Wednesday, January 04, 2012


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.]

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


"We make our traditions and techniques sacred meaning biblical, holy, sanctified, in nature and they are not."


But they ARE comfortable, and safe! After all,as I've often been told, "we have always done it this way!"

Your last paragraph is profound, as well as true!

Rex Ray said...

Good post! ‘Function’ and ‘form’—I don’t remember the words relating to church before.

The only thing I would disagree with is I can get blood with nails and I can’t by scratching with my palm. :)

Music is a function:

"Praise the Lord! How good to sing praises to our God! How delightful and how fitting!" (Psalm 147:1)

But music is also a form.

It’s been said that people join/leave a church because of music more than any one thing.

There seems to be two ‘forms’ of music these days that are influence either by a ‘song director’ or a ‘song performer’.

One has his eyes open, and the other has them shut.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

Excellent comment.

Your statement here..."But they ARE comfortable, and safe! " IMO the basic reason people relinquish/change traditional forms with such struggle even anger involved.

I would add that the forms we make sacred and hold on to [when they are not] ALSO enable us to measure our performance and an egocentric religion has always got to if we're better or worse than others. That's another reason we refuse to change them.


Excellent comment also.

I'm in basic agreement with what you've said although I might differ slightly were you to be meaning that music and praise are to be seen as synonyms.

I'm assuming you are meaning the "eyes shut" director is the one who is NOT performing but is the one lost in praise instead. I totally agree there.

Good comment.

Rex Ray said...

I stand corrected, You’re right the “eyes shut” is lost in praise. He is worshiping God; that I cannot deny.

But I was thinking he was a performer because if he cannot see/hear the congregation, how can he lead them?

I mean the congregation might as well be watching someone sing on TV.

Paul Burleson said...


True. Unless their eyes are shut too. Even if metaphorically.

Rex Ray said...

I remember two brothers that were song leaders in ‘big’ churches. Both had beautiful voices. In one church, all that could be heard was his voice and the organ. In the other, you could hear 5,000 voices. GLORY!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a great post. Please correct me if I am wrong. I believe that the function of the church, gathered or scattered, is worship. When we understand the nature of true worship everything else falls into place. The best definition I can find for worship is Romans 12:1. We are to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice which is our reasonable, proper or informed worship.

Christ is the head of the body.The body simply waits in eager anticipation to fulfill his command. Worship happens when we fulfill his command in an appropriate manner.


Paul Burleson said...

Anonymous Icr,

I hear what you're saying and I certainly agree with your selection of Romans 12:1 as the best definition of worship.

That said, the ONLY specific reference to the Church gathered in the entire New Testament is Hebrews 10:25 where the word "Assembling" is NOT Ekkesia but the Greek word [espepisunagoge] from which we translate "synagogue." It's the ONLY verse that references a "place" for the Ekkesia.

In that context [the place where the church gathers] the purpose is not worship, although that can be an understood purpose, to be sure, but exhorting or encouraging one another is the stated scriptural purpose..

In the New Covenant worship is not an activity so much as an attitude of ALL of life for EVERY believer as demonstrated in the verse you selected, Romans 12:1.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your response. I enjoy reading, and learning from, scholars such as you.

Honest dialogue seems so hard to come by these days.Most pastors in my area shy away from discussing anything of substance for fear of being branded or labeled.


Paul Burleson said...


To communicate with someone such as yourself, who desires to find understanding of the meaning of the text, is a pleasure and, frankly, makes my day. May your tribe increase!