All writing is to some extent autobiography. The series I begin today is especially so. It arises out of my own struggle to understand the nature and place of the church in the world and my relationship to it. I write to articulate my feelings and clarify my thinking on this subject and perhaps to help others to a similar clarity. I don’t know in advance what I will say or at what destination I will arrive.
Like many of you, I don’t remember a time when I was not held within the embrace of the church. She was to me a mother, teacher, and guardian. She taught me about creation, Abraham, Daniel, and most of all about Jesus. And I loved her for it. From early childhood I felt a call to ministry in the church. I listened to that call, got the required training, and served churches for ten years in preaching, youth ministry, and college ministries. After I completed my PhD, I began teaching theology at the university level and served in volunteer leadership roles in local churches. Except as a small child, I don’t think I was ever naïve about the weaknesses and sins of the people that comprised the church. But I hoped that with the strong leaders and good teachers these problems could be managed so that more good than harm would be done.
About ten years ago, after many frustrating attempts to simplify church life and bring it more into line with the simple New Testament vision, I began to realize that the structures, ingrained expectations, and traditions that guided the church were able to neutralize and domesticate any effort at systemic reform. I tried to make peace with this situation and resign myself to working within a broken system to achieve some good. However, about five years ago I began to entertain the idea that the traditional ways churches organize themselves is the major obstacle to embodying authentic church life in the world. About three years ago I came to the conclusion that most of the institutions we call “churches” are really parachurch organizations, much of the “church work” we do focuses on making something happen on Sunday morning, and much of the money given goes to pay a staff to keep the parachurch functions running.
So, here I am on birthday (June 01), a child of the church and a theologian of the church, having to rethink everything I ever thought about the nature and place of the church in the world and my relationship to it. I invite you to join me in this project.
Next time: forget everything you have ever thought about the church. Get rid of all images. What is the essential nature of the thing the New Testament calls, “church”?
A premise I have pondered myself on my parallel journey of military chaplaincy bookended by preaching in local Churches of Christ
Thank you Michael! One thing I am hoping for in this series is to find people who have had similar experiences and thoughts. My wife and I have been a bit lonely the last few years. Blessings,. Ron.
Ron and Marty ……. not alone. Believe me, dear friend of yore
Sent from my iPhone
Becca: It’s so good to hear/see your “YES!!!”
Hello from me as well, Becca!
Oops, it did not have my name—this is Thomas Yee from Pepperdine.
Happy Birthday. We’re glad God made you! As the Kingdom Kids sing in Church… no pun intended. I’m glad to read you in truth, and spirit.
Having recently started a group course on Acts (for pentecost), and outside of the remit of that particulat church group. I noticed that in the glossy brochure, and accompanying video teaching module a comment was made by a far cleverer confessor than i; that Stephen was brought to trial and murdered because he said ” God’s Temple is not built with human hands”.
Not to simplify the trial too much, because there were many factors, not the least of which Stephen was doing the Lord’s work, a true emulator of Jesus, and very kind to the persecuted women of dignitaries (which i’m sure the Pharisees loved). This translation given above is not quite right. You can look up the Greek or Aramaic or Hebrew for yourself (ves).
The point which i would like to make, which i believe Stephen was making in the subsequent verses referencing the words of the prophet, is that God made the hands that made the Temple. And moreover, do those hands function in and with the Holy Spirit, or do they function as self-serving, self-agrandizing hypocrits? And that was why, like Jesus, he had to die.
There was very little space in between the Romans and the Jews for anything new at all. It was an uneasy relationship, with no love or neighbourliness, and yet twenty years before Paul’s detention in Rome there was a healthy undercurrent of Christian ecclesia in Rome herself. Both of these contemporaries were terrified of a movement that functioned so beautifully without money or power or buildings, and having endless willing martyrs.
Acts asks us the question ” what kind of house will you build for me? Says the Lord.”