Stop Treating Christian Colleges Like the Church

At times, myself and many others have been frustrated by what we perceive to be improper responses from Gordon College on various failures in our community. When I see us suffer tragedies, divisions, and false teachings, I cry out for quick action from the administration to comfort me in my grief, soothe my outrage, and provide correction to error. My confidence has often been placed in those who bear authority over me, or rather, my confidence is placed in those whom I have granted authority over myself. I’ve willingly given Gordon College great authority under a contract: for pay, they provide me with education, housing, etc., and in return I relinquish certain freedoms in accordance with their moral code. My anger is provoked when another violates this code and the school fails to respond exactly how I would hope.

After a friend provided me with some counsel regarding these frustrations, I came to wonder if I’ve misunderstood the very meaning of authority in the context of correction. Now, as best I can find, the Scriptures have outlined five main realms of authority and responsibility in the life of a Christian:

–   Parents over their children1

–   Husbands over their wives2

–   Masters over their servants3

–   Rulers over their subjects4

–   The Church over its people5

Of course, these five are subordinate to God, who is ruler over all, and by whom all authority is allotted6. What I do not see in this list are non-affiliated private Christian colleges, and indeed, Gordon College does not fit easily into any of these five realms. The college is not a parent, and neither is it our spouse. Safe to say, the college does not ‘own’ us as its servants, and neither can it claim to be a part of the government. 

That leaves us to reason that Gordon College might receive authority from the Church. Well, ‘church’ is a complicated word. It derives from the Greek κυριακον, but that term doesn’t appear in the New Testament. That word is εκκλησια, from which we get words like ‘ecclesiastical.’  Εκκλεσια is better understood as ‘assembly,’ while κυριακον refers to the ‘house of the Lord.’ Nowadays we use ‘church’ to mean both. But furthermore, this ‘assembly’ encompasses not only your local ‘church,’ but also the worldwide communion of all saints. The εκκλεσια then, is both the visible and invisible church on this earth—the local and the universal. While the whole Church waits and prepares for the return of Christ, she has been given by God great spiritual authority in this life, and we submit to this authority as we join ourselves to the universal church, via local churches, when we profess faith in Jesus as Lord. But remember, ‘church’ is a complicated word. The college is not properly ‘a church,’ but it claims to serve the universal fellowship of believers, and so is part of ‘the Church.’ If we are going to treat the school as having the authority of the local εκκλεσια, then we must expect of it the responsibilities that entails. But Gordon college has made clear that it does not seek to be treated as a local church. The institution does not administer the sacraments, and it does not teach on the Lord’s Day. The school is not elder-led, and we give tuition, not tithes. Christian fellowship and a stately chapel are not enough to turn a college into a church, no matter how often we hope for it to act like one.

The problem remains, how can a Christian college (being a sort of formal assembly of Christians) be ‘part of the Church’ without being a church? The answer must lie in our understanding of the εκκλεσια. Well, we’re the εκκλεσια—joined with one another in the universal gathering of believers. It was to the εκκλεσια that the Lord gave the authority to hold the keys of the kingdom–”to loose and to bind on earth as in heaven” (Mat. 18:15-19). It was not given to a college, so a college institution cannot claim this authority. And neither should we foist it upon them! When a brother or sister errs, or when our faith community suffers harm, I must argue that the responsibility is not necessarily on the institution of the school to bring about correction. That responsibility goes to individuals therein. The school’s official stance on community discipline even hinges on this: “Members of the Gordon community are expected to share responsibility for each other’s growth, to willingly express concern and to caringly confront one another.

How could I have missed it? It seems the answers to my frustrations were in print all along, just there in the handbook I was meant to read. In the midst of shaking my fist, I was blinded to the fact that I, myself, have failed to engage in caring for my community. To those of my brothers and sisters who find themselves similarly confused and frustrated, I must ask this: How have we fulfilled the role given to us? Our role is to care for one another, to love one another, and if one of us stumbles, to provide gentle correction in the midst of the assembly. The authority of the εκκλεσια is not in the hands of a parachurch institution, but the assembly of believers, who must shake off all laziness and attend to the health of their community.

1 Eph. 6:1

2 1Co. 11:3, Eph. 5:22-24, Col. 3:18,

3 Eph. 6:5-8

4 Jhn. 19:11, Rom. 13:1-2Ti. 2:2, Tit. 3:1

5 Mat. 18:15-19, Act. 20:28, Eph. 4:11-13

6 Deut. 32:8, Dan. 2:21, Mat 28:18, Eph. 6:9, Rev. 4:11, 1Pe. 2:13, 3:22,

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Emily Jones

Well said, Thomas! I really enjoyed reading your article! Thank you for the ways you are encouraging the Gordon community of believers!