Read more on Dave Black Online.
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
6:35 PM In Greek class today we discussed words and how they take on meaning. It’s part of my effort to make class practical and motivational. At the same time, there’s nothing easy about lexical analysis. Much of it is undoing damage. Take the well-known and much-discussed fallacy of etymologizing — determining a word’s meaning by its constituent parts (morphemes). For example, some insist that a New Testament church is “called out” from the world — separate, if you will — based on the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, which is comprised of two parts — ek, “out of,” and kaleo, “I call.” Hence the church is a “called out” organism. It is to be different from the world. And believers are to separate themselves from the world.
In New Testament usage, however, it seems that the word ekklesia never quite had this meaning of “called out ones.” Normally it was used to describe a group of people that had something in common. At times this group met, and then it was an ekklesia. At other times it wasn’t meeting per se, but even then it was an ekklesia. This term was used in contrast to ochlos — a term that describes a group of people that have come together and yet have nothing really in common. Ochlos is often glossed as “crowd” in English, and that is indeed a very good rendering. How, then, should we translate ekklesia into English? When I posed this question to my class today, I got several excellent responses: “gathering,” “assembly,” “congregation,” and the like. All of these are fine, but none of them in my opinion captures the essence of what a New Testament ekklesia is. I prefer the term “community.” Church is not simply a group of just any people, and it is most certainly not a building. Instead, I like to think of a church as a space in which all of us are ministering, praying, preaching, teaching, singing, caring, loving — a family if you will. Our motto might be: “We’re all in this together. So let’s do it together.” This is the community to which we, as followers of Jesus, are giving ourselves with our whole hearts. This is our “church” — a diverse, global, caring paean of praise to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, Master, and only true Senior Pastor.
Recently I became part of a similar community, a community known simply as the “runners’ community.” The similarities between this community and the “church” are legion. As soon as I began running competitively I knew I had joined the ranks of hundreds and thousands of other runners. From my very first race this sense of community became instilled deep within my psyche. Even as a novice runner, I knew I was not alone. Every experienced runner remembers when they were a beginner just like you, and so they are eager to reach out to the newbies among them. You soon have a group of running friends you look to for advice — where to buy the best running shoes, how to train properly, how to avoid injuries, how to handle anxiety before a big race. Being part of this community helps each of us to become a better runner. As runners, we value what we can become and not simply what we look like. We are not defined by our age, our t-shirt size, our weight, or our medallions (or lack of them). We are all fiercely independent and pursue individual goals, and yet paradoxically we truly believe that we are all in this together, and it shows. Just show up to any race and observe the runners. We are a celebration of men and women, boys and girls, who are striving to be the best and healthiest versions of ourselves through running and fitness. We are forever occupied with growth, with exposing and developing what is latent with us. Each race is an enactment of a lifelong struggle for advancement and perfection.
I am not in the least surprised, therefore, to find similarities between a running community and a community that defines itself on the basis of the traditional creedal values of faith, hope, and love. Both runners and Christians have a lot in common. For one thing, we both ask silly questions. A Christian in a bookstore asks the salesperson: “I’m looking for a Bible for my mother but I’m not sure who the author is.” A non-runner asks you, “How far is your next 5K race?” As you can see, both novice runners and novice Christians have a lot to learn! We are people who pursue excellence and who seek to be dedicated to something wholeheartedly and to give ourselves to some project without any reservations whatsoever. Our actions are always impelled by some good we want to attain. And to achieve our goals, we often have to endure suffering and pain. An athletic race is a place where we discover strength and faith and courage we never knew we possessed. We are runners. It doesn’t matter how fast we run or or how far we run. It doesn’t whether we are running in our very first race or have been running for fifty years. During a 5K race this past weekend I met an athletic-looking young man who was pushing his infant child in a stroller. We had finished the race at about the same time. I knew he could have run much faster had he not been pushing a baby carriage. He told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “Sometimes having the best time at a race has nothing to do with how fast you ran.” I will remember that until the day I die. I wish I could have given him “The World’s Greatest Runner Award” that day.
Running metaphors occur all over the place in the New Testament. Think Heb. 12:1; Phil. 2:16; Gal. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:7; and 1 Cor. 9:24-26. Remember: this is a race we run together. It’s no different in the running community. “Hey guys. I’ve got a hip labral tear. Anybody had any experience with this?” Or (in the church), “As a mom, I have a tremendous sense of responsibility to teach my children about truth and grace and God. Should I make my children read the Bible? What do you think?” The point is: We are there for each other.
At one time I was really struggling going uphill in 5K races. So I asked the winner of a race how I could improve. His simple answer caught me off guard. “You learn to run uphill by running uphill.” Yet another reminder that “we’re all in this together.” Need more proof? Watch this.
So what will it be, church?
It’s our choice.
(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)
8:55 AM My good friend and fellow New Testament teacher Allan Bevere asks:
On Ash Wednesday we are invited to observe a holy Lent for forty days. Why are we not similarly invited to observe a joyful Easter for fifty days following the morning the empty tomb is discovered?
In one strand of Protestantism there are traditions involving holy days: the 40 days of Lent, the 50 days of Easter, etc. Allan argues that Easter is the most significant of these holy days. If this is true, then why, he asks, do we not celebrate “the full fifty days of the Easter season?”
For me, a Baptist, I suppose the first answer that comes to mind is, “Where is the biblical requirement that I do so?” But such cynicism can often be an obstacle to real understanding. Methodists observe holy days, and they obviously do so for legitimate reasons (at least in their minds). So Allan’s question is a legitimate one. He raises a good point that deserves serious consideration.
My guess is that the current generation of youthful believers is not likely to pay too much attention to it, however. They are too busy screaming, “Why are Christians so mean and angry? Why do they insist on putting Christ in the White House when Jesus used to hang out with lepers? Who do churches spend so much money on themselves? Why do so many strands of Christianity smack of power and hubris when Jesus humbly served others?” If we’re not careful, we Christians (Methodists and Baptists alike) can easily prioritize tradition over engagement. Still, Allan’s essay is worth careful study. It seems to me that a good place to start is Paul’s teaching in Rom. 14:1-12 (The Message).
Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.
What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.
Paul seems to be making three points here:
1) Whether or not we follow any particular “holy day” is a matter of personal conscience and conviction.
2) Either way we choose, we are to live each day for the glory of God and in cooperation with those with whom we disagree about such non-essentials.
3) Jesus died and rose again not only so that He could save us from sin but so that He could “free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.”
Believe it or not, this is a matter I want to discuss with my students next fall as I teach Romans and 1-2 Corinthians. Let’s put the difficult questions before our students. Let’s teach them to ask hard questions about why they do what they do in their churches. Let’s stop patronizing them because — let me tell you — millennials are very capable of thinking for themselves. Lest you think that Allan’s question is irrelevant to Baptists, think of all of our own “holy” observances — from the “annual revival meeting” to the “Christmas cantata” to “youth Sunday.” Good friends can discuss such matters without getting put out with each other. Jesus can handle it. When Paul says, “One person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other,” I tend to find myself in the latter camp. And yet I see the logic behind the church calendar. As Methodist New Testament scholar Ben Witherington puts it in his essay Happy New Year!!:
My suggestion to us all is to live in the Christian moment for the entire year to come— Advent leads to Christmas, which leads to Epiphany which leads to Lent which leads to Easter which leads to Pentecost which leads to Kingdomtide and then we start the cycle over again. The cycle begins with the story of Christ, moves on to the story of the church, and returns once more to the story of Christ’s Comings on the first Sunday in Advent. We are on a pilgrimage with Jesus and then on our own until he returns. His story is the story we must recite and retell until it becomes our story. My suggestion is that whenever we are in danger of getting caught up in the non-Christian moment with its own urgencies that we say to ourselves ‘all in God’s good time’. God’s good time and timing is what we should be living by.
