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Posts Tagged ‘ecclesiology’

Where do you go to church?

It’s a normal question, and I’m not offended by it.  But in the year since I stopped going to conventional church, I have yet to figure out an easy answer to this question.  I see the horror in friends’ eyes when I tell them I don’t go.  We’ve all known people who walked away from fellowship with believers, or who become apostate to the faith.  There is pity and skepticism if I tell friends I’m still looking.  And when I explain what I’m doing as a matter of practice without going into the reasons, it sounds apologetic.  I’m not sorry for my choices.  I believe in them.

So why do I not go to a church?

Five years ago I led a Bible study on the spiritual gifts.  We looked at what the gifts are, examples of people using them, how they build up the church, and how other believers should respond to them.  In that study I, at least, became convinced that not only was my church broken – but the whole model for “church” that I was familiar with neglected the body-participation and Spirit-ual power and guidance described in the New Testament.

For four years I studied ecclesiology – what the Bible says about the gatherings of believers.  After I’d worked out an idea, mostly based on 1 Corinthians 11-14, of what a church meeting should be like, I discovered some websites about house churches.  My favorite website was New Testament Reformation Fellowship.  On their site are articles about the exact points and questions raised by my study.  The men who contribute to NTRF are from several countries and about ten congregations.  There are people really practicing church like you read about in Acts and the epistles.

But though I was gaining conviction on these things, God was not releasing me from the church I had attended since I was 15.  Church is about God and people, God’s purposes in people.  I am not (even now) released from loving those people or even from fellowshipping with them as I have occasion.  My church was broken, more than its model and more than a church has to be broken (consisting of redeemed sinners).  Many people attending that church were trying to stay to help, to heal, to influence towards the holy and faith-ful.

Finally in 2009 conflict came to a head at my church.  I prayed hard.  God taught me a lot about love.  The result for the church was essentially a split.  For me, I was released from my commitment to that body and that authority.  My family also left that church.  We were then faced with the question of what to do next.  As a family and independently we visited several area churches, without finding any to belong to.

A group that had met for fellowship and Bible study before they left the church continued to meet and my parents joined, contemplating a church plant.  They met in a house and held Sunday meetings.  Members of that group began to explore models for church that appealed to them.  Family-integrated ideas and house church ideas were blended with more traditional ministry models.

Some wanted to expand out of the house.  Others wanted to stay small.  Some wanted to support a full time pastor and others sought bi-vocational leadership.  There were different ideas about the purpose of church: discipleship, evangelism, worship, fellowship?  Which one is the primary goal?  Instead of seeking as a group what the Bible teaches about church, the families mostly went separate ways according to their preferences.

My family had heard about house churches from me for years.  They decided that they believed in house churches, and also in some associated concepts like co-leadership and family integration.  For my part, I am unwilling to join an institution I don’t believe in; I think it would cause problems for them and for me.  I would still like to find a church that follows the 1 Corinthians pattern for church meetings.  Though my parents still meet with some families from our old church, in a house church format, I am concerned that there is still division about the meaning of church and that their practices are somewhat arbitrary and not Bible-based.  I attend a few meetings a month with my family.

Close friends from Awana – and friends of those friends – had developed in 2008 and 2009 a prayer meeting and Bible study.  It was informal, meeting every week or two to share what God had been doing in our lives, the things we were burdened for or convicted about, and Scriptures God had laid on our hearts to share or that had spoken to us during the week.  We spent about an hour each meeting in Spirit-directed prayer, each praying as led.  Our fellowship before and after was sweet, and we often gathered at other times to do ministry or to have parties or to encourage each other.  This was my support during the difficult church split.  And it continues to be God’s provision for a “church”, the closest meeting in my experience to what I’m looking for in a church.

On the side, I also visit a few friends’ churches on Sunday mornings, about 2 out of 4 Sundays.  I visit Sovereign Grace, Cornerstone Chapel, Agape Bible, and Summitview Community in Fort Collins.  Each of these churches has good, God-loving and Jesus-following people who believe in community and whose theology is orthodox and God-exalting.  When I visit them, I think of it as a sort of worship and Bible conference.  I’m also open to visiting other churches occasionally, especially to see people I don’t often get to see – but also to meet new people and see what God is doing in the lives of Christians all over Colorado.

I have a concern about this church practice I’ve adopted, and it is that I have no pastor.  There is no good example of walking in the Spirit whose gift is to shepherd other Christians, guiding and feeding them – none who knows me and my spiritual state whose authority I could submit to and whose leadership I could follow.  But I have been in many conventional churches whose men titled “pastor” do not fit that description, and so I know that there is no easy way to find one.  A pastor, like so many other things, is a gift from God.  And I’m asking God for one still.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I started a new blog.  Every six to twelve months, that’s what I do.  A blog or another kind of website.  Join Facebook; join Etsy.  More WordPress.

This one is WordPress.  It is for as much of my notes and essays and research on Church as I can get to.  Searching this blog and all the documents on my computer didn’t need to happen more than twice.  I much prefer the organization of having them published online.

If you’re curious, check out my tree-themed, nerdy blog: ChurchMoot.  Coming soon: more posts, of course.  Links and reviews of the websites so indicated.  And occasional comments on posts for yours and my reconsideration.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard

Britt Beemer’s America’s Research Group was commissioned by Ken Ham to survey 1,000 former attendees of conservative Christian churches, who are now in their twenties, to discover why they left.  Already Gone is a summary of the survey results, and a challenge to the church to heed the warning and make the radical changes required to remain relevant – not only to the younger generations, but to everyone. 

Do you believe in the authority of Scripture?  Does your life demonstrate it?  Ken Ham poses these questions to young adult Christians both in and out of mainstream churches, to pastors, Christian teachers, to parents, churches, and educational institutions.  The subject of Already Gone is the generation of Christians my age (20’s), many of whom have left the church.  Of those who have left, there are two main groups: one whose worldview is mostly secular and skeptical of the Bible, and one that believes the Bible is true and applicable but has found the church irrelevant.  How is the church failing to deliver a biblical worldview to the children and youth who faithfully attend Sunday school, church, and youth group?  Of the twenty-something’s who remain in the church, are they submitted to the authority of Scripture, or is their search for a worship experience prevailing over God’s teachings about the Body of Christ? 

What about the parents, pastors, youth pastors, and Sunday school teachers who make up the older generation, the church establishment?  Have they sold out God’s teachings on the church for their beloved traditions?  How much of what we think of when we hear “church” is actually biblical?  Why is the most common accusation against the church that it is hypocritical?  The church in America is losing members so drastically that we need to radically reevaluate our practices and teachings.  Compromise cannot be tolerated. 

As founder of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham must touch on his favorite subject: the foundational importance of Genesis, and how compromise on the historical and scientific truth of Genesis undermines all of Scripture, faith in God, and even the gospel.  He calls the church back to teaching “earthly things,” the correspondence between the Bible and reality.  Christians need to be equipped for apologetics from an early age, to guard against doubts and to answer inquiries from a godless culture.  This, more than music or games or attractive activities, is the only way to be relevant to people living in the real world and desperate for answers.

Already Gone is a fair, factual, and interesting treatment of the systemic problems in the church today.  Lest we become like post-Christian Europe, where church is a marginal pastime for a few elderly people clinging to vestiges of tradition in empty cathedrals, we must take action now.  Several reactions to the problem are presented, with their disadvantages and perks, but ever a challenge to study for yourself what God says about church and training up children. 

As a member of the generation under the microscope, on the edge of the traditional church and ready to flee, I was impressed by the willingness to take us seriously.  Some of us are leaving because we see the problems and want a church that does what a church should, and loyalty isn’t strong enough to keep us from looking outside our experience.  Ken Ham acknowledges, with some surprise, people in my situation.  I appreciated this book.  Even though I’m pushing for the more extreme reactions mentioned (abandoning Sunday school and traditional trappings: buildings, sermons, and orders of worship), I have a lot of respect for the way Already Gone ties the whole malady to the failure of Christians to teach and obey the authority of the Word of God.  If a person is faithful to study and submit to that, he will be led to the mode of meeting and discipleship God intends, strongly equipped for the Christian call to evangelize our world. 

Already Gone

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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So young people are leaving the church: a disastrous omen for the future of Christianity.  We must do something.  Something different than what we have been doing.  Because the church is failing this generation. 

 

It is common to point to the pizza and games youth-group-without-accountability-or-education program as the culprit for the apostasy of college students.  Church should not be about entertainment, say the pious parents who with the next breath criticize the musicians on the praise team and complain that the worship style at their congregation doesn’t suit their tastes.  Perhaps we are not sheltering youth enough.  Maybe they need more authority figures, a connection with the whole church, including their parents. 

 

Some on the conservative side of the question point to the content of what we teach young people.  Survey after survey reveals that teens don’t know the basics of Christian theology, and certainly aren’t decision-making from a Christian worldview.  These kids have no foundation to abandon, Christian leaders rightly argue.  They’re hungry for answers.  And when we don’t equip them in the realm of apologetics, high school and college professors have little difficulty refuting the shallow traditional faith of their students. 

 

Maybe the church is too legalistic, parents and pastors suffocating kids with expectations of holiness, that ever-imposing scale of good deeds versus bad deeds on which to measure God’s favor and wrath.  When at last free of the oppressive constraints, these young adults bust out with a liberal longing for pleasure, enjoying an affirming group of friends that encourages them to stop stifling their own feelings.  So we the church ought to offer more grace, somehow imparting to the up-and-coming generations the relationship aspect of Christianity.  Like so many who have been in the church for decades, these teenagers just want to know that God is love, and He wants to be your friend, to give you your best life now. 

 

“These are the leaders of the future,” is quoted, by some with hope, by others with dark foreboding.  But our model of ministry leaves a wide gap between involvement in youth ministry and being incorporated with the rest of the congregation.  Smaller churches have no college ministry.  Even those with college ministries have merely moved the disconnect to a later date.  Those in the club of grown ups are unwilling to speak to or invest in the younger individuals – let alone take their advice – trying to move into life and faith that is overwhelming without examples.  There is truth to the protest that kids are irreverent and disrespectful and self-absorbed.  But listen to what we’re saying.  Those are the kids.  What toddler have you met who knows anything different than irreverence and selfishness?  Yet the older people attempt to train them, not fight them.  Church has failed to welcome the post-education demographic; can we be surprised they leave?

 

Yet maybe that is exactly what the young adults ought to do: leave.  An institution so divided and impotent as the evangelical church, so lacking in love or substance, is more likely to inspire bitter memories of religious hypocrisy and to shore up doubt in the power of a God mostly ignored in the actual workings of the organization.  I will say more: perhaps the adults should leave, and the young parents who feel they ought to raise their children in Sunday school should never come back.  Christians should take on the personal responsibility of living a communal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: embracing grace as a gift both received and distributed; trust in the power and authority of the Creator God of the Resurrection; loving, serving, and discipling their fellow children of God; humbling themselves before the voice of God coming through Scripture, teachers, and youths; pursuing fellowship with God and with each other; and living out a life so different from the world that those exposed have no doubt that only the miracle of God could give such abundant life! 

 

And just maybe when we see such a symptom of desperate unwell in our churches, we should repent, falling on our faces before the Lord of Wisdom, desiring His healing and direction rather than the empty programs and various solutions proffered by man. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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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.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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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. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Portrait of a young pig by Joel Sartore
Portrait of a young pig

For my birthday, we had a Pigfest. I blogged a long time ago promising a Pigfest, and challenged you all to discover what it was. Here’s how it went.

Each person in attendance was asked to have a statement prepared for debate. It could be about theology, philosophy, politics, history, or economics. They would state their proposition and explain it if necessary. A timer set for fifteen minutes was started and the debate began, with any person present allowed to play devil’s advocate or switch sides or bring up a new aspect for debate at any time.

A Gentleman's Debate, 1881 by Benjamin Eugene Fichel
A Gentleman’s Debate, 1881

The first proposition was that Imagination is inversely proportional to the amount of toys one possesses. Discussion included types of toys, what happens if one has no toys, the advantage of having a few toys over either extreme, whether we meant toys, or property in general (who defines toy?). The assumption that imagination is a desired goal was addressed, as well as the purpose of imagination and of toys. “Is passive entertainment ever healthy?” someone asked. We talked about different kinds of people, and the kinds of entertainment that are more satisfying because they engage the entertained to interact. Finally at the last minute it was suggested that the relationship is not inverse. If “inverse” were true of toys and imagination, no toys would produce infinite imagination, and that is not the case.

Secondly it was proposed that Evangelical Christianity should be more like Roman Catholicism in that there are wards, and one is expected to attend the nearest church, focusing on involvement in their immediate community. This would mean that problems in churches get fled, not ignored. There would ideally then be accountability in the leadership of the church. The Roman Catholic church, however, enforces accountability with a bishop who is outside of the local congregations, overseeing several churches. Who would enforce the rule? How would it be enforced? Would a Christian be able to exercise their freedom and their conscience toward doctrine? Someone suggested choosing between the three closest congregations. The condition was Evangelical Christianity, so it was argued that one’s own theology defined what one considered an appropriate church/denomination to attend, and most people present wouldn’t change the church they attend (Pigfesters at this event represented at least four churches, and I invited members of several more churches.) If community is the end goal, then why do we have church buildings at all? Why not house churches? How do you hear about/get invited to a house church? If one is going to fix problems in existing churches, wouldn’t that lead to a sort of vigilante church take-over? Wait! Is that happening in some churches already?

Our third debate was on the need for a national language, and that because the majority of the nation speaks English, and our legal and founding documents were written therein, the national language should be English. The first objection was that one would have to define English. English is evolving, as evidenced by the low comprehension we would have of a Middle or Old English document. A national language would enable integration of immigrants, encouraging unity in our country. How would you enforce the national language? How would you integrate those whose birth language was not English? What does a national language mean? Are road signs only in English? Laws? Ballots? Government documents? If one national language is such a good thing, why should we stop at that? Why not a global language? We talked about the tower of Babel, and God’s design in confusing languages.

Next was a discussion of the relative morality of nuclear weapons. The proposition stated that the morality equaled that of using hand grenades or traditional bombs. Brought up was the economics of both the use of and the recovery from nuclear weapons; the effect upon innocent non-combatants, the number of dead, and the number of miserably injured. What is the object of war? To obtain land and property? Defense? Killing the most enemy combatants? Killing the most people? Is psychological warfare moral? Doesn’t the use of morally regulated nuclear weapons facilitate escalation in that it emboldens the less principled (or sane) enemies to use nuclear weapons against innocents or recklessly?

We had a proxy proposition that Lying is justifiable to save a human life. Immediately presented were the biblical examples of Rahab and the Midwives, and contrasting example of Corrie ten Boom’s sister (Corrie nine Bang?). What was God rewarding? Is it ok to give the appearance of lying? God clearly says that He abhors lying, but we are only assuming from examples that it is ok to lie to save lives. Theology and application should be consistent with the whole revelation of Scripture. A Bible story was brought up in which God caused an attacking army to believe there was an army attacking them, even though there wasn’t. Does God use mind control? Will He use it if we don’t take initiative and lie for Him? Is lying ok in other circumstances, like surprise parties? It was argued that life is the highest end, taken from Proverbs 31 where it says to intercede for those being delivered to death. Against that was the position that God’s glory was the highest, that faith in God says that God can accomplish His purposes inside our obedience (as well as outside). What else could Rahab, for example, have done? Refuse to answer. Be creative. Die for the truth. The Holy Spirit will guide a Christian to the proper response in a given situation.

Then we addressed the question Does God tell you what to do and change the plans? The general answer was yes, He does. Then it was asked is God lying. The example was given of Abraham and Isaac, that God tests our surrender. Is God lying, or is our perspective not reflective of reality?

Finally, trying to mix up the topics, I selected a topic from history from my list. This was my proposal: Ancient civilizations knew about and had maps of America and Antarctica. After the strong stand taken against lying in any circumstance, no one wanted to argue with me. There was discussion on the evidence: trigonometry, maps, Columbus’s discovery of America, that Antarctica was mapped pre-ice cap (what if there was a civilization there?). We diverted into conversation on ancient technology (that we moderns don’t understand), Mormon myths, similar architecture in rings out from Babel reflecting the dispersion. From the Bible we talked about Peleg (in his days the earth was divided, whatever that means) and boundaries (between nations that are not to be moved), and the knowledge possible to be acquired in 500 years of life versus the current life expectancy. Evidence was presented that mammoths were found with dandelions that had been blooming in their stomachs as they were frozen, suggesting the climate was more temperate in the arctic and Antarctic in the past, and that it changed rapidly.

Afterward we watched Amazing Grace, the movie about William Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish the slave trade in England. It was positively inspiring. Afterward we passed around the petition to amend the Colorado Constitution defining person as a human from the moment of fertilization.

I’m told, and experienced myself, that the conversation sparked by fifteen minute segments of debate carried on into the next few days. We have all resolved to have Pigfests again.

Feel free to add to the arguments, ask questions, click on the links, host your own Pigfests, comment on your debate experiences, say hi, etc.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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