Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The Well" and ecclesiology

Let's not neglect the praying-for-one-another thread from the prior post, but this came through from Joseph (I shortened it a bit) and I thought it might be good to ruminate on it together. Please take time to visit the links Joseph provided before commenting:

"The Wall Street Journal had an article in it about the church that Susanna Petrie attends in Brussels. We met the pastor when we were over there a couple of years ago, and Deb and I visited some of their sister churches in London and Dublin.

"The pastor, Carlton Deal, is part of an innovative missional movement dedicated to planting churches in Europe ...

"I really LOVE what these people are doing ... their approach does lead, however, to some legitimate discussions of what exactly constitutes the "church." I think ecclesiology is going to be the great topic of conversation and debate in our time, as soteriology was for Luther and others in the early sixteenth century.

"...and here is a critical response (in the good sense) from David Neff at Ancient Evangelical Future: "


josenmiami said...

wow Brian ... you don't waste anytime do you? I'm impressed.

I tend to disagree with the guy in the 3rd link who critiqued the Well for getting a bunch of "confused" people together in a public place and calling it church. With his Ancient-Future emphasis...he would insist that the sacraments are necessary for something to be called the church.

I like Neil Cole's def. of Church from the Organic Church much better and I lean toward some kind of view that would emphasize Jesus' command to "love another another as he has loved us" juxtiposed with his statement about wherever two or three are gathered in HIS NAME ...he will be there.

I think is essential to move toward a more fluid, digitized view of the church. However, I can anticipate some of the objections that will be raised to that view.

josenmiami said...
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SoarOnWings said...

This reminded me a little of my childhood covenant experience. We had home meetings every week, a larger monthly meeting, and a bigger area-wide gathering quarterly. No buildings. It was based on relationship and a common vision.

I'm not sure what the correct ecclesiology is, but I do believe strongly in the template of the early New Testament church - gatherings in homes, breaking bread together (eating meals), fellowshiping, worshiping and praying. To me, that is church or even variations of that. I've had awesome times of sharing and/or prayer with 2-3 friends (in a car, camping, etc)and felt I had just experienced church! It's about an exchange - a spiritual exchange.

What I would love to see happen more in small groups is each person come to the gathering feeling a responsiblity to participate, to be prepared to minister to or share what God has been speaking to them. To me is the saddest part of the institutional church is that for the most part it trains people to come and receive only. To observe rather than to participate.

Wouldn't we all be more heightened in our spiritual walk and awareness if we felt responsible to give back, be accountable to a group, and share from our hearts and experience what God is showing us?

People do have preferences. I personally love corporate worship but that's strickly my own preference. That's not what makes a meeting church.

Show me a group of people striving to grow in their walk with Christ, attempting to give back and share out of their own growth/experience, enjoying fellowship and a spiritual exchange, coupled with some kind of a mission (looking outward) - and you've got church no matter the place or name.

Randy R. said...

Only have minute . . . however, before we get too far down the trail, may I remind us that the early church was primarily Jewish. They met in homes on Sunday, the first day of the week, expressing their new found faith in Yeshua as Messiah, AND they worshiped every Sabbath in the temple or their local synogogue. It seems to me that if we want to consider a template, that we have to wrestle with their example. These were the first generation believers . . . those commissioned by Jesus himself, not the church following Constantine, nor what folks are doing today and calling it church (whether we agree or disagree with how it is done).

josenmiami said...

...and the synogogue functioned in a congregational stucture rather than episcopal. Twelve heads of household were required to create a "gathering" (synagogue).

PS: don't know if you all have noticed, but when you post a comment, you can click a check box below to have this blog email you subsequent comments to your email inbox.

sarahmorgado said...

I totally agree with soaronwings. Not only that, but I couldn't believe the comment by David Neff saying: "the church should fundamentally be a gathering of the committed. And those who are committed should be trained to help the confused sort out their questions." What the heck? So what about a personal relationship with Jesus? What about the leading of the Holy Spirit? What about when Paul tells the Philippians to work out their own salvation with God's help in his absence? It is up to each individual to press toward God, but we work it out together, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Not as one telling the other what to do. If we can't release the control to God, then what the heck is the Holy Spirit for?

sarahmorgado said...
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Brian Emmet said...

Wow, this one got off to the races in a hurry. Joseph must have conspired with his cabal to get the ballot box stuffed early!

[a friendly jest]

Welcome, soaronwings, and thanks for your input. Since it is your first comment here, we will gallantly agree with everything you said!

[Gallantry has nothing to do with it. You wrote good things in agood way! Please keep it coming!]

Randy, I was puzzled. Should a "real church" meet on Saturdays and Sundays, or only in synagogues? Not disagreeing with you, just seeking to understand better.

Everyone--this topic will take us back over some well-traveled ground. All us older-timers are hereby required to refrain from making the same points in the same ways we've already made them. Not that the ideas are bad or the point need no to be made--let's just work on expressing them from fresh directions and in fresh ways.

I tend to agree with Jose and Sarah about some of the deficits in the Neff ("the guy in the 3rd link") piece. For starters, there are many of "the confused" among "the committed"! I don't see confused and committed as mutually exclusive... otherwise, I'm in deep doo-doo!

[Sigh] since the Neff piece failed to adequately critique the attenuated ecclesiology of The Well and similar "expressions of church," I suppose it will, once again, fall to me to provide some incisive clarity... While I'm getting my definitive thoughts together, let's hear from the rest of us!

josenmiami said...

the holiday season must not be a good time for blogging Brian.

Jeremiah said...

Hey guys,

I haven't been on in awhile. Figured I would check in. Seems like if we are going to talk about ecclessiastical structure we have to talk about what the Greek word Ekklessia means. I think it is a word indicating a governmental structure. I don't think days of weeks or frequency means much to that word. The function and authority are the primary issues. If we want to define "Ecclesiastical structures" then we have to address some very fundamental issues.

I've heard lots of talk about "what church looks like?" But we never seem to address the issue of authority and only surficially address the function (which you guys refer to as missional) aspects.

just my 2 cents. Back to work

Brian Emmet said...

Jeremiah, my hunch is that people who are trying to figure out what authority they have and how to exercise it are barking up the wrong tree. I understand the authority of Jesus to be, at least in this age, something that is recognized and received, rather than stated and imposed. As I often tell my writing students, "Don't tell me; show me!"

Dave Neff's piece gave me a different angle on this topic. He wrote that, in a hostile cultue, it makes sense for the church to be underground; in a receptive culture, the church may move more twoards the center of the "town square." In an indifferent culture, the church needs to think creatively about the boundary lines and border crossings between 'church' and 'world.' While Neff seems to feel that a model like The Well's is incomplete, you'll note that he acknowledges the value of their experimentation and wishes them well.

Latest Barna report ( focuses on four 'megatrends' in US culture: the unconditional self-love of Americans, 'nouveau Christianity,' values in search of roots, and parenting issues.

So: is our culture confused? Hostile? Open? Closed? Infantile (generally, folks who practice an unconditional love for themselves are babies!) Reprobate (here's an item we've not taken up: how should the church function in a culture that may have become reprobate?) Obviously, one word may not do it, but I wonder if our differing approaches to the topic don't reflect how we 'see' our culture.

josenmiami said...

I remember a workshop that a friend of mine, Dick Scoggins, gave about 3 phases of Church Planting. The first phase he called the “gathering” phase. The second phase was the “covenanting” or commitment phase. The third phase was multiplication or reproduction.

It occurs to me that a lot of churches are stuck in one of these phases. Many of my Vineyard friend who follow a “seeker targeted” philosophy of ministry seem to just keep gathering and gathering, but never get around to teaching their people to commit, or to live in the convenant “one anothers.” Other churches may spend 20 years in the “covenanting” phase, and develop excellent community and leadership but stop gathering and never reproduce.

