Saturday, January 3, 2009

This is what I stumbled over in "Reimagining Church"

"Pagan Christianity" and "Reimagining Church" are well worth the read. Read them in that order. Pioneers are not the ones that bring in the pavers and tree trimmers to make beautiful, cultured avenues. Pioneers blaze trails. It's not a tidy business. It involves hacking a way through the jungle, or through the forest, canoeing through alligator infested swamps; piranha swarming rivers; being ready to deal with the unexpected, and bringing out the heretofore never-been-seen.

I consider "Reimagining Church" this kind of pioneering work. The second half of the book is far more polished than the first half since it represents Fran Viola's twenty plus years of living by faith in the new way he describes and has been writing about. The following remarks apply only to the first half of "Reimagining Church:"

1) I looked up Genie, the feral child, because of the provocative assertion that her DNA had somehow been altered by her environment (pg 47) – and this idea in itself was quite a disputed theory in genetics before it was considered disproven a century ago. If her DNA had been altered, then had she given birth to children of her own, they would have inherited her altered DNA. I didn’t make it an exhaustive research, but the impression I got was that though her environment severely twisted her, her DNA remains intact. If she were to bear a child it would have the same potential to be a normal human.

This is actually a stronger statement for the book. It would be scientifically correct, and it would illustrate the hope that though the church construct is far from the potential of the church’s spiritual DNA, each new gathering of believers has the same potential as the first gathering in Jerusalem, A.D. 33.

2) On page 58 the book talks about mutual exhortation, but I’m thinking that without someone that both sides of an issue are willing to accept as an “authority” (such as the apostles were), then there is the risk of no resolution. This was happening in the earliest church, and Paul ended up pleading with both sides to “make up.” Paul himself split with Barnabas over the issue of taking John Mark with them on a second mission trip. I am sure both of these men of God exhorted each other, on scriptural and spiritual stands, but to no avail. Creating two mission teams was apparently the only answer. So somehow there has to be some kind of a go-to person.

3) On page 60 there is this phrase: “…the Lord will be limited in His self revelation.” I’ve been making quite a study of how we talk about God and how that reveals and also affects how we think about God. I’ve noticed that talk about God often includes this core idea that God actually is limited, thwarted, hampered, frustrated and so on, by human activity. I am finding in myself this growing passion to “stick up for God.”

It seems to me there is a preponderance of scriptural statements that say quite the opposite and that instead put the onus on people. So I crossed out that phrase and instead wrote, in my own copy of Reimagining Church, “…the revelation of the Lord will be limited.” That, to me, is a neutral and true statement. God is not limited in His self-revelation, but we put limits on ourselves by how much we will be the display of His revelation, and will be able to see, receive and understand His revelation.

Actually, Paul seems to indicate that God has always from the beginning given us the magnificent and perfectly adequate revelation of Himself already but people have been spending their energies in suppressing the truth, not reveling in the truth (Romans 1).

4) On page 62 the book begins a discourse on the conditions that will either invite or repel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I really have always thought that wherever there were two Christians there would be a gathering of God’s people and there Jesus would be, too. End of story.

So if a church service, no matter how wide of the mark it is, has at least two people in its gathering who have come in the name of Jesus, I’m thinking the Spirit is there. Maybe the rest of the congregation is busy suppressing the truth. But for those two, the Holy Spirit is present among them. In fact, if only one is there, the Spirit is there, for He indwells that believer.

That made me wonder about the churches Jesus said would have their lamp stand removed. It must be that the believers, one by one, would leave that particular church till none were left but those who did not believe. The Spirit’s presence does not necessarily mean the Spirit’s blessing, or the pouring out of His power, or the imparting of His gifts according to His generosity, or any of those things. It’s a detail, but it really stumbled me.

5) On page 64 the book claimed that it was “simply not true” that the church meeting would become a “free-for-all.” I was glad that the book eventually came back round to that provocative statement because my mind instantly leapt to 1 Corinthians 12-14 and wondered how that situation could have been called anything but a “free-for-all.”

6) I wanted to add to page 77 that even to this day among the Mediterranean and Arabic cultures, eating together is heavy with meaning. In our own country even families hardly eat together. Preparing and cleaning up after food is considered an odious burden and we Americans, it seems, tend to do everything we can to minimize the daily grind of dealing with food and nutrition.

7) On page 90 the book asserts that Christian somehow proactively decided to meet in homes for the purpose of expressing the “unique character of church life.”

I posit that it sort of just happened. They had upwards of seven thousand people in Jerusalem in a matter of weeks. Every day these people went to the temple to worship and celebrate, and probably to evangelize right along with all the other rabbis who were there who had their disciples gathered around them.

They met in each others’ homes – as they had already been doing for the holy feast of Pentecost – to share their new life in Christ. After the diasporas converts headed back to their home towns, taking the gospel with them, the native Jerusalemites settled down to a more normal schedule that included, as I think it always had, friends and family meeting in each others’ houses, as well as synagogue worship – until they got kicked out.

The new twist was their entering into this sort of Jubilee of sharing their inheritances with each other so that all would be blessed in the Year of the Lord’s Favor. Because I think it just happened, instead of being a proactive, purposeful choice, the remodeling of homes which later became the building of meeting halls, laid the foundation for happy acceptance of Constantine’s edict to makeover pagan temples into Christian temples.

Why not? The was no reason not to accept a solution that eased this problem of trying to find a place for the growing church to meet together, and it made it easier to get everyone together to hear what the leaders had to say.

8) It seemed on page 106 that a clarification would be helpful, that “growth” does not necessarily mean “increase in size.” A gathering of Christians may grow spiritually, and through them others may come to a saving faith, but the actually numbers in that gathering may not increase. God may not intend that gathering to increase in numbers, or He may. But I believe that to not increase in numbers should not be considered to bear a direct correlation to not being healthy, or not being alive, or not being in God’s will, or whatever.

9) And on page 107, I have to say, I have met many young Christians whose bodies are pretty old, and many seasoned Christians whose bodies are still quite young. It seems that though it would be nice to have the tidiness of elders actually being aged, it may not always be like that.

10) On page 122 the book offers the evolution of clergy/laity as the source of denominations. I really don’t think so at all. I think that the root cause of denominations finds its source in the New Testament accounts of Paul correcting the Judaizers, the anti-nomianists, the ecstatic worshipers, correcting Peter, and Corinthian church for favoring Apollos or an apostle, and for John correcting Agnosticism.

All but one of these were on doctrinal issues. What resolved them all was the recognition of an apostle as the final authority and really, of PAUL being the final authority (except in John’s case who, at the time he wrote his letters, was the last surviving apostle).

Clearly Paul trumped everybody, even Barnabas who otherwise appears to have been an elder everyone respected and honored; even the apostle Jesus seemed to have placed as lead to the other apostles – Peter, who seemed to have come under the influence of the Judaizers (and the Judaizers seemed to have claimed to be from James, Jesus’ brother, a recognized leader in the Jerusalem church).

What’s more, it appears the council in Jerusalem established radical new doctrine that erased thousands of years of Jewish obedience to God’s commands concerning cleanliness. The council was not a quorum of all believers, but a gathering of leaders.

It seems not all believers accepted the council’s word, but continued to press circumcision and abstinence from unclean food. This seems to be the pattern in the early centuries of the church: a council of leaders would get together to decide on a doctrinal issue, the church worldwide heard the decision and was expected to obey, but not everyone liked it, so they broke off from the main body.

I posit that it is doctrinal issues that have, from the very first day, created tension among groups of believers.

11) So on page 127 I don’t think that dismissing doctrine that could unite us is a very good idea. Paul introduces doctrine that could unite us in Ephesians and I think we should hang onto that – in fact even Reimagining Church offers the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit as a uniting belief (and rightly so, Paul stated that one too, in Ephesians).

There really are some deal breakers that the Bible states as deal breakers – heck, read 1 Corinthians 15 for one of the really big ones!!

I agree that nitpicking is no good, but what would be considered nitpicking?

Maybe one would be the battle between what is referred to as Arminianism and Calvinism. It is a very important issue, because the foundation of each mind set rests on how powerful God is as compared with how powerful people are. Each mind set profoundly affects how confident a believer can be in how he or she lives by faith in God, and in union with Christ.

I agree with the book that such issues should not divide the fellowship of believers. But I do not agree that such issues are not important. An interesting aside: “The Heavenly Man” describes the rejection of the Chinese house churches of all denominations because the infiltration of western Bibles came also with western tracts promoting one or another denomination and their particular doctrines. Westerners were asked to please send Bibles, but no more tracts.

12) I wondered on page 129 if the idea is that God may work through but does not approve of divisions, or may work through but does not approve of His people who are involved in these divisions (i.e., are members of a denominational church).

13) This is just a detail, and something I’ve been thinking about a lot – on page 145 the word “adam” in the Genesis 2 is apparently a neuter word, meaning not male / not female.

It wasn’t until the female was created from this human creature that the original creature identified itself as male. Apparently Hebrew theologians have been all over this one from the very beginning, but western theologians have stuck with the idea that this creature was created male – what’s up with that?

It makes deeper sense to stick with the original meaning of a human being that is sexless yet contains both sexes, who is then pulled apart to create two beings, male and female, who then yearn for each other and become one (again) in their marriage.

14) Finally, on page 146, I didn’t know evangelicals discounted 2 Peter 3, and others like it, where the old earth and old heavens will be destroyed and a new heavens and earth will be created where all people will dwell.

I consider myself an evangelical, at least of sorts, and I’ve been teaching that for years. All my friends teach and believe the same thing. In fact the Apostles’ Creed rejoices over the resurrection of the body. Do evangelicals really believe that the earth will be no more and there will only be heaven?

The second half of the book shows up in the next post


  1. Wow , this was a great post!
    Your insight regarding the lampstand possibly being Christians was very interesting and moving! I had never thought of that.

    Amen to #8 also

    At this time I am not convinced that Paul had an authority higher than the other Apostles. I believe Peter caved in to pressure, and he repented because he knew in his heart Paul was right.

    If Paul was considered a highest authority, than it seems that Barnabas would have submitted to him when they had conflict, but Barnabas did not submit and felt free to go off on his own mission trip. And in fact, Paul was wrong about Mark and did take him on a later mission trip.

    I think these are both examples that our beloved Apostles still had the 'old man' and were not perfected yet.

  2. Yes, good call, I see what you're saying and I think I agree with you, it makes more sense than what I said about Paul. He was certainly a leader and very influential among the apostles, but he did get it wrong with Mark, and he later sort of tacitly admitted it, in one of his letters, telling the other saints to warmly welcome Mark.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts