Tag Archives: jon zens

An Organic Church Challenge

For those who follow my blog, you know I’ve been reassessing my understanding of “organic” church life in the NT. As I mentioned in a few recent posts, I’m finding that it’s not really helpful to use the term, especially since it has gone viral.

I agree with much of the contrast that is drawn between the church as institution vs. organism. So, I’m currently opening myself up in order to imagine a church life that does not grow out of reaction to the abuses of the organized church, or from the neglect of the NT by those who believe they have obtained something of Christ that others have not.

Here are some thoughts I’ve been having.

It is entirely understandable that many people hear what some “organic” folks are advocating (as I have also advocated) sounds like an abandonment of all ecclesiastical structures. It then becomes confusing for folks to hear them say that it’s OK to have some sort of skeletal structure, you just need to find the “balance” in it all.

What does that look like? We can all say, “It doesn’t look like this or that…” but I don’t see how it’s possible to judge one church from another on whether Christ is truly reigning in their meetings based off our prescriptive readings of the NT. I’m fine with saying there are things the NT does not explicitly teach, advocate, or allow—even prohibits—things that are antithetical to every-member functioning. But beyond that I think we need to be careful how we proceed in setting boundaries.

It seems to me that the “organic” promoter viewing another person’s practice of church life (with all of their biases, interpretations of Scripture about church practice, good/bad personal experiences, etc.) could make many wrong judgments about many churches because they don’t fit their own vision of NT church life. This concerns me.

Something else that troubles me is the constant downplaying of teaching and doctrine. At the same time I hear “organic” advocates affirming that teaching and doctrine are good for the church. Huh? Which is it? Naturally, folks in and outside of these house churches hear this and think that doctrine can only divide and that it’s not conducive to “gathering around” Christ.

I don’t think that’s what the “organic” leaders mean, so I think it really needs some clarification if they’re going to help others hear what they’re trying to say about Christ and the church.

I also think it assumes that we have a prescriptive church life, instead of a descriptive one contained in the NT. It might at times be necessary for a church to become a forum for discussing doctrine. Just like there are times the church needs to adapt for other concerns facing the community. I believe the unveiling of Christ can happen during these times as well.

Could it be that assuming Christ can’t be unveiled during these times is also a reaction that equally leads to wrong conclusions?

Having spent a few years in “organic” church life, I’m beginning to think that we should keep a big vision of Christ and a small vision of the church, as far as our ideas and expectations are concerned.

We can learn this from those who first pioneered the house church movements within China and the United States.

This would require us celebrate Christ in community wherever we find it (calling others to that), and say less when it comes to critiquing the church practices of others who sincerely love the Lord and are being faithful to him where they are.

I hear more lines touching on what church life is not, than what it is. Which seems to translate that there are tons of things that folks serious about church life will not do if they want to meet around Christ. I don’t think that’s what is intended, but I feel that’s what those on the outside hear. I heard that on the inside, and I’m now hearing it as I have put a little distance between myself and the “organic” folks.

I tend to think a generous ecclesiology that is Christ-centered in community, is not continually preoccupied with denouncing what may be “pagan” Christianity, but rather it is concerned for sharing the Christ you know and leaving it at that. Are “organic” folks OK with that?

Some days I’m not so sure.

I don’t think this means there isn’t a place for deconstructing the church, (cause I do!) especially among those who are asking questions and are open to rethinking the wineskins. However, if we’re not careful, we can easily set ourselves up against those that don’t meet like us or share the same vision for the church. We can easily build more walls than open up doors.

We can forget our visions of Christ at this point… they will only edify those that agree with us. Though in the end it’s not edification, just spiritual narcissism nicely contained in elitism masked as dreams and visions.

Since it is a “balance” that we seek (one that is hard to reach and know when we’ve reached it), I don’t see how it’s honest and edifying to talk like we know exactly what the church is supposed to look like when we’re getting it right (or when we think we are). Lord, help us!

In a nutshell, we need more humble recognition that the Lord moves through the church in more ways than one. Then we may rejoice with others receiving their own revelation of Christ and being faithful to their calling.

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The Community Life of God (Book Review)

The God Who Is Relationship

A Book Review of “The Community Life of God: Seeing the Godhead As the Model for All Relationships” by Milt Rodriguez

“God is not an individual” says Milt Rodriguez.  “He is a fellowship of three Persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (p.14).

In The Community Life of God, Milt Rodriguez weaves together the story of God’s desire to plant himself in His people.  God’s image is a “communal” image.  The Lord created man in His image of community.  And taking from the Tree of Life (i.e. Christ) is to take from the relational God.