The hard part is to find the right balance.

Since I am not currently pasturing a church, I personally more involved in gathering.

My guess is that the Well is still mostly focused on gathering. 120 people in a church in Brussels is a quite respectable size...and gathering in Europe is no small challenge.

Randy R. said...

Brian asked for some clarity on my earlier comment, and I apologize for the delay. Our world turned upside down Friday night when our youngest son, Kyle, was seriously injured in his championship football game. He fielded an onside kick and was immediately hit by three players resulting in a compound fracture, breaking both bones in his lower leg. The abulance was brought on the field to take him away and the game stopped for 20 minutes. The Washington Post called it a "gruesome collison." He went into surgery about midnight and had a rod inserted, pinning the bones. Linda and I returned home around 4:00 AM, and he wasn't released from the hospital until late, Sunday evening. Of course, we both (Kyle and I) had to endure one of the most frustrating losses we have ever witnessed as Ravens fans last night. My hats off to the Patriots (Brian). They are a great team!

Anyway, the point that I was trying to make, which has probably long since been lost in the blog (bog?) is that when we so often think of the early church (i.e., we want to be just like a "N.T. Church"), we fail to remember that the reason that the church met from house to house Sunday (the first day of the week) was because they met on Saturday (the Sabbath) in the synogogue. I am not advocating the same, only pointing out that the "house to house" was one aspect of their worship, but it was not the only aspect. I believe that God is tolerant of many different models of His church. My biggest problem is when one group be it the Catholic Church or the house church movement states that WE have THE WAY. Our's is the biblical pattern. I personally believe that the pattern that best serves His purposes is the large Sunday celebration AND the small group component (however that is developed). I also know from experience that trying to incorporate both is a challenge and that you don't have the full benefit of a house church model nor do you have the full benefit of a program driven, large church model. However, to me it blends the best of both worlds to foster relationships within the body, grow in our relationship with God the Father, and extend the Kingdom of God in the earth. We are actually prayerfully considering and even different model, one church with two expressions, a Saturday "Messianic" Service and a Sunday "Gentile" celebration with everything else in common; i.e., Growth Groups, Men's Group, Youth Group, etc. . . One New Man (Eph. 2:11-22).

josenmiami said...

hi Randy,

Wow! we will be praying for kyle...I hope he recovers with a mininum of hassle.

I agree with most of what you said, especially the two points about the Jewish and synagogue influence on the early church and, 2) the fact that there is no one model of church, but rather a variety of models serve a variety of situations.

The only point that I did not fully agree with is when you say that the combination large church-small group is the overall best ...which seems to contradict your earlier point #2. Perhaps you meant that it serves the best for your situation, which I can appreciate.

I would tend to say that the best church model is whatever one is most effective at producing fully committed disciples: followers of Jesus. That probably means that there is a large variety of workable church structures ... the measure in my mind is are they "making disciples" (which Dallas Willard and Barna agree that the overwhelming majority in the U.S. are NOT) and are they producing disciples who "love one another."

Any church that can do those two things will get my full respect, regardless of how they are structured, when or where they meet, or how many people attend on what day.

Brian Emmet said...

Amen, Joseph. I'm with you, esp. in your final paragraph.

Randy, so sorry to hear about Kyle, and add my prayers for a full recovery--and for God's encountering him in the midst of this circumstance.

And so sorry, Randy, to hear about the Ravens. As one writer put it, Brady played his worst game of the season, but capped it with what may prove to be one of the greatest drives of his whole career! We'll be interested to see the develop of your new model--please keep us posted!

Randy R. said...

Responding to Joesph's comment, YES, personally (underlined), I believe in the model I discribed; otherwise, I wouldn't use it! However, that does not mean that it is the ONLY model. I respect and support any and every true expression of the LORD's body. My study of other cultures, especially Islam, has opened my eyes to numerous other possibilities in God's Kingdom.

josenmiami said...

well then we are all in agreement so far ... I do think that culture plays a large role in shaping the structures of the church.

