Preface

Were you guys waiting for me to post something?  Please, just kindly let me know next time.  I had no idea…

Preface

I believe the authors lay out the foundation for their work beginning in the preface and introduction.  On the very first page of the preface, a straw man is built on the lives of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Despite the extreme oversimplification of his argument surrounding Jesus’ chief opponents, his tie to contemporary Christianity is the greater issue.  He lumps everything into one neat little package (his contemporary Christianity) so that he can propose the enlightened answer.  He takes the complex church world and lumps everyone together proclaiming biblical superiority over his concept of contemporary Christianity.

He goes on to make a statement on the second page proclaiming that, “I believe the first-century church was the church in its purest form, before it was tainted or corrupted.  Wow, this is intriguing.  Isn’t half of the New Testament written to combat problems, both doctrinally and practically, in the church?  Most of Paul’s writings are in response to the corruption and sin involved in the church.  How long does it take in the book of acts before we start to see issues rising in this non-tainted, non-corrupt church – the beginning of Acts 5.  So, it took 2 chapters following Pentecost for issues to begin to arise.  Then, Chapter 6 brings on deacons (a response to another major issue of partiality) and so on and so on…

The author makes a profound leap to state that polity and normative practices are prescribed in Scripture to fit his desired practice.  Yet, no place in Scripture prescribes the setup of the church and it rarely comments on its early practice.  Could the Text also remain silent on purpose?  He goes on to describe the great answer to the degradation of Christianity – the organic church.  “An organic church is simply a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs.”  Two things I would simply comment on this simple church.  Something becomes a program when it is repeated for a specific purpose.  It becomes a human instituted program when something is repeated for a specific purpose by humans.  Humans make up the church.  We are the body of Christ.  So, I guess an organic church doesn’t tell people where they are meeting or when, because they don’t know.  It would then become a program.  I guess it just happens as someone has a spiritual moment.  I know what the author means but the problem is not that it is a program or that it is religious.  Deconstructionism to its core leads to spiritual chaos.  Even the choosing of deacons was a religious institution.  I will touch later or his non-hierarchical structure.  Frankly, it is not found anywhere in Scripture, Old or New Testament.

I don’t want to appear sarcastic or argumentative because I really want to look at honest eyes at this book.  I think I will learn from it and I will try to pick out positive aspects to highlight as well.  But his preface, the foundation of the book, is shaky at best.  I think everyone would agree that churches all across America have problems.  I like that he wants the church to return to Scripture but his solutions are largely based on his opinions and assertions he has drawn from the text.

So, let it begin, again…

29 thoughts on “Preface

  1. Good thoughts. Glad to finally see a post…I’m now 65! JK! Anyways…some thoughts:

    Going to Israel was a great experience where I saw the 4 main groups that often were pitted against one other in terms of their differences. They were essences, zealots, Sadducees and Pharisees. All loved God and had different takes on pursuing God. Many times each group was radically wrong, and in some ways they were right. For instance the Zealots were right to want to serve God alone and no other, but they took it too far by holding to that belief through violence which clearly violated scripture.

    In the introduction, I don’t think the authors are trying to simplify it all down that the early church had no problems and we do. They obviously had many problems and divisions and questions that the apostles had to address early on. I think what was “pure” about the early church according to the authors is the form. People met in community where all had to look to Christ alone to guide and direct them. Factions and the like certainly reared its head as Paul addressed in I Corinthians where some of that community were claiming to follow Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, etc. The error of the pharisees today, according to the author, is that “we have added a raft of humanly devised traditions that have suppressed the living, breathing, functional headship of Jesus Christ in His church”.

    I believe that I have seen this in many churches. Anytime a man-made tradition suppresses the lordship of Christ among the body of believers is a bad thing. So I agree. I didn’t take this as a blanket statement that all current churches do this, but when we do, we error. The author in arguing for organic churches admits they may fall into error on footnote #5 on page xviii. But what was pure in the first century church was that there was an expectation of “every member functioning” in the body. That made it “organic”.

    Some of our structure, though not the original intent of our structure, can lend itself towards allowing members of the body of Christ (i.e the church) to become passive. If we are one body with many parts, then we need all the parts functioning.

    He argues that the body of Christ is an organism. Based on that, there must be some structure. I know you are being sarcastic about arguing that people couldn’t know where to meet b/c that would be human tradition, but I think looking at the body as organism, we’d admit the following:

    1. There has to be some limits otherwise we’d never know the boundries of the organism and one organism would simply flow into another with nothing to define its shape, etc.

    2. The limits of the Church should be defined by scripture.

    My heart is that we never “throw the baby out with the bathwater” in ascribing to an extreme view of any sort. Sticking to scripture will help that. I am extremely familiar though with church structure and agree that there is much in the American church that is simply man-built that detracts from the “every member functioning” goal of God’s church. Many times these traditions and structures started for good reasons, but the meaning got lost in some cases over 1,000s of years of church history and became something to “do” in a religious since and not out of a response to God’s love and grace towards us. It is these things that I hope we can be honest about even if it takes us out of our comfort zone.

