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Posts Tagged ‘church’

I recently had the opportunity to join some colleagues in listening to Michael Frost, Missiologist from Australia. I am very grateful. Frost is skilled at articulating missional philosophy. Even more interesting, he is actively experimenting with this philosophy in his home church. Though he might prefer to refer to church (due to assumptions formed when one hears the word church) as “a collective of neighbors who center our lives on Jesus.”

He shares important concerns. One of them being that church attendance is conventional. There is nothing radical or strange about church attendance because the church is only doing what other entities are doing, trying to help people to fit in with everyone else. Frost is right, there is a better way. There is a better way to be human (I think he was listening to Jon Foreman on the flight over). And the church should be leading the way.

The church should be salty. This collective of those who center our lives on Jesus should be delicious and enticing and inviting and interesting in their behavior. The church should provoke curiosity. He gave a list of ways to do this but I don’t like lists and tend to shut down after the first or second point. But here are the first two things he encouraged; 1) Bless three people each week. Bless someone from the Body, someone outside the Body, and a third person of choice. 2) Eat with three people each week. Eat with someone from the Body, someone outside the Body, and a third person of choice. Even for someone who doesn’t like lists, I think those sound inviting and interesting and lean in the direction of Christian behavior.

Frost says he doesn’t care about attendance or tithing. He doesn’t want the church to be busy recruiting new persons or becoming the coolest show in town. What he wants is for the church to show the world what the Reign of God looks like. Amen.

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I am a pastor. I serve with the folks at Christ Reformed Church in Duncannon (a borough named after the family Duncan, it says so on the sign when you enter town). Christ Reformed Church is a small church (a church named after, well I think you can figure that one out). I have come to realize it is silly to argue over the size of a church (an argument more natural in the world than the church). Small is not better, nor is it worse, it is simply our present reality. When we take a look at the kingdom, small churches are the most common expression of the kingdom (and I suspect that has always been the case). 

Karl Vaters says that “Small churches are like the cockroaches of the Christian world.” Though it may not sound like it, he means that as a sincere compliment. “After whatever cultural nuclear bomb comes along to destroy all other visible expressions of the church, small congregations will scurry out from under the baseboards. When the money runs out, small churches will find a way to keep going. When there’s a failure of leadership, small churches will lead themselves. After denominations topple, small churches will rise up.” 

I don’t know why I haven’t heard of this Vaters guy before, I agree as he goes on to say; 

After what’s cool and new starts feeling cliched and trite, small churches will still matter. After most of our church buildings, both large and small, are empty, demolished or converted into hipster apartments, small churches will find somewhere else to meet. After we’ve grown sick of programs and events, small churches will remind us of our essential need for relationship. After we’ve torn ourselves apart with politically-charged rhetoric, small churches will still be there to bring God’s people together. After persecution has come, small churches will meet in secret. After our plans have failed, small churches will still be a big part of God’s plan.” 

Obviously, some of what Vaters says is true of churches no matter the size. Still, it is true of small churches. Not better, not worse, just our present reality. And whatever comes our way, even when cultural bombs go off and if hipster apartments rise up all around us – we remain a big part of God’s plan.

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A New Game in Town

I have run across an interesting quote from Peter Leithart from his book Against Christianity. Get a load of this;

“So long as the church preaches the gospel and functions as a properly ‘political’ reality, a polity of her own, the kings of the earth have a problem on their hands… As soon as the church appears, it becomes clear to any alert politician that worldly politics is no longer the only game in town. The introduction of the church into any city means that the city has a challenger within its walls.”

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I love this potential scene given by Scot McKnight of one of Paul’s house churches.

“Lets transport ourselves back to one of Paul’s house churches and imagine yet again the make-up of that group – the morally unkosher sitting with the unpowerful standing with an arm around the financially drained, addressed by an apostle who was being chased daily by opponents of the gospel. In that context, with all those people around, hear again the grand Yes of God.

‘Who can be against us?’ Paul tauntingly thunders. The answer, No one!”

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Ben Witherington creates an interesting story about life in Corinth and one of the things I find most interesting is the description of Christian worship. A Week in the Life of Corinth is the tale of a fictional character by the name of Nicanor, a former slave. Upon visiting the strange new religious cult for the first time, he understandably has some questions.

“What sort of religion met under cloak of darkness in a home, and without priests, temples or sacrifices? And then there was all that singing and apparently some kind of prophesying, and then a sort of fervent speech in a language Nicanor had never heard before or since. It had given him chills…” His skepticism helps us understand how unusual first century worship would have been for first timers who encountered Christians.

Later, we follow Nicanor as he makes his way into a worship service. He was “just along for the ride.” Or so he thought. The reader is listening as Nicanor processes what is going on. And his questions keep coming.

“But would a god not only take on the form of a servant, but submit to a rebellious slave’s death on a cross… This totally inverted the normal notions of honor and shame… Nicanor was going to have to ask some questions about these things, but now his curiosity was piqued.”

And then my favorite, “The one question that presented itself immediately was, ‘How could such loving and honest and kind people, who otherwise seemed in their right minds and not prone to religious mania, believe such a tale? Unless of course there is some sort of compelling evidence that it is true.’”

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It was Sunday morning and we were gathered for worship. There had already been some excitement in town that morning. A herd of cows had escaped from a nearby pasture and had been wandering around in the borough. Most had been returned to where they came from, but some had spent the night in town and were yet to be found. Sounds like just another day in Duncannon.

During morning announcements, Crystal shared she had seen a cow that morning. She had texted her son who told her she should have invited it to church, then it would be a “holy cow.” She reported she did not, so there was no “holy cow” in worship. She then went on to say there would however be holy communion. I heard Joel who was seated near the front quickly reply “Holy Cow-munion?” (That is a great word)! Moments like these may not be what some think of when they think of worship, but they make me very glad to be part of this group.

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Peter Oakes has uncovered a house church in Pompeii. Not really, but he does give some valuable information about who might have worshipped in a first century house church. He tells us that the church may have looked like this;

 

        A craftworker who served as host, along with his wife and children, some male slaves, a female slave, and a dependent relative.

        Tenants who lived in the house along with their families, slaves, and dependents.

        Some family members of a householder who does not participate in the church.

        Some slaves of owners who do not attend.

        Some homeless people.

        Migrant workers who have rented some small rooms in the home.

 

It is helpful for us to get this picture of a first century Roman congregation. It helps us to see the diversity of social class, economic class, and ethnicity of this people who were considered as One in Christ. Scot McKnight makes a reference to Oakes study and later goes on to say, “The church is God’s grand experiment, in which differents get connected, unlikes form a fellowship, and the formerly segregated are integrated… They are to be one in Christ Jesus.”

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