C&CW Ep. 11 - Defining the Parachurch



Coffee & Christian Worldview
Episode 11
Show Notes:

That term is used often. Is everyone using the same definition?

What is a "parachurch"?
And who needs it?
Are parachurch organizations necessary for Christians?

Para-church: with/alongside, church.
A parachurch organization is distinct from the institutional church.
Parachurch is an institution, but it is not the church.

Most parachurch organizations don't remain distinct from the church because of what they do and how they do it.

How is it "with" or "alongside" the church?
Parachurch organizations are dedicated to Christian principles, a Christian religious organization.
Such as a library that only has Christian books.

To make it easier, we'll name a few things that parachurch organizations should not do.

  1. Ordaining ministers
  2. The Lord's Supper
  3. Baptism
  4. Gathering for the Lord's Day as a parachurch, instead of with a local church. These belong to the visible church, alone. No other institution is authorized to do them. But they do. That's why it's easy to accuse parachurches of supplanting the local church.

You are there to help the church, not be the church.

Another way the parachurch crosses the line is in "evangelism."
After "outreach," where are these "converts" going? To the parachurch, not to be shepherded by real elders, to be fed by real preaching, and nourished by the sacraments.

If you want a church, just plant a church.

Parachurches often want to distance themselves and supplant failed churches. They want to give you what you need, without the church. A replacement, until the church is fixed.

"There's been a failure to follow the Bible, so we're going to make up our own way."

This often comes with an anti-institutional bias.

Many "churches" are not churches at all.
But that doesn't mean you create a replacement. You do it right—true church.

Analogy: because the father is a failure, the wife takes over—instead of calling the husband to repent.

Be part of the solution. Don't replace it, but fix it.
No shortcuts.

How does the parachurch remains distinct?

Don't do the work of the church:

  1. Pure preaching of the Word
  2. The pure administration of the sacraments.
  3. Practice of church discipline. Parachurch may do none of those 3 marks. They have no authority.

Stay away from the 3 Marks of the Church and you're good.

Many people will overstate the case and call for the dissolving of all parachurch organizations.
My response: start with your seminary.

A seminary is not a church. The qualifications for membership (enrollment) is different. Seminaries discipline students according to different rules than the church.
It's a school, not a church. But its work is decidedly Christian—training pastors for the church.
Therefore, it is a parachurch organization.

All the abuse among parachurches doesn't justify wiping them all out.

Ligonier Ministries is a parachurch. Christian book publishers are parachurches.
Confessional people love certain parchurch organizations.

Are parachurch organizations necessary for Christians?
Obviously no. Christ has given us all we need in the marks of the church and means of grace.

Don't jump to the opposite extreme, that parachurches are not helpful. We don't live by necessity.

Seminaries are not necessary.
But they are helpful.
Christian book publishers are helpful.

Only the church is necessary—that is how God has designed you to grow.

Parachurch organizations are helpful when they stay alongside the church.

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