A LOVE SUPREME

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If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

You Do Not Belong Here

"...so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others..." Romans 12:5

After eleven chapters of dropping theological bombshells the after shocks of which the church is still trying to understand, Paul begins chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans by urging each believer to present his or her body as a "living sacrifice." This imperative to present one's body is followed up by an appeal not to "conform to the world," but to be transformed (think "metamorphosis") by a renewal of the mind (the nous). The result is mind and body sacrificially dedicated to God.

Then verse 3 shifts us into our discussion of the body of Christ. First off: Don't think more highly of yourself than you ought to. And then we move into the metaphor of a body. One body with many "members" or "parts." We all have various functions: The body has a purpose and each part of the body has a different function. And yet we are all somehow working together. This is something of a task-oriented Christianity. No surprise that Paul would begin commenting on the fact that the body is here to do something; that we all work together. Paul was the first major missionary. He was a "go getter" as we say here in rural Indiana. Paul fearlessly plowed forward into new territory to spread the Gospel and establish new converts and new churches. The same energy that he had put into squelching the faith and persecuting members of the Jesus movement known in some circles as "The Way" was now redirected toward the spread of the "good news" of reconciliation to God through faith and through Jesus.

Generally speaking, I think that most American churches resonate with the idea of function. Each church has an all-you-can-eat buffet of ministries and programs to get involved with, often listed in helpful summary format within your weekly bulletin.

Function.

Task-oriented.

Rick Warren writes a book entitled The Purpose Driven Church and the danged things get bought off the shelf like Spock-ears at a Star Trek convention.

Back to the passage.

The task-oriented Paul now makes an interesting move: He follows function with belonging. We who are many form one body. Oh, and by the way, "each member belongs to all the others." This is the translation from the NIV, which focuses on "belonging." Function is critical for Paul, but it is rooted in our belonging one to another. What does this "belonging" entail, I wonder?

Commentator J.D.G. Dunn finds this belonging (or "one another") terminology to be "a slightly odd variation of the body metaphor." However, it serves very effectively to bring out the degree of interdependence which Paul regards as the most important point to draw from the body imagery (here as in 1 Cor 12; also Eph 4—note v 25; “each member belongs to all the others”—NIV), thus underlining the fact that the body language is primarily for Paul an ecclesiological rather than Christological concept (hence again the variation in terminology as between 1 Cor 12:12-13 and Rom 12:4-5). The consequence for ecclesiology also needs to be borne in mind: as K√§semann notes, “No ecclesiastical hierarchy can be deduced as constitutive from the motif of Christ’s body.” (WBC p. 724)

I find it interesting that Dunn calls this idea of interdependence and belonging to be the "most important point to draw from the body imagery." Why is this the most important point? I would venture to suggest that without interdependence that a sense of real "belonging" that is its foundation, the body of Christ merely becomes a task-oriented church that may get things done. At this point we lose a true sense of belonging amongst our members. "Church" takes on something of the corporate model where we clock in, do our job, then clock out and go about living our own lives and going about our own personal business. Without feeling a true sense of belonging a member of the body of Christ finds that a wedge is driven between "church life" and "personal life." We have a working relationship with the other members. But we don't really belong.

Dunn also comments that the "body" is more than a mere metaphor, but is rooted in the real-life context of the community of the early church: "the body imagery is actually an expression of the consciousness of community and oneness experienced by the first Christians as they met 'in Christ.'" (WBC p. 724)

Interesting comment by Mr. Dunn. Though the early church had a sense of purpose and function, they lived in a very closely connected community. We recall Acts chapter 2:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Therefore, when Paul speaks of "belonging," he is not necessarily issuing an imperative, but is expressing something that already had occurred and was currently being experienced in the early church - the communities understood belonging because they lived it out. This may also shed light on the imperatives in the book of Hebrews. Perhaps the encouragement to "not give up meeting together" in 10:25 refers to the exhortation to "encourage one another daily" back in 3:13. Do these references provide another instance of the early church living out community and developing a true sense of belonging? By living in such close proximity as to be able to actually encourage each other daily? Lane indicates that this may be the case: "The admonition 'encourage one another every day' may actually presuppose a daily gathering of the house church, which would provide the occasion for mutual encouragement (cf. Windisch, 31; Michel, 106)." (WBC, p. 87)

So, where does that leave us as churches here in America? I would argue that most churches are "busy." Some more busy than others. Some more active than others. Some more purposeful than others and some who get much more done. We have tasks that accomplish things and make a real difference in the world, while there are others of us that are just kind of busy without any true impact. Essentially though, I think we all have tasks that we are trying to do. Ministries, programs. More ministries, more programs. But all without true belonging.

Do you truly experience belonging in your local fellowship?

Are there other believers who know the real you? Your hopes and dreams, your deepest fears? Are there people who understand your weak points? People who know what gets you excited in life (no matter how quirky or strange!)? Are there people who have your back? Who care about your soul? People who know your soul?

But then we could flip it around? Do you have souls for which you care for? Can you say that there are other believers who belong to you?

