Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spiritual Heritage Part 2: "The Church Holds a Rummage Sale"

Lets start fresh with our discussion of Spiritual Heritage. Here are a couple of highlights from John Meadows that kicked off our discussion in the first place:

“But what we're trying to do is to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit in this moment, in this era of social, cultural and political history, with events that come at us as like a fire hose. In the late '60's and early '70's God was moving sovereignly. I am so grateful to have been caught up in that move. But many of those leaders are dead (including three of our five teachers), and the others are in their 70's and 80's.

Of the two who are living, neither Charles nor Bob are doing what they were doing in the '70's and '80's. Both have continued to move with the Spirit. And when you hear them speak these days, they are still fresh and relevant. I was amazed at the prophetic insight that Bob still carries (not of a by-gone era; reminiscing about the good old days, but of our present context). When he spoke at ACM a couple years ago, he was totally up to date on current trends, theological and social movements -- probably more so than most of the rest of us in the room.

Most of us are attempting to maintain and value our historic relationships without trying to continue, restore or duplicate the past. No one can "go back", we can only move ahead. "What is God saying and doing now?" is our question.
On a more popular level, we're all theologians if we're interested at all in God, and knowing him. Here's how dictionary.com defines theology: "The field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God's attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth." So with that definition, you and I are also "theologians", although without letters.

I love the ancient Orthodox definition of a theologian, "He who prays is a true theologian."

And speaking of "Fathers of the Faith", Christendom as we know it would not exist without the theologians who hashed out the creeds and endured much hardship and suffering. We can deconstruct them and see their failings and clay feet, just like our own brothers, but we can't forget that we are here because of them and their struggles and scarifies to follow our God the best they knew how in the age and context in which they lived -- to serve God's purpose for their generation.”

And this from Brian: The church of Jesus Christ, as happens from time to time, gets confused. When confused, she tends to hold a big rummage sale, putting both her treasures and her accumulated junk on the block for bargain prices. (Well, they're bargains if they are truly treasures!) So here we are, sorting through the piles and piles of ... stuff. What will we gladly pay top dollar for? What are we willing to let go to the recycle facility?

29 comments:

just joe said...

I'm not quite sure how this can be done (perhaps God will shake the church so hard through persecution and economic trials that he will do it for us) but I think our present system of leadership selection, training and promotion needs to be scrapped. I'm not talking here about the covenant circles but the larger evangelical church. We are producing far too many incongruous, ambitious, political, narcisistic spiritual dwarves who are in it for the recognition and ego satisfaction as a career rather than a self-sacrificial opportunity to serve.

Brian Emmet said...

We were reading Mark 7 this morning. The Pharisees are criticizing Jesus because he "allows" his disciples to "eat with unwashed hands." Jesus replies with some strong words about the Pharisees' having confused "the tradition of the elders" with "the commands of God." Most of our "traditions" emerge out of the "commands of God"--we do what we do because (a) we see it in Scripture and (b) we develop ways/traditions of obeying that command. Church architecture, internal and external, might be one example: Scripture commands us to meet together regularly and as an expression of faithfulness to that command, we feel we "need" buildings, especially when the congregation grows to a size that won't fit in a home/house. (Pace, all those who will remind me that "the church originally didn't have any buildings, they met in homes!"). So we have a nearly 2000-year tradition about church buildings(and it's actually many, many traditions).

How do we avoid the reflex of simply dumping what is "old" because the "new" is so much... I was going to say "better," but that's not right. What we usually are looking at when we're talking about "the new" is typically "the familiar."

Laurel Long said...

Love the new thread.
Joseph, I left a note for you on the previous page and I accidentally repeated myself. It will be the last comment I post there.
I will take some time to muse over yours and Brian's commentaries; they are worth pensive consideration.

John M. said...

I'm thinking...

Robert are you back yet? I want to see your spiritual heritage post.

I'm getting ready to read Phyllis Tickle's book, "The Great Emergence" on Robert's recommendation.

just joe said...

just landed in Rio a couple of hours ago. Waiting for the flight to São Paulo. Deb had chemo yesterday.

Laurel: regarding your post on the previous thread, I agree with you. We need to take in account ALL of church history and the heritage that comes with it from Justin Martyr and St. Augustine all the way up through George Fox, John Wesley, and John Wimber. The more comprehensive our approach can be, the more we will apprehend the ^whole council of God^` (sorry, damn international keyboards).

Brian: I tend to agree with you that church buildings are not the issue -- developing spiritual families that function as relational communities are the issue... if a building helps that process -- fine, if not, ditch it. It is just a ^`thing`` ... we must seek the enduring spiritual principle behind it.

I will be interested in hearing some responses on my proposition that our current form of leadership development must be re-engineered (sp?).

steve H said...

It "bugs" me that Scripture is not more explicit about the matter of leadership in the church -- not that my "comfort" is all that important. It is very clear that the leadership structure is quite explicit by the end of the 1st century, and Ignatius and others clearly attribute that structure to the Apostles whom Jesus appointed. That also "bugs" me since I cannot fully discount either body of evidence but don't know exactly how to put them together.

It seems fairly clear that there were groups of elders/bishops (presbyters / overseers) who "shepherded" the communities. It is worthy of note that all of these terms were used of community leaders (elders, king) in the Old Testament rather than of priests or usually even of prophets. This seems to indicate that our leadership structures should be more "communal" than "religious."

Even the word "priest" as used by the historical churches (Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Coptic, etc.) derives from the Greek word for elder (presbyter -- a leader of a community) rather than having any direct connection to the Old Testament Levitical priesthood.

The Eucharist (breaking bread) in Acts took place in homes, not at the temple. Of course, the Passover celebration and weekly Sabbath meals (which seem to have been the initial pattern for the Eucharist "liturgy") were also home and family based -- not temple based.

Then, when I look at the qualifications of bishops / overseers and elders / presbyters in Timothy and Titus, I again see far more qualities that describe family and community leaders than the "religious" leaders we typically seem to think about when we think about church leaders.

All of that is to say, "Yes, there needs to be an examination of the system, and also of the nature of, leadership in the church." And I think that examination should include covenant circles too.

Brian Emmet said...

I had coffee with a friend today, who has been reading an article by Tim Keller on how leadership changes as a church grows in size/numbers. What "the pastor" does changes significantly at various size-points: up to 200 members, the pastor functions in one mode/fashion; from 200-400 that changes, above 500 it changes again, etc. I asked if Keller--a man I respect greatly, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC--ever thought about why we tend to have "one leader." Apparently Keller had, according to my friend: bigger churches tend to be more effective in gathering not-yet-believers into a space where they can (a) be anonymous and (b) hear sound teaching. A multiplicity of leaders is less effective.

My point here is not to debate Keller's point there, but to ask if our orientation towards smaller, more relational churches is as "Biblical" as we think it is. I'm also wanting this comment to be a response to Joseph's question about how we recogize, train, release leaders. Are smaller, more "intimate" churches an expression of our "tradition of the elders" (Mark 7)?

just joe said...

yes, I am aware of the changes in role ... I tried to make the change at 200 into a more corporate leader rather than a personal shepherd ... I either could not make the change, or I didn~t want to become that kind of impersonal leader. The higher up that scale of size one goes, the more of an impersonal CEO leadership style is required -- partly a function of our culture. I have heard the idea that big churches reach more unbelievers because of the annonymity factor, but I am not sure I believe it. The research of Christian Swartz on over 25,000 churches found the opposite -- a church of 50 reached more people per 50 members than a church of 1000 on average.

just joe said...

ok, my time was up on the computer and I got kicked off before I finished.

Christian Swartz in Natural Church Development (I sent you two copies of the book Brian) did a comprehensive survey with 25,000 church in I think 11 different countries. He found on teh average that churches of under 50 lead about 5 people to the Lord over a 5 year period. That means, a church of 1000 should lead at least 100 or more to the Lord over a 5 year period (as opposed to simple numerical growth, which probably includes Christians tranfering).

In fact, he found that churches of 1000 lead significantly less than 100 people to the Lord over a 5 year period ... in fact, if I remember correctly, many church reach a size where they tend to stop growing (don't remember the exact numbers) and don't lead many people to the Lord. I'm sure there are many exceptions.

I would say that churches of 50 are more likely to be able to lead 5 people to the Lord during the first 5 years of their existance. After a longer period they tend to turn inward.

In terms of leadership, leaders in the U.S. are trained from the beginning in how to 'perform' from the platform in public ministry. Very little attention is given to character issues. Even youth pastors/leaders are fed with narcisism from the beginning ... and rewarded for using their "gifts". I have seen it with my own eyes recently with two or three former "youth pastors" who started attending our god-party. At first they are totally lost in a socratic dialogue ... they are used to having a bunch of adoring teenagers hanging on their words. It takes a while to de-toxify them.

this is where some godly digging into our heritage could be useful. The whole idea of having a "spiritual director" ... or the example of the Jeuits, Weslayan Methodists or Moravians could be very helpful. Perhaps even the Youth Catholic Student movment of the 1950s that I am researching.

John M. said...

One of the most important items that needs to be examined is the whole issue of our ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church), not buildings or even size, although our attitudes toward them could be affected.

I don't believe that Evangelicalism has a clearly formulated doctrine of the Church. And I think the reformers didn't put much intentional thought into it, but pretty much wholesale brought over the ecclesiastical structure they already knew -- with the absence of images and of a universal Pope, of course. What has developed is a lot of smaller papacies within denominations, movements and particularly in the pulpits of many local churches.

With modifications, the familiar ecclesial structure was carried over, with the pulpit replacing the table as central. That structure has been adopted wholesale without question for the last 500 years, no matter what wine was being poured into the wineskin. Only a few along the margins have questioned the accepted structure, and have tried alternatives. Much of the time these experiments get reabsorbed into the traditional structure over time.

I think that Joseph's leadership question is ultimately an ecclesiological question. The way the church is structured creates the need for a person to lead it, who could also be successful in politics or business. We have made pastoring/leading in the local church a very political job, and have adopted the American corporate business model for the way the church should be structured. The end result in the minds and expectations of the people and those training leaders, cause them to attract and produce the kind of qualities that Joseph described.

It's interesting Brian that Keller's ideas about how leadership changes with growth is a page straight out of the classic church growth movement. It’s based on research that came out of Fuller in the early '80's. The church growth movement's ideas are mechanized (put in this method, get back this result) and business oriented. They are pragmatic, i.e., "what works". I'm not trying to paint it as "all bad", but it is important to know what well one is drinking from and basing one’s doctrine of the Church.

I think that most "local churches" as we know them, are ineffective and counterproductive in extending the Kingdom and building the Body of Christ in a locality or region -- "locality" used the way Watchman Knee defined it. Given the "law of existing order", I'm not sure what to do about this situation, but I think many people on the grass roots level are and will be doing something about it in their attitudes of being less loyal to their "local" church and more loyal to Jesus and what He is doing in a locality.

They may continue to attend and perhaps even support their local church financially and with some of their time, but their "real" focus and loyalty will be with a "spiritual family" and/or ministry related sodalities that are not necessarily related to their local church at all.

Case in point. Back when our study group was at 17 regular participants we went through regular (once or twice a year) self-examinations asking ourselves if we were a "house church" or a "bible study".

Each time we had that conversation no one, except myself and one or two others, felt comfortable calling us "church", because most all of them were members and regular attendees of local churches to which they felt a sense of loyalty. They felt that they couldn't with integrity belong to two churches at once, and they weren't willing to choose the "house church" over the other.

But to a person (it never failed) each one would emphasize that where they found real community, spiritual family and spiritual life and reality was in the small group, not in the local church. Their "real" community was our group. That's where I see the future going.

Billy Long said...

Hey, Brothers. I will try to get some thoughts in at some point. This is a good discussion.

just joe said...

glad you like it Billy. John, you really ought to investigate some kind of distance or online masters in sociology of religion or theology -- you are wired for it.

Regarding training young leaders, I guess it is all theoretical -- we don't exactly have young 20-somethings lining up to be "trained" for ministry do we?

Well, maybe Jamie is the exception, but he doesn't visit our blog very much.

Lets not get off too much on leadership issues. What other things would you be willing to junk or give away in this season?

What things do you want to hold on to at any price?

Billy Long said...

There were some structural and relationship dynamics that we practiced and preached very strongly as essential and biblically necessary, and we believed that the rest of the church world was “missing it” and “missing out” by not doing what we were doing. But now as time has passed we have adjusted in our practice in a number of areas (or at least those of us who are actually practicing something). But I have to say that during that time, we (those of us who were in the Raleigh Covenant Church) experienced some of the best and most “heaven-on-earth” type of relationships. In Raleigh we did not experience the abusive side of our movement, and we had no real complaints from our people. [Durham was another story]. We in Raleigh had wonderful relationships, genuine love and unity. We never had groups or people leaving. We saw people of character, and we saw character in relational dynamics that we attributed to the blending of discipline, commitment, grace, and care that was demonstrated in our system.
I look back on those days with such warmth and nostalgia. I hear the same “tune” so many of the original people who were with us in those days, and who express sadness that they have not been able since that time to find or taste of the same glory and depth of relationships with all the blessings that came with it.
I know there are some practical methods that I would have to do differently if I were to “plant a church” or start some new work, but I am wondering how to experience once again that taste of heaven on earth that we once had back in the old days. I know the river has moved on in terms of change and methods, but how can we make the changes and still have the really GOOD stuff we experienced back then?

Billy Long said...

By the way, I want to make clear that I am "on board" with the obvious changes. In terms of "the ministry" I am sort of on the sidelines. But I know any new endeavor will require a serious and diligent desire for the Lord's sovereign leading and birthing of whatever happened. I do see so many things that I would do differently.

John M. said...

Here goes:

The Church’s 500 year rummage sale.

What to throw:

• Most everything that is “current” and “trendy”.

• The attitude that “old” is bad.

• The attitude that the Reformation was the “final solution” or the “unified theory” for Christendom, for all time.

• The idea that Evangelical theology is the high water mark of Biblical understanding and that the current prevailing understanding is infallible.

• The attitude that the current church model is the best way of expressing the Church.

• Escapist/rapturist theology; resulting in a short-timer’s, rescue “souls” from hell, and let the culture and the earth “go to hell”, because it’s all going to be judged and burned up anyway.

• Black and white glasses that ignore or deny the shades of gray that are everywhere, both outside and inside Chrstendom.

What to keep:

• The Ancient Creeds.

• The Covenant and the Kingdom, and the hope and prayer that the revelation and experience of them will increase and deepen.

• The idea of seeing the Bible as story, rather than a systematic theology.

• The understanding that most, if not all, theological ideas are nuaunced, not absolute, and that whatever we think we see and understand objectively, is “through a smokey glass”. There is more to know about all we think we know.

• N.T. Wright’s theology; just kidding… I think, but maybe not…

• The Divine Mysteries. What do I mean by that? I don’t know…they are mysteries!

• The Ancient Liturgy – I’m not a participant; but somehow I draw a sense of rootedness and stability from knowing that it’s there, alive and practiced by a large portion of the Church. Does anyone feel any rootedness in the typical, evangelical or charismatic Sunday morning service? As much as I enjoy “contemporary” worship, it seems that it could go away, and not much would be lost in the overall scheme of 2000 yrs. of Church History. The immanence of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit is what we want to keep, not necessarily the form… let the form take it’s course, but don’t make it a necessity.

• The anticipation that something significant, perhaps huge is emerging in our lifetime,(at least it's beginning in our life time) that may in retrospect be even more importat than the Reformation.

• The faith that God will sovereignly intervene to jettison and deconstruct what needs to go and to reconstruct what needs to stay and become.

• The idea that God’s Kingdom, God’s creation, God’s purposes, God’s Salvation and Redemption are so much bigger and beyond what we would ask, think or dream about in our wildest imaginations.

• The anticipation that there is a ripe harvest out there, that God is orchestrating and overseeing the current trends of our culture: jihadisim, spread of Islam into Western Europe, postmodernism, etc. in order to hasten the coming and consummation of His Kingdom when the earth will be filled with the Gory of the Lord like the waters cover the sea.

• The perspective that ultimately the glass is half full (and some day will be full and running over), not half empty; therefore hand-wringing is not necessary or even an option for a biblically based follower of Jesus!

John M. said...

Billy, your post came in when I posted mine, that's why I didn't ackowledge it. The fact that you guys in Raleigh had such a positive experience says something about you as a man, you and Laurel as a couple and the leaders you raised up.

I quite often hear people here in Lexington say that they have never found what we "had", and they too would desire to expeience the quality of relationships, commitment, community and sense of solidarity of the past Covenant "glory" days.

I could easily get nostalgic about the '70's in general (and perhaps some of the early '80's), but I would rather anticipate the future than try to reproduce the past. I don't think you're advocating that b/t/w/, but we can easily get focused on somehow recouping what we "lost" and miss what God is doing now.

It's also true, that what we experience here on this blog and in face to face times is fruit of our (many of us) shared past and history.

But that was a sovereign move of God that we were privileged to participate in and experience. I want to be in on the current and coming reality of what God is doing, as I'm sure you do to by your additional comments.

I think it's an attitude of perspective: Are we looking back, or ahead?

Laurel Long said...

We need eyes in the front and the back of our heads.

just joe said...

wow, a lot happened while I was away today. I just got back from the archives at the Catholic University. I spent 4 hours listening to interviews with former members of the Young Catholic Students movement in Portuguese ... needless to say, brain is fried.

Billy, your experience was a tribute to both the fresh outpouring of God (as was most of our experiences in the late 1970s) and your leadership heart. thats exactly what I am talking about in terms of leadership development: character, love and a servants heart.

John, you used a bad word; the "e" word -- "emerging". We will give you one chance to retract it and then we put you against the wall and shoot you.

Laurel, nice brief comment. You said a lot with one short sentence.

I was thinking more about leadership training today. I suppose to connect with a lot of young people eager to learn how to walk in the kingom and to develop their character requires one thing: to find the next move if God (if there is one) and to get there on time (or a tiny bit early). How do we do that?

My own approach is kinda like Simeon in the temple -- just hang around long enough with enough young people and hope I get lucky.

By-the-time robert gets in here with his contribution, we will have to start "Spiritual heritage" part 3. We are shooting up past 20 already.

Brian Emmet said...

Great discussion--not sure I have anything helpful or insightful to add at this point. I liked John's "shopping list" for the "rummage sale"!

Brian Emmet said...

Oh, let's not be unfair to Tim Keller. I'm pretty sure that he's not a big church growth guy--remember, I was citing a friend's reference to a Keller article that he (my friend, not me) was reading.

John M. said...

Joseph, no retraction. I remember when "emerging" was not a hot-button word -- as in Phil Keaggy's album about 30 years ago titled "Emerging". The lyric from the title song: "There's a Kingdom emerging, and to me that's very encouraging...it's a community where we can be the people of God."

Brian, I think what God has done through Tim Keller in downtown Manhattan is awesome. I deeply respect him as a man of God and as a church planter. My perspective on guys like him, is, I'm not going to throw any rocks until I'm doing at least as much...

B,t,w, the cover story of the current Christianity Today, June, 2009 is on Tim Keller. I recommend the read. There is material in the article that is pertinent to some of our threads, including the leadership issue.

"...Keller's unique ability is to preach to both Christians and non-Chrisitans in the same terms, without making a choice between evangelism and disciplesip...he uses the gospel surgically on the heart. 'The gospel is what we need to come to faith and also what we need to grow.'" [Spiritual formation and the tension between it and evangelism...]

Regarding leadership Keller muses, "I feel there is a way of doing ministry with this particular balance that other people can do, and right now I feel other people aren't doing it. How can we leave behind a generation of people who know how to do this -- and will do it." [Joseph's question rephrased?]

Keller is doing something about it by menoring young church planters, and helping others plant and grow their churches. Redeemer's has helped plant 65 churhes in the New York area, and only 10 are his denomination. THAT impresses me.

A group of pastors in Amsterdam recently approached him and with his help have planted 18 churches in their city. And he and his team of leaders are helping other leaders plant churches in major cities throughout the world.

Can anyone say "apostolic"? The thrust of the article, though, is that Keller has gained international influence because he is primarily focused locally. For 20 years he focused soley on Manhattan and the greater New York area, avoided media attention, wrote no books (until within the last year or two) and relentlessly focused on how to more effectively and creatively reach downtown New Yorkers.

John M. said...

FYI The June, 2009 Christianity Today also has a review of the new Dallas Willard book, "Knowing Christ Today", a one-page chart comparing N.T Wright and John Piper's views, [very helpful] and an interesting article on current and future cross-cultural missions, titled, "Global Is The New Local".

just joe said...

anyone else got anything to say? John M. and I get tired of doing all the talking.

by-the-way, it is a beautiful morning here in Sao Paulo ...

Brian Emmet said...

I'd suggest the church put on sale all of its trophies, awards, prizes, etc. and embrace and welcome its status as a "confident minority" (from Andy Crouch, in the CT articles mentioned by John M). Yes, we founded universities, hospitals, orphanages, rescue missions, etc., etc., etc.--and many are things we should continue to do. I'm suggesting only seeling the trophies, and the pride and sense of identity we gain from them, not the things themselves. "Whatever was to my gain, I now count as loss..."

John M. said...

I'm halfway through Phyllis Tickle's book "The Great Emergence". Thanks for the recommendation Robert. Based on what I've read so far, I echo Robert's exhortation; all of us should read this book.

She can pack more into a sentence or paragraph than many authors do in an entire chapter or section. Yet at the same time her writing is totally accesable and easy to understand.

Brian I think your comment on getting rid of pride of place and accomplishment is important.

Tickle's take is that the re-formations of the past, were characterized by hegemony or pride of place on the part of the new order that predominated.

Here's a quote (p. 59), "...our forbears on both sides of the divide [Catholic, counter-reformation and the Protestant Reformation], chose competition over cooperation... it [hegemony] drove all the contenders who were the Great Roformation, just as it had always driven the contenders in Christianity's previous eras of upheavel." (Which she had summerized in the previous chapter).

She then documents her statments about pride and competition... and the "blood-shed it produced, both figurative and literal. She then reminds us that if we do not learn from these past upheavals and major 500-year hinge points, that we will be destined to repeat them.

So, Phyllis and I applaud and agree with your assessment.

just joe said...

yes, it is a good book. We meet with a couples group in Miami that includes Dr. Sam, a retired Dutch Reformed pastor, a prison chaplain and a Mosaic church planter, and our lovely and gifted wives. Several of us have read through the book but we have not yet discussed it.

By-the-way, several people have asked me to explain the focus of my historical research, and when I try to do it, I have seen your eyes glaze over. I just wrote an update and explained what I am looking into in laymen’s terms if any of you are interested.

Friends 4 the Journey

I put one of my favourite Beatle’s songs on the background – it truly expresses my heart in these days. There is also an update that Deb wrote a few days ago.

John, I’ll come back to the issue of pride. The discussion has slowed way down. Is it time to move on to a new topic? Any suggestions?

It is another beautiful morning down here in São Paulo …

John M. said...

Does anyone else have a "rummage sale" comment to throw into the discussion? Surely this bunch there are some opinions out there...

Robert, we're still waiting... (spiritual heritage update)

Laurel Long said...

Hey guys,
I have been consumed and distracted with some family obligations-some routine, and some very serious.
However,I have been thinking a great deal about all of the comments posted and forming some thoughts of my own which I intend to post shortly. Please give me some time to catch up. I don't want to miss this discussion.
I am assuming that we are gathering items for the "sale" from approximately 1500 to the present. My reading is currently related to the Reformation so details are fresh, disturbing and if I am not careful, provocative. Issues then are not too different from what incenses me currently. But there are a few new things to deal with that can unsettle even the most steadfast soul.
My mind travels across the decades and hundreds of years since in order to discover some redeeming qualities of that "Change" that would justify the sacrifices that were made in order for there to be a very neat 500 hundred year plan of God.
Are we insignificant players or provocateurs of the historical justification of this new spiritual age of which we are currently and evidently its harbingers? It is my hope that there is a more powerful day to come which will justify our hope that the Church will be triumphant.
This is not my post, just letting you know I am still here!

just joe said...

oops... we are on a new thread now ... click on covenant thinklings and go to the next topic.