Brian, I appreciated your point about Neff's comment regarding "doing" church in an indifferent culture...I had not thought about that.

Here's a thought: no one has commented so far on the second link, on the aggressive vision of Christian Associates for church planting in Europe. There has been a lot of talk about the de-Christianization of Europe, or the possibility of Europe becoming Muslim.

Rather than talking about church structure...perhaps we should talk about an aggressive missional vision such as the one presented by Christian Associates and their various national affiliates such as The Well.

sarahmorgado said...

Sorry to re-hash, but I like Jose’s comment about any church that produces committed disciples/followers of Jesus is the best model. I personally don’t believe there is any “One Model” for the church. I believe that there are infinite possibilities for church structure that are highly effective. The most effective type of church structure is defined by the culture in which the church starts. (I don’t mean the culture’s morality, but rather the social dynamics of that culture or sub-culture) I know I’m going to get it after that comment.

A few years ago I read the book Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan and was truly amazed by the revelations in the book. Vincent was a Catholic priest who reached the African Masai tribes. I don’t have the book in front of me so I can’t quote it exactly, but he made a statement that “church is basically each culture or subculture’s response to the Gospel of Christ.” Morality should be consistent throughout all the cultural responses, but structure is not.

The Masai were are of a group mentality – in other words, (at that time) no one made an individual decision. Whatever the chief decided – everyone did – no questions. So, if the chief accepted Christ – so did his tribe, and vice versa. They took their tribal songs and dances and changed them to talk about the High God and his ways. Donovan did not try to teach them Hymns or make them wear “civilized” clothing. If he had done this, he would have been ineffective, or at worst, alienated them. He allowed them to embrace the gospel in their own cultural response. He allowed the Holy Spirit in them and the Word of God to convict them of immorality.

So, I think the challenge to us as “Westernized, Civilized, Proper, Christians” is to let go of our mentality of church structure and “proper” behavior, and embrace the different people and cultures that God puts in our paths for who they are. We do not change who we are to reach them, but neither should we change who they are to bring them to Christ. We should relate the gospel to them, allowing them to respond to it out of who they are. And leave it up to the Holy Spirit to decide what he wants to change. We might be surprised.

Brian Emmet said...

I came across a quote--maybe in "The Forgotten Ways"?--that ran something like this: every three years, Christians should forget everything they've learned about Jesus and begin the study all over again.

I wonder, too, if we should not leave out the importance of our prayers to all of this... much may be accomplished there, as well as through the inventiveness that the Spirit births in local communities e.g. The Well. I'm struck, again, this Advent season, by Zechariah (whose name means, "The LORD remembers!")--as he stands at prayer, as a priest representing the prayers of all Israel, Gabriel appears and says, "Your prayer has been heard (answered), and Elizabeth will bear a son!" My guess is that Zechariah was thinking, "My prayer has been answered? Hmm, which one?" I think he and Elizabteh had concluded decades ago that God's answer to this particular prayer for a son was No. They were close: God's answer wasn't No, it was Now!

Brian Emmet said...

Sarah, how would you go about planting a church in a deeply consumerist culture?

John M. said...

Sarah, I really like the things that you're saying and thinking.

I also agree with the statements about the structure of church not being fixed, but being fluid, with numerous structures being valid and useful.

And I strongly resonate with Joseph's statement from the original post, "I think ecclesiology is going to be the great topic of conversation and debate in our time, as soteriology was for Luther and others in the early sixteenth century."

God uses many and varied forms. He seems to be willing to cooperate with us as much as we're willing to cooperate with him whatever our structure.

I also believe, though, that God is presently speaking about church structure, and that those who have ears to hear will move toward deprogramming, deinstitutionalizing, "decomplicating", "despectatorizing", and will begin to hear words like: small, simple, participatory, flexible, digital, fluid, organic, network(s), regional/city vs. "local"...

