I've mentioned the two words function and form before in a passing way, but in this post I want to consider them in a more complete fashion. The understanding of these two words and their impact on my belief system have been monumental to say the least. My desire here is to give a little bit of a handle that, when grasped, could help deliver someone from legalism as I have been.
Let's consider function first. By definition function, according to Webster's dictionary, means..."The particular purpose for which a thing exists." The illustration mentioned in Webster's is a hammer. But it also mentions another kind of illustration with this statement, "A natural or proper action of a bodily part as a living thing." I'll use the second illustration and use my hand as the body part to illustrate.
The function of my hand is to perform according to design whatever is requested by my brain. Suppose, for example, I have an itch somewhere on my body. My brain tells my hand to scratch it. It does. My hand goes to the location, takes an appropriate shape to itself perhaps using the nails and the job is done. That's function. That's the purpose for which the hand exists.
Now let's consider form. Its definition, according to the same dictionary, is "To give shape or structure" or "an established way of doing something." Take my hand again. Remember that itch? My brain says to my hand, "Scratch it." Only this time things have changed. The itch is so deep the nails won't do the job, so a new method is needed. It takes rubbing with the palm. Have you ever had a scratch that deep? That's form. That's the way something is done.
You can see that function has to do with the purpose for being and form has to with a pattern for doing. It is that critical difference that clarifies so much. I'm convinced the Bible is a book of purpose or function and is not a book that delivers the specific patterns or forms for doing.
Our purpose as the people of God, which is what the message of the New Testament is all about when it speaks of the Church, is usually stated as things we are to "be." We are to be..the body of Christ. We are to be..servants to one another. We are to be..a minister to the whole body according to our gifts. We are to be..forgiving, loving, faithful, and merciful. And on and on I could go. I could write dozens of pages and not list all the functions we have for being the created and redeemed people of God. Those functions remain the same through all of time for all of the body of Christ as the New Covenant is the final one.
The forms we use to fulfill those functions can and do change over the years as the culture we live in changes and our desire to reach that culture with the gospel continues. We are to be salt and light, but the delivery of that Salt and Light will take on different patterns as time goes on and things change.
An illustration might help. Take the early Ekklesia. [Called out Ones.] One could say that at least a portion of the purpose of the Church can be stated this way,"We are to be Christian in our living and sometimes we are to be that together."[ Hebrews 10:35] It's called, "Being the Church scattered and gathered." That purpose was true for the New Testament Church and is true for the Church of 2012. Whatever the Church was to be then, we are to be now. The function or purpose has not and will not ever change as I've mentioned. It is our reason for being in time and on this earth.
But the forms used by the early Ekklesia to fulfill that purpose have changed across the years. They used homes and upper rooms to meet in and we use buildings built for that purpose. They used people standing in their midst and we use people standing behind pulpits. They used water pots inside the door to wash the feet of those who came and we use greeters to shake the hands of those who come. Again, pages could be written to list the differing methods. But you see the point I'm sure.
Now here is the deal. How the Church is to be [function] is a sacred [biblical, holy, sanctified] thing. It never changes and should not. But the methods the Church uses for doing [form] things that enable Her to be what God intends are not sacred. It is the methodology of church life that causes us to stumble. We make our traditions and techniques sacred meaning biblical, holy, sanctified, in nature and they are not.
The greatest need of the modern Church may be the ability to know what is truly sacred and what is simply a way of doing things. This knowledge would lead one out of legalism [doing certain things a certain way] to a gracious way of living. [Being a certain kind of person to all people however they do things.]