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« 2007 AEF Conference: Scot McNight, part 2 | Main | What is Today's Parousia-Temperature? »

December 06, 2007

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Good thoughts and questions here. I've been thinking about these things a lot as well.

A couple more questions.

To be a part of the Church must we be part of an institutional church? If so, how do we define a church? Must it have a building, a staff, paid clergy? My view of church has been broadening a lot. I completely agree that the Church is important. I just more broadly define it. And I am not rejecting the traditional churches that do have buildings, staff, paid clergy - I'm just saying we should broaden our understanding of what can be a church.

Also, another question: how do we define individualistic Christianity? Is that even possible? Can a person be a Christian without others? I think individualistic Christianity might be something of a myth. I think people are still in community as Christians - it's just a different kind of community (which gets back to the broader idea of what is church).

Anyways, I don't have answers exactly. Just questions and some musings.

What do you think?

Adam,
All your questions are important ones. Here are some thoughts:
As to whether or not we must be involved in an institutional church to be in the Church depends at least in part, on how we define "institutional." I have friends who are part of a house church. It has no recognized denominational affiliation, yet I very much consider it "institutional." That said, I tend to believe that the thousands of brands/flavors of "church" stands as an indictment against us -- not something we should boast in. I also find myself remembering the apostle Paul's words, and thinking that they profoundly apply in this discussion: "all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable."

I'd like to explore your ideas regarding how "individualistic Christianity" may be more myth than reality. It's a notion that makes me shudder, but I genuinely would enjoy hearing your insights into why you think this may be the case.

Can a Christian be a "Christian" without others? I used to answer this question with an immediate "yes!" But in recent years, I've found myself seriously challenging this long-held assumption. We postmoderns yearn for community, but don't always know what it looks like. In a culture ridden by individualism, Evangelicals largely reject the orthodox conviction that our ancestors (e.g. the community of faith through time) should have a say in what we believe and how we live out those beliefs.

Over the past 10 years, I've come to understand much more clearly why two-thirds of the Church often shake their heads in disbelief at how the other third (i.e. Protestantism)live out their faith.

A solution? Wow, that's a tough one. Yet I am convinced that the emerging church (and other alt-church adherents) are in as much need of "greater humility" as are the traditional, institutional elements of the Church.

Anyhow, Adam, let me bounce it back to you.

Blessings,
Chris

The church of Acts and the anti-nicene church both considered that the church which is gathered around a president (elder) of a community and eucharist. One was baptized into the church, both by water and in the Spirit. Specifically, and very early in the 2nd century only those believers who were gathered around a bishop in apostolic succession and celebrating eucharist together were considered to be the church. The fact is that the early church was corporate and far more "institutional" than we would like to think. In fact the institutionalization of the church began early in order to clarify which emerging groups were truly Christian churches in accord with the teachings of the Apostles and which were not.

Blessings on you and your family Chris.

Whatever else we do, we should keep in mind that the Kin_dom is logically prior. At a practical level, the church cannot grow unless it grows into 'territory' that the K'dom has opened up. So yes the K'dom is bigger. But the issue then devolves into, therefore, how much bigger is the K'dom? If it's only minutely larger, then we are probably talking about something that is about drawing people to Christ, if it is significantly larger (and I know that's begging questions and in danger of tautology, but stick with it for the time being) then we are dealing with something that potentially is also about justice, peace and creation.

That said, I'm entirely convinced that it is the church that is the primary human institutional embodiment -at least by vocation even if not always in actuality- of service to the K'dom. We belong to one another in Christ and our gifts and ministries are irreducibly corporate.

Fr. Matt --

Good stuff. It reminds me of:


Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Acts 14:23 (NIV)

and...


The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. Titus 1:5 (NIV)

The Titus 1:5 passage, reveals the clear idea of "intent" and "expected order." Churches which may have existed without an appointed elder would not have been so by design or intention.

