Tag Archives: church

Toward A Functional Ecclesiology (Part 2 of 2) […or Professional Ministry – FAIL!]

Anglican priest or deacon in choir dress

Today, Alan Hirsch posted a quick quote from Richard Hays on FB:

Our habit of thinking of ministry as a ‘profession’ is likely to produce serious distortions in our conception of the church and our role within it ~ Richard B. Hays, 1 Cor.3:18-23

While this is crystal clear to me, I know many Christians simply do not see the distortion (see Part 1).  This just goes to show how deeply ingrained we are in our contemporary Western culture and how utterly out of touch we are with the culture of the early church.

There is a popular phrase that states “form follows function” meaning:

If an object has to perform a certain function, its design must support that function to the fullest extent possible. – Digital Web Magazine

In fact, the context in which this was taught was in a class on church planting.  And this makes perfect sense, the form follows the function; the design supports how the church works.  So, if we have professional ministers, the church structure, from the organizational chart all the way to the actual performance of ministry, in all practicality must serve the professional minster.

Yet, the “fail” is seen in the fact that upon reading the New Testament there simply were no professional ministers or hierarchy, and the design, the form, was quite different from what we have today.

This, then begs the question: If we notice this difference, how do we go about changing it?  How do we get back to the original intent?  How do we essentially allow for purposeful change that will benefit the church and in turn benefit society?  How do we return to a functional ecclesiology?

The answer begins with embracing and encouraging a ministry supported by the New Testament in which all are ministers and all have received gifts and empowerment by the Holy Spirit to serve as Christ here and now every day of the week at any given place on the planet…and maybe beyond!

Take a look at these passages: Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4.

The church is the body, all having a part to play.  There are no professional ministers.

Now, there are indeed leaders, often called elders, but nowhere do we see these individuals taking over for the body.  Their function is to encourage service – not to take it and to protect the body – not to control it.

Take a look at 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for more on this.  Again, no professional here either.

So, in short, both the church and her leaders need to be willing to reevaluate the current system to see how functional or dysfunctional it really has become.

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Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell

Let’s get the big questions out of the way first:

  1. Is Rob Bell teaching Universalism?  No.
  2. Is Rob Bell teaching Annihilationism?  No.
  3. Is Rob Bell a heretic?  No.
  4. Does the book Love Wins challenge traditional views of Hell?  Absolutely!

“What we have here…is a failure to communicate.” – Cool Hand Luke

There has been a lot of hooplah over this book and I am happy about that…it is about time!

Indeed, what we are seeing is a failure to communicate, and in this case the communication has to do with the gospel and the essential truths of the Christian faith.

The church has over the centuries seemingly perfected an odd yet compelling sense of interpreting and explaining what is found in scripture.  And just like all of the reformations and revolutions that have gone on throughout those centuries we are seeing yet another in Rob Bell’s Love Wins. [If you haven’t already done so…go get it and read it!]

It seems to me that those most upset about this are also the most out of touch with the reality that the very questions Bell raises in this book are those being asked by people both in and out of the church.

As one who spends a lot of time working and talking with those who do not attend church on a regular basis, I can testify that these questions need to be answered…and the typical fare served up in the form of confessions and dogmas in Protestant and Evangelical circles is not doing the job.

There needs to be a fair amount of objectivity when reading this book.  Those who consider themselves conservative Christians can all too easily see conflict with what they have been taught.  Those outside the church also need to be objective, for Bell’s message is not one that issues a free ticket to heaven.

I strongly believe that we need to be able to visualize the stories and teachings of the early church to better understand how they affected their life together and their ministry to the world.  When it came to heaven and hell, the early church lived in the midst of paradox out of necessity. They simply did not have the systematic professional set of tools that we have today to carve out definitive answers.  Yet, they seemed to both thrive and succeed in living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Such well defined answers as we have them today seem to be detrimental in at least two main ways:

  1. They cause unnecessary division among Christians
  2. They promote an incomplete picture of the narrative of the New Testament

Bell’s book seeks to look past the accepted beliefs, in effect, opening up the box and expanding our thoughts regarding the scriptures.

If Rob Bell is on the right track here, and I believe he is,  Christians all the more should lead the way to heaven.  According to his accounting those who protest the most will champion systems of belief but those who are living the faith now get the point.  Faith alone is enough, but it isn’t the end…there is more…much more.

In case you missed it, I heartily recommend this book and look forward to the dialogue that will follow.

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Early Church Studies Quote of the Week – Hearing the Apostle Paul Today

Theology of the Cross Two

Image by Transguyjay via Flickr

I happened to be skimming through a book from my college days and came across this great quote from Charles Cousar’s A Theology of the Cross:

If the church is to move beyond triumphalism and individualism, it must from its traditions discover afresh its own individuality and discern its identity in distinction from the dominant culture.  The Pauline letters with their insistence that the risen Christ is the crucified one represent a slice of the church’s tradition that speaks pointedly and persuasively to that task. (pgs. 20-21)

This may seem too big a task to accomplish, but if this rediscovery begins in our own churches, where it can most readily, then it becomes something we can seek out with purpose.

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God, Gentiles and Grace – On the Essence of the Inclusion Debate

Capernaum synagogue

Image via Wikipedia

I recently heard Alistair Begg give an excellent summary (found here, about 17 minutes into the broadcast) of one of Jesus’ most compelling confrontations.

The text at hand is Luke 4:14-30:

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.[f]

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

23 Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.

25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”

28 When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. 29 Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, 30 but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.

Why were those in the synagogue so angry?

It is here that Alistair gives the following maxim (in a paraphrase):

The salvation which Jesus proclaimed they [the Gentiles] need, but don’t deserve.

and

The salvation which Jesus proclaims we [the Jews] deserve, but do not need.

Brilliant!  I am not sure if this is his own idea or if it has been passed down, but this is the essence of one of the primary early church debates – How do the Gentiles fit into God’s plan of salvation.

The legalists knew the Gentiles needed the One True God, but could not comprehend them receiving it simply by faith.  Surely, they must conform…look, walk and talk like us.

The legalists also knew that Jesus’ teachings bothered them.  They were just too easy, too open compared to what they knew the religious life to be.

As a result, they believed that they deserved what Jesus was offering, but did not want it as he presented it.

Alistair Begg continues by making the comparison with modern Christians:

Surely those outside the church need Jesus, but they don’t deserve it…just look at how they live.

We Christians deserve salvation, look how obedient we have been!  We just want it to look like something we would design…a nice orderly, religion that can be left at church on Sundays.

I thought this to be quite a good, though basic, summary of one of the earliest debates among the church – that of inclusion of “outsiders” and how that works out in practice.

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Early Church Studies Quote of the Week – On Fellowship

This week’s quote comes from an old friend that has been a “virtual mentor” to me over the years – Wayne Jacobsen:

Anyone who talks about fellowship as an obligation, doesn’t really understand what fellowship is all about.

You can read more of his commentary on this over on the Lifestream blog.

Is church supposed to be a “service” that one attends, maybe even dreads?

It goes something like this,

“I have to go to church Sunday morning, then we can make plans to get together…”

or

“I have to be the Greeter today, so…”

Fellowship is not designed to be an obligation, but in many ways it has become one.

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Women And Ministry In The Early Church

I see this as one of the most pressing issues and also one of the most fruitless issues in the church today.  I typically don’t give much time or effort to it because I am settled in my stance – a fully inclusive approach – which I see as the practice of the early churches.

That said, here is an excellent video in which NT Wright briefly addresses the issue quite well.

He encapsulates my primary take on the issue at 4:20 into the video where he states that the only way one would have a problem with women involved in ministry is if they hold church tradition over the scripture itself.

That is exactly the crux of the issue, and the problem only gets worse the more tradition is added over the centuries leaving us with an exhausting, divisive and distracting debate among Christians these days, which Paul also warned about.  (1 Timothy 1, for “those who have ears”…)

The book Wright refers to at the end of the video is his Paul For Everyone: The Pastoral Epistles, a very approachable and well written commentary on 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.  It reads much like a conversation yet also handles the issues quite well, so I highly recommend the series.  You can also see similar and more in depth info. on his site here.

We must keep in mind the original setting of 1 Timothy.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young leader in Ephesus, who is asked by Paul to help keep the churches there focused on sound teaching and practice.

In Ephesus, was the Temple of Artemis, which NT Wright explains:

…was a massive structure which dominated the area.  As befitted worshippers of a female deity, the priests were all women.  They ruled the show and kept the men in their place.”  (Paul For Everyone: The Pastoral Letters pg. 25)

So, we see that the setting in which Timothy found himself was one in which women held a special and esteemed place in society in the popular religious cult of the community.  The church, in order to proceed among the Ephesians in sharing the gospel of Jesus must be careful to do at least two things:

  1. Maintain the beliefs and practices that Jesus had left and that his apostles passed on to the churches.
  2. Maintain a distinction from the popular cultural religious practices, especially since these practices directly challenged and would compromise the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles.

In this light, it makes sense for Paul to ask Timothy to set standards that would ensure that the church would develop in a healthy manner in the midst of the popular pagan cult.  NT Wright states that Paul’s concern was that:

…men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them.  (Paul For Everyone: The Pastoral Letters pg. 26)

The goal then, is not simply to put restrictions on women.  It is to challenge both men and women to leave behind the old stereotypes concerning men and women.  (1 Tim. 2:8-9)

  • Men should seek action in prayer as opposed to being loud, argumentative and factitious.
  • Women should seek beauty and significance in wisdom and good deeds as opposed to fancy dress and jewelry.

Primarily then, the church – men and women alike – should seek to represent Christ and his gospel above all – above culture, religion, and typical male/female distinction.  The goal is to ensure a “good testimony” as Jesus did.  (1 Tim. 6:13-14)

As we can see then, much of the argumentation on this topic simply misses the point.  In the process of reading and interpreting the Bible, it is imperative that we not impose our own cultural or traditional baggage onto the text, but let it inform and challenge us to re-interpret our culture and traditions in light of Jesus Christ and what he calls us to be and do as his church.

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Should Churches Burn Qurans??? (Or Any Books For That Matter!)

fahrenheit burn

Image by mrtwism via Flickr

In a word and quite simply, no.

But just when we thought this rediculousness went away, now there is another (infamous) church vowing to actually carry it out.

My first thoughts on this go back to a quite unhealthy trend that I have seen in many American churches.  A belief that somehow unites church and state to the point where pastors think government should look and act more like a theocracy, as though the government should act as a church itself.

It surfaces here quite well.  For, Pastor Terry Jones’ original intent was to burn Qurans to “send a warning.”

Now, what kind of warning can a small church in Florida send?  Certainly nothing that would have any lasting change for the good.  That is why I say leave the heavy lifting (the “warnings”) to the government and the politicians that represent us as Americans.

What the church is called to do is to love their enemies – unto death if necessary.  This is clearly the model Jesus left.

Now, on a practical level, is there anywhere in the New Testament that we see books being burned by Christians?

Yes, indeed there is!  Acts 19:11-20.

Form here on out, since the content is so good, I will give credit to the STR Blog where they quote Tony Reinke on the subject:

The Bible, as far as I can tell, mentions one account where religious texts are thrown to the flames (Acts 19:11-20). On the heels of the great work of God in Ephesus, the people had come to fear God and to trust in the Savior. As a result, “a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver” (v. 19). In modern terms they ignited a bonfire using very expensive magic books….

From this account here are six points to ponder:

1. The Ephesian people burned their own books. These new believers renounced their past. This was not an act of Christians barging into homes to ransack libraries for kindling, or weeding out the public library, or buying up all available copies from the local bookshop. They gathered the valuable books from their own houses.

2. No Christian leader encouraged the book burning. At least the text doesn’t say it. Or would have been better for the books to be sold and the money given to the Apostolic ministry? Perish the thought. There there is no indication that Paul advised the people to burn (or sell) their occultist books.

3. The books posed no threat to the gospel. The gospel overcame the magic power of the books. The gospel is like a hurricane and nothing will stop its wind, certainly not a book of demonic spells.

4. God’s display of power convinced the people that their books were worthless. There was no need to address the value of the magic books directly. Once God’s power and his gospel were seen in the city, the matter was settled.

5. The book burning was a display of godly sorrow. The recently converted Christians wanted to confess their sin before “all.” The high value of the books (50,000 days wages worth!) made a strong statement. It was an act of personal sorrow for their own sin.

6. The burning illustrated the victory of the gospel. The magic books were burned because the gospel was spreading like wildfire: “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (v. 20).

These six points should make us very hesitant about burning other people’s religious books.

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Church Buildings Are Like Ghosts!

I absolutely HAD to post this up today!

Aside from a good laugh, I see this as one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the church: the fact that most people and many Christians believe the church is a building.

Cruise through the New Testament and see if you can find a building called the church…

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Things That Make You Go, Hmmm – Romans 1:11-12

OK, so Paul is introducing himself to the church in Rome and he needs to gain their trust and respect.

How does he do it?

He writes:

“For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord.  When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.”

So, bringing a gift, that should help.  But more importantly a spiritual gift, something expressly given him by God to give away to the churches for their spiritual gain.

Then, he further expresses what will happen when they meet.  Encouragement between them – Paul to the church in Roma Rome (tip of the hat to my ancestors!) and the church in Rome to Paul.

Now, how does that happen?  What does it look like?

Paul knew that Christian ministry flows two directions.  The church, after all, is a body.  All the parts serve, nourish and enhance one another.

He shares and encourages others and the church shares and encourages him.

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