Maybe, as you all were touching on in the most recent posts prior to this one, we should stop trying to build the church and love Jesus, one another and our neighbor; demonstrate Jesus life and love; make disciples of those who want to walk with us and follow Him; and watch what He does in terms of creating church life.

Check out this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that a friend of mine who is church planting in a Muslim culture put at the bottom of his newsletter. I think it applies to our conversation here. (I don't know the source. Is it "Life Together"?)

"It is not we who build. He wills to build the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess – he builds. We must proclaim – he builds. We must pray to him – he builds. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of building. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Church, do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don't ask for judgments, don't always be calculating what will happen, don't always be on the look-out for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds."

sarahmorgado said...

In response to Brian’s question: “how would you go about planting a church in a deeply consumerist culture?” I feel that focusing on the consumerist mentality is just not important. I guess I tend to think of culture as social groups, not location. I don’t think that there is one church model for the “North American Culture”; instead it seems to me that there are thousands of subcultures in North America that would have different responses to the gospel. For example – Jose relates to a group of super intelligent, multilingual, business minded graduate students. Their structure would look very different from the gothic/vampire/night people that we also hang out with at the local bar/billiards. Those two subcultures cannot be easily combined. Both cultures are of the consumerist mentality, but the expression of who they are is VERY different.

I would instead focus on simply building trusting friendships with individuals in these social networks. There is always a natural leader (elder) of every type of group. If this person comes to faith in God, then many times, he/she will also lead others in the group to faith. This requires that we let go of trying to conveniently group everyone into a larger “meeting”. And reach out to smaller groups in their environments. (Much harder)

As these individuals and social groups come to faith and are filled with the Spirit, they will begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit which will convict them of consumerism. (or any other fleshly mentality/sin)

Jeremiah said...

Brian et. al.

To go back to my previouos post, I didn't think my comment really got fair treatment. I am not advocating people ask the question "What authority do I have?"

But rather "By what authority do you do these things?"

This question was the only question from the Pharisees that Jesus acknowledged as valid. Why wouldn't we ask it of ourselves?

When we meet, how we meet, who we meet with, what kind of songs we sing, etc. etc. etc. are only window dressing. They are the skin and bones on the skeleton.

The Greek word for Ekklessia, which interestingly Jesus picked over the Hebrew word for synagogue to declare what His Church would be, has to do with a called out specific group of people who are to govern.

If this (Ekklessia) is what the Church is, then the fundamental questions governing eccleisology have to do with:

1) What or who is being governed?
2) How is it being governed?
3) By what authority is it being governed?

These all center on the Kingdom of GOD and bringing Heaven to Earth.

If our questions are all centered on:

1) How we meet
2) Who we meet with
3) Where we meet
4) How big are our meetings.

We really are not talking about bringing Heaven to Earth as much as the best way to attract followers to our meetings.

I'm honestly not that interested in the logistics of meetings. The meetings really are going to adapt themselves to follow the function of what is supposed to be accomplished.

Robert said...

Sorry I have not been on for this one. Been in Costa Rica with the Johnson and Curtis families.

I am tracking and hope to comment on this important string.

Just checkin in...

steve H said...

I am coming to believe that I have spent too much time trying to "understand" and "build" (or "plant" for that matter.

If we are proclaiming the good news(in its fullness) ...if we are proclaiming the good news about Jesus and his kingdom ... if we are seeking to live according to his kingdom as His people, His community on earth... if we are influencing those to whom the King brings us to enter and live in the Kingdom too... then we are pretty much doing what the King has called us to do.

He said He would build the church. He will call those who genuinely follow Him to assemble as His people on earth and He will rule by His Spirit in and through them.

Does culture matter? I'm sure it does -- both the cultures within which we live and work, and also the culture(s) that He has produced among His people. Jesus is at least as wise as the "landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old."

josenmiami said...

is everyone reading the links that Brian posted above as he asked? it might helps stay on track with the discussion Brian proposed.

Jeremiah: I am not interested in discussing authority issues with you...I think we (you and I) covered that thoroughly back in need to recover ground we have already been over.

