I just commented on Jay Guin’s excellent blog (on the topic of George Barna/Frank Viola’s Pagan Chrisitanity? and church autonomy):
Is it morally wrong to have (or serve under) a hierarchical system of church government? Is congregational – or even city-wide – autonomy morally superior?
I have another problem, and it’s with Pagan Christianity? (the new version; the only one I’ve read).
Why is the church model that Barna and Viola insist upon the one at Corinth? If we want to resort to true first-century primitivism, why not the church at Jerusalem at the end of Acts 2? Why not meet every day – at homes and at our places of worship? stick to the apostles’ teachings, have fellowship, pray, break bread, and even sell our possessions and give to the poor?
To me, all of the debate over church structure falls into the category of time misspent. Go be Christ to the world, and let church be church … whenever, wherever Christians gather to worship and serve God. Let the shepherds lead by following Christ, and let the flock follow.
Apologies to Dr. McCoy in Star Trek VI, but this ain’t rocket surgery.
Yes, I think it’s very interesting that all kinds of writers are returning to scripture – even at the cost of cherished church tradition – to seek out the way God wants followers of Christ to gather, worship, self-govern, structure hierarchy and a gazillion other things. And that some are coming to conclusions that are similar and sometimes identical to conclusions that Restoration leaders of more than a century ago formulated.
At the same time, I see a gathering danger that all it may lead to is Patternism, Wave II. (I pray I’m wrong.)
Face it folks, if we try to use scripture as some sort of blueprint to build a structure on our own foundation – or as a roadmap to a destination short of the one God intends for us, which is at home, with Him forever – we are tempting failure and arrogance and the lure of having the knowledge of good and evil … and sin.
There is one pattern. He is Jesus, the Christ.
We are to follow Him. If that seems too difficult, we can follow evangelists like Paul, or shepherds who follow Him. They are to lead us to Him.
That is the purpose of scripture, too. If we can come closer to being Christ in this world, I feel confident that the rest will fall into place: God will govern us. He will be our King. We will serve in His kingdom. Absent clear, specific commandments in scripture – however we do that under His Kingship seems to have been left up to us, hasn’t it? (It is a simple plan that has the virtue of never having been tried … for about the last 1900 years.)
Trying to make a blueprint or roadmap out of scripture leaves us with a document that is full of holes and blank spaces, because that isn’t its purpose. God could have easily filled in all the specifics we want to know about what to do, and how, where and when. (It would have been a GARGANTUAN document, yet He could have.) But He doesn’t. He tells us who He is, and expresses His desire for us to seek Him.
The holes and blank spaces are part of His design:
Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. – Genesis 2:19-20, emphasis mine
God could have foreknown what the man would name the critters, but He wanted to see. From the beginning, He gave us choice, in order to see what we would choose after having become aware of His goodness and love toward us.
So He doesn’t answer every specific question about who, what, when, where or how we are to do.
He shows us Whom we need to be.
At the same time, God didn’t give Moses a map of the wilderness and turn him loose to make the best sense of it that he could and somehow reach the promised land. No, God went with Moses and Israel (and led them in circles when they disobeyed) until He brought them where He wanted them to be all along.
He does the same with us – He gives us His very Spirit within to help us find His nature within a volume of collected works that is neither blueprint nor roadmap – but biography … the story of God and us.
Why do we still think that searching the scripture in order to “do church right” will somehow lead us closer to God, rather than trying to be more like God in Christ, and just seeing where it leads us?
If we start filling in the holes and blank spaces the way we think they should be filled, where will that lead us?
Patternism presumes that there is only one “right” way to “do church” or anything else, and that God has encrypted it in scripture, and given us rational minds to correctly decrypt it and then follow it or else. There are no holes, no blank spaces. And silence gives condemnation.
Was there only one “right” name for each animal that Adam named?
Is there only one “right” way for groups of God’s people to be governed under His sovereignty – centralized or autonomous? If so, which one is it?
On questions like these, patternism says we can and must know – and must condemn all dissenters – or be damned ourselves.
Grace says we can and must reflect God’s love and righteousness.
We’ve been given choice. It’s a simple one to make.
Ain’t no rocket surgery.