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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Another strategic idea

Over the past two plus years, since I begun to be introduced to the idea of simple church, my views on various things have changed according to my seeing how I was holding to an idea based on scripture plus a cultural tradition.  For instance, at the beginning of my reading, I found that there was one home church in my metro area that met on a weekday, but it was over 50 miles away, on the opposite side of my metro area.  At the time, I rejected the idea of going to that one on the idea that the house church would be made up of persons who physically lived close together.  Now, I will say that, while physical proximity is reasonable at most places in most cultures over most of history, in suburban western culture, who our neighbors are are influenced more by where we work, and who we have gotten to know over physical location. 
Be that as it may, I have had the time to consider how to make contact with my geographic neighbors, given that in a middle class neighborhood such as I live in, persons two doors away are strangers.  Everyone tends to have their places of work, and hide in their "palaces" upon return home.  The one social condition that breaks this situation is children of similar age who get to know each other through school, or other youth activities (sports, lessons, scouts, etc.)  My thinking was if I could produce a flyer that would introduce myself, and say something that could be thought provoking so as to produce response from either the open-minded not-yet-believer and the believer that may be struggling with how they fit into the organization.  As of yet, I haven't passed this out to anyone, and so I haven't a clue as to how well or poorly it will work in generating conversation, but I put it out here as a strategic idea.  Some of this is my personal story, so it would demand some change for anyone else to use it, but here it is, if it helps someone.
This just nicely fills one 8 1/2 x 11 page in 11 point type.
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My name is (my name).  I live at (my address).  My phone number is (my phone number).
I am not selling anything.
I became a believer in the message of Jesus in 1968, when I was 15.  About three and a half years ago, I found myself owning a business in which over 90% of the sales, and the connected work, happened on Saturday and Sunday.  I experientially discovered something obvious, which was the institutional, traditional church I was going to, along with most similar organizations were quite inflexible with regard to the life I lived.  I agree with evangelical Christian theology and, in turn, morality, but my job didn’t let me fit into the structure.  I was aware that the structure wasn’t something commanded by God, so I looked for a church that met some other time.  I actually found one on the far other end of the metro area, but didn’t feel comfortable driving that far (I probably would have today).
I have come to realize that, to early Christians, who were an underground group in their society, church was roughly synonymous with “group”.  The Bible teaches that it is a group of people who meet together to worship Jesus (Ac. 2:41-47) and build up each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  Buildings, regular collection of money, people paid to lead a group, and rituals were not part of church, a gathering of believers.  A part of “build up each other” is that the group is small enough that everyone knows each other.

If you are a believer in Jesus that hasn’t been involved in an organization this society calls a church because you don’t fit in somehow (and there’s myriad ways to not fit in), give me a call.  If you aren’t a believer in Jesus, but find Him interesting, but the organizations purporting to represent Him to be not so interesting, give me a call also.

If you want to learn more about worshipping Jesus without culturally imposed structure and ritual, but don’t want to talk to me or some other person, here are some places on the web I’d recommend to get information:

http://www.simplechurchjournal.com/ –a European point of view
thegodjourney.com –a podcast (no www.)
shapevine.com (no www.)
http://www.searchingtogether.org/ –deals with theological details
thejesusvirus.org (no www.)
www.housechurchresource.org
www.hrscn.org –connected to believers involved in simple worship in the Hampton Roads area
tevyebird.blogspot.com (no www.) –my blog—in the December 2010 archieves are the scripts to 100 two minute commentaries (written for radio) that cover various subjects on right practice in true gatherings of believers

Note:  I am in no way saying that many good hearted believers in traditional churches are wrong, but that there is an organizational structure that is devoid of scriptural merit.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Two irrationalities of our secular society

