More on the Church Discussion

Okay, I said I’d follow up and so I shall but this may or may not be any sort of manifesto. But this is what I’ve learned over the past couple of years looking at this issue I started with in the last post.

But first, a recap of the backstory…

I had been going to the Methodist church for several years, despite having more of a Baptist type of theology and a fundamentalist background. My wife felt like she was withering on the vine and began attending a different nondenominational church. This caused some strains and fractures between us, until I finally decided I could go to church with her and the kids. What I discovered was that I couldn’t functional in that church very well at all, and that attending involved a fundamental sacrifice of my own integrity. Which led me to some questions about what was my faith and church attendance about, anyway? And that led me to several questions about church and church practices. Once I backed up and began looking at the entire churchianity structure from the outside, I saw more objectively that there were some major, major flaws in the way church was being done. Many of these flaws are systemic and pervasive. It doesn’t matter whether I go to a church in Georgia or Washington or California or Ohio or anywhere, I was going to see some of the exact same practices being done over and over and over again. No matter who does it, church starts out as the good idea, then turns into a movement then turns into an institution before it finally turns into a racket.

At first, many said that I simply had not found the right church. Think about that statement for just a minute.

The right church.

There is no “right” church simply because there is supposed to only be ONE true Church! Jesus wanted there to be unity, and this is the first casualty of this type of thinking. Christian Husband wrote fairly early on about how he yearned for unity. However his hard-on for unity was only matched by his zeal for getting everyone else to conform to his beliefs and practices. Immediately, when there needs to be an appeal to some sort of human authority structure we are into lawsuits, arbitration and host of legal and political spats and fights. I like the discussions and arguments except they often devolve into more ugliness and eventually discord, resentment and hurt. There is rarely an appeal to agree to disagree here because now the spiritual has turned political.

And that is one way to get unity– force it. This what they do in Iran. The president of Iran stated that there were no homosexuals in Iran, and he is officially correct because homosexuality is a capital offense. Iranian extremism is a natural result of religious zeal turning into a theocracy. I would not be willing to substitute a Muslim one for a Christian one, because both are equally bad and corrupt. Our heathen bretheran are rightly suspicious of politicized Christian campaign speeches and threats of imposing Christian belief systems on everyone else. I’m no less suspicious of those who would prohibit or abridge religious speech. If you like that sort of thing, you can move to communist China.

Back to church unity — as long as you rank one group above another or appeal to finding “the right” one, you pretty much impose artificial boundaries. There are no less than 12 churches within 10 miles of my house, and each one does things slightly differently than another. But they also share some some similar things:
1. They each have a fairly large building (that is tax exempt)
2. They each have fairly large parking lots because EVERYONE drives to get there. Also tax exempt
3. They each have at least one professional clergy person
4. They each have at least one professional music person
5. They each have a children’s program
6. They each pass the collection plate every week
7. They each keep attendance
8. They each have an official membership roll
9. They each have ushers and/or greeters
10. They each have at least 50 people in attendance
11. They each promote their events on local cable channel #8
12 They each meet on Sunday morning between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
13. They each have at least one other meeting during the week that starts at 7:00 p.m.
14. Everyone meets in a big room one time on Sunday morning
15. All of the seating in the big room is oriented towards the front and consists of either benches, pews or chairs all with little padding. There are no recliners, la-z-boys, couches, sofas, love seats, bean bag chairs or futons.
16. During the main service, everyone is expected to remain in their place for at least 1 hour (sometimes longer) with varying degrees of sitting, standing and/or kneeling. Actually, let me make a brief correction in that I know of two churches close by where there is quite a lot more movement as people are often “slain in the spirit.” If you don’t know, look it up.

These are just a few similarities that I can think of at the top of my head. Now, how many of the above characteristics are indicated by the Bible? I mean these things must be pretty important if everyone is doing them, right? Granted, most of these things seem at first to be very superficial. But you know what they say– the devil is in the details.

Yeah, the DEVIL!

NONE of these things originated from the Bible. Some of them could not have possibly originated from the Bible because they did not have cable back then. Perhaps they had a common tree where they posted their announcements, who knows? The point is, is that almost all of these things have arisen from a combination of culture and convenience and then became tradition. Once the ideas became popular, the thought of NOT having these things as part of a church seemed pretty foreign. Funnily enough, many of the churches around here did not start off that way. Many of them started off just like FTN’s little group. They were a group of friends who wanted to do things a little differently and were not pleased with the “business as usual.” So they would start meeting in someone’s house. Then they would grow, and they might move to another meeting area like a school or an empty space in a strip mall. Then, one day, they would finally be able to buy a piece of land and build a building to call their own, while continuing to increase their membership along the way. This is a strategy for growth and kingdom building.

Other groups were started when larger churches split because of some disaffection or argument. Sometimes they might be “planted.” Or sometimes they were a group that simply relocated to move into a larger space or they were escaping a neighborhood in transition.

Whatever the reason, the people define church by their particular place of attendance and those they attend with. Some even have their own logos and colors. The Methodist church is red and my wife’s church is green when it comes to decorating their T-shirts and caps. There is a high degree of competition among the churches for members, as there is increasing pressure to offer more programs and services for members. This puts more pressure on the budget which means that either they get their existing members to give more money or increase the base of paying members. As a result, if you visit any of these churches you can expect them to call or visit you within a week to invite you to come back.

Again, where is the Biblical model here? Where did Jesus talk about T-shirts? Was He a Crip or Blood?

I’m just scratching the surface, here, but that is precisely the point. These are all surface issues but they also occupy most of any given congregation’s time, effort and resources. The typical Sunday service is a complex production that takes up an enormous amount of energy and resources, in the financial as well as the human sense. Does God require all of these elaborate productions in order to be meaningfully worshiped and honored? How much genuine fellowship occurs in and during these productions? How much money is necessary to have a deep, meaningful and genuine relationship with God and our neighbors? Is this the wisest use of our time, our gifts, our money and ourselves?

These are questions that people are beginning to ask, and they are legitimate questions that demand answers. God is on the move and things are changing. Whether or not the present changes are for the better remain to be seen. I am not totally sold on the latest fad because I still hold an abiding love for Truth. However, I do have faith that God is in control and the Holy Spirit can be trusted to guide and direct us. There are going to be some flaky things come about but there are always flaky things out there even in a traditional church structure.


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13 Responses to “More on the Church Discussion”

  1. FTN Says:

    I do agree that waaay too much time, money, people, and resources are spent on the Sunday-morning “service,” at the expense of so many other possible ways to utilize some of that money and those people. And if you add up staff salaries and benefits, plus building costs, that accounts for around 2/3 of the entire average church budget! The vast majority of church money is being used INTERNALLY, to keep the engine running.

    Our plan for our “community” is, financially, to keep fixed costs LOW. And to be mobile. Portable church! I don’t WANT to buy a building. For our big-group “gatherings,” we’re looking at finding a local business (or even [shudder] another local church) that doesn’t use their building one evening per week. And we have a couple possibilities lined up. So, either free rent, or cheap rent. It’s only one day a week, and the rest of the time, we meet in homes. Our financial resources are used to help each other in times of need, and to serve the community and people around us.

    Plus, we don’t WANT to get so big that we feel the need to institutionalize. We do strongly desire to grow as a group, but we want this to be a seed-planting exercise. Once (or if) we get to a certain number — be that 100, 150, whatever — our vision is to split off and plant a new one. Remember, we’re portable! And we’d mostly be made up small ‘cells’ within the movement anyways. Perhaps we can still all come together once in awhile to worship together somewhere, who knows.

    Of course, this is all pretty early on, so it almost seems silly to talk about what MIGHT happen. Plus, we realize the need for some stated philosophy and vision, but we don’t want to sit around writing policy and rules all day!

    This will definitely take me out of my comfortable church-box. But it’s something I and my friends strongly believe in, and want to see happen. We feel as though big things are a-comin’.

    Sorry to hijack your comment-space. And I probably shouldn’t have called my post a “manifesto.” That’s a bit of a stretch!

  2. xianhusband Says:

    There IS only one church — but you don’t get to define what it is. God does. Christ came, by His own testimony, to bring witness to the Truth, and it is the Truth that sets us free. Lies have no power to save. False teaching doesn’t make converts to Christ, so churches that are in heresy or schism or moral compromise are not “Church.” They have no unity with Christ, and their members have no contact with God’s salvation.

    To be a part of His Body, one must believe what He taught and do what He said. As He told us in Matthew 7, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

    What you believe matters, because it is by grace through faith that we are saved, and the concept of “faith” cannot be divorced from the concept of what is believed. Similarly, what you do matters, because, as it tells us so many times in scripture, when Christ returns he will return to repay every man according to his deeds. Obedience is necessary. Not obedience to what you wish He had said, but to what He actually said.

    Because of this, not every group that calls itself a “church” is, just as not everyone who calls themselves “Christian” is one. There is distinction, based on the content of the faith confessed and the life lived. Things which are externally observable and objectively judgable, making discernment possible for us here. Judgments we are duty-bound to make.

    Or don’t you know, we will judge angels?

    Christ came to teach us — among other things — and the content of His teachings were, in large part, about how to live in a way that pleases God. The foundation of what He came to teach us was sacrifice of self, and humility and submission to the authorities God has given us — as He Himself was submissive in the garden to God’s will.

    When one breaks off in an “independent” church that is always, always, always because one didn’t like the direction of the previous church. You don’t split off to do your own thing when you like the direction the other one is going. It is, therefore, an expression of both rebellion and schism. We are called to both submission and unity through humility and conformance with God’s will.

    So, simply put, when church’s split — or a new church is created ex nihilio, which is, ultimately, the same thing — somebody is going to hell. Either the first group was completely and totally wrong in which case they are going to hell, or the second group is in schism and violating the principles of unity, in which case THEY are going to hell. Period. Conformance in doctrine and practice to the teachings of the Apostles is absolutely necessary for salvation — there is no place in Christianity for doctrinal diversity — but so is maintaining unity with all others who believe the Truth and live it out in holiness. And that unity has to mean more than warm, fuzzy feelings and the willingness to be on the same softball team with each other. If it isn’t a real, substantive thing it isn’t unity.

    So, yes, there is only one Church that Christ built, but you are absolutely able through your choices to separate yourself from it. When you pull yourself away from unity with other Christians then you are also pulling yourself away from unity with Christ. And outside the Church there is no salvation.

  3. FTN Says:

    Well I hope someone else chimes in on this discussion besides the two of us, XH, as you and I are obviously on *slightly* divergent viewpoints. 🙂

    Not obedience to what you wish He had said, but to what He actually said.

    I agree. Digger no doubt agrees, too. Yet if I’m reading you right, all the church stuff you seem to harp on is not ‘what he actually said.’ You seem to be missing the entire context of what Jesus came to save us from.

    When one breaks off in an “independent” church… It is, therefore, an expression of both rebellion and schism.

    Um, unless you are in the “original” orthodox Roman Catholic church (not that it’s the same as it was 2000 years ago anyway, but for purposes of the debate), then, you are following people that are in rebellion and schism. Your soul might just be in peril, my friend.

    You talk a lot — a LOT — about “submission to the authorities God has given us.” Who am I rebelling against, again? Who are the authorities I must submit to? I really need to know. Have you been in the same local church, submitting to the same people, since birth? Is that what we have to do? Suck it up and stick it out wherever we start?

    So what do I need to do, then, to get people submit to ME? Is there a degree I need, or a form I should fill out in triplicate?

    When a new church is created ex nihilo… somebody is going to hell.

    So, that’s Martin Luther and pretty much everyone that isn’t popified, then? See above. I’m 99.9% certain that YOUR church, at some point, originated by splitting off from somewhere else. So following your train of thought, either you and yours are headed to hell, or everybody else is.

    All I can say is, um, wow.

    At what point in history was the deadline for forming new local bodies of believers?

    So let’s go back to your opening line, and read it over again, together.

    There IS only one church — but you don’t get to define what it is. God does.

    There you have it. God defined it, and it WASN’T the list of 16 things Digger mentioned in his post. It wasn’t a building. It was what was in the scriptures — the exact thing that you wrote was impossible to recreate. “To try and recreate the community structure from Acts is impossible,” I believe you said.

    So what you mean to say, then, is There IS only one church — but you don’t get to define what it is. God does. God and some other smart people with good organizational skills who were hired by the existing institutions.

    Luckily, I *can’t* separate myself from the Church that Christ built. I and my brothers and sisters ARE the Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.

  4. diggerjones Says:

    Hmm. FTN, all I could think of reading your comment was “Ow, ow, ow, ow OW-ich!” Just how mobile is 100 people? 50 people? Jesus had it about right at 12 folks who traveled with Him consistently. But there were times when He had many, many more (like when He sent out the 72) and then times when it was just them. Add wives and kids into the mix and I suppose you could approach 50. The point being is that you are still on the fast track to being as big of a racket as the one you’re leaving, only on a different day of the week at a different time but still on the same bat channel. I don’t blame you or accuse you or condemn you, FTN. Your disaffection for the current state of affairs is genuine and totally real. But you are merely rearranging the deck chairs of the cruise ship, here. At least that is how it looks to me. It might be just me, but I feel like some wilderness time is necessary to be purged of past biases and open up to what the Holy Spirit is really and truly saying. He is speaking, but He’s not going to compete with the clanging noise created by all sorts of logistical problems. Fixed costs? Ow.

    XH, glad you chimed in! Even though it was with your typically narrow view of God. He CREATED time and space, man! Yeah that thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus really missed the boat by not being part of a church, didn’t he? You want to tell me that every person who isn’t sitting in a pew or straight-backed chair by 11:00 a.m. every Sunday is going to Hell? And whats more, I have to be in YOUR building at the allotted time in order to preserve the sanctity of my soul?!?

    Actually, let be back up a minute, XH. In the real meat of your response, I do agree with you. Not every group is on target, and they are going to miss the mark. I’m of the mind that MOST miss it quite badly, but Father’s love for them is not diminished by this. I think where you lose me is in your absolute and resolute insistence on absolute conformity, down to the every last detail. That was never the case. Ever. Jesus ran awry of the pharisees because He failed to conform because His emphasis was on transformation and that must take place from within. Yeah, remembering the Sabbath is important. But all of a sudden, healing and sifting kernals of wheat with your hands becomes a capital offense because it violates the Sabbath. The isrealites had to leave Egypt. The Apostles all had to break away from Jerusalem. Later, the church had to break away from Rome. A seed has to leave the dying stalk in order to create new life.

    I do not know whether or not this newness is good or bad. It is too early to tell. We will not know until we see the fruit that comes from it. But then it might be too late. Is this Ezekial 34 coming to pass? I don’t know. Aristotle was correct:
    “He who knows, does not speak.
    He who speaks, does not know.”

    The breakdown of the institutional church, as we know it, does not comfort me at all. In the midst of the dread, there is a sense of hope. I’m thinking how Nicodemus must have felt when he heard about the empty tomb and the torn curtain. He sensed the change happening in his own time, but did not fully understand it. I wonder how long it took him to realize that this fulfilled all of his hopes and all of the promises he had spent his life studying. Or did he ever grasp it. Did he continue being in the Sanhedrin? Did what he taught in the synagogue change? Did he end up being persecuted and thrown out? It must have been frightening even while it was very exciting and hopeful.

  5. xianhusband Says:

    One thing I left out: the church as soon as it was founded was modeled completely on the Jewish synagogue structure. Which had recognizable places of meeting and a very organized authority structure. For Jews of the dispersion, if you had more than 12 families in any one city you had to build a synagogue as the center of your local Jewish community. Because the conception was always you were a nation and society apart — citizens of the kingdom of Israel not Rome, no matter where you lived — then this focus of unity and togetherness was important.

    If you were a Jew, then, you went to the synagogue. You didn’t just go off and start your own. The very idea is completely antithetical to the whole concept.

    The church took all of this whole-cloth and used it as the center of the Christian church idea. The synagogue was led by “elders” who you were honor-bound to listen to and obey and be in unity with. So the Apostles, in the churches they founded, appointed elders. Very early on the church met in a house-church system, but only because they didn’t have the resources to construct a common synagogue-like meeting place. As soon as they had the opportunity to do so, they did.

    Almost everything you mention: a common building, professional clergy appointed as the authority over the body, formalized method of collection of funds given by the people, expected if not mandatory attendance of all recognized members, set meeting times, etc go back well before the church to the Jewish synagogue and were all adopted by the Apostles for the church.

    If you want to be a disciple of the Apostles (a necessary part of being a disciple of Christ), and do what they did and taught, then these things will be a part of your life. If you don’t because you think you know better than the Apostles, hand-chosen by Jesus to be His ambassadors on earth…

    Well, again, rebellion is never acceptable in the eyes of God. Remember the story of the children of Israel at Kadesh from Numbers, as related again as a warning in Psalm 95, and then shown to be a warning for us, too, in Hebrews 3 and 4. Those who are rebellious are those about whom God swears an oath in His anger, “They will never enter my rest.”

  6. diggerjones Says:

    XH, no matter what I say or what I’ve said, I do want you to know that I appreciate your thoughtful participation in these discussions. You have consistently forced me to dig deeper and reach further in order to parse out what my beliefs really are, as well as educate myself. You have aways exasperated me in your pronouncements and your own statements of belief, which causes no small amount of irritation. You vex me. It has taken me some time to parse out why that is.

    Probably the biggest source of conflict betwixt us, is your adherence to an orthodoxy that is contrary to basic protestant belief. In order to determine that, I had to boil out the essentials of protestant belief and once I did that, I saw more clearly what the trouble was. I found it by looking up the five solas of the Protestant reformation.

    1. Sola Scriptura – By scripture alone. In many respects, you seem to abide by this, but you do take a Roman Catholic approach where they say scripture can only be interpreted through apostolic tradition. Your comments above readily show a commitment to the primacy of apostolic tradition in interpreting scripture. I do not subscribe ot this as you do, hence much of our conflict. You have your reasons for this. You and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this because there is a feud over this which spans generations. We will not solve it here.

    2. Sola Fide – By Faith alone. Since this is an extension of sola #1, we will not find much agreement here. I say we are *declared* righteous by God. You say we are *made* righteous by God. Faith either yields justification and good works, or faith and good works yield justification. More simply, either you are saved by faith alone or you are saved by faith + works. You argue and operate from the second hence your final declaration above. We will not find agreement here, XH.

    3. Sola Gracia – By grace alone. Our salvation is something that is totally unmerited by us sinners. God is the sole actor in in the grace that saves us and we can not act on our own behalf to earn more grace. There is no meritocracy in regards to salvation. That doesn’t mean there will not be rewards in Heaven, but salvation is not contingent upon our merit. This is in direct contradiction to the second half of your first comment above. No wonder you drive so many of us bonkers. You have us believing that you are a protestant, when in fact you do not adhere to its most fundamental tenets! You have your reasons. Is it reasonable for me to accept that two rational and intelligent people can come to two different conclusions on this? I am not saying we are both correct. I’m saying that we may agree to disagree.

    4. Solus Christus – Christ Alone. This is the belief that there are no mediators between God and man save for Christ Himself. This is the fundamental belief in the priesthood of the believer. By all of your assertions above which seem to buttress the argument for apostolic succession and apostolic authority, this is a fundamental difference between us. We are not going to agree on this, XH. In your eyes, I am a heretic and destined for eternal damnation in the fires of Hell because I cling to this heresy. You have your reasons for believing as you do, but I do not agree with them because I have counter arguments arguing the opposite. I have tried to make them before, and may do so again. But this argument is about 450 years old. It will probably outlive both of us.

    5. Soli deo gloria – glory to God alone. The apostles and the saints could do nothing apart from God and His grace. According them special privileges or status based on their merits or their works goes against this principle. The apostles were agents of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is the same Holy Spirit that empowers each of us. We don’t need to venerate them, we need to give credit to God. In this respect, I don’t see you having any special issue here, XH, but I might be wrong. I’m not going to try to point out differences where none may exist. You and I may find common ground here.

    But based on the discoveries here, it does beg the question as to how you legitimize your membership and affiliation in your own congregational denomination. Because it seems to me that you routinely argue and teach directly in opposition to 4 of the 5 basic tenets of Protestant belief. Your denomination was a break away from other more established protestant denominations and it suffers from divisions and schisms even more petty than those things we’ve discussed here!

    You’re a smart guy, XH. Maybe even brilliant and gifted in this area. I have no doubt that you will be fast tracked into the leadership of your congregation and perhaps your denomination on a regional or even national level. Your solution to the ills of your church is to work hard in order to become a leader in authority so that you can compel your flock to conform to your teachings. Instead of breaking away, you force a slow bend. The founders of your outfit must be spinning in their graves!

    What you are teaching here, is heresy to what they believed. You aren’t submitting under the authority of your elders, you are simply biding your time while introducing these ideas incrementally! It’s the old frog-in-the-kettle trick where you gradually increase the heat so no one even realizes that they are being burned. You can do this precisely because you are gifted and intelligent, and probably quicker on the uptake than those folks who are supposed to be in authority above you. And you are respected. That’s probably your biggest asset, because people will frankly forget a lot of what you teach them but they will remember your good character. And that is the way I want to finish this, because there are certain parts of this that might look bad on you. I don’t see it that way. I respect your sincerity and the legitimacy of your motives. You want to do what is right by those you care about. Got it. You have some very rational reasons for believing what you do, supported by both scripture and tradition. Got it. So do I.

    I’m not willing to call you evil, despite your heresy and the error of your ways. Can you forgive me?


  7. A Reply to XH Turned into a Post « Reality & Redemption Says:

    […] more content here and because I’m too lazy to create more original stuff! You can see the original post and the discussion on my other blog here. I wanted to put a few more links into this one and put it out for more general consumption. […]

  8. FTN Says:

    On another note: Digger, concerning your earlier comment to me…

    I only use the term “fixed costs” because people know what it means. I’m simply saying that we’re focused outward and on people rather than inward, rather than keeping the wheels turning on the mortgage and electrical bill and salaries for administrative assistants and a bunch of things that may or may not be “ministries.”

    In our society, 50 (or even up to 100, maybe) people is fairly mobile. The cities around here have a TON of small businesses and buildings that go unused many times. And I didn’t want to focus on that weekly “gathering” for the exact reasons you mention — as soon as I bring it up, it sounds like business as usual! A weekly time for a larger group to gather and worship isn’t the FOCUS of the group — it’s simply a result of our time spent together, working and serving and loving together as a community. The “meat” of the *community* is life together throughout the week. And there is nothing inherently evil about gathering together to worship God.

    There are five core men that I talk to about this, and when you add in wives and kids, it’s up to about 25 people. Add in a few more families on the perimeter, and you’re starting with close to 50 people.

    I could go on and on about how much we are trying to do to avoid “rearranging the deck chairs of the cruise ship,” because I understand exactly what you are saying — trust me. I think a good many of us have felt like we’ve been in the “wilderness” already for quite some time. On the contrary, I felt like we’ve been putting all of this off for WAAY too long! Other guys say it’s just the Holy Spirit helping us percolate. Sadly, even when you hear the Spirit, other people want to know and understand the details and logistics! Even many of my close friends want to know the specific whats and wheres and hows.

    But I’d rather discuss any other details via email, because as soon as I get very specific, Google will catch me and I’ll end up no longer anonymous. 🙂

  9. thereseinheaven Says:

    For some reason, wordpress keeps eating my comment.


    There are so many things I could say, but I’ll try to be brief.

    I was going to say some of the stuff XH did about the structure and authority being present with the Church at the beginning, but he beat me to that.

    Tonight I was working on my homework (ironically enough, it was Biblical Greek) at a coffee shop and I couldn’t help but overhear a women’s Bible study going on at the next table. One woman said, rather emphatically, “Some people say you have to go back to the original meaning of the Greek words to figure out how to interpret the Bible. I say that God speaks to me through the words and lets me know whatever it is He wants me to get out of it.”

    And therein, I believe, lies the biggest obstacle to Christian unity. XH is given a pretty tough time for his views on authority and uniformity. I really think, though, that to toss aside “his zeal for getting everyone else to conform to his beliefs and practices” you have to disregard an awful lot of what St. Paul said on the subject. Because he is pretty clear about being “united in one heart and mind,” (1 Cor 1:10) there not being any discord (1 Cor 12:25), and avoiding those with a different belief (Rom 16:17).

    The idea of sola scriptura is very attractive. It sounds like a great idea that if people with good hearts and good intentions look to the Bible, they will find everything they need. The problem is, history doesn’t bear this out. The greatest Protestant theologians who worked off of this principle were unable to prevent schism (now there are about 30,000 separate Christian denominations!), even though they believed that scripture would ultimately tie them all together.

    John Calvin wrote to Philip Melanchthon (Luther’s successor) about their own disagreements:

    …surely it [their dispute] is indicative of a marvelous and monstrous insensibility, that we so readily set at nought that sacred unanimity, by which we ought to be bringing back into the world the angels of heave. Meanwhile, Satan is busy scattering here and there the seeds of discord, and our folly is made to supply much material…..Nothing is more inconsistent on the part of Christians than to be at variance among themselves, for it is the main article of our religion that we be in harmony among ourselves.

    So the question is, then, if the idea of secterianism is not found nor permitted anywhere in the New Testament, why aren’t more Christians upset by it? How come the idea of forming a new community isn’t scandalous? You answered the question yourself, Digger, with this statement:

    The point is, is that almost all of these things have arisen from a combination of culture and convenience and then became tradition. Once the ideas became popular, the thought of NOT having these things as part of a church seemed pretty foreign.

    Division and the right to dissent is as much a part of Protestant culture as children’s programs and an official membership role! But where is that in the Bible? Christ said that the Church will be filled with good fish and bad fish (Matt 13:47-50), wheat and weeds (Matt 13:24-30), and ultimately in the end God will sort it all out. Even with corrupt and evil men in the Church, Christ doesn’t say that forming a new group is how you deal with it.

    Just one final thought: You said that “A seed has to leave the dying stalk in order to create new life.” Our time on this earth is extremely short and we have a very limited vision. I think its a very dangerous thing to judge whether a stalk is truly dying, or whether it is merely going through winter. Sometimes the darkest days for a community usher in new life and it emerges even strong once the trials have passed.

  10. Desmond Jones Says:

    Wow. Digger, you let this blog ‘go dormant’ for months on end, and then, just when I”ve about given up on dropping by, you bring out something like this. . .

    You all have really gone far down the road before I’ve even arrived, so I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to even put my thoughts in context of what’s already here. . .

    Obviously, I’m going to filter most of my thoughts thru my experience of our Christian community, which was sort of the whole ‘hook’ of FTN’s original post, for my purposes. In a lot of ways, I see what FTN is saying about his ‘little group’, and I see something a lot like the community that I’ve lived in for the past 35 years.

    Now, we have never viewed ourselves as a ‘church’ – our members all belong to their own churches, and our life in the community is somewhat akin to a ‘religious order’, to frame it in a ‘Catholic’ context. So, there really isn’t a lot of ‘dissonance’ between membership in the community and membership in our churches (not that there could never be, or has never been, but as a rule, it hasn’t been a very big deal).

    We do perceive that our life together was ‘given to us by God’, ‘inspired by the Holy Spirit’, or however you want to say it. We are firmly convinced that the life we have together would be impossible, absent the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit among us.

    Today, we are between 200-250 adult members, organized in three ‘districts’. Of necessity, we’ve adopted a more ‘institutional’ structure as we’ve grown, toward the end of being able to more effectively care for our members. There is a bit of an art to having enough ‘structure’ to effectively care for people, without ‘stifling the Spirit’.

    So – kind of a hodgepodge of my thoughts, loosely related to the topic, without specifically addressing any of what has been said before. I don’t know how any of this, shared off-the-top-of-my-head and out of my experience, relates to the concerns being discussed here, but it all seems to relate, somehow. So, y’all can let me know what you think of it, if anything at all. . .

  11. diggerjones Says:

    Yeah, I know FTN. People start off in a certain mindset and that’s where the questions come from. I know there must be a latin phrase to describe this, but I’m afraid I’e overused my quota this week!
    I believe that charism and institution MUST exist together on some level, otherwise you are left with a very sterile, dead entity.

    Thanks for weighing in Therese! I recognize there will always be a tension between personal revelation and (institutional) authority. The reformation happened because of the latter, and the abuses thereof. Is it more important to have a personal relationship with Christ or to have an affiliation with a certain denominational team? The idea of sectarianism is as old as the Gospel. Christians were originally a Jewish sect, as XH has pointed out. Why aren’t more Christians concerned? What would you have them do? Are we going to threaten to murder people over their desire to freely associate with those whom they chose? Are you going to force me to pay taxes to your church? Am I going to be shunned and ostracized? Once you invoke authority, you must have a method of enforcement. With Moses, it was pretty clear. Take them outside the camp and stone them. The Catholics tried it their own way, through the inquisition. Basically if you give a body a little taste of Hell on earth, they can confess and avoid eternal damnation. Sounds pretty logical to me, but not very loving.

    Desmond, you do manage to always bring the goods, and your community is indeed a hook where we started to hang a lot of the ideas. Balancing the structure with the spirit is always a challenge, and sheer numbers will necessitate some organization. But it really is a fascinating look and the fact that it has been around 35 years is a testament to the effectiveness of this idea. It’s pretty cool and awesome and I think it is something more people are looking for.

    Yeah, I’ve been debating what to do about the whole blog thing. I’ve toyed with the idea of unplugging in order to do other things, but I like THIS community too much.

  12. Sola Fide « Unsolicited Advice: Wordpress Version Says:

    […] be brought up to speed on this little debate, you might read an initial post made by FTN, then a response by me with comments by Christian Husband (known here as XH). Then I responded with a post, and then […]

  13. A Free Spirit Says:

    I just read an article on regarding unity in the Catholic Church without cultural uniformity (i.e., as Anglican congregations join while retaining their rites). I then wrote a post about the relationship of unity and doctrinal uniformity. In general terms, does unity require uniformity?

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