Thursday, October 1, 2009

Taking back the Church...

At the suggestion of a Pastor friend (another guy who is much smarter than me) I have begun reading a book called "Pagan Christianity?" by authors Frank Viola and George Barna (head of the "Barna Group" and contributor to books such as "Revolution" and "UnChristian"). I've only started the book last night and plan to make it the first book I review upon completion. From, what I've read so far, this book is quite possibly the most important book for our time in terms of church culture and is a must read for any person who is a follower of Christ. I say "must read" because as followers of Christ, we ought to truly want what He intends for us, and what He has for us as opposed to what has become cultural (whether Christian or American) or socially normal for people who consider themselves a "christian". We ought not be scared to learn more about why we believe what we believe and develop our own theology based upon God's word as opposed to a popular speaker, writer, etc.

Without giving it all away, Viola (a former Pastor and current Home Church advocate) breaks down the "church" today as defined by man and compares it to the "Way" or "The Church" (aka Body of Christ) in the New Testament. In just one day, I've learned (through numerous sources which he clearly identifies) that the idea of a "church" building is not from those who follow Christ but actually from the Constantine era in which the Roman Empire became "Catholic" and took on numerous forms of Pagan worship only changing the "Pagan players/god's" to Christ, The Trinity, Madonna and the Saints. I've also learned how Scripturally, though there were elders, there was never a paid staff, a clergy, laity or even a "lead Pastor" who oversaw the meetings and told the followers of Christ what they should or shouldn't do, deliver a message or lead "worship". In fact, there was no "Head" because according to Scripture, the "Head" was Christ and His temple, Scripturally, was HIM! Ultimately, the church was exactly what Paul said is was, "the body of Christ" and the "Bride of Christ".

When speaking about "church" today, we often picture a beautiful building or cathedral, both of which were taken from Pagan Culture (and are aesthetically beautiful both now and in the past I must admit), and though there is an importance and even a commend to continue meeting together, the church (body of believers) met wherever they could such as homes or other local buildings as opposed to building a place to worship. They did this because they believed it was important to not waste their money on a temple (which they already had in Christ wherever they were) when it could be used to help others who were starving or in need. The authors, in their humorous yet informative way made the comparison that if we are to call a building the "church", then Scripturally we ought to call our wife a condominium (Even funnier when you're an appraiser).

Anyway, the reason I bring this up earlier than the planned book review is because I came across a sad article of division in the church in Florida (might I add that in no way am I hoping to split up the church by suggesting we are doing it wrong, but in fact am hoping to bring us together following Christ as one body the way it was intended and originally practiced with Christ as the head/groom). The church (building) in Florida is called Coral Ridge Presbyterian and was Pastored by a man named Reverend D. James Kennedy who died in 2007 after many years of growing this "mega church". After his death, his job as teaching Pastor was taken over by a man named Tullian Tchividjian who is the grandson of Billy Graham. Long story short is that this new Pastor is not liked much by the congregation because according to the Associated Press "While he has shown no sign of theological differences with Kennedy, he has rejected politics as the most important force for change, and his sermons have not focused on divisive issues." So I need you to help me out here, "members" of this "church" are now leaving to form their own "church" after losing a September 20th vote to overthrow the current Pastor because he won't preach something other than Christ as the true eternal means to "change". Does this mean that they now are not in the body of Christ, and how do you leave the body to form another body? Were they ever in the body of Christ or just "members" of a different group of people who follow Jesus and culture, because that is what it seems like America does anyway? Might I also add that in Scripture, pastors never needed to be overthrown because our idea of pastor and the idea of "pastor" in the New Testament are totally different (I'll get more into that in the review).

Anyway, because I don't believe in coincidences, I had to note that God is clearly saying something in this book "Pagan Christianity?" and reiterated the importance of following Christ as the head of the church as opposed to a mere mortal man, who runs an institutional organization and has the ability to hire and fire as well as being able to decide how much Jesus should be taught. I urge you all to not believe that you need to be a "member" of a church who has a building in order to be a member of the church community as the former is not Scriptural. I also want to say that this is an opportunity to not create division by speaking against these little businesses (which I'm guilty of), but instead a chance to be the true body of Christ that helps these little businesses to see that we are doing what the followers of Christ did in the first century completely wrong. What I mean is that we are all a "Royal Priesthood", we are all the "bride of Christ", and we all can worship in the temple that is Christ anywhere because the temple he built in "three days" is a Spiritual one; Praise Jesus!

In defense of the present day worship style, even though being a "member" of a church building is not Scriptural, how are we supposed to know this unless we do the research ourselves? Also in defense of our pastors, they most likely don't realize that the way we "do church" is not scriptural either and that is why I urge you to pick this book up for yourself. By being informed about who we are meant to be in Jesus and how we are meant to function in the body of Christ you will be able to educate a friend, a pastor, a member of the "laity" or any person who desires to be Christ's bride as opposed to his Condo.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting. He did say, "Wherever two or more are gathered, there I will be." I don't know it verbatim,but it is something along those lines, right? The place of reverance and its structural contents are irrevelant, as long as spritual intent is present. God bless you for bringing up this topic.

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  2. Barna/Viola's "Pagan Christianity" wasn't a stand-alone book. The sequel is called "Reimagining Church", it's the constructive part of the discussion. He also has a new book that's the practical follow-up to both books. It's called "Finding Organic Church." Viola's article "Why I Love the Church" explains the motivation behind all three books. http://frankviola.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/why-i-love-the-church-in-praise-of-gods-eternal-purpose/

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  3. Jillie,

    You are right on. I will be following up with "Reimagining the church" in my reviews and will be posting more on this topic in the near future. I actually mentioned it in my most recent post written on Saturday night. I hope I'm making it clear that I'm not anti-church and Viola is right in his articles explaining what the Organic "first-century" church looks like (I believe there are seven points, which is the reason that meeting at a Starbucks is considered fellowship as opposed to church). Ironically, I just read that link that you sent last night and I appreciate you sending that to me because as a truth seeker I understand the importance of using his arguments out of context. I will be doing a lot on this topic (as I mentioned above) as the Lord gives me time (I'm much busier with my tent making these days). I must say that the Spirit has helped me (and so many others recently) recognize that penetrating the "Christian culture" has been one of the biggest challenges to those who wish to become disciples of Jesus Christ and that is my current passion. I definitely know I'm not the one to change hearts, but to omit sharing the true message of the gospel and the importance of the body as has been presented to me by the truth of the Spirit would be selfish. If at any point you see errors or disagree, please don't hesitate to contact me. I dont' do this for me, but to spread the truth and love of Christ. Please send me a link to your blog so that I can check it out.

    Much Love,

    Ryan

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  4. I'd like to make some comments on your post without writing a dissertation. I think your idea of church membership is not what the Scriptures think of as membership.

    Scripture does teach that membership in a church (an assembly of believers) is very important. Acts 15:14 makes mention of the multitudes added to the number. I don't know how else to take this except that people outside of the covenant of grace where added to the visible body of Christ. Furthermore, the only way that biblical church discipline can be rightly practiced is when people who profess Christ agree to submit to the church.

    Now the church is what is the church? No the church is not a physical building, but it is a spiritual one (1Peter 2:8-9). The church is an assembly of believers who regularly gather to hear the right preaching of the Word of God, practice right administration of the sacraments, and administer biblical church discipline.

    The New Testament frequently distinguishes assemblies of saints who submit to the right preaching of the Word of God apart from the Antichrists such as the Judaizers or the Jewish Temple.

    Jesus and Paul set forth God's plan to distinguish God's people by the sacrament of baptism and the Lord's Supper (Matthew 26, 1Corinthians 7:14, chapter 11).

    Jesus taught us the proper method of church discipline in Matthew 18.

    Submission to these things in a congregation, whether or not they have a building is a proper view of membership in a church, ekklessia, gathering or assembly of saints. The fact is that no person or child (if you believe in infant baptism like Kristen and I) should receive the benefits of baptism or the Lord's Supper without membership. In fact, those who visit our church are expressly told not to partake the Lord's Supper unless they are a member in good standing (not under the process of church discipline) of an evangelical bible believing church.

    On another note, we should always be careful not to become to suspicious of the word, catholic. Yes the Roman Catholics did and still do teach many unbiblical things such as the veneration of Mary, transubstantiation, etc. But what I am hearing in your post is that we should be suspicious of all medieval theology simply because it was 'catholic.' Have you ever read any medieval theology? I have and find much of it brilliant. Yes some of it is less helpful than others, but the fact of the matter is that to many American Christians will only accept theology that comes from the first few centuries and skip everything that was taught or said before the reformation or even worse before the revivals that took shape in 18th century America. That is a real shame.

    I do not agree with everything Aquinas taught but find him to be a generally helpful teacher on many topics. Good Christians who wish to think about Christianity and the Word of God do well to listen to those who have gone before us in every generation even if they do so discriminately.

    I also take some exception to the comment about the doctrine of the trinity being a pagan innovation instituted by Constantine. The doctrine of the trinity was a doctrine formulated against the advice of many people who came from both Greek and Jewish influence. The doctrine of the trinity was accepted because the scriptures taught it, not because they wished to innovate pagan elements into the Word of God. If anything they went against the grain of what what acceptable by those outside of the church.

    There is much more I could have said, but I've already written to much. If you want to talk some more feel free to email me at keithrconley@gmail.com

    By the way, I believe you went to high school with my wife, Kristen Harker Conley. She pointed your blog out to me because she thought it was interesting.

    Blessings,

    KRC

    www.reforming-grace.blogspot.com

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  5. Hey Keith,

    Pleasure emailing back and forth this morning. Without making this too long let me respond to each individual point.

    Regarding the importance of church "membership". I never said in this post that being a church member is bad. I had two points on this. The first is that you don't have to do some sort of "class" to become a member, because according to Scripture, we have the ability to join the church when we give our life to Christ. The ekklesia was not a building but instead was the living of life together as one body, that frequently met together and formed a community meeting in houses or renting buildings. You and I are part of the church at large (as members of the body) and we belong to a local church where our membership Scripturally is not based on whether or not we agree on politics or a "leader" but on our devotion to Christ. Sure, an elder is important and the word Pastor was mentioned in the NT (even if it was only once) but studying what they actually did is far different from what we see today.The second point which was my issue at Coral Ridge is that the body was putting itself above the head. Why? Because if you are leaving a church based on the lack of preaching on politics than you are putting individualism of the believer over the body and the unity within it. Instead of worshiping Christ, the previous Pastor is in a strange way becoming idolized in his style (something that is very American and stolen from the Greco-Romans). (I also have to say, no offense, but Acts 15:14 says nothing on this. It has a setting in the church in Jerusalem which typically met in a synagogue I believe. Again, no issue with having a church that frequently does life together and meets together sharing in the body and blood and in the word of God, and I'm not against doing it in the building because that's what the 1st century church did. I'm against purchasing the building and creating a human based, business/marketing driven hierarchy that resembles Pagan styles of worship and current trends in culture).

    Next, I don't disagree with your description of the church not being a building. But other than the mention of gifted teachers and sharing the gospel, I'd urge you to read writings on the original church in which all would speak up, praise, etc...The idea that we listen to a "gifted teacher" as part of the liturgy is not Christian. In the 1st century church, liturgy didn't exist. If a person was gifted in teaching, he would teach, no preparation like we see today, and the Spirit would move the body. Therefore, the consumer type of Christian we see today, didn't exist as everybody was involved as everyone had "importance" within the church. Whether we admit it or not, the celebrity status of church members or workers since Constantine, as well as the division of classes is not only wrong but resembles the Pharisees and Pagan styles of worship.

    The only other thing I feel I should respond to is in response to the "doctrine of the tirnity being a pagan innovation instituted by Constantine". Plain and simple I didn't say that and you need to re-read what I wrote. I said that the way the Trinity was worshiped in church was the same way in which "multiple God's" were worshiped by the Pagans.It was an easy move from Pagan worship to Christian worship because the "players" were changed. The supernatural nature of the Trinity was made natural so that it seemed more "tangible". Again, these aren't my thoughts, this is church history. If you want more information on that, I can send you to a few sources. But, never would I say that trinity was stolen or I would be a heretic. However, the way Mary is virtually "worshiped", the way the "priest" has the head role, the way relics and idols are looked at in Catholocism and other "High Churches" stems from Pagan roots.

    Second part coming...

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  6. Second part...

    Basically, as we found out this morning, you and I don't disagree on as much as you think. I also don't put myself above the church fathers, but if they're wrong then I can't agree with them. When it comes to Medieval Theology and the comments that follow, I will use a term from C.S Lewis and say that I don't practice "chronological snobbery" meaning, that I don't consider myself better or more advanced because of the time I live in. At the same time, if Constantine had more influence on our liturgy (which is my big issue with the church) and that had a big influence on medieval theology and neither match up with important points with the 1st-3rd century followers of Christ than they're wrong. To be quite honest, I haven't spent too much time on medieval theology but I have read enough to find brilliance and truth. Because truth is eternal, truth from the medieval times is just as true as the truth from today or the truth from the times of Christ.

    Thanks again for your insight and comments. If you have more questions or issues please don't hesitate to write or respond. Keep in mind that my goal is not to break up the church but to unify it by the truth of Christ even if it effects the doctrine of my Catholic roots, your Presbytarian allegiance or my reformed non-denominational anti-emergent view at the present time. Our aim is not to make sure our hero's of the faith are preserved when it comes to their greatness. Our goal is to spread the gospel with the same influence they had.

    Much Love,

    Ryan

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