Not likely.

Belonging simply isn't a priority. And why should it be? The early church faced serious persecution in some cases. In other cases, they were religiously ostracized from fellow Jews or viewed with suspicion by local Gentile governments. You really need community when community is all you've got.

We don't have persecution in America. (And no, the existence of the Democrat Party and the release of the Al Gore movie does not, it turns out, qualify as persecution.) We've got cable channels we never watch and huge vehicles that can drive us places that we will never go. We don't really need belonging, do we???

Also, in the early church there was a lot to work out in regard to this new Christian faith and way of life. Who was Christ? God or man? What do we do about food that has been sacrificed to idols? What about the Law of Moses? Circumcision? There was a lot to talk about, and then there was the whole aspect of understanding what the new birth meant and how salvation worked out in the living of this new life of servanthood and discipleship to Christ.

Thankfully we have this all worked out these days. Have a doctrinal question? Go ask your pastor - he went to seminary. We have weekly sermons that tell us how we are to live and surely that has to be good enough.

Belonging?

Nah.

But perhaps all is not well in paradise. Sin issues seem prevalent in churches. For example, those that are "good conservative" churches (see Ted Haggard) are not immune from issues of marital infidelity. Marriages crumble at such a fast rate that even "the world" has a tough time keeping up. And it ain't because people don't know better, either. I have a hard time believing that "good Bible preachin'" is the answer to all of the marriage woes - as if people didn't already know that a broken marriage is not a good thing. And although I have zero experiences in the area of marriage (and by God's good graces I never will!) it strikes me as a bit silly to think that using "biblical counseling" as a catch all is going to have a real impact on layers upon layers of distrust and anger that builds up between two people.

Oh, and of course there are the addictive and compulsive behaviors that we don't really talk about because....uh...because those things are kind of uncomfortable to talk about....and, well, yea.....better to just deal with stuff like pornography, compulsive eating, anxiety, and that "indiscretion" with the co-worker.

But seriously, though. Where would you go if you really wanted to deal with your stuff? Yea, I mean that kind of stuff. The stuff that you are too ashamed or embarrassed to admit to anyone except....well, except to people with whom you experience authentic belonging. Do you really belong to a group of believers who know you as well or better than you know yourself?

The fact is that for all of the money we pour into our churches we have little to show for it in terms of belonging. Where are the forums and opportunities to truly guard against the "deceitfulness" of sin, as Hebrews 3 talks about? This deception is most often self-deception. But where are the caretakers of our souls? To whom do we "belong"? Again, more Bible isn't always the answer. Many of our conservative Christian churches use "Bible" as a band-aid for a flesh wound. What we really need is a chance to understand how the Bible works out in my life and the lives of those who belong to me. I think the complexity of the current age demand it. Preprepared answers don't cut it, anymore. No matter how Biblical they are. Each age and culture faces issues that require the Scriptures to be examined anew. Not to study simply to find out "what it meant back then," but to explore the implications of faith for the now.

The American church today is a social gathering alongside a desire to get some things done. But what does this mean for a pomo generation? Issues of isolation and compulsive/addictive behavior are common place. It's all amplified. But how do we deal with these things within institutions where we don't belong to anyone and they don't belong to us.

The fault of the weakness of the church in the postmodern age has nothing to do with so-called "godless" postmodern philosophers like Nietzsche, Derrida, or Baudrillard. I no longer take any conservative Christian leader seriously who believes that abstract philosophy can stand up to the church and create the current moral impotence that plagues us. Our failure is not a failure of abstract ethical theorizing or a need to take a stand for the "correspondence theory of truth." This is just silly. I say the following with no apology or reservation:

If the gates of hell cannot stand up against the church, then no postmodern theorist can either

But Postmodern theory is not the problem. The threat is not external, the issue is internal. It is a pride in institution that supersedes authentic relationship.

American Christianity has no belonging. Consequently the body has weakened and atrophied. We are attempting our tasks and striving to fulfill our function in an anemic state. How unfortunate. The body of Christ was meant to represent Christ. Yet, for all practical purposes Christ's body is still wheezing in the grave, too weak to emerge and make a difference in the world.

The most fundamental aspect of the body of Christ is true belonging. It is only when we truly belong that we can begin to make a real difference in the lives of the 21st century believer and demonstrate to the world that the body of Christ is, in fact, alive and no longer lying, weakened and cold, in the grave. But this cannot occur until each member belongs to all the others.

49 comments:

Melody said...

I would venture to suggest that without interdependence that a sense of real "belonging" that is its foundation, the body of Christ merely becomes a task-oriented church that may get things done.

Where as it should be...?

By living in such close proximity as to be able to actually encourage each other daily?

1. Why wouldn't they have lived close enough to encourage each other daily?

2. We have cell phones - no one is ever too far away to encourage daily.

More ministries, more programs. But all without true belonging.

Well - we have a lot of programs, but very little involvement and I think that's more to the point.

You get to know people by doing things with them, but you can't do things with people if they don't show up.

