Tag Archives: community

Anabaptism 101 (Sermon Series)

Hello blog readers!

This past Sunday I finished preaching through an exciting 6-week sermon series entitled Anabaptism 101 at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship (CMF) in Virginia, where I’ve been pastoring since the first of the year.

The series focuses on the historical roots and current convictions of Anabaptism. As many of you know, I didn’t grow up within an Anabaptist tradition. And since half our congregation didn’t grow up Anabaptist, this sermon series seemed like a good place to begin as pastor.

 

Here is a brief outline of each message in the series:

  1. Beginning of a Movement—A general overview of key persons, events, and issues that led to the “radical” 16th century Anabaptist movement. What does “Anabaptist” mean? Where does the name “Mennonite” come from? Where is Anabaptism going today?
  2. Radical Discipleship—The Anabaptist view of discipleship in detail. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Did Jesus really expect us to follow his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? What is so different about the Anabaptist view versus the popular evangelical view?
  3. Word Made Flesh—The Anabaptist view of the authority of Scripture, and a Christo-centric hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Old Testament. Do Anabaptists hold a high view of Scripture? What is so different about the Anabaptist view of Scripture versus the popular evangelical view?
  4. Church as Kingdom Community—The Anabaptists saw the church as a missional, counter-cultural family of Kingdom citizens. What is the meaning and purpose of baptism? What is the meaning of communion? Why live a simple life? What does it mean to embrace “the other”?
  5. The Politics of Jesus—The most controversial and oft-misunderstood aspect of Anabaptism: non-violence and the politics of Jesus. In what ways did Jesus resist empire? How far do Anabaptists take Jesus’ message of peace and reconciliation? How do Anabaptists understand church & state? How subversive is the NT?
  6. Triumph of the Lamb—Answers to the most common objections concerning the non-violence of Jesus. Didn’t Jesus come to bring a sword? Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to buy swords? Finally, does the portrayal of Jesus in Revelation contradict the Jesus of the Gospels? How will the way of the crucified Lamb conquer evil in the end?

You can download and listen to each message by visiting our temporary sermon archive. We will be archiving all sermons on the new church website once it is up and running. Please stay tuned for that.

There was Q&A after each message, but you can only hear it following the Triumph of the Lamb. Our small groups are going through The Naked Anabaptist for further discussion and study. If you’re looking for a good overview of Anabaptism, or Neo-Anabaptism, check out Murray’s book.

If you have questions or comments, please let me hear them here at the blog.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Letter From a Wounded Disciple

The other day I received a letter from a woman I met several years ago. I was so blown away by her honesty and moved by her suffering that I asked her if it would be OK to share the letter with you. She was very willing to share her own struggles with you. Please open your heart to her pain.

I have kept her real identity concealed for obvious reasons. We can just call her a wounded disciple. May the Holy Spirit move us to change.

Hello, I have followed your blog for a while. I believe that I met you and your wife years ago at a house church gathering. Since then I have divorced (he was abusive and committed adultery), and I’m raising my two sons on my own. I’m writing this to confide in a fellow believer, leader, and respected minister…anonymously… that I have bi-sexual tendencies. I have never acted on them because I really LOVE the Lord. I feel a great deal of conviction when I seriously consider seeking out a relationship with a female. I make a conscious decision to deny myself and be obedient. But the thoughts do exist, and they don’t stay away after I push them from my mind. Anyway, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and convictions regarding the support or lack of support for gay marriage. I really wish that church was a safe place to seek guidance and encouragement without fear of rejection, being gossiped about or changing the way people love you. I shouldn’t have to be writing an email to someone I think I met years ago who lives far away now, and I will likely never see again about a struggle I deal with when I have a local congregation I am active in. I don’t trust my church to love me if I were to be honest with them. Thanks for your ministry, loving heart and openness.   Sincerely, Wounded Disciple

How many others feel like this wounded disciple? How can the church be more intentional in the way we embrace those who suffer from physical abuse and inner strife? What are you doing to make your local fellowship a place of safety and acceptance for outcasts? Think about it.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Organic Church Life: Doctrinal Issues

How do you treat doctrinal concerns in an organic house church? The following was initially written in response to someone inquiring about the doctrine of the Trinity.

Q: A person in your group denies the Trinity. How do you respond?