Randy R. said...


Jeremiah said...


I did read the articles and I think my question is very valid. By what authority are they planting churches? We have been talking in every discussion about the topics you bring up regarding size of meetings, location etc. I'm not sure why that topic is always on the table, but a topic which I consider at least as important regarding the authority by which such things happen is not.

Furthermore, to "insist that the sacraments are present for something to be called the church" would be consistent with 1500 years of church history and also with what both the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believe and also with what the vast majority of Protestants practice in a more limited form, even if they don't claim or understand it.

To deny the sacraments as being essential to what is "Church" is to take a stand against the overwhelming majority of what is Christian both past and present. I am not aware of any reformer who attempted this.

I am not saying I disagree with what "The well" is doing or that I agree with what the critics say of it.

What I am saying is that we all agree with you that the frequency of meetings etc. is a flexible issue that can be adapted to meet the needs of the culture and I'm not sure what else beyond agreement you are looking for.

Although we did talk about some authority related issues back in the summer, we never dealt with the Greek word "Ekklessia" and its ramifications. This word and the questions I am raising fit perfectly with the topic about ecclesiology.

If your reaction is due to something in the way I wrote the last post, I apologize for being offensive. It was not my intention to offend anyone. I was simply trying to bring up a point I perceived as having been brushed off and which I really do think is at the heart of the topic and discussion.

I honestly don't see how we can honestly talk about ecclesiology without addressing Ekklessia.

josenmiami said...

sorry dude, I didn't set the topic for discussion, that was Brian. I don't have the time or emotional energy to engage you on these issues right now... I respectfully bow out of this thread to go work on my final papers and I'll let you continue the conversation with anyone else who is willing.

Brian Emmet said...

It's interesting, isn't it, that it is very hard to come up with a common "definition" for the word "church". (Perhpas seeking a "definition" is a sign of our modernist impulse to feel like we have accomplished something of critical importance once we have properly defined something... on the other hand, what would life be like without any definitions at all?)

What makes a "church" a true representation or expression of "church" as God understands it? I s'pose in Paul's day, when he wrote to "the church at so-and-so," it meant the gathering/assembly of the believers in that city. There was only one "church" in Corinth, Philippi, etc. Now that there are 5, 10, or 20 things calling themselves "church" within 2 or 3 miles of each other, the situation is murkier and more muddled. Is the fundamental essence of "church" something like those people who gather around Jesus as Messiah, Savior, Lord and God, where the Word of God is proclaimed and lived, and the sacraments (the 2 of Protestantism, the 7 of Roman Catholicism, or the "whatever" of a postmodern approach?) celebrated?

So here's your homework assignment: please submit to us a brief, working definition for "church." Special prize for the correct answer (and guess who's the judge?)!

John M. said...
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John M. said...

Brain, are people stumped, or are they just reluctant to do their homework?

Guess I'll lead off. Here's my current working definition of "church".

"Two or three gathered in Jesus' name, with Him present as he promised.


John M. said...

Jeremiah, I meant to respond to your "by whose authority" question before I did Brian's assignment.

For me the answer to you question is very simple. It is by Jesus' authority that we gather based on his commission, and his promise to build his church, and to be present when his followers gather.


Jeremiah said...

Brian et al

I know we are supposed to be brief, but here goes...

Based on the Law of First Mention, I'll start with what Jesus said regarding the Church.

He described it using the Greek word Ekklessia. An Ekklessia was a group of citizenry who were summoned to rule and govern. In this same passage HE speaks of it prevailing against hells gates. Since gates are defensive, and bibilically speaking the seat of authority (see Ps, Pr. & Ruth), The Church is also offensive in nature and focused on destroying evil seats of authority.

It is interesting that HE did not use the Hebrew word for synogogue.

So the first and most significant definition of "The Church" is that it is a council who is called out to rule and attack evil seats of authority.