I guess I also think it matters what you're doing. A women's tea might be fun (I don't know when, but anything's possible), but it probably isn't as much of a bonding experience as helping someone fix their house.

Are there other believers who know the real you? Your hopes and dreams, your deepest fears? Are there people who understand your weak points? People who know what gets you excited in life (no matter how quirky or strange!)? Are there people who have your back? Who care about your soul? People who know your soul?


What? Like friends?

But seriously, though. Where would you go if you really wanted to deal with your stuff?

You want people who are dealing with addictions to go ask their friends how to deal with it?

Half the time that's how people get addicted. Their friends give them stupid advice on how to deal with a problem and it works for a while until it turns out that, Oh drowning your sorrows in alcohol has some bad side affects. Whoops.

Do you really belong to a group of believers who know you as well or better than you know yourself?

Do you really think this is what Acts 2 describes?

Sounds to me like they helped each other a lot - but this business of knowing each other so well is something that happens once every 50 friends or so. You're never going to have a whole group of people like that (nor would I want one - creepy).

samlcarr said...

Right on!
But does it really have anything to do with what we call church? It seems to me that there is little correspondence between 'the body' and 'the church'.

Melody, I don't think this is just about friends and friendships, tho it's a truth that you don't know who your real friends are till you are in deep trouble! Friendship can get close to this idea of mutual interdependence, but doesn't very often.

Daniel said...
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Daniel said...

The implications of scripture in Romans 12 is that belonging is more important than believing. We are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, yet the model today is often focussed on mental assent, rather than active involvement in the work of ministry.

The truth is one can believe the right things yet be living in the wrong direction, belief alone is not good enough (as Apostle James puts it: faith without works)). But, if one belongs to the right place, one is carried along by the body even if one has wrong beliefs.

This is reassuring because none of us have perfect doctrine, we all have false beliefs. But, by belonging to the body of Christ, in all its diverse function, expressed in a local Church, we are assured of working out our salvation. We are carried along in the great tide of God's grace towards His people, as He builds His Church.

The implication is to take more seriously where God has planted one as a believer, and prioritize loving those in the body where one is (Apostle Peter terms it brotherly kindness). The local Church is always this wonderful diverse group of people, young and old, rich and poor, all loving one another, united in the Love of Christ - not common interests, hobbies, politics etc. like worldly organiziations. That is our witness to the world (how we love one another).

A task- oriented Church could be missing this - making it just another non-profit organization.

Nonetheless, the Church is the body of Christ, warts and all (some day we will be presented without blemish!) It is imperative on every believer to belong to a local Church to be joined to the Body where God sees fit.

samlcarr said...

Where would I go? Definitely not to church! Over the years of relationships there are folks that one gets to know pretty well. There's not much about me that these people don't already know. Most of them are no longer physically close. All of us have moved on and moved from where we first met, but they are there, and it is to them that I would go for guidance, help, support, disagreement, argument...

Increasingly, there are also people on the net that I may never have met physically but would still feel comfortable sharing 'stuff' with...

Daniel said...

Hi Sam

Seems you and I are on the same side of GMT. We are blogging ahead of our time compared to our American friends in that sense.

does it really have anything to do with what we call church? It seems to me that there is little correspondence between 'the body' and 'the church'.

Church is not only about relationship with those you are close to in friendship, but also with those that you would never become close friends with, but do share 'brotherhood' in Christ. Offense and discomfort is part of Church life.

It seems a vital element in accountability and dicsipleship,is to be in meaningful relationship with people you don't particularly like/ wouldn't otherwise associate with. It is both humbling and empowering to step outside of your identity and find unity with other believers in the body of Christ. Other metaphors for the Church = family, building of living stones, bride.

To seperate the concepts of local Church and body of Christ - if that is your assertion - would require more than empirical data of dissapointment in Church life, or disagreement with "what we call Church", as it would signal a change of divine strategy.

"What we call Church" does fall short of ekklesia. Sometimes one does need to be a Church all by yourself, when other believers are not to be found - say when in a completely non-Christian environment, an absolute spiritual desert. Than I would say the call would be to plant a Church and trust God to add to your solitary number!

Participation on a blog like this does count as fellowship, even an assembly of saints?!! It is definitely a step better than watching tv on Sunday morning and mail-order Christianity.

Where would I go? Definitely not to church!

Do you not belong to any local Church Sam? Before I make this assumption, it would be good to hear of your experience with the local Church.

Melody said...

Sam: Melody, I don't think this is just about friends and friendships,

Ok, I'd ask you what you think it is about except that in your next comment you say,

Where would I go? Definitely not to church! Over the years of relationships there are folks that one gets to know pretty well.

So I'm not really sure what you're trying to say here. Sounds like you're talking about friends.

Sounds like Jon is describing things that friends do.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel: The truth is one can believe the right things yet be living in the wrong direction, belief alone is not good enough (as Apostle James puts it: faith without works)). But, if one belongs to the right place, one is carried along by the body even if one has wrong beliefs.

