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Volume 15, Issue 3: Doctrine 101

The Parachurch

Patch Blakey

First, it may be helpful to understand the meaning of the word parachurch. It is a word comprised of two components, para and church. Para is Greek, and it is commonly translated as meaning beside [parallel], two things side by side. From this we can understand parachurch to mean beside the church, or side by side with the church. One thing that should be immediately apparent from this definition is that the parachurch is not the church. The church cannot be beside itself. In the same way, the parachurch is not the church. This is explicit in the prefix para.

The whole issue of the parachurch is an awkward and difficult subject at best. We might begin by trying to describe what properly constitutes the parachurch, but this is a rather large and daunting task. In attempting to do so, the potential is high for inadvertently creating a "straw man" that doesn't accurately reflect reality. The problem of judgment is also a concern. One person may ascribe certain traits to what they define as the parachurch, while others may portray it in an entirely different way.
Another hindrance to an understanding of the parachurch is our emotions. Some may have positive feelings fed by close friendships, encouragement in spiritual growth, and perhaps even coming to Christ as a result of a parachurch ministry. Conversely, some may harbor negative opinions of the parachurch for other reasons. But feelings are never an adequate standard for critical evaluating. As is ever the case for Christians, our ultimate standard for life is the Bible.
Well then, if we know what para means, what are we to understand of the church? Fortunately, the Scriptures have much to tell us. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." From this first encounter with the word church, we can see that it is an institution built by Christ Himself. Its foundation stone is also Christ, as seen in conjunction with Matthew 16:17 and Ephesians 2:20. The church is enduring and militant such that even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We also see that Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church" (Eph. 1:22). Also, "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body" (Eph. 5:23). Not only is Christ the head of the church, He is its Savior. Christ died to save the church.
And if Christ is the Head, then the church is His body. In speaking of the church, Paul says, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Cor. 12:27). Christ died to save His body, the church. And a body, if it is healthy, follows its head. A body that does not follow its head is seriously impaired and may be close to death.
But not only is the church Christ's body, it is also His wife, His bride. "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2). Christ is perfecting His wife, the church. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).
Christ accomplishes this edifying of His bride, the church, through ordained and gifted servants. "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12). He also does this through the ministry of the Holy Ghost, which is given only to the church. "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you"(John 14:26).
In addition, the church holds another unique position in the world. "… that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). The church is God's only ordained instrument to guard and keep the truth, the Holy Scriptures, including Zondervan.
No one doubts that many have been greatly blessed as a result of the parachurch. But in light of the testimony of the Scriptures to the sufficiency, function, efficacy, promises, gifts, offices, endurance, position, and potency of the church, one must wonder seriously why there even exists such an entity as the parachurch. What is needed beside the church?

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