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Archive for the ‘Meetings’ Category

In collecting, reviewing, and publishing these articles on ChurchMoot, I’ve been reminded of an idea that has been flitting on the edge of my mind.  The institutional church that I’m trying to refute is full of ritual.  Evangelical versions of rituals are so mundane that most of us don’t even notice.  Little things like shaking hands with the pastor as you leave the sanctuary, like bowing heads and closing eyes to pray are the protestant version of ritual.  Communion Services (or the Lord’s Supper) are some more obvious examples.

I cringe at ritual.  Christmas celebrations in church are famous for it.  Light this candle.  Recite this verse.  It makes me want to stay home.

But one must admit there is a lot of ceremony in the Bible.  The Temple regulations were specific about how to offer sacrifices, where to sprinkle blood, when to wash.  And this isn’t confined to the Old Testament.  In Revelation, John’s heavenly vision is of creatures throwing themselves repetitively at the feet of the King, crying the same praises.  A scroll is brought forth and they have to find the one who can break the seal.  Then the scroll is brought to Him.  When God could just speak and the plagues of the tribulation would come, He instead has angels with bowls and trumpets administering His judgment.

I wonder if our perspective isn’t off, though.  Maybe a whole lot more of our lives are ceremonial.  And maybe the things we do are figures of a reality we should be mindful of, but have forgotten.  Perhaps we have forgotten because we drew a line between ritual and everything else, between sacred and secular.  We got caught up in being ceremonious, and thought that was the point, and that the means didn’t matter.  When the means are everything.

Take the Lord’s Supper.  There is not likely anything else in a Christian’s practice with more significance.  Christ’s body is broken for us.  His blood seals a covenant.  Eating His body and blood brings life.  Jesus isn’t sharing this meal again until He shares it with us in the kingdom of God.  Do this as memorial for Him.  One loaf symbolizes and advances unity.  The Church is renewing a covenant of betrothal.  Jesus, the Husband of the Church, loves us as His own body, and gives Himself for us.  And we learn, we practice, we experience these truths in Communion.  All without scripts and choreography.  Without special plates or cups or robes.

But we have scripted it, choreographed it, and contained it in special plates and cups.  For the sake of reverent ritual, or convenience, we have mastered something that isn’t an art; it’s a child’s connect-the-dots.  Being so careful what we say and where we step, we’ve forgotten what we feel and what we believe.  Instead of a living parable, a stage drama of the Feast of Feasts, we’re living stick-figures.

I want to try living the metaphor, not just representing it.

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“Will and I have always been people who think.  Our greatest struggle is to keep from judging, and our greatest challenge to effect a change when we identify a problem.  But over the years we’ve identified more and more things wrong with our culture and the American church.  It is very discouraging.  Things like divorce, or the rate at which kids leave the church after high school.  Theological trends, too, like ‘seeker sensitive’ churches and the acceptance of women in church leadership.”

Will continued.  “Once we were married, we discussed all these things.  And our number one object, what we believe is our calling, is to take a stand against these things.

“We are both Christians who have a stubborn reliance on the Bible for our doctrine and practices.  This has been a personal commitment for us.  But it suddenly occurred to us that we should look to the Bible to solve these problems in the church as well.”

“Yes,” Anne said.  “It became clear that many of these symptoms were connected.  We learned as we looked at them and as we began searching the Bible for references to them that they are just symptoms of a culture’s unwillingness to accept God’s plan.  People who give high amounts of time and respect to the Bible have more successful ministries.”

“I took her aside after we finished a study we had been doing together, and I said we were going to start from scratch.  I wanted to throw out anything about church that was not taught in the Bible.  So we set about studying.”  Will looked at his wife.

“Our main books were Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, and Titus.  But we cross-referenced a lot,” said Anne.

“There is a big push about worship in the evangelical community these days.  We have studied worship from a New Testament perspective, and in some ways we’re getting closer.  I’m the first to admit, though, that the church tends to pick and choose which verses to which they want to adhere.  It was hard for us not to do that.”  A faint smile flickered across Will’s face.

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Changing Church

A total of 10 posts, including this Title Page, containing selections from Changing Church, will be posted on ChurchMoot.

Changing Church is an (unfinished) story about a pastor and his wife who studied the Bible to help them troubleshoot at their church, discovered a different pattern for church as taught in the Bible, and began implementing it.  What questions did people ask?  What gave Pastor Will the authority or responsibility to make so many changes?

The entire story, as far as it has been published, can be found, chapter by chapter, at: Changing Church.

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Several years ago I emailed my pastor. We’d taken Communion at church that week, and I was curious how we ever got started doing the ceremony as we did. I’ve come to discover that there are two major ways of taking Communion in churches today: The first follows the procedures of the Catholic Mass, where a minister presides over the table and the rest of the congregation comes forward for the bread and cup to be administered. Second is the version with which I am more familiar, where a minister recites a few sentences removed from 1 Corinthians 11, prays for the bread – which is actually pre-broken crackers in a plate, and then the deacons (whose original biblical job was, after all, distributing food) carry the plates to the congregation, passing them up and down the pews until everyone has some, then marching in unison to the front where they all surrender their trays, sit down, and let the minister serve them bread. Then he sits down and one of the deacons serves him. Then the minister stands back up and leads the congregation in “partaking.” We do the whole thing over again for the cup, served in trays of thimble-cups. And all I wanted to know is whence this elaborate ceremony came.
But my pastor either didn’t understand the depth of my question or didn’t know and gave me the best he had. No one knows, I concluded. If they don’t teach such things at seminary, where else could you learn about church traditions?

Pagan Christianity? addresses many points of my inquiry. First of all, it does tell me how we got the ceremony we know as Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Specifically the passing of trays was an invention of the church in Geneva where Calvin and his gang emphasized orderliness. Additionally, this short book describes the origins of several other things I mentioned: pastors and ministers, Communion no longer having to do with community, the Lord’s Supper no longer being a supper, churches meeting once a week in buildings, tables or altars at the front of the building, congregations as distinct from the clergy, pew arrangement facing a stage, deacons being reduced to ushers, seminaries, and even the practice of removing “verses” (an added, man-made invention) from context. Most of these are derived either from pagan temple ritual, Roman government structure and formality, or the style of Greek philosophers. On the whole this book is an astounded critique of how the Church of God has not transformed the world, but rather allowed itself to be conformed. We who are to be the image-bearers of God are looking remarkably like His enemy. This apostasy has dramatically affected the mission of the Church. We stand today divided, running after every new program or philosophy the experts throw at us, losing attendance by the thousands, and exhibiting a very weak testimony of the power, holiness, and love of our God. Pagan Christianity? is a wakeup call to the Church to abandon their manmade traditions with which we have replaced the commandment of God.

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After many adventures on his missionary journey, Paul met with a group of believers at Troas, where they met the first day of the week to break bread and hear Paul teach – until midnight and on to the break of day!  (Acts. 20:7)  Some scholars have used this verse to defend meeting weekly on Sunday.  Given the day-by-day accounts from Luke’s travel journal here, I believe that the day which Paul had available between boat rides to talk to them was the first day of the week, so Luke told us.  Is there significance to this?  There is enough to warrant its inclusion in the Bible.

But interpret it with other Scripture: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days…” (Colossians 2:16) “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.” (John 4:20, 23)

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Acts gives us a detailed sketch of the Church starting out, in Jerusalem.  In response to Peter’s testimony on the day of Pentecost, about three thousand people (Jews from all over the known world) repented, and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.

Acts 2:42, reminiscent of Colossians 1:23, says “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Two verses later we read, “And all that believed were together…” In case you’re wondering how over three thousand people fit into one place to break bread together, you’re not alone.  Fortunately, Luke adds in verse 46, “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved.”

So this passage answers three important questions:

  1. Who was the Church?
  2. What was the Church doing?
  3. How were they meeting?

~~~

Who

There was no membership process or role mentioned.  No creeds were ascribed to, nor votes taken to make one a member of the Church. The Lord added to the Church, and the way the existing Church knew was that more were being saved.  The present custom of Church membership is a result of congregationally/democratically-governed churches and of measuring the success of a congregation by their numerical growth.

~~~

When

Every Sunday morning traditional church buildings open their doors preparing for hours of ministry up until lunch.  There are other activities through the week using the building, but Sunday morning is the one time when a lot of people are meeting for what we would consider church.  You have no idea how hard it was to write that sentence, or how ambiguous I realize it is.  Without thinking, I would have written, “Every Sunday my church meets for worship.  Other times during the week there are ministry activities there, but Sunday morning is the one time when we are all worshiping together.”  When one starts to reconsider all that one has assumed is part of church, things get awkward.  In Acts, granted this was at the beginning of the Church (but also when it was seeing arguably its most effective outreach), we read that the Church met daily.

Did everyone meet every day?  Did everyone meet everyone else everyday?  Acts doesn’t elaborate.

~~~

Where

Daily they continued in the apostles’ doctrines.  The men who had seen Jesus resurrected, walked with Him during His ministry, and been commissioned by Him to share what He taught, were in turn making disciples out of the new believers. There was fellowship, eating together, prayers, and praising God.

The believers met selflessly, in one accord, like a voluntary socialist colony so much better because it was built on the blessedness of giving.  They met gladly, ready to praise God.  Doing things like eating, their meetings were simple.  And they met in open places and familiar places. The temple was a meeting place available to them in Jerusalem, and the believers made Solomon’s Porch their area.  I’m not sure, but this might have been an outdoor location. They also met from house to house.

The last several years I have been blessed to be a part of a group of Christians who love being together.  I know, because not a week goes by without everyone calling each other to have a party.  One night we meet at the church building, and another the games and food are at my house.  A family invites us to join them in witnessing to women scheduled for abortions, and another wants to get up a tournament of Frisbee golf.  Almost daily, from house to house, we are meeting for fellowship, discipleship, food, and ministry.  I believe this is what “house to house” means.  They met in houses, and not always the same house.  Maybe the groups meeting at houses even mixed, blended, and traded members depending on the day.

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