Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

What if the Bible isn’t enough?  What if God desires us to have more of a relationship with Him than a hermeneutical understanding of morality and doctrine?  And isn’t that what the Bible teaches: walk in the Spirit, walk by faith, the Spirit will guide us into all truth, despise not prophesying?
If you’re anything like me, first you rejected these speculations. Then you couldn’t stop thinking about them, and started reading the Bible in a new light, considering the possibilities.  And now that you’re seriously tempted to believe in continuing revelation, you’re scared.  I’m not very good at explaining this fear.  I think about how I have relied on the Bible so much.  How do I appeal to fellow believers about their belief and practice except on a universally accepted standard?  How do I witness to nonbelievers except by demonstrating the inerrancy (internal consistency and outward truth) of the Bible?  Can I claim that internal consistency proves anything when that was a test for which books made it into the Canon or not?  Supposing God does speak to me, how will I know it’s Him? What if He speaks to someone else?  Why should I submit to what He speaks through them?  How will believers be on the same page, with each one (or at least each congregation) receiving his own revelation?
Maybe I’m scared because I never dreamed I would be here, believing these things.  And where else will it lead?  Maybe if I need to hear from God today, or in the future, I have to trust that He will speak; I can’t just sit comfortably holding in my hand all He was ever going to say.  I have to believe in a God who is able to communicate not just to me, but to people around me.  I have to believe in a God whose mercy is so great that even when I’m sinfully not listening, He’ll cushion me from making mistakes too terrible.  But I need His mercy every time, because whenever I’m not listening to Him, I’m doing my own thing.  So maybe I don’t like this belief because it puts me out of control.  I can’t force revelation from God by being smarter or studying longer or even by asking the right teacher.
On the other hand, I like it.  The God of the universe is speaking to real live people today.  He has designed a community for His people that is interdependent.  We get to be a part of His ministry both to those who have believed and to those who have not.  God has not left us alone to make up our own decisions.

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Today I read an extra chapter from Frank Viola’s From Eternity to Here.  This is the chapter I bought the book for.  In The Anatomy of the Church, the author lists and describes 14 biblical images of the Church, from the familiar: Bride, Body to the obscure: Field, Loaf.  Each one includes references.


“Compare the bouquet of roses to a rose bush. In a rose bush, the roses are one organic whole. Each rose possess its own individuality, but none are individualistic. They grow together for they share the same root. The bush passes through seasons of death and resurrection together. They are one organism. The church that the New Testament envisions is a rose bush, not a bouquet of roses.”


Frank emphasizes the communal (non-individualistic) nature of the Church and the headship of Jesus Christ, brought forward in every image.  Jesus redeems individuals in order to make for himself a special people. And He takes us and baptizes us into one body.


I’m interested to study a few of these images more.  The Loaf and The Army particularly piqued my interest.  Is the Armor of God given to the corporate Church rather than to individuals?  What does that look like?  Where does this Bible teacher get the idea that the “grains” produced by Christ’s death and resurrection must be crushed and fired and turned into one loaf?


On the other hand, how beautiful and exciting to meet with a vision for the Church: for God’s love for her, His purpose for her, and His delight in her.  How do we respond to that?

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Under what circumstances is it right to leave a church?  Are those circumstances different for the pastor(s)?

  • If the church does not preach sound doctrine, you should find a true church.
  • If the church is tolerant of disobedient lifestyles, it is not healthy.
  • When God calls you to foreign missions, you must go.
  • When God moves your family geographically, find a church in the new area.
  • If a woman gets married she moves to her new husband’s church.

Should you communicate with other leadership or lay-people about the potential that you would leave?  When does that reach divisiveness?

Would Paul have requested that Timothy come to him, join him on missions, or lead a different church if the church Timothy was currently pastoring was not sufficiently provided for in the way of elders?

Should a church elder be in communication with his congregation about where God is leading him, even personally?  I cannot imagine that Timothy would make a decision to leave a church without praying with his congregation about it, without consulting the other church leadership.  I picture a congregation practically sending him out, as a missionary, though they would miss his leadership and friendship, in agreement that God was calling their friend elsewhere.  Did they always understand that Paul’s or Timothy’s ministries would be temporary?