This immediately puts into perspective the multitude of OT verses speaking of the Council of GOD and of GOD taking Council with HIS peopl regarding HIS plans for governing the earth. Briefly, Gen. 3:8, Gen. 18, I Kings 22:19, Ps 50, Ps. 82, Ps 89, Is. 1:18, Jer. 23:18, Amos 3:7.

This then frames the context for everything Paul wrote by the Holy Spirit regarding the Church being

1) His Body, Eph. 1:22
2) His Bride, Eph. 5:32
3) The City of GOD, Heb. 11, Rev. 21

All of these have to be interpreted in terms of a Council of Rulers called out to attack evil seats of authority and bring Heaven to Earth.

There you go

John M. said...

While reading I Corinthians, I came across this verse that confirms my simple definition of church. Regarding the authority issue, it is in the context of putting an unrepentant brother out of the fellowship.

"When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit and the power of our Lord Jesus is present..." I Cor. 5:4


Brian Emmet said...

Well, I guess my idea kinda strangulated this conversation (thanks, John M and Jeremiah... come to think of it, I didn't even respond to my idea!), so we be movin' on to the next exciting topic.

John M. said...

So, what's the deal? I thought that in the original post it was stated that our ecclesiology is extremely important and is the object of God's present focus; that the way we answer the question, "What is church?", is vital to the future of the church.

If that is true (and I believe it is), then why can't we at least muster a definition or description of what we understand church to be?

Is it because we have never really thought about it? Or...just assume that we know? One problem we must tackle is the assumption that we already know what the church should be and look like, so without ever questioning our preconceived ideas which are rooted firmly in the institutional, Christendom understanding of church, we continue to reproduce the same flawed pattern over and over.

When was the last time a church planter or denominational leader of church extension asked the question, "Should this one look different than the last one."?

Or as a local pastor, when was the last time (if ever), that you asked yourself or your leaders group, "What about our church should be changed, discarded or radically restructured in order to be in compliance with how the master builder/architect of the Church is building His Church?".

Not, "What will he tolerate, and graciously work with?" But, "What does He really want? How/what is he actually building?".




josenmiami said...

John, I think it is futile to try to come up with a conceptual definition of church here in this blog. Thats a little like disecting the frong in order to diagnose whats wrong with will kill the frog. It seems like trying to "think our way to right action" rather than "act our way to right thinking."

I still tend to agree with Alan Hirsch (although no one in here agreed) that first and foremost must be christology ( a vision of and encounter with Jesus) from which flows our missiology (our purposeful and loving engagement of the world) which finally results in our ecclesiology (the structure that our gathing with other followers takes in a particular cultural or tribal context).

To try to pre-define "church" without following through the other two steps in a praxis tends toward some kind of platonic-scholastic "universal principle" that is divorced from a place and time in history.

Here is a question for you John: how do you reconcile you simple-organic definition of church (above) with your frank admiration for Eastern Orthodoxy?

Brian: I think some are holding back from posting their definitions (or understandings) of church in here, because we have covered it in some fashion before, and after long and endless debates, we have discovered that we have irreconcilable differences in our views. To key off the new post: this is the season for love and cheer...not for interminable debates ... (smile)

Merry Christmas everyone!

John M. said...

You're probably right, Joseph. My concern is that we think about our conceptual definition at least long enough to admit that our preconceived assumptions about what church is, just might have some flaws and shouldn't be just blindly maintained and multiplied. BTW, I'm reading "The Forgotten Ways". Good stuff. I'll add my voice to those who have said that we all should read it.

Regarding EO and "simple church". It may confirm that I'm schizoid... But I have said all along and haven't changed my perspective that I believe Orthodoxy has much to offer us protestants and children of the reformers in theological depth and nuance, and in some of our personal spiritual disciplines, but that I cannot abide with their ecclessiology. That is still my position. So EO can inform my sense of history and theological depth, just as does Western Catholicism and Protestant Reformation hist. and theology, without me wanting to reproduce or be part of its ecclesiastical structures -- just like I don't want to be part of Catholic structures or most of the structures that Protestants have produced.