It was in the Garden of Eden that the serpent sought to keep God’s image from becoming a reality in the hearts of men.  The enemy of God presented man with individual living out of his own soul-life (i.e. will, emotions, intellect).  Instead of man pursuing spiritual living after taking from the communal life of God, he experiences separation from God and other men.

Rodriguez proposes that much of Christian activity today is spent furthering the individualistic mindset that is so popular in our culture.  Even when believers come together corporately there is not an understanding of God’s image among us.  Church life ought to be more than socializing and individual Christian ministries.

Milt writes, “Personhood and identity can only be defined by relating to others. You will never truly “find yourself” until you are living in the community life of God” (p.62)

What is the sort of fellowship the Lord desires among his ekklesia?

“This fellowship is the place where there is nothing to hide. Complete truthfulness and complete honesty rule here.  The Father, Son, and Spirit do not hold back anything from one another… there is no fear of loss” (p. 116).

As Christian Smith has written, “Community means more than having lots of meetings. It means jointly building a way of life, a group memory, and a common anticipated future.” (Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal, p.2)

In order for us to experience the community life of God, we must embrace the cross.  Rodriguez says there “will be one brother or sister who rubs you the wrong way.”  It is there we embrace the cross and learn “they are part of the same body as you. You belong to them and they belong to you” (p.152).

Finally, this community life of God cannot work in meeting once a week.  We all know this to be true, but still we place other things before God’s heart.  We sacrifice the church on the altar of family, jobs, and personal ministries.

Milt says, “He (God) wants you and me and every other believer to be actively involved on a daily basis. This is why we were born.  This is why we live on this planet” (p.170).

Brothers and sisters, if we are going to participate in God’s eternal purpose, we must be intentional about our relationships within the local ekklesia of Christ.  We must give and receive sacrificially in order that we might know the God who is within Himself, relationship.

There have been many books written on the church being rooted in the Triune image of God, but this one delivers in a simple and easy-to-read presentation.  I recommend this book to all of those who are longing to discover that the church is born out of the very heart of the relational God.

What others are saying?

“This little book provides a clear window into the ultimate source of authentic body life. Delve into its pages and meet the God who is beyond what most of us have imagined, the God in whose collective voice all genuine churches echo.” –Frank Viola, author of Pagan Christianity, From Eternity to Here, and Finding Organic Church, www.frankviola.com

“I was deeply blessed, refreshed and challenged by this book. The author casts the spotlight on the reality and wonder that “God” is really the community life of three persons – a fact virtually untouched in traditional theology. Milt shows from various angles how the community life of God is the foundation of our organic ekklesia life together in Christ.”–Jon Zens, Editor, Searching Together; author of A Church Building Every ½ Mile and “What’s With Paul & Women? www.searchingtogether.org

Milt Rodriguez

Milt Rodriguez has been living in and planting organic expressions of church since 1990. He has also authored several books including The Butterfly in You and The Temple Within.  He currently lives with his wife Mary in Gainesville, Flordia.  He is a dear brother in the Lord and I am happy to call him my friend.


What’s With Paul & Women? (Book Review)

1 Timothy 2:11-12 has been used as a “clear” mandate to silence women in the church for over 1500 years. And enough is enough!

In What’s With Paul & Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2, Jon Zens, author of A Church Building Every ½ Mile, exposes the fallacies of this interpretation, and opens up the meaning of 1 Tim.2:9-15 using insights gleaned from the Artemis-saturated Ephesian culture where Timothy was left to stand against false teaching (1:3).

Going beyond 1 Tim.2, this book covers the major issues in gender inequality with three Appendices: one on the Ephesian social world in which 1 Timothy was written, another on 1 Corinthians14:34-36 and an extensive review of John Piper’s What’s the Difference? Manhood & Womanhood Defined According to the Bible.

If 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 have puzzled you, What’s With Paul & Women? will help in your quest to discern the mind of the Lord as the gender debate lingers.  For those who believe that women should keep their mouths shut and tend to the children… I challenge you to read one of the strongest presentations that early Christianity was a faith of  “women and widows.”

I have had the privilege of getting to know Jon over the last year.  And I have recently read What’s With Paul & Women? I firmly believe that…

“Jon is one of the church’s best kept secrets today.  This little book presents a colossal challenge to years of subjugating women in the name of Christ.  It is a theological bulwark against those who would use the New Testament to teach a second-class citizenship in the kingdom of God.”

What others are saying…

“This is an important book. It provides new insight into a topic which has sadly divided the Church for much too long. I have been greatly enlightened by the work Jon has done in this book and I strongly recommend it to everyone who takes God’s Word seriously.” ~Keith Giles, Orange, CA
author of The Gospel:For Here Or To Go?

