A History of Mars Hill Church

Just watched Mark Driscoll’s podcast of the history of Mars Hill church in Seattle WA:

“God’s Work Our Witness” – 12/4/2011 http://marshill.com/media/gods-work-our-witness/gods-work-our-witness

It is a very cool story of God’s movement from some very Pagan Christian beginnings. They definitely experienced and struggled with many of the same things we’ve experienced: nomadic existence, pagan xians, church without walls, no music (at least for a time), etc…

Today they are a more established large church with meetings in four states via multi-site technology. They also are very active in church planting and leadership development. But it is very encouraging and inspiring to see how God used them for the “jokers” they were, opened doors, broke them, and bore much fruit. Like they say in their podcast, it’s not a blueprint for how to grow, but it’s riding the wave of grace at this moment. I think it encouraging too, because this sort of thing God is going on now through our little church.

Definitely worth a listen. Men, especially pay attention to the two stones.

I don’t know about the “Jesus Flag” though at the large gathering they recently had at Quest Park in Seattle. I did like their little baptism tubs they set up there, something we may need to do someday in a pinch.

The origin of information … so much for science burying God.

This blog appears to have not been published back in 2009 when it was written for some reason — it’s a continuation of the review of Lennox’s book “God’s Undertaker”

 

In the past, the design arguments have been critiqued as valid because they essentially set up analogies and the strength of the argument depended on the similarity of what was compared (e.g., Paley’s watch compared to nature). The design argument for DNA is stronger than earlier arguments because it possesses the identical feature (information content) to intelligently designed human texts and computer languages. It’s not just an argument from analogy but an “inference to the best explanation”. It’s interesting that so much effort is being exerted to seek for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Lennox asks, “How does one scientifically recognize a message emanating from an intelligent source …? …  If we are prepared to look for scientific evidence of intelligent activity beyond our planet, why are we so hesitant about applying exactly the same thinking to what is on our planet? … What… should we deduce from the overwhelming amount of information… contained in even the simplest living system? … Could it not be the real evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence?”

 

In this final chapter of his book, Lennox pounces on the relatively modern concept that “information and intelligence are fundamental to the existence of life… involved from the very beginning”. But this is not a new idea. “In the beginning was the Logos (Word) … all things were made by him” wrote the apostle John. The term ‘Word’ itself connotes “notions of command, meaning, code, communication – thus information; as well as creative power… The Word … is more fundamental than mass-energy. Mass-energy belongs to the category of the created. The Word does not.”

 

Lennox goes on to point out how striking it is that this concept at the heart of the biblical message has been “so cavalierly dismissed”, but we find in science nowadays showing it to be of paramount importance. How key this is to the Creator God of the Bible. In Genesis 1 it says “God said, let there be…”, not just that God created. Hebrews 11:3 states “By faith we understand that the universe was formed by God’s word, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” The carriers of information may well be visible (e.g., paper, email, and DNA), but information itself is not visible. “How could purely material causes account satisfactorily for the immaterial?”

 

Is this just another “futile god of the gaps argument”? Lennox doesn’t think so. This is a ‘good’ gap. He calls it a gap of principle. For example, physics and chemistry can explain what is used to write or paint something. But they cannot fully explain what and why something is written. We postulate they must have an author. Chance and necessity cannot generate the complex information that occurs in biology. Lennox adds, “There is more than a whiff of suspicion that reluctance on the part of some scientists to make a design inference from the existence of information-rich biomolecules has less to do with science than it has to do with the implications of the design-inference as to the possible identity of the designer. It is, therefore, a worldview issue, and not simply a scientific one.”

 

What an amazing picture this is. The Logos, the Word Himself, made everything and gave life. Not only that, but He came and dwelt among us (even though we would not receive Him), only to give us life through His death. And we still want to reject Him?

 

There is one more point to be made from this book. Lennox addresses Dawkins complaint that the design inference is too complicated and “who made God”. But this will take one more blog.

 

Church Planting Movements for Real. For us?

Church Planting Movements (CPM), ever hear of them? I just got through reading a recent article of Missions Frontiers magazine on the topic and was amazed at how God is working rapidly multiplying churches throughout the world (actually non-Western countries). It got me to thinking, is there something we can glean from the excitement going on everywhere else, could that sort of thing happen here?

First off what is a CPM? According to David Garrison (p. 9), an early tracker of CPM’s, a CPM is “a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment”. These typically are home-church based movements with each church averaging from a dozen to several dozen members. At least 200 of these movments have been identified (p. 13), the fastest of which is in Asia: 1.7 million baptisms and 150,000 new church plants in the past decade. This work was spawned by Chinese-American Ying Kai who also created the “Training for Trainers” (T4T) approach (p. 10). There has been considerable scrutiny as to the validity of these movements; however, recent efforts have shown many if not most of these movements to be authentic and some to be exaggerated. 

Some of the things that struck me were how broad-based the CPM  movements were. They are found among educated and illiterate populations; Hindu, Buddhist, Animistic, and Atheistic populations; and rural and city; modern and postmodern populations. I was most surprised that there are even CPM’s among India’s upper caste which I had always heard was nearly impossible to reach.

