Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A question from Chris

My brother-in-law Chris joined the discussion on my previous post. He has presented a question that raises a whole different topic but is definitely worth having it's own post. I've kind of touched on this before, but I would love to see it addressed again. The previous topic is still open for commenting and discussion, so feel free to post your thoughts there. Chris' thoughts and question is below (in his words):

I have a topic that might open up a whole new bag of worms, but if it is alright with you Sam I would like to use your blog forum to pose a question.

It seems as if some of you readers have the feeling that the church service or structure should be radically different from what it is right now. I would like to know what you would change about it?

Maybe I am narrow minded, and no offense to Paul, but what happens when your traveling group church get too large to practically take to a museum? I also think that just because the New Testament church did something, doesn't mean to me that it is God's ideal way of doing it. I think that the early church would have loved to meet in large groups (as Jews of that time were accustomed to doing), but were unable because of persecution. I love the idea of the church being a community as with a home church, but I think that often times home churches turn into an social clubs with a chip on their shoulder against institutional church. Home groups are good, but they often times are awkward and forced. In reality, you end up "doing life" with those you enjoy.

My feeling is that the church and subsequent church building is a place that we should worship God with other believers and be taught His Word for our spiritual growth, it is the place where believers can love one another, encourage one another , “spur” one another, serve one another, instruct one another, honor one another, and be kind and compassionate to one another.

With that Biblical structure in mind, what can you radically do to a church service or church structure to make it so different? I don't think that you can leave out a worship time, or a teaching time.

I look at who is making a difference in the world for Christ today, and I see churches like Mars Hill, who is doing exactly those Biblical standard with the traditional service (Worship service followed by a teaching) with a spirit of love and excellence. I see the aforementioned Morning Star campus who is reaching people by the thousands with a very traditional version of church done in a way of excellence.

To boil this down. My feelings are that it is not the traditional church structure that needs looked at or changed, but it is the in what spirit that the church operates. I think that we should make sure that Christ is acknowledged as its Head, the Bible is preached and taught, and the way of salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s death and bodily resurrection, the Holy Spirit is obeyed in the leadership and the people, and the Great Commission is being taught and carried out by the churches members.

But as I say, maybe I am narrow minded. If so enlighten me :)


Blogger Paul Dazet said...

A little history to get us going. Christendom has been the dominant religious force in the world for the past 1700 years. Under Constantine, Christianity shifted from a subversive, marginalize, and persecuted movement to the legalized and dominant religion in the empire (world). During this legalization of Christianity several things were created:
1. Religious Institution (legalism accompanies this institutionalism)
2. Priesthood (professional clergy)
3. Dualistic Theology (seeing the world as divided between the sacred (religious) and profane (nonreligious))
4. Church Buildings (where the dualistic theology was and is implemented)
Note - all four of these are not biblical (and in my opinion the radical lifestyle of Jesus is lost amongst the religion)

The short version - we now sit at the end of Christendom, where our attractional method of doing church (getting people to come to church) is not effective (read any current church statistics i.e. Barna and take a look at our own churches). I believe that the people need to leave the building and live incarnationally as Christ lived as he walked this earth. He spent a significant amount of time building relationships with the untouchables of society (they called him a drunkard and a glutton). His times in the synagogues were mainly recording as prophetic moments of challenging the religious pharisaical institution.

Incarnational living opposes the dualistic theology that God only exists in a building. It is a call to embrace the way of Jesus - believing that God is moving in the Secular areas of our communities and world. Christ-followers owning and operating bars, tattoo-parlors, recording studios, etc. are great examples of those who desire to engage people where they are at.

As an emerging church, I believe we must equip people to live incarnationally as a community. Usually that training and encouraging takes place in our building. But with that comfort comes the challenge of dualism. It has been a difficult process of teaching people that God is everywhere, and what we do 24/7/365 on this journey of following Christ is "what it is all about". We take an hour of week to spur each other on as a community and to learn together, and then to disperse to really "worship" God outside the walls.

A great practical example is that we cancel our church services 4 times a year and go out into the community and serve compassionately. While this is a stepping stone approach to help people engage an incarnational lifestyle - we are starting to see people get it.

So what am i saying? I'm not sure. I don't have it all figured out. I am sensing God doing an amazing thing amongst the community of New Hope and in the ways that we are reaching out. We are learning what it means to follow Jesus. It is not what I learned in Sunday School.

Sorry for rambling.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Good thoughts Chris - I don't see you as narrow minded especially when the invitation is there to be enlightened!

I think the traditional modern mode - the way we have been doing church for the last 1500 years is in need of reform. It is certainly in decline in the western world. In the US about 40% of the population is open to or somewhat attends church as we have known it. The other 60% sees no relevance to it. I personally don't see that improving by making superficial changes in the worship service.

In other western nations, like Canada, Europe, or Australia the numbers are even worse more like 20%.

Clearly the majority of people are content to to let us meet and do church however we want - it has no relevance to them.

This is one of the reasons why I think things are gonna change - Jesus will build his church where the marginalized are.

What needs to change? Our way of thinking what church is and what worship is. And even what effective teaching is and how people learn.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Paul Dazet said...

As I read Dave's comments, I resonate with the last paragraph - it is us that needs to change. I am the problem with church. It's all about me.

12:23 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Wow, Sam! 24 comments on your last post! I'm pretty sure anything past 20 means you're famous.

Seriously, though. I like what Dave and KimW and paul dazet (and by the way, who let him in? emergent thinkers are obviously heretics...) are saying about the problem being not with the church but with us. I agree that transformation needs to start with ourselves. At the same time though, when there are scary statistics about how most people don't think the church matters in their lives, then there is something wrong that needs to be fixed, and systematic change needs to happen. Agreed that change needs to start in our own hearts. Kudos for mentioning that. Revolutions start with small deeds of great love... "by little and by little." (thats one of my favorite Dorothy Day quotes).

Here is my answer to Chris's question, though. I've been thinking a lot lately about vocation-- the call of Christ-- and what that means for my life as well as the life of the church. I actually had to write an essay about it for class. I ended up using the story of the rich young man found in matthew 19, mark 10, luke 18 (read it, but beware, it is a dangerous passage. it may change your life), to illustrate that ultimately Jesus calls us to make ourselves living sacrifices and follow him. The disciples had the guts to drop everything and follow, but do I? and what does that mean? I think sacrifice means giving up what we hold onto so dearly in this world... whether that is money and material wealth, comfort and control, sex and drugs... whatever.

And I think most of us realize that, and are willing to "die" to our old lifestyles-- Thats what baptism is about-- but i think too often we fall a little short on the "follow me" part and end up just going back to the same old consumerism lifestyle, getting ahead in the capitalist market, increasing the gap of oppression, and clinging to mammon.

But if we can radically change our lifestyle in the church, then we have something else to cling to-- an imminent Christ that can be found in tight communities of love.

I'll tell you why i think that... I worked at camp luz, a summer camp affiliated with the mennonite church, the past two summers and have experienced God there like i have never experienced Him before. He was mysteriously imminent and transcendent at the same time. He was transcendent because it was in nature, and you could see the powerful work of creation in the massive things as well as the minuscule things. And amongst this transcendent experience, the staff and campers at luz were in constant community. we ate, slept, played, prayed, laughed, cried, worshiped together all the time, and we were so close that we could tell when someone was a hard time, and not one of us let a brother or sister fall without giving them a hand to get back up. God was imminent because we were being Jesus to each other. It's like when Shane Claiborne talks about the word "namaste, " which means literally means "I bow to you" but in the sense that "I'm bowing to the divine being that lives inside of you"... I don't know if that makes sense or not.

Therefore, If I could make all my dreams come true, I would make church be intensely communalistic, and worship would both corporately, and in constant acts of love both inwardly to each other and outwardly to the world. That way we can worship the transcendent God and celebrate the imminent God, and be missionaries just as Jesus came to this earth as a missionary.

Thats hugely radical though, and really hard to swallow. Nobody wants to give up their grip on their life and become that vulnerable... including me...

perhaps I'll copy my essay onto blogger as a post so I can confuse people even more...

2:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding Paul Dave and Kyle. Your responses look very thought provoking.

I'm going to get about 2 minutes in front of a computer today, so I will have to read them more throughly, and comment later. Thanks again.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Sweet Peripety said...

I just talked to our new pastor, and he wants to take our service OUT of the church :-) somewhere else on a Sunday morning.

11:36 AM  
Blogger pipeandpint said...

Hullo all! Sam invited me to have a look at this discussion on his blog, and I'm glad I did...

I sympathize with the comments about living incarnationally as witnesses to Jesus. We should do this. However, I would question whether or not this replaces or is more important than the worship we bring to God as a body on the Lord's Day. Worship is what we are made for, and we are made for it as a body.

Witnessing to our community through service is good. However else we want to do this, the most important way we do this is by meeting for worship and praying for the conversion and peace and welfare of our community - for both the rich & the marginalized, all of whom need Jesus. So I could never go along with cancelling worship in favour of community service; to me, that's like cutting of my foot - then trying to walk. Our whole lives should be lived in love for God and to glorify him, definitely - "24/7/365", as somebody above said. But I think the only way we can succeed in this is if we re-emphasis, rather than de-emphasize, the need for faithful attendance at the public, corporate worship of the church.

And while we're at it, we should also emphasize church membership... which when you take all the terminology apart, is really just making public the commitment to Jesus that, if we are Christians, we have already made privately. This actually would boost our witness to our community, too, as it demonstrates that we Christians really are serious about Jesus - serious enough to make our relationship to him public, where it can be held to account by the church. Mars Hill Church knows how important this aspect is: they don't let anybody but members take Sunday School, and they hold those who ARE members to account for their commitment to the vision of the church.

So how do we best bear witness to Jesus? Private commitment (faith), public commitment (membership), private & public worship, and prayerful, holy, "incarnational" living. That's the order, and we can't skip step #2. Claiming to be Christians without being members of a church is like shacking up with Jesus. Jesus doesn't have many lovers - just one Bride. If we get this relationship right, we will find ourselves in a much better place to get the rest of it right...

If I can shamelessly plug myself in parting, I have written an essay on the subject of Christian community. It will soon be available as part of a book of essays I'm publishing, but you can download & read it now at: The Bloody Chair.

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi all,
Fortunately I managed to get back to the computer :)

I just want to say, that there are some smart, deep thinkers who read and comment on your blog Sam. You all have some great points.

I think where I differ from some points of view is what I see as the churches primary reason for existing. I believe that the church is not for unbelievers. I don't view Sunday morning service as an effective tool to reach the lost, Which is why I am not a devotee to the seeker sensitive movement or inviting unbelievers to church in hopes that they get saved. The churches job is to teach and encourage the faithful, and allow them a place to worship freely with a group which is of like mind and spirit. If the church is “marketing” to unbelievers, then all the teaching must be done to the lowest common denominator, the worship is watered down, and the encouragement gets replaced with welcomes and how-do-you-dos.

I am a huge proponent of living missionally. I am actually a Christ-follower who owns and runs a tattoo-parlor. (New Image Art in Columbiana). With every customer I try to have a genuine, open, honest conversation about their faith, and beliefs, and when appropriate, I try to give them any sort of push toward Christ. Let me tell you that having deep conversations with hardcore atheists, or outright Satanists on a weekly basis can be very discouraging and draining. It does my heart good to know that I am a member of church that has the same goals and vision as me, and when Sunday comes around, I am so excited to worship with a large group, be encouraged by their show of faith, and to be taught the deeper things of God.