Paul clearly felt comfortable visiting his churches again, once he had moved.  Which means his departure had to be congenial.  I do not think that he would come back just for a reunion party, or that he would come back only as an observer, slipping into the crowded congregation unnoticed.  In fact, I am pretty sure that whenever he visited one of his former churches, he would teach again.  Could one of our churches, in the modern times, welcome back to the pulpit an old friend and faithful leader who had been busy with God’s work elsewhere?

God can work in the system that is.  For example, He does not like or condone immorality, yet He can still bless the life of a child born out of wedlock.  He may not have prescribed the system of calling pastors from church to church that we use in America, but He can certainly use that, and work His will in the culture by revealing His call through that system.  But – BUT – if we are trying to decide from scratch how we ought to do something, I would not say that we should look to tradition for guidance, or to ritual for structure.

God’s Word reveals how He wanted our lives, our homes, and our churches to look.  I see in the New Testament that God would give gifts to men, that He would provide from among the congregation Christians to fulfill the needs of that body.  Therefore while God may call some people to be traveling evangelists and missionaries and church planters, He will usually, in a healthy church, raise up generations of leaders to be elders (the word simply refers to an age hierarchy, naturally assuming that spiritual maturity and life wisdom will equip those who have been saved longer to be leaders and teachers in the church) in the congregation where they themselves also grew up.  And the body they lead would be so much like their own family that they would not often skip from church to church.

Josh Harris wrote a new book, “Stop Dating the Church.”  I wonder what the connotations are.  I think the indication is to be purposeful and faithful in your search for a church.  Love unconditionally.  Meet the needs of the church, and don’t be self-seeking.  The body of Christ is supposed to be one, as a husband and wife are, with different people making up the different parts, being fitted together by service and love even as joints and ligaments hold the flesh together.

When is a marriage allowed to end?  At death.  What God has brought together, let no man tear apart.  Allowance is made for unfaithfulness.  Individuals may be put out of the fellowship of the body for unrepentant sin.  I can think of few circumstances that fit with the picture of marriage in which a person has a right to, of his own will, leave a church.

What about pastors?  Have we no faith that God can use us when we are at the end of our own strength and creativity?  Perhaps pastors have taken on too much responsibility. Whereas they were only meant to teach God’s word, to be examples of the Christian life, and to hold others accountable, they now feel responsible for the “success” of their church.  When a church is not growing, or is not applying the teaching, they feel that reflects on their skill, so they bail out.  I don’t wish to be harsh on such wonderful Christians, but I have heard leaders giving up, like they thought it was all about them.

Look at Ezekiel!  He knew from the start that his ministry wouldn’t be “successful”!  But he was a faithful prophet, a suffering prophet, because his ministry wasn’t about success; it was about obedience to God.  Our ministry isn’t about numbers or popularity.  It’s about obedience.  We must come to the place where we realize that even though we don’t always like what God asks of us, “Where else will we go?  Who else has the word of life?” to quote Peter’s words to Jesus.

In the early church, all the Christians in a neighborhood (or city, if there was a small enough number of Christians) would meet together.  They did life together, and devoted themselves to teaching and prayer. I don’t know that there was much choice to which congregation claimed you as a member.  Either a Christian went to the church in his area or he didn’t go at all.  And perhaps there were smaller groups that would eat together, but you could not shut out other Christians just because they weren’t your style.  Getting along was all the more important since this was the case.

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“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

Hebrews 10:24-25

This year, and especially this summer, I have been learning a lot about the Church. That might sound strange for a girl whose family has been a part of it all her life. I’ve memorized verses about church. God has been really stripping away my assumptions about church recently, though. Does a church need a youth pastor? Does a church need a youth group? Does a church need a senior pastor at all? What about a building? What does the Bible say?

And that led into questions like, What is the church supposed to do? Who is the church supposed to comprise? How should we spend money? How should we collect money? What is the admonition in Hebrews, not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, really saying?

Since my questions started pouring forth, I’ve also done a lot of research. This is Bible research. Check out 1 Corinthians 12-14 for one of the simplest descriptions of the church (meaning the gathering.) And I’ve also looked up different articles about church. A Christian Home had one (I think it got lost in computer craziness) about the real church being small groups. You find small groups all across the board of small churches, big ones, evangelistic, or discipleship-minded. There is a site called the New Testament Restoration Foundation with some interesting arguments for home churches, which I see as still doing the small groups and crossing out the traditional Sunday morning 200+ gatherings. There is a little more detail there, though, because they aren’t just suggesting a strategy for small groups; they’re pointing out and trying to implement the instructions given in the New Testament.

