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Archive for the ‘Jesus Christ’ Category

 

Did God speak outside of Scripture?  Does He still?  Can we speak His (new) words?

 

Speaking is a big focus of the New Testament, though I think we have overlooked it.  Many of the spiritual gifts have to do with verbal communication.  Are those gifts supernatural (spiritual) or not?  Can speaking gifts come from God, but not the words?  What about this verse from Peter?  “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…”  Have you ever thought about Paul’s admonition to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”?  Did you know that Paul follows with a request that his friends pray that “utterance may be given unto [him]”?

 

Maybe you’re like me, fascinated by how casually the Old Testament refers to God speaking to men.  God spoke to Cain.  God told Noah.  God visited Abraham.  He interrogated Job.  Was it like in the movies, where light streamed from heaven and men heard a voice?  How often did men have experiences like Abraham, who entertained God and a couple of angels in his tent?  Was the voice audible or not?  Did God come in dreams like He did for Joseph, instructing him to go ahead with his marriage to Mary?  Why doesn’t the Bible go into more detail about these fantastic communications?  Why do the authors seem to think we know what they mean when they simply say, “God spoke”?  Did they expect us to have similar experiences?  Does God still speak?

 

Did you know that the Bible never says anything about the end of the writing of Scripture?  Did you know there is no biblical instruction for determining a Canon?

 

Catholics ascribe authority to the words of the Pope (when he is speaking as Pope).  That way they have one universal authority to which all members of the church must submit.  Protestants rejected the Pope because they observed the fruit of his edicts, in the sixteenth century and before, that they were worldly.  Perhaps they also claim that the New Testament does not teach apostolic succession or the spiritual authority of popes.

 

But Protestants claim similar things about the Bible.  We use it as the universal and exclusive authority over the Church.  Now, the Bible does mention authority.  It says that men will live by the words of God, and I am fairly certain that the writings of the Bible fit into that category.  All Scripture, Paul wrote, is profitable for doctrine and rebuke and instruction in righteousness.  I’m willing to at least suggest that he had the Old Testament in mind.

 

The problem is that the Bible itself also teaches about the Church, and who has authority over it.  What it says is that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.  He is its authority, to which every member must submit.

 

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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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“Why are we the only ones?” Anne asked.  The whole world seemed to have missed the point, ignored the passages God had given about church.

“We’re not.  That’s what I’m saying.  There may be prophets in hiding, or in the distance.  And God may be preparing the people.  Perhaps they were only waiting for a leader.”

“Like Elijah,” she nodded.  Many Old Testament prophets had been the single voice calling for repentance and declaring the word of the Lord.  But God had told Elijah’s self-pitying heart that God was active elsewhere.  It was a good reminder.  First God revealed to Elijah His awesome might, then His tender provision, and finally His varied work.  Elijah was really only a servant of the great leader.  The battle was God’s.

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“As your pastor, who is a leader and protector and teacher of the church, I see God as both giving the authority and the job description.  I did not arrive at these conclusions lightly.  If I were not completely convinced that God’s word is explicit on these things, I would not have risked your indignation.  As to laziness, far from it.  It may only seem so to you because I am asking you all to take responsibility for your church.  You will no longer be able to sit in church on Sunday and trust your leaders to have a relationship with God for you.  You will have to spend time with Him yourself.  I’ll be here to teach, to guide, to help, to answer.  You can call me with your questions at any time of day.  I’ll be there.”

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“This sounds like chaos.  We just read God doesn’t like confusion.  Well, what if one man brings a lesson from 1 Timothy and another wants to tell us what he’s learning from Isaiah?  What if no one has any ideas for songs?”

“I’m trusting God to lay on our hearts messages and songs that will communicate to us as He wills.  I’m trusting you all to be respectful and to heed God’s leading.  Our schedule is abandoned.  We start at 10, in here.  We may not end until 3.  If you have to leave prior, we’ll understand.  If you want to bring sandwiches, that’s ok too.  Don’t you think they broke bread when the early church gathered?  Two or three may teach.”

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I purchased a book today that is knock-my-socks-off exciting. First published in 1947 (originally written in 1930) by a missionary society (the author wrote the preface from Argentina), The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary is a well-studied book that includes biblical references and quotes from outside sources, as well as personal testimonial experiences of the author and his colleagues. If you read my series on Changing Church, you probably have a fair idea of the direction my thoughts on Church tend.

A lot of us recognize there is something wrong with at least one portion of our Church model, whether it is the drop-out rate after youth group, the worship, “extracurricular” involvement, or craving for deep teaching and mature discipleship that just isn’t available. Some authors and Church leaders have advocated programs based on secular entertainment or business or education models to turn these trends around. A faith-in-God-based approach would be to go to the Bible in case He had something to say about the way Church should be. It follows from the fact that God instituted and created the Church that He also knows what will be most effective in it, and if that is important to Him, He let us know what those things were.

Alex R. Hay, the author of this book from sixty years ago, says in his foreword that he sensed a movement of the Holy Spirit in Christians’ lives around the world pointing them back to the New Testament for their Church models. I commented to my mom, who was with my when I bought the book, that I was impressed that the same movement of the Spirit that I can note among the different movements, websites, books, and friends with which I am familiar was happening in 1947, too. Her reply was less than encouraging, “When was this written? And obviously the book didn’t change the world. The principles weren’t put into place.”

There are several answers to that statement. First, as the missionary agency was international, there may very well be congregations implementing the style of Church described therein. Or the book may not have been well-publicized. The copy I now own was apparently used as a textbook or reference book. There is underlining in it. I would say the fact that it was on a used bookstore shelf might reflect on its importance to the original owner, but since the book was published sixty years ago, it seems likely the original men taught by the book are retired or deceased. I don’t know when seminary training became prerequisite for pastorship at most churches, but these schools now present multiple concepts of ministry and theology, allowing students to study for themselves. They have to study modern methods, just like I had to wade through shelves and rooms and stacks of books to discover this gem, and it is only by God’s grace that I pulled this one off the shelf at all. The task of wading through all the books and theories can be overwhelming. That’s why we go to the Bible.

But here is my other answer to my mom’s observation. Is she saying that the work is less true or important because it is not popular? Because its ideas did not “win” in the subversive battle for Church structure? This is the subtle philosophy derived from evolution that governs our legal system, our philosophy, and our culture. I am told that because the cultural norm is for women to move out after high school, attend college, and pursue a career with a husband on the side, that my anti-establishment choices are not even going to work in this modern reality. Case law was specifically designed to undermine natural and moral absolutes*, taking the Darwinian view that the dominant or consensus idea is the “fittest,” so it is right for the current generation. Our philosophy takes the same position, that whatever is exists because it is best, the most pragmatic for our time. New ideas replaced old ones. We are in a progression. Thus the Bible is outdated. Family is obsolete. Our Constitution is a living document, and we humans are slaves to the drive of society.

The problem is the evidence refutes this perception. Majorities have never changed the course of the world. Change happens in a society because lobbyists speak loudly and corral the masses. Some things are always true. God, the transcendent eternal guide, is the source for truth, and the only Northern Star by which we can set our compasses in a world of experiments that take a lifetime to discover were wrong.

My brother asked without much thought one day if anyone had ever done a test to see on how little sleep the average human can survive. In case you didn’t catch on, if in the study a human did not get enough sleep to survive, he was dead. The experiment would be the same as seeing how long you can go without breathing before you’re dead. You can always push the envelope until there’s no envelope to push, and then there’s not much point in having that data. The same with the social experiments. The consequences of fooling around with God’s order are too dire to permit.

Go to God. Seek His plan. Implement it to the best of your ability. Trust Him. In Church. In your family decisions. In economics. In morality. In education. For salvation.

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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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