“BMOC” is an easily recognized symbol: “Big Man on Campus.” It is used to describe that student on a college campus who is able to command positions of influence in student affairs. His image is one of extraordinary competence and energy—he is able to devote several hours of work each week to the pursuit of these extra-curricular affairs, and still gamer a high grade average in his academic courses.
“BMIC” is an adaptation of this collegiate expression: “Big Man in the Church.” Who is he?
There are truly “big men” in the church! Roman Catholic popes, cardinals, bishops are often men of stature. Protestants, too, have their “greats.” Bishop Pike and Dr. Blake easily “make the news” whenever they speak. Someone has remarked recently that the conduct and appearance of the “big churchmen” isn’t really so much different than that of any sizable and important industrial executive, The necessity of such disciples of Him who had so little and whose “image” was one of true humility is often said to be something like this: We ought to apply sound business methods to the administration of the church. Well, if batteries of secretaries, Madison Avenue publicity techniques, modem statistical studies, etc. are any criterion, today’s church knows how to “operate”!
I am writing this to say that I’m not much impressed with all the clap-trap of modern church administration. My contention is that in the church of Jesus Christ the true BMIC is the believer, and that his simple, Biblical faith is the only feature that makes him or anyone else “a man of distinction.”
In the Church, only the Believer could be BIG!
It is easy to understand why the church tends to create important men. For importance is something that attaches to everything that the church is and does! Of all organizations found on earth, the church is undoubtedly the most important. A Dutch writer has been saying of late that church membership is the deepest and most fundamental constituent of our very humanity—and I’m inclined to agree! Only in the church is the Kingship of our God anything like a complete reality, because only there is it most heartily acknowledged. And what is more “important” than the recognition of the Father’s sovereignty? Such recognition can only take place in a sphere fraught with the highest importance. The Belgic Confession reflects this with the daring assertion: “this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and outside of it there is no salvation” (Article XXVIII).
The importance of the church is reflected in its catholicity. This does mean, of course, that the church is gathered by the Great Shepherd, God’s own Son, “out of the whole human race.” But this means more than that the church in her membership represents all areas of the inhabited world. It also means that Christians who are ecclesiastically (hopelessly, it would seem) separated are nevertheless in some manner one. It is a staggering thought and a very perplexing mystery that church members living in one world who cannot and will not be members of a given historical church communion are in some incomprehensible way united, and that they belong to each other.
This reality has led some to conclude that the differences ought to be ignored and summarily set aside in favor of some kind of enforced organization. Perhaps one of the greatest dangers to the welfare of the church of Christ in our time is the temptation to base the organization of the people of God on this “spiritual reality” rather than upon a common confession of the truth of the Word.
TIle role of the church with respect to the Word of God is another indication of the tremendous importance that characterizes her every feature. Paul says that the Old Testament church was entrusted with—the utterances of God” (Rom. 3:2), and he reminds Timothy that the church is “pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). It is the highest glory of the church that she has the privilege and task to listen to God’s Word. This is no mean accomplishment, and they are not far amiss who suggest that the church frequently evidences a greater desire to hear something that resembles but does not really reflect God’s speech. Putting this sinful tendency aside for a moment, can you imagine any association on earth with a more important endowment than the Word of God? And with a more important assignment than to herald officially its message?
The place of the church in life has to be first, therefore. The profane among men relegate the church to a last place, of course. For them the preacher is some sort of idealistic, unrealistic nobody, and he had better take refuge in counseling and amateur psychiatry in order to make his calling meaningful. A culture formed by such attitudes sees no need to place the responsibilities of church membership ahead of financial advantage or professional opportunity. If physical recreation is needed in order to gain success in life, then church worship goes by the board, or is performed in so sloven1y a fashion as to be virtually blasphemous.
There are better people who say, “The church belongs in the center of life.” These also have a large territory in life that is common or profane or neutral or “natural,” but at the center they put something holy. The leaders of their world may be the high priests who know the magic words or who practice the impressive rites that are supposed to deliver the profane from the consequences of their profanity. This is not really much of an advance over the preceding, and leads to all kinds of conflict, distortion and hypocrisy.
Not last, not “in the middle,” but first is the right place for the church. Sometimes this right expression is used by people who wish to deny in practice its real meaning. For them “First the Church” means that its unique and invaluable work requires every primary consideration, and all projects that are suggested by the Gospel outside of the narrower compass of preaching and sacraments must be taken care of later. This is directly contrary to what I am trying to say.
I believe that the church must be first in life in this sense that all of life must be made to be consistent with the nature and message of the Gospel. There must be no essential difference between one place or another in life for a good church member. A good church will serve its members with a Biblical view of life that embraces its every aspect, and render all parts of that life a service to God!
If the church is so important, it is no wonder that many seek to relegate it to an inferior, almost unnecessary position, and that others try to alter its true Significance by seeing it as something strange and foreign to ordinary life. There is only one way in which the true importance of the church can be demonstrated and enjoyed. That is when the church realizes that its importance does not lie in anything but the faith of its members, and that all its agencies and servants (ought we to use titles like “director,” “president,” etc.?) are there only to make more effective the calling of the church member to believe. The goal of the church lies in the faith of its members, for without that faith there is no hope of a victorious life.
The Believer and the Service of the Church
If the importance of the church is as great as we have tried to describe it above, then the efforts of a few to satisfy cravings for power and prestige in the church are ridiculous. The only possible sentiment here is that of our Lord when he said, “If anyone wants to be first, be must make himself last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35), and “For the least among you all—he is the greatest” (Luke 9:48), and “The greatest among you must be your servant” (Matt. 23:11–all quotations from The New English Bible).
We are accustomed to speaking of the church as the Church of Christ. This is a confession of faith, of course, and not an actual, scientific definition. The church really defies complete definition, in my opinion, although the Bible, our only source of information concerning the church, gives us to know much about her.
If the church is Church of Christ, then its position and character is to be compared to Christ. How did Christ appear among us, and what kind of a position did he assume? Undeniably majestic is his demeanor upon occasion, as can be demonstrated by such miracles as the stilling of the waves and by the authoritative manner of his speech. But when he spends those final hours with his disciples in the upper room for the purpose of celebrating the Passover and instituting the New Testament sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, he says something of himself that is of greatest significance. I refer to these words: “For who is greater—the one who sits at table or the servant who waits on him? Surely the one who sits at table. Yet here am I among you like a servant” (Luke 22:27, The New English Bible, italics inserted).
There are quite a few “service organizations” in the world, but the church sometimes finds itself unable to compete with these for interest in service rather than power. The service organization in the world must be the church, and all kinds of ecclesiastical imperialism are to be condemned. The office of deacon in the church ought not to be ranked third in importance (aSter the minister and elder), but perhaps first, if any “office” can even consider such a thing.
This, too, indicates that the humble, faithful believer is the greatest of all in the church. Glimpses of this shine through at times when one notices the cheerfulness and readiness and thoughtfulness of those who are always at the sink in the church kitchen, cleaning up after the brothers and sisters have had their “fellowship.” Sitting in the pew to listen and to give and to sing and to pray is not inferior to preaching, but if it is done with devotion to Jesus Christ, may actually require much more than is required of the man in the pulpit.
The church is too great to allow any of its importance to be usurped by power-hungry men. Only the simplest believer can reflect that kind of glory!
The church is too humble to be a valid occasion for the aggrandizement of anyone or a few. Only the true believer would undertake its kind of service!