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What Kind of Church?

8:22 AM Mornin’, yall! Let’s return for a moment to the picture I posted the other day of this Catholic “community” in North Dallas.

St. Rita Catholic community

Is that how you would describe your “church”? Peter Savage once wrote a fascinating essay called “The Church and Evangelism.” It appeared in The New Face of Evangelism, a book that was edited by C. René. Savage suggested four models of the church that are in operation today in North America. Here they are:

1) The lecture hall. This is the church where people go primarily to listen to sermons. I’d say that in many traditional Baptist churches, this model most definitely applies. The pastor is even called the “preacher,” the service “the preaching service.” I myself have always been attracted to meetings like this, especially where there is excellent Bible teaching. You know, you go in with an empty notebook and come out with a full one. You know, the kind of church where the pastor says “Now the fifth thing I want you to know about this Greek verb is ….” Yep. Suits me to a T.

2) The theater. This is the church people attend because of the drama of the service, the great music, as well as a good sermon. And have you noticed — even the architecture in our churches encourages this view of the church? As in a secular concert hall or theater, you have programs and ushers, cushy chairs (instead of hard pews), and you expect to be royally entertained for about hour. Participation on your part? It doesn’t exit, except perhaps to applaud.

3) The corporation. This is the highly-programmed church. For every need there is a provision. When our children are growing up, this is the kind of church we often are attracted to. We gotta make sure there is a good children’s ministry and a good youth group and lots of exciting events to attend.

4) The social club. The focus here is not so much on the word or on entertainment or on programs but on social works. Food drives. Car washes. Community service.

Savage then goes on to discuss the church as the New Testament seems to depict it: as a community of obedient followers of the Lord Jesus. The emphasis is on sacrificial living rather than on knowing the truth about the Gospel. The note of genuine community is primary. Hierarchical titles that tend to create distinctions among the brethren are discouraged (the elders are known by their first names). Have we ever seen churches like this? Yes, indeed. They were called the Anabaptists. Here’s what they stood for:

  • serving instead of ruling

  • breaking down walls instead of isolationism

  • biblical authority instead of ecclesiastical tradition

  • brotherhood instead of hierarchy

  • the towel instead of the sword

  • the headship of Christ instead of that of any pastor

  • the way of peace instead of “just war”

  • the church as a living organism instead of as a human institution

  • the reign of God instead of a political kingdom

  • the catholicity of the true church instead of sectarianism

  • the power of suffering instead of the cult of power

  • the Bible as a book of the church instead of as a book of scholars

  • loyalty to their heavenly citizenship instead of loyalty to the principalities and powers

  • Spirit-orientation instead of forced structures of church life

  • being a “light to the nations” instead of a Christian enclave

  • suffering instead of inflicting suffering

  • knowing Christ instead of merely knowing about Him

  • faith that works (in both senses) instead of dead orthodoxy

  • effectual grace as a living reality instead of as a theological dogma,

  • every-member ministry instead of clergyism

  • baptism into Christ instead of baptism into a denomination

  • a unity that is lived instead of a unity that is merely extolled

  • welcoming the despised and marginalized instead of ignoring them

  • a hermeneutic of obedience instead of a hermeneutic of knowledge

  • individual conscience instead of theological conformity

  • volunteerism instead of professionalism

  • and allegiance to Christ instead of allegiance to the state

Significantly, in this kind of a community, Christ’s followers are all seen as brothers and sisters, each with a vitally important contribution to make to the whole. Church is now characterized by direct relationships, by reciprocity, by obedience to the Gospel, by deep fellowship, by mutual assistance, by participation by all of its members. The church no longer exists for itself but for others. Its kingdom call is reconciliation of people to Christ through the Gospel. Church growth for growth’s sake is now seen as a form of missional mutilation. There is a reawaked awareness of the value of spiritual gifts. It is a community created and animated by the Spirit. It is, moreover, a missionary community. The gathering exists only for the going. There is a keen sense of responsibility for evangelization and church planting in other nations. Mercy ministries also have their place.

Folks, we live in a techno-age, that’s for sure. Even yours truly just got an iPhone! In this kind of a society, the church can easily morph into nothing more than a smoothly-running machine with a veneer of power. Of course, there is a biblical alternative. I think the Anabaptists nailed it. For them, church was a radically biblical, caring community of believers totally sold out to Jesus and His reign.

Wow.

What a church.

What a community.

 

On Loss, Grief, Hope, and Joy

This post is from site editor/publisher, Henry Neufeld, owner of Energion Publications.

As you may have observed, most posts on this site come from Dave Black Online. You may wonder why we have a site that produces largely copied material (with permission, of course). The reason is simple. Dave Black’s blog doesn’t allow linking to specific posts, and so material posted here gets a permanent link. It’s also divided up by topic. You’ll find posts here that relate to Dave’s book, The Jesus Paradigm. I read Dave’s blog regularly, and as I find material that I believe would interest readers of this site, I cross-post it here.

But recently Dave has posted quite a number of things that relate to the home-going of his wife, Becky Lynn Black. He has provided an abundance of personal testimony about this experience that I think is helpful to Christians. After the death of my son James, I found that many, many Christians struggled with the idea of grief and didn’t know how to relate the four little words I put in the title (and a few others). Dave’s personal testimony is tremendously helpful.

I simply don’t have time to post everything here. I’d suggest heading over to Dave’s blog and check out at least the last few weeks. I think you will be blessed.

Are American Christians Persecuted?

8:16 AM I have been talking with a dear friend who is about to move to the Middle East as a tentmaking missionary. For anyone contemplating this type of ministry, Jonathan Merritt’s post In the Middle East, Not America, Christians Are Actually Persecuted is a must read. The title is absolutely true. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to boycott Target because their employees wish you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Xmas.” (Yes, I used Xmas intentionally.)

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels?,  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?., and The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul. Used by permission.)

When a Loved One Goes Home

7:10 AM The Celebration Service yesterday on campus affected me deeply. I took away several things:

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1) I am infinitely more fragile and helpless than even I think I am sometimes. As I watched the video of Becky’s life, I was a basket case. I longed to see her again in this life, to have her slip into my arms for a few minutes in one last embrace. But that was denied. My lover was dead. And I grieved.

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A Church that Really Cared

10:52 AM In my forthcoming book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church I often refer to the early church as a church that really cared. They taught and encouraged each other, they prayed and read Scripture together, they sat down and ate together. The quality of their fellowship should amaze us today. Even the leaders, who were so diverse, pushed and nudged each other to be all that God was calling them to be. The church at Antioch had a Barnabas from Cyprus and a Simeon who was clearly black and a Manaen who was from the upper crust of society and even a fiery intellectual named Saul. How different can you get? Yet they enjoyed a marvelous fellowship. Their love for each other transcended the barriers of class and education.

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On Fervent Prayer

11:28 AM Been thinking a lot about prayer these days. I’ve even been writing about the topic for my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. Here is an excerpt from the chapter called “Fervent Prayer”:

If a church is to be healthy, it will not happen without this kind of praying. But how is prayer even possible?

The answer is: It is not. Nothing describes the Christian’s weakness and inability like his or her prayer life. Rom. 8:26-27 is highly instructive at this point. Here Paul conceives of prayer as the ministry of the Holy Spirit within us. Implied is the complete inability of the Christian to pray without divine assistance and participation. In a sense, Paul is saying that prayer is ultimately an inter-Trinitarian process: God speaking to God through us. This is a profound truth and a remarkable paradox. I cannot pray unless the Holy Spirit prays; but the Holy Spirit will not pray unless I am praying! Perhaps this is what Paul is alluding to when in Eph 6:18 he says that Christians are to be “praying at all times in the Spirit.” Some exegetes regard this as a reference to praying “in tongues.” But there seems to be little reason to hold this view. Praying in tongues may well be included, but Paul’s language is broad enough to include any kind of prayer we might offer. Paul’s main point is that prayer must cease to be a do-it-yourself activity. It is the Spirit, and the Spirit alone, who activates, empowers, and enables prayer. There is a fine sense of realism in all this. Do not think for a movement that you can pray without the Spirit’s help. Be sensitive to His promptings. When He leads you to pray, pray! There is no alternative means of prayer. The Spirit is the enabler of prayer.

Just now I prayed a prayer like I’ve never prayed before. It’s as if the words were placed on lips by Another. Fervent groanings, you might say. I pray that I would pray like this more often!

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

Writing about Prayer

Today I was guilty of allowing little petty annoyances to get to me and rob me of my joy. That’s just plain stupid, but when you’re a bit on the tired side it’s just something that can “happen.” Right now I’m writing the chapter called “Fervent Prayer” for my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I am a little surprised at how easily this book is coming to me. At the same time, I often ask myself, How can I write anything about prayer? I’ve still got so much to learn about it! Pray for me that I will be able to see all this through God’s eyes. Becky has her race to run, and so do I, and I want to finish well.

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

Cessationist or Continualist?

8:32 AM Are you a cessasionist or a continualist? I want to go on record and affirm that I am a passionate continualist.

  • I believe we ought to continue the pattern of simple, radical, life-style evangelism begun in the book of Acts. After all, it worked for the early church.
  • I believe we ought to continue bearing a humble, faithful, and consistent testimony to Christ, as the early believers did. Let moderns appeal to the sensational and spectacular; even the early church knew of signs and wonders. But the greatest work of the church has not been the spectacular but rather the faithful day-in and day-out living of normal everyday Christians.
  • I believe we ought to continue the pattern of church discipline as practiced by the early church and call out “play Christians” that only go through the motions thinking they are Christians but unaware they are only pretending. When the secular press begins to mock our inflated membership statistics, isn’t it time we did something about it?
  • I believe we ought to get out of our cozy churches and put Christ on display in the world’s darkness where we are needed. For the early Christians, the field was the world, and the corn of wheat had to die if it was to please God and bear fruit. Why, then, do we sit around debating theological puzzles when we ought to plant our lives in the ugly soil of the world?
  • I believe we ought to continue the emphasis of the New Testament upon every-member ministry, since we are all priests – every one of us – of the Most High God. No church in the New Testament had a single pastor who did all the work. If you have such a leader in your church, fire him – and then hire him back immediately as your CEO, “Chief Equipping Officer” (Eph. 4:12).  
  • I believe we ought to continue the early church’s rejection of blind patriotism. The only Christian nation the Bible knows is the blood-bought, born-again purchased people of God.
  • I believe we ought to follow the example of the apostle Paul and eschew the excellence of human oratory and any appeal to human wisdom. Nothing about the Gospel pleases this world – nothing! – and we are never so foolish as when we try to dress it up in the garish garments of this age.
  • I believe we ought to continue the example of the early church and reject position and power as the measuring sticks of success. Why should we seek prominent seats in the kingdom when our Lord promised us not seats but suffering? Obedience cost John the Baptist his head and Jonathan Edwards his pulpit. What has it cost us?

So … are you a cessasionist or a continualist?

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

Worship, Service, and Mission

9:06 AM My good friend Craig Bennett is back from a transforming retreat. He tells all in his latest post called Stripped away. Craig notes:

I have to say that at this point in time, I am ruined for the lifestyle of traditional church. Our modern churches are too safe. They are too “ME” centered. While its true, most churches proclaim Christ and him crucified – it seems to me that most neglect the important part of living out Christ and him resurrected within the midst of our communities. There is little sense of the importance of mission in the midst of our community.  There is little sense of the importance of those who we walk on by.

This is so right on! In recent years I have come to view church in a vastly different way than I used to view it when I was a younger teacher. I have, in fact, adopted a new set of theological assumptions that color my theological world and the way in which I view church and missions. My former worldview was deeply shaped by twentieth-century evangelicalism. In my experience, to be an evangelical Christian was to be a good church goer. Christianity was fundamentally about us. What was lost in this view was both the missional dimension of the church and the cruciform nature of Christianity. Today my definition of discipleship has shifted considerably from that of being “a good church goer.” Discipleship means following Christ in obedience. It means participating in God’s mission in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship is exercised primarily in the broader culture rather than within the church. Missional theology, understood through the framework of the book of Acts, invites us to express our discipleship not only in doctrinal formulations (though these are vitally important) but also in missional practices and concrete acts of service.

For this reason, like Craig, I can’t be content any longer to talk about a missional theology without at least exploring its implications for its transformation potential. God’s concerns are much bigger than the typical church’s concerns. Take worship for example. Understood biblically, worship is not a gathering of individual Christians seeking an intimate experience with God. Rather, worship is the offering of our lives sacrificially to Him daily (see Rom. 12:1-2). Worship is not merely an occasional activity of the believer. Instead, it defines the core of Christian discipleship: We are called to be worshippers in every sphere of life by participating in the Triune God’s mission in the world. This can take place only through intentional “neighboring” practices and in relationship with non-Christians. The key is for ordinary Christians (like you and me) to develop their capacity to serve their neighbors in love. The work of the Spirit is crucial to this renewed participation in society. Christians are to embody the ethics of Jesus before a watching world, providing it with a limited but powerful glimpse of what it means to be a bearer of God’s image. The Gospels clearly present Jesus as constantly moving into unfamiliar territory across cultural barriers and social lines. And at the heart of it all is the cross – the profound need for reconciliation through Jesus Christ, in whom God has acted to overcome the enmity of human sin. True Christian discipleship always means taking part in Christ’s ministry in the world in a dynamic yet concrete fashion.