All this to say I finally reached the same conclusion that was superficially in my mind before I started asking. The Church is about people. Build them up. Love them. Be faithful to speak the truth to them. Learn and serve at their side. The Church cannot be confined to a building. It is every Christian you know and with whom you communicate.

To conclude, having learned these things and become passionate about them, this morning I read this post from Gretchen at Young Ladies Christian Fellowship. Note that the congregation began serving them after just one week!

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I am still thinking about church. My ideas and questions have plateaued for a while. The concepts are still there. Church is community. Church is the Bride of Christ. Church is for edification. The Church must preach the gospel to every creature.

Two of my heroes are Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Their words so perfectly express Christian truths. I am always challenged by the things they wrote. What’s more, their lives back up their admonitions. I found this quote by Jim about church: “The pivot point hangs on whether or not God has revealed a universal pattern for the church in the New Testament. If He has not, then anything will do so long as it works. But I am convinced that nothing so dear to the heart of Christ as His Bride should be left without explicit instructions as to her corporate conduct. I am further convinced that the 20th century has in no way simulated this pattern in its method of ‘churching’ a community . . . it is incumbent upon me, if God has a pattern for the church, to find and establish that pattern, at all costs” (Shadow of The Almighty: Life and Testimony of Jim Elliot).

A few years ago I started to do a Bible study of worship. It seemed to me that something so important could not have been overlooked by God. I also guessed that He would care how He was worshiped. Truth be told, I got bogged down in the endless supply of verses dealing with worship and praise and singing and bowing. Apparently, God has a lot to say about how we worship. The same is true, I believe, of Church.

One of the most vivid lessons I’ve ever had was taught by a man in a Bible study I attended. He put up a white board and, holding the marker up in his right hand, asked for us to list all the things wrong with the church. After we’d exhausted our many complaints, he erased it. “Good. Now forget all those things.” And then he asked what a bride should be. He received various responses from “beautiful” to “economical” to “barefoot.” Finally he pulled up another whiteboard and had us list what the church should be. Then he put the two boards side by side. If the Church is the Bride of Christ, shouldn’t we be expecting some bride-like behavior?

R.C. Sproul, Jr. and his Highland Study Center sent out an article in their bi-monthly magazine about feasting. If the Lord’s Supper is a preview of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, as indicated by Jesus’ comments about when He would again drink wine, shouldn’t it be an all-out feast? Shouldn’t we celebrate? The medieval and ancient understanding of feasting has been all but lost in our American culture. But think of any medeival feast about which you may have read. Singing. Dancing. Laughter. Platter after platter of delicious food. Smells of delicious food. Colorful fruit and costumes. Conversation that is witty and kind. Don’t you think the Church should be doing that?

Do you know how many times joy is addressed in the Bible? I don’t; I haven’t counted. But I know it is often discussed.

Rom 12:9-15
“Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil;

cleave to that which is good.

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love;

in honour preferring one another;

Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation;

continuing instant in prayer;

Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

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The Collective

A friend was telling me about a book the other day. She said that in the first page not only had the author stated his thesis; he had also persuaded her of its truth. The following hundred fifty pages were spent reiterating the point and adding evidence with which to convict the audience of the need for the final third of his book, advice for applying the concept. My friend has always been more interested in writing that was more practical than philosophical, and essentially agreed with the premise of this book before she began to read it. So she sloughed through the repetitive, unnecessary chapters getting quite bored and wondering if the book was worth her time.
And today, while I pondered her
conversational book review, I realized something. When I read, I cannot wait to share what I have learned with someone else. I want to discuss the statements, to criticize them or exult in them, to take every piece of information from the book and draw conclusions from it. I am rather bored by a book that is a list of how-to steps, because inevitably my situation is omitted, and I chafe under the restrictions of specifics. As a little girl playing with legos, I always altered the instructions that came with the little car kits. During a lecture, I much prefer taking my own notes to filling in blanks. When I read, I am not merely receiving what the author intended; I am springboarding from there to further conclusions, adding the information to everything else I know and experience, in order to richly apply the new ideas.

Not only am I blending each new piece of media with the others of my experience; I am contributing to the community knowledge and awareness. Were I to read the book my friend was describing, I would not only be gaining information useful for my life, but also things that I could transfer to my friends, some of whom might benefit from all those tedious persuasion points. I could write about the subject here (except I already have, when I read reviews of the same book by other bloggers – sharing their knowledge with their community). Think about reviews and quotes, the work of one man in reading an entire volume in order to bring you a concise summary and sample.

Have you an idea of the impact on your world when you read a book or watch a movie or listen to a song – or even have an experience? We are, when living in community, all something like the feared and almost unstoppable Borg of Star Trek invention. Our understanding is assimilated into a collective. Except in our case, instead of our brains being hacked and joined to an impersonal super-computer, we are a collective by reason of our relationships: our compassion for others, and wisdom in choosing when to share and what. Communication is key.

Imagine a person who was reading, thinking, watching, and living – but who never communicated any of what he learned. Though his experiences would shape him and his decisions and so impact the people around him, how much more could they all benefit if he was using his time not selfishly, but for what it could offer neighbors, family, and friends? What I do not have time to read, watch, or do might be in the realm of the experiences of my acquaintance, who could give me the relevant parts or the most interesting parts.

Worse than someone who will not communicate is a passive member of the community. All he does is absorb media, blinking at a screen, fiddling with a video game, settling for mediocrity in all of his pursuits, never aspiring to innovation or improvement. Such a person is not contributing to the community, is wasting his potential, while benefiting like a parasite from the efforts of others. Even if he is a hermit, excluding himself from the community, by residing in the vicinity of communities (even in a macro situation like the large geography of a state or country) he will be the recipient of at least a few good things brought about by the selfless enterprise of others. A country is strong when the people are united. It will be profitable, creative, defensive, and resilient.

So, too, is a church that is united. God did not place His children as individual hermits to meditate on Him and reach full potential of godliness, testimony, or understanding. He placed us as a people, in an organism called the church, made up of many members that the world may see our love in community, proclaiming not that God is near them, nor that God is in them, but that God is truly among them. It is almost redundant to say that church is community. But it is counterintuitive to today’s citizen. He is taught to think of church as an institution, a collection of programs and “services,” which the religious attend and in which they ritually participate.

The Bible teaches that the people redeemed by Christ’s grace are to walk in the Spirit, to live by faith, praying without ceasing. We are saved individually, each bearing God’s image, each a man for whom Jesus gave His life. But that salvation and faith and Spirit pours into the collective when the “members” gather. Then that which a person has read, learned, or experienced should be brought forward and discussed: questioned, projected, contrasted, added to the knowledge and circumstances of others, and then applied. What esteem we should have for those with whom we fellowship, embracing their words whether encouraging or correcting, for we are all benefiting from the voice of God on many ears!

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If you happened to come at the Church dilemma from the same direction as Pagan Christianity, meaning, you started to suspect there was something wrong with the way we “do” church, this book is the next step. In Reimagining Church, Frank Viola describes his conclusions about God’s intention for Church meetings, using the tool of contrast with our normal church experience. Not hierarchy, but consensus. Not stage-centered, but participatory. Not merely intellectual, but spiritual. Not program-driven, but organic. Not Pentecostal or cessationist, but charismatic.
Three points stood out to me in Frank Viola’s book.

1) He believes that the Trinity should be the model for our church: unity in diversity, and applies that belief to his theology and ecclesiology. How should our leadership be? How does the Trinity do it? How should our fellowship be? How is it between the Trinity? I don’t see that this method is taught by the Bible, but it
may not be false.

2) Theology should be contextual and Christ-centered. He advocates for a chronological order for the books of the New Testament, the order in which they were written set alongside the timeline and history found in Acts. Also he believes the
meetings should be Christ-centered in that the product of every gathering is a better love for, trust in, or knowledge of Christ.

3) We need fellowship with other Christians. There is no excuse for excluding any of the redeemed from our fellowship unless they are unrepentant about habitual sin or demonstrably only professing “Christianity” without any familiarity with what that means. (We don’t have to fellowship with cultists or heretics, even if they say they’re Christians.) The Bible emphasizes the group-ness of the Church over the individuality of the Christian. Community is essential for biblical interpretation, for evangelism, and for our personal spiritual growth.

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