I was also surprised at some of the descriptions of these groups in foreign contexts which were fairly similar to what we experience:

  • The emphasis on reproducing bridges (i.e., relationships with non-Christians), reproducing evangelism (gospel presentation), reproducing discipleship, reproducing churches and reproducing leaders (p. 7).
  • The difficulty with working with some of the local established churches who would often rather build bigger churches and new buildings which stifles rapidly growing home churches and to some extent corrupts new believers (p. 21, 23)
  • All night prayer meetings are common  (p. 21)
  • Church leadership arising from within the church rather than from without (p. 12)
  • Bible studies being held wherever, for example in Cuba (p. 26) where it is estimated that nearly 10% of the population has become Evangelical in the last decade, they meet in public garages, lean-to’s, living rooms, etc…, i.e., church without walls
  • In all of the descriptions and emphases there was no mention of a worship service (not that they don’t worship, I’m sure they do, but the “worship service” is not central to the church mission and purpose)
  • People who are “no good” are often the instruments of God to start a movement

In thinking about some of our desires to plant university-based CPM’s in other cities I found two examples I think very enlightening and encouraging. First, I was struck by the “Person of Peace” (see Luke 10) brought up in Kevin Greeson’s article about Muslim CPM’s (pp. 22-24). Often what is found in a new region is that God has placed a Person of Peace who is as much looking for the missionary as is the missionary for him/her. It’s through this person or group that the CPM is begun. In fact when Greeson realized how God works in this way (much like Lydia in Acts 16), his mentality switched from “What’s it going to take to stay in this country?” (i.e., not get kicked out) to “What’s it going to take to find Persons of Peace who can start movements?”.  Second, from B.D.B. Moses’ article on Hindu CPM’s (p. 21), they find that the role of the missionary or church planter is to Model, Assist, Watch, and Leave. This seems very similar to Paul’s missionary journey’s and correspondence with churches he visited and some he didn’t even personally visit. They do not stay for too long a time because ultimately it’s up to the Spirit’s movement among the indigenous peoples to grow and plant churches. Both of these examples, perhaps we could even call them principles, are very appropriate as we explore new ventures. Is God raising Persons of Peace or as we like to affectionately call them “Pagan Christians” in places we feel led to plant? Can we approach church planting as more of an itinerant endeavor?

There was one article on CPM principles applied in the US. Jeff Sundell (pp. 27-28) wrote about his attempt in North Carolina. It was a little depressing to read how no one really was willing to “share their story” (witness) to their lost friends, in fact nobody had any lost friends. They ended up having to change the terminology from “lost” to “far from God”. However, they have seen 40  discipleship groups in the last year and some “far from God” draw nearer to Him. I’m not sure exactly what that means though?

I will close with the article by Steve Smith, one of the guys who heads up the T4T approach. He wrote an article on “The Power of Precedent and Promise” (pp. 16-18) which is an abridged version of a chapter from his book “T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution”. His point was there is precedent for CPM’s now where a few decades ago there were none. Once you have precedent, the motivation to try and succeed is huge (as an example he used the example of how David’s mighty men slew a bunch of giants, relatives of Goliath, in 2 Sam 22 because of the precedent set by David with Goliath in 1 Sam 17). But even if there is no precedent in a given local, there is the promise God gives (Matt 28, Acts 1:8, Acts 19:10) that this happens and His Spirit moves in such a way … and promise is good enough. Someone has to be the first to try.

For further info,  check out these sites as well:

http://www.churchplantingmovements.com/

www.T4TOnline.org

Have you chosen wisely?

I just finished reading Mark Mittelberg’s “Choosing Your Faith: In a world of spiritual options” (Tyndale: 2008). Mark had spoke at Xenos Summer Institute two years ago (http://www.xenos.org/xsi/index.htm – look in the 2008 archives for Mittelberg’s teachings) and I figured, since this years XSI is right around the corner, that I better get this book finished (I’m only two years behind). I’m very glad I did. As implied in the title, this book is about how people choose their faith, what some of those choices are, and why choosing to trust Jesus Christ is the best and only real option. I found this book to be an excellent read and highly recommend it.

The first half of the book is about how people choose their faith. Mittelberg comes up with six approaches to the faith choice:

The relativistic faith path – belief that there are differing truths that are based on personal perception and experience… truth is perspectival (p. 22)
The traditional faith path – probably the most common, the passive reception of truth — a hand-me-down religion that has never been critically examined (p. 45)
The authoritarian faith path – similar to tradition, since it is passively received, however, here it is an issue of submission to a religious leader (p. 60)
The intuitive faith path – real perception resides in feelings and instinct (p. 83)
The mystical faith path – based on claims of an actual encounter with a supernatural entity (p. 102)
The evidential faith path – logic and experience — reasoning of the mind combined with real-world information that we gain through the five senses (p. 129)

It is important to realize your “faith path” because you may be deceived. Or you may believe things and even if there are true ( I’m using “true” in the absolute sense) you don’t really know the basis for your belief. This leaves you in the very precarious position of not really knowing what you are talking about and either being susceptible to being persuaded to believe or accept something wrong or at the very least just be a poor or unconvincing witness.