            I almost hate writing on the topic of the secularization of western society, but given two images I’ve seen in the last 24 hours, I will, again.
            The first was as I was headed to church yesterday afternoon.  In front of me was a car with a license plate frame.  On the bottom was the name of a particular church of a mainline denomination which has had unbelieving theologians running it for the last 60 plus years.  I could not help but notice a moment afterward that, to the right of the car was a small sign, the size of a parking direction sign indicating that church was the next right turn.  At the top of the license plate frame was, “Music is the tie that binds.”  I have no idea why that frame was made; maybe everyone in the choir got one, or at least all the professionals dealing with music.  If one thinks about it, the phrase is a “sort-of” denial of the historic Christian faith, in that the line comes from a doxology, “Bless’d be the tie that binds/Our hearts in Christian love/…”  The tie that binds believers together is the mutual salvation that Jesus died for, and which that church (at least at the denominational level, and from the making of that trinket, almost assuredly at the local level) denies.
            The second image that caught my mind this morning was on the ABC morning news.  It was, according to the reporter’s voiceover, of a special service for Rep. Gabriella Giffords at her synagogue.  The video and background audio gave the viewer a couple of seconds of the crowd singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  Could I go so far as to say that this song has taken a position of near statement-of-faith proportions for western secularism?  I realize that one aspect that rubs nominal persons of Jewish ethnicity (is it even belief anymore?) and persons who take the Christians who truly take their faith seriously is the contrary positions of the Christians taking the stories of the Tanak seriously and literally, and the persons of whom those stories are part of their heritage taking them to be as little as morality tales.  Its just a jarringly contradictory image that occurs specifically at times when it is improper to overtly address it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

On promoting a simple church

Recently, I ran into a question asked by Louis Burkwhat in North Carolina on www.simplechurch.com/group/northcarolinaconnections. The question is a couple of paragraphs long, but it has to do with promoting, as in letting others know about, a simple church. Go to the site to read the whole question.  Here's what I said:
Louis,
            Maybe what I’m about to say is slightly off track to what you are thinking, but I’ll kick in my thoughts.  As a Christian leader I knew in the Grand Rapids, MI area named Walt Thompson said (many times, usually after someone said something confusing), “Take what’s good and pray about the rest.”
Recently, I saw former British Prime Minister Tony Blair say, “It is hard to have the time and energy to do strategic thought.”  I happen to have been underemployed the last couple of years, and have had some time.  Particularly, I wish that, somehow, I could have been introduced to the ideas that Viola, Simson, Cole, etc. have written about earlier in my life.  I read Banks’ Paul’s Idea of Community, but I don’t think that, if I read it when it came out in 1980, I would have gotten the revolutionary impact of what he was saying.
            Still, I sit here and that know that there are other persons like myself that would appreciate the orthopraxy of HC/SC if only they were aware of the existence and the mere idea that these ideas are more congruent with a more proper understanding of God’s direction.  Maybe, that’s your feeling also, and motivation for wishing to promote the idea of house church.
            In our culture’s understanding of “promotion,” we might think of every advertisement and public service announcement we have seen on tv, heard on radio, and and read in books, magazines, billboards, etc. as promotion.  We should recognize that the history of the professional salesman that does nothing but sell goes back to only the Civil War, long past the days of the writers of scripture.  In those days, even religious tradition was more connected to civic or national unity than it was toward what Francis Schaeffer called “propositional truth.”  This even applied to a large portion of the Jewish people.  Jesus, as the Truth in human form, showed the world something the world had not seen, and, therefore, Satan had had no chance to imitate or pervert.  Upon the sending of the Holy Spirit, the people in the Upper Room could not help but spill out on the street to tell of Jesus.  This speaking, at a very innocent, basic level, is promotion.  Therefore, the command of Mt. 28:18-20 to go into all the world is to do that, but for the pure motive of seeing some come to faith in Jesus and then for believers to grow in faith. 
            We, here in the U. S., are in one of the most difficult cultures in the history of the world to communicate the message of Jesus due to our freedom of speech making it legal to speak the message for all kinds of ulterior motives, and to speak it in such massive quantity as to be tiring to many people, most of which will never come to faith in Jesus, a few who will, and, in all honesty, some of us who are believers.   You nor I can say what people are speaking the message of Jesus to be recognized, have a secure job, or whatever, or whether a person is doing so just because other true believers have taught him/her to do things a certain way, and that way has been accepted and followed.  Let us recognize that a person can be doing those opposite things simultaneously.  Now, how do we promote in spirit and truth?
            Neil Cole, in Organic Church, describes some activities in poor neighborhoods.  My experience is that, in our poorest urban areas, due to lack of income and ability to afford air conditioning, most people spend time on their porch, and, therefore, know their neighbors, much like, to my understanding, most cultures over most of history.  As I live in a middle class neighborhood, and have lived in rural areas, knowing our neighbors there is trickier, particularly if one hasn’t grown up there.  Via school and other groups, many people get to know others, and only the specific others, that are connected to our children of the same age. 
            Due to the degree that most capitalistic businesses in our culture operate close to being cults bowing down to the worship of money, sometimes business relationships are difficult.  I’m not saying this to be anti-capitalist, but many of our business leaders have been taught to care first about the “bottom line,”  and that doesn’t just border on, but, at least in my opinion, crosses the line into worship.  As part of that, they put great restriction upon one speaking to any other employee on spiritual things.  This isn’t much different than the situation in Acts 19 when the idol makers started a riot over Paul’s preaching causing a dip in their sales of idols.
            Therefore, I believe we are called to promote, but to do so in the purity of desiring to honor Jesus.  One thing we need to get out of our heads is the idea prevalent in our culture of attempting to record our efforts to see our success.  Introducing ourselves to our neighbors is cost free in money, but is quite expensive with regard to our time.  In scripture, that seems to be the only way it was done.  The Bible was given to believers, and doesn’t tell unbelievers to do anything except repent; it is not an extended tract. 
            Could other methods, such as a flyer, producing a seminar, or mass media reach people?  I don’t see any reason why not, but my perception is that, to the irritation of my ego, it seems to me that the key element is desiring to serve Jesus in a humble spirit, and, if one develops a method that seems to help unbelievers come to faith in Jesus and/or believers to grow in faith, it is only temporary, and it is a temptation to the person involved with the method’s beginning to hold onto it long after the Holy Spirit stops blessing through it. 
            I have written some more on this on my blog, tevyebird.blogspot.com.  Hopefully, I have said something helpful.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Church as group

