Note: Please keep in mind the admonition at the upper left about the content of this site. Though I am a deacon in my church, the comments posted here are mine and mine alone. Unless I say otherwise, they are not the opinions of my church or it’s leadership, just me. Considering the controversial things going on lately, I felt the need to say that again. On this topic specificaly, our leadership hasn’t yet considered it as a group, though we intend to.
I wanted to talk about the LA Call to Brotherhood Unity and Revivial, since implementation of it is to get underway within the week (why so fast, by the way? This only came out on the 27th.) My thoughts can pretty much be summed up in one sentence. Actually, in one word.
What I mean is, why do wee need a formal, codified structural arrangement between churches? The ‘Call’ doesn’t really answer that question. It touches on it, but never answers it in the following statements:
There are many of us who believe that in order for our churches to go forward and multiply, the time has come for us to reaffirm what we believe, set aside a day to fast, pray, repent and forgive, recommit to having the same expectations for everyone in our church, and organize ourselves in such a way that we have a brotherhood that has supporting ligaments (Ephesians 4:16), not just within one congregation, but between the leaderships of congregations.
OK so this does sort of answer it, I guess. “Many” think that we can’t “go forward and multiply” if we don’t have an arrangement between churches. OK then, let me rephrase the question. Why can’t we grow without some kind of structure between us? How is a structure going ensure or foster growth?
I wonder what our first century brothers would say about this. I mean, I don’t see any formalized, codified arrangement between the churches other than the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, and I’d like to take a minute to compare LA’s call to that. In the Council of Jerusalem, the apostles addressed the desire by some of the Jews to return to the comfort of the familiar – obedience to the law of Moses. The Apostles affirmed that they should not return to a system that neither they nor their fathers could bear. Instead they came up with four things to instruct the Gentiles disciples to stay away from – “food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” Interestingly, three of those four things seem cultural. Who today struggles with, and what church preaches against, food polluted by idols, the meat of strangled animals and blood? Only sexual immorality seems relevant today. Also interesting to me is that there are many other passages like Galatians 5:19-20 that list sins to be avoided, with dire consequences if one doesn’t, but those sins aren’t listed here, nor are those three cultural things mentioned again in the NT.
Actually, the Council of Jerusalem is not really a ‘call to unity’ as much as it is a list of specific instructions to a minority group of believers in danger of being outcast by the stronger majority. In a very real sense the council at Jerusalem was to protect the weak from the strong. The first century churches seem to be united on Jesus Christ & the cross alone. This ‘call’ from LA seems to do the opposite, to bring the ‘strong’ out from among the weak. The push from the majority at Jerusalem was to hold onto and to return to old, familiar ways. The resulting instructions from the Apostles and elders was a rejection of returning to a system that did not bring them closer to God, but was instead was a burden to them. It seems to me from this document that some desire to return to a polished version the old ICOC system. I would say the same thing that Peter said in Acts 15, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that … we … have [not] been able to bear?” The old ICOC ways were needlessly burdensome to most of us, why go back there? Instead let’s look for a new paradigm, truly based on grace and the lordship of Christ. We’ve had two years to do this, but instead we sat on our hands waiting for the storm to pass. Now that the coast is clear and most of the critics within our fellowship have left, will we return to our vomit (Proverbs 26:11)?
Numerous people have expressed that there is a significant need for leadership, of some nature, on a Kingdom level to assist in meeting needs that cannot be met on a local level. While we certainly believe the local leadership needs to be able to make decisions concerning their own congregations, we have also seen how fractured, discouraged, and weak any church becomes when the leadership is isolated and fails to solicit counsel and discipling from mature evangelists and elders outside their own congregations.
I ask again, why? Or more to the quote, what are these ‘needs that cannot be met on a local level’? They are not listed, only to say that lots of folks think there is a ‘significant need’ for ‘Kingdom level’ leadership. How is having another level of leadership above our churches will help ‘fractured, discouraged, and weak’ churches, particularly if they are not seeking outside council on their own? Will forcing oversight on them really help?
Again I wonder what the first century church would think. If they wanted help from a the outside, it was extremely difficult. Yes, there were traveling evangelists but I would assume their visits were by necessity few and far between. After all it took days to travel from city to city. If you put a call out for Paul or Peter to come visit, it could very well be weeks or months before he arrived. It’s speculation, but I suspect that all of the nitty gritty day to day living as disciples had to be handled on a local level. It simply took too long to go get someone to help you work things out.
I think that we are spoiled by telephones, email, blogs, cars and airline travel. We can call or jump in the car or a plane and meet face to face with other church leaders. Our first century brothers did not have such a luxury. It’s a blessing, but it can also be a curse. It leads us to believe that we need to work out some arrangement between us, because we can. Why not instead simply focus on those immediately around us instead of those outside? What I mean is, let’s stop putting all this energy into relationships with other congregations by flying here and there and instead focus that on strengthening our own churches. Certainly, build the dialog and talk to each other to help each other build, but mostly stay home and take care of the flock.
As your brothers, we are inviting you and your congregation to join us in this call to unity and revival. We are calling our congregation to a day of fasting and prayer for unity and revival on Friday, October 7th, 2005 and invite your congregation to join with us. We are building a list of churches that likewise affirm these Biblical beliefs and principles and choose to join us in this effort. We encourage you to speak with your leadership groups and prayerfully consider this proposal. We realize that there may be some churches that join us that may use slightly different wording or phrases in the way they express some of their beliefs or practices (such as small groups, family groups, etc.), but have the same basic core beliefs and practices. We also realize that there will be some who may not be ready to join us in this action.
In general it seems that this is more a way to draw lines in the sand. Are you with us or not? Who is a part of us? Particularly when I look at the list of beliefs and practices that we are asked to agree to. Why do we need to add up such a comprehensive and specific list of dos and don’ts in order to work together? Why do we need to regulate giving, attendance, church structure (small groups & teen and campus ministries are required) and dating habits if not to draw a line in the sand around us so we can tell who is in and who is out? I wonder, as John Engler did, which congregations are they giving this invitation too? Is going out to our COC brothers as well? What about other churches? Or are we only capable of being unified with ourselves?
Individually, there isn’t much I disagree with in these statements. For example, I happen to think that dating non-disciples is not wise and should be avoided. I think it’s good to be at all the meetings of the church, although there are good reasons at time to miss them (beyond the traditionally accepted being sick.) I think small groups are great. I don’t agree that these are ‘laws’ we should codify, however. A very relevant thing to read on this is one of the latest posts from Tent Pegs, No Jesus for YOU! A snippet:
Legalism is not a love of the law. It is not wanting to do the right thing to please Jesus. Legalism is saying that you must have Jesus AND…. or that you can’t have Jesus UNTIL… and then placing barriers around the would-be disciple.
My Catholic friends tell me I need Jesus AND the Pope and their structure. My Mormon friends tell me I need Jesus AND their extra Bible (Jesus: The Sequel). My charismatic friends tell me I need Jesus AND a second outpouring of the Spirit. My friends in the church tell me I need Jesus AND the right doctrines on a hundred different crucial matters. And if I don’t have Jesus AND whatever they add? Then — no Jesus for me! I am denied equal status with them, turned away from their fellowship, because I only brought Jesus and that — to them — was just not enough. Or, alternatively, what I brought wasn’t the real Jesus because the real Jesus only comes in a package with whatever else they declare as essential.
I don’t think there’s a need to add anything to Jesus, grace and the cross.
So, in the end, it really for me boils down to that one word, why? I’ve been trying, and I can’t think of a good answer to that.