Thursday, May 17, 2007

What is the Church 1.2

Generally the Greek for the church is ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) which means assembly, “clas. an assembly of the citizens regularly summoned, the legislative assembly; LXX the Jewish congregation; NT the church - either place or body (from"

There are two perspectives (in my mind) that we can consider the church through.

First, in God’s view it is ecumenical/universal assembly of Christians (across time and geography) which exists in local assemblies of Christians.

Second, from a human perspective it is the plural word for Christian…a gathering of Christians…or the place they gather. I’m not going to be discussing the church as location/building, rather the church as assembly.

From my definition of what it means to be a Christian (in my post What is the Church 1.0) I would add to it that once a person is saved they are saved in the context of community. Everyone, including Adam and Eve, was created in the context of community, and when saved one is engrafted (Rom 11:17) as a member into Jesus Christ’s body/bride/church/etc., namely the Christian community.

A Christian does not exist outside of the context of community. There might be a circumstance where a person is physically separated from others (e.g. solitary confinement), but that person is still in some sense part of the Christian community and has fellowship with God by the gracious gift of faith. It seems that a Christian who is free from prison or persecution would have the desire to gather with fellow redeemed sinners. However, in the past even the church under persecution has shown that they will gather no matter what. It seems that much of the fruits of the Spirit imply community (How can love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control [Gal 5:22-23] be seen...let alone even exist outside of the context of relationship?). Here is a snippet from a paper I wrote on the church that is relevant:
No church is perfect. Many Christians have grown dissatisfied with the institution of the church. They have either been hurt by rigid policy (biblical or unbiblical) or emotionally by the Christians that are members. Much of this may also be a byproduct of the pragmatic contrasted with the biblical faithfulness philosophy of ministry. This has driven people to the practice of what George Barna recently argued for in his book Revolution.
The Bible never describes ‘church’ the way we have configured it. The Bible goes to great lengths to teach us principles for living and theology for understanding. However, it provides very little guidance in terms of the methods and structures we must use to make those principles and insights prevail in our lives. It seems that God really doesn’t care how we honor and serve Him, as long as He is number one in our lives and our practices are consistent with His parameters.

Barna, George, Revolution: Worn Out on Church? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 115-16.

Barna is arguing for a half truth. The parameter given by God to honor and serve Him is through the local church. It seems that Barna is arguing for the church as an organism more than the church as an organization or institution. An organism cannot exist without a God ordained organization which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, may take many shapes and forms. Ask any biologist if there is organization in organisms and the answer will be an emphatic, “Yes!” Even the smallest house church has an aspect of organization (even if it doesn’t practice the biblically mandated offices of Pastor, Elder, and Deacon). The argument of Barna encourages the idea that, “No one needs to go to church to be a Christian.” This may be true, but that statement, while intended to convey humility and a radical faith, actually implies spiritual arrogance. This arrogance is fed by human selfishness justified by a consumerist worldview. John Calvin has responded to this perceived humility in independence from the local church:
Separation from the church is the denial of God and Christ. Hence, we must even more avoid so wicked separation. For when with all our might we are attempting to overthrow of God’s truth, we deserve to have him hurl the whole thunderbolt of his wrath to crush us…Therefore, those who more boldly than others incite defection from the church…have for the most part no other reason than by their contempt of all to show they are better than others….For because God willed that the communion of his church be maintained in this outward society, he who out of hatred of the wicked breaks the token of that society treads a path that slopes to fall from the communion of saints.

Calvin, John, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 1024-25 & 1030-31.

This statement is coming from a reformer! This points to the fact that Calvin and other reformers were not leaving the church; rather, they were reforming it. Separating oneself from the visible church is not an outward sign of a regenerated believer. However, it is impossible to judge a man’s heart.

A church is an assembly that gathers together (Matt 18:20; Heb 10:23-25). The church traditionally has gathered together on Sunday because that is the day the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19). The local church is the only context in which Christians can genuinely fulfill the “each others” and “one-anothers” that the New Testament commands (Mark 9:50; John 13:14, 34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom 12:10; 13:8; 14:13; 15:7, 14; 16:16; 1 Cor 11:33; 12:25; 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; Gal 5:13, 15, 26; 6:2; Eph 4:2, 32; 5:19, 21; Phil 2:3; Col 3:9, 13, 16; 1 Thess 3:12; 4:9, 18; 5:11; Heb 3:13; 10:24-25; Jas 4:11; 5:9, 16; 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8-10; 5:5, 14; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 5).

So as Pastor Wayne was pointing to in the comment he posted here there is a dual reality when a person is a Christian. They have been objectively saved individually yet in the very act of salvation they have been inaugurated into community, the Church. They are like two sides of a coin. Similar to when a person conceived and born. He or she is alive personally/individually, yet he or she also exists in the context of a family. So it is in the communion of Saints.


Ryan said...

I agree that a believer who is able ought to have the desire to meet with other believers for fellowship. I think that the relationships in the church should be MUCH more significant than those I usually see. We should be involved with each other on a daily basis (Heb. 3:13).