            In Acts 19, we are told the story of the riot of the idol makers guild.  The idol makers were in Ephasus, and the town religion was worship of the goddess Artemis/Diana, a fertility cult.  The temple was very much a financial success by its offering cult prostitution, with the temple being built very close to the portage area.  The sailors left a significant amount of their earnings with the temple, such that the temple opened the town bank, and had opened branch temples around the Mediterranean.
            I had a question, which turned out to be more difficult to find the answer to than I would have first thought, and I wish to thank Don Davis for helping me on this.  The question is:  Would the idols that the idol makers were making be a thing that, in our culture, be considered pornographic?  In many cultures, the formal or informal deification of sexuality has connected to it cartoonish images with oversized sexual parts.  Given the attitude in Ephesus, it would be reasonable that we would find this in this culture.  Archeology, at this time, has not found any examples of these idols. An interesting side note is that a word in Hebrew that sounded similar to a word connected to Artemis worship, and that Hebrew word meant a young, female deer.  A statue of Artemis that has survived and is currently in the Louve in Paris shows a woman standing beside a young deer.  This definitely shows an effect of the Diaspora on Ephesian culture. Therefore, the answer, surprisingly, is that we do not conclusively know one way or the other.
            Now, the normal point the believing church makes from this story concerns the word translated “proconsuls,” which tells us that we can date this incident within an 18 month period of time, from which we can relatively date the timing of much of the New Testament. Many other persons have told that story.  The one I wish to point out is based on the word “assembly” in Acts 19, verses 32, 39, and 41.  The word in Greek is ekklesia, which in other parts of the New Testament is translated, “church.”  Things that need to be pointed out are:
1.  The word means assembly, gathering, or in our common usage, close to our word group.  It had no religious connotation—in Acts 19, it is a mob formed for a thinly veiled protest due to the preaching of the Word hurting some unbelievers economically.  People coming to faith in Jesus no longer purchased nick-nacks benefitting those connected with the fertility cult.
2.  If the word ekklesia meant something as common as assembly, gathering, or group, how did we get the idea of all the things we associate with our modern word “church”?  The early translators of the Bible into English knew it, but they were getting paid and had their positions due to connections with the institutional religious organization of their day, and the word “church” was not necessarily incorrect, but sufficiently vague that those who did not know and did not have access to check these guys’ work could reasonably infer meanings that weren’t there.  As all believers know, sins of omission are easier to miss or self-justify than sins we commit.
3.  Therefore, what we have in the Bible is that church is a group of believers that interact with each other to worship Jesus (Acts 2:41-47) and to build up each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  The problem with this otherwise innocuous statement is that most institutional organizations we in western culture call churches don’t allow the second of these, being replaced by one or a very few attempting to do all or most of the building up.   
Some references works for statements, above: