Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Change in Emphasis

When I began blogging in early 2007, we had just returned from South Asia. Our son Bobby was in the midst of chemotherapy treatments, and blogging seemed like a good way to talk about issues such as missions and suffering. These two topics were my two primary areas of interest for quite a while.

Over time, my emphasis gradually changed to where I was writing quite a bit about the sovereignty of God as it relates to not only salvation but also to all areas of life. I dealt quite a bit with Calvinism, Reformed Theology, The Doctrines of Grace, and the 5 solas. In part because I was raised in a Wesleyan-Arminian background, I now deeply cherish the truths of God's absolute sovereignty. These topics remain an interest for me, but they are no longer the primary focus of my blogging.

As is probably clear to all seven-or-so of you who regularly read this blog, I've changed my emphasis to a discussion of the church. While the above topics all relate in one way or another to the church, there is also much more to church life than those specific areas. In particular, I'm now frequently asking questions about why the church gathers, what we should do as we gather, what attitudes we should display when we gather, and what the purpose is of the gathering. Questions of this nature can seem annoying at times because they may cause us to squirm a bit, but in the end this is healthy.

What's the reason for the change in emphasis?

I suppose it stems from a combination of three things: A) attending a seminary where difficult questions related to the church are not generally asked or invited, B) being trained in international church planting and then living in South Asia for four months, and C) serving as pastor of a traditional SBC church for the past 2.5 years.

I enjoyed my time in seminary, but I remain a bit disappointed to this day in the assumptions the seminary makes about church life. The most cherished evangelical traditions (such as the big building, the salaried pastor, the worship service, the sermon, etc.) were almost never questioned.

After seminary, our family temporarily moved to Richmond, VA to attend missions training. We were instructed in international church planting methods. As we did this, we simply looked through the scriptures to see how churches were started and how they functioned. It was very refreshing. Tradition was discarded and scripture was allowed to speak.

This caused Alice and me to begin asking questions about why such a disconnect exists between churches here in the USA and churches being planted overseas. They almost looked like two totally different organisms.

After we returned from South Asia and survived chemotherapy, we believe God called me to serve as pastor of Chevis Oaks Baptist Church. I'm very grateful for the past 2.5 years. I have learned a great deal from my friends there, and I hope I have been a positive influence upon them. I have been a close-up witness to the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the exciting, and the hum-drum of church life. Overall, it has been a good experience.

These three factors (seminary, international missions, and traditional church life) have caused me to ask many questions and strive for biblical answers as they relate to the bride of Christ: His church.

I now desperately want to be a part of church life as is described in the bible. I'm not suggesting a return to first century culture, but I strongly believe that the scriptures have given us all we need for church life. This is what I desire to live out on a daily basis.

Alice and I are excited to be planting a church in our home within the next couple of months. We are not exactly sure what this will look like. We have had many people express interest in being a part of it. In fact, if everyone visits who says they would like to, we will immediately be at capacity (our house is average size - not big).

We desire to gather according to the biblical model: in homes, enjoying the Lord's Supper as a full meal, holding participatory meetings, with everyone of all ages being together. I want to be part of a thriving, growing, edifying church family that strives to be the church according to what the bible tells us.

What's the purpose in all this? The simple answer: God's glorification through mutual edification.

16 comments:

reformedlostboy said...

(Bobby here) Why Eric I had no idea that your emphasis was changing ;-) Seriously...I've witnessed as God has made some changes to your ways of thinking. In fact you have been instrumental in God's design to change many things in my life as well. I look forward to being a part of Gods work as we make this pilgrimage together.

Eric said...

Bobby,

This has been a great journey/adventure so far. I look forward to going through it together as well. Thanks for all your encouragement. I can't wait to see what God will do if we will try our best to be the church He has called us to be in the scriptures. I don't mean for that to sound prideful at all. It's just that I have never been part of a church that has done things according to what God has shown us. It won't be utopia, but I believe the opportunities for spiritual growth will be phenomenal.

Norma Hill - aka penandpapermama said...