    Glad we can start discussing!!!!!!

  2. I understand your frustration with the idea that the first century church is a pre-corrupted model to replicate. While I am not an expert on his letters and their context, I agree that Paul addressed several issues the early church faced both doctrinally and practically.

    Josh, you said “no place in Scripture prescribes the setup of the church and it rarely comments on its early practice,” then said you “like that he (the authors) wants the church to return to Scripture.” My question is, if the Scripture excludes a prescription of the church setup, what is our guide? I agree with you that the early church had serious problems, and it becomes problematic to use it as a guide, but what are we aiming for as a church? How should we use Scripture to model our Christian practices?

    There is no way the church has ever been entirely pure, uncorrupted, or untainted outside of the grace of Christ. I doubt the authors saw the first century church as flawless, as it was made up of fallen people with lots of problems, but they certainly hold it in high regard.

    What I find interesting in this book is the authors ask questions about how the church came to be in its modern form. There have been centuries of traditions and rituals introduced into the Christian church and they look at their roots. I have never really looked into these issues with any sincerity.

    I hope to evaluate some of the practices, functions, values, and structure of our church, but what in Scripture are we looking to return to?

    • While I don’t see Scripture ever prescribing a church model or polity, I do see Scripture give us principles and purposes for the church to fulfill and live by. And by purposes, I don’t mean Rick Warren’s purposes. While those are not necessarily negative, I believe they oversimplify the text in regards to the purpose of the church.

      Acts 2 gives early clear principles to the behavior fo the early church:
      1. Devoted to the Apostles teaching
      2. Devoted to the fellowship
      3. Devoted to the Breaking of Bread
      4. Devoted to the prayers

      (Interestingly, each of these phrases has the participle in Greek meaning “the” before. It could easily indicate that these were specific things they were devoted to. I will do more research but I have never noticed that before.)

      5. Sharing as any had need
      6. Attending temple together
      7. Breaking bread in homes
      8. Praising God

      As a result, they had favor with both believers and unbelievers and God added to their number.

      There are other places that God’s gives principles for the church as well:
      1 Corinthians: order in the body, giftings (as well as other places)
      James: Justice for poor, widow, etc
      Timothy/Titus: deacons, overseer descriptions

      So, while I don’t see Scripture ever indicating a form or size or specific place as right, I think we have to look at the principles and work to be the church from that perspective.

      • We do seem to follow certain practices as if they were gospel though. Where is it written in Scripture that all music in our church must have played on KSBJ for at least 5 years? Where’s the evolution man?

        Just kidding.

        I do like the concept of polity vs principles. Moving conceptually to seeing the church as a functioning body of believers outside of JUST our Sunday morning service is where I want to go. It takes spiritual responsibilty of the individual believer, which should be encouraged and supported throughout the week by the group. The principles in Acts you listed all seem to support that.

        To clarify – Do you believe that the detailed and specific instructions Paul gives to the Corinthians about orderly worship and how it should be done in their corporate gatherings were meant as merely principles for us to follow? “Women should remain silent in the churches; be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” These all seem like specific instructions that are under the theme of orderly worship. Should we just discard the specifics and take the principle of order, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”

        • Laughing about the KSBJ comment, mainly b/c it’s true!

          I guess all my ramblin’ is summed up with what you said Darwin…”Moving conceptually to seeing the church as a functioning body of believers outside of JUST our Sunday morning service is where I want to go. It takes spiritual responsibility of the individual believer, which should be encouraged and supported throughout the week by the group. The principles in Acts you listed all seem to support that.”

          We just covered the I Corinthians passage you mentioned in our small group this past week. Women being silent wasn’t a blanket condemnation of women participating but participating in a way that created disorder and undermined the family structure which ultimately caused others to view Christ in the wrong way (i.e. full of disorder, etc..). Paul also told a man in 14:28 to keep silent if he is going to cause disorder by speaking in a tongue with no interpreter. So Paul admonishes both contextually to be quiet when it causes disorder.

          I think there are specifics given like “When you come together, everyone of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. ALL of these must be done for the strengthening of the Church (ekklesia-all the believers)” I Corinthians 14:26

          Interesting thoughts about this “Service” was:

          1. Everyone brought something to mutually benefit the rest of the body
          2. All of the exercises of the gifts are meant to orderly strengthen the body so that worship of God happens and Christ is seen in the body as a witness to the outside world!

          So I think we take the specifics where given specific instruction (everyone brings something to offer the rest of the body in the service), and follow general principles (Order in service, mutual edification) where specifics aren’t always given.