I think you should publish an article: "The Pre-Constantinian Institutionalization of the Church." :D

Blessings back to you,

Chris

andii,

Re: "logically prior" -- I'm thinking that roughly 3years before Pentecost and the birth of the church, that Jesus was already declaring: "the kingdom is among you." Is that involved here, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

In God's kingdom, God sometimes uses resources stored up by the unrighteous for the sake of the righteous, or... for righteous purposes. If kingdom "causes" (e.g. justice) can be joined without joining his Church, then for what purpose would this be and what soteriological implications are connected to those who might "do" kingdom work, while isolating themselves from the Church?

I also liked how you worded your final thought:

"We belong to one another in Christ and our gifts and ministries are irreducibly corporate."

May God's people increasingly recognize, practice, and celebrate this truth.

Blessings,

Chris

I am in agreement and enjoy reading everyone's input. To add to it I want to say that I've seen and experienced God's provision and love through those who are not christian.

Where we as the body of Christ lack in coworking with God in the building of the Kingdom, God makes up by using other means. I see the Kingdom of God not just being about correct doctrine but correct behavior as well. When both doctrine and behavior are combined the most effective growth happens. The church can be the most constructive thing in the world and also the most destructive. The church has a huge privilege and responsibility.

Individualistic faith may be a genuine one but it's a limited one. "..where two or three are gathered together in my name..".

Chris,
"Re: "logically prior" -- I'm thinking that roughly 3years before Pentecost and the birth of the church, that Jesus was already declaring: "the kingdom is among you." Is that involved here, or am I barking up the wrong tree?"
That's a 'symptom' of the same thing as I was thinking about. However, I was mostly thinking in terms of the fact that for people to come to faith and be incorporated into the church, God has been at work by the Spirit ('no-one can come to me unless the Father draw them') -which is the 'finger of God' showing that God is at work in, among other things, healing and salvation. Lots of allusion in that last sentence; let the reader understand.

You go on to write:
"In God's kingdom, God sometimes uses resources stored up by the unrighteous for the sake of the righteous, or... for righteous purposes. If kingdom "causes" (e.g. justice) can be joined without joining his Church, then for what purpose would this be and what soteriological implications are connected to those who might "do" kingdom work, while isolating themselves from the Church?"
This is two questions (at least): one is the purpose of k'dom causes such as justice and the other the soteriological implications.
The purpose I would say is to do with the fact that God wants right to prevail, goodness to be seen and beauty to grow because God likes them. The church's role is to serve God's agenda; to be a blessing to the nations.

As to the soteriological implications ... I'd throw that back at you: there are no *necessary* links that I can see. Though books like Raymond Fung's The Isaiah Vision: Ecumenical Strategy for Congregational Evangelism (Faith and Order Paper) show, I think, that there may be an existential/providential one.

andii,

Okay, that helps a little. ;)

When you said:

"The church's role is to serve God's agenda; to be a blessing to the nations."
I'm wondering, wasn't ancient Israel's duty to serve YHWH's agenda. And at times when they refused, God was free to use those outside his "chosen ones" to accomplish his purposes? If this is so, then it figures that if/when/where the Church fails to serve God's agenda, God is equally free to use those outside the church to accomplish his purposes?

And Andii, how should we understand Jesus' teaching in John 15&16? His vine & branches exhortation lies within a context with repetitive references to the coming Counselor -- something fulfilled in Acts 2, right? The Church and the role of the Holy Spirit are closely intertwined in the New Testament, aren't they? Maybe what I'm driving at is: why would the Holy Spirit birth, empower, and guide the Church, and yet deliberately (and preveniently?) lead someone into the Kingdom, but not the Church?

Thanks for dialoging with me on all this. It's fascinating.

Blessings,

Chris

Carl,

When you said:

"The church can be the most constructive thing in the world and also the most destructive."

I am certainly prone to agree with you. It's an unfortunate paradox.

But what makes it that way? Isn't it the human heart rather than the inherent nature of institutional religion? And if it is the human heart, then fleeing the Church, but remaining part of the Kingdom, doesn't seem to be the axiomatic "fix" that some claim it to be. Although I can appreciate the need to step out of unhealthly environments in order to regain one's sense of what real health should look like. Any further thoughts?

