Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chapter 3 : Reimagining the Lords Supper

Simple and short, yet profoundly altering.

Most of us, if we have grown up in the church, know of the Lords supper (or communion, Eucharist, breaking of bread, etc.) as a religious ceremony or ritual done during a church service. It is usually practiced by taking a small amount of bread or a wafer and a shot glass of grape juice and ingesting them. Nowadays it is often accompanied by gentle music and we are supposed to think about our sins and what Jesus did on the cross. Is this practice built on biblical grounds?

Viola says no. And he is not alone in that assertion. In the New Testament this practice was a part in a full meal. IT was anything but a religious ceremony. It also was not a time of mourning and focusing on our short comings. It was a celebration of the victory Jesus accomplished on the cross.

The passover meal is its predecessor. In the passover meal Jews gathered together as the People of God to remember how God had delivered them from the tyranny and enslavement in Egypt.

This meal is a covenant. The covenant that God made with us, His people through Jesus' death upon the cross. Our covenant to share in the cup of suffering, in loving service to one another each and everyday. And we remember the Lords promise to not leave us behind, but to return one day. And in that sense we eat the meal in anticipation of the great wedding banquet we shall partake in when our Lord returns.

Regularly breaking bread together from my perspective is the act of coming together as a new creation, not only personally but as a whole. We are a new family with God as our father, and gathering together for this meal is just what families do, we eat together. Take sunday afternoon dinners or thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays as an example.

Come let us eat together.

next chapter - Reimagining the gathering place

Peace be with you, brandon

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

chapter 2 : Reimagining the Church meeting

"Neither "going to church" nor "church service" appears in the New Testament," states Viola.
There are, however four types of meetings found in the New Testament....Apostolic, Evangelistic, Decision-making and church meetings.
Apostolic Meetings- When an apostle is planting a new church. The Apostle speaks to an audience who is interact with him. These meetings are temporary and are meant to teach believers how to function under the headship of Christ.
Evangelistic Meetings- these were also held by an apostle (someone sent out to plant churches) in public areas where non-believers frequented. These were also for the purpose of planting a church or adding numerically to existing churches in the area. This meeting is also temporary and irregular.
Decision-making Meetings- Occasional meetings held to make important decisions in the church. These are open-participatory meetings with the help of elders. All believers gathered there would come to a decision together under the headship of Jesus.

Church Meetings- regular gatherings, at least once a week of a local body of believers. This is the meeting that is discussed in this chapter. These meetings look incredibly different from the present day church services that many attend, normally on Sunday morning or Saturday evening.
To begin with, these meetings are not held in buildings, there is no pastor at the center of things, there is no sermon, no worship leaders, no 'professionals' at all. No paid position is held in the church. In this chapter viola focuses mostly on the reality of no human officiation.

The purpose of the church meeting is mutual edification. Mutual being key. The meeting is marked by everyone in the gathering participating in the mutual edification of everyone in the gathering. This contrasts with the institutional styled church where one person (pastor, bishop, father, whatever) is primarily responsible for the edification of the entire passive audience sitting in the pews, facing the leader standing on the pulpit.
To see the beautiful picture of the New Testament gathering read 1 Corinthians 11-14. Viola comments, "Freedom, openness, and spontaneity are the chief marks of this meeting. "One-anothering" is its dominant feature--mutual edification its primary goal." Taking from Paul's explanation, the picture is of each and every person in the gathering bringing a song, a teaching, a word of knowledge, etc. Believers in the early church frequently even wrote and sang songs for the edification of the Body.
Although the meeting is not officiated by a human, nor is it necessarily planned out, it is not marked by disorderliness either. Respect for one another, attention to each other, and speaking in order is the ideal. But most importantly, following the leading of Jesus through the Spirit will lead to the orderliness of the meeting.

Christ as the head of the church and the head of the church meeting is free to use whomever he chooses in the gathering to say whatever He (Christ) wants to say. Without this feature, viola points out, you may never know whether Christ is present or not. In a church that is being handed over to Spirit for leading, you know if the Spirit is present. In an institutional church, whether Christ is present or not, the service steams ahead forward. The worship leader leads songs as usual, the sermon is preached as usual, the benediction and offering are still done. The point is that in an institutional church does not need Jesus' presence in order to function. The New testament model of the church meeting does, or else it does not function.

There is NO biblical precedent for one man to dominate the church meeting (as does the pastor, etc.) Nor is there precedent therefore for anyone to forbid the use of a believers gifts in the body. I personally have heard pastors call the people in the church, "my congregation" or "my flock." This is not the picture we find in the New Testament. The believers are Gods People, we are all His flock and he is our shepherd, our pastor. Furthermore we are all called Priests, a part of a royal priesthood. There is not one man who offers up prayer to God on behalf of the rest and tells everyone what they ought to do. We are all priests, enabled to speak to God and minister to one another.

There are a lot more points i wanted to hit, but i will leave it at that. At the end of the chapter Viola admits that he cannot simply put into words exactly what its supposed to look like, but does tell a story about a personal experience he had with a house church having no leader and being lead by Jesus. I recommend reading it.
Food for thought. tell me what you think.

Next chapter is entitled, Reimagining the Lord's Supper. sounds good. peace be with you.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reimagining Church: Church as organism

I am currently reading Reimagining Church by Frank Viola. For this very important relevant book i have decided to write a short summary of each chapter and maybe a few thoughts of my own.

The reason I wanted to write about this is, it would seem that our present church structure, style, theology, or whatever the church is today is not working out too well. By that i mean that genuine change is not occurring in the individuals or the greater body of Christ. By that I mean there is no significant deviance from the world at large in terms of behavior, values or actions between professing Christians and everyone else.

(By the way this book is sort of a follow up to Pagan Christianity by the same author, which was a must-read. 1 of maybe 3 books i would claim that for)

Chapter 1 : Reimagining the church as an organism.

There are many images put forth of the church (i.e. a family, bride, a vineyard, a field, etc.) all of which are 'organic' living examples rather than institutional examples. This is significant since most of the (western) church today is by definition institutional rather than organic. And over the course of this book and these blogs we shall see the stark difference. Furthermore i hope that it is made evident that the organic model of the church is deeply rooted in the character of God and the scriptures.

To start with Viola jumps right into one of the hardest concepts to grasp, and that is the Trinity. He (with others) says that a good understanding of the Trinity can be used as a reference for all other 'theology' in the church. It is the beginning and end to all that we need to know about the Christian way of life. The relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit shows the real meaning and expression of, "mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling and authentic community."

"The church is an organic extension of the Triune God." In the church, we ought to be seeing this life of mutuality and egalitarianism. We see in the Trinity, the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit as equal parts of the Godhead. So too should the church function, with equally valued persons all giving of themselves to one another in mutual love.

Viola, goes on to talk about four different avenues that most folks take when trying to "reimagine" the church. They are: Biblical blueprintism, cultural adaptability, post-church Christianity and organic expression.

Biblical blueprintism- Defined by the idea that pretty much everything done in the New Testament acts as a blueprint for the church today. There is no separation between things which are written simply to describe what was happening, and those things that were happening in the church that were meant to be normative church practice (descriptive vs. prescriptive). All things written in the New Testament are taken as prescriptive. Viola suggests that this approach is misguided. I would agree.

cultural adaptability- This view takes the gospel and the scriptures and contextualizes it for each period of time and culture, etc. But it also has the tendency to over-contextualize, rendering the Gospel a weed that blows in the wind.

Post church Christianity- This one is really important to me because i have entertained this idea. In this category you find people who feel that church is little more than hanging out with friends. There is no need to do anything really, other than hang out and have a good time. It's probably the most extreme reaction against the institutional church without actually throwing out the faith altogether. (And by the way I have known many people personally who have held this view, and have fairly easily been pushed over the edge and lose their faith in God, and often even in the loving people around them.) While this view, like all of them, has some truth about it, it is not the full picture.

Organic expression- This category is what this book is all about. It is said by Viola to have at least these four elements :

1. Christ is the head (not a pastor, bishop, pope, or any other human)

2. All members have a function in the church (bringing songs, teachings, word of knowledge, encouragement, wisdom etc etc.

3. Gives visible expression to New Testament theology

4. Always grounded in the Triune faith (that i vaguely talked about before)

To quote Viola, "The Trinity is the paradigm informing us on how the church should function. It shows us that the church is a loving, egalitarian, reciprocal, cooperative, non hierarchical community." To quote Becca's notes found in this book, " Right on, right on!" Indeed I find that incredibly insightful as well.

To conclude here, Viola likens the church today as a modern day version of the Greek mythological man Procrustes who supposedly had a magical bed that fit everyone perfectly. However what was actually happening was Procrustes would take a short person and stretch them out to fit the bed, and a tall person would have their limbs cut off to fit the bed. Today, Viola says, we are and have been doing the same with scripture. We cut it up and stretch it out to fit into our little version and idea of what it should be. And in so doing this we have justified many entirely non-biblical church practices. This method is called, "cut and paste."

We find a verse here and cut it out from its historical, chronological and circumstantial context, and paste it together with others to make whatever kind of theology we like. Its absurdity at best, and soul destroying at worst. And we repeatedly use this method of 'bible study' in order to support just about anything we want to.

So presumably in the upcoming chapters we will to begin look at the Scriptures and the New Testament church with new eyes. And perhaps we can begin to see the church today as needing to look more like an organic organism that a multi-national corporation.

Next chapter will be specifically dealing with the church meeting.

May grace and peace follow you everywhere you go.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Where are all the protesters now??

At the end of October 2006 Becca, Meshach and I hopped into a van with several others from our church and headed to Washington D.C. We were going to protest the war(s). Upon arriving the day before we all headed into an episcopal church that was crowded with people sleeping on the wood floors. Interesting night it was.

The next morning we headed for the rally which had hundreds of thousands attending. We made a banner that said, "anything bombs can do, love can do better." and on the other side it simply said, "Love thy enemy. -Jesus" It was a great experience, but it did not come without some great disappointments.

Now most know that i am no fan of George W. but i was really turned off by the extreme hatred for W. by many who were at the protest. I kept thinking, "isn't this a peace rally? How can we have peace if we continue to hate?" Somehow we have to figure out how to be against the war, and not show hatred towards those who are guilty of the war mongering. Or else nothing is ever going to change.

But fast forward to 2009. Now we have a new guy in office. Some call him Obama, some call him the messiah. While I'm glad to see W. gone i am not an Obama follower. But here is my question....Where are all the protesters now?? Everyone wanted a Democrat in office believe that it would somehow bring an end to the wars. Yes Obama has set a date about a year and half away to be out of Iraq, but in the meantime he has escalated the war in Afghanistan. Clearly simply having a democrat in office is not the answer that we should all be looking for...peace. In fact i submit (as others have as well) that the American Empire has been expanding for a long time. I guess you could say its been expanding ever since the first day it became a country. And this agenda has been pushed by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Anyhow there's my rant. I hope the anti-war protesters keep up with the protesting, because the wars are still going, and this American messiah is not slowing that down.

With faith in Christ alone,


My old friend Jim

My Old half amish friend Jim used to always say things. And then he would say, "Fight me, fight me." I loved that about Jim. Heres an example of something he would actually say quite a bit:

"You guys should move to Michigan! Michigan is the promised land. Toledo is actually a part of Michigan you know. Fight me, fight me."

In the spirit of fighting Jim, i ask the same to you, "FIGHT ME, FIGHT ME."

It is through this deliberation that we can be refined! so reply, comment away and dont take my word for it. fight me.

In the spirit of unity,


More on Wilberforce and the use of force

This is a response to the responses i have gotten about the previous post.

Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted basically saying that while we need to work on changing the heart for any real lasting change, in the mean time the law is there to regulate behavior, and restrain the would be attacker.

First i want to say thanks to Matt who posed this question for dragging me into an even tougher task. Now I am not only taking on one, but two of the most influential Christians in the past two hundred years. I have to make this CLEAR....William Wilberforce and especially MLK jr. are two men i respect deeply. They both dedicated their lives and lost their lives in self sacrificial service to others. They are both people we ought to look up to, and strive to emulate in a lot of ways. That said, they were still humans and one need not agree with absolutely everything they did or said in order to see them as great examples of a person living out their faith in service to the King.

Now about that quote. I'm not so sure that the law even does what MLK was saying it does. The law hardly restrains someone, it merely punishes someone after the fact, in most instances. It is based more on revenge or 'getting even' than on actual restraint.

that aside when i think about this question, and i do frequently, i have to always return to what Jesus has taught, and lived. That is a life lived without the use of force. AND without asking others to use force on his behalf, i.e. the police. Both points of which are equally important. For what is the difference between using force and asking someone else to use force for you. There is no final difference. the outcome is the same. Furthermore, you cannot find anywhere in the New Testament the use of force being used by any of Christs followers, save one.

Peter used force once. He cut off the ear of the centurion who attempted to arrest Jesus. HE was sharply rebuked for his use of violence (even a violence used against something completely unjust). Jesus, when talking to Pilate later that night, explained that the reason for this non-use of violence was because of the uselessness of it in accomplishing the goals of God, the establishment of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not of this world as he explains, and therefore it is useless and even harmful to use the tactics of this world; namely, the use of coercion, be it physical, relational or any other sort.

Some might argue that this was only in this instance because God willed it for Jesus to go through all of that for the forgiveness of sins. But if that were true we would have other examples of his disciples later using force, but we don't. The use of force in the early church was strictly forbidden.

Jesus taught us to never restrain an evil man. He taught us to allow someone to hurt us if they try. To allow someone to steal from us if they try. To allow someone to take advantage of us if they try. And in all these things to even go beyond what was being forced out of us and give to the perpetrator more than what is asked. Why? i have some ideas, but when it comes down to it, i don't know to the full extent, and certainly don't naturally just do these things. But i must trust and obey.

` As far as the Government using these tactics...I'll talk about that in at a later date. But for our purposes here, I do not see a difference between using force ourselves or asking others or accepting others to do the work for us. Therefore i cannot condone even the use of force within the government. But again, i'll talk more about that later.

We must always remember that this life is but a mist in the air. and all the things that evil men may attempt to steal from us (possessions, time, health or even our lives) are fading away anyhow. They mean nothing in eternity (which is now). So we must hang onto things with a very loose grip. As someone said, "we didn't come into this world with all these things and were not going to leave with all these things."

I hope that's at least somewhat of a coherent answer.

Peace be with you!!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wilberforce was misguided!

Wilberforce was misguided....sort of. As you may recall, William Wilberforce was the man who rallied to get the slave trade banished in England in 1833. He did this after becoming a Christian and knowing that the message of the Gospel leaves no room for slavery, and now he is a hero to most Christians as a great example of a Christians using politics to correct injustices in the world.

While I am all about correcting injustices in the world, i believe the technique in which we do this is not limited to politics. To go further, i would say, its pointless to use politics and sometimes very dangerous. As a holder of this view, Wilberforce would be one of the best people to persuade me otherwise. Afer all, few things are more repulsing than the idea of slavery, especially when you hear all the horrifying true stories of the way slaves were treated.

Heres the thing. I have argued, and im not original on this, that you cannot legislate morality. More to the point for me, no laws could change the hearts of the people who are perpetrating these evil acts. Specific to our subject; The evil in the hearts of slavetraders is what caused the slave trade, and outlawing slavery will not change that. Therefore the evil in their hearts will be manifested in another way. The root of the problem has not been uprooted. You can cut back a weed with sissors, but rest assured, it will return quickly unless you completely uproot it.
My argument therefore is that we work to uproot the problems of the world, which is lodged within the heart, and do not waste our precious time on fighting the symptoms of the problem, through politics.

Here is a prime example of the evil of slavery (although outlawed, still in the hearts of some) being manifested in a new way. recently i listened to an hour long radio program on the subject of micro-loans in Third World countries. I have heard a lot of great things from organizations like Mennonite Central Committee who have been working with others to make these very small loans a possibility for people in extreme poverty. The loans are used to create small businesses, enabling them to have a livable income. Some non-profits give out these loans and help support the loan holders with a 0% interest rate. Other for-profit companies can do these loans for no more than 20% interest.

On the other hand a woman on this radio program was interviewed who, like many in her field, have come under great criticism for their loaning interest rates. The Radio host questioned her saying, "Some people have been saying that your offices have outrageous interest rates that do more harm than good to people who are already in extreme poverty. They say your taking advantage of them with interest rates up 50% !, what do you have to say?"

she replied, "We do what we have to in order to cover costs."
"so what is your interest rate?" He asks

She dances around the question, "It varies from country to country."

"Alright, say Mexico, what is it in Mexico?"

She continues to dance, "Its the same as most companies there."

