PAY UP — OR NO SACRAMENTS FOR YOU!

PAY UP — OR NO SACRAMENTS FOR YOU!

Constantine is still alive and well on planet earth. Here’s a blatant example of how carnal things get in religion when State & Church are joined together. It also illustrates graphically what religion is all about — fear and control. The “laity” are told by those in power — if you don’t cough up your tithe, the vital religious rituals we provide for you (wherein salvation is found) will be withheld. Basically, it’s “pay up or perish.” These kind of shenanigans have nothing to do with Christ, but everything to do with using religious authority to bully those in the pew.
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“UPON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY EKKLESIA” — Carving Out Church Structures in the Rockscape of Cappadocia

Imagine living in a cave in the stark desert of what is now central Turkey, and having cathedral-like structures in close proximity to your dwelling. Well, believe it or not, that was a way of life for many religious people in Cappadocia from roughly A.D. 600 to A.D. 1200.

Cappadocia is a barren, lunar-like environment, with cone-shaped rocks jutting up from the landscape. The area is mentioned several times in the New Testament, and Paul visited here on his third journey. Spiro Kostof observed, “explore the prickly stretch of cones and smooth folds and you will find hundreds of monasteries and churches buried in them, where Christian communities lived and prayed” (Caves of God, p. xxi).

In the 4th century, Cappadocia was home for three notable theologians who are still collectively known as The Cappadocians: Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. They contributed to the development of Christian teaching in general and Eastern Orthodox thought in particular.

Basil was instrumental in developing “Christian” monasticism, of which these cave church edifices in his homeland are a product. The monastic complex at Göreme was carved out and decorated between 900 and 1200.

Believing communities moved into the Cappadocia region in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. to escape Roman persecution, as the natural rock structures offered refuge. Years later the monastic colonies expanded. A form of “Christianity” removed from worldly distractions thrived in the caves, and an underground tunnel system already existed, which was developed in ancient Hittite times.

It seems to me that there is a tremendous irony at work here that we would do well to reflect upon. Here there were numerous people seeking to escape religious bureaucracy, the temptations of city life, and in general to remove themselves from the mainstream culture. In a word, they were longing for simplicity – and they found it in the Cappadocian desert, where they could carry out a monastic lifestyle.

But, here’s the irony: In this barren setting they could not conceive of a “life devoted to God” without a sacred building. So, cathedral-like structures were carved to meet this “need” in the rockscape where they lived. Thus, we are left with the odd phenomenon of religious buildings embedded in rock formations.

This graphic illustration solidifies with absolute clarity the human compulsion to construct specially consecrated buildings where devotees hope to meet with deity. People just don’t get it. Jesus is not about buildings – “holy places.” That’s why the Jews were livid when Stephen announced, “However, the Most High does not dwell in places made by hands.”

They had accused Stephen by saying, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place [the Temple].” “We have heard him say that this Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place.” In Stephen’s words the Jews saw that their Temple-system was rendered unnecessary, and that Jesus had brought an end to their religious power over people.

The Jews could not conceive of day-to-day life without their Temple-system. On the other hand, Stephen, reflecting Jesus’ voice, was proclaiming that Life in the Son could only be experienced outside of that sacred building.

Indeed, under the New Covenant Jesus inaugurated by the shedding of His blood, there are no longer any holy buildings. As He informed the woman at the well, “It’s no longer about this mountain or that one, or about this place versus that place, but the hour is here when Father is worshipped in Spirit and truth.”

Isn’t there a crystal clear implication here that we must not miss? Is it not obvious that if we revert back to connecting worship to “this building, this mountain, this place,” the very words of Jesus about Spirit-truth worship become impossible for us to live out?

This is not to say that a physical building is evil, but it is to say that when buildings are connected to “where God is,” the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman about the “new hour” that had come are denied. To drive home this point, think about this: how many people would stay home and refuse to “go to church” if there was no building (and no pastor)?

A universal feature of all religions, including Judaism, was that special buildings were erected in which to carry out religious duties and ritualistic functions. Across the board, the faithful would “go to the designated holy place.” In “Christianity,” that has been translated as “Let’s go to church.”

But, the really striking feature of the early ekklesia portrayed in Acts is that Christ’s Bride on earth had no “worship buildings.” The brothers and sisters broke bread from house to house. When Paul wrote to brother Philemon he said, “And to our beloved sister Apphia and Archippus our co-soldier, and to the ekklesia in your home.”

That sounds very strange to us now – but that’s only because we have reverted back to practicing an inordinate emphasis on “place,” and since Constantine in the 4th century, “church” has been connected to a holy building, a designated edifice on some corner.

Jesus Christ was the Temple (dwelling place) of God on earth, and still is the only House of God. All the fullness of God dwells in Him. That old physical Temple was destroyed on Golgotha and He raised it in three days. On the Day of Pentecost, He began to build a New Temple with Living Stones, the believers all over the earth in which He dwells.

Whether we live in the caves of Cappadocia, in homes, or in other kinds of domiciles, we do not need a “building” to attend a formal religious service in order to express Jesus Christ. It is God’s intended purpose to express Christ through us — and He is already in us, and we can share His Life together as sisters and brothers who gather around Him as one body with the One authoritative Lord in their midst.

How many times have you heard someone behind a pulpit say, “Parents, please do not let your children run around and make a lot of noise in God’s house.” Our Father’s house is not a building, but the people in whom He lives. Whether in the simplicity of a desert, or in the hustle-bustle of city life, Jesus will be found living out His life and unique expression in each and every believer world-wide.

Not only are no special buildings required, but in line with God’s eternal purpose in Christ, there must be no human structures that are set apart as designated religious worship places. This is the very kind of religious system that Jesus destroyed, yet people very quickly re-established “this building – this mountain – this place” in His name.

Jon Zens, September, 2012

Horace M. Kallen, “Buildings, Clergy and Money: A Sociological Examination of the Traditional Elements of Religion” [1947], Searching Together, 28:1-3, 2000, pp. 25-38.

Spiro Kostof, Caves of God: Cappadocia and Its Churches, Oxford University Press, 1989, 308pp.

Graydon F. Snyder, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine, Mercer University Press, 2003, 311 pages.

Howard A. Snyder, The Problem of Wineskins: Church Structure in a Technological Age, IVP. 1975, 217pp.

Frank Viola, From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God, David C. Cook, 2009, 315pp.

Jon Zens, “Why Are So Many Resources Put Into Buildings?” A Church Building Every ½ Mile: What Makes American Christianity Tick? Ekklesia Press, 2008, pp. 29-32.

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MEGA-CHURCH LEFT WITHOUT A PASTOR —THE DEACONS ARE IN FOR A LONG NIGHT!


In August 2011 I did a blog on “When Are We Going to Wake Up to Reality? The Nightmare of the Pastoral Institution.” Welcome to Part Two!

First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, had 15,000 people come to its weekend services, and claimed 40,000 members. This growth had come primarily as a result of the pastor’s leadership and charisma over the past eleven years. But just like that, the pastor is dismissed, and now the deacons are crawling into bed tonight with sweat rolling down their foreheads.The Chicago Tribune News.com

What happened in Hammond occurs every day in churches all across the States – pastors leave for all kinds of reasons. Whether a church has 100 members or 15,000 members, when it has no pastor the group goes into various levels of concern, even panic.

Why? Because church in North America is based on the premise that the health and progress of a local body is tied into the presence of one person – the pastor. Apparently 90% of Americans choose their church based on the pastor’s gifts. If this “office” is not occupied, huge concerns arise about how new people will be attracted, about how the faithful will remain and not leave, and about how plunging offerings can be avoided.

Keep your eye on First Baptist in Hammond. It is highly likely that as a result of waking up to find that the pastor is gone, attendance and offerings will plummet. The powers-that-be will have to find a comparable replacement in a hurry in order to avert a tail-spin into disaster. The folks in the pew just don’t feel comfortable without having a pastor. They can’t last for long without him. They will mumble, “This one didn’t work out. Find a new one – and quickly.” They can always find a pastor down the street, you know.

Can you see that there is something very wrong with a practice of church that revolves around one person’s presence and functioning? Paul said that the “body is not one part, but many.” The way church is usually done, Paul would have had to say, “the body hinges on one part, not many.”

Is it any wonder that the visible body of Christ is deathly ill? What if your physical body tried to carry out life with one or a few parts trying to do everything? You’d be in the ER in minutes, and pronounced dead not long after. Yet we have been attempting to do “church” since 300AD with single-gift dependence. When are we going to wake up and stop this spiritual insanity?

The Lord desires to express His life through each and every part, but most church structures put a dam in front of the Living Waters so that pastor-dependence is maintained.

The great tragedy is that many well-meaning people are trying to serve the Lord in a system that is counter to the Lord’s heart. This system of “Christianity” is the only option most folks know about.

Both “clergy” and “laity” have been shredded by this system into a million parts of hurt and ruin. For example, this letter from a pastor’s wife captures the heartache that the system can cause – a story that few ever hear about. http://www.searchingtogether.org/articles/Pastors_Wife_Letter_1989.pdf

I would like to suggest that the tragedy in Hammond, Indiana, will just continue to repeat itself over and over again if we do not jettison the one-pastor system. We need a revelation from above about how counter this system is to the centrality and glory of Christ in His Bride on earth. How could we ever expect Christ to be expressed through His people, when what we do as church places the onus of spiritual health on one person? As I observed in A Church Building Every ½ Mile: What Makes American Christianity Tick?