For Ben, the church year is all about Christ, about His story, about a kingdom of God that is tangible, about living in the midst of a ridiculous pagan culture that tailors its calendar to retail sales. No, I don’t think Allan or Ben or any other Methodist scholar I know of is trying to impose a new set of legalisms on the church. Customs are fine as long as we attach no salvific significance to them. Perhaps, in the end, the real question is the evangelistic one. Secular culture recognizes our holy days, but people seem woefully confused about our love. Which is why Paul concluded (NLT):
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating.
This is the kind of scandalous love that drives the world crazy — or should I say sane? Followers of Jesus (of whatever denominational stripe) live by an “others-first” credo that only people who are secure both in themselves and in their Savior can pull off. Perhaps when not-yet-believers see this kind of love in action they’ll stop and ask, “Maybe this kind of love is for me too?”
(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)
6:04 PM While looking for an Easter Sunrise Service I ran across a church in a major U.S. city that will be serving food to the homeless this Sunday under an Interstate overpass to celebrate a Risen Savior. I’d really love to attend but the city is 1,400 miles away. Let’s face it: It’s been a long time since I went to church for the sermon. Not that I don’t mind a good sermon. But it’s sacrificial service that holds the body of Christ together. That’s just plain good doctrine, by the way. (“Faith working itself out through love,” is how Paul puts it.) That’s what’s so remarkable to me about the messy, mixed-up church that Christ died for. The New Testament church was so basic and so lovely. They assembled for togetherness — and service. Sure, there was solid biblical teaching (there had to be), but teaching that drove the people back out into the world to be Jesus to their neighbors, even under an Interstate underpass. (Just between you and me, I’m becoming a Jesus Freak again.) Give me a scrappy, tough-minded, doctrinally sound AND practically engaged church any day. A church that actually resembles the ministry of Jesus. A church where apathy is exchanged for authenticity. It’s as if God were saying, “Church, do with your ‘body’ what My Son did with His — He gave it away for others.”
Oh how I wish Becky were still here. She could sniff out what is real and what is spiritual smoke much better than I ever could. But I’m learning. I find it strange that the focus this Sunday in so many of our churches will be on getting people who rarely (if ever) attend to show up in our sanctuaries for an hour when we could be exploding Jesus’ love in our dirty neighborhoods. Listen, church. The best thing we can do for others is give them Jesus — plain old Jesus — not entertainment, and most certainly not church culture. He trumps everything. Because He is the only constant in life.
(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)
In other good news, I see that Henry Neufeld has released the first of the interviews I was privileged to do with him in Pensacola a couple of weeks ago.
The topic was my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I think you’ll enjoy the discussion. Frankly, I hope it raises more questions than it answers. In addition, Henry has begun a series of blog posts about the book — the first being on the subject of church pews (of all things). But I think he’s right. Pews are a good witness — to our lack of fellowship. They are designed to make it well-nigh impossible for us to see directly the faces of our brothers and sisters. The problem here, of course, lies much deeper than architecture — a subject that we get into in the interview. But pews are a witness that something is perhaps amiss. At any rate, check out what Henry has to say but remember that he is completely biased as the publisher of my book.
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?
4:48 AM Looking forward to our study of the doctrine of the church on Sunday mornings. Much of what we call “church” today originated, not in the New Testament, but in post-apostolic times.
The Lord’s Supper has changed from a celebration to a ceremony.
Worship has changed from participation to observation.
Witness has changed from relationship to salesmanship.
Leadership has changed from servanthood to professionalism.
Mission has changed from being missionaries to supporting missionaries.
Body life has changed from edification to entertainment.
Buildings have changed from functional to sacred.
Child care has changed from the hands of parents to the hands of strangers.