Thus, when we speak of worship today, a much wider definition is needed. The church does not gather in order to worship. Believers gather as worshippers who have found their vocation in sharing in the community of Christ as He sends them like sheep among wolves to minister to the needs of others. This, as I said, represents a major paradigm shift in my own understanding of Christian worship. As I see it, too much of what passes as Christian worship today is unaffected by the world. It stands aloof, isolated, and ingrown. The incarnation and crucifixion are sung about but the realties behind these truths are rarely put into practice. Rather than participating deeply in the life of the world, the church holds itself apart from the world. This leads, in turn, to a highly individualistic conception of discipleship – a kind of anthropocentricism focused solely on an individual relationship with Jesus that fails to take into account the wider fabric of the Christian community, not to mention the Triune God’s life and activity with all creation. What remains is a watered-down, emasculated version of worship in which the vocation of the church as a missional, worshiping Body is severely diminished.

One of the key trends in the world of seminary training today is the struggle to understand what a “missional” church looks like. I would suggest that a good place to start might be our understanding of New Testament worship. Such an understanding may well open up new possibilities of thought in matters such as congregational polity, leadership, and even missional theology.

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

Of Christian Scholarship and Missions

8:37 AM Good morning folks! Got time for a “missions moment”?

I’ve been teaching fulltime now for some 36 years, beginning with my alma mater, Biola University in Southern California. But for the past several years I’ve also been a fulltime “missionary.” This is not merely a matter of semantics. By mediating scholarship and service, I’m trying to cope with the incessant tug-of-war between the classroom and directly facilitating the Great Commission.

Are you going abroad again?” is a question I’m often asked by students and colleagues. As part of my equipping ministry, I spend most of my so-called vacation time each year taking the Gospel to the nations as a tentmaker. My “scholarship,” no doubt, has suffered as a result. I should not want you to feel sorry for me in the least because of this, however: there is no sacrifice involved. Strangely enough I feel a bit like the apostle Paul who said, “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). Because I have been entrusted with this commission, and since there is really no choice for me in the matter, there is no sacrifice.

What is it, you may wonder, that led to this shift in perspective in my life? (I am often asked this question.) It is simply this. The more I study the New Testament, the more I am faced with this reality: If we are truly Jesus-followers, we cannot refrain from giving our lives for the world. Tertullian’s oft-quoted testimony shows how the church’s essential function is practical service in Jesus’ name: “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another…. Look how they are prepared to die for one another.’”

I claim, then, that service in the world is the apex of Christian living; it is the center, not the circumference. One sad aspect of the professoriate is that scholarship and missions are sometimes divorced. (Not in my seminary, of course – wink.) Truth is disconnected from life. But the church’s mission to give itself for the world – the world that God loves – belongs to the academicians and theologians among us as well as to the accountants and salesmen. After all, the point of teaching Greek and Hebrew and church history and theology is not to make our students dependent on their teachers but dependent on the Head, so that each of them, and all of them together, might allow Jesus to live among them and in them and through them.

In other words, a seminary is designed to help Christians be Christians. Not just to talk “Christianese.”

It would be fascinating to comb through the entire Bible to discover how many commandments it gives us. Yet two commands sum up all the Bible’s demands on believers: Love God, and love others. To return, then, to my point: Every Christian is called to share in the evangelization of the world. I see no reason why academics should be given a pass. How foolish to think that we are exempt from living for the Gospel. I am not against attending academic conferences or writing books or giving lectures – I have done all of them – but much current scholarship, I feel, is a laid-back, pleasure-oriented, “hot tub” pursuit (apologies to J. I. Packer). I recall Kierkegaard’s warning that there is nothing quite as dangerous as the abuse of Christian scholarship (Provocations, p. 201):

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

No, my friends, we cannot evade our responsibility. Missions is the work of the church. That work is for all believers. It is for all the regions of the world. Only as a missionary agency does the church justify its existence.

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)