In the play Smoke on the Mountain the pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Mervin Oglethorpe, announces at the start of the service, “I am the Preacher, Choir Director, Chairman of Finance, Director of Education, and Youth Director.”[5] Pastors are expected to fulfill a job description that is beyond demanding. To get their paycheck they must prepare sermons and lessons, fill the pulpit, teach Sunday School classes, counsel those with problems, do hospital visitation and pre-marital counseling, perform marriages, funerals and baptisms, bless civic events, raise money, manage staff and volunteers, resolve conflicts, be involved in evangelistic efforts, administer the Lord’s Supper, attend various church (and denominational) committee meetings and functions, perform administrative duties, and generally be on call 24/7. If church attendance declines,the pastor is blamed. If it increases, it is because of his vision and leadership. The buck stops with the pastor with a vengeance. 17th Century Puritan John Owen went so far as to affirm that, “. . . on this office [‘pastor’] and the discharge of it He has laid the whole weight of the order, rule, and edification of His church.”

If this is our functioning paradigm – and it is – no wonder the “Christianity” in front of us is a complete mess. Are we going to continue putting band-aids on an ulcerous sore, or be radical, and go to the root? A book that does go to the root is Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church. It unfolds a vision of ekklesia in which Jesus is exalted by His Life coming to expression in every part of the Bride. We are not stuck with the option in front of our eyes that calls itself church.

– Jon Zens, August, 2012

Suggested Reading: The Pastor Has No Clothes: Moving from Clergy-Centered Church to Christ-Centered Ekklesia, by JZ.

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The Good Works Epi: A Revealing of Christ in Eph. 2:10

Artist’s rendition of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

 

The NIV translates Eph. 2:10 as, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This translation can easily lead to misunderstanding. The text does not appear to say anything about works “to do.”

Let’s look at Paul’s flow of thought. In verse 6, he points out that we have been co-resurrected with Christ and co-seated in the heavenlies with Him. These glorious realities result in God’s excelling riches of grace and His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus being shown forth in the coming ages.

“For.” The “for” illustrates how His grace and kindness are displayed. “For by grace you have been saved through faith”
“This is not originating out of you” –> “from God is the gift.”
“Not originating from [our] works” –> “so that no one can boast.”

“For.” This “for” shows how God’s purpose in Christ cannot be based on our performance.
“For originating from Him we [plural] are a masterpiece [singular].”
“Created in Christ Jesus . . .”
“Upon good works . . .” The preposition used here is “epi” (upon, as in “foundation”) not “eis” (unto, toward).

So this part would read, “Created in Christ Jesus based on good works.” We can be sure that this cannot refer to anything we do, so it must refer to what Jesus has done. In Acts 10:38, we are told that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing . . .”

What follows are, I think, some great food-for-thought comments [edited] on Paul’s use of the preposition “epi” in Eph. 2:10b. One would expect “eis” (unto) to be used here, but rather it is “epi” (upon).

Dear ———,

What first comes to mind when you are confronted by the phrase or
term — Good Works? Be honest and remember what the first impression was that came to your mind. You will need it later in the matter I would like to present. Was it not something we might perform? I know that is the first thing that I think of ….

What follows is something that I never had considered until a few
weeks ago after having looked closely at the Greek of Ephesians 2:10.
Recently, in a small group setting we were asked to memorize some
verses. Among them was Ephesians 2:10. Here are what a few translations
offer for Eph 2:10b:

KJV: created in Christ Jesus “unto” good works
NIV: created in Christ Jesus “to do” good works
NLT: created in Christ Jesus “so that we can do” the “good things”
NASB: created in Christ Jesus “for” good works

In the Greek, Ephesians 2:10 reads:

AUTOU GAR ESMEN POIHMA KTISQENTES EN CRISTWi IHSOU EPI ERGOIS
AGAQOIS OIS PROHTOIMASEN hO QEOS hINA EN AUTOIS PERIPATHSWMEN

When I looked at this verse in the Greek I was surprised and taken
back by the use of EPI preceding ERGOIS AGAQOIS (“good works”). Virtually all English translations represent this phrase as “unto” or “for” or even (as in the NIV) as an infinitive…”to do”
good works.

Quite frankly, I said to myself…”What’s EPI doing there
and how could anyone translate the preposition EPI as “to do” . . . or even “unto”? One of which is verbal…the other inferring direction towards.

This contemplation led to the following conclusion on my part and
that this conclusion is demanded by the Greek. Am I mistaken, and if you think so … why?

ERGOIS AGAQOIS (“good works”) here, is not related to good works that we may or may not perform, but, in fact, to the good works accomplished in and by Christ – and that these good works and their results are the “basis” of our “being created in Christ Jesus upon [EPI] good works.”

I believe this impression is required by the Greek because:

EPI + Dative according to BDAG is a marker of presence or occurrence
near an object or area, at, near — b. with Dative, of immediate proximity at, near, or by. 6. Marker of basis for a state of being, action, or result, on. With Dative.

Now, this would require a rendering such as:

“We are ones having been established (founded, created) in Christ
Jesus ‘on the basis of’ good works.”

Everything that is created, that is, established, is founded or established first “on” or “on the basis of” something. Is
it not the same that is being described here by the Greek? I believe it is. Our “creation in Christ Jesus” is based on what?

The answer is – “upon [epi] good works.” But certainly not our good works, but rather and only those of Christ.

It would be easy to come up with a list of these “good works” that
have been done and that in fact, the rest of verse 10 states that it is God who before prepared them that we should walk in them. Just a few in cooperation and working (producing) ERGAZOMENOS with His Father — He has brought about the Lamb of God — The Vine — The Bread of Life —
The Cleansing Blood — Which issues into the Saving Life — The Church – The Revelation. All of these meet the qualifications of having been
before prepared by God with the result that we should walk in them.

After all, without Him we can do “nothing.” Among the many things that show that Paul is in these verses describing our position and condition in Christ is verse 11 which is part of the immediate context and is a further description of what we were and what we are now in Christ.
Drawing attention to what it is that we “must” realize concerning
our being in Christ. Not necessarily (at this point) to be concerned with what we must be “doing” — which I would like to suggest again is not what is being said in the Greek of Ephesians 2:10b.

Are there any arguments from a different perspective that can cancel
out this conclusion of mine? If there are and they are so…I would
hope I would want to know and believe that very thing.

Virgil Newkirk
Salt Lake City, Utah

As Jamal Jivanjee pointed out in his blog weeks ago, bees seek the nectar. They don’t focus on the results of their taking in the nectar, which is pollination.

Likewise, we must, like the bees, just seek the nectar (Christ). The pollination (good works) then comes naturally. “Good works” must be seen against the backdrop of us abiding in the vine. Jesus said, You can do nothing without the “nectar” from the Vine. Only from the posture of abiding/resting in the vine does fruitfulness result.

Paul noted in Phil. 2 that we work out our salvation only because it is God who is working in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure.

Also — and this is so vital but often overlooked — on the Last Day, when Jesus pointed out the visiting/feeding/clothing, etc., the righteous had done, they reply, “When did we do that?” It would appear that the Lord’s people were not even conscious of “doing good.” What they did just flowed naturally out of their life from the Vine.

On the other hand, those who listed their good works before the Lord – “We did many wonderful works in your name and we cast out demons” – are told by the Jesus, “I never knew you, depart from Me” (Matt. 7).

It is only as we pursue the Living Nectar, Jesus, that it can be said with confidence, “Let the pollination begin.” – Jon Zens

Helpful article: Robert Countess, “That God for the Genitive!” Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society, 21:2, Spring, 1968, p. 121ff.

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Questions with Jon Zens

Questions with Jon Zens
By Nick Mackison, Scotland

I recently sent Jon Zens a list of questions related to organic/house church issues. He kindly responded and I have his permission to print his answers here (in bold throughout).

Dear Jon,

Over the last year or so, I’ve become convinced of the biblical basis of the organic church espoused in much of your writings (along with those of Frank Viola and Steve Atkerson).

JZ: The phrase “organic church” itself needs some important clarification and qualification. First, authentic organic church is not a “movement.” Secondly, the phrase “organic church” originated with T. Austin Sparks and then had a very specific meaning. In a nutshell, it meant a group of believers in a locale whose birth and continuance flowed out of the Life of Christ – “an organic church is one that is naturally produced when a group of people have encountered Jesus in reality . . . and the DNA of the church is free to work without hindrance . . . . It’s a gathered community that lives by divine life” (Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, p. 32). In recent years “organic church” has become a buzz phrase used by many, with various definitions resulting. It has become a wax nose that can be shaped into numerous notions, even contradictory ones. Thus, as I see it, an organic church is not “started,” it is birthed by the Living Christ.

I am very interested in being a part of such a church but I do have questions. By way of introduction, (I’ve corresponded with you in the past) my name is Nick Mackison and I am 36 years old. I live in Glasgow, Scotland with my wife Sharon and I have three small children. My questions are as follows:

1. How do organic churches fit into the historic stream of confessional Christianity?

JZ: Of course, there will always be a few that are “way-out,” but for the most part the confession of Christ by non-institutional ekklesias would be in line with the general statements of faith found in most evangelical para-church organizations.

Could the council of Nicea, for instance, have been called within an organic church context?

JZ: Absolutely not. The major church councils were carried out in settings where church and state were joined together. Emperor Constantine called for the council of Nicea. There was a lot of politics, threats, bribes and duplicity occurring in these councils. A good read in this regard is Philip Jenkins, Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years (HarperOne, 2010, 328pp.).

The organic-church biblicist impulse (I do not use the term biblicist negatively) would seem to militate against any complex formulation of historical doctrines like the Trinity, the Two Natures of Christ, etc. How should house churches view their place within the history of orthodox Christianity?

JZ: Groups that pursued Christ outside the visible church (which was in bed with the state) were basically killed off by the religious-secular forces until the printing press was invented. The Anabaptist movement in the 1500’s refused to be a part of a state-controlled church. They were chased and murdered by the Catholics and the Reformers, but they could not be snuffed out. Thus, today’s ekklesias would identify with those in the past who functioned outside the established religious institutions.

From AD 300 – 1700 the mainline visible churches were wedded to the state. It must be asked, How “orthodox” is a Christianity that for 1,400 years used the threat of the sword to keep its adherents under their thumbs? As J.C. Ryle astutely observed, any religion that depends on the sword has the stamp of apostasy on it, not the fragrance of Christ.

Had the ekklesia Christ initiated continued to be about Him, and not other things, it is doubtful that the doctrinal formulations of institutionalized church councils would have occurred. I believe it must be underscored that in the period of AD 250 – 1700, Christianity became all about believing the right doctrines, and not about knowing and following a person, Jesus. Today, we are still seeing the negative outworkings of this momentous shift in an evangelicalism that is often obsessed with right doctrine, instead of the Living Christ.

2. I do have another question for you, particularly pertaining to evangelicalism’s obsession with right doctrine. I think I’ve grown up a soft-fundamentalist, yet I always seemed to struggle with this deeply ingrained mindset in one way or another. My question would be, what are, if any at all, the doctrinal boundaries for fellowship?

JZ: Nick, a response to this area of concern is difficult to articulate, so please bear with me. Picture a group of believers coming together around Jesus Christ in a loving atmosphere. There is no agenda; they desire for Jesus to express Himself through them in whatever way He pleases. The Lord has been working in them and revealing Himself to each person every day. When they gather, He begins to bring forth Himself from the brothers and sisters in numerous ways. When everything is about the presence of Christ, something wonderful happens in the room – all the “doctrinal differences” that exist are put into perspective and recede into the background. The people of God increasingly understand that it is not edifying to bring their personal doctrinal bents to the meeting as an agenda.

If Christ is everything, then everything else can be put on a shelf. Can false doctrine be brought up in a gathering like this? Surely, it can. But I think you can see that in the Christ-suffused gathering I’ve described, unsound words are probably going to be met with, “What does that have to do with our life in Christ?”

Now here is a sticky point. I think what has happened in evangelicalism is that we have tended to meet around the Bible instead of Christ. There is nothing wrong with the Bible, but it would seem that 95% of how it is used has little to do with Jesus (cf. Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Brazos Press, 2011, 220pp.). One can see that if people are meeting around a Book, there is the real possibility they will end up wrangling with one another over its contents. I would suggest that this accounts for why since the Protestant Reformation we have 25,000 denominations and so many systems of theology. This is why it is so vital for us to realize, as Paul did, that believers can come together for the worse, instead of for the better. If Christ is in us, and Christ’s presence among two or three is not our end-all-be-all, then we might as well fold up our cards and leave the table. It sounds so basic, but many subtle shifts over the years have brought us to miss this crucial point – we meet around our Living Lord, not a Book (cf. my session #1 in Auburn WA, 03/12)

As I see it, all our inordinate concern with “correct doctrine” has come to us through the grid of a Greek-influenced Christianity that has virtually snuffed out the simplicity of Christ. In saying these things, I am not denying the concerns found in the NT, but I am suggesting that our traditional fixation on doctrine has functionally displaced Jesus as our focus.

3. I know that you have egalitarian views on the role of sisters in the assembly. At the moment, I disagree with egalitarianism, at least on an emotional level (I was raised in and continue to meet with the Plymouth Brethren). I read your book What’s With Paul and Women? and your article Were Women Silent at Pentecost. I’m currently reading How I Changed about Women in Leadership by Alan F. Johnson and Finally Feminist by John G. Stackhouse Jr.

Part of my problem with egalitarianism is that it seems to overlook the patriarchy that seems to be affirmed in the NT. For instance, God reckoned us sinners in Adam and not Eve, Jesus chose 12 men, Paul’s descriptions of elders’ qualifications are always masculine, etc.

JZ: Patriarchy, as generally defined, is not affirmed in the NT. For example, in 1 Cor. 7:1-5 – the only place in the NT where the word “authority” is used concerning marriage – Paul speaks of the mutual authority the husband-wife have over each other’s body. They are not to separate physically without “symphony,” mutual consent. An excellent book in this regard is Del Birkey, The Fall of Patriarchy: Its Broken Legacy Judged by Jesus & the Apostolic House Church Communities (Fenestra Books, 2005, 392pp.).

I find it interesting that those who defend patriarchy blame Eve for the fall. The truth is, both are implicated in sin entering the earth.

Jesus did not choose twelve males because that function was inherently limited to men, but because He was a New Jacob, and Jacob had twelve sons. Jesus came to extend the believing remnant in Israel to the nations – a New Israel. In Romans 16:7, Paul mentioned Andronicus and Junia, who were “outstanding among the apostles.” Junia was an apostle in the sense that Barnabas and others were so designated.

The word for older men, presbutas, is also complemented by a feminine form for older women, presbutidas. In a family, it is natural for the more mature to help the younger. In a family, you do not think in terms of offices and titles, but in terms of abundant caring for all, from the youngest to the oldest.

I’m also finding it hard to navigate a way around the silence injunction in 1 Cor. 14:33b-35. I’ve read the various egalitarian proposals and have yet to be convinced by any of them, except a straight reading of the text.

JZ: If a “straight reading” flies in the face of the fact that Paul had already approved the public speaking/praying of women in 1 Cor. 11, isn’t that cause for your eyebrows to be raised? There is no reason under the sun to suspect that Paul would designate the speaking of the sisters as “lewd” and “vile.” As I said in Appendix Two of What’s With Paul & Women?

 

The English translation of the Greek word, aiskron,  as “shameful” or “improper”hardly conveys the strength of what the word encompasses.  The affirmation in v.35 is that a woman’s speaking is “lewd, vile, filthy, indecent, foul, dirty and morally degraded.”

The matter is greatly cleared up with the realization that Paul did not write the negative words about women in vv.34-35.  Instead, those basing their view of women on the oral law did.  Paul never required women to be silent and never called female speaking “lewd and filthy.”  The Talmud was guilty of advocating both.

This is further confirmed in v.36 when Paul exclaims “What! Did the Word of God originate with you?”  The “What!” indicates that Paul is not in harmony with what was stated by others from the Talmud in vv.34-35.  Thayer’s Lexicon notes that the “What” is a disjunctive conjunction “before a sentence contrary to the one just preceding, to indicate that if one be denied or refuted the other must stand.”

 

A “straight reading” of any text is one that is faithful to the total context, the immediate context, and the language of the text itself. It would seem that my interpretation of this difficult text meets the criteria for a “straight reading.”

Brother, I would suggest that the preponderance of evidence in the NT indicates that women fully participated. To use 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as sweeping grounds to silence the sisters seems to be a very dubious way to handle the Scriptures. It creates an apostle who gave to the women in one hand, and then took away with the other.

This issue means a lot to me for various reasons. Firstly, my mother was the spiritual leader in my home. She taught me faithfulness to Christ and was the most amazing witness I’ve ever known (she went to be with the Lord 23 years ago now). Secondly, I have two small daughters. One is nearly 4 years old and the other is nearly 4 weeks old. I’m asking myself whether I want them growing up in the assembly and having their gifts stifled. Thirdly, I’d like to be involved in an organic church plant and I want to make sure that the sisters in any new plant were being nurtured along biblical lines.

JZ: Given the fact that the “new humanity” Jesus died to create is a setting in which there is neither male nor female, shouldn’t we be skeptical of a view that effectively muzzles half the priesthood? The full embodiment and expression of humanness involves the presence of both male and female. As Donald Joy noted, “We are always impoverished when a single sex group meets, discusses, and makes decisions, since only part of the full-spectrum personhood seems to be present. So where urgent decisions are being made, we surely want both sexes speaking.”

4. As I’ve mentioned, I’d love to be involved in a church plant. Should I just leave my institutional church and endeavor to plant an organic church?

JZ: There’s a lot more involved in seeing an organic ekklesia emerge than leaving an institutional setting. I know nothing of your total situation, but it looks to me like you should stay where you are until you have the Lord’s guidance to leave.

The arguments for organic house-church seem compelling. Yet I still attend the Brethren assembly in which I grew up, and to leave would seem schismatic.

JZ: Leaving an institutional church is not inherently schismatic. Remember, not everything that calls itself “church” is ekklesia. Many people leave “churches” that are businesses, not ekklesias. How much “church” would be left, if we define it as “assemblies of believers where Christ is the functional Leader and the whole body is expressing Him”? Being “schismatic” would relate to how you left a group; leaving a group is not automatically “divisive.”

There are many positive aspects to my assembly — the preaching is good, they have an open-participatory communion service each week and they have a lot of young people.

JZ: The problem is, “preaching” is not a part of authentic ekklesia. It is a Greek 3rdand 4th Century practice imported into the visible church (cf. David Norrington, To Preach or Not to Preach? Paternoster, 1996). Is it really an open-participatory time if only the men can speak? Doesn’t it really boil down to a men’s meeting?

5. If I were, by God’s grace, to help plant an organic church, would it be better if I did some form of seminary training? I am currently a mathematics teacher in a secondary school with no knowledge of the original languages. (BTW, my theological commitments can be summed up in the London Baptist Confession of 1644/46). Would it help me facilitate such a plant with seminary level education?

JZ: Absolutely not. Most seminary training would set you back, and possibly ruin you. You need to pursue Christ with others, not education. Down the pike, there is nothing wrong with learning Greek and Hebrew on-line, if you feel so led – but such things are not a priority now. Along these lines, I would see as a priority that you read Frank Viola’s Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities.

6. If such a church plant were to happen, would it be possible to align it with other groups across the world? I think a loose connection with doctrinal accountability would be desirable. The situation here in the UK, and Glasgow as a city, is desperate from a spiritual point of view. I really believe that house churches are uniquely placed to make a huge difference.

JZ: When the Lord brings organic assemblies to life, of course myself and others can help you be in contact with Christ-centered ekklesias. But it looks like you have a ways to go before this would be an issue.

Meeting around Christ in informal atmospheres is a wonderful experience, and it can come to expression anywhere in the world – without cumbersome expense and bureaucracy.

7. I’m an avid reader. Are there any commentaries and systematic theological works that you could recommend as particularly helpful?

JZ: Recently, Jamal Jivanjee interviewed me, and asked what books have impacted me over the years. The interview is here. Here is the list of books:

Leonard Verduin, The Reformers & Their Step-Children (Eerdmans, 1964). This book turned my world up-side down when I read it in 1977. [Nick started reading it and said, “Verduin book is mind blowing”].

Howard Snyder, The Problem of Wineskins: Church Structure in a Technological Age (IVP, 1975). I read this one soon after Step-Children. It further rocked my status quo.

F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Eerdmans, 1980).

Richard Longenecker, Paul: Apostle of Liberty (Baker, 1980).

Oscar Cullmann, Christ & Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History (Westminster Press, 1964).

C.H. Dodd, Gospel & Law: The Relation of Faith & Ethics in early Christianity (Cambridge, 1951).

Bruce Larson, No Longer Strangers: An Introduction to Relational Theology (Word, 1971).

Thomas Dubay, Caring: A Biblical Theology of Community (Dimension, 1973). This is the most profound, practical & challenging book I’ve ever read.

Carl Hoch Jr., All Things New: The Significance of Newness for Biblical Theology (Baker, 1995).

Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting (Eerdmans, 1988).

Ray Abrams, Preachers Present Arms: The Role of the American Churches & Clergy in World Wars I & II, Round Table, 1933; Herald Press, 1968. Shows how easily the church succumbs to government propaganda and becomes a tool of the state. The chapter on “The Church Contributes to War-Time Hysteria” is chilling.

Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace & Community (IVP, 2000). I don’t say this lightly: Reframing Paul is one of the most significant works since the Reformation.

Willard Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War & Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation (Herald, 1983).

Chuck Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (Word, 1990). A popular treatment worth its weight in gold.

Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity (Eerdmans, 1986).

Richard Gaffin, The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study of Paul’s Soteriology (P & R, 1987).

Donald Joy, Bonding: Relationships in the Image of God (Evangel, 1996).

Keener, Craig. The IVP Background Commentary, New Testament. (IVP).

Bruce Malina & Richard Rorhbaugh, A Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Westminster Press, 1992).

Emil Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church (Lutterworth, 1952).

Frank Viola, From Eternity to Here (David Cook, 2009).

Jon, I just want to express a heartfelt thanks to you for all that the Lord is teaching me through your ministry. I’ve been listening to your audio sermons on searchingtogether.org and am absolutely blown away by just how Christ-saturated your words are. I’ve honestly never heard anything like it and I’ve been telling all my friends about your talks. I’m trying to give them as much publicity as I can!

JZ: Thank you, Nick, for those very kind words! My heart-cry would be for Jesus to be lifted up.

Jon, you have a greater impact than you realize.

God bless,
Nick Mackison, Scotland
IcoNick_last

Some responses to Questions with Jon Zens:

Arthur Sido: I generally agree with Jon on most issues but I think he is off the mark on egalitarianism. To try to argue that 1 Cor 11 overrides 1 Cor 14 misses several points: 1) 1 Corinthians 11, in the first half regarding the covering, is not obviously speaking of the meeting of the church (see Paul’s transition statement in v. 17 “when you come together”), 2) Paul’s focus here is not on women prophesying in the church meeting or elsewhere but that wives should cover their heads. In doing so he uses some of the most patriarchal language in the Bible, 3) Those who claim that 1 Cor 11 is license for sisters to teach almost never say that those same sisters should cover their heads which strikes me as awfully selective and 4) Worst of all this line of argument runs contrary to most of what Jon teaches in that it assumes the institutional model where only the person teaching is of value. Women are not to teach or lead in the church or home but that hardly means that they do not function in the priesthood of believers. There are ample examples and commands to the sister in how they are to minister within the church and family that are every bit as important as the brothers who teach and lead and only by assuming an institutional mindset do we miss that.

njmackison: Thanks for stopping by Arthur. At the moment, I generally agree with your take on 1 Cor. 11, but I don’t think your point 4 is fair. I think, rather than elevating the teacher as the only thing of value, Jon is seeking to be faithful to texts which describe all of God’s people as prophets. Thanks for sharing.

Jon Zens: Arthur, thanks for your comments. I would suggest that your points need further reflection. 1) To say that Paul does not have a gathering of believers in view is a view not held by any exegete I have consulted — not one. Calvin, etc., all see what they would call a “worship service” in the early verses of 1 Cor. 11. So the idea you are suggesting is not held by any commentator that I know of. Paul’s words imply a mixed group of men and women. So where would the prophesying Paul mentions take place, if it is not in a gathering of saints, especially since in context, Paul emphatically wants prophecy to be central in the meeting of the saints? 2) For you to suggest that Paul uses intense patriarchal language is simply not verified by looking closely at the apostle’s flow of thought. Where does Paul end up with special emphasis? Not in hierarchy, but in mutual interdependence — “Nevertheless, in the Lord, neither wife without husband, or husband without wife, for as the wife out of the husband, so also the husband through the wife.” 3) The really strange thing is, I think, that people who require women to wear a head-covering, usually also require them to be silent. But that is the opposite conclusion of Paul — he wants them to be covered while they are functioning in prophecy. There are many good reasons for seeing the head-covering as a cultural matter, especially since Paul very soon says that the wife’s hair is given to her as a covering (cf. Ralph Woodrow, Woman’s Adornment). It would appear, too, that this passage is relevant only to married people, for Paul is talking about husbands and wives, not single men and women. Of course, in Judaism men prayed with their heads covered; this also may point to something cultural being in view. 4) As Nick noted, I don’t think your last point carries any weight. 1 Cor. 14 portrays a gathering where “all” are prophesying, and “each one” has something to share for edification. “Teaching” is only one aspect of many. Of course, I do not think your opinion that women are not to teach will hold up under NT scrutiny, but that is too large of a topic for here! Thank you for considering my input!

Jim McLatchie: Hi Nick I am alarmed by most of what is written in your exchange. Christ is inseparable from doctrine, scriptures and His church. For example, throughout Corinthians, Paul emphasizes all behaviour, doctrine and church practice in relation to the person of Christ. Essentially, Jon Zens is inferring that Christ is distinct from these things. Doing so, seems to make the person of Christ ethereal. A bit like separating the trunk of a tree from its roots and branches.

I am not sure what things we should “leave on the shelf”? In what “various ways” does “Christ bring forth Himself from the brothers and sisters”?

I had not heard of Jon Zens before but if his contrived reasoning on the role of women is a sample, I think that his influence is unprofitable and dangerous. It comes into the “hollow and deceptive” variety and will be a snare.

It is good that you are seeking victorious Christian living. There is so much good material out there from sound and inspiring writers that would transform and dynamise your walk. I recommend focus on them, rather than trying to sift through the chaff of what seems so obviously questionable, for something positive.

Your brother in Christ Jesus

Jim

Jon Zens: Jim, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think because you are looking at what I said through a particular way of seeing and doing things, you didn’t understand what was beneath my points. You are familiar with your model, and it is difficult for you to look at things from the stand point of another paradigm. When I spoke about leaving things on the shelf, I simply was noting that in a meeting focused on Christ, it would not be edifying to “push” my particular view of “last things,” for example, when various perspectives on that subject were present in the room.

Your points deserve more attention, but I must leave for the airport now. I would suggest that if you were to read Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church, you would gain a much better picture of where I am coming from.

It’s interesting how people respond to “evidence.” You basically dismissed what I said about women, but another brother felt that it was “persuasive.” As Vernard Eller noted, more important that knowing the truth, is being in a open position to receive further truth.

Jon Zens: Thanks for the comments, some extended, by several brothers. My sense is that, as I mentioned to Jim, that you are speaking out of what you know. I would appeal to you to consider the possibility that there may be other ways of functioning that you have not experienced. Again, in this regard, I would encourage you to read and digest Frank Viola’s “Reimagining Church,” which fills out some of the seminal remarks I have made.

Recently, Jamal Jivanjee interviewed me (jamaljivanjee.com). Mike Kesselring shared a comment in which he made these remarks: “I get really confused and conflicted about all of this organic vs. institutional stuff. The doctrine, theology, rules, and truths that have been perverted, twisted, mis-interpreted, and used against me can all just go to hell. I had a peace come over me this evening while reading Jamal’s most recent interview with Jon Zens.” I think my response to him gets to the heart of where I am coming from, and I hope it will help you understand what I am trying so feebly to get across.

Mike, I can feel your pain and frustration. Be comforted in knowing that Jesus is building His ekklesia, even though what we see around us looks very iffy.

As I see it, it isn’t really organic vs. institutional. Jesus simply cannot be institutionalized. He said the Spirit is like wind. You can’t put wind in a box and make it happen. Inherent in wind is freedom. The only image that really captures reality is Vine-branches, organic relationships.

I think this highlights a lot of the tensions we experience. Institutional Christianity dominates the landscape. So well-meaning people are attempting to put Jesus in structures that do not foster the expression of His life in the saints. I believe that in the innumerable church buildings we have every 1/2 mile in America, Christ’s life is still coming forth in varying degrees. That’s because even human structures and rules can’t stop Him from showing up. But the disheartening tragedy is that His life appears in spite of the religious structures that He is confined in. Wouldn’t it be glorious if the way believers functioned and came together welcomed and encouraged Christ to be present and expressed!

Visible Christianity is trying to serve an organic Jesus in non-organic structures. Is it any wonder that things work out like they say in the commercials –”your results may vary” — “some assembly required” — “batteries not included.”

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UNINSTITUTIONAL 2

Introduction
Jesus simply cannot be institutionalized. He said the Spirit is like wind. You can’t put wind in a box and make it happen. Inherent in wind is freedom. The only image that really captures reality is Vine-branches, organic relationships….

Visible Christianity is trying to serve an organic Jesus in non-organic structures. Is it any wonder that things work out like they say in the commercials –”your results may vary” — “some assembly required” — “batteries not included.”

On May 22, 2012, Jamal Jivanjee interviewed Jon Zens.

To read the interview click here.

In the responses that came, Jon replied to several of them. In combination, these replies seemed to complement the blog-post several months ago, “Uninstitutional.” Here, then is “Uninstitutional 2.”

Comments from Ari-Amber:
I’m fascinated with this interview and your writings, Jamal. Probably because it speaks truth to my soul about how the Body should be and interact – something that has been stirring inside of me for a while now.

I think the push for “small groups” in so many denominations today is trying to accommodate for the “one anothering” that is missing by just showing up on Sunday and listening to one person speak. What do you think about this?

What do you say to those who have a church family that really feels like family, but it is formally set up as an “institutional religious system”?

Thank you for this and your other articles.

Reply from JZ:
Ari-Amber, those are two very good questions. I think you are right on the button — huge churches in the past 25 years have realized that people just coming to hear a sermon and put money in the plate does not cut it. So they usually find some “cell group” materials, and start a program of “small groups.” But in many cases it still ends being about control, and they still want you to attend the big event on Sunday mornings. Some folks enjoy the home groups so much that they wonder why they are still going to the mega-meeting on Sunday.

There are churches that in some important ways have a family atmosphere. But the institutional structure has a propensity to kill life (see my blog, “Uninstitutional”). Thus, usually the family-feeling can only go so far, and then there is a line that cannot be crossed. Some churches that have 35-70 people do have some good fellowship, but if the group “grows,” then that family life tends to fade away. When the church gets to 300, the old-timers look back and say, “Boy, I miss those great times around the table we used to have.” There are many groups that start in a home, then go to a rented facility, then obtain land and build a structure. Often, there is good fellowship in the first two stages — but once the building is up, koinonia disappears into the bricks. – JZ

Ari-Amber — Thank you for taking the time to respond, Jon.

Response from Jamal Jivanjee:
Ari-Amber, thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate your words of encouragement. I am very glad to know that the blog has been confirming what the Spirit has been doing in you already.

Thanks for the question as well. I have had several people tell me that the institutions they are a part of are like the New Testament church simply because they have ‘small groups.’ I then ask them what the name of their church is. For example, let’s say the name of the church is ‘crossroads community church.’ I will then ask them why their small group is not simply the church. What makes it part of ‘crossroads community church’? The answer is because that ‘small group’ meets around a ‘leader’ who has been approved by the crossroads community church leadership.

This also means that the small group operates ‘under’ the clergy and doctrinal charters of those institutions. The New Testament church is not built around a specific leader or group of human leaders, nor is the New Testament church built around a charter or doctrinal statement. The New Testament church can only be built on a spiritual revelation of Jesus Christ Himself. When a group of people operate and function from a revelation of Christ, it is not possible to gather around another center or another ‘head.’ There can only one head of the church. I hope that makes sense. :-)

Comments from Mike Kesselring:
I get really confused and conflicted about all of this organic vs. institutional stuff.

The doctrine, theology, rules, and truths that have been perverted, twisted, misinterpreted, and used against me can all just go to hell. I had a peace come over me this evening while reading Jamal’s most recent interview with Jon Zens. This peace was rooted in a quoted portion of scripture that gave place to a still, small voice that said to me,

“All of these problems have been going on for many years before you, Mike. And they will continue many years after your death. Just keep your eyes on me, and you’ll never go wrong.”

Brought me to tears, to know that He cares amidst my failures with all of this church stuff.

Response from JZ:
Mike, I can feel your pain and frustration. Be comforted in knowing that Jesus is building His ekklesia, even though what we see around us looks very iffy.

As I see it, it isn’t really organic vs. institutional. Jesus simply cannot be institutionalized. He said the Spirit is like wind. You can’t put wind in a box and make it happen. Inherent in wind is freedom. The only image that really captures reality is Vine-branches, organic relationships.

I think this highlights a lot of the tensions we experience. Institutional Christianity dominates the landscape. So well-meaning people are attempting to put Jesus in structures that do not foster the expression of His life in the saints. I believe that in the innumerable church buildings we have every 1/2 mile in America, Christ’s life is still coming forth in varying degrees. That’s because even human structures and rules can’t stop Him from showing up. But the disheartening tragedy is that His life appears in spite of the religious structures that He is confined in. Wouldn’t it be glorious if the way believers functioned and came together welcomed and encouraged Christ to be present and expressed!

Visible Christianity is trying to serve an organic Jesus in non-organic structures. Is it any wonder that things work out like they say in the commercials –”your results may vary” — “some assembly required” — “batteries not included.”

A Response to an Illuminate blog post by Jamal in 2011:

Comments from Lincoln, May, 2012:
Dear Jamal,

I’ve enjoyed reading through several of your blogs. I am also uncomfortable with some of the ultimate conclusions drawn in www.radicalresurgence.com, which is how I stumbled upon your blog site. And my spirit agrees wholeheartedly with you and your explanation of the absolutely central importance of Christ’s headship and our proper understanding of our position within His Body. So I am encouraged and refreshed by the above post — and I am similarly burdened with the need for other believers to “get” these truths.

But here’s where I get confused. Please help me understand why Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was directed to write clear qualifications and standards for elders and deacons (1 Timothy & Titus), if these roles were not intended to help Christ’s Body to function the way He desired? I don’t pretend to completely grasp the headship of Christ and how that is practically expressed in His Church, but I do not want to ignore all of the New Testament’s passages regarding elders, overseers, shepherds (the various names used for church leaders) either.

So please share how you would interpret the following passages: Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 3:1-13, 5:17-22; Titus 1:5-9.

I absolutely agree that every body part — every believing member of the Church — is critical to accomplishing Jesus’ mission here one earth. And yet, Scripture seems to be very unambiguous about the role of leaders within local church bodies. Are we to ignore this in order to avoid the follies of a flawed “institution”? I believe that all members of Christ’s body are ministers, and I also share your frustration with a false “clergy/laity” distinction that seems to pervade many spiritually lifeless churches here in the U.S. But addressing the problem by abandoning the New Testament instructions for church leaders altogether? That seems like “throwing the baby out with the bath water” to me.

And one last practical question. I love the idea of all believers gathering in a meeting to share with one another the beauty and practical implications of our relationship with Jesus. And how wonderful it is when all have something to share that edifies and builds all the others up! I have experienced this in my life with fellow believers! But inevitably, there are new believers who are still learning and have incomplete knowledge of how to apply faith and practice, or (I hate to say it), “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” who very intentionally come in to sow disunity within a church body. So the elders or leaders within that local church gathering must be acknowledged and identified in order to preserve and defend the pure doctrine of our faith. In this sense, we must look to and trust “human leaders.” Have there been horrendous abuses by “human leaders”? Of course. We all know that. But we must continue to trust Jesus, the Head’s provision of these people as gifts to the Church. These leaders are not only guardians (and I should mention, by no means infallible), but also equippers to the less mature in the faith. And again, abuse is possible. But so is great growth and discipleship, and true protection for the new and most vulnerable sheep.

Much of what you say resonates with me, Jamal. But please do consider my perspective on this. I am a pastor, so I do have an obvious bias. If there is another biblical way to look at this, I respectfully ask for you to share it.

Your brother in Christ,
Lincoln

Reply from JZ:
Brother Lincoln, if you will bear with me, I’d like to share some perspectives in response to your concerns and queries. Please understand that my reply is at a more foundational level. Most of the issues you raise, I believe, would be better discussed further down the pike.

Of course, I can only scratch the surface here. If you are interested, you can listen to a session I presented in Cove, Arkansas, this year – #4 “Body Life & Leadership” that goes into more detail. Click here to listen.

The truth is, the starting point for the paradigm we’ve inherited is “leadership.” Over the years I’ve seen places where the pastor leaves and the body steps up to the plate in the interim. Often, people will enjoy the body ministry, but usually after about 4-6 months people start clamoring for a pastor. The office of pastor has been created by tradition. There is no NT basis for it. Thus for a church to “fill the position” of pastor is a huge step in the wrong direction in the first place.

I think in Western churches there is a lop-sided emphasis on “leaders.” For example, in a blurb about the Global Leadership Summit hosted at the Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois it was said, “Thousands of leaders across North America gather together to hear speakers from all over the world, participate in interactive dialogue, and have practical training — which focuses on helping the church raise up leaders, as well as helping leaders in churches develop their leadership gifts.”

The key point is this: in the NT, the organic way for everything to develop is through the functioning of all the living stones together. The starting point of assembly-life is the priesthood of all believers as a living reality. To focus on, or be concerned about “leadership” without a fully functioning body in place is just a disaster hiding in the bushes. My counsel to new groups is to function together with leadership as a non-issue for two to five years.

Assembly-life is the context for decision-making. Leaders are never mentioned in what Jesus teaches about problem-resolution in Matthew 18:15-20. The final context is “take it to the congregation.” The NT letters were written to assemblies, not to leaders. The Corinthian church had a lot of issues, but Paul assumed that the body could take care of them – “when you come together as a body” (1 Cor. 5:4). Leaders are never chided for failing in their responsibilities.

Traditional church practice puts decision-making, and the nuts-and-bolts of church machinery in the hands of “leaders.” The New Testament puts the responsibility of carrying out the will of Christ on the shoulders of the entire body. In the lop-sidedness of our leader-dependence, we have lost the vision of an assembly listening to the voice of Christ together. To focus on leaders without having first a functioning body is to put the proverbial cart before the horse – with far-reaching dire consequences.

Most groups in America are not ready for “leadership.” Most agree that specific giftedness is revealed only after the ekklesia takes hold. But at the same time many feel that the reason many groups outside the IC fall apart is because they lack good leadership. Why does everything always seem to come back to some aspect of leadership in Western churches?

The real issue comes down to this – is the life of Christ coming to expression through all the persons in the group? Is that Life sufficient to guide, enrich and grow all the parts as they lift up Christ together? I must put it like this: if a group is filled with Jesus and his guidance, “leaders” will probably not be on their minds; if a group lacks the fullness of Jesus, they will probably become fixated on the need for “leaders.”

Interestingly, in my experience, in almost every case where a group outside the institutional church formally recognized elders – the expression of Christ by the whole body went downhill quickly.

I have increasingly come to the conviction that if assemblies had outside help from those who lay the foundation of Christ among God’s people, there would be less concern about “leaders,” and then proper focus could be given to Jesus’ presence among the brothers and sisters.

The Bride of Christ is a family. Families have moms and dads who help the younger ones. If we end up spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about how the older ones are recognized, function and relate to one another, we will miss the beauty of Jesus in the midst of his flock. Compared to the information on body-life in the NT, the space we give to leadership issues is way out of proportion, and is filled with mistaken assumptions.

I’m not interested in throwing out the baby, the bathwater, or the tub – as they are given reality by Christ. Let me give a true illustration. At several conferences I’ve heard speakers go into great detail about how our goal should be a city-church with many house-churches networking together, and with apostles-prophets floating around in ministry. Much they say is commendable, but the problem is that the audience, and the church-at-large, is a zillion miles from any of this ever being a reality. Most people I know are struggling to find a few other people to come along on the journey! And that’s my point about groups being overly concerned about “leaders” – they are miles and miles from being ready to even give a moment to such issues.

Consider Hebrews 12:15. The verb episcopeo is used there, but is totally lost in most English translations. The author is saying “take the oversight” of one another. Here is a “leadership” verb, used elsewhere of “overseers” (elders), but is here being applied as a responsibility for the whole body. So, again, if a group of Christians cannot from their inception grow in their functioning as a priesthood of mutual overseers, how can we ever expect some future overseers to arise as servants to the body? Everything must flow and arise out of Life; in the traditional practice of church everything pretty much hinges on leadership — often brought in from the outside. If the life of Christ is throbbing in and coming to expression through each believer in community, leadership will be a non-issue – an “it” that is usually very distracting.

Lincoln, you say, “the elders or leaders within that local church gathering must be acknowledged and identified in order to preserve and defend the pure doctrine of our faith.” I think your statement shows that you need to see more deeply the Holy Spirit resources in the body. It is true that the mature persons in the ekklesia can be of critical help in the mutual care of each other. But the NT first and foremost teaches that the whole body is to be involved, not primarily the elders. For example, the exhortation to “test the spirits” is given to all the brothers and sisters, not just to “leaders.” Why? Because they all posses the “anointing.” Paul’s directive about restorative care in Gal. 6:1-2 is given to all the saints. All of Paul’s correction to the multiple issues in the Corinthian ekklesia were set in front of the body. Leaders are not mentioned. In Matthew 18, the final context rests in “tell it to the ekklesia.” Again, nothing about leaders. I do not think we have begun to grasp the significance of the fact that the NT letters were written to ekklesias, not leaders. As I pointed out above, the writer of Hebrews told all of the Lord’s people to “oversee one another,” using a “leadership” verb from which we get our English word, “Episcopal.”

We would do well, I think, to focus on knowing Christ and sharing Him with one another. If the rivers of Christ’s living water were flowing from the saints as they should, is it not possible that “leadership” would recede into the shadows? I would hope that you would agree that if we pursued Christ’s leadership, presence and expression in a Spirit-led way, all this other “stuff” would be put in its place. If Christ is not the functional Leader of most churches, what right do we have to fill books about the alleged need for “church leaders”?

Thanks for considering these perspectives, brother!

Also, check out “Questions with Jon Zens” by clicking here.

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“WHAT GOLDEN CANDLESTICKS?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2011, I was substitute teaching in a high school English class. That day, the lesson plan for one class called for a section of Act 2 of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to be read aloud. This is a fictionalized historical play that takes place in late 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, concerning the infamous Witch Trials.

Tucked away in the dialogue are some very striking points concerning the outworkings of religious bondage. Of course, The Crucible is an imaginative literary account of Puritan life in early America, but it does capture and do justice to the religious spirit of that time (cf. Alice Morse, “Sketches of Life in Puritan New England,” Searching Together, 11:4, 1982).

We are picking up at the point in the story when Rev. John Hale has come to visit John and Elizabeth Proctor because Elizabeth’s name had been mentioned in court, insinuating that she might be a witch. Salem pastor Samuel Parris had summoned outsider John Hale to help, based on his alleged expertise regarding witchcraft.

Hale: In the book of record that Mr. Parris keeps, I note that you are rarely in the church on Sabbath Day.

Proctor: No, sir, you are mistaken.

Hale: Twenty-six times in seventeen months, sir, I must call that rare. Will you tell me why you are so absent?

Proctor: Mr. Hale, I never knew that I must account to that man for whether I come to church or stay at home. My wife was sick this winter.

Hale: So I am told. But you, Mister, why could you not come alone?

Proctor: I surely did come when I could, and when I could not, I prayed in this house.

Hale: Mr. Proctor, your house is not a church; your theology must tell you that.

Proctor: It does, sir, it does; and it tells me that a minister may pray to God without him having golden candlesticks upon the altar.

Hale: What golden candlesticks?

Proctor: Since we built the church, there were pewter candlesticks upon the altar; Francis Nurse made them, y’know, and a sweeter hand never touched the metal. But Parris came, and for twenty weeks he preached nothin’ but golden candlesticks until he had them. I labor the earth from dawn of day to blink of night, and I tell you true, when I look to heaven and see my money glaring at his elbows – it hurt my prayer, sir, it hurt my prayer. I think, sometimes, the man dreams cathedrals, not clapboard meetin’ houses.

Hale (thinks, then): And yet, Mister, a Christian on Sabbath day must be in church. (Pause.) Tell me – you have three children?

Proctor: Aye. Boys.

Hale: Why is it that only two are baptized?

Proctor (starts to speak, then stops, then, as unable to restrain this): I like it not that Mr. Parris should lay his hand upon my baby. I see no light of God in that man. I’ll not conceal it.

Hale: I must say it, Mr. Proctor; that it is not for you to decide. The man’s ordained, therefore the light of God is in him.

Proctor (flushed with resentment but trying to smile): What’s your suspicion, Mr. Hale?

Hale: No, no. I have no –

Proctor: I nailed the roof upon the church, I hung the door –

Hale: Oh, did you! That’s a good sign, then.

Proctor: It may be that I have been to quick to bring the man to book, but you cannot think we ever desired the destruction of religion. I think that’s in your mind, is it not?

Hale (not altogether giving way): I – have – there is a softness in your record, sir, a softness.

Elizabeth: I think, maybe, we have been too hard with Mr. Parris. I think so. But for sure we never loved the Devil here.

Hale (nods, deliberating this. Then, with the voice of one administering a secret test): Do you know your Commandments, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth (without hesitation, even eagerly): I surely do. There be no mark of blame upon my life. Mr. Hale, I am a covenanted Christian woman.

Hale: And you, Mister?

Proctor (a trifle unsteadily): I – am sure I do, sir.

Hale (glances at her open face then at John, then): Let you repeat them, if you will.

Proctor: The Commandments.

Hale: Aye.

Proctor (looking off, beginning to sweat): Thou shalt not kill.

Hale: Aye.

Proctor (counting on his fingers): Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods, nor make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain; thou shalt have no others gods before me. (With some hesitation). Thou shalt remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. (Pause. Then). Thou shalt honor thy father and mother. Thou shalt not bear false witness. (He is stuck. He counts back on his fingers, knowing one is missing). Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

Hale: You have said that twice, sir.

Proctor (lost): Aye. (He is flailing for it).

Elizabeth (delicately): Adultery, John.

Proctor (as though a secret arrow had pained his heart): Aye. (Trying to grin it away – to Hale). You see, sir, between the two of us we do know them all. (Hale only looks at Proctor, deep in his attempt to define this man. Proctor grows more uneasy). I think it be a small fault.

Hale: Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small. (He rises; he seems worried now. He paces a little, in deep thought).

Proctor: There be no love for Satan in this house, Mister.

Hale: I pray it, I pray it dearly. (He looks to both of them, an attempt at a smile on his face, but his misgivings are clear).

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The basic problems religion brings are the same today as they were in 17th century Puritan America. Back then the church leaders had the magistrates backing them. While today’s pastors do not have the extra clout that civil authority brings, they nevertheless wield significant control over many church-goers lives. I would like to highlight how Christ is eclipsed in religious settings like the one depicted in The Crucible.

** “What golden candlesticks?” Many manifestations of Christianity are old covenant-based. Types, shadows, tithes and rules become the focus instead of Christ.

The golden candlestick (lampstand) was part of the old covenant economy (Exodus 25:31-39; 37:17-24; Hebrews 9:2). The purpose of this item was to bring light into the Holy Place. Christ is the reality of what this lampstand symbolized. He is the light in His people, and thus His assemblies emanate His light to one another and to the world.

In The Crucible, John Proctor was upset that the pewter candlesticks were replaced by golden ones, which pastor Parris wanted so badly. People have a tendency to replace the light of Christ with physical objects of devotion, and the like.

In Revelation, golden candlesticks symbolize Christ in the ekklesias. To one assembly Christ announced that if they did not turn from their waywardness, He would remove His presence from them – “I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand out of its place” (Rev. 2:5).

Religion moves so quickly to tangible objects, things, “its” that are not Christ, even though His name may be attached to them. Jesus is about reality – the reality of His life in people and in His ekklesia.

And so many resources are squandered on that which is not the Lord. Proctor lamented, “I labor the earth from dawn of day to blink of night, and I tell you true, when I look to heaven and see my money glaring at his elbows – it hurt my prayer, sir, it hurt my prayer.” Whenever the wrong things are exalted, Jesus is pushed aside. Layers of religion smother the expression of Christ’s Life.

** “A Christian on Sabbath Day must be in church.” Paul affirmed that the Sabbath was a shadow and that Christ is the fulfillment and reality of it. Jesus said, “Come to Me and I will give you rest [sabbath].” In the new covenant, the only way to “keep the Sabbath” is to cease from your own works and rest in Christ. Jesus is our Sabbath, not a day of the week. Sabbath is about a resurrected person, not a 24-hour period of abstention.

** “Do you know your commandments, Elizabeth?” Most of Christianity still camps around Sinai, not around Golgotha. Most people seem oblivious to the fact that Exodus 20 is rooted in an earthly exodus out of a physical country, Egypt – “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.” That event was a pointer to the fact that the future Messiah would accomplish an exodus in Jerusalem, and bring His people out of the land of sin and bondage (Luke 9:31).

There is only one command rooted in Christ’s new exodus – the “new commandment” to love each other as He loved us on the cross (John 13:34-35).

We must recall that life in early Puritan America was carried out in an Old Testament atmosphere (cf. W.B. Selbie, “The Influence of the Old Testament on Puritanism,” Searching Together, 8:3, 1979). Their exit from Britain was cast in Old Testament typology. England was viewed as “Egypt”; the Puritans saw themselves as a “New Israel”; the Atlantic Ocean was seen as the Red Sea; the land ahead became Canaan, flowing with milk and honey; and the native Indians were viewed as the “heathen,” to be cast out of the land. Is it any wonder, then, that the emphasis fell on outward, earthly elements and not the Life and Light of Jesus in His people?

(For further development of the New Exodus, the New Spirit and the New Commandment, see my review of The Ten Commandments Twice Removed, http://www.exadventist.com/Home/Articles/ReviewofTCTR/tabid/497/Default.aspx)

** Proctor: “I see no light of God in that man” . . . . Hale: “The man’s ordained, therefore the light of God is in him.” Hale’s reply gets to the heart of a huge problem. Instead of a person’s influence being connected to the Life of Christ flowing through him/her, it is rooted in a religious rite that confers, and apparently assures, the presence of God. This rite is “ordination.” The ordained (clergy) can perform many things that the common person (the laity) cannot.

And one of the most extensive perks “ordained clergy” have control. Tragically, most religion ends up being about power, control and manipulation – making sure the flock stays in line, conforms to the rules, and only colors within the given boundaries (cf. Horace Kallen, “Buildings, The Clergy & Money,” http://www.radicalresurgence.com/page/2/).

In order to ensure conformity, such things as fear, guilt, intimidation, threat of excommunication, no access to the “sacraments,” and loss of the “benefit of clergy” are used to keep the troops in rank.

(For further reflection on “ordination,” cf. Marjorie Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View, Eerdmans, 1982).

** “In the book of record that Mr. Parris keeps, I note that you are rarely in the church on Sabbath Day.” Here is the outworking of religious power. Who comes to the meeting-house, how much they give, and many other such things, are kept track of by those in religious authority. In this way, the “softness of record” can be held over the heads of the faithful when necessary. The “laity” must be in the building every Sunday, but the “clergy” can have golden candlesticks with no accountability.

** “Your house is not a church; your theology must tell you that.” Just as Judaism emphasized its Temple, most other religions are known for their religious structures.

But Jesus builds people, not physical buildings. A striking feature of the early church was that they had no special buildings. They met together around Christ and broke bread in homes. “To the ekklesia at your home” (Philemon 2); “greet the ekklesia in their home” (Rom. 16:5); “with the ekklesia in their home” (1 Cor. 16:19); “salute Nymphas and the ekklesia that meets in her home” (Col. 4:15).

When Constantine sanctioned the Christian religion around AD 325, state money was used to erect its buildings, and pagan places of worship were turned over to the Christians. Since then inordinate attention has been given to buildings with Christ’s name associated with them.

One summary of life in the Middle Ages notes: “In many ways village life centered on the church building. [It was] the largest building in the village” (The Middle Ages: The Church, Madison, WI: Knowledge Unlimited, 2002).

The church certainly does not have the clout it had back then. And, too, in the Middle Ages there was only one church building – a Roman Catholic one. Now there can be many church buildings – in America, darn close to one every half-mile! (Cf. my A Church Building Every ½ Mile: What Makes American Christianity Tick?)

** “Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small.” Ah, here is the seed-thought for 25,000 denominations. Each group thinks their “theology” is the closest to the truth, and hence cracks cannot be tolerated. That’s our problem. We are trying to construct a theology – create an impenetrable fortress.

Since Mr. Proctor could not recall one of the ten commandments, Rev. Hale felt like he had some reason to believe that the evil one could have a foothold in their home. In this kind of religion people are judged by how much of the “right” doctrine they know, not if fruit is coming from a branch in union with Christ the Vine.

Because Mr. Proctor did not come to the building as much as Hale and Parris thought he should, and because he could not rattle off “the commandments,” his spirituality was called into question. This is not Christ; this is outward, superficial religion which keeps people in bondage.

If we are brutally honest with church history, it would seem that for the most part activity in the visible church has been about Christ, about believing the right things, about conforming to required patterns of behavior, and about control by church leaders. It has simply not been about the Living Christ expressing Himself through the whole body. It has not been about rivers of living water pouring out of His people, but about keeping the religious machinery well-oiled. As I observed in 1980:

Marriage to Christ brings with it a new relationship; and in this relationship we are to derive our comfort, our duty, our everything from Christ – our Husband, our Bread of Life, our Vine, our Prophet. If we focus on anyone or anything other than Christ, we run the risk of missing everything important (“’As I Have Loved You’: The Starting Point of Christian Obedience,” Searching Together, 9:2, 1980, p.16).

[If you are interested in the actual history in 1692 Salem compared to Miller’s play, here is an article by academic historian Margo Burns: “Arthur Miller’s The Crucible: Fact & Fiction,” http://www.17thc.us/docs/fact-fiction.shtml

The dialogue from The Crucible is from A. Purves/C. Olson/C. Cortes, eds., Literature & Integrated Studies: American Literature, Scott-Foresman, 1997, pp. 95-96. Several words were changed for communication purposes.]

Jon Zens

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HUMBLE PIE, ANYONE?

“Who being in very nature God . . . made Himself nothing . . . humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2)

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“It is so amazing to see how quickly pride in one person can quench the spirit of others (even multitudes are ultimately affected and influenced). How my heart aches for God’s glory to manifested — and it will be — as we walk in humility towards one another – where ever we are!” – Jayne Otterson

“What does it mean to die to self? To want to prove a point by force, or by humbling oneself to the point of hugging the individual, and remembering where one came from?” – Tommy Donahue

Response to Tommy: “Humble enough to hold others higher than ourselves. Humble enough to kneel down and wash another’s feet. Humble enough to die to our own pride and love another beyond our own self. Christ in us has already done it all. Dying to self, laying down our lives for others means laying down our soulish life. And we can only do what He does in and through us — we cannot not even die without Him. How humbling is that?” – Kat Huff

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I’ve been feeling a need to speak about humility for the past few months. Recently this subject has popped up on Facebook (see the above posts). Humility is a tough topic to broach. You would be very skeptical if you saw a conference advertised with the pitch – “Excelling in Humility & How I Attained It!”

Christ incarnated humility by “leaving it all” and entering earth’s sin-infected space and time. His humility reached its fullest expression in the darkness of Golgotha – humiliated by taking the curse connected to hanging on a tree (Gal. 3:13; Deut. 21:22-23).

This Lord Jesus now dwells in us. Believers can, therefore, as Paul noted, “be clothed in humility.” To “clothe ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ” is to be likewise dressed in humility (Rom. 13:14).

But it must be underscored that humility will only be deepened in us to the degree that we follow Christ’s pattern. For humility to blossom in our beings we must be daily acquainted with His cross. Proud persons know very little of the cross-life.

Jesus intends for His life to be expressed in the Body of Christ on earth through face-to-face relationships. It must be stressed that social media like Facebook cannot function as ekklesia. No doubt social media can be helpful to those in a wilderness season, and for communicating with those already in organic relationships. But the fact of the matter is that exchanging e-words with people you have never met is not community as it is unfolded in the New Testament. Smiley faces and other symbols are very dim shadows of the real-life together among believers that Paul saw come to expression in the first century.

Perhaps understanding that the e-world can function quite well without living relationships helps us appreciate why humility is so scarce, and why pride often surfaces in the endless posting on the internet.

When I was substituting in a public high school recently, I saw a poster on the wall. It should be of interest to us that in light of the bullying, etc., that has occurred on the Internet, a program has emerged in which students are asked to “Pause Before You Post” (PBP). They are encouraged to make these commitments:

Before I make a post, I pledge to ask myself:
Who will be able to see what I post?
Will anyone be embarrassed or hurt by it?
Am I proud of what I’m posting?
How I would feel if someone posted it about me?
(http://www.jostens.com/student/students_cp_pause_before_you_post.html)

Those who converse with others through social media would do well to think on those basic points. We all need to PBP!

May I offer some fruit that will appear when the humility of Christ is present? I think all of us would do well to carefully consider these perspectives as we communicate with others, and react to things people say to us in the e-world.

**People filled with Christ will speak to others in a way that they would want others to speak to them.

**People with the living waters of Christ flowing from their innermost being will speak words that bring healing not hurt. “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (Proverbs 10:21).

**Saints will be increasingly conscious that when they speak to believers they are in a real sense speaking to Jesus. Christ told Paul that when he was messing with His followers, he was messing with Him (Acts 9:4).

**When you read something that concerns, bothers, upsets or troubles you, make sure you understand what the other person meant and intended instead of retorting quickly with a combative response. Ask them a question like, “In these comments you made, am I correct in understanding you to mean this?” Make an inquiry instead of pouncing on someone’s remarks. Explore the other’s heart instead of assuming that you understand their position.

**True humility will not pigeonhole and label people. It is very frustrating to see arbitrary labels pinned on others, when those being so categorized are scratching their heads in disbelief.

**I think one of the most common violations of humility occurs when people say things about others publicly that they would never say to their face. And there are certainly occasions where a person should go directly to another with their concerns, and keep them out of the public arena.

**The humility of Christ will lead a person to be open to learn from many sources. Consider what is reported about Apollos in Acts 18. Here was a brother who was eloquent and savvy in the Scriptures. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him in the synagogue, they saw that his understanding was deficient. They invited him to their home and Priscilla and Aquila “explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Here’s a guy that knew the Old Testament backwards and forwards, but he possessed a humility that was open to learn from a wife (who was listed first) and her husband.

**Humility will lead a person to trust the Spirit to work in hearts, not in their argumentation. “For the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he/she must be kind to everyone . . . . Those who oppose he/she must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance . . .” (2 Tim. 2:25).

I leave you with some quotations from Thomas Dubay. Caring: A Biblical Theology of Community is one of the most profound books I have ever read. I would ask that you bring these words from Caring to Father, and ask Him to reveal some of their implications for how you communicate with and respond to others.

“The initial task the members of the group should face is the exploration of one another’s minds . . . . Evaluation is a later step, not the first one. Initially we should concentrate on understanding why the member is saying this, on exploring his/her mind.”

“When a person refers to a position he does not share, he should make a conscious effort to represent that opinion fairly.”

“Most of us easily assume that we listen to others. Perhaps. But perhaps not. We hear all the words and sentences, but whether we heed is another matter. Receiving sound waves from another human being requires only a normal hearing apparatus and a sufficiently wakeful state. Listening to that person is incomparably more complex. All of us, therefore, need to learn to listen.”

“We need to be humble, small in our own estimation. Finding the solution to a mathematical problem is possible without humility, but finding God’s will is impossible without this virtue.”

“We try to grow in awareness that the person sharing is important, even precious, ‘God’s beloved’ (Romans 1:7). We pay attention to important people. To the proud person others are not important, and so he is not inclined to take them that seriously. Even more, we value the opinions of those we love. If I do not really care what my brother/sister thinks, I had better doubt that I love my brother/sister.”

By Jon Zens

FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:

Thomas Dubay, “Communication in Community,” Searching Together, 14:4, 1985. Available from ST, P. O. Box 548, St Croix Falls WI, 54024, $3.50 postpaid.

Frank Viola, “Being Offended By Others” http://frankviola.org/2012/03/07/forgottenbeatitude2/

Frank Viola, “The Art of Being A Jerk Online: 10 Sure Ways” http://frankviola.org/2012/02/16/beingajerkonline/

Jon Zens, “’Have You Heard . . .?’ The Plague of Gossip in the Body of Christ”
http://searchingtogether.org/articles/gossip.htm

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N.T. Wright Interview

I would like to encourage you to read the following interview with N.T. Wright:

N.T. Wright Interview: “Simply Jesus” & Wright Responds to Critics

Click this link to read the unedited interview: http://frankviola.org/2012/01/23/ntwright

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The Body With One Part?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In answer to the question, Why don’t women ever read or pray in Bethlehem’s church services?” John Piper answered in part:

But the real question, I think, they’re asking is about the prayers of praise, the reading of the text, and the preaching, and none of those the women do at Bethlehem. And that is intentional.

My reason is because—not that others have to see it this way—I view  that moment and that place in the worship service as one of pastoral authority. The pulpit stands there symbolizing the word of God preached, and that’s what the elders are responsible to do. The reading of the text is part of that. And the offering up of the prayers of the congregation in an official, formal, representative capacity at the front is pastoral.

If you switched it all around and you said, “I don’t want to view any of it that way,” then the principles wouldn’t apply in the way that we’re applying them. But in my sense, a woman is that moment acting like a pastor or elder, and that’s what we don’t think is appropriate.

It’s a pretty small, little place at Bethlehem. The pulpit is there, and those three things—the prayer of praise, the reading of the Scripture, and the preaching of the sermon—is a very, very small part of the life of this church. It’s big and important. But time-wise and ministry-wise it is a small thing. (Why don’t women ever read or pray in Bethlehem’s church services? by John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org)

My heart is saddened by the ways we miss the free-flowing presence of Christ by the intrusion of religious ways of doing things that, as Paul warned, “are according to the tradition of men . . . and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

“Preaching” is mentioned in the comments above. The act of the sermon is the high point of the Protestant service. Yet in the New Testament – the collection of books that is said to be the rule of faith and practice by church leaders – there is no evidence concerning one person giving a weekly sermon. Most of the time in the NT “preaching” is an outreach activity among those who are outside of Christ. There is one time when “proclamation” in the setting of saints meeting together is mentioned, but this is a declaration by the whole church, not by the speech of one person (1 Cor. 11:26).

What we do see in the NT is a gathering of believers who are actively expressing Christ in various ways (1 Cor. 14). As William Barclay noted in 1956, “The really notable thing about an early Church service must have been that almost everyone came with a sense that he had both the privilege and the obligation of contributing something to it.”

It is stated above that what happens behind the pulpit is a matter of “pastoral authority.” Where is there anything about “the pastor” in the NT, and where is his “authority” unfolded? Here’s an example of how a bogus tradition becomes the foundation for restricting others in the church. Because of this alleged “pastoral authority” women cannot do anything from behind the pulpit.

But that raises another question. Where is there anything in the NT about the centrality of the pulpit? “The pulpit stands there symbolizing the word of God preached.” And how has it come to be that such a concept has been elevated and inflated without any revelation of Christ about it?

The center point for Catholics was the sacramental table where the Mass was performed. During the Reformation, in places where Protestantism gained power, the sacramental table was pushed aside and the pulpit took its place. Now the preacher, the sermon and the pulpit are center stage.

The depth of fixation on the pulpit is illustrated by the six-picture analysis of Westminster Theological Seminary’s seal, (Winter, 2011, pp. 8-9). Each picture highlights one of the elements of the Seal. Number four depicts the “sacred desk,” and says – “Pulpit: The Word of God Incarnate” (see above). Jesus Christ for sure is the Word of God incarnate. One of his names is “the Word of God.” But to suggest that the pulpit in every church building is where the Word of God is incarnated shows how much heavy infrastructure can be built upon the foundation of religiously-misinformed human thinking.

Again, when that for which there is no evidence is magnified and unduly exalted, the blessings attached to pursuing what Christ has revealed are pushed aside. When the Pharisees multiplied their traditions, and ended up in a labyrinth of complicated rules, the Word of God was nullified.

The answer to the opening question ended by trying to play down the significance of the pulpit. It is suggested that even though women cannot break the aura surrounding the pulpit with their presence, they can participate in many other important aspects of church life. The pulpit is “big and important,” but it “is a very, very small part of the life of this church.” To me, this just points out how a small thing time-wise can become the tail that wags the dog. Statistics show that 90% of people choose what church they go to by who is behind the pulpit and what comes from the voice behind the pulpit. Untold thousands of people drive unbelievably long distances to hear their favorite preacher.

Isn’t reality more along the lines that if you removed the pulpit from most churches, it would be their death-knell and they would go out of business?

We have so elevated the pulpit, the sermon and the pastor that we have no memory of the ethos of what went on in the early church when Christ was expressed by all in a gathering with no one leading from up front. Here’s a good summary by Ernest F. Scott of what we’ve lost through human traditions.

Prayer was offered, as in the Synagogue, but not in stated liturgical form. It was uttered freely, on the impulse of the Spirit, and was presented in the name of Christ, the Intercessor . . . . The Christian faith gave rise to hymns of a new character, often produced in the heat of the moment and almost as soon forgotten; but sometimes short lyrics of real beauty were treasured and repeated . . . . Chief of all these [elements] was the observance of the Supper . . . . This, indeed, was not so much a part of the worship as the vessel which contained all the parts. The purpose of the Christian meeting was to hold the common meal, and to make it a memorial of Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples . . . . The exercise of the spiritual gifts was thus the characteristic element in primitive worship. Those gifts might vary in their nature and degree according to the capacity of each individual, but they were bestowed on all and room was allowed in the service for the participation of all who were present. “When you meet together,” says Paul, “each of you hath a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, an interpretation.” Every member was expected to contribute something of his own to the common worship . . . . Worship in those first days was independent of all forms (The Nature of the Early Church, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941, pp.75,77,79,87).

If we gathered together to express Christ in participative meetings like this, we would not have concerns about women intruding into the “holy space” behind the pulpit. We could instead then focus on lifting up Christ through the various parts of the body. It is a tragedy that we have sacrificed Christ-centered flood-gates of blessing for letting one person up front be the one mouth that speaks – and no questions are to be asked.

Jon Zens

“Why Don’t Women Read & Pray in Bethlehem’s Church Services?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij9i5pO9zew

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