The second half of the book concentrated mostly on the evidences for belief in a personal God and in particular Jesus Christ. Mittelberg called the lines of evidence “arrows” because they point to Christ. He went through twenty of these arrows which included the design argument and other similar arguments to arguments for the Bible as reliable and the best source of truth to fulfilled prophecy to the change and testimony of the disciples and testimonies of many people throughout history. Though these were not exhaustive treatises, they did illustrate the main lines of evidence for belief in Jesus and he also provided references to many sources where you could dig deeper if you wanted to. Near the end of the book he dealt with some barriers people put up towards belief which I also appreciated. You often encounter these (e.g., “we don’t know enough”, “inconsistencies in the Bible”, “suffering in the world”) when talking to folks about God. Sometimes they are raised as actual issues, sometimes as a smoke screen.

What I found most enjoyable and intriguing was the way Mittelberg wrote about these approaches. It was very conversational and not weighed down with philosophical ramblings. Yet, he didn’t skimp on some of the tough issues or nonsensical beliefs some people have. He very straightforwardly, yet graciously, challenged various beliefs based on inaccuracies and/or false claims. He also introduced the reader to logic (something you don’t see every day) in a very practical way. For example, with respect to the tradition faith approach, “somebody’s parents and teachers have to be wrong”… “opposites cannot be true”… “law of noncontradiction is an inescapable reality” (p. 50).

There is much to learn from Mittelberg and you can tell that he’s conversed with many different types of people from Mormons to Muslims and New Agers to hard-core atheists. Also, I think he brings some degree of levity and much realism to the whole aspect of witnessing. The fact is that most people don’t really have a whole lot of basis for what they believe. Why should we operate out of fear when trying to witness? Why not show people what the basis or implications for their belief is in a non-threatening way? We have the truth – or at least we have the opportunity to get to know the truth if we choose to. Others need to know the truth, after all, that’s what we are here for.

My only real critique is that it had cost too much ($19.99 new). I understand that the guy has to make a living. But, I don’t understand why Christian book publishers charge so much for books that are excellent resources for Christians to get equipped with for the ministry of reconciliation. I see now that you can get used copies for about $5 plus shipping on amazon.com. I’d definitely do that if you are interested.

California Adventure: The Universities

After returning from our Oregon expedition, we set out to visit two more campuses. We went Wednesday to UC Santa Cruz, a most picturesque campus set in a grove of redwoods. The school is on the north side of Monterey Bay. It really was an amazing layout including its own outdoor amphitheatre set within a large cavern buffeted by Redwoods. Unfortunately this week is midterms week at UC campuses so the student population is low. We did talk to some professors and student. We are planning to return to Santa Cruz to meet up with Ian and hopefully Lambert to get a more inside look at Santa Cruz possibilities so more to come about Santa Cruz.

On Thursday we headed out to Sacramento to visit UC Davis (just west of Sacramento). Our new friends the Shearers and Doug Krieger live in Sacramento and pointed out to us that there are more students per capita in and around Sacramento than anywhere in the US. Davis is a very cool college town and reminds you very much of the Ohio State scene near campus. Davis itself has about 30,000 students and some Christian presence. It too was a sprawling campus and has some very cool places to have informal open bible studies. There is considerable off campus housing and the whole city is essentially geared towards the college.

We then went over to the Shearer’s house in Sacramento to meet with a bunch of their peoples, especially students. There were at least twenty people there, many in college or of college age (from 19 to 26). Most go to Cal State Sacramento (Sac State – we didn’t make that up, that’s what they call it) or a community college. Keith gave an amazing teaching on some of our convictions and observations about reaching out to this generation, the ineffectiveness of the church and many of the hang ups that the Christians have to get over in order to really love (what Jesus calls us to do) those who are lost. It seemed like many were into what we had to say about some of the trappings of the worship service and petty things the church concentrates on at the expense of actually being able to connect with people. It was quite a spirited night with much discussion, a definite sense of providence, and many varied views – from charismatic to end-times. The Doug’s and Sita are sweet saints and we were treated with great hospitality and warmth and it was so cool to meet the young folk, some of whom who have come from the gang culture. We were there until nearly midnight and didn’t get back to our hotel until after 1:30 AM. We left there not sure what to make of everything, but excited; the need for prayer is great. We know that we can work with these folks, provided that some of the minor doctrinal beliefs do not get in the way – which we don’t think that great an issue considering the spirit of these brothers and sisters, and that they perhaps can start something sooner than later with the people they now have.

The California Adventure – Elaine et al

We were super psyched after meeting with the three JF’s (Jesus Freaks) the day before and we wanted to visit Elaine Stedman on Monday; however, the trip is a long one (over seven hours to Medford Oregon) and we were a little apprehensive because she is pretty old and we’re quite the posse. But Elaine assured us we were welcome (she cooked for us the day before a multicourse meal) and we figured it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity so off we went.

