Musings on Church Manifestations

posted by Jeffrey on Wednesday, February 22, 2006 at 8:02 AM


*I've moved, and my posts have come with me! Check out my new blog at www.jeffrey-davis.net/blog/*

Ok. So this is one of those posts that I would really like some feedback on.

*Note: Some thoughts here are quite raw and unprocessed, some are more developed--so take them for what you want. Hopefully, they'll merely spur us all on to further thought...*

I am constantly thinking of and meditating on how the Church assimilates itself into the community. For 100's of years, that has been for it [the Church] to gather into a building once, twice, three times, or more, during a given week to join in a variety of functions.

The result of this structure? In most cases, misplaced dependencies on both the church building itself and the very act of gathering there; a highly programmed, robotic, and compartmentalized "faith"; organizations that reflect the appearance of fortune 500 companies rather than communities of faith; an atmosphere that enables (and nearly demands) a lack of authenticity with those we claim to be unified with--undermining the very claim itself.

There are pro's to the current structure, yes, but I personally feel the con's far outweigh them.

The opposite extreme is to abandon all structures and institution to view our entire lives as "church". It is, as one friend has described it, "to do [be] church with everyone, everywhere, all the time". In this line of thinking, or manifestation if you will, we recognize that the Kingdom of God is bigger than any kingdom (which is what many "churches" of the current structure seem to be) that men can create. It is a life free of petty competition regarding "how many people come to my church vs. how many go to yours". A life where value is placed on a few strong relationships instead of 1,000 shallow ones. A life where there is no "leader", but the connected individuals journey together into the mysteries of God and learn from each other.

Obviously, there are pro's and con's to this structure as well. (Not that I feel it is even remotely possible to come to a conclusion based on pro's and con's...)

Then there are "communities of faith" who can be described as "emerging churches"; or churches in emerging culture, if you prefer. As I think on many of these churches structures, they seem not all that different from the current structure. The differences, however, are significant and I agree with them wholeheartedly. Some believe it is merely a style difference. Nothing could be further from the truth. The style is sometimes different only as a result of a difference in thought and mind. These communities do truly long to be formed into a connected community that exists outside the four walls of a building, yet can still gather there regularly to join in worship.

The risk? We are clearly a society and a world in the middle of a paradigm shift. We are still so close in proximity to the current institutional structure (not to mention that many of us in emerging communities grew up in "the institution"), that the danger of once again becoming dependent on the collective gathering together remains ever-present.

As you can see, I don't quite know where I fall on the spectrum. I do know I fall somewhere in between the gross over-simplification of emerging communities and the "church all the time, everywhere, with everyone" ideas. To which one of those do I personally lean further towards? I do not know at the present.

Who knows. Maybe what it boils down to is 10,000 little individual passions and convictions that are relative to each community's unique location and situation. Maybe its not. Its definitely not something that we'll settle here in this post, but I look forward to wrestling [in a healthy way] over how the Church manifests itself for a long time to come. So please join me in my gratitude and respect of God's mystery and creativity.

So as I mentioned at the beginning of this long post (sorry, but I keep most of 'em short), I'd love to see some civil conversation from those of you who fall in all points on the proverbial spectrum.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you do with the clear New Testament organization of the church? I'm not saying we must be in buildings but abandoning structure is not the answer. Please read my other post on "So What now...
andyp

February 22, 2006 9:21 AM

 
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Andy,

thanks for dropping by and poking around.

forgive me, I did not notice your comment on the "So what now..." post. I thought that thread was just about dead. lol.

Please allow me to respond to your comment on this and the other post here in one comment.

On the other post you said: "do you honestly think that true community can come about by individuals just pursuing Christ on our own and getting together to discuss this?"

No, and that is not the message I attempted to communicate. I do feel that true community can happen as followers of Jesus take up the journey together (not individually, as you said). But yes, I do feel that can [and does] happen outside of "a church". I experience connectedness with my neighbors who live on my cul-de-sac, but we need no organization to do so. Our physical proximity coupled with the love for a neat appearance of our cul-de-sac (which means we're outside alot) has led to friendships outside of any structure or organization. What holds us together? We have a common bond.

Another example. My wife and I have some friends who live about 35 miles away, the husband of the couple travels in a band, and we see them maybe once a month if we're lucky. Despite the infrequency of our physical contact, they are people who we very much journey with into the mysteries that are a relationship with Christ.

I would love to respond to your other points as well, but before I do, I would love to hear further clarification as to what you see, specifically, as "clear organization" of the Church in the Pastoral Epistles.

Let me also add that I respect your (and other's) personal convictions, even though mine may be different. I am, as I hope you are too, open for the Spirit to create in me fresh and different ideas or thoughts by whatever means He sees fit. Whether that be through a whisper directly to my spirit, through another person, through the Scripture, or another means. But it will and must be only as Christ speaks peace to my spirit regarding those ideas (or convictions, if you prefer). Otherwise, what's the point of striving for authentic community?

February 23, 2006 8:46 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffrey,

Thanks for your response. Here's what I mean by "clear organization in the Pastorals." I think the most obvious reference is to the designation of elders and deacons. Paul is writing to Timothy and later to Titus describing to them the establishment of leadership. Would you appoint an elder and deacon for your cul de sac? Another general reference that shows establishment in the NT church is in I Cor. 14:30 that simply talks about the call for "congregations" to seek orderly worship. Futhermore, the establishment of those teaching/preaching the Scriptures is all over the pages of the NT (and even the Old). I believe one of the reasons for this is because we are not called to this idea of everyone getting together and simply sharing what we THINK the Bible is teaching. That's the very reason James writes, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." Therefore, even in the cul de sac community you must admit there has to be the establishment of leadership, and therefore organization. Church=community does not just mean intimacy or friendship, there's so much more. What does this cul-de-sac community look like? This organization further requires, Lord's Supper together, discipline of believers, baptism, etc. I agree that the Church is about community but that doesn't just mean everyone coming together and, struggling in their journey together, and just talking about Jesus. What do you do with Acts 2:42? Listen, I'm all about these discussions of community but we cannot abandon clear Biblical teachings about the church. I think both can happen, and I confess I am a member of a local congregation that does. One more thing, I appreciate you striving to be led by the Spirit and not man's opinions---A MUST. However, a don't hear a lot of what you're saying rooted in anything except thoughts you are having based upon your journey.

I appreciate these conversations and hope that my rambling concerns will inspire good conversation that will ultimately bring Christ more glory through His Bride. --andyp

February 23, 2006 9:43 AM

 
Blogger Kat Coble said...

I don't know where exactly I fall in line with you and Andy.

I guess I see the Church as one body many parts. I think just as the many parts of a body require different things from the body to do their function, so do different types of people within the church.

Our function as Christians is clearly to go out into all the world and proclaim the gospel. To take up our cross daily and follow Christ. To let the dead bury their own dead and let judgment of others be up to God.

Some in the body will receive the blood energy to do these functions from one type of worship experience. Others will require a different worship setting--a different network of arteries and veins--but all going back to the heart.

February 23, 2006 11:33 AM

 
Blogger Jeffrey said...

*sorry, dang long comment ahead*

Katherine,

I was hoping you'd chime in. I think you, andy, and I would agree on your statement. I guess what we're discussing are the details of that. The Church (as you and I have agreed, andy) is having some problems these days. Rephrase: the Church in AMERICA is having some problems today, I guess we're trying to sort out why.

Andy,

"I don't hear a lot of what you're saying rooted in anything except thoughts you are having based upon your journey."

Though I have not plainly stated it in this thread, these "thoughts I have based upon my journey" are rooted quite deeply in the Scriptures I have been taught since my youth. However, I do not feel that the Scriptures are the only way God communicates with us. They are a glimpse into the deeper layers of the portrait that God has been painting since before the beginning of time. It gives us a glimpse into the story of God's redemption of His people and establishes His unchanging character throughout the course of time. I believe we are part of that same story. I believe that God can speak to me not only from the pages of Scripture, but through my spirit which He has given life to, through His creation, and through countless other avenues. Again, I feel that Scripture projects a wonderful backdrop for us to measure our thoughts and ideas against. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His character never changes. As such, if we, today, feel or think upon things that do not reflect His established character [through Scripture] it should not be accepted as truth.