  3. Yeah, way to stop discussion in its tracks Krentist! This was evolving into a lively dialogue until you came along.

  4. Relax Debbie and Darwin. Lots of conversations I have take weeks and even months to develop.

    Maybe Josh takes over a week to reply…thats par for my course.

  5. The real purpose is, as it always should be, to have a successful experience as a Church, body of believers, whatever. Frankly, I often see this argument as a war between the extremes, the PC argument, which is that all structure in believer worship is manmade, and therefore, evil, since it isn’t sourced as spiritual. Unless it is totally spontaneous, unplanned, then, people must be doing it. If worship totally blindsides you like Moses coming on the burning bush, then it is pure God sourced, and that is good.

    This argument gains power by being pitted against the oposite extreme, the totally bland and rehearsed theatrical experience of various kinds of liturgical worship. Man so thoroughly plans out the gathering, there is no place for spiritual sponteneity, and God is excluded. We can easily think of a thousand reasons, none of them good, why some men prefer this type of worship experience.

    What both of these extremes fail to understand is that the whole Christian experience is about a man/God relationship. What was God’s purpose for sending Jesus to the Cross? To make a relationship possible. Even in the gospel of grace, salvation as a free gift initiated by God, man still has a part, he must see his sin and accept the gift. Worship of the believers is a two sided experience, and both man and God must play a part or it won’t be successful. If we fail to contribute by thought, prayer, and preparation to the worship experience, then we are guilty of lazy passivity, as we put nothing of our selves into the experience. If we dominate the experience totally so that all parts of the worship experience are controlled by man, then that too will be unsatisfying for God does not contribute.

    It is a bit like a diet. You can’t eat everything, and you can’t eat nothing. You succeed in balance.

  6. I like the thoughts about man and God playing a part in the worship service. The Spirit must guide and direct…we must obediently contribute. I think too often the “Church” errors on the side of human effort planning everything and basically telling the Holy Spirit that He has x number of minutes to do His thing before we get the next group in. The larger the church, the harder it is to make necessary changes so that there is more balance.

    • True. This can be a struggle with a larger church. The pastoral staff can prayerfully plan the service with all the right heart attitudes, Spirit-led direction in terms of the scripture, songs, etc but b/c of the constraints mentioned, it still creates a passive culture in the congregation.

      Avoiding extremes on both sides is important, but what if in the pursuit to avoid extremes we simply accept the status quo, and we never get nearer the ideal? How long should it take? Does church size matter? How do you create a culture of change amongst the congregation that encourages all to participate corporately (knowing you may not get 100% but as close as possible) and mutually edify one another so that Christ is glorified in our midst and so unbelievers and visitors will see and experience the very presence of God in our midst and glorify Him along with us?

      Granted this is just the preface but I am glad we are wrestling with some of this. May we continue to drive to the scriptures for our answers.

      • I think larger churches can struggle with spontaneity and/or input from the body in terms of the corporate celebration. But small churches can suffer from the same problems and often deal with other ones as well such as disorder. I think size can play a role but the battles are simply different.

        On that note, I think we need to make sure we define the activity of the church well beyond the corporate worship experience. The church doesn’t cease to be the church when the doors are closed and everyone goes home. The church actually goes on mission when it scatters to live life. I don’t see corporate worship necessarily needing to all or most of the purposes of the church. I think it is a corporate gathering for celebration where community can begin to be built. At Kingsland, we worship corporately then begin to build community within our ABFs. From there, even more intentional community is built through small groups and relationships. I actually see it working well. However, the battle still remains concerning apathy. It is one we will always have to creatively fight.

  7. Agree with both size churches having problems. I also agree that the church is the body of believers…i.e. the people themselves and they are truly the church when they leave the building and go live life. If the corporate worship gathering isn’t to meet all of the needs/purposes of the church, then shouldn’t more emphasis be on the small groups where you still 1. have a corporate gathering together of the saints/believers, thus nullifying the larger gathering 2. These smaller units then can function quicker/faster to the needs of their “community” in ways that cause them to worship God through song, study of Scripture, service projects etc, meeting needs.

    If the true functions of “church” are met in the small groups, then why have the larger gathering? A typical large group gathering has 1. Song/worshipful singing to God, 2. Scripture reading, 3. Scripture commentary by a pastor/teacher, 3. Offerings/Tithe to God, 4. Baptism/Lord’s Supper (as needed/scheduled-depending on which church you are at), 5. Announcements, 6. Response time to the message 7. Prayer

    Our small groups have 1. No Song typically though some do, 2. Scripture reading, 3. Scripture commentary by a teacher 4. Sometime collect offerings for events (VBS, class member needs/ministry) 5. No real communion/baptism 5. Announcements 6. Response-unknown and 7. Prayer.