Interesting point. The twelve disciples seemed to get their beliefs mixed up most of the time, yet they were still "of the truth" because they recognized the Lordship of Christ. This is one of the interesting things I find in the Gospel of John.

Daniel: A task- oriented Church could be missing this - making it just another non-profit organization.

Interesting, b/c I have had the same thought. If the local church does not cultivate true community and authentic belonging, then in what way does it differ from a para-church organization or a non-for-profit org.?

Daniel: Nonetheless, the Church is the body of Christ, warts and all (some day we will be presented without blemish!) It is imperative on every believer to belong to a local Church to be joined to the Body where God sees fit.

Agreed.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam: Where would I go? Definitely not to church! Over the years of relationships there are folks that one gets to know pretty well. There's not much about me that these people don't already know. Most of them are no longer physically close. All of us have moved on and moved from where we first met, but they are there, and it is to them that I would go for guidance, help, support, disagreement, argument...

I definitely sympathize with frustration with local church establishments, Sam. I hate to be an anti-establishment kind of guy, but it honestly seems like the more institutionalized a local church becomes, the more it loses sight of cultivating belonging and relational depth.


Melody,
In regard to your comments I think that what is missing is that there needs to be intentionality in the body - specifically, we need to be intentional in "spurring" each other on to love and good works. The intentionality is the thing that often is lacking in groups of friends: We enjoy each other's company and get to know each other, but we don't spur each other on at a deep, spiritual level. If there is not regular intentional accountability, then it can be easy to cultivate a hardened heart or to spiritually drift into complacency...

I think that Christian friends can become a context for authentic belonging, however. But it takes intentionality, and I think that this intentionality is one of the main things in Hebrews, if I can summarize my interpretation: Make sure that you watch each other's back and don't neglect meeting together for the purpose of self-investigation. Seize the moment and maximize your life for the glory of Christ.

samlcarr said...

Melody, "I guess I also think it matters what you're doing. A women's tea might be fun (I don't know when, but anything's possible), but it probably isn't as much of a bonding experience as helping someone fix their house."

I guess your definition of friendship includes commitment, and doing "life things" together. But then you want to keep it all casual, nothing too heavy duty: "You want people who are dealing with addictions to go ask their friends how to deal with it?"

My answer to that one is yes, but not 'generally' buddies, just the ones who have stuck with you through thick and thin and that means that you took the risk of telling people and a number of them ditched you, but a few stuck with it...

And my experience is that church was not really the place to go to find these kinds of folks. My experience with church and anything controversial is that you get whispering that's a lot more deadly and more distorting than shouting it from the rooftops!

samlcarr said...

Daniel,

If you are in SA then you are about 3.5 hours behind me in India.
I agree with you on the spiritual reality. IO also think that we should be doing a heck of a lot more to make the physical reality come to grips with what our Lord has already done for us. the reality, whether we want to acknowledge it or not is that we are all a part of His Body. Now we just have to start to learn to behave like it's true!

Where we part company, I think, is when you would equate the body with church: "Other metaphors for the Church..."

Melody said...

In regard to your comments I think that what is missing is that there needs to be intentionality in the body - specifically, we need to be intentional in "spurring" each other on to love and good works.

Ok...

I think that Christian friends can become a context for authentic belonging, however. But it takes intentionality,

Is this "authentic belonging" the same thing as the love and good works thing?

It doesnt sound like the same thing.

Melody said...

I guess your definition of friendship includes commitment, and doing "life things" together.

Yours doesn't?

But then you want to keep it all casual, nothing too heavy duty: "You want people who are dealing with addictions to go ask their friends how to deal with it?"

That's not keeping casual - that's keeping it sane. People don't know what to do about addictions even when they've dealt with them - heaven help you if you ask someone who's never had that problem at all!

I'm not saying hide it - I'm just saying people have stupid reactions/advice so you might want to not rely on it too heavily/at all.

My answer to that one is yes, but not 'generally' buddies, just the ones who have stuck with you through thick and thin and that means that you took the risk of telling people and a number of them ditched you, but a few stuck with it...

Who are these people?
You know people who would stop being someone's friend just because they had issues with something?

I mean, they might not care and that would be a bummer, but I don't know anyone who would stop being someone's friend. They might give them a weird look - weird looks are pretty bad.

And my experience is that church was not really the place to go to find these kinds of folks. My experience with church and anything controversial is that you get whispering that's a lot more deadly and more distorting than shouting it from the rooftops!

Meh - no worse than anywhere else.
If you tell people something in a whisper they discuss it that way. Speak at an average volume - so will they. It's all about presentation. No one wants to speak at an average volume about their problems, hence the whispers.

samlcarr said...

"If you tell people something in a whisper they discuss it that way. Speak at an average volume - so will they. It's all about presentation."

That's not exactly what I had in mind... Let's say I share something "I struggled with [psychosis x] and it took three years of therapy to sort of set it right" in my small group bible study, well, one will not be overly surprised when it does come back (almost invariably) and with distortions, from some total stranger.

The other thing I was getting at is that one does need to share stuff and yes, there are people who will 1) think you're an idiot or a fool, or just too prone to get into hot water for it to be safe to be friends with you and 2) Play both sides against the middle. But at the end of some harrowing experience, you will know who actually and actively was willing to go the extra mile, share what they had with you and give you a really confidential shoulder to cry on and all this even when you may have been in the wrong, or the losing side of some controversy.

I'm prone to get myself in hot water, so, I do know a bit about this...

Melody said...

well, one will not be overly surprised when it does come back (almost invariably) and with distortions, from some total stranger.

One won't? I've never had that happen. There would be death. I have had people ask if it's ok to talk to someone else about something I've told them about and then maybe they screw up the details, but since I know about it I can always clarify.

But I can't help thinking you must not have been very clear on not wanting the thing discussed - because when I know things I'm not supposed to know I don't bloody walk up to the person and ask them about the thing I shouldn't know about. Where as I might if I didn't know it was a secret.
And if it's not a secret, what's the big deal?

samlcarr said...

Melody, I'm really glad that your friends and your church are different from mine. I've been in a number of churches and fellowships over the years and gossip is one thing that has always been a constant though with variations in scale.

Anyhow, we're floating gently away from what Jon really wanted us to talk about which was how within fellowships and specifically in churches we do need to get away from concentrating on being so program oriented. Jon would like there to be a better correspondence showing in the structure and organisation that gears it towards the interconnectedness that should be the main halmark of Christian fellowship.

I wonder though whether this is something that can be programmed? Should we have churches that try to make everyone more authentic and more relational? What exactly would that look like?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I agree. Authentic relationship cannot be programmed. However, we can strip away some of the programming that gears us toward seeing Christianity as a program: Go to church, do a ministry, be in a small group, rinse and repeat.

American Christianity right now is so Corporate that it we can only think in terms of function. Even "discipleship" is little more than making sure the newbie has "got it" so that he can go out at proselytize someone else and make sure they "get it." In some ways it borders on brainwashing. And that's assuming we even make an effort to "disciple."

Belonging can never be forced, but it can be modeled, encouraged, preached, and demonstrated. The problem is that it just isn't a priority with most institutions, because authentic relationships are risky and take the control out of the hands of the higher ups in the hierarchy.

Melody said...
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Melody said...

Belonging can never be forced, but it can be modeled, encouraged, preached, and demonstrated.

Ok - true, but how would you get that going in a church?

Can you oust someone from a position of leadership for not modeling community or belonging enough?

The problem is that it just isn't a priority with most institutions, because authentic relationships are risky and take the control out of the hands of the higher ups in the hierarchy

Sounds like a conspiracy theory. I always just thought it was because church leadership was ambivelent.

Daniel said...

A good model of belonging in the Bible is Ruth. She left her country and former identity for the unknown with only her relationship to Naomi for security. Naomi is a type of the Holy Spirit, leading us into fellowship. Ruth said to Naomi "your people will be my people, and your God will be my God", committing herself whole-heartedly to the process of change.

However upon entering her new home she was met with lots of challenges, and not many were willing to befriend her. She had to glean on the edges of the fields, and really persevere before her marriage to Boaz, a type of Christ.

The story of Ruth impresses upon me the importance of pressing into the 'belonging' one seeks. I really feel the onus is on the seeker to make it work, as much as we would like to make our congregations more open to people coming in, maybe it will always take this great effort from the 'belongee' side.

This is more palatable when bearing in mind it is the Holy Spirit who makes us as the Church attractive to people in the first place. Otherwise we come across as a bunch of freaks.

Any viewpoints? Before extending this to other people and expecting more commitment, I ask myself the question: how much of a Ruth am I in my local Church?

Melody said...

Ick - sorry for the lack of HTML in that last post. Blogger comments really need an edit option

Should be:

Belonging can never be forced, but it can be modeled, encouraged, preached, and demonstrated.

Ok - true, but how would you get that going in a church?

Can you oust someone from a position of leadership for not modeling community or belonging enough?

The problem is that it just isn't a priority with most institutions, because authentic relationships are risky and take the control out of the hands of the higher ups in the hierarchy

Sounds like a conspiracy theory. I always just thought it was because church leadership was ambivelent.

samlcarr said...

It is a conspiracy but of the lazy kind.

Here's the formula. if you do this you can't go wrong. So no one really wants to question that.

Anything that rocks the boat is risky. This is tried and tested, that is ...risky, it's new, I don't know how, there's no manual, it can't be held accountable, how will I budget it ????

When the board sits on it what will they decide?

Hmmm, the study subcommittee has recommended it. Ways and WAYS AND MEANS SAYS OK. So, Yes, this is important. We had better budget in a new department - 2 full time staff, lets call it the Athenticity Ministry, that sounds about right.

Melody said...

Anything that rocks the boat is risky. This is tried and tested, that is ...risky, it's new, I don't know how, there's no manual, it can't be held accountable, how will I budget it ????

lol, maybe - or maybe they just haven't thought about it or maybe they're selfish or...

