They are also a streamlined business that is not bogged down with the bureaucracy that is found in many churches.
For these reasons this group works hard to maintain a parachurch status. The problem is that they are making decisions based on understandings and distinctions that are not in the Bible. In their eyes (much as it is in the eyes of the U.S. government) a church is defined as fulfilling certain sacerdotal duties, such as baptism and communion. But simply dunking people in a pool or dunking bread in a glass of wine is not what defines the church.
In a staunch effort not to be a church, this group refuses to practice these specific duties, thus maintaining their parachurch status. They evangelize but do not start churches. They make disciples but do not baptize them. Doing all they can to keep their mission focused, they make every attempt not to threaten the local church in any way, and they encourage their people to attend a local church and maintain membership there.
The reality is that starting churches is the by-product of evangelizing and fellowshipping with one another on mission together. By living within the false boundaries these false dichotomies have created, Christians are actually instructed to disobey Jesus when they are told not to baptize their disciples. The practice of baptism is not something Christ gave to the church organization but to all disciples. One of the sayings in our own church-planting movement is “The Bible doesn’t command us to be baptized but to be baptizers” (Matt. 28:19–20). There is absolutely no biblical support for the idea that only the clergy in the local church can baptize (another false view discussed above). Though our traditions and experience may reinforce these standards, the Bible does not.
It is amazing how much damage the simple idea of baptizing another has caused through church history. People have been killed, cults have been initiated, denominations started and split, heretics burned at the stake, and parachurch organizations have been formed—all because we view baptism in a strange, unbiblical fashion. If we would only read the Bible and take it for what it says literally, rather than defend our “sacred” traditions, the church would be healthier. Both sides of the church aisle are guilty of this.
Boundaries may start as helpful language to manage our understanding of things, but soon they disrupt our spiritual life and divide the body of Christ illegitimately. When false boundaries begin to take on a biblical sense of authority, they are quite insidious. We accept them as truth and even rise to defend them as though they come from the Bible, when they do not. Unfortunately, we are willing to submit to these false divisions more than to Scripture itself. This is how the subversive strategy of the Enemy causes much damage. Because we have allowed artificial boundaries to separate Christian groups, based on illegitimate organizational differences, weird things happen.
For instance, one motto for the parachurch ministry discussed above has been: “To fulfill the Great Commission in this generation.” This seems honorable, except that they have rules in place that prevent them from ever fulfilling the Great Commission in any place. Right in the middle of the Great Commission is the command to baptize disciples, which they strictly forbid.
I want to raise awareness of the weird, almost schizophrenic policies we have made in the church. Whether it is separating a spiritual family into voting “members” and silent “nonmembers” or telling Christians to fulfill the Great Commission by disobeying it, false and artificial divisions have caused some strange practices to be established.
The purpose of all the categories we have created was to make life better, but they have had the opposite effect. We have limited God and his kingdom because the views developed through false understandings have kept us bound. We must shed the lenses that cause our distorted vision and enjoy a more holistic and healthy view of the church.