The New Testament shows us that the need great of modern Christianity is to return to biblical faithfulness and the profound simplicity of the New Testament.
5:05 AM At the risk of repeating myself …
I am convinced that the house church rather than the sanctuary church was the New Testament norm.
I am convinced of the normalcy of tent-making leadership.
I am convinced that the church exists in part to equip all of its members for ministry.
I am convinced that the leadership of the church should be shared for the health of the congregation.
I am convinced that top-down structures of leadership are unquestionably more efficient. Efficient in doing almost everything other than equipping, which is the primary task of leadership.
I am convinced that the process of appointing new elders is best done on the basis of recognizing who is already serving as an elder in the church.
I am convinced that any local church that takes seriously Jesus as the Senior Pastor will not permit one man to become the titular head of the church.
I am convinced that the essential qualifications for ministry in the church have little or nothing to do with formal education and everything to do with spiritual maturity.
I am convinced that the church is a multi-generational family, and hence one of the things that makes the church the church is the presence of children, parents, and other adults.
I am convinced that because every local church has all the spiritual gifts it needs to be complete in Christ, believers should be exposed to the full expression of the charisms (grace-gifts) when they gather, in contrast to specialized ministries that center around singularly gifted people.
I am convinced that the local church is the scriptural locus for growing to maturity in Christ, and that no other training agency is absolutely needed.
I am convinced that the local church ought to be the best Bible school going.
I am convinced that Paul’s letters were not intended to be studied by ordinands (a candidate for ordination) in a theological college but were intended to be read and studied in the midst of the noisy life of the church.
I am convinced that the church is a theocracy directly under its Head (Jesus Christ), and that the will of the Head is not mediated through various levels of church government but comes directly to all His subjects.
I am convinced that the goal of leadership is not to make people dependent upon its leaders but dependent upon the Head.
I am convinced that since all believers are “joints” in the body, ministry is every believer’s task.
I am convinced that pastor-teachers, as precious gifts of Christ to His church, are to tend the flock of God by both personal care and biblical instruction, equipping God’s people for works of service both in the church and in the world.
I am convinced that the role of pastor-teacher is a settled ministry in a local congregation.
I am convinced that leaders should communicate that every part of the body is interrelated to the other parts and indispensable; every member will be appreciated, every charism will be treasured.
I am convinced that the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for ministry.
I am convinced that everyone needs to be equipped for his or her own ministry both in the church and in the world. If the church is to become what God intended it to be, it must become a ministerium of all who have placed their faith in Christ. The whole people of God must be transformed into a ministering people. Nothing short of this will restore the church to its proper role in the kingdom of God.
Think about it.
4:02 PM I’ve always despaired of coming up with any exhaustive list of what I believe a New Testament church ought to look like. The notion of a royal priesthood captures well, I think, my overall perspective of the composition of an authentically New Testament congregation. I have frequently argued this point on my website and in my more recent print publications. However, there are several strands in this perspective that bear unraveling, if only in a tentative way. The following list is a good place to start. Continue reading What a New Testament Church Ought to Look Like
From Dave Black Online:
A thought about Labor Day: One of the current social fads is what we might call “post-church Christianity.” People are dropping out of church, especially young people who may have been converted in non-traditional settings. I must confess that much of what we see in the Body of Christ is indeed very unattractive: anachronisms, inconsistencies, hypocrisies. But I cannot agree that the solution is dropping out. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are obligated as believers to “stir one another up to love and good works.” How can refusing to meet with other Christians allow us to obey this command? Each Christian is a building block in the temple of the church. Each is necessary for the Body to grow. Each has a part to play. Sadly, the word “work” has become a four-letter word in many of our churches. There are too many shirkers and not enough workers. Even Jesus said the laborers are few.
If you are a dropout from church (for whatever reason, and you may have some VERY good reasons!), my simple advice to you is this: Get to work. Jesus said, “I will build My church,” and He had all of us in mind as His workers!