I’m not sure that Barna is saying exactly what you suggested in your paper, though. I don’t want to jump the gun if this will come up in later questions, but I think all he’s saying is that there are more possibilities for expression of the body of Christ than what is practiced by the majority of believers in the Western world. Perhaps the rub comes with the definition of the word church. The clearest definition of the “church” (ekklesia) I see in the scriptures is in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” This indicates that the church is the body of Christ, the people who follow Him (1 Cor. 12). So “going to church” relates as much (if not more) to the people as it does to the meeting itself (I agree that the meeting is a part of things, too).

If, then, believers are meeting and having regular fellowship with other believers, if they are committed to the truth of the scriptures and righteousness by the Spirit, if they have the gifts of the body operating in a healthy manner, and if they do not avoid fellowship with those meeting in a more institutional setting, it seems that there would be a variety of ways in which the church could express itself. I think Barna is advocating this sort of gathering, not isolated individuals or groups trying to follow Jesus on their own. Organization is necessary, too, both in specific gatherings (1 Cor. 14) and in general, but that’s another topic. 

It’s been a while since I read Revolution, so I don’t necessarily remember Barna’s exact line of thinking; feel free to mention if I have something incorrect. Also, it seems that Colossians 1:24 is important to consider in this discussion of the church.

Noah Braymen said...

Ryan, thanks for you response;)

I might not be understanding Barna correctly, but regarding when you said, “it seems that there would be a variety of ways in which the church could express itself. I think Barna is advocating this sort of gathering, not isolated individuals or groups trying to follow Jesus on their own,” it doesn’t seem to line up with Barna when he discussed the following in his book. It seems, according to Barna, that it doesn’t matter. You can do it in an expression through a community of people or individually, alone:

[When he discussed mini-movements like homeschools, fellowships,] “various marketplace ministries,” “several spiritual disciplines networks,” or “Christian creative arts guilds” substituting for a church gathering. (Page 54)

The revolutionaries have given up on the church or have been, “driven out . . . by boredom and the inability to serve. (Page 2)”

Regarding Barna’s fictional character David…he “decided to develop his own regimen of spiritual practices and activities in order to retain a vibrant spiritual life” (2), and, “His life reflects the very ideals and principles that characterized the life of Jesus Christ and that advance the kingdom of God—despite the fact that David rarely attends church services. (Page 7)”

He’s not against churches per se“There is nothing inherently wrong with being in a local church. [It seems like, to Barna, it doesn’t really matter though] (Page 36)”

“Some of them are aligned with a congregational church, but many of them are not. (Page 8)”

“Revolutionaries, almost by definition, are zealous and passionate about obeying God’s Word and honoring him. [And non-revolutionaries aren’t??] (117)”

“Such interaction could be in a worship service or at Starbucks; it might be satisfied through a Sunday school class or a dinner in a fellow believer’s home. (Page 114).”

“Not once did he [the apostle Paul] rant about being present at church every week or completing specified amounts of activity. (Page 95)”

“A disregard for the criticisms of those who lack the same dedication to the cause of Christ. (Page 27)”

“Whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in, or completely disassociated from a local church is irrelevant to me (and, within boundaries, to God). What matters is not whom you associate with (i.e. a local church), but who you are. [This seems post-modern through and through] (Page 39)”

“Does something get in the way of your living like Jesus? Then figure out how to eliminate that obstruction… To survive and thrive in the midst of the spiritual battle in which you live, seek a faith context and experience that will enhance your ability to be Christlike. (Page 26)”

“This mission demands single-minded commitment and a disregard for the criticisms of those who lack the same dedication to the cause of Christ. You answer to only one Commander in Chief, and only you will give an explanation for your choices. Do whatever you have to do to prove that you fear God, you love Him, and you serve Him – yes, that you live only for Him. (Pages 26-7)”

I agree regarding the fact that Barna is, “saying is that there are more possibilities for expression of the body of Christ than what is practiced by the majority of believers in the Western world.” But the way that he is arguing for it seems unbiblical. It seems that you can choose to not be a part of an assembly of Christians practicing the marks of what the Bible lays out as the marks of the true church of Jesus Christ (sacraments, church discipline, preaching the Word, reading the Word, biblical church membership, biblical understanding of the gospel etc.].

I also agree that, ““going to church” relates as much (if not more) to the people as it does to the meeting itself.” However, I don’t think we can separate (1) people & (2) the meeting. As a Christian we are individuals that are saved, and yet we are also part of the redeemed body of Christ. So it seems that a declared individual relationship with Christ cannot be separated from the corporate whole’s relationship (it’s a symbiotic relationship). We are individual Christian’s assembled as a church. And there are characteristics of what a church will do when it is together in the weekly worship gathering. I agree that there must be interaction more than just on Sunday, but it seems that there is a biblical mandate for coming together at least once a week to worship the Lord in the context of a Sabbath day. Just because a lot of churches don’t live as the church ought to doesn’t mean that it isn’t or cannot be done. One could use the same argument against a house church.