I love being part of your pilgrimage - at least from a distance, watching and learning and of course part of the big family.

Haven't been commenting much due to illness, but am still reading daily. Guess that makes me one of your seven-or-so, eh :-) (Or is that seventy-times-seven?)

Eric said...

Norma,

Thanks for reading. I think I learn as much from the commenters as I do from writing the posts. I'm glad you are one of the seven.

Church is such a fascinating thing. I hope I never stop learning about what Christ wants for His bride.

Scott Reeder said...

Brother Eric,

OK stick with me brother…

Sounds like you’re advocating the regulative principle of worship.
Which if I understand correctly, states that we are only permitted to do what is specifically commanded or modeled for us in New Testament Scriptures. Then I believe you take that to the point that scripture only models church in homes, or at least not in buildings with salaried ministers.

Consider this however… the scripture (OT or NT) in no way specifically commands, describes, speaks of, or models for us any approval or selection process to determine the canonization of New Testament itself. Which by most scholarship was not even completed until late in the first century, and not finalized/accepted until sometime early in the fourth century.

Since the process or canonization of scriptures is not dictated or prescribed by scripture itself (OT or NT)… I would ask is the bible we use as the basis for directing the regulative principle, not itself in violation of the regulative principle?

Therefore are we using something not authorized by the scriptures (the scriptures) in our worship? Based on the regulative principle being carried to its logical and fullest understanding, I see no biblical basis for using NT scriptures (or printed and bound bibles with chapter divisions and punctuation) when the church gathers (institutional or house) for authorized worship.

I realize the above argument when pondered is circular in nature and I don’t believe it to be true.

Yet – let me now make a point.

In the first century they did not have a canonized collective twenty seven books called the New Testament, in order to determine or order specifically how God required the church to function.

Historically once the NT scriptures were circulated and accepted (canonized), only then did we historically come to understand that during the initial spread of the church that the followers of “the way” most often meet in homes?

Yet in historical context we understand that much like the third world church today - persecution, social, political, and financial factors necessitated the church move from buildings to homes.

Before our current canonical list was sealed and accepted, or for that matter authoritative, and before collective copies of the scriptures were even available to early Christians in order to “regulate” how the church was to function, there were men set apart by God preaching lectures in the form of discourse.

This was often done in buildings as the church gathered and grew for that matter. I would suggest that many of our current practices of preaching (sermon delivery) were being modeled for early Christians even as the scriptures were being delievered/written.

The early disciples sat/stood on hillsides, or on the shore of a lake to hear Christ teach. But we don’t insist today that the only valid churches gather on hillsides or lakesides. They did gather to meet in buildings; they met in the synagogues or lecture halls to hear scripture read or to hear the Apostles give lectures and speeches (sermons-exposition of scriptures).

To use 1 Cor 12:29-30 as somehow binding us, as I have seen some do, to a pattern of allowing several to speak and respond when the church gathers is simply out of context since these scriptures are dealing with errors and instructions for speaking in tongues in the church. Additionally scriptures like Colossians 4:14–16 seems to indicate there were churches in homes as well as in buildings were the church letters were to be read, explained and discussed.

Scott Reeder said...

As for salaried ministers vs. non-salaried I think either is permissible. Currently I am salaried – though I have served while “working with my hands” to minister in a church that could not provide support. But consider this - Paul did decide it was best for him not to accept the salary which he proclaimed was his right. This acknowledges that others did accept provision or salaries as they proclaimed God’s word. In 1 Corinthians 9:11–18 we must acknowledge that Paul three times says that though it was his “right” he choose not to make use that "right". I realize some try to apply this to traveling evangelists only, but I think that is an unsubstantiated position and interpretation.

Let’s be honest by the text and acknowledge that Paul said that those who give themselves over to the full time ministry of proclaiming the gospel have a "right" to get their living (provision) from it. Paul also exercised his right or preference of serving single and celibate. He recommended it for Christian leaders as was his choice, but he did not command it, and understood that his decision was not binding on others conscience decision to be married while serving.

Please don’t misunderstand, I know what it means to follow your convictions and make changes to in order to pursue what you believe to be a more biblical form of church. I now serve in a context that is extremely more regulative than normative. I serve with a plurality of elders, observe weekly Lord ’s Day communion, sing without aid of instruments, have no formal creed or church covenants, and women do not teach (most do not speak at all) in our gatherings. Yet we have a kitchen, a playground, a sign, a lawnmower, a church van, an overhead projector, pew bibles, hymnals, stained glass windows, a microwave, and some other traditions that are not prohibited by scripture. Unless in some way we begin to idolize these things (that can be done just as easily in the home), then I think God is ok with that.

At the end of the day I think we must be biblical and balanced. Everything is not permissible, but we can’t run off to the caves of Qumran or the basements of our homes and claim some special gnosis of precisely what is and is not pleasing and acceptable to God. We should strive to be more biblical in all areas of our lives, but when the bible is silent on something I think we do well to show much charity in our criticism of it. Our imperfect worship will always be that – this side of heaven – imperfect.

In the end - I think you might reconsider your conclusions that pulpit ministers, expository preaching, salaried pastors, and Church buildings are not ALSO valid expressions of the way in which God is working out his plan of redemption. I recommend a book called "Why We Love the Church" by Kevin DeYoung and by Ted Kluck for a balanced perspective of house vs. institutional church.

I love you brother, I respect your decision to start a house church and return to the workplace, I pray the Lord will bless your obedience to step out in faith. I pray the Lord will soon provide you with gainful secular employment. I have several times been offered twice my current salary to return to the secular workplace, so I found serving as a minister is a bigger step of faith at least financially for my family.

God Bless you and the family – your brother in Christ – Scott ><>

Eric said...

Scott,

Thank you for the comment. I hope you and your family are doing well. I greatly appreciate your prayers.

I'll try to answer all you have said, but I may leave a few things out. Some of my answers may seem very straightforward. I don't mean to be rude at all, but these have become strong convictions of mine, so I apologize in advance if it comes across that way.

I'm not advocating any particular principle of worship other than what is found in the scriptures. I believe we should follow what is found there. Since we cannot be certain what God thinks about what is not there, we simply should avoid what the scriptures don't speak about. We all believe the bible is the inspired word of God. I'm simply saying we should live by it in all areas of church life.

You wrote, "...there were men set apart by God preaching lectures in the form of discourse." I can't find that in the gathering of the church - at least not like today's preachers speaking in monologue format.

You also wrote, "The early disciples sat/stood on hillsides, or on the shore of a lake to hear Christ teach. But we don’t insist today that the only valid churches gather on hillsides or lakesides." The church gatherings that I see mentioned in the bible took place in homes. In fact, I don't read of them meeting in other places. The church in Jerusalem gathered in the temple, but that was certainly a unique situation. All the predominantly-Gentile churches met in homes.

As for I Cor. chapters 11-14, they do correct some problems in the church in Corinth. No doubt about that. However, they also specifically allow for certain practices. If Paul allowed these, then we know they are acceptable. By contrast, we have no idea if many of our modern practices are acceptable. Additionally, Paul writes in I Cor. 14:37, "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord."

Regarding Colossians 4:14-16, all I see is a church that met in a home and letters that were shared between churches.

Eric said...

Scott (continued),

As for salaried pastors and I Cor. chapter 9, you wrote, "I realize some try to apply this to traveling evangelists only, but I think that is an unsubstantiated position and interpretation." I strongly believe that Paul was, in fact, talking about apostolic workers and traveling evangelists alone. They traveled, so they couldn't hold down consistent jobs. Pastor/elders live in one place and can hold down jobs "working with hands." I Cor. 9 makes no mention of pastors.

You wrote, "Yet we have a kitchen, a playground, a sign, a lawnmower, a church van, an overhead projector, pew bibles, hymnals, stained glass windows, a microwave, and some other traditions that are not prohibited by scripture." Some of those things have no theological significance whatsoever, so I don't think they are an issue one way or the other. However, if stained glass means a building, then we are talking about a large group of people who cannot possibly gather in a participatory manner like the early church did.

"Everything is not permissible, but we can’t run off to the caves of Qumran or the basements of our homes and claim some special gnosis of precisely what is and is not pleasing and acceptable to God." I agree completely. I'm just trying to read scripture and do what it commands and models.

"We should strive to be more biblical in all areas of our lives, but when the bible is silent on something I think we do well to show much charity in our criticism of it." This may be our biggest difference in that I don't think the bible is silent on many areas related to the church.

"In the end - I think you might reconsider your conclusions that pulpit ministers, expository preaching, salaried pastors, and Church buildings are not ALSO valid expressions of the way in which God is working out his plan of redemption." I do believe that expository preaching, if discussion is involved, can be useful in the life of the church. However, I believe this should take place outside of the weekly gathering. Why? Because the early church didn't do it. Salaried pastors and church buildings aren't in the bible so I can no longer support them.

I read "Why We Love the Church." I'm not sure how to say this nicely. It was one of the worst books I have ever read. I found the exegesis to be very poor.

Please forgive the strightforward nature of my response. I love you Scott and hope God continues to bless your ministry. I do support you.

However, I can no longer support what I believe to be unbiblical practices. I find it fascinating that those who want to follow the biblical model are often made (not by you) to feel like we have to constantly defend doing this. In my opinion, it should be those who practice things not seen in scripture that should have to justify their practices.

I desire to please God in all that I do related to the church. I can know that I'm pleasing Him if I do what I see in scripture. If I do other things, then I simply cannot know. That's no longer good enough.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

Dave Black's most recent article describes well my own journey, and I suspect yours.

Scott reflects the attitude I once would have taken, but the more I challenged what I had taken on board from my traditions, especially regarding ecclesiology, the more convinced I became that The Road Less Travelled was the one I must travel.

The well worn path is often the easiest, but not always the wisest, especially in the light of the Five Solas.

Eric said...

John,

I'll have to take a look at Dave's post.

Scott is a sweet brother of mine that I have known for ten years now. I respect him a great deal. However, when it comes to the church we obviously differ now on what the scriptures say and mean for us today. I just cannot and will not any longer do what I don't see in the bible (at least as best I can).

Scott Reeder said...

Eric,
Thanks for engaging some of my ramblings. I agree the tone of blogging and email can take a rough edge. But as for straightforward that is one of the things I appreciate most about you. No offense taken - and i hope none received. I am a regular reader of your blog - and besides the fact that I consider you a great and Godly friend - I appreciate your willingness to ask hard questions about living and thinking Christianly. Many Christians, particularly those in leadership do not.

Last night was our annual vision/planning meeting with our church leadership body (elders and deacons)for about 3 hours. Much of the time was spent asking hard questions about why we do what we do. Why do we gather? What is the mission and purpose of the Church. Thankfully though our church has been organized for some 125 years our leadership is always open to straightforward dialog (Q&A) about why we do what we do.

In all sincerity I am excited for you, because I sense that God is teaching you some new things. That is an exciting place to be. Looking forward to following your journey.

Grace & Peace to you, Brother Scott ><>

Just wondering where does this leave you on the use of instruments in your church gatherings? We have actually just begun some guitar based accompaniment in worship, but in the past many in the life of Church of Christ consider this to be a scripturally regulative issue.

Eric said...

Scott,

I'm glad you read this blog regularly. I appreciate your input. I learn as much from this blog as anyone else (probably more) - from the comments left by others.

As for your church, it sounds like you are asking some really good questions. It's refreshing to hear that they are willing to ask and answer them. As you know, most churches do not want to deal with those things.

As for instruments, that is an interesting question. The Psalms are full of musical instruments (Psalm 150 comes straight to mind). However, that was Israel and not the church. The church is told to sing "Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs," but I don't think instruments are mentioned. This is an issue that I don't think has much theological significance (but it certainly is an important question to ask). Therefore, in light of what we read in Psalms, I believe it is fine to use instruments as long as it is edifying to the body and does not elevate the musicians to some sort of special status in the church.