My family ate alone at almost every church dinner for the 8 years that we were at the church I grew up in. Probably they still eat alone.

I don't think it was because the church leadership was scared to do something new. It was because every single person who was there made a decision on their own that they did not want to sit with us (or that they would leave the table five minutes after we sat down - humiliating).

Our youth leader would walk away from hurting kids to go talk to his friends - my sister repeatedly warned him that one of the girls was in a bad place and he continued to ignore it until the girl tried to kill herself.

That isn't about risk - it's just apathy.

samlcarr said...

Daniel, you are right. Regardless of the structure and the organisation and 'the way things are done' it is up to us, the individuals, to reach out to one another.
But there's also no doubt that our leaders can be very helpful if they show the way. For a little while they have to forget about being organised and stick out their hands in friendship.
That is where discipleship begins and let us pray that we will see more and more of it as we go along.

I also think that small is beautiful, and we would see a lot more spontaneous loving if we were able to stick to keeping fellowships unfashionably small.

Daniel said...
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Daniel said...
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Daniel said...

I also think that small is beautiful, and we would see a lot more spontaneous loving if we were able to stick to keeping fellowships unfashionably small.

This is a good point. In addition, ways for small fellowships to interrelate are crucial, to knit together in love.

Massive prayer meetings and crusades have been effective on the African continent in bringing unity between different smaller groups. I wonder if this is so in other parts of the world?

In our small town we have an inter-church lending library set up by Operation Mobilization which is fostering dialogue between different groups. This is great because it is happening spontaneously between members, not only leaders, although it took leadership to get the library off the ground.

The mega-church phenomenon has its place too, but I agree with you on the 'unfashionably small' point. A sense of family is far easier to achieve with 500 people, than with 5000... although some people do prefer anonymity to 'knowing and being known', and they tend to club together in the large groups.

Personally I feel uncomfortable in a meeting where the leaders are treated like unapproachable heros, which tends to happen in the mega-churches... but then again, perhaps those that press in, through involvement and commitment, get closer to 'belonging' in the big fellowships. These fellowships usually need all the volunteer corp they can get.

Not that I'm cynical of structure in the Church but there are cases of self-seeking and worldly attitudes coming in, here as much as in other areas of Church life. How authentic relationships are also depends on the hearts of the leadership - are they genuinely committed to relationship or just to growing in numbers? Also one gets the sense that non-leaders are left behind somewhere (some would contest that we are all called to lead).

It is pertinent that Jesus called his disciples at the outset of his ministry and stuck by them throughout, even with a traitor in the ranks. There was no sense of "prove yourself to be my disciple" - or a selection process, or anything like that.

In Jesus ministry, there was none of the false rewards for service that we find in our context i.e. getting invited to the pastor's house for a meal when you have proved yourself in some way. By contrast, Jesus ate with those the pharisees (read: religious leaders) disregarded. An example of one who caught Jesus' attention, Zaccheus...

Relationship is not an incentive, but a value across the board.

One must also bear in mind that the large fellowships grow from small, often at great personal costs to the shepherds as they negotiate the relational/ emotional/ spiritual demands of their flocks. A bit of distance in a mega-church between the leader and their congregants is often necessary for the sake of sanity!

This only backs up your point though. Small fellowships are healthier.

samlcarr said...

Daniel, one thing that seems to be assumed in the NT, both in Acts (after the initial hiccups) and in the epistles, is that the fellowships were house based. So this will naturally limit fellowships and we see indications that as the numbers grew the fellowships just seemed to divide themselves, to fit into the larger homes perhaps? In any case, megachurch, nor even the 500 that you mention would have been the norm> Rather, it wd have tended to typically be about 20-40 is my guess.

Also the idea that a fellowship somehow 'belongs' to the worker that mainly builds it up is false, and that makes it easier to divide up when the time comes...

The purpose that drives the process, is fellowship and mission, NOT how to build an organisation,, with a unique identity, and a particular order of worship, and a particular theological bent, and a powerful preacher, and ...

Daniel said...

Hi Sam -

If the 'house church' was the form for the early Church met, there was still an aspect of broader interaction, as the Apostolic letters to the Church indicate. The believers recognized the authority of the Apostles.

So that, we speak of the Church in Ephesus, Phillippi, and so on; and then in Revelations the Church in different localities. This implies that even if the house churches were small, they would get together on a a larger scale. Like the interaction between home groups and Sunday services in our contemporary model? (but for all our different denominations and 'styles'...)

What are the "initial hiccups" in Acts you refer to? The first Church gathering, in the upper room, numbered 120, and thousands were added in the next few days, as the Christians continued to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.

I don't think numbers are the crux, but rather the value for relationship - if its not there, even a home church of ten people would not reflect belonging.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:My family ate alone at almost every church dinner for the 8 years that we were at the church I grew up in. Probably they still eat alone.

I don't think it was because the church leadership was scared to do something new. It was because every single person who was there made a decision on their own that they did not want to sit with us (or that they would leave the table five minutes after we sat down - humiliating).