It seems also that Barna is arguing for a two-teired Christianity. Similar to Campus Crusade’s four spiritual laws tract, Bruce Wilikinson’s 3 chair illustration…etc. There are only two ways to live…Christian or an unbeliever. To suggest that there are levels within Christianity of “nominal” vs. “revolutionary” or “radical” is a misnomer. The Bible doesn’t address these divisions. However there are different degrees of sanctification…but to declare that there are super Christians versus lesser Christians is a half truth. We are either filled with the Spirit by the power of God in regeneration or we are not.

I still think that Barna is arguing for a half truth…

“The The United States is home to an increasing number of revolutionaries. These people are devout followers of Jesus Christ, who are serious about their faith, who are constantly worshipping and interacting with God, and whose lives are centered on their belief in Christ. Some of them are aligned with a congregational church, but many of them are not. The key to understanding revolutionaries is not what church they attend, or even if they attend. Instead, its their complete dedication to being thoroughly Christian by viewing every moment of life through a spiritual lens and making every decision in light of biblical principles. These are individuals who are determined to glorify God every day, through every thought, word and deed in their lives (Page 8).”

This seems to go against what the Bible says in I Corinthians 12:14-26:

“14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (NIV)”

As another blogger wrote, “Barna's words sound too much to me like he is advocating that if a hand is bringing a foot down it is ok for the foot to say it doesn't need to be a part of the body and revolutionaries are not required to have an equal concern for the spiritual health of those they judge less revolutionary than themselves.” It seems Barna’s solutions to the problems in the church are pragmatic applications of a few things he has observed rather than a full orbed Biblical study on how to fight (1) unbelief, (2) consumerism, (3) materialism, (4) man centeredness, and (5) the spread of the gospel.

I agree that Colossians 1:24 is important to consider as well. I’m planning on posting more about the church in the future…I’m trying to work all this out myself. Maybe I should actually read Barna's book as well...

Ryan said...

Thanks for the quotes, Noah, that’s helpful. I think it is probably pretty important to read the book in order to understand his full argument. A couple of the passages you mentioned sound different to me in their immediate context and in the context of the book as a whole.

Here is an important bit from the introduction: “…I use the words church (small c) and Church (capital C) in very different ways. The distinction is critical. The small c church refers to the congregation-based faith experience, which involves a formal structure, a hierarchy of leadership, and a specific group of believers. The term Church, on the other hand, refers to all believers in Jesus Christ, comprising the population of heaven-bound individuals who are connected by their faith in Christ, regardless of their local church connections or involvement.” p. x This statement could dramatically effect one’s reading of several of the quotes you mentioned (p. 7, 8, 36, 39, 95).

Regarding the idea that Barna is allowing Christians to pursue God alone, he writes: “True Revolutionaries agree that being isolated from other believers—i.e., the Church (note the capital C)—is unbiblical. However, while they may not be integrated into a formal church congregation, there are not isolated from the Church. They may not belong to a specific collection of saints that engages in routines and customs at a particular location and under the leadership of a specific individual or group. However, neither are they spiritual untouchables who have no connection to the global Church. Every Revolutionary I have interviewed described a network of Christians to whom he or she relates regularly and a portfolio of spiritual activities which he or she engages on a regular basis.” p. 116

Another thing to keep in mind is that he is, in part, commenting on the statistics from his research. Pages 30-35 outline a number of factors that lead Barna to state that “churches are not doing their job.” (p. 36; note the “small c” definition mentioned above) He is writing as a reaction to the picture of church life presented by his studies, as well as based on interviews with many other believers. So it’s his thoughts mixed with numerous observations.

Side note/question: does Acts 20:7 mean that the Sabbath and the gathering of believers should be separate? That’s the only verse I’ve found that is that specific about what day to meet (first day); the Sabbath is the seventh day.

As far as Barna arguing for a two-tiered Christianity, I take his comments differently. I see him as saying that the “non-Revolutionary” lifestyle AS A WHOLE (obviously there would be exceptions) doesn’t yield the fruit that he thinks a “Revolutionary” lifestyle/movement would. Barna also says that humility is a key quality that believers should have, a trait that would grate against any notion that, for lack of another way to put it, some Christians are better than others. Also, some of his comments may be directed toward those that would look at folks not attending a traditional church and say, “There’s no way they could be following Jesus.” I think that in part is why he says things like the quote you mentioned from page 117.

When you say the book is not “a full orbed Biblical study on how to fight (1) unbelief, (2) consumerism, (3) materialism, (4) man centeredness, and (5) the spread of the gospel,” what do you mean? (I think I know what you meant to add something like “the lack of” before number five :) ) I actually see his book as dealing with the five things you listed in a significant manner. Barna may not have done so directly, but he did do so indirectly and biblically by suggesting a completely different picture for how the church can operate. Do you want something more comprehensive, a la Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood?

I appreciate the fact that you’re doing this study, bro. It’s weighty stuff that’s important to consider. I also don’t have the opportunity to have many conversations like this, either, and I have a lot of things to figure out, too. I definitely think it would be good to read the book. If you're interested, another book that deals with some similar issues is The Shaping of Things to Come. I can send you an extra copy I have if you like. Thanks! Grace and peace.