Two Concepts - A Comparison

Gaylon Embey

In a previous article published in The Examiner (Vol.1, No. 5) I tried to make a comparison between the church and the family. I was not the first to think up this analogy. It is found in the New Testament (Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:5, etc.). The comparison was an effort on my part to demonstrate the fallacy of an institutional concept of the ecclesia of Christ. It was my hope that readers might see that since a human family is not a corporation type structure, neither is the family of God. For essentially the same purpose let me now offer a similar comparison.

Let us compare a "family" and a "school." Please understand that I am not talking about a religious school, but rather the average, secular school such as exists in every city in the country. We are all familiar with the institutional make up of such schools; therefore we should have no trouble following the observations made about them. No one is overly sensitive about secular schools; therefore they can be discussed rather objectively. For these reasons a school provides an excellent illustration for an institutional system.

What is a school? Here are the two most common definitions: 1) "An organization that provides instruction." 2) "A institution for the teaching of children." Now a family cannot be defined by either of these terms. A family is "a group of people with a common ancestry." Most of us are part of a family and have gone to school a little. So even without the aid of Webster we pretty well understand the difference between the two. But in case you have never thought along these lines, let me point out some of the difference between a man's family and the school where they all go to be educated.

A school is defined either as an organization or an institution. The definition is correct. Therefore "school" is definitely not a people word. It does not refer to people of any sort, not even bookworms. To be sure, people are involved in schools in the sense that without having some people around there would hardly be a school. But a "school" is not made up of mere people. No indeed. A school is an institution that the people form, not something that they themselves are. Once a school has been established people will attend the school, people will run the school, people will work for the school, people will support the school with taxes or gifts; but the school itself will always be something that the people are not. Over the years people come into a school and then go out of it. But the school remains. It is an entity in its own right. It has its own INSTITUTIONAL identity, existence and perpetuity distinct from any and all the people who may have passed through its portals.

This is not the case with a family. For a "family" is defined, not as an organization or an institution but as a group of people. A family HAS no identity or existence apart from the people who compose it. A family is what blood relatives ARE, not an organization that they form. By no stretch of the imagination does a "family" resemble a domestic institution, operating out of someone's house that some people run, some people work for, and some people support and sustain. Even in our less sane moments we never think of a "family" in such institutional terms.

If a school is formed and is to operate, someone has to "run it." Thus there is a board of directors, an administration, a faculty. You will notice, however, that what is run is not the students, but the school itself (the organization). True, the school exists and presumably is operated for the benefit of' the students. Yet the fact remains that school officials, while often taking a personal interest in the students, are primarily obliged to see after the system, to make sure the organization operates as it should. Therefore, they make decisions as to what subjects will be taught, what texts will be used, what buildings will be built, what equipment will be bought, what teachers will be hired or fired, etc. Their concerns are INSTITUTIONAL. Furthermore, the relationships that come into existence with the formation of a school, such as superintendent to principal, principal to teacher, teacher to student, are all INSTITUTIONAL relationships. As such they have a very limited range. Practically speaking these relationships do not exist, at least are not operative, much of the time; they exist only during the school term, and then only with reference to school affairs. A superintendent does not superintend a principal who is in Colorado on summer vacation; a principal does not issue a directive telling his faculty how to vote in the upcoming election; and a teacher does not paddle a student who acts up in the grocery store on Saturday. The relationships these people have pertain only to the institution and are effective only in the institutional operation.

The situation is quite different with a family. In a family there are only people to consider. No "institution" is there for anyone to "run," not even a father and mother. Certainly there are no institutional relationships. The various relationships that exist within a family, such as that between father and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister, exist at ALL times, not just during special seasons of the year or certain days of the week. These relationships may ebb and flow, but they do not come and go. They are too real for that. Unlike a school, a family does not open and close, start up and shut down, or "operate" at one time but not another. A brother and sister are always brother and sister and should act the part. A father is to supervise his child whenever and wherever necessary, winter, summer, spring or fall. A mother is a mother all the time, anywhere, everywhere, and a misbehaving child better believe it. Even when a child is old he never quite gets out of her "jurisdiction." Yes, the relations between family members change over the years, but they are never totally inoperative. Why? Because they are real relationships between real people, not temporary, artificial relationships created within an organization.

How does a school function? This is the interesting part. A school's functions are very cumbersome because of its institutional character. First, the functions of a school are restricted (at least are supposed to be) to the area of education. This is the reason it was created. But even when operating in its proper sphere a school has limited functions. Generally speaking a school "functions" at the school (building). That is, most school activities take place in school facilities. Unless the facilities are rented to another organization (such as an institutional Church), you can know that any authorized activity taking place on school property is a "school function." A school may, of course, sponsor events that take place off campus as well. These also are "school functions" because they are authorized by school officials and are supervised by school personnel. A school may also function through the actions of one person, provided that person is acting as a duly recognized agent of the organization. Other than in these ways a school does not function at all. Think about this. To a large extent, much of the time in fact, a school is entirely dormant. It is doing nothing. Only when school is in session, only at the school facilities, only when officially authorized activities are taking place under thc auspices of school authority, only THEN does a school operate. The PEOPLE who are connected with a school and what THEY do, either individually or collectively, does not necessarily have anything to do with the school and ITS operation. Two examples: A teacher and his students play a softball game during P.E. class on Friday afternoon. This is a recognized school function. On Saturday afternoon the same teacher goes out and plays sandlot softball with exactly the same group of kids. The latter is NOT a school function. Everyone knows the difference here, especially insurance companies.

A few years ago I read of a group of seniors who were not allowed by their school to take the usual senior trip. But they went ahead and took one anyway. They rented a suite of rooms in a large hotel and proceeded to "celebrate" their graduation by tearing up the rooms. The hotel management, thinking they had rented the rooms to a bona fide senior class, naturally tried to make the school pay for the damages. They quickly found out however, that what took place was not an official "school function." The school had absolutely nothing to do with it. Therefore the school was not liable in the least. The distinctions in these cases are clear and correct, so far as an institutional system ix concerned. The institution is one thing, the people something else.

What about a family in this regard? Can "family functions'' and "school functions" really be cast in the same light? Do institutional "rules" and distinctions apply to the activities of a real-life family? Docs a family exist and "function" only when they are using the facilities at the family home, only when they are engaged in events officially authorized by legal family "officers," only when a duly recognized family representative is in charge? Take the softball game. When a father and mother and their children play ball together, whether on Friday afternoon or Saturday, whether on the schoolyard or their own back yard, this is definitely something done by "the family." No one with a right thinking mind ever imagines otherwise.

Or go back to the hotel. Suppose a manís wife and children get in a brawl and tear up a hotel room. Who did it? In this case there is no "institution" to consider or to confuse the issue. The man would certainly sound silly to say. "Although this awful deed was done by my wife and children, my FAMILY had nothing to do with it because it was not a family function." Such talk is reserved for the world of institutional systems, not for the land of real people.

Look at what we have here. When we lay "school" and "family" down side by side, we have not a comparison but a contrast. The two are not items of' the same sort and we know it. A school is an organized institutional entity (body corporate) operating in the field of education. A family is simply a group of people who sustain a special relationship to one another. The two are not alike either in make-up or in the way they function.

My question is this. Of the two, school and family, WHICH does "the local church" resemble? The answer is obvious and easy. The New Testament itself specifically likens the church to a "household" or "family" of faith (Gal. 6:10). While the church of the Bible is not like a family in every possible respect, it is certainly more like an earthly family than it is an institutional system such as a school typifies. Evidently many Christians today cannot see this. They have been brainwashed with a lot of hogwash about a great "blood bought institution." They have therefore abandoned a family-like concept of real people with real relationships, and in its place have inserted the concept of a holy corporation which they choose to call "the local church." This concept was created by Catholicism, was popularized by Protestantism and has been largely maintained by "Back-to-the-Bible" folks of all persuasions. Consequently, most people today envision "the Church" as being the religious equivalent of a school. In other words they think the Church and the School merely operate in different fields: one is an institution set up by men for educational purposes. The other is an institution set up by God for religious purposes; but IN ESSENCE they see the two as being the same kind of "thing." In the modern mind neither of them is perceived as being a mere group of people.

Before leaving these ideas I would ask you to think carefully about three key words. SCHOOL. - FAMILY -CHURCH. Are all three alike? Have they the same nature? Do these three words represent three "institutions" differing from one another only in sphere of operation? Surely not. Think again about what a "school" is as outlined briefly in earlier remarks. Reflect on its corporate nature and function. No doubt about it, a school IS an institutional entity. Now think about what a "family" is. Use your own precious family as an example. Consider tine people who compose your family, the natural yet unique relationship they sustain to each other, the way they relate to one another in one-on-one situations, in family gatherings, at any and all times, in all the ever-changing circumstances of life. Is your family anything LIKE a formed corporate body run by rigid institutional regulations? Absolutely not! The two are fundamentally different. A school (which is a corporate entity) and a family (which is a group of people) represent two entirely different concepts. The difference between these two concepts is what this article, and to a large extent, this journal, is all about.

Now take the word "ecclesia" as employed by New Testament writers. Which of the two categories should we put "the true church" in? Is it like a "school" or is it like a "family"? This is THE question. Does the "church" of the Bible belong in the institutional league with schools, and with all the business corporations, political organizations and denominated religious institutions built by men? Or, is the ecclesia of Christ more correctly pictured as a living and loving relationship of people, like a good family? Given a test of questions like this, everyone should make a hundred.