Monday, December 22, 2008

In the beginning...

In science there is a sort of game called a thought experiment. How this works is that you take a hypothetical situation and start to think about it and then see where it takes you. It is usually done in situations where to do the actual experiment is prohibitive due to cost or practicality. It can lead to some interesting results since you are not bound by any external factors.

One of the thought experiments I like to do is the virgin church. By this I mean a situation where there sprang up spontaneously a group of believers with no preconceived notion of what is meant to be a group of believers. No idea how to worship, no structures or tradition on which to draw. All they had was the Bible in its original form with no cultural context other than an understanding of the first century culture and no other guide except for the Holy Spirit. Remember that this is indeed all that the first century church had. The Old testament, the teaching of the Apostles and the Holy Spirit. One of the more interesting aspects of the first century church was its diversity but we will leave that behind.

The first thing we have is belief. They all have a common understanding of who the father is and Jesus, his life and work. Second they have a relationship with the Father Son and Holy Spirit. This is unencumbered by cultural preconceptions. They do not know that what they read Jesus or the Apostles did was not what they should be doing. They do not know that the sort of intimate one on one relationship they saw that Jesus or the Disciples had with the Father was not the sort of relationship they should not have. They would be silly enough to believe that the things that happened in the New Testament were the norm for them as well. So that they would expect to hear God speak to them just as they would converse with one of their friends. They would expect miracles to happen as they prayed or indeed spontaneously.

One of the more interesting aspects of first century Christian practice is that it was heavily influenced by the culture in which it grew. Jewish Christians began meeting in the Synagogue. Gentile Christians on the other hand met in peoples homes, having no tradition of Synagogue attendance. So in reality any practice will be culturally based so this thought experiment will never be strictly pure. But let us proceed...

They would meet together for their mutual encouragement. Each would be given gifts and would use them in their gatherings as well as their individual lives. No one would necessarily be the "Leader" but it is probably that one person with a gift for leadership would be the natural leader. However, people freely express their diverse gifts. One person would be especially keen to pray for healing. Another may have a sharp and keen mind to understand the more difficult things. Another may have wisdom and be able to unravel complicated situations and help people think clearly about tricky moral issues. Yet another person would be an avid prayer and spend hours at a time praying in private. Another person may have a poetic bent and write songs to sing in worship. Yet another person would be able to encourage people and another to have a special gift to speak words of prophecy.

As the people grew they would teach each other how to do the things that they did. They would all grow in understanding, they would exhort those who were in difficulty or correct any misconceptions that may arise. They would regulate the more excessive and encourage the more shy.

One of the more interesting things about this group is the lack of structure. No where do we have form, or a leadership structure. Sure there will be some sort of organisation but it will be flexible and not rigid. No elections or constitution. However people would be growing and maturing merely through the operation of their gifts. Their strength would be the diversity. No one would be treated as superior. No specific person would be treated as special - all would be special.

The core elements of this group would be their individual relationship with the Father, and their relationship with each other and the operation of the gifts in their mutual encouragement and daily lives. They do not form a church they are THE church.

What characterises these people is not the group that they form, where they meet, their practice, or their music, but their individual relationship with the Father, and how this is reflected in their relationship with other people, believers and non-believers. They would have none of the cultural trappings that we have collected over the centuries that seem to dominate our "faith". True they would be influenced by their own culture and their religious practice would be in line with the norms of their culture, where they aer in line with the Christian moral, but this would not result in the subjugation of the Christian practice, it would be a model within which the practice would take place.

Whenever I try to imagine the operation of the body I try to clear my mind of all the cultrual overburden that I have inherited. I always find this a refreshing exercise and quite instructive. It takes some practice to leave only that which pertains only to the kingdom or the body but it is well worth while and can be quite enlightening.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

This is what I am talking about

We have become a parody of ourselves. The term Church has so become a part of our psyche that it has become a position or status rather than a relationship.

This article talking about the interesting Ms Kanck's possible replacements in the South Australian Upper House refers to one candidate as a "Church Member" as if it is some type of status or qualification. What about the Philatelist Mr Stevens or the Egg Decorator Sally Parsons. I am not even sure if the term Church Member is not used as a pejorative.

Interestingly the term Christian was used in the first C in much the same way that Church Member is being used here, down to the fact that being a Church Member is still little understood.

The sad thing is that many Church Members are unaware of the fiction they are perpetuating.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The House Church - A solution?

OK - those of you who know me will realise that the title is more rhetorical than a proposal.

I was discussing the fad of the moment "The Shack" with a friend who said that all we need is to get more people into house churches. I have to admit that at that moment I despaired. I had thought they were starting to understand.

For a start I said that to call them churches was a misnomer, and secondly what made her think that a house church would solve the problems that a larger, and supposedly more formal church would solve?

There are two issues with the house church per se. The first is the whole way that the word church is used. We need to completely re-define the way we use the word church. It has been hijacked and misused so much that I do despair, however we have no other word which is as powerful and we really do need to get back to the concept behind the word church. In first C terms the church was the body of believers. It was not associated with an organisational structure, that came later. The church cannot own property, have a constitution, have a hierarchy of leaders, and cannot tell people how to think and behave. There is a line in the Nicene Creed which reads "I believe in the holy catholic church" which expresses the concept of the church much better than me. In this context catholic means universal and is saying that the church is as a whole the entire group of believers. There is much more I wish to say but I will leave that for later.

The second issue I have with house churches is that they are more or less clones of the institutions that we have grown to love. This is because the people running the house churches cling to the chauvinistic ideas that are plaguing the conventional churches. Until they can break into new ways of thinking about the church they will merely propogate the same mistakes over and over again.

What we need is not more house churches which are tiny clones of the man made institutions but a completely new way of thinking about what church is and is not. We need to be "transformed by the renewing of our mind".

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Playing with fire

This is a little to the side of the core of this blog but it is in a roundabout way related.

The idea of spiritual abuse has been written about on many occasions by better people than me. However the recent news reports of people suffering mental issues as a result of a ministry allegedly associated with Hillsong is rather concerning, especially considering the allegations.

I make no judgment as to the rights or wrongs of this particular case and clearly more investigation is required. These things can often be somewhat otherwise than reported. What I am saying is more of a general nature based on my experience.

There are a lot of things that could be said regarding the Christian's approach to psychological problems and indeed many of them may very well be spiritual in nature. But if in doubt the wisest thing to do is refer these people on to professionals. And by that I do not mean your local priest or paster, I mean a mental health professional, someone who actually knows what they are doing. There is certainly a place in this for prayer and spiritual intervention but we require discernment and not the broad brush, hob nail boot techniques that I have seen so often.

There are a lot of good Christian mental health professionals and they are trained to deal with many of these problems. As Christians we should not merely assume that because someone has issues that they are necessarily spiritual in nature. They certainly could be but unless you have the spiritual discernment to be guided by the Holy Spirit then leave it to the professionals.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Pew Church vs the Method

Disaffection with traditional forms of the church are not new and have been in existence in one form or another as long as the traditional church has existed. In the 60s and 70s this became an art form and there are hundreds of examples of breakaway churches, each with their own forms and organizational structures, each claiming to be a reversion to the New Testament model. Some more or less so, but most with an organizational shift rather than a paradigm shift.

One of the more interesting such movements occurred in the 18th century during the John Wesley revival. It all started when Wesley had an encounter with God during a missionary trip to the US when his ship was buffeted by a severe storm and Wesley began to fear for his life. This resulted in an encounter with God that triggered one of the biggest revivals in England. Upon returning to England Wesley shared his experience with some friends and began meeting with these friends to discuss their experiences and these became a means to encourage one another and to build one another up in the faith. Once Wesley began to see converts in his meetings he encouraged them to meet in their homes similarly to what he had been doing with his friends. As the movement grew the groups began to be called "Methodists" because of the "method" of meeting in homes for prayer, worship and mutual encouragement. At the same time Wesley encouraged these people to join the Anglican Church, thus retaining the paradigm of the Pew whilst embracing the form of the Method.

It was not until after Wesley's death that his followers began to call themselves a church, but by that time the Method had become the pew. In other words they had adopted many of the traditional forms of the church and left behind the small intimate meetings. They established an organizational and spiritual heirachy, services where people would preach to rows of pews and adopted all the forms of the traditional church. The reason for this is that the practice had changed but the paradigm was the same, so to resolve that conflict the practice came back into line with the paradigm.

This has happened repeatedly where a movement has risen up, being disaffected with the traditional forms, they have formed new ways of being church. But unless the paradigm shifts that conflict is resolved by falling back into the old practices, just as the Methodists did.

So we need to do two things for this to work. We have to change our ways of thinking, but more importantly we have to change our paradigm. We need to change the way we look at the church change at the most fundamental level how we think about what the church should be. To do this we have to completely abandon all our ideas on what we thought made up a church and start from nothing. We have to take a completely new look at the New Testament description of the church, the kingdom and the Body of Christ. We need to see these concepts completely naked, stripped of all the trappings of what we have thought is church, but is nothing more than tradition.

This is the only way to resolve this conflict that many of us have in being dis-satisfied with the old church but not knowing what to do about it. For the method to stick we have to resolve the conflict between the practice and the paradigm.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A New Paradigm



\ˈper-ə-ˌdīm, ˈpa-rə- also -ˌdim\




Late Latin paradigma, from Greek paradeigma, from paradeiknynai to show side by side, from para- + deiknynai to show — more at diction
15th century

1: example, pattern; especially : an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype

2: an example of a conjugation or declension showing a word in all its inflectional forms

3: a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind

It is the third definition that I wish to talk about. In simple terms our paradigm is what makes us behave the way we do. "So", I hear you ask, "what does this to do with the church".

Just this. The way we do church, with a purpose built building, leadership, pastor or priest, pews, sermon, et al, are all according to our paradigm, or world view as some people call it. In fact the way we define church has more to do with tradition and culture than what was intended by God when it was first established in the first century.

In this blog what I hope to do is investigate a new way of thinking about what is meant by the church and hopefully help us to think in new ways as to what was originally intended by God for the body of Christ.

Don't get me wrong, I do not think that we should completely give up our churches, they may not be perfect but God has blessed them and in many cases they are all we have. But make no mistake, God is changing the church in some fundamental ways and changing people's thinking quite radically. The church of today will be but a shadow of the church that God is raising up right now to take its place. If you think God has done some wonderful things with the current incarnation then I believe it is going to change dramatically. He can do so much more with a church that is formed to fulfill the role as the body of Christ as he intended.