So, we are really not all that much different on this issue. My point is that the current church structure allows a comfort zone for this kind of hypocrisy. We have set up our church organization in such a way that people can "do church" easily enough and not be forced to make a decision to embrace others. In most churches you can make a profession of faith, get baptized, become a member, and go to church on Sunday mornings. Failure to display love is not something that is really going to get noticed or called out.

All I'm suggesting is that our churches more resemble Corporations than they do a family.

Our youth leader would walk away from hurting kids to go talk to his friends - my sister repeatedly warned him that one of the girls was in a bad place and he continued to ignore it until the girl tried to kill herself.

That isn't about risk - it's just apathy.


See. I am with you on this too. The structure of "Youth Group" encourages popularity contests and favoritism, and unfortunately it differs little from the way a non-believer might run a Youth Group. In all honesty, many decent-minded non-believing folks would probably do a better job.

Again, I go back to criticizing a structure in America that has no opportunity to challenge those who are complacent. The only way a peon church member can make a difference in the above scenarios is to call some kind of Big Meeting and make a big deal out of things. Call in the Pastors. Call in a mediator. Before you know it everyone is up in arms and people divide and eventually someone has to leave.

Daniel said...

belonging

Melody said...

Failure to display love is not something that is really going to get noticed or called out.

True, kinda. But I don't think people see church as being about loving each other.

I mean, if people thought that was the point I don't think the structure would matter as much.

The only way a peon church member can make a difference in the above scenarios is to call some kind of Big Meeting and make a big deal out of things.

Or they could talk to the people who aren't being loving or they could behave differently themselves.

What are they going to do in a smaller meeting? Give the person a time out?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel, very nice.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Or they could talk to the people who aren't being loving or they could behave differently themselves.

What are they going to do in a smaller meeting? Give the person a time out?


If you recall, I was using your own scenario. And your own scenario revealed people who are unloving and uncaring. Thus my point: These people are allowed to room free with little to no real accountability for their actions and attitudes. Hence, if you want to do anything about it, you have to take major action. Sure, you can sit down for tea with them, but on your scenario it seems highly unlikely that this is going to make a difference. A one-on-one like this would be a threatening confrontation by someone you don't truly know saying something like, "Uh, it seems to me that your entire life and the direction of your heart is way off from the Gospel. Just thought maybe you'd like to know."

I'm just trying to be realistic here.

And, yes, smaller contexts that more resemble the church-houses of the early church are a better way to infiltrate a person's heart and expose their hypocrisy and lack of love.

samlcarr said...

Daniel, the hiccups of the Jerusalem church were based on rapid growth and mainly because the response of the apostles was wrong. What they had been trained to do was to roll up their sleeves, pitch in and start serving, but instead they got fat headed and decided that they needed only to concentrate on the 'ministry of the word'. Eventually things were sorted out but along racial lines, so that was a mess. The fellowships that spread out from Jerusalem do not seem to have fallen into the same trap.

If you look at Paul's lists of greetings at the ends of his epistles, these epilogues are full of references to the individual house fellowships that have resulted in each of the towns.

Melody said...

Sure, you can sit down for tea with them, but on your scenario it seems highly unlikely that this is going to make a difference.

We did, it didn't. They were completley baffled as to what the problem was.

one-on-one like this would be a threatening confrontation by someone you don't truly know

Well, to continue with my scenario, we're talking about a church of less than 100 people - veering more towards the 30-40 mark.

Makes it worse actually.

saying something like, "Uh, it seems to me that your entire life and the direction of your heart is way off from the Gospel. Just thought maybe you'd like to know."

lol, and saying something like that would go better if you knew the person well?

Even if you toned it down, how do you think it would go over? Because if you're still trying to be realistic you'll need to imagine getting the death glare from that person and anyone who likes them.

And, yes, smaller contexts that more resemble the church-houses of the early church are a better way to infiltrate a person's heart and expose their hypocrisy and lack of love.

I still think you're talking about an idealized situation. Making it a smaller doesn't make the people in it any better. You're assuming that the people in the church are nice and good and that the whole lot of them won't find someone to obnoxious to be worth their time. Maybe they just keep "forgetting" to give him the time of the next meeting till he figures it out and leaves or sets their houses on fire.

And - if you had a whole huge church full of your idealized people they would certainly be able to figure out that a family sitting all by themselves is probably lonely and that a child from a broken home needs some extra love.

samlcarr said...

Melody, yes it is an idealized scenario, and yes, it really does border on wishful thinking but that 'reaching out' has got to make it's way back into this thing called church or the church should stop claiming that it is following Jesus!

I also think that just as Jesus never forced anyone into discipleship, so too the church also has to rediscover His gentleness.

You are quite right that a small gathering of insensitive people is hardly and improvement on a bidder gang.

