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.



  1. Good stuff. You might challenge my preference for Mass.