Thanks brother,

Eric

Kimberlee said...

I just finished that same training and am asking myself those same questions...why is there a disconnect between what we see in Acts and what we see in the American church? I love that you are allowing God to stretch you out of the normal boxes of American Christianity to really discover AND live what the Book tells us to! Thanks for your blog...you seem to frequently pose the questions I'm asking myself,and when you don't, you're challenging me with other questions that I should be asking!

Eric said...

Kimberlee,

Thank you for reading and commenting.

We seem to be thinking along the same lines. You are right in that there is a massive disconnect between the N.T. church and what we have here in America. I keep meeting people who are tired of the typical church life here, but don't know what else there is. I hope to be able to show them soon.

Thanks again.

john said...

Eric, what a blessing it is to follow you on your journey, I have been very encouraged. As far as your friend Scott goes, perhaps he should consider reading "Pagan Christianity", as it documents how many of those extra biblical traditions crept into the early church.
As far as your new "direction", I have been feeling for a few weeks now, that I wanted to chime in, which is out of character for me, as I am more of a lurker, rather than a poster, on the few blogs that I read. However, I have been so excited to read what the Lord has been doing in your life, and reflecting on what He has and is doing in my own, I just want to share a few things.
My brief back ground, is that I was raised completely outside the church, and at 19, in the late 70's, was saved and entered within a year the discipleship/community movement that was popular in South Florida, at that time. It was a glorious time, and I will always be so thankful for all the things the Lord taught me in those early years, as well as all the people who He brought into my life. (my wife being the most important one).
Since(and including) those early years, I have been directly involved in 2 groups, and am currently getting involved with a third, that many would call organic churches.
The first was absolutely fantastic, however with time, we allowed ourselves to be pressed into a more "institutional" model, which eventually was the death of the group. This was a slow process, however, I believe it began, by simply being pressured to "have" a name for our group, it was all pretty much down hill from there.
Some years later, we entered another group, who was wonderful for many years. Most of us home-schooled our kids together, and functioned very much as a community of believers. This fizzled out after most of the kids grew up, and several of the parents fell into sin. A sad ending to be sure.
I said all of this to encourage you in one particular area which I have observed. I initially did not feel this was so important, but with hindsight, now think it more so. That area would be, as you start out on your new church journey. let me encourage you to have some type of "overseer" involved. Whether it is an individual or a group, having some outside help/involvement will be of great value as you grow as a body of believers. I know many shy away from this, mostly out of fear, but if the Lord leads the right person(s) into your life, this will really be a great benefit. I have watched this process happen in the third group I am now getting involved with and am amazed at how well this is working out for them. I believe, that in the two earlier groups, if we had a group of men, like in this third group, who were there from the beginning, but who knew the positions they held, were temporary, and would get out of the way and eventually leave, as the body grew and matured, that thing may have very well worked out differently for both groups. I know see this as a very scriptural principle, and can see the benefit that it provides to a new church start up.
I simply wanted to encourage you to ask the Lord about this, as you begin your journey. Whatever you end up doing, thanks for sharing with us, I have really enjoyed the "ride" so far. Your brother in Christ. John Morris.

Eric said...

John,

Thank you so much for your encouragement and kind words. I'm glad to hear that this blog has been worth reading for you. I know it has been a help to me. I have learned a great deal from the comments I have received.

As for "Pagan Christianity," I enjoyed that book a lot. I'm not sure if Scott has read it, but it would be worth his time. My only criticism of the book was that it had an adversarial tone that I believe put some people off.

I would also recommend Viola's counterpart book "Reimagining Church." It's the positive to "Pagan Christianity's" negative.

Thank you for your input about the start of the new church. I agree with you that the biblical model shows someone from the outside planting the church, helping it get started, and then moving out of the picture. I wish we had someone here in Savannah who could help us in this way. Sadly, I don't know anyone. My main concern right now is that at least some of the people who come will look to me as "the pastor" in the institutional sense. I want to avoid this at all costs. I plan to purposely try to be in the background toward the beginning. I'm not sure how else to handle the situation.

Thanks again.