It's quite backwards really. We should start, and the group should form, in the first place out of conviction and calling. The very first step, what Paul calls 'milk' is to immerse oneself in the Jesus traditions, the Jesus creed, as Scot McKnight likes to call it. Fellowship follows from the transformation that this conviction+immersion will produce on an individual, and that should only be the very beginning of a fascinating journey into togetherness and really doing the 'ministry of reconciliation, in turn with all of those whom our Lord then brings to us.

I think inherent in the way I see it is that no one is born into church. There is no next gen. This group finishes and God independently will replace it with another group of committed people - but a lot of my views are off the wall...

samlcarr said...

sorry for the typos, the worst of which is "bigger gang"

Jonathan Erdman said...

I said: saying something like, "Uh, it seems to me that your entire life and the direction of your heart is way off from the Gospel. Just thought maybe you'd like to know."

Melody said: lol, and saying something like that would go better if you knew the person well?

Even if you toned it down, how do you think it would go over? Because if you're still trying to be realistic you'll need to imagine getting the death glare from that person and anyone who likes them.


Well, maybe. I mean, if you are in a situation where you are in contact with a person regularly enough to be fulfilling the Hebrews 3:13 idea of "encouraging one another daily," then the expectation is that there will be occasional need for believers in a small group to call each other out on things. I think everyone goes in to something like that with an expectation that they are not perfect and have a lot of problem areas to work on. On the other hand, in a traditional American church we generally get offended with confrontation because we don't have really good relationships already established. So, we have to try to tackle huge issues (i.e. marital infidelity, bitterness toward another believer, blatant rebellion from youth, etc.) at the back end - after they have become public issues. But by then the "deceitfulness of sin" has hardened the heart and we send the offender to a Pastor or counselor who has to try their best to soften a hardened heart. In the meantime, we have to deal with the public fall out. It is all very impersonal.

Melody said...

but that 'reaching out' has got to make it's way back into this thing called church or the church should stop claiming that it is following Jesus!

I'm not dissagreeing. I just think changing the size is a pretty superficial adjustment to make when the problem is the way that we behave.

Now I think that if a group of people wanted to change the way church works they might start off small group by necessity. But to call a gathering wrong based on it's size is to miss the point!

I also think it means that you'll end up pushing people away or keeping people out so you can maintain this optimal size of fellowship and then you've just done what you didn't want to do.

Melody said...

Well, maybe. I mean, if you are in a situation where you are in contact with a person regularly enough to be fulfilling the Hebrews 3:13 idea of "encouraging one another daily," then the expectation is that there will be occasional need for believers in a small group to call each other out on things.

Ok - fine. But you're contrasting a small group with church. It's different. And surely you don't expect that everyone who is in the church is going to have that kind of mind set?

samlcarr said...

You're right; Forget SIZE. It's my disestablishmentarianism coming to the fore while you are obviously a fan of antidisestablishmentarianism, and that, incidentally, is one of the longest words in the English language.

Melody said...

It's my disestablishmentarianism coming to the fore while you are obviously a fan of antidisestablishmentarianism, and that, incidentally, is one of the longest words in the English language.

You can't tell over the internet, but I'm grinning. Antidisestablishmentarianism was my bestfriend's favorite word when we were kids. We always looked for ways to work it into sentences even before we knew what it meant. She also was always mentioning that it was the longest word or second longest...something like that.

lol - oh my, we were nerds. So much fun though. Thanks, that made my day :)

dawn said...

I don't belong at my church. For one thing I'm a single, Black lady at a predominantly White church.

First, church is a magnet for families...ugg!

Second, the folks are nice at my church, but this is America and folks see skin before they see heart.

Unfortunately, I fit in better there than I do at a Black church.

Why? I have no idea...but no, I don't belong.

Daniel said...

If you look at Paul's lists of greetings at the ends of his epistles, these epilogues are full of references to the individual house fellowships that have resulted in each of the towns.

Sam, that's a very interesting and fresh observation. Also your account of the challenges faces by the Church in Jerusalem has given me a new perspective reading Acts.

Isn't it amazing how human frailty is there from the start, and the Church has been making mistakes ever since? There has been no perfect situation.

Reminds me of the joke: "I found a perfect church, and then I joined it."

Jonathan Erdman said...

Dawn,

I'm really sorry to hear that. I must say, I read your comment last night and I was felt quite sad. I imagine that it will be something of a difficult adjustment due to the fact that you live in Small Town, Wisconsin. There are likely only limited churching options.

Maybe you should find some like-minded young adults (or like-minded "old" adults!) and start a house church??? In any case, I wish you all the best b/c I know God is using you up in the land of cheese and beer.

dawn said...

Thanks Jonathan,
It is an adjustment, but I'm steadfast in my belief that "fit" is the most important thing I'm looking for in a church. I fit at my new church...I just don't belong. Hopefully I will one of these days.

A house church huh? I can't imagine who'd run it. If it were me, we'd all be drinking beer, eating cheese, and reading the Word!

samlcarr said...

Dawn, tell me when you're starting. I'll at least be able to join you in spirit!

Melody said...

Cheese and beer? Make it wine. And crackers - crackers would be nice.