As one who pastored for over 20 years I now am able to see things from the other side so to speak. In my years of paid ministry I would have sided with you Chris in a heartbeat on every level. After 7 years out of paid ministry I see everything in a new light. I only wish Chris that you could take a 7 yr sabatacial and not get any pay from church circles. The difference is amazing.

"modern individualism" has nothing to do with why i presently do not attend an institutional church and to put such a phrase in the same breath as (Alan Jamieson's "A Churchless Faith") certainly makes a gross misrepresentation of anyone i have met since leaving the i.c.

" it feels at times that there are those deconstructionists who would rid the Kingdom of the Church." i have yet in 7 years been able to meet any of these people you suggest are out here. It has not been my experience at all. I think your fear is overblown out here. Tell me who they are and I would love to talk with them.

"Assuming that God's kingdom is far broader in scope than the Church is an easy assumption to embrace" ... and one which i have lived out for 7 years now and am greatly enjoying. Again I challange you to take a break from paid ministry to see what your point of view might be then. I started by saying that when I was paid by the church I would have sided with you. From this side I see I was truly defending my paycheck in the guise of being true to the calling and true to the teaching of right doctrine. Hope I have not offended you by stating these thoughts for that is not my intention.

Shok,

I really appreciate you hopping in on this one. I know that you've been "living it" for several years now, and your perspective means a great deal to me.

Alan Jamieson's book -- A Churchless Faith -- was an extremely helpful book for me. It opened my eyes to some of the institutional church's "blind spots" that I hadn't considered before. I still very much consider it a "must read" for those pursuing ministry inside or outside the IC.

At the same time, I believe that Jamieson's book presents a limited-view "snapshot" of the churchless faith phenomenon. Extremely helpful, but limited (by design, I am sure).
In the same way that our culture's radical individualism has influenced the entire religious landscape -- especially in America, and especially within modern evangelicalism -- I find the notion rather absurd that radical individualism doesn't have a role in the further splintering of the Church (as we know it in its broadest sense)and the increasing proliferation of "expressions" of the same.

I personally believe you, when you say that modern individualism had nothing to do with your exodus from the institutional church or your choice to remain out of it. I have my own theories, I suppose, as to what some of the contributing factors may have been which led you down your path.

I have friends whom one might label as "hyper-fundamentalist house church practitioners." They see the IC as having corrupted into a tool of the devil -- and that it will eventually become the pawn of the antichrist (according to their eschatalogical interpretation of scripture). Yes, they are on the fringe of IC detractors, and yes, I may have gone a little too far in citing their views to make my point.

When all is said and done, equating the Kingdom with the Church would be a difficult leap for me. I guess it's the theology that's so deeply ingrained in me. I've long-recognized that there have always been people of faith -- righteous people -- outside of God's own chosen people. The scriptures attest to this in both testaments. I accept the fact that there are righteous godfearers (and others) who often prove to be more faithful (i.e. full of faith)than the "insiders" many would assume to be in the lead.

But for me, all of this still does not account for multitudes of people who have pulled out of the IC -- not because of ecclesiological or theological convictions
; not because of spiritual abuse or wounding -- but because of things like laziness, selfishness, and even vices.

The mistake I made many years ago, was to assume that everybody who left the IC fell into this category. Then... boy did I get a wake-up call (nearly 8 years ago)when I got involved in the emerging church "conversation."

Where is all of this leading? I'm not sure. But I have a strong hunch that George Barna is probably right in foreseeing that by roughly 2020, upwards of 25% of Christ-followers will be pursuing their faith outside of the IC. I can't remember who at present, but I've heard that this number might reach 50%, if you take into account those who pursue their Christian faith alone or within the confines of their nuclear family. Will that be a good thing? I don't think so, and I keep thinking about 1 Corinthians 10:23:


"All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. (NRSV)

Oh, and by the way, you haven't offended me in the least, Shok, by sharing your thoughts and convictions here. In fact, I invite you to keep dialogging with me about such things. You'll help keep me from getting dull. ;)

Blessings,

Chris

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