"Well, what is it?!?" He's getting a bit annoyed at this point.

"Well in order to cover our costs we charge an interest rate of 70%"

!!!!!!!!!!! 70% interest!!!!!!!!!!!!

It is easy enough for us rich "educated" Americans to be taken away by robber barron credit card companies, who charge an outrageous amount of interest, like 25%. But to consider these poor people, already in abject poverty being taken advantage of by these credit agencies, giving them loans they can't pay back. Or if they can, they will have to pay almost twice as much as they recieved, this is slavery! Because if they dont pay it back, the agency goes to work on them.

So we may not be able to go steal people and bring them to the mother land to harvest the crops, but believe me, the same evil that created that kind of slavery is creating other kinds, and this example is just one of many.

At this point, those of us who believe this is unjust, like myself, and believe something should be done about it have atleast two options. (1) we could work to make these sort of actions illegal, or (2) we could go at it with a philosophy that says, if i can help to change a persons heart that does these things, then we may actually uproot the problem. Let us focus therefore on the renewal of hearts! On forgiveness, reconciliation, so that we may spur one another on towards a life of purity and love for all of mankind. So that the greed we are all so inclined to is cast off, and destroyed. Lord help us.

Brandon W.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Just a good (true) story

It was a hot August day in a suburb of Columbus. I was assigned to do work on a municipal building. They had Brick walkways leading up to the entry way of the building. My task was to remove all the cement mortar between the bricks and then replace it. OBVIOUSLY (to me) then no one could walk on it while i did it.
So there was a front and back door to get into the place, so it became obvious to me that i needed to make sure that everyone entered and exited through the entryway that i was not working on.
This is about the time that i went inside the building to ask the front desk lady person in the lobby there if i could lock the doors from the inside. She said no, so i went outside to ponder more. It was not long before two cop cars tore into the parking lot and the police jumped out of the vehicles and surrounded me.
"get your hands out of you pockets now!!" they yelled.
"ummmmm, ok. is there somethings wrong officers?"
At this point they did not respond to my question, but started a long interrogation session about the purpose of my presence at the building. They did not believe me. They searched my vehicle, frisked me, you know, the whole shabang. After a while they conceded that i, in fact, was not a terrorist. wait what???
As it turns out, apparently the front desk lady person in the lobby decided that due to my scruffy beard and shabby clothes, there was a high probablity that i was a terrorist rather than a mason, and therefore notified the authorities, promptly. It later made for a good laugh, and simply added to the list of run ins with the authorities to my list. None of which, by the way, have been for anything other than misjudgments and misunderstandings.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The hutterites PART II

IF you havent read the post immediately below, do so first. Or not. its up to you. really it is.

SO back to The Hutterites.

-Like i said, The hutterites number over 50,000 this day and are growing quickly. Each community has between 50 and 150 persons.

-Oddly enough there is very few people joining them. They grow from within. At the turn of the 20th century each family averaged 12 children. wow. They are a very family centered group. They are strictly monogamous as well.

-Everyone in the community speaks atleast three languages fluently, Hutterisch, German and -English. Each is used for different purposes.

-Their finances are 100% shared, and distributed evenly according to each persons need

-They share all of their meals and each family has its own little apartment to live in.

-large scale agriculture is their main source of income, and unlike the Amish, they readily embrace technology, but still make an effort to keep it in its place. For instance, they will use large combines for farming, truck for transportation, and electricity for a wide variety of things most people use it for. They do, however, forbid the use of TV and other electronic gadgets that tend to be more of a hindrance on our personal relationships.

-Contact with the outside world is kept to a minimum, in order to guard themselves from becoming entrenched in negative patterns of the greater society, such as divorce, cheating, Materialism, stealing, violence, promiscuity, etc. two examples of the success of this philosophy are, in the past 400+ years of existence there has been zero murders, and very few divorces.

-spiritually they are very much focused on things in the 'Kingdom.' The reign of God and the things of eternity are at the front of their minds and priorities. therefore they do not involve themselves in politics or anything of that sort.

-they are very disciplined and genuine in their spiritual practices, evident in their daily services amongst other things.

If you are interested to learn more about this very interesting group of people here in the U.S. there are several books about them. Hutterite Society by John Hostetler is a great read. We can learn a lot from this humble disciplined loving group of people.

Peace and Grace be with you.