Ten Reasons to Appreciate the “Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission” Theory (First of Ten)

The “Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission” theory holds that from Bible times until today God has been organizing Christians into two kinds of structures; one contains all Christians (this is what we normally call church), the other contains fewer members who join with one another to form special voluntary mission societies. These few are restless to organize themselves for a mission they believe God has given them. Dr. Ralph D. Winter called this the “warp and the woof” of Christianity:

The warp and the woof

Just as it is impossible to make cloth without threads going both crosswise and lengthwise, it is crucially important to regard these two structures working together as the warp and the woof the fabric, the fabric being the Christian movement—the people of God, the ecclesia of the New Testament, the church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, to make either of the two structures central and the other secondary, as the term parachurch seems to do, is probably unwise. The two are indeed interdependent and the evidences of history do not allow us to understand either of them as complete without the other. As in the Roman tradition, their relationship is at least potentially a beneficial symbiosis. The problem is that within Protestantism today the tension between the two is as great as or greater than ever before. [1]

As Dr. Winter infers, many Christians hold that there is only “one structure of God’s redemptive mission” and that the church as it is organized today is the only legitimate organizational design. I am in favor of the “Two Structures” theory.

C.S. Lewis can help us here. Lewis said that we should imagine two different maps of New York City. We can compare the maps to what is “really there” in New York City. “One map of New York can be better than another only if there is a real New York for it to be truer to,” Lewis said. Our feelings or opinions can be (should be) adjusted to what is truer. Which is truer, the “Two Structures” or a “One Structure” theory? My opinion is that the “Two Structures” theory is what is really there in the New Testament and in history. But my critics ask, “Why are you criticizing the church?” This gives me pause, since I am a Christian, and a member of a church. God has made me glad that he will build His church, and that gates of hell will not prevail against it. God has made me glad that a husband should love his wife as Christ loves the church. However, in using the word “church” we do not all mean the same thing. I bought a book called The Church written by a pastor. I stood in line to wait for him to sign it. After I read the book I tried to contact the pastor, that I might understand what he was saying. I would still like to talk with him. It seemed to me that the pastor was saying that the form of the church was the important thing, the thing that Christ loves, the thing that other pastors should imitate. His book offered a pattern for Sunday worship and for governing the church. I do not think he meant this, but it seemed so. What I want to say, if I have the opportunity, is that churches we are forming are, frankly, not very durable; they have a life-span of three generations or so, before the children and their children become members with much less zeal than the founding members enjoyed. This is what happened to the church in Ephesus, as we wrote about here.

American churches have a life-span of about three generations before they settle into a formula. When this happens, the strong Christian members may find themselves in the minority. Should they leave and start a new church? How does the reader feel about that? Renewal will come, but not in the way pastors probably expect. Renewal will come in unexpected ways, ways known only to God. Renewal will come to our households. Does it have to cost so much money to organize our churches? Renewal will come, but in the future church membership may not be as expensive as we have made it in our day. We should be on tiptoes to watch what is about to happen.

Am I criticizing the church? What if our children’s children do not join the churches that our present generation has been enjoying? Your comments, please.

[1] Ralph D. Winter, “Protestant Mission Societies and the ‘Other Protestant Schism’,” in American Denominational Organization (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1980).