I think that the church has done a pretty good job of looking in and up. I think that we have for the most part missed the boat when it comes to helping members look out into their community and teaching them how to reach the lost on a one-on-one basis or as a community of believers. Fortunately, God is stirring the hearts of His people to reach the lost. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung so far in the direction of outreach that His faithful are giving up on the Church or worse yet, becoming bitter or developing an attitude of elitism toward the church because they don’t see it working, when in reality, it isn’t made for that.

My hope is that the pendulum will settle somewhere in the middle. With God’s people cherishing the Church for what it is, while at the same time keeping a passion for the lost.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Sweet Peripety said...

Chris---I went right past your shop today, as my 2.5 year old son and I went to Our Daily bread and vivian's and the tea shop next door. LOL. That's great you have a place for tremendous testimony!

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've really enjoyed reading through this discussion and I'd just like to say that I thought pintandpipe's comments were absolutely outstanding. Well said and thank you for so beautifully stating your thoughts. It was wonderful to have your ideas on the topic.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

You don't disagree with me when you say church is for believers. If I'm following Jesus then I'm a part of the church he is building. And in its very simplest form it where two or three are gathered in His name - He is there and that is church. I'm NOT saying we shouldn't meet in larger groups.

Sorry, pipeandpint, but I respectfully disagree with your idea of Church membership. I don't think the type of membership you described is witness to those outside the church and in my opinion really serves to take away from the "incarnational living" you subscribe as the first priority or the foundation on which your membership point rests.

Chris, I applaud you living your life as Christ follower as a graphic designer and tattoo shop owner. To me that's living incarnationally (for you). The only thing I say - is just love the people that come to you through this venture. You don't have convert them. But by all means share your life (which is IN Christ!). I'd even encourage you to see them as "seekers" groping for God like we all are (this is where the seeker sensitibve stuff belongs - but I don't like the connotations of that term or attitude - I'll go on explain...).

Removing the "them" and "us" mentality is an important part of incarnational living. If Jesus emptied himself of his rights as God and became one of "us" we should empty ourselves too of anything that says we have arrived and got it all together.

Living incarnationally involves seeing people more in "centered set" thinking versus "bounded set" thinking. In Jesus description of how it works he gave an illustration of wheat and weeds. At one point you really can't tell who is in and who is out - who is wheat or who is weed - so love everyone that God sends you and have a blast doing it!

6:40 PM  
Blogger Paul Dazet said...

Thanks to Chris & Sam for getting this conversation going. And thank you for everyone who has shared - this has been a great conversation.

Kyle - your thoughts and stories on community are awesome - thanks man for sharing.

Chris H - thanks for your great example of incarnational living. And I echo Dave's point of not feeling like it is your job to convert - your job is to love and live. I agree with your comments that attractional ministry (seeker church) is off base. Stats say that 90% of people that get saved do so outside the church.

Thanks dave for your thoughts on membership - I agree wholeheartedly. IMO - the community of faith should not be based on membership but on a shared desire to live out Christ's mission of redemption (Communitas).

Pipeandpint - thanks man for sharing about "Worship" being the most important thing for the church. I agree with you - Bringing glory and honor to God is our highest call.

But, I believe that corporate worship is just one aspect of the worship of God. I would make the statement that mission is the central and most powerful expression of worship both personally and as a faith community.

If we look at Scripture - In the climax of the letter to the Romans (which is written to the church), Paul says "therefore, i urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is true worship" (Romans 12:1). In the church we are so blinded by the modern use of the term worship that we take it to literally mean nothing more than the corporate singing of praise to God. I'm not against corporate singing, but according to Paul, my spiritual act of worship involves sacrificing my body, my attitudes, my actions. He then goes on to share with the acts of true worship:
- to not conform to the norms of society (v. 2)
- to humbly express spiritual gifts in practical ways (vv.3-8)
- to love others (vv. 9-10)
- to be spiritually zealous, hopeful, patient, and prayerful (vv. 11-12)
- to be hospital and generous (v. 13)
- to live in harmony with charity towards unbelievers (vv. 14-21)
- to love those in authority by submitting to them lawfully (13: 1-7)
- to be gracious to new believers (14:1-12)
- to maintain unity in the church (14:13-23)

Check out Paul's conclusion in Romans 15:5-7
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glority the God and Faither of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

So when New Hope cancelled the gatherings on a Sunday and went out into the community to serve compassionately together - we worshipped. In fact, the stories that resulted from those Sunday have been tremendous catalysts for growth in peoples lives.

So referring to what Paul says in Romans - all of these things are areas of worship and praise to God. I wonder if we spend too much time singing and talking in the walls of our church and very little time exercising our faith 24/7/365.

I wholeheartedly support the gathering of Christians together to praise God and hear from God's Word - but at the same time I also support these other areas of worship as necessary for the church to fulfill her role in the building of God's Kingdom.

I don't have all the answers and I don't pretend to. But I can honestly say that I love this journey that I am in following Christ!

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the encouragement Dave, I appreciate it.

Maybe this isn't the time or place to do this, but I'm going to go ahead and say it, because I have made a promise to myself that I would try to be honest and open in everything that I say..... I'll tell you why I think that I have such strong feelings about this topic. I think that it is because I still carry some hurt from when Dave left the UR and started his home church. I don't blame you for leaving Dave, I think that you did what you felt was right with you and God. But just as in any separation there are feelings that can't be helped, one that I think that I hold onto is some bitterness toward house churches and anything that resembles house churches, because that is what (in my messed up head) took my spiritual leader away from me, and that is something with God's help, I am working through, because if that is where God is taking the Church, I don't want to miss out. Sorry if that makes everyone totally uncomfortable, but I think that life is too short to beat around the bush :)
Love ya Dave.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Love ya Chris and I appreciate the honesty. I'm sorry that I caused hurt to you and others when I left the Upper Room - I know there would have been a better way to navigate that course but couldn't see it at the time.

"House Church" was the little pin point of light I saw at the time in my intense yearning and search for church to be missional in its expression and like a moth I was drawn toward it.

I see now that what I was looking for was much bigger than house church. (Truthfully - time for me to be honest - I am frustrated by my house church experience. At best it was a great small group but never developed into a community of believers in mission together. I might be able to share some of that angst against house churches with you! I agree they can easily become very closed clubs and in that respect no different and even worse than most traditional churches.)

I am no longer an active part of the house church that started and went through several evolutions. I am a part of New Hope - a church body transitioning from a seeker sensitive model investigating, experimenting, and exploring what it means to be an "incarnational" or missional church. I am excited to be apart of the that conversation and discovery process.

Truthfully, I wish I could have led the Upper Room through process of discovering what God is doing with this "emerging" missional movement. But at the time I had no idea where I was going. I still certainly don't have it all figured out. But I am thankful to be able to share this journey now with others - not just those at New Hope - just look at the conversation going on on this blog and you started it, Chris. It's exciting what God is doing.

Thanks again for your honesty.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Birdie said...

I must admit, this has been some of the best reading I've done while drinking my morning cup of coffee. Thanks to you all for your honesty and integrity. There is so much I would like to comment on, and (lucky for you all ) I have to be to work in a little bit. I will say that as someone who works with people who are gay, homeless, drug addicts, atheists, women planning abortions, those just released from prison, etc., I have found that these people are hungry for relationships. They will sit in my office and pour their hearts out to me (many times emptying my tissue box). I have found it's much better to listen and love them where they are, not trying to make them a Christian or someone like me (heaven help us all!). Many of them are very "spiritual" and have a relationship with Jesus, but struggle daily with "life". They are still created in God's image and I consider them my brothers and sisters who just haven't accepted our Father's love yet. I better stop. Thanks Guys, Gotta get to work God Bless

9:43 AM  
Blogger Seeking More said...

What an awesome conversation. Thanks for letting us know about this Paul. I love how honest everyone is here. For most of my adult life, I wandered through church as a "seeker", thinking that my crazy thoughts about things that are not quite right with church were proof of my shortcomings in being a good Christian. I laugh at that now. I realize that my ideas are just that post modern, organic, missional side of me that I thought was wrong. Chris, I think it is awesome to doubt. I think it awesome to question. Some of my greatest growth has occured out of pure confusion and doubt.

I agree that there is a need for church services. If there were none, I would never be where I am today with my faith. God uses Paul to teach us what He wants us to learn. However, maybe there does need to be reform. Most churches are not equipping people to go out into the world and show Gods light and wonder through our actions. Isn't that what the world needs, whatever you call it?

Our conversations have left me excited, scared, hopeful, sick to my stomach, stronger in my faith....etc. Talking it out with people, praying about it, sharing my heart, questioning....it all just makes it clearer. We need to start with us. Light ourselves on fire so that fire will spread, just by coming in contact with us!

9:50 AM  
Blogger Chel said...

I am not going to say much, but "WOW", the conversation is amazing, honest, uncut, and REAL. Recently moving from a very traditional church setting, into and emerging church setting has truly been a catalyst of (positive) change in my life, and how I am interacting and being able to truly LOVE those around me ( no matter who they are). One of the most amazing chances I had to Love was when our church went into the community. We were the church , being loved, and giving love in an Agape sense.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone.

Paul- You are obviously very knowledgeable, and you seem to have a very clear view of where God is taking New Hope. I think that having a clear goal and vision has been a point of lack for the church, (there is a whole other topic for another day.)I applaud you for you that, and I hope to visit your Church soon.

Dave- Thank you for your honesty. It does my heart good to see you in a place where you are being used in the calling that God has given you.
I would like to apologize to you for not supporting you like I should have during your time of transition. Instead of being excited for the new thing God was doing with you, I let anger control my feelings, and I allowed what I saw as an injury to the church take priority over a seeking man.

Sam- Swell blog you have here. Where you been? ;)

Seeking more- Thanks for you encouragement and participation, but I would say that what I am feeling isn't doubt or confusion. I can say with conviction that I am more convinced than ever before that God is still at work in the earth. My feeling are that "God has spoken, the rest is just conversation.", and even though it's a great conversation, God is still working this whole out in His timing and with His wisdom. I do my best to figure it out, and follow where God is going, but in the end, I still feel like an ant trying to comprehend quantum physics, and I suppose I always will.

To all of you. Even though we may not agree completely on the details, I am glad that we are all in this together.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Well, this has been fun. Thank you all for your thoughts. I'm sure there's more and please don't take the fact that I'm finally commenting as a sign that this topic is over. In fact, I'm not sure a topic that gets us to examine why we do what we do for the Lord should ever be over. Like I said in one of my comments on the last post, God is perfect, it's us humans that seem to mess up the scene. But the fact that we're all in this with the same goal in mind starts to make up for all the stuff we've done wrong. Exciting times, aren't they?

I have some thoughts I'd like to add, but I'm in the middle of 40 things right now. So I'll respond in a little while.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Seeking More said...

Chris...I so agree that we are having this conversation, and God has His plan already in action! His will, His way. Personally, I have grown out of confusion. I do not think that you are confused, sorry if I implied that in my post. I think that you seem very sure in your faith. I just wanted to say that! :)

3:45 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Chris - thanks for the heart to heart. What you have articulated in this blog (thanks Sam for letting use your space) is just incredible. I regret that we haven't had conversations like this in the past. I feel like I missed out on something but I'm glad it's happening now. We/I need you to be a part of this conversation. Truthfully, I have aways thought of you as one who was and continues to "live incarnationally" - you are more postmodern than you know and it's your element that you're naturally swimming in - the rest of us are just catching up and discovering how to function in this postmodern culture (which I don't think is "evil" or any more godless than "modern" culture is.) God always works through culture - that's what the Bible is - the Story we find ourselves in. That's what the incarnation is - God dwelling among men - living in our culture. And that's what Christmas is about - His kind intention and will - peace on earth , good will toward men. What an awesome thing to join Him in what he is doing in the earth! Merry Christmas to you Chris and thanks for sharing your heart.

6:55 PM  
Blogger pipeandpint said...

Dave, let me just clear up one small thing. If what I posted originally implied that "incarnational living" was a foundational justification for church membership, that was not my intent. The thrust of my comments was that commitment to Christ, personally & publicly (membership), is the foundation for all the rest. Jesus commands the Church to faith, hope, holiness, love, missions & worship. If we're not part of the Church, those commands aren't to us.

And while it's true that Jesus is present where 2 or 3 are gathered, this is not the Church meeting qua Church. Meetings of the Church as the Church are called by the leaders of the body, constituted & organized according to Scripture, and done decently & in good order for the purpose of corporate worship. When I get together with my brothers to smoke pipes & drink beer, that's not the Church meeting - it's just two or three members of the Church enjoying godly fellowship.

Anyway, my point is not to keep posting to stir up strife; I'm posting again simply to clarify my own remarks, in case they might have been unclear originally. Thanks again to everyone for letting me peak into the conversation!

10:07 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

In all my time writing posts that stirred up the pot of conversation and debate, these last two have been the most civil. Thank you all for thinking and sharing. Work took my time all week, so I have quite a few comments to add. They may be choppy as I try to answer them in order, so I apologize in advance.

I will also pre-empt my thoughts with a disclosure: I may sound theologically smart, but I'm really not. As a child growing up, I was in churches more than maybe anyone I know to this day. The magnitude of information I heard preached allows me to hold my own in many conversations and talk a good game in the ones I'm lost in. The problem is that some of the stuff I heard was very biased and some even way off-base. As a result, I now crave proof in my spiritual life and usually use the Bible as that ruler of fact. But I don't ignore the fact that each human is different and that causes scripture to be read as such. That said, on to my comments.

The first area is something that's been addressed on eleven before, and that's the biblical model of a building as the place to meet as believers. I don't see one beyond the travelling tent in Exodus. The (scriptural) phrases of "2 or 3 gathered together" and "the body of believers" are so often used to describe the church by people who just don't feel like going on Sundays (or Saturdays) that we almost fluff them off when they're spoken. But they are in the Bible and they are real. You can't ignore them, or the fact that a building is never mentioned.

But that doesn't mean I think there's no place for the building we've misnamed church. I strongly disagree, in fact. I see strength and support and encouragement and yes, fun in the brick & mortar establishments. I see them as Chris described as the place he goes to be energized. But as I've posted other places, what are you being energized from? If Chris deals with the stuff he says he deals with, then that man needs a boost from his fellow believers! But how many of us actually live and work in week to week or day to day situations like that? We may often be in contact with unbelievers, but do we constantly share our love with them? Are you proactively discussing their faith with them? Are you being beaten down by their rebuttals and the attacks of the devil? If you can't say yes to those, then I doubt you're really drained enough to need energized. And then, your weekly attendance just to fulfill your weekly duty/God-fix is just as bad as those people that never go at all. It's not real and God isn't pleased just because you have a permanent butt-print in one of the pews.

That got kind of wordy. I fear being charged with padding my comment count, but I'm going to post a second comment so people can give their eyes a break. :-)

11:28 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

pipeand pint - thanks for the response and I'd to respond as well as to Sam's comment...

Sam - boy you hit something in me and I want to respond but I'm at work and can't right now. But it will be coming!!!

12:49 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I want to question you Chris on your thought about Church not being for unbelievers. I've actually tried to wrap my brain around that for a few years now, and I think I agree with you. But I'm confused with your comments pertaining to it.

You stated "I believe that the church is not for unbelievers. I don't view Sunday morning service as an effective tool to reach the lost, Which is why I am not a devotee to the seeker sensitive movement or inviting unbelievers to church in hopes that they get saved." You say that but you attend that exact type of church service. I don't say that as a personal slam, b/c in my experience most churches are doing the same thing you don't like. My question is, you say a church would be "watered down" if it marketed to unbelievers, and yet you say that the church you attend is encouraging to you after dealing with the draining situations you described at the tattoo shop. How is that possible? How are you "excited" or "encouraged" or "taught the deeper things of God" in a place where the teaching is "done to lowest common denominator"? And I stress again, I'm not attacking you or the UR first service, just trying to get a handle on your idea.

I can only assume your answer would be that it's the people and the relationships that are the encouraging part and the conversion-attempt sermons aren't exactly your cup of tea. Am I close? If so, then I would extend the idea that our fellowship and energizing is wrapped up in the people we share a faith with and not the building. If the argument says that Sundays happen to be the only times we all get together, then we need to get together more often and in more places! How amazing would our lives be if that happened?

My final thoughts are in the area of beneficial words. Paul, you quoted Romans by saying that one of the true acts of worship is "to maintain unity in the church". I had someone ask me last night if the conversations of the last few days did harm to unbelievers. Could our (be it friendly) arguing cause a nonbeliever to not want to be a part of something where it's members argued so much about what they believed? That was a bit sharp to me b/c I've struggled with feelings about my debates and the benefits they bring to non-believers. (You know, those people we're supposed to be going after.)But I've come to a conclusion in my heart and I shared it with my friend. My response was that conversation isn't harmful unless the people involved care more about their points than the person they're saying them to. If your desire is to prove your point at the expense of another's feelings, then you have some soul-searching to do.

That caused me to think about the people who read this blog and the many varied backgrounds and beliefs they come from. Is the non-christian or the religiously-scarred person put off by this conversation; or are they intrigued? And if they're intrigued, what by? I praise the Lord for good brothers and sisters that are being a loving witness even in this www of disagreement and discussion. Thank you all.

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To your questions Sam, I answer this.

I'm was not saying that I believe that God isn't in a seeker sensitive service. I'm just saying that I don't think that it is the most effective way to lead people to the Lord, or the most excellent type of church service that we can have for believers. I can very much praise and worship, be taught, and be encouraged and lifted up in the seeker sensitive model of church.

I might add that the teaching times in a seeker sensitive service are never "conversion-attempt sermons". Seeker sensitive services are all about making new comers feel comfortable. Conversion attempts are very seldom comfortable to the the conversionee. The teaching that is done in our first service usually done on topics that everyone can relate to such as stress, marriage, raising kids, etc. I can always learn from these teachings. Some might even argue that I am the lowest common denominator :)

I am also not saying that I haven't changed my thoughts on this topic in the recent past. Some of my beliefs are fairly new to me. Kate and I have been on a very intense spiritual journey for the past few months. Some of the things that the Lord is reveling to us are challenging. I feel that the Lord gave us the job of helping to lead worship in first service for a season, but now God is guiding us into a new ministry, which is most likely going to be leading worship in our second service. In all actuality Katie and I have not attended the UR's first service since October, and truth be told, the Lord is also doing huge things with the UR. I would not be surprised if the UR looked completely different in the near future.

I would also like to add another quick corollary to this discussion, that is that there is no such thing as an ideal church (missional, tradtional or otherwise). This is the problem with all the curricula and ideas out there for how to make your church into the thing it's "supposed to be." There are lots of examples of this, but they all go back to a Platonic/Kantian notion that there is an ideal and we just have to "get back to it." The truth is the church is all about intimacy and connection with God. Our ultimate goal is to seek God and His will for our lives in a personal way, and then share "Christ in us" in an honest and loving way with all those around us. If a different type church structure can help some with that goal then.... amen.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for the clarifications and the news of your new roles at the UR. It sounds like you have some exciting new things happening in you and through you at the UR.

I don't want to sound argumentative, but I would respectfully disagree with your first service sermons comment. While I haven't been to one in over 15 months (and if that's what you're referring to, I apologize) I did sit in almost every service for the 4 or so years before that. And 9 out of 10 ended with an alter call (of sorts) to non-believers, complete with a slide with a prayer displayed. In no way am I arguing that that is wrong or out of place, but merely questioning your written distaste for such things and the effect you claimed they had on the place you went to commune with your already-believing brothers and sisters. I was just looking for your thoughts on what seemed like contrasting sides of the same statement.

I 100% agree with your last paragraph. That came up a lot in a conversation I was having last night. Even as PnP was stating what he saw in the importance of: "re-emphasis, rather than de-emphasize the need for faithful attendance" to the public church, and Paul was announcing he was moving 4 services a year out of the church, I was struck with the fact that both ideas are based on strong human opinions. Our individual brains are never ever going to mesh with someone else's brain. So no two people are ever going to need or desire or pursue the same two things. That ultimately means that we'll also never agree on the perfect picture of what church should look like. Furthermore, I'd go out on a limb and say I don't think we should try to. I firmly believe God made us with different talents and gifts so that we could reach all the different people in the world. Otherwise we'd be spinning our wheels.

Thanks for starting this whole thing Chris. It's great to have peeked back into your noodle for a few minutes.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Paul Dazet said...

A big thank you for everyone who has posted a comment - this has been a great conversation.

A comment came up about the debates and whether they are productive and what kind of impression does that make on someone who isn't following Jesus.

I look at these conversations as opportunities to learn - check out this 80%/20% idea. The 80/20 idea comes from the seminary professor who told his students, “80% of what I tell you will be right and 20% will be wrong. The problem is I don’t know which is which.” He went on to say, “If it doesn’t resonate with you it may be part of my 20%. But recognize that it may be part of your 20%, so let’s continue the dialogue to drive our own understanding and awareness.” So I look at these debates as times that I can learn some things of my 20%, plus share somethings that might help someone else. Sometimes the greatest learning takes place when we just learn other sides to our thoughts - other perspectives.

Just three years ago, I was very skeptical of the emerging church movement, but I listened and have learned a lot - but I don't agree with everything that associates itself with "emergent".

So I have joined this conversation to learn and love. We won't all agree, but we can learn.

Also, at New Hope we value "experimentation" - our compassion weekends are experiments with a lifespan - we will learn a lot during these experiments. But they are not meant to last forever. Compassion Weekend's real goal is not to "cancel services to promote serving" - the goal is to help people develop compassionate lifestyles. So I share that, experimenting is another opportunity to learn.

I thank all of you for helping me learn....

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To clear up, I'm not saying that there is never a prayer of salvation said, or any sort of alter call at the end of our seeker sensitive service, but when your statement reads "conversion-attempt sermons" I assume you mean the actual teaching time. In which case, I would say, that there less than a handful of sermons that have been based on how you get saved, and the consequences of not being born again that have ever been spoken at our seeker service.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Paul Dazet said...

For all those that would like to learn about some recent finding concerning seeker sensitive church methodology watch this video

You will be blown away

5:04 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Pipeand pint –
Thanks for being a part of this conversation. Too bad fellowship around a pipe and a pipe doesn’t count for church – I guess I’ll have to stay at New Hope.

Seriously, though I agree that just hanging out with a couple of brothers doesn’t constitute “church” even if you talk about Jesus and spiritual things. But from your description it sounds like it’s all in the meeting, the gathering when specific things are accomplished. I think we all agree the church is not a building. But I don’t think the church is a meeting, per say, either. The church is about movement, a movement – those that are following Christ and joining His mission. It’s interesting to note that His first disciples were known as followers of The Way – to me that’s movement; mission.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t meet regularly. The Lion’s Club does and we should too. But using attendance as measuring stick for membership doesn’t seem measure or prove the missional essence of the church.

Sam –
First of all you are over 30 comments now in this discussion and that definitely puts in the major leagues. I don’t consider your comments padding but they are provocative.

And as I said before – you got me stirred up in what you said “about the place Christ goes to energized” as being the church gathering. I’m not sure what the heck that means but it got me ready to rave.

I can speak from personal experience – it was a good thing for me to get a “secular” job after having a job as a pastor” for over 30 years. One of the most exciting things for me was to be around “unbelievers” (as we are calling it here for this discussion) At first I was real nervous about this – I didn’t know how to relate – I literally had no “non-Christian” friends.

There was definitely a learning process here for me – which I’d like to go into sometime – but the point I’m trying to make is this: I am having a blast hanging out with “unbelievers”. I don’t find it draining. In fact, I was more drained hanging out with Christians, day after day. Seriously. Whiny, complaining Christians are draining. Very draining. Going to church to energized? Often that didn’t happen – church was often a draining place for me.

Now you may tend to think this is true for me because I was pastor. That may be a part of it but I don’t think – it’s the big part. The big part to me is my shift in thinking. I’m learning to count conversations, not conversions. (I always felt that God was going to ask me how many people I lead to Christ when I got to heaven – seriously – that puts the pressure on!) And I’m learning to look for God a work in peoples lives – that Prevenient grace to use a theological term – God working, drawing, wooing, calling people to himself. And I’m learning that God really doesn’t work more in church buildings OR in church meetings than he does other places. Seriously, that’s a big one there for me – I always had this idea that maybe there was a God zone – God was more in one place because we were gathered there – so he would show up there. So that was the best place to bring someone who needed to know God because that would be where He would most likely be or at least that people would have the greatest chance to experience His presence.

This latter thought shows how steeped in dualism we are. Which is a rather Greek thought. Which is really a rather unbiblical worldview. I don’t see there being a divide between the sacred and the secular.

I think what you are saying Sam points out a major thing that needs fixed in the church (Chris’s original question) – how we come to church as consumers. To get our God fix. To be fed. To learn how to live a successful life so we can….? Maybe we start out this way – as new Christians but to grow as disciple – we got to look at this.

If we are feeling drained being around “unbelievers” maybe we don’t need a church meeting to soothe or remedy that. Maybe we need a change of perspective. Again, trying to discover what it means to live incarnationally – I don’t see Jesus “drained” by being around unbelievers in the sense we are talking about here. I know the crowds pressed in on him. He often didn’t have time to eat and he didn’t have a place to lay his head – he got tired and he probably got tired of peoples lack of faith – but I don’t think he got “drained” in the sense we are talking about here.

OK. He would often withdraw to a “lonely” place and pray. I guess you could say he was getting “recharged” so he must have been “drained”. But how did he get recharged? By spending time with the Father. Did He get recharged by going to the synagogue? Did He get recharged by being with His friends, His followers? Maybe.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is the idea that we need to go to church to get “charged up”. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be encouraged when we get to together - it’s that idea of going to church for what I get out of it that I’m wrestling with.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Dave, to go along with what you said about God being outside the church as well as inside, Dorothy Day wrote about all of the people that she helped out in the Catholic worker house-- not because Christ wanted her to but because they are Christ. That was an interesting idea to me when I read it. It kind of goes along with what Christ said. "whatever you do to the least of these you have done to me as well."

Then again I hear the old idea of the church being the body of Christ, which has its scriptural backing as well.

If you take both of these ideas and live like they are literally true, then I think there is no room for anything but a Christ-centered holistic worldview because in the end, everything is Christ.

3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing! Completely amazing!!! I agree that this is a conversatiohn that needs to be had, but I find myself concerned with a few things, impressed by a few things, agreeing with a few things, and distrubed by a few things. So, I thought I might add a few things.

First, the church, as a body of believers, as a family unit, as an army on the move, is not our idea, it is God's. It is his design and his plan for us to be in community together, because, frankly, we need each other. We are better followers of Jesus when we do it together. We can reach a lost world - and yes, I believe the world is lost and that we are called to go help it find it's way back to its Redeemer - better together than we can do it without a support mechanism. We can be encouraged to be more like Jesus better together than apart. And we can most effectively use our gifts "for the copmmon good" when we have a bunch of stuff in common. This is God's idea, not mine, and I believe with my whole heart that its a really good idea.

I am greatly impressed with the deep thinking of so many who have posted to this blog during this discussion. Obviously, there are a lot of smart people trying to do the right thing. I applaude your efforts and would encourage you to keep thinking. Christianity needs good thinkers.

But may I toss in a word of caution. I am concerned that, as intelligent people who are thinking people, we can talk ourselves into just about anything, and we can allow ourselves to buy into almost anything if we can make sufficient justifications and rationalizations for them. I am concerned that we can call any little bunch of people sitting around with buddies "church" - and therefore we can justify not "going to church" by saying that it is not "biblical" to be in a building. That is baloney! Jesus attended synagogue "as was his habit" every week. The disciples in the "early church" not only met together in homes where they broke bread, attended to the apostle's teaching etc., but they also met in the temple courts which some seem to convieniently forget. The "house church" was for daily encouragement and growth as disciples, but the meeting in the temple courts was to join those house churches together in a big celebration of their common faith, to keep them on "the same page" doctrinally, and to experience the "big picture" that Christianity was about to change the whole world! It was part of God's plan for us to get together, and, to be practical about the whole thing, it is just plain easier to do that when we put up a building in which to meet. The builkding isn't the church, the people are. The building is a practical tool, albeit a pretty expensive one, and nothing more.

Surely we aren't gonna fuss over a simple tool. Granted, some folks have gone a bit overboard in the window dressing department, and a few others have decided that the building somehow is sacred and ought to be worshiped - but shucks, people have been erecting false gods since the beginning of time, Why should we be surprised that people here in America, who have more money than brains some times, would take some of that money, justify their greed and overindulgence by calling it the "church", and erecting some kind of temple to themselves? That shouldn't surprise us at all.

But we really ought to see it for what it is, a tool for meeting the needs of lots of folks and a place for the real church to gather and engage in corporate worship. And yes, to sing songs in a big way. And to pray together till the rafters rattle. And to listen to a God called pastor preach the Word. And to grow together, hurt togehter, heal together, shout together, feed the hungry and clothe the naked together, and in all ways find unity together as the body of Christ. I say HURRAY for the Church. For both the body of believers and even for the building/tools that are used to change the world in Jesus name.

I know I haven't addressed the many theological issues you all have spoken to, and I think I might do that another time, maybe. These things are sometimes easier to talk about in person, though. I guess I am just making the statement that though it isn't perfect because man has gotten his grubby little hands on it, as it relates to the church, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. It really IS a wonderful institution that has magnificent purposes and far reaching influence, and when harnessed and recentered on the mission of Jesus to reach a broken, damaged, lost world, it can be - and MUST become - everything that God intended it to be.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Who needs to pad their comment count when you have a Dad who posts his comments twice?! Thanks Dad, but I'm going to erase one of your double thoughts. :-)

I do have a couple comments and questions about your thoughts. You (and many others here) are obviously more Bible-educated than I so please don't mind my ignorance. Can you share the scripture where you say that Jesus went to church (the Synagogue) on a regular basis? Maybe I'm a bit uneducated, but I rarely, if ever, see Jesus going to church to listen to a sermon. I know he spent time in the temple courts refuting the leaders of the time and answering their many test questions, but I have no recollection of Him spending time there because He saw it as a requirement for his faith. That seems to be the way you're using the scripture to back up your point of church attendance, and I just don't see that referenced in the scripture. But I may just not know the scripture you're talking about.

While you're at it, share the "meeting in the temple courts" scripture(s) that reference the believers doing the same as a regular occurance as a part of their faith.

Thank you for addressing the many wonderful things that happen inside the corporate service. I agree that those wonderful, be they emotional, things happen in a "big way" when we meet together in large groups. But I would hesitate to say those things are necessary to be effective in the worship of God. I hesitate because of the friends I have that attend small churches or others that have no church building within 100 miles of themselves. Do they not get the pleasure of being in God's presence just because they aren't afforded the "big" chances some of the rest of are? That's a fine line where we could really hurt our brothers and sisters if we're not careful. (To be honest, I've toyed with the idea of doing a post about what a church actually looks like. It would require me to make the submission of a church as a get-together and a building, and I don't want to do that inside this healthy conversation.)My point here being, no two churches physically look the same. So how do you and PnP justify that a weekly meeting of a few people couldn't be called a church. If that's what you have, that's what you have. (In my opinion.)

Another point I've been meaning to make is the fact that I'm of the mindset, and I think many here also are, that there is a place for both the corporate gathering and effective ministry outside the walls of a building. I agree that those Godly-goosebumps you get hearing 50,000 people singing "We worship you" aren't going to happen in the small setting. And of the same token, I'm not going to feel the Lord moving into me through the loving prayful hands of my dearest friends if I'm sitting in a large church service. And on one more side, I'm never going to experience the giving and feeding and clothing and blessing of Jesus sitting in either one of those other two. We need them all, and each one of us need to realize that or we're gonna miss out on the blessings they all have to offer. So I guess the question is, which one (or two or all three) aren't you doing?

12:03 PM  
Blogger HennHouse said...

Sam-- this is a great discussion. You should pull these out and present them in a new post.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

The "early" church meet in the temple and from house to house. The church in Jerusalem that is. That was where the temple was.

Where did the church in Antioch meet? Or the the church at Thessalonica? Or the churches scattered throughout Galatia? They did not have the luxury of meeting in the temple.

It seems like the persecution that came upon the church kind of broke up the party that was going on in the temple there in Jerusalem.

I think the point is - the early church met wherever they were able and whenever they were able.

And to me, that's the dynamic of the church we should not lose. What's at our disposal to use? Coffee shops, inn lobbies, bars, restaurants. These are the public places the "early" church might have met in if they were meeting today. Oh, yes, houses would work too. Oh, church buildings could work too, I suppose, but maybe they were too busy going and doing and they wouldn't have wanted to bother with a building.

This gets back to Sam's previous post about buildings though. And since I haven't posted on my own blog for some time and I'm ready to rave I think I'll post some further thoughts there.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Well lookie there. I got my first Spam comment. I guess I should feel lucky, I've heard of people getting spammed on a regular basis. I've had this thing for a year and half and just got attacked. Oh well. Don't worry, it wasn't worth reading anyway.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Sweet Peripety said...

Can you share the scripture where you say that Jesus went to church (the Synagogue) on a regular basis? Maybe I'm a bit uneducated, but I rarely, if ever, see Jesus going to church to listen to a sermon.

**I can't remember where that scripture is, but it's in there. It may be John. Our sunday school class was studying John, and it may be in there. Anyways, that's all I have to say in this matter. Interesting read.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

The scripture that may infer that Jesus went to "church" (aka the local synagogue as a Jew) on a regular basis is Luke 4:16 -
"He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read."

12:46 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Thanks Dave.

The problem I see with that scripture is that it's only mentioned one time. If we're going by one scripture as a reference to what Jesus did, then Jesus walked through grain fields every Sabbath as well. And then you have two things you're trying to fit into one day. That list could get pretty long when you're done finding all the stuff only mentioned once.

Or maybe the argument is defining the phrasing "as was his custom" to mean "all the time." If that's the case, then the walking through the grain field thing couldn't have even happened. Or any of the other Sabbath offending issues so many people accused Jesus of.

My point is, that one scripture is a rather weak point to stand on in stating that church can only happen one day a week and in doing so requiring a person to be in the building we call church. I think we've gotten used to calling church a one-day-a-week building, and have lost the image of it being a chance to be with fellow believers any other time or place. God isn't in a box, that point is very obvious to everyone. But yet we put Him there all the time and exclude him from being anywhere else. How sad for us and the people we're trying to reach in His name.

1:22 PM  

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