Saturday, April 16, 2011

Starting with a Blank Slate

What would happen if we could forget all we know about the church and start over? What if we could literally begin with a sort of mental blank slate, open our bibles together, and simply see what the pages of scripture say? It would be like taking a mulligan on our understanding of the church.

We well know that this is an impossibility.  We don't live in science fiction so we can't obtain any sort of mind-wipe. Also, we have all experienced much good in the life of the church that we would not want to forget about. Most important, we all have church family relationships in Christ that we would never want to forfeit.

But what if we, as the church, got together and tried as best we could to forget our knowledge, definitions, functions, practices, traditions, etc. of the church and delved into the pages of the bible to simply see what it says?

I haven't ever really done this before.  While I've looked at certain issues in this manner (or at least attempted to), I've never taken a broad look at the church while trying to forget what I already know.  I admit to falling into the trap at times of looking at bible passages that support my current church practices while semi-ignoring or discounting other passages that might force me to change what I'm doing.  We probably all do this to one degree or another.

The idea of forgetting past practices is a threatening one to all of us because we might find things in the bible that make us uncomfortable. In scripture, God challenges us to live in a manner that is far different from what we see in the world. I'm not sure we dare look at what Christ calls his church to be.

What if we tried it anyway? What would we see? Among other things:

We'd see a gracious God who has called out a people for himself from all nations, tribes, and tongues.

We'd see a sacrificial and risen Lord who has given us an example of loving servitude to follow.

We'd see a live-giving Spirit who empowers us today to do amazing things for him.

We'd see a church focused on glorifying God in all things.

We'd see a simple model of church life.

We'd see all of the church sharing life together, caring for one another, meeting each others' needs, and impacting society for the good.

We'd see a church where everyone ministers, everyone participates, everyone has authority, and all look to Christ as their head.

We'd see a church that struggles with sin issues such as disunity, immorality, and pride.

We'd see a church that gathers in an informal fashion for the edification of the body.

We'd see a church that proclaims the gospel as part of normal life.

I'm sure we'd see many other things as well.

What we wouldn't see is a perfect church.  Saints back then struggled with many of the same things that we struggle with today.  In fact, most of the epistles were written at least in part to deal with specific problems that were occurring in the churches.

What we can see in scripture is general principles, patterns, and practices of church life. We can see what the apostles approved of and what they didn't. We can see how the church lived life together and how they engaged society.

It's exciting as we read the bible to see what the early church looked like. For this reason the book of Acts is one of my personal favorites.

Starting with as much of a blank slate as possible, we can in community come to some important conclusions about what the early church was, what it did, how it gathered, how it impacted the greater community, how leadership functioned, how it spent money, etc.

After making these determinations, the next big question we face is what we are going to do about this. There is obviously much current disagreement among well-meaning Christians about how to handle that. However, it is always informative and helpful to look at the broad picture of the church as the bible shows us. It's almost impossible to do this without being challenged in some area of church life. If nothing else, there's a really good chance that we will be convicted to care about ourselves less and serve other people more.

My encouragement to you is to, as much as is possible, let the bible speak about the church.  Then do what it says. Yes, we may have differing interpretations about some things.  However, we will all see things that Christ will use to change us for the better.

Let's be sure to do this in community. We all see much more as we read and study together.

I have to admit to a little jealousy (I hope in the good sense). My church friends in North Carolina - Messiah Baptist Church - will soon be studying through the book of Acts together. What a rich time it will be for them. May we all do the same.

9 comments:

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

This is a great post and a great challenge! Yes, we all come to Scripture with a certain preconceived idea of what the church should be like. That's impossible to get away from. So, we must be willing to test everything as we read through the pages of Scripture - even those things that we think are of utmost importance - even things that don't relate to church but might relate to "more important" issues. If we're not willing to question everything, then it will probably be difficult for us to change anything.

-Alan

tmagskjohns said...

Nice article. After reading it I feel strengthened to know that Hazel Dell Christian Church is following the attributes you stated.

Eric said...

Alan,

It sure is difficult to even recognize our own preconceived ideas about the church much less be willing to let them be challenged by scripture. Of course, it's much easier to see where we think others fail in this than to look at self.

Will we let scripture inform church life? I hope I'm willing. I know I have a long way to goo.

Eric said...

Mary,

Thanks for reading and commenting.

I'm glad that's the case with Hazel Dell. I wish we could visit some time. I admire any body of believers that is willing to search the bible to inform church life.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

Sola Scriptura! It WILL be eye opening!

Eric said...

John,

It sure has changed the way I think about the church, and I still have a lot of progress to make.

Ernie said...

Great post. Every generation should attempt to "start over" in its understanding of the church & gospel in general. Otherwise, we depend on tradition which, over time, becomes empty. By going to the Scripture with a clean slate we re-discover for ourselves the power of God displayed in Jesus, made known by His people, the church.

Steve Scott said...

I think this is where we start when we're born. :)

Eric said...

Steve,

Of course you are right. But then people begin to teach us...