We went up the direct route through the middle of California. The drive was long but there was great fellowship and many cool sites. We went by Mount Shasta – a large volcanic-formed mountain which still has a glacier on it. Mark got many great pics. We made it to Elaine’s at about 1:00 PM – right on schedule. We were greeted with overwhelming warmth. In addition to Elaine were three of her daughters, Lynn, a former elder of PBC and Ken (from Michigan) a worship leader who currently teaches on worship at Pacific Bible College. We were well fed and had great fellowship. There were many interesting discussions surrounding Ray, the early days of PBC (F), living by the New Covenant, reaching the lost, the worship service, the importance of buildings… to name a few and not without some healthy debate. We were all sort of amazed that we all came together like this and definitely figured the Spirit is behind it. We stayed at Elaine’s for probably four or five hours and on our way out visited Ray’s grave with Elaine and her oldest daughter Sheila. It was a beautiful late afternoon and we enjoyed a good time of prayer at the gravesite before we headed west to the coast. Though pretty old, small in stature and with her voice failing, Elaine was warm and possessed a spiritual depth that compelled you to listen. It will be hard to top the visit with Elaine at al.

We then went to the coast to take the scenic coastal way home and stayed overnight in Crescent City CA, just south of the Oregon border. The coast there looks like something out of a calendar with a rocky coast, waves crashing, and light house. Unfortunately it rained on the way home so the scenery was diminished somewhat, but even so, the redwood forests were quite amazing as well as what we could see of the coast. We made a stop in Arcata, which had a “hippy” community, to look around and get some lunch. It was a bizarre place which extolled the use of marijuana and multiple pagan beliefs. It felt absent of life – very similar to the feel at Berkeley. It was a stark reminder of the world we live in and why we are here. A stark contrast to the heavenly fellowship we experienced the day before. We eventually got back to San Fran late that night – the scenic route was a rather long route.

One theme that seems to resonate in all our discussions so far is that God is up to something. There is a sense of unrest out here amongst these veteran revolutionaries, similar to what was sensed back in the seventies. The world is messed up, there is no purpose, and only the Lord holds any real answers. It really is amazing to see the hope and sense of expectation in the eyes of these older revolutionaries and then to think that perhaps the Lord wants us to have a part in it. As we look for open doors we turn today to Sacramento and the JFs. We are hoping to meet with them in the next couple days to see the lay of the land and discuss the spiritual forces for good that seem to be aligning themselves there. Stay tuned.

The California Adventure: Berkeley

The five NEO Xenoids arrived Saturday afternoon to a sunny San Francisco to see what the Lord may have in store for us on the left coast. We got to our hotel on the bay and started putting together a plan of action for the week. The first stop on our adventure was a visit to Berkeley on Sunday. And what an adventure it was! We met three Jesus Freaks who drove up from Sacramento (about 100 miles away): Doug Shearer, his wife Sita Shearer and their longtime coworker Doug Krieger. These guys were in the middle of so much that happened at Berkeley and played a huge part in the Jesus movement that flourished in the 70’s. They gave us an extensive tour of the campus and surroundings. We spent all day walking up one side of the campus and down the other, seeing some of the famous sites of the “Free Speech” movement and their former ministry hot spots. It was such a blast to hang out with these three spiritual powerhouse. Even though these saints were in their 60’s, they proved more than up for the task and their joy and enthusiasm was contagious. Especially Doug Kreiger, though ill with bronchitis, did not want to miss the opportunity to meet us. In fact he seemed to outpace us and was always leading us on to the next site to see. We found out later that the Shearers had to take Doug to the hospital on their way home to Sacramento.

The atmosphere at Berkeley however is a very dark one. We searched the campus for evidence of a Christian influence and found practically nothing. There was one “Veritas” Christian group for graduate students and the next closest thing was a Seventh Day Adventist group? From the posters and advertisements, it seemed like every other Eastern religious, New Age, earth-cause, sorcery, or activist group had a presence at Berkeley, but not Christianity. It definitely felt like we were walking through the dark alleys of the devil’s stronghold.

One of the things that has given us some pause about Berkeley as a target is the absence of student contacts there. In order to start or get involved in a college-based ministry we feel an open door would be at least a few students who want to work with us (similar to how we’ve started things at KSU). Nothing is certain, but this is our initial impression both from going there and discussing things with many of our contacts. There is still much more to investigate. We are looking at other universities. Santa Cruz south of the bay is one possibility. Even more promising may be Sacramento itself. More to come on these fronts as well as our very edifying meet with Elaine Stedman and some of her family and friends on Monday.

Are you or were you Already Gone?

I just read the book: Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, (Master Books, Green Forest, AK: 2009). In it, Young-Earth Creationist Ken Ham and marketing researcher Britt Beemer seek to understand the plight  of American Christianity as we see more and more young people leaving the church, and in most cases, never returning. They do some exhaustive surveying of those who have left the church and discover some startling statistics. Of the 20-somethings raised in a Bible-based church interviewed who no longer attend church regularly, 95% attended through middle school, 55% attended through high school, and only 11% attended through college: i.e., 90% were Already Gone by the time of college. From their findings, much of this loss is due to doubts these students have about the Bible. In addition, about two-thirds of the youth leave the church by the time they are a young adult.  Their exhortation is for the church to wake up and be the church (body) it was intended to be, faithfully adhering to and teaching from the authoritative Scriptures in a way that is relevant (defensible) to culture and history.