That’s a great question and one to work through slowly in prayer.

There have been situations that we have known in experience and through the stories of others who are further along in the journey. It is so very important to wait upon the Lord and seek his patient heart.

Every situation is different and I don’t believe there are uniform answers for the problems that may arise in a local ekklesia.

First, let me give a preliminary note about dealing with doctrinal differences. This question about the Trinity really calls for a careful response over handling doctrine in general.

If any person comes into the fellowship and begins sharing or teaching something that the group feels is biblically unfounded or a bit speculative, everyone should feel free to express their concern to this person in an appropriate time and manner.

In a gentle and respectful way, with the Lord’s heart, there should be an open discussion in an atmosphere of freedom.

This might be something that the entire fellowship discusses together. Depending on the person and the situation it might be something best left in discussion with the brothers only, or even the eldest among you.

However the fellowship decides to handle their own unique situation, the church should always move forward in love toward one another.

I do want to be clear about this. Everyone in your group comes from a different place. There will be theological differences.

If the nature of your association is built upon every piece of doctrine you think is important, you will see these differences as a threat.

If you’re not getting all your life from Jesus, you can count on there being division among you because of these differences.

Differences in theological opinions and biblical interpretation can be a very healthy and edifying thing. I don’t think these differences are serious concerns, unless a person is doing any of the following:

  1. challenging the biblical presentation of the person and work of Christ;
  2. relentlessly pressing their doctrinal position on others; or
  3. purposely being divisive with their theological opinions.

If you are meeting in an organic church, which means your smaller meetings are probably open, you do not have to worry about someone pulpiteering and leading everyone to the gates of hell. Everyone is encouraged to think on his or her own and intentionally enter into discussion.

We must lose the attitude of fear and distrust—where we are always suspicious of one another.

There is an elder brother I know who told me of a situation in their fellowship a few years ago. Another brother came in with a doctrinal / missional agenda and he was very adamant about it.

Eventually the brothers agreed that they would set a time aside for him to share his views that he felt so passionate about. It would then be left to the whole church to decide if they agreed with him and wanted to move in the direction he was proposing.

No matter what their decision, they agreed to hear him out and drop it after he shared. So he shared and they listened. The church expressed that they did not desire to accept his views. They lovingly rejected his beliefs which they felt moved them away from Christ and the man never came back.

At no time was frustration or anger expressed to this person. They reached a consensus and agreed with one another in the Lord.

The Lord has his own way of pruning his church that doesn’t involve a trial or hearing.

It’s unfortunate that we often don’t trust the Lord to express himself in the Body this way. In organized Christianity it is usually left to a few men to guide and “protect” the flock by meeting in secret with those who are perceived to be a threat to the spiritual life of the church.

I certainly agree that there are shepherds/elders and teachers that need to pastor. The actions of these members will be a tremendous help to the Body during this time, but we must believe that the Lord’s people are able to discern the Lord’s heart in community with each other.

I believe it is the example of those shepherds that help the flock to discern the Lord’s heart if there be any confusion. You do this by meeting around Christ and the Scriptures together—prayerfully seeking the Lord’s heart on the matter and not being ruled by your emotions.

We should not be alarmed by theological differences.

Like the example I have shared above. I believe some of the members knew the Lord well enough to discern truth, and those who were unsure leaned upon the discernment of the elders who have proven themselves over time to be people of sound heart and mind.

I do think there are some beliefs that are clearly peripheral and the church should spend little to no time discussing them. However, I don’t think it’s all so cut and dry. There are plenty of spiritual and biblical insights that are truly edifying. It is not wrong to set aside time for Bible study.

The church should not run from theological inquiry and biblical discussions, but welcome them when the need arises.

The church should not mistakenly think that there is no room for deep biblical discussion. The Beareans understood the benefits of finding Christ in biblical exploration (Acts 17:11). This sort of thing can be a wonderful building project! It all depends on your center.

Jesus did not condemn the Scriptures, he rebuked those who abused it through careless interpretation and poor handling of the biblical text (John 5:39-40). Our biblical exploration should lead us to Christ. It ought to benefit us in our knowing of him and our learning to do his kingdom work.

It’s unfortunate that many folks who have received a fresh revelation of Jesus have concluded that we are no longer in need of discussions about the Scriptures. They have set Christ up against the biblical text. I’m sure that we have all seen both extremes.

We may make some mistakes in dealing with these issues, but I do believe that as long as you move forward in the love of Christ, the Lord will honor the efforts of the church.

Then there are other beliefs that we would consider essential to our faith in Christ. It is upon the essentials that we must all agree.

Q: Is the doctrine of the Trinity essential?

This may seem a bit fuzzy at times, but I do believe that there is a standard by which we judge what is essential. What we say about who Jesus is matters most. We can disagree about many things, but this one thing we must land firmly on both feet together as a church (1 John 2:22; 4:1-6).

It’s only matters of faith which are directly connected to the person and work of Christ that are essential.

Every confession in the New Testament and in the early church reflects a basic recognition of Jesus of Nazareth as the unique Son of God who was born of a virgin, crucified, buried, and raised (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

What is necessary for belief in Jesus (salvation)? I remember a professor asking this once. I remember him asking something like, “Is it necessary to believe in the virgin birth?” Likewise, we could ask if it is necessary to believe that God is Triune in nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

I understand that a person may genuinely come to Christ without a full theological and biblical knowledge of God in Christ. However, regardless of what they may or may not be aware of at their receiving of Jesus, they are indeed receiving the God that became a human being and was born of a virgin Mary. They are embracing Jesus (the Son) that is the second person in what was dubbed the “Trinity” by Tertullian in the third century.

What’s really crazy is the little knowledge we do have at our first confession, but the Lord saves us still. That’s the key: It’s the Lord that saves! He sees into a man’s heart. He sees what a man is truly doing with Jesus. We should not be quick to judge.

I don’t think a denial of the Trinity is necessarily a denial of Christ. It could be the case, but only the Lord knows the reasons.

I do agree that many things unravel at the decimation of the doctrine on the Trinity. It presents a lot of problems on many levels, but this still doesn’t require a frantic move to straighten that person out or form a lynch mob.

My inclination would be to go to the root and see if this person is confessing the same Spirit. What do they believe about Christ? It may just be that their ideas about the Triune God are only muddled in their understanding of the God who is three in one.

Remember, the doctrine of the Trinity may just be the most mysterious of all Christian doctrines. It’s not irrational, it’s just mysterious. It doesn’t go against reason, it simply goes beyond it. So, tread softly.

In closing, relax a little. Get to know the people in your church and learn to listen better—be teachable. Humble yourself as you recognize that nobody has arrived. Above all, love each other.

I’m willing to bet that through learning to accept one another you will discover that having theological differences will keep you on your toes. In this way you will be always growing in your faith, learning to love like Christ, and being enriched by the spiritual journey of others.

In the essentials let there be unity–in the peripherals let there be freedom–and in all things, love.

Revised and expanded from a facebook note dated April 2010.

You may also be interested in reading other posts in the Organic Church Life series: The Beginning; The Sunday Gathering; The Lord’s Supper; and Visiting an Organic Church.


Visiting an Organic Church

I have been meeting in homes pursuing Christ in an organic way for a few years now. In that time, we have had many people visit our gatherings. I have also visited other organic churches.

I have discovered that visiting an organic church fellowship is likely to be disappointing to the visitor if they do not understand the nature of organic church life.

I am continually reminded that people will likely not see the power of Christ in a short visit for the following reasons:

1.) The visitor has not given up on their attempts to “do” church and be satisfied with “knowing” Christ in familial community.

It is often the case that a person comes into a gathering and they are looking for a church experience that is more “biblical” and fills an immediate void of some kind. Maybe they are fed up with organized religion and believe that a house church will make up for all their trouble in days past.

My experience is that this is the most common reason for folks visiting an organic fellowship.

Seeking a church life that reflects New Testament practice is laudable, but this search must quickly surrender itself to Christ.  If a person doesn’t soon trust that the church comes out of Christ, they are indeed headed for even more frustration.

New Testament church practice comes by us making Christ our only concern. The moment we trade knowing and living Christ together for a method of doing church that we can reproduce by following some formula, we prolong growth in Christ and we forfeit his eternal purpose.

Even if it were possible to obtain a perfect church practice, it would never bring about a utopian church experience. Unfortunately, a desire for some sort of blissful experience is what drives most of us. We think if we build it the Lord will come. The mature believer will recognize that this is foolish thinking and itself stands contrary to New Testament practice.

The road with Christ is one of hills and valleys for the individual and the church. It’s all a part of the sanctification process and the building up of his Body. The Lord builds the church in His time as long as we continue to offer up ourselves as stones to be fitted together for His own dwelling.

Everything we see as a necessary element of church life within the New Testament is born out of time, lots of time. The Lord is the builder and He builds according to His own time.

There is only one way to know the Lord’s heart for the individual and the church: commit yourself to Christ and His Bride by accepting the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you don’t do this, it’s only a short while before you decide that organic church life is not for you. You will move on because it didn’t fit your expectations or your timetable.

You will keep searching until you have made knowing Christ in a shared life the central concern of your heart.

It’s all for the building up of the Body. We must learn to look beyond these momentary trials and tribulations and accept them as a necessary part of the journey. A glorious vision of God’s eternal purpose will hold our feet to the narrow path of Christ.

My advice is to give up on doing church and lay aside everything to know Christ with other Jesus Freaks in simple community!

2.) Every organic church is a unique expression and every meeting takes on a life of its own. Visitors can’t know Christ in community and experience Body life in a short visit.

Visiting an organic church one or two times can in no way be used as a barometer for what the Lord is doing among that particular fellowship.

In the organized church, a person could “check out” a church by sitting in on a service and reading a pamphlet. After a couple of visits they could get a good idea of what that organization is all about. And maybe after a conversation or two they might decide if they want to join it.

Notice that these decisions are largely based off first impressions of worship services and those leading them (shoulder-to-shoulder events). You can’t do this with organic church life. The most obvious reason: it’s an organism not an organization. It’s not about meetings, but about sharing life together in face-to-face community.

We don’t have services with professionals leading them. We don’t have pamphlets with doctrinal statements and a list of our ministries. We have no bulletins that tell you how we prefer the Spirit move. We don’t offer bios of our elders or an interactive website for the consumer to learn about us from a distance.

You simply cannot use the same criterion to judge our fellowship.

An organic church is always changing and the freedom we embrace in Christ keeps us in a constant state of growth and change.  Depending on the season an organic church is presently in and when you happen to visit, there’s just no telling what you will see when you visit!

I believe a person would need to spend at least a few months consistently sharing life (not just meetings) with a fellowship before they could appropriately put into words what the Lord is doing among them.

Until a person has done this, they can’t say they have experienced organic church life. With that in mind, I wonder how many are willing to “visit” an organic church.

People make judgments about organic church life by using the same ole surface standards all the time.  But it never serves as a sound form of accurately describing what the Lord is doing in an organic fellowship.

One or two visits are simply not enough to say, “I have experienced organic church life.”

Organic church life is not about one or two meetings during the week. It is about sharing life with each other. It is not meeting-driven, it is life-driven!

3.) The Lord opens the eyes of those whom He chooses. Visitors will see the power of Christ in simple community only if the Lord reveals Himself to them.

We have had folks visit us and we have seen the Lord reveal Himself to them in that first meeting. Others have seen the Lord after gathering with us for a time. We have also seen others walk away unimpressed with what we’re doing.

There can be two complete strangers visiting us in a gathering. One person will rejoice that they have seen Jesus lifted up among us and that they see the Lord’s pleasure in what we’re doing. This person has seen the Lord in a powerful way and is captivated by knowing Christ. They are excited about discovering Christ with others who seek Him with a pure heart.

Another person in the same meeting may only see a group of people reading their favorite Scriptures, praying, and trying to sing without a leader. For whatever reason, this person walks away dissatisfied with their experience. The Lord is showing us that it is all His doing and He alone is responsible for this unveiling.

We understand that everyone is on his or her own journey with the Lord.

People may visit our gatherings and come to different conclusions regarding organic church life. Our obedience to Christ and our purpose in gathering organically does not waver when people don’t see the Lord in our gatherings. Not everyone is at the place for the Lord to reveal Himself in this way.

We must remember that it is the Lord who gives revelation.

Finally, our hope is that we would be a true reflection of Christ to every visitor. Folks will come and go, and many will leave. Be encouraged for our Lord is constant. Guard your hearts and remember to always think the best of others. Accept everyone as you were accepting the Lord himself.

Never lose sight of Christ and His bride set free. And never forget that organic church life is a journey, not a destination.


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