    We could argue that the large service is better b/c you have a couple of extra elements and you have a cross-generational sampling of the body which is beneficial. However, with a large gathering very little true community/fellowship is taking place in the midst of the service as we are focused not on our neighbor sitting near us but what is taking place on stage, so that nullifies the community/fellowship aspect except for proximity.

    I think that very easily could you shift focus to bring music into the small group/ABF’s. There are tons of people who play instruments or even if they don’t all of us can open our mouths and praise God. We are not called to be pop music industry level singers…just simply give God worship through songs, psalms, etc. This like everything would involve changing the culture a bit. We can have a response time in our ABF’s/Small groups, and even practice the Lord’s supper (even over a real meal) and baptism through the small groups. All Christians in Matthew 28 are called to baptize and make disciples so no scriptural problem there. If the larger church body had set times when we would do that as a church (i.e. a celebration large church gathering then great!!!). Also, larger churches can meet some needs more effectively by having programs for addictions etc.

    So it seems to me that if all sizes have problems, then it seems smaller ones are built to more easily deal with them. So why not emphasize the small group/ABF and use the larger gatherings for things like Baptism, coming together for common prayer times, testimony to encourage all believers, etc? instead of replicating everything happening in the community of the ABF/Small groups? As far as addressing cross-generational mixing (which I think is important), then small groups can switch off meeting with other small groups for a larger worship experience.

    I’m not throwing out a model, but just ideas. I think apathy is a danger either way. But ultimately I believe that the “Church”, that is the body of Christ (people), are called to love God, and love people. We should live in community because we were saved into the community of the body of Christ. Plus through community the outside world sees the love we show to one another when we pray, sing, meet the needs of one another, bear one another’s burdens, etc and as a result are drawn to Jesus by seeing us as the visible expression of Christ on this earth…i.e. being “Jesus with skin on”.

    All Christians are to grow in their faith and then teach others. Those who are mature in the faith mentor those who are weaker and working together the whole body of believers is made strong. I think the small groups make this a quicker, faster, easier way to implement at a level of true community where a larger church service doesn’t. The larger church service has merit, but may duplicate a lot of what works better in the smaller group settings.

    Anyway…on to Chapter 1: The Church Building…

        • Ramblin’, could you summarize your points? It is like you are having a discussion with yourself. Is your overall theme that community living is best expressed in smaller groups?

          I agree with most of your thoughts but feel that ultimately it takes effort/desire/will from the individual participants to create community in any size gathering. A smaller setting does make a community grow quicker. However if we only meet in ABF size groups with an occasional larger meeting, how would we build connections and community with other believers in the area?

  8. I agree Sunflower. Ramblin’ tends to….well….Ramble. But I have to agree with his overall points. We’ll see what he has to say, but I think smaller groups are easier to grow “community”. Building connections with others must be intentional, and you are right, it ultimately takes desire/will/effort no matter what size the gathering is. So if will always take that individual effort, I think smaller groups are easier to build personal connections that encourage people to engage and make the effort. Those who don’t want to connect at all and just attend a service each week can certainly find that dynamic in any of the 75 churches in the Katy area…but is that the best thing?

    • Sunflower, to answer your question, I do think smaller groups are always more intimate and create community faster. To truly represent the church, these groups might benefit more from having a cross-generational approach, but you need to balance that with meeting the felt needs of the population.

      For instance, young marrieds like to meet together b/c they can find deep, meaningful friendships with people in the same life stage as them. I think a larger “institutional” church when they create small groups needs to find ways to connect the groups to other groups of different life-stages for the purpose of building community with people who have been in the faith longer, have more life experience, etc. Bottom line, this helps us disciple and be discipled.

      No one expects to find true community in the large worship gathering as it is now, and so while we are all meeting together, it still is a passive, individual experience that we happen to do together. This is why having smaller groups makes those connections easier and more meaningful… and why I made the suggestions I did.

  9. Well, it has literally been a year since we talked about starting this conversation, and now it has been almost 5 months since the first post on PC and we haven’t even gotten to Chapter 1.

    I was hoping to have a real, deep, intelligent conversation to work through some areas that I see as disconnect between the way church is and what scripture intends it to be. PC is a great discussion starter to drive us back into the scripture so that we can sharpen one another and move forward in unity. Unfortunately, when the conversation never happens, we look around and find that 1 year has passed and we collectively have not moved the conversation forward at all, and our frustrations between the disconnect only grow.

    Seasons of life can be busy, but I believe that the body of Christ, His bride, the church, our community of fellow believers is so important that demands that we have this conversation and wrestle with it, and seek God in His scriptures. I believe that we have a responsibility to be great stewards in presenting God’s bride as spotless and without blemish to her bride groom: Christ himself. This isn’t just a book review, but a conversation of how we better represent Christ by being the church vs. going to “church”.

    Is this going to happen, or is this discussion just going to wither on the vine? I’m pumped if we can move it forward! Let’s move the discussion forward! Who’s with me?

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