There is much that I think is very true and that I agree with:

  • The dismal state of the church in America and how it is losing it’s youth
  • How the authority of the Word has disintegrated in the church today
  • The church really can’t change culture (105)
  • Music is a minor element to the church at best – truth is relevant and needs to be the emphasis (110). In fact, much of the emphasis and approach for music in the church has no Biblical basis at all (127).
  • Hypocrisy and the institutionalizing of church is a major reason why young people leave (110ff)
  • The need for more interactive ways of teaching the truths of Scripture and apologetics, e.g., small group settings (125ff), similar to the early church
  • Focus on youth and young adults (135) — in fact a major priority should be to equip and let them lead and reach out to their own generations (160-161)
  • The need for revolution (141)
  • The opportunity to win some of those back who have left the church

I applaud the authors for their uncompromising view of Scripture as authoritative and the need to quit being lame in the way it is presented or glossed over in favor of “worship”.  I also appreciate their candor and critique of the way we do church. Not only the worship service but also Sunday school — which is not getting the job done. The emphasis on Bible stories and entertainment as opposed to the Bible as real and historical undoubtedly plays into the doubts raised in the minds of teenagers and young adults who encounter the sophisticated arguments of the kosmos. In addition the reliance on Sunday school to be the source of Bible teaching as opposed to the home.

 

However, I do disagree with the Young Earth view advocated by the authors and a missing element to their view of reaching the younger generation.

First, their emphasis on a Young Earth apologetic overshadows much of the good things they have to say [1]. Undoubtedly they would probably counter that I am compromised and fail to uphold the historical truth of a six 24 hr day creation and have allowed “millions of years of evolution” to creep into my view of Scripture which results in the decline of Scriptural authority and relevance and eventual milk-toast Christianity.  However, I do not believe that Scripture mandates the Young Earth view at all. There are plenty of good arguments for the days of creation not referring to 24 hour periods [2].  It may be true that the advent of naturalism and evolution may have influenced some of the old-earth interpretations of Genesis 1. However, that does not mean that they are merely compromises. The fact is that Genesis 1 is a single chapter with few details compared to the enormity of what happened during creation (the few details in Genesis 1 about creation do compare relatively well with what little is known from science). The emphasis in Genesis is the creation and fall of humanity and how God did and will deal with it. I agree with the need for effective teaching and training in handling the truth accurately, knowing the arguments of the kosmos and the apologetics to counter those arguments which includes the historical reliability, inspiration and veracity of Scripture. My experience is that Genesis 1 is not the biggest stumbling block as the authors make out. Yes it is thrown out there but there are very reasonable answers and one typically finds other issues at the heart of people’s antagonism towards Scripture, God, and/or the church which are just as if not more important to defend as well. Some of this was addressed  in Chapter 6 of their book, but I think it needs a much bigger stage.  I’m curious if the age of the universe is something we could “agree to disagree” on. I could, but the Young-Earth apologetic appears to be so intricately tied to everything else in their view, I’m just not sure. 

Second, I feel the book is missing or underemphasizing a significant reason for the loss of young people to the kosmos which is that the church is not just here to teach and emphasize truth, but it is here for a purpose: the ministry of reconciliation to the world. We are God’s ambassadors we have purpose – when young people realize this things become much more relevant. The book lacks an outward focus to reach the lost. Speaking the truth in love is the combination that must be balanced and emphasized. The lost need to see and experience the love of God which lives in the church and which touches them as people share the gospel with them in a life-giving way and not just for the purpose of “winning converts”.  The authors touch on this at the end with the application that students can be equipped to reach out to their own generation, but it is really much more than that. They need to experience and be active parts of the living Body Of Christ in which Scripture is wielded (which is stifled by the institutionalizing, worship service-oriented practices of most modern churches). When those truthing-in-love relationships are seen by the world people are drawn to Christ and that age group can turn from  a declining population to one of vibrant growth.  It seems to me that is the hope for this generation. It’s also why I am so thankful to be part of  a fellowship where students are a vibrant part of the church and not only sticking around but leading their peers to Christ.

 

1. When trying to show how far things have gone astray, their examples overly emphasize the decay of a Young Earth view of the world with those who have left the church. For example, when listing the negative beliefs of those who attended Sunday school and now have left the church, six of the sixteen characteristics  (more than a third) dealt directly with a view contrary to the Young Earth position (39). 

2. The account of Genesis 2 where man is created followed bya the population of the garden with foliage, with animals, the naming of the animals, followed by the formation of woman out of man took longer than 24 hours of Day 6 in Genesis 1:24ff. Some claim that Eve was within Adam on the 6th Day (positionally or metaphorically) and was brought out later (on the Eighth day?), but this seems as much of a “reading into the text” as saying that the days of Genesis 1 could be very long periods of time. See Gleason Archer’s A Survey of Old Testament Introduction for different views of the interpretation of “day” in Genesis 1.