Ditto the season of love and cheer and the wishes for a Merry Christmas to all.


PS If any one has not watched "The Nativity Story" with your family, I recommend that you rent or buy the video and do it. You may just create a holiday tradition. It's obviously imaginative drama, but it takes nothing away from the truth of the biblical narrative. It will make your ideas of the Incarnation, very concrete, and help strip away any sanitized "stained glass" residue that might still be hanging around in your brain.

Randy R. said...

Greetings group! I apologize for not weighing on this discussion. I have been traveling at warp speed. Contrary to some of the thoughts expressed, I don't think that folks are purposely holding back, nor do I feel that it is a poor question. In fact, I think that it is a great question. The early church fathers wrestled with some of these very same questions in the context of their unique circumstances more that 1,000 years ago.

As I shared in an earlier post, I react to a too narrow definition of the church. In fact, I took great delight last summer when I received communion at a Catholic mass. Linda said, "You can't go up" [to receive the elements]. To which I replied, "He (the priest) didn't fence the table, so I'm going!"

However, it seems that some defiinition of church is needed; otherwise, can we say that the Unitarians or Universalists are inlcuded in the body of Christ? How about the Mormons or Jehovah Witnessess? Once again, I could easily entertain the argument that there are members of these groups and others we could name that ARE true believers. Just as there are those who are part of "Bible believing churches" who are NOT true believers. Personally, althought some would certainly disagree, I don't think that that is the issue, it is what constitutes a/the "church" from a biblical viewpoint.

So, I often use the definition that I learned from Bob Mumford in his book "The Body of Christ," which is still on my bookshelf and which I still occassionally refer to. In this small but meaningful expose', Bob points out that when Jesus was on the earth, that He embodied all the giftings that we read about in the Scriptures; yet, he limited His ministry to where ever he was at that moment (with, of course, a few exceptions). Following Pentecost, His body is now represented wherever believers are joined together in His name and each body (Eph. 2) has the capability of reflecting all the the gifts of Christ through the various members of that body; thus, glorifing God, the Father, in the earth, and extending the Kingdom of God.

This is my very simplistic contribution. Clowney has an excellent definition that I have also greatly appreciated, but I need to look it up. When I do that, I will share it too.

Merry Christmas, too!

steve H said...

I haven't weighed in for more than one reason; however, Randy, it's =
interesting how close Mumford's definition fits with what Patristics
scholar John Ziziolas wrote about the church in the first three centuries, and what my non-canonical Orthodox friend Jordan Bajis also says. Biggest difference is that they would see the bishop's, in particular, (as wells as the presbytyrs and deacons) presence as being necessary. In other words, the church as a representation of the kingdom is the assembly of God's people in a particular place, including their leaders.

Personally, I am currently wrestling with the whole issue of how to live as the people of God(again) too much to say much about it at this time.

Brian Emmet said...

Here I've been waiting for some "christmas sermonettes" (and we all know that 'sermonettes make Christianettes'), while y'all have been continuing the mud-wrestling down here. If I checked down a post, I'd likely discover that there's been all kind of prayer-requesting and prayer-responding going on without my even knowing about it! Sheesh!

So...are there ways in which "the Christmas story" might inform our conversation about "church"? Or should I just return to my wistful waiting at the "upper" post?

josenmiami said...

sorry brian... I got busy with my final papers...just finished up on Friday ... we have had a wonderfully busy weekend. Today, we celebrated our graduation (from the masters) with some of my close friends and their families (all of their parents came up to personally thank me for being a "life coach" for their daughters to make it through the process).

I don't have anything to add to the Christmas thing ... I have not "preached" messages for a long time. Maybe Jose Feliciano...."Feliz navidad, Feliz navidad, prospero ano y felicidad... i want to wish you a merry Christmas...i want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heeeearrrt ...

Brian Emmet said...

Thanks, Joseph...and congrats on both the mastering and the life-coaching!