Category Archives: community

Church and Community

Here are two of the most helpful exegetical exercises that have informed me about the church and its purposes.  I would suggest you take the time to engage in these activities.

1.  Look up every instance of the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia, church, gathering, assembly, congregation, etc.) in the New Testament.  Read the context of each use.  The result will be a more healthy understanding of the Bible’s use of church.  To understand what a church must do you must understand what a church is.  In my mind being  precedes doing.

2.  In regard to the “community of faith,” each Christian should look up, read, and meditate on the “one another” passages of the New Testament.

Some of the more important preliminary conclusions at which I arrived when I first did this activity?

1.  The overwhelming emphasis in the New Testament is on the physical, visible, local church.  To say it another way, every Christian is a member of the “body of Christ,” but that body is manifested in a particular place and time.

2.  Christians need each other to become more like Christ.  There is no place in the Bible for “Lone-Ranger” Christianity.  The community of believers is essential for sanctification and edification.

3.  The church is the place not only to proclaim the gospel, but (more importantly), to demonstrate the effects of a gospel-changed life.  In today’s culture, especially, an authentic demonstration of the gospel is often more important than a precise articulation of the gospel.

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Missing the Mountains: Thoughts on Colorado

As a lifelong resident of Hampton Roads, VA, I have always preferred the scenery of the water (e.g., beaches, rivers, creeks, bays, etc.).  Recently I was going through some pictures of my summer in Denver, CO (2004) and was feeling nostalgic for the ice-covered mountains.  Denver was such a great city.  Some of my friends are planning a move to Denver to plant a church (check out their awesome website).  I really enjoyed my time in Denver.  It was a very progressive city that had all the accoutrements of a metropolis with the community and charm of a small town.  The people were friendly, interesting, and active.  While downtown, our team worked with at-risk children, Hispanic immigrants, and the surprisingly large homeless population.

One of the highlights from that summer was a camping trip we took to Rocky Mountain National Park (led by the illustrious and uber-talented James Tealy).  During that time I tried my hand at the National Geographic videographer thing… below is a video compiled from that camping trip.

Chuck-mate

Pause and admire the title…

In the most recent issue of Relevant Magazine (a preeminently cool magazine that blends culture and Christianity into a beautiful, artistic, and thoughtful format) they have feature on Zachary Levi, star of the NBC series “Chuck.”  Read the feature as Levi discusses how he lives as a Christian in Hollywood.  He also discusses the role of Christian community in balancing his new-found fame.  An interesting article about a funny and talented actor.  Levi comes across as sincere, fun-loving, and down-to-earth (a breath of fresh air).

“Why We Love the Church” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

Overall Impression

I just finished reading the most recent DeYoung/Kluck collaboration (they previously teamed up on Why We’re Not Emergent).  My only previous experience with either writer was through DeYoung’s blog and hilarious book on finding the will of God (“without dreams, visions, fleeces, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.).  I was excited by the subject matter (as evidenced in the title) and the praise from theological heavyweights such as J. I. Packer, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever.  This book is well-informed, balanced, readable, funny, and God-glorifying.

Positive

The basic premise of this book is that there is no such thing as a “churchless Christianity.”  The authors are clear that they are trying to correct the common notion that Christians do not need “organized churches.”  In fact, the Scriptures indicate that organization (i.e., structure in corporate worship, leadership, etc.) is essential to the health of a church.

“Community” is a buzzword among modern evangelicals, but many “emergent” (whatever that means) types are unwilling to be shaped by a community of believers that does not mimic their particular hipster style.  It is essential that each believer be a part of a church that is full of imperfect Christians.  The result of old and young coming together to worship despite differences of opinion regarding musical style and church architecture is mutual edification and personal sanctification.

DeYoung and Kluck are particularly critical of modern Christian “revolutionaries.”  Christianity, they argue, needs more “plodding visionaries,” that is, people who are concerned with obedience to the gospel and faithfulness to the commands of Christ.  Giving up on local church because it does nothing for you or because you can find a deeper spirituality somewhere else is, frankly, narcissistic and contrary to the commands of Scripture.

I was thankful for the historical perspective the authors provided in two areas:  (1)  They clarified the oft repeated maxim that “Christians have done terrible things throughout there history.”  While this statement, they say, is true it is not absolutely true without qualification.  For example, while race-based slavery was condoned by some Christians it was also abolished largely because of Christian abolitionists.  (2)  The authors also busted the myth of the early Christian utopia.  You and I have both heard the call to be a “New Testament church.”  There are few problems with this statement.  On the one hand the Bible is full of terrible churches rife with division, heresy, and immorality.  On the other hand, just because something is not mentioned in the Bible does not mean that is impure (e.g., buildings, pews, etc.).

The authors argue that the most important reasons to love the church are because it is the God-ordained means for the proclamation of the gospel and the sanctification of believers.  Good reasons that stand in stark contrast to the modern Christian’s “what’s-in-it-for-me” mentality.

Negative

This book is an admirable attempt to correct many problems in modern evangelicalism.  Despite claiming a robust ecclesiology, this book is far from comprehensive.  It has barely a mention of issues such as covenant membership and ordinances.

The authors demonstrate a great balance in their personal understanding of the church’s relationship to God and culture.  However, they set up a false dichotomy between “emergent-types” and “traditional-types.”  The authors unfortunately caricature “emergents” as a modern incarnation of the liberal social gospel.  This dichotomy is unnecessary.  One can be concerned with a true gospel and a culturally appropriate presentation of that gospel.

Though I understand the intention to defend the “traditional” church, I am still uncomfortable with the language of church as “institution” and the authors consistently assume that particular incarnations of modern church are Biblical and healthy.

Concluding Remarks

On the whole this book provides balance to contemporary tendency to “church-hate.”  While neither comprehensive or without fault, the authors are clearly attempting to glorify God and obey the Scriptures.  Love Jesus and love his bride.

Cake or Icing?

Many of our North American churches seem to have everything — culturally relevant outreach, attractive facilities, and a broad range of programs to match any and every lifestyle.  Add to this the experience of dynamic speakers, professional-quality music, and inviting small groups.  How could those who are most active in these churches be stagnant and dissatisfied?

There’s nothing wrong with top-quality facilities, creative programs, and a genuine sense of community.  But the fundamental question is, “What message are we sharing in our community and within our walls through our programs?”  I believe its our substance, not our structure, that is leaving so many stagnant and dissatisfied.  A church may have polished programs, well-trained staff, and dynamic speakers.

But content is what people walk away with.

(Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel)

As you may or may not know, my wife loves weddings.  She loves making someone’s wedding day beautiful and memorable.  Recently she told me about a trick some people use to save money on the wedding cake.  For those particularly concerned with a beautiful and ornate cake sometimes decorate Styrofoam or cardboard with fondant and decorative sugar flowers.  This is all well and good because during the serving of the cake the wait staff takes the cake in the kitchen and swaps it with a pre-cut bargain priced cake.  No one ever has to know.

Not a big deal when it comes to wedding cake but a very big deal when it comes to a church!  My concern is that many Christians and churches have become more concerned with the look of the church rather than the substance. When someone goes to cut into our proverbial cake, all they find is a piece of cardboard.

Without Vision the Community Flourishes?

I have been reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s short treatise on the subject of Christan community entitled “Life Together.”  His words are clear and convicting.  I often hear pastors talking about the necessity of “vision” in leading a church.  This passage from Bonhoeffer may cause some to question the idolatry of their own “vision.”

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.  He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.  When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash.  So he becomes,  first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.