You are richer than you think. Or are you?

What if you found out you are one of the richest persons in the world? Would that change your outlook on what you have and what you do with it?

Maybe you don’t feel that rich, I know I don’t most of the time.

If you are that rich and you don’t feel that rich, perhaps something is wrong with your perspective. I would even go so far to say that if we are off here, we are missing out on something “revolutionary” and “disestablishing”.

Since Thanksgiving break I’ve been watching Frontline video on the credit card crisis while exercising (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/), reading Ecclesiastes, listening and watching Bruxy Cavey’s teachings on our narcissistic culture (http://www.themeetinghouse.ca/) and analyzing our church and my personal finances.  I highly recommend all of these activities.

Bruxy’s teachings and the Frontline episode are really quite revealing about our culture and our personal outlook on what I need and desire. In many ways we are trapped, deceived, and bombarded with messages saying “I need this… now” or even worse “I deserve this now”.  Given the pervasive credit available, whether credit cards, home equity, student loans, etc…, and the desire of the money lending industry to trap you into always having debt we then go and get what we “need/deserve”. The final result being that we are enslaved to our debt — when we already have more than most people in the world (see below). Solomon would have one word for this sort of life –> meaningless.

I think the real tragedy here is that we miss out on the joy of being able to give. We get life sucked right out of us.

Jesus said “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This of course doesn’t just pertain to financial giving only, but it certainly includes it. In addition there is tremendous blessing and joy that comes from giving of your self to others (Jn 13:17). To give what we have, or rather what we’ve been given, is merely a response towards the love poured out by Jesus for us:

    But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.  2 Cor. 8:7-9

In fact, if we’ve been given more of something (like we have), it’s so that God can use us to support building His kingdom and to give it to those who are in need:

    at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; 2 Cor. 8:14

So, where are we at with respect to the rest of the world? Pretty well off! Here are some statistics:

  • From several different measures, the household wealth of Canada and the US makes up about 30% of the total wealth in the world — but our combined population is about 5% of the total population of the world http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distribution_of_wealth
  • Based on UN reports from 1999, 3 billion people (nearly half the world’s population) live on less than $2 per day while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of those living on less than $1 per day are women. With global population expanding 80 million per year, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn cautions that, unless we address “the challenge of inclusion,” 30 years hence we will have 5 billion people living on less than $2 per day. http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/wealth_distribution1999.html
    • The combined wealth of the 1% richest people in the world is equal to the combined wealth of the poorest 2.5 billion people in the world
  • From the study: The World Distribution of Household Wealth. James B. Davies, Susanna Sandstrom, Anthony Shorrocks, and Edward N. Wolff. 5 December 2006. (World Institute for Development Economics Research at United Nations University)
    • The richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. The bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.  (they define wealth in the classic sense of assets minus debts).
    • The top 69.8% of Americans are part of the top 10% wealthiest people in the world
    • For reference, the median income of US households is about $50K in 2008. If your household income is over about $30K, you are in the top 69.8% of the US and in the top 10% of the world http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p60-236.pdf (though this is a different statistic than wealth, it should get us in the ballpark)

2008 census us income

So, where does that leave you? The average charitable giving in the US is about 2.1% of GDP http://www.un.org/partnerships/YStatisticsUSCharitableGiving.htm. That’s actually pretty good, the US being one of the most giving countries based on quantity and percentage http://www.cafonline.org/pdf/International%20%20Giving%20highlights.pdf. But is a couple percent or even ten percent that much when you consider that we are some of the wealthiest people in the world? On top of that we either feel like or we actually are just barely making it because of our debt load.

I think Bruxy is right. One of the most revolutionary things we could do is to forsake the ethic of this kosmos, which is to get what we don’t need, and instead give. Jesus certainly took this approach and when we use what we have to serve others in the context of building His kingdom it becomes very powerful and disestablishing.  That is real freedom.  What will the rich credit lenders going to do if people decide “I don’t need you”? How far can we reach people with the gospel if we invest in building God’s kingdom rather than a new iPod? How cool it is to be able to help out those who are less fortunate than you! Give the Lord a shot. He only needs a few fish from us to meet the needs of many. When we do that sort of thing we reap true riches.

    Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  2 Cor. 9:6

What’s in a Polity?

A Review of Perspectives on Church Government: Five Views of Church Polity. ed. C.O. Brand and R. S. Norman (Broadman and Holman, Nashville TN: 2004)

This book is about five different views of church polity written from proponents of each view who give an apologia for their views. In addition, which I really liked, each proponent critiques the other’s views in a section after each chapter. The five different polities are:

(1) The Single-Elder-Led Church (Congregational) – Daniel Akin

(2) The Presbyterian Church Government – Robert L. Reymond

(3) The Congregational-Led Church – James Leo Garret, Jr.

(4) The Bishop-Led Church (Episcopal or Anglican) – The Very Rev. Dr. Theol. Paul F. M. Zahl

(5) The Plural-Elder-Led Church (Congregational) – James R. White

 

The book is obviously heavily weighted with congregational models, where the congregation decides on some level what should be done in the church either by voting on everything or at least in selecting leaders. I suppose these different polities make up the bulk of protestant churches in America, but I don’t really know.

 

So, in reading through the book I was wondering how important is polity, how and why do some churches do things one way and others another, and what does the Bible emphasize in comparison?

 

How important is polity? I had just read Viola’s Reimaging Church prior to the Perspectives book and from Viola one gets the feeling that polity really isn’t that important at all, it’s about Christ working in and through the body in a relatively unstructured, organic way. In the Perspectives book, the importance of polity varies between the authors with some arguing that there really is no set polity doctrine in the Bible, just principles to follow (1, 3, and 4), and therefore is flexible and may be highly influenced by tradition (as in the case of the Bishop-Led model) and others argue it is much more clearly defined in Scripture (2 and 5) and therefore should be followed accordingly, if not rigidly. All the authors also seem to agree that Biblically “epsikopos” and “presbyteros” (terms for overseer or bishop and deacon in the Bible, respectively) are essentially referring to the same position, the former referring to the ministry (overseer or shepherd) and the latter referring to the position/character of the individual. Even Zahl (Bishop-Led) states that there are essentially two orders of ministry: deacons and presbyters, with the third level (episkopos) sounding more like an advanced presbyter rather than a Biblically based position.

 

Perhaps the best way to go about this report is to critique the views in what I believe to be their degree of being off-the-mark.

 

The view which I think is most off-the-mark is the Bishop-Led view of Zahl. His was probably the most readable and entertaining chapter of the whole book and I do appreciate is own critique of the foibles of Anglicanism and Episcopalians throughout history and even their bulky, stuffy, if not stuck form of polity. He argues that the BL view is good for the well-being (benne esse) of the church but does not define its essence (esse). I guess this is the case because it upholds tradition and enables people to have some form of humility because the service is “vertical” and not “horizontal”. Even if the teaching sucks you can get something out of the rest of the service. I was surprised that he didn’t make a greater appeal to apostolic authority (which the Catholics do). He did state that “In the bishops unique ordaining power lies the validity of the church: its “apostolic succession” going back in one unbroken line to the apostles…” (p. 228). Also, in the same section that the church’s catholicity is safeguarded in the three-fold order (Bishops – Prebyters – Deacons) through preaching the Word of God and administering the two Biblical sacraments (Baptism and Communion). However, it wasn’t a very big plea. It seems to me that this is the only argument for this position, albeit a bad one. Perhaps that is why he didn’t make much of it and focused on how the Bishop-Led is good for the well-being of the church and does not constitute its essence. But that doesn’t leave me with much. How is the church going to impact the world if this is all there is (Matt 16:18)? It seems like the BL church is just going to fade away. I thought it fascinating that Zahl, apparently worried about this too, ends his chapter by praying for a “new John Wesley” to emerge again and shake things up.

 

The next most off-the-mark approach in my view was the Presbyterian model. Reymond was the most authoritative and forceful in his arguments of all the authors. He absolutely feels like Scripture has laid out a definite pattern for church government in the form of different levels of presbyters (or courts of presbyters) from the local to the universal church. He claims this is clearly the Biblical position. He did make a big deal about the need for connection between different local churches based on the interconnectedness seen in the NT (e.g., visits and oversight exerted by Paul and others in Acts and epistles). His main argument for ruler ship by a court of presbyters only comes from Acts 15 and Gal 2, a single Biblical event. He spends over a quarter of his chapter on this event and its nuances as the prototype for all intra-church interaction. The Antioch presbytery sent Paul and Barnabas to the Jerusalem presbytery to sort out the Gentile/circumcision thing, the different presbyteries debated the issue, they came to consensus and drafted a letter to be sent to all the churches of which Paul capitulated in his 2nd Missionary Journey:

 

“In sum, Presbyterians believe that the New Testament teaches in a schematic way ecclesiastical “connectionalism” between local churches, presbyteries, and a general assembly because they see it being lived out by the church in Acts 15!” (p. 109)

 

Now, there is much to take issue with on this interpretation including what appears to be a formal importation of modern day Presbyterian-speak and polity into the early church as well as how much Paul capitulated to all that was laid out by the Jersualem church (at least the meat sacrificed to idols part). But I’m not going to get sidetracked. It seems to me that the most difficult aspect of this argument is that one is basing an entire doctrine on this one passage. He does argue that there needs to be a visible and universal unity in the church (Jn 17:20-21; 1 Cor 12; Eph 2:14-16; 4:3-6; Phil 2:2; Col 3:12-14 etc…); however, most of those passages are addressed to local churches and the basis for unity is not a formal polity structure but the fellowship of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Phil 2:1,2) and the unity within the Godhead itself (Eph 4). Yes it would be nice to have a more together and unified universal church, but is that the mandate from Scripture? Clearly not (at least I don’t see it anywhere)!  Also important and profound is the idea that human institutions could really bring about the unity expressed in the passages above. I guess one could argue that God could do it if He wanted to, but He certainly didn’t make it a big deal in the NT. From the NT, the reason connectionalism was maintained was because of how God orchestrated things through the apostles. They had the authority from Christ. How can we export that beyond the apostles? I don’t read that there were really bodies of presbyters holding court, it was the apostles who seemed to be the ones orchestrating what little formal order there was (e.g., Paul with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17ff). In this sense, I think the BL church has more elegant (but wrong) basis to argue for a universal paradigm by appealing to apostolic authority. The Presbyterian model doesn’t even do that but instead appeals to a structure that is void of both fictitious apostolic authority and Biblical grounding and was missing for 1500 years until the Reformers picked it up. 

 

The congregational models appear to be the closest to what the Bible speaks to polity; however, each view is not without its own issues. For all the congregational chapters there is the understanding that the Lordship of the church is from Christ alone and not from some higher human organization, i.e., a greater independence and self-sustaining character than the other two views.

  • The emphasis of Garret (Democratic Congregationalism = DC) was on the passages that demonstrated where the church decided things, e.g., church discipline (Matt 18:20, 1 Cor 5/2Cor 2), the selection of the first deacons in Acts 6, the sending of Paul and Barnabas by the Antioch church in 1 Cor 13 and Acts 15:22 where the “entire church” chose Judas and Silas to go with Paul and Barnabas. However, that is about as far as Garret goes. What of leaders? Is everything to be decided democratically? The NT certainly affirms the need for elders/overseers (1 Tim 3 and Titus 1). Aiken points out in his critique that Garret has “no mention, much less interaction, with the crucial text on pastoral leadership such as 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17”, which I concur was severely lacking in this chapter.
  • White advocated for plural eldership which is the polity I would most agree with. He makes a case for the sufficiency of the local church and also a disclaimer that this does not mean that local churches should interact, seek council, etc… with other local churches. He argues that Acts 15 (contra Reymond) was a unique event. Plurality of elders is pretty clear in Scripture (Acts 14:21-23; Titus 1:5; Acts 20:17ff, Phil 1:1). Interestingly, he seems to ignore all the congregational passages brought out by Garret.
  • Akin argued for the Single Elder Congregational model. I appreciated his broad use of Scripture to argue for Congregationalism[1] and for the concept of Elder/Overseer[2]. His point that “… congregationalism undergirds the New Testament pattern of church government prevents churches past or present from being locked into some type of ecclesiastical strait-jacket.”(p. 40) was very insightful. Actually, his argument for the Single Elder position was based more on the idea that the Bible is flexible on this and that there are circumstances that warrant it… not that it is the way it should be all the time. He argues that it was probably necessary in some house church situations. That the “Pastor-teacher” role of Eph 4:11 is geared toward the local church, whereas apostle, prophet, and evangelists were not? The pastor-teacher being what many refer to as “senior pastor” today. This seems to be a case of importing today’s polity into the first century. He then goes on to discuss how a senior elder (pastor) among elders is similar or at least a variation of the single elder position and uses Moses (not in NT though), Peter (first among the three), and James (Jerusalem church) as examples of senior elder/pastor types in the Bible. Certainly there are probably cases where a one leader is all there is (e.g., a small body) and in plural leadership one or two leaders are more strategically gifted, knowledgeable, or mature and are more influential than others. So, I could agree with his flexibility point to some extent, but the clear example of Scriptures is for there to be plurality – which should be the norm and strived for in a church.

 

So in sum, I thought the book to be rather stuffy. I read through Acts recently noting anything that seemed to relate to polity. What struck me were the informal nature of the church and the rather spontaneous nature of church growth. Decisions and direction seemed to come from God’s leading through visions, open doors, closed doors and persecution. How else could God lead?

 

Human structure seems to get in the way of God’s leadership. When we establish many levels of organization or set in stone “this is the absolute way”, it’s probably the death of that church. At least that’s what seems to be the case especially for the Bishop Led and Presbyterian models. Even the congregational models can get pretty uptight about protocol. Have we replaced visions and revelations from God with structure?

 

It is also evident that churches did interact with one another in Acts. It is probably a very dangerous precedent to claim complete autonomy, but at the same time the interaction is hardly structured and formal (like Presbyterianism advocates for). Unity comes from Jesus (we are the BOC through the Holy Spirit) and His mission for us, not structure.  

 


[1] Evidence for Congregationalism: Mat 18:15-17, Acts 6:1-7, Acts 11:22, Acts 14:27, Acts 15, 1 Cor 5, 1 Cor 6, 1 Cor 7-12, 1 Cor 16, 2 Cor 2

[2] An Analysis of the Concept of Elder Elders in NT and OT, the equivalence of Elders and Overseers in the NT (e.g., Acts 20:28), Acts 20:17-38, 1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Pet 5:1-4, 1 Cor 16:15-16, Gal 6:6, Eph 4:11, 1 Thess 5:12-13, 1 Tim 5:17-25, In addition: Heb 13:17; James 3:1