That said, I wonder as we exegete, ponder, pray, and meditate on the Scripture, I wonder how often we miss the point. What Biblical stories are strictly relevant only to the situation and the time and the audience addressed? (Though we, of course, can still worship and learn from those scenarios.) Did Paul write to Timothy and Titus regarding the need for overseers as a direct result of a situation that applies today? In Timothy's case at Ephesus, it was heresy, the spreading of false doctrine, Judaism, and Gnosticism that posed the greatest challenges. Since the writing of this letter was well into Nero's persecution of the Christians, were overseers needed to make sure correct doctrine was taught in the homes and other places where people gathered? Where did they gather exactly? How frequently did the gather? For Titus, he remained on Crete after Paul journeyed on. The Cretians, as you most likely know, were imfamous for their deplorable level of morality. So the same was needed on Crete. Do these offices apply only to these situations only until the New Covenant Kingdom could become established and begin to grow or are they universal for all time? My answer at the present, I don't know. But I have come to love the process of wrestling with and learning from other Christ followers as we strive together to know our Friend and King more intimately--and as we journey together into the mysterious chasm that that longing brings.

These, by the way, are not "points" to sway anyone to my line of thinking, but instead, to give you a glimpse into how I arrive [and am still arriving] at some of these thoughts that I'm sure seem very haphazard and aloof (welcome to the world inside my ADD head, lol).

As you had hoped, your thoughts are inspiring good conversation and thinking (at least for me, if for no one else). :-)

Thank you for making sure that Scripture is the backdrop to this conversation. I am quite enjoying this conversation thus far.

February 23, 2006 12:00 PM

 
Anonymous lacey said...

i was wondering about this quote: "Though I have not plainly stated it in this thread, these "thoughts I have based upon my journey" are rooted quite deeply in the Scriptures I have been taught since my youth."

jeffrey- can you share some of the scripture that has been a part of this aspect of your journey regarding church?

February 23, 2006 12:02 PM

 
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Hey Lace! How ya doin'? Shaunna and I sure do miss ya.

Before I respond to your question, I feel that clarification is needed, so here it is:

I, by no stretch of the imagination, have arrived at ANY conclusions regarding the way the Church manifests itself in the world. All I mean to communicate is that through what I feel is the working of the Holy Spirit, I am rethinking certain details of what that looks like. It may be that the Spirit's plan is to take me down a line of thinking only to bring me back again to believe in the current Institution and its format. I do not know. I just know that I, for the first time in my life, am enjoying the journey, regardless of the destination...

One more note. To all who know me personally and have had the ill privelage of being in my presence when I have made numerous cynical comments regarding the current institutional form of church, I am sorry, and God has recently brought conviction to my spirit for that.

Ok, to answer your question Lace, no, I cannot provide specific Scripture that supports this aspect in my spiritual journey. Why not? Because they are the same Scriptures that are used to support the institutional manifestation of church as well...not to mention the fact that it is not an "aspect" yet, merely a possibility of an aspect. The only difference is that over the last year or so, I have begun to re-think and further medidate on those Scriptures as objectively as possible (yet it is not possible to view anything fully objectively) as all I've known, until recently, are the Scriptures from but one slant and perspective--being that of the institutional church.

Do I have questions as to how what I am wrestling with and thinking on fits into the backdrop of Scripture? Yes, of course I do. (And Andy unknowingly hit on one of those questions in his 2nd comment--to which I responded with a glimpse into my struggle regarding that particular issue.) Questions are not a bad thing though. Don't we all (or at least most of us) have disagreements and questions as to how the current forms of Church fit into Scripture? Of course we do. I'm not inviting anyone to throw the baby out with the bathwater--no matter what baby or what water you're working with. All I'm inviting anyone into is conversation. Not an argument, not a debate. A conversation.

Sometimes you just have to get in the car and start driving. Sometimes you end up back home. Sometimes you end up somewhere better. And yes, sometimes you end up in a ditch. The beauty is, IF we fall into a ditch (which we all have at multiple times), we climb out, keep on truckin', and have the knowledge of yet another ditch to avoid...

I'd like to invite everyone to re-read the original post(s) on this topic and the comments of those posts. What three words will you find repetetively used by me? The three incredibly liberating words, "I don't know".

I look forward to seein' ya this weekend Lace.

February 23, 2006 1:07 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. Most of all I appreciate your honesty. I believe it is so important that we are honest with one another and that we are not afraid to ask the hard questions. In fact, the questions you are raising I would venture to guess that everyone has asked those same questions. I get that you are on a journey and don't know all the answers and with that mindset I will continue to converse with you thinking in that way--you are on a trip hoping to arrive at the right destination.

So, with that in mind, another question that needs to be addressed. What do you do with the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as “church” discipline? These are clearly taught in Scripture and cannot be argued as cultural. There must be some structure to administer these.

Honestly, I have many problems with you approaching Scripture as if some of its teaching may only be relevant to its culture. That is extremely dangerous. If you begin to play the culture card on Scripture, you leave it open to play all throughout the Bible. As you stated Jesus is timeless but you must admit so is His Word. Furthermore, I agree that Paul was combating heresies corrupting the church when writing His letters. BUT no where is it argued that the church was structured in order to combat these heresies. A proper understanding of the nature and character of Christ and all that goes with it (i.e. the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ) is what is at stake. Elders and deacons was not some good idea to take care of those problems.

Please take my comments in love understanding that I NEVER respond to blogs because I’m not in the net a lot but I came across this and was deeply concerned as I am for the Church.

February 23, 2006 4:44 PM

 
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Thanks for stopping by, whoever you are. I'm glad to have had your feedback on this thread.

I am not so sure that structured organization is required for any of the three things that have been mentioned. (Note that I did NOT say it is not required--I said I'm not so sure that it is required.) There was no structure required for Jesus' baptism, nor for the Ethiopian enuch who God converted through Philip. However, I do thank you [and you, Andy] for bringing to mind yet more issues to meditate on and measure against Scripture.

In regards to your concern to my approach to Scripture. I understand you are refering to this comment I made eariler in this thread: "What Biblical stories are strictly relevant only to the situation and the time and the audience addressed?" I'd like to call your attention to the parenthetical thought after it: "(Though we, of course, can still worship and learn from those scenarios.)" What I mean is that we cannot get around the fact that certain portions of the text are relevant to the time, audience, culture, or specific issue they are regarding. For example, we see women daily wearing jewlry and makeup, but we do not enforce the biblical mandates regarding that. Why? B/c it is not only prostitutes who adorn themselves with those luxuries in our culture as it was then. However, as I said above, though that mandate does not apply in our world today, we can glean from it great lessons regarding the beauty that radiates from a spirit made alive in Christ.

I agree that it is dangerous to play, as you put it, the "culture card" on Scripture. But it is equally dangerous, in my opinion, to gerneralize all Scriptural mandates across time, infinately. [And no, I am not a dispensationalist, if you were wondering, lol.] This is why I value conversation among Christ followers regarding the Bride of Christ and the Kingdom of God. It is far more beneficial to labor over the Scripture, and our thoughts on them, collectively as to not impose our individual biases on them and then apply it hastily as truth. This is but one reason I feel that authentic community among Christ followers, in whatever form that takes, is essential to the Christian spiritual journey.

I'm so glad you broke your web silence to join in on this conversation. you're welcome any time.

February 24, 2006 9:32 AM

 
Anonymous Lacey said...

Jeffrey- i have tons i'd like to say, but out of my own ignorance i won't add anything to this conversation until i can articulate my thoughts.

until then, i just want to say that i think a tendancy towards contextualizing all of Scripture is really scary stuff. Where do you draw a line at this? It seems to me if you consider all things to be merely contextual that you are turning the Bible into a history book to glean advice from. i understand the issue of relevancy (believe me, with the issue of women in the church ive had to really think about this) but i dont think you can always just assume that when it doubt, play the context card.

February 24, 2006 10:52 AM

 
Blogger Kat Coble said...

I think these are all good questions, but this is the type of discussion where I tend to get nervous.

I'm nervous for two reasons: 1. I feel old. 2. I don't want to appear dismissive.

Firstly, I feel old because as I've gotten older I've trended away from what appears to be your (Jeffrey's) line of thinking and more toward what appears to be a more traditionalist approach.

I grew up in the church, I went to a Christian school and a Christian college. I married the son of a preacher man. Because the Church I knew was full of people, it was full of everything bad about people. Hypocrisy, judgement, slander, falsehoold, laziness, greed. Through most of my twenties I attended church only sporadically. Churches were dry, dead places that lacked any meaning. Those that were vibrant only seemed so because people were using them for networking.

I honestly can't tell you what happened, because I don't know. But over the last 5 years I have found myself growing happier with corporate worship in a traditional setting. I've felt the Lord chastening me for my pride, my arrogance, my own jugmentalism. I'm learning to love the good and consider the bad to be redeemed. The Church will only become perfect once Christ returns for her. Of that I'm convinced. Until then, I'm happy to do what I can, where I can. To live for Christ, to live as Christ calls me.

I don't want to appear dismissive of those who have issues with the Church in America, because those issues are certainly valid, and must be addressed. But I get nervous when I see approaches that appear to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

February 24, 2006 11:26 AM

 
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Hey Lace.

I think you know me better than to really believe that "when in doubt, I play the context card". Afterall, your mind and mine do work freakishly alike. As for a line that I draw regarding contextualization, I have none. That is why, as I noted to whomever it was who chose to remain anonymous, I believe it is essential to labor over and mediate on the Scriptures (individually AND collectively) as God continues to bring revelation regarding them.

You said, "it seems to me if you consider all things to be merely contextual that you are turning the Bible into a history book to glean advice from." I have been careful to in no way communicate that I feel that ALL Scripture is contextual. As you said, you yourself are well aquainted with the presence of Scripture that is culturally contextual--yet you would not (as I do not) mean to imply that all Scripture is subject to "the context card".

And yes, IN ONE WAY, the Bible is a history book. It is the history of the Kingdom of God, His pursuit and redemption of humans unto His likeness, His love and romance of His Bride, His works and direction of individual's lives, a glimpse into His ways, His expectation and precepts for His people, and soooooo much more. The fact that it is, in one way, a history book does not denote that it is MUCH more than that.

Hey, I just noticed something. Sorry this is cheesy, but look at the word history. Now look at it as "his story" (if you share the "s"). So maybe being "history" isn't that bad...lol.

Shaunna and I are looking forward to seein' ya tonight. If ya want, I'd love to talk more about it.

February 24, 2006 11:32 AM

 
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Katherine,

I'd like to note that I did say earlier, "I'm not inviting anyone to throw the baby out with the bathwater--no matter what baby or what water you're working with."

I would also like to add, in case it has not been clear, that my intention is not to slam or degrade any manifestation of the Church. But as we have all agreed, the Church in America is faltering and I merely wonder if the institutional form of Church is but one of the tools the enemy is using. No, I did NOT say that it IS a tool of Satan. I said I WONDER if it is. And even if it IS, what the enemy intends for evil, God can, does, and has use(d) for good. That said, I do believe that God uses His people, who are the Church, for the work of His Kingdom regardless of what form or organization they assimilate into.

Not to say, however, that there is a universal and difinitve answer as to what manifestation of church is "best", or especially that it is I who am on the "right track" and all others are wrong. No, I hope, for all our sake, that God continues to constantly mold, morph, and transform us (that is, the Church collectively), more and more into His image. Who knows, what God may be showing me about the manifestation of Church and what He is showing someone else regarding it, though it may seem now to be contradictory, could very possibly melt into something better than all current ideas 100's of years from now.

Again, alllll I long for is to wrestle with, dream, discuss, and join with other followers of Christ as we journey on into the Kingdom of God together.

February 24, 2006 12:31 PM

 
Anonymous lacey said...

my use of "you" in my other comment was a generality, not specifically directed to you! just so you know.

"if it IS, what the enemy intends for evil, God can, does, and has use(d) for good. That said, I do believe that God uses His people, who are the Church, for the work of His Kingdom regardless of what form or organization they assimilate into."

i think i see it a little differently- that its at tool of God that is good but that sin has corrupted and that is in need of correction not re-creation, if that makes sense.

February 24, 2006 1:28 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffrey,

Sorry for the anonymity of the last post (several threads above). That was not intentional. It was me, Andy, chiming in again. I have enjoyed these conversations and would love to continue them; however, I don't believe random conversations on a blog is where they need to take place. The main reason is that I don’t feel as though you are really answering any of the questions. Please know that I am not criticizing you, only the manner in which we are conversing. God has really laid you on my heart and maybe He’ll provide another opportunity for us to continue these conversations in some other form. I just don’t feel that we are going to go anywhere this way. Maybe now that you know who I am, that can happen some day. I will be praying for you on your journey. Know that I would love to talk and/or help any way that I can. --andyp

February 24, 2006 3:48 PM

 
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Lace, you and I are saying the same thing. Sorry if that wasn't clear. Lol, you won't see this comment before I see you tonight though...for some reason that's kind of funny to me.

Andy, I agree this is not the venue for lengthy and in depth conversations. I'm sorry that you feel I have not answered your questions, and I have not intentionally danced around them. My answer is sometimes, "I don't know". I'm learning to be ok with that as God teaches me to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the questions mattered as much as the answers. I would DEFINATELY love to hook up with you sometime to share some coffee, stories, and good convo. Grace and Peace.

I don't comment/blog much on the weekends, so if anyone responds, I may not get back to ya before Monday.

February 24, 2006 5:10 PM

 

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