“This passionate, well-researched work is not only a fair treatment of the subject, but one that is biblically sound, drawing from the entirety of the Word of God. Intelligent, captivating, covering new ground — a must read!” ~Stephanie Bennett, Ph.D.
Palm Beach Atlantic University 
W. Palm Beach, FL

“In this engaging and careful study, Jon Zens provides a thoughtful and unique examination of the thorny passage in 1 Timothy 2 that deals with a woman’s ministry in the church. A hugely insightful read.” ~Frank Viola, author of From Eternity to Here, Reimagining Church, Pagan Christianity, and Finding Organic Church

Jon Zens

Jon earned his B.A. from Covenant College (1968), an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary (1972), and a D.Min. from the California Graduate School of Theology (1983). He became the editor of Searching Together in 1978.  Since 1979, he and his wife, Dotty, have traveled world-wide sharing with assemblies their insights about living under grace and extending grace to others.

What’s With Paul and Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2 by Jon Zens will be released in paperback by Ekklesia Press during the first week of April, 2010.

The book is now available for preorder at www.jonzens.com!


Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part III

It has grown increasingly apparent to me that pop-culture Christianity was birthed, and is being maintained, by a steady diet of sloppy hermeneutics and a distorted view of Jesus. It has opened the church up to demonic deceptions and has made her susceptible to the pagan powers seeking to undermine our hope in the finished work of Christ.

Because of this onslaught upon Christian orthodoxy and years of propagating a view of God that more closely resembles Greco-Roman mythology than the Abba of Jesus, it is necessary that we adopt the Berean spirit and be reconciled to an apostolic view of God that looks like Christ and is consistent with the eternal purpose (Eph. 1-3; Col. 1:15-23).

Let’s stop and reconsider what the Scripture teaches concerning heaven, hell, and the resurrection of the dead. For what we believe about the future has a profound effect on how we live in this present evil age.

Heaven: Our Final Home?

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Isaiah 65:17

The creation of a “new heavens and a new earth” is a transformation of the former things. It is a world transfigured like unto the physical body of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 17:1-9). The resurrected body of Christ was of its own kind. There is continuity with the old body and there is discontinuity as well (Lk. 24: 13-35, 36-49; Jn. 20:1-18, 24-31; 21:1-14).

In Rev. 21-22 we do not see believers flying off to a disembodied spiritual existence on the other side of the cosmos. No, we see heaven coming to earth. We see heaven, God’s realm, breaking through and fully consummating with the physical realm we call earth. We can see this in the resurrected body of Christ: heaven intersecting with earth.

We must rid ourselves of this mantra that speaks of going to heaven when we die, as if we will have come to the end of our journey. Heaven is indeed where the Lord is presently, but it is not our final home (Ps. 14:2; 20:6; 33:13; Ecc. 5:2; Is. 66:1; Dan. 2:44; 7:27; Rev. 11:15). The finished work of Christ is not fully realized until God makes his home on this earth.

If anything, heaven is only a temporal dwelling for those awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Jesus said there are “many dwelling places” in his Father’s house (Jn 14:2). The Greek word for “dwelling places” used here, monai, has regularly been used to refer to a temporary stop on an extended journey.

Even when Christ was on the cross, he told the thief on his left that “today” he would be with him in “paradise” (Lk. 23:43). This too doesn’t speak of a final destination, but of a temporal garden of rest. All of the saints, past and present, still await the return of the King and the establishment of heaven on earth (Heb. 11:13-16; Rev. 6:10-11).

God’s desire has always been to complete his good work in the created world upon which every human being has ever lived. For the Jew, there was a firm belief that God would restore creation and fulfill his covenant with his people. The Lord of heaven and earth would finally merge the two into one unified reality.

This resurrected world is called the “New Jerusalem” and the “Holy City” (Rev. 21:2). This newly remade world is our final destination. It is the Kingdom of God fully realized. In Revelation 21:5, Christ says:

“Behold, I am making all things new!”

And it is Christ that has the authority to say such things, for he was the first to be resurrected and be clothed with the imperishable.

Our hope is in a future resurrected existence in the “new heavens and earth.” It is on this earth that Jesus prayed, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Heaven is indeed coming to earth. Jesus has called for its renewal and resurrection!

“Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 19

NOTE: The original section Hell: Eternal Torture? was removed and expanded into a single article.

Resurrection Future

“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable… for the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.Paul, 1 Cor. 15:50, 53

Some folks would have you believe that the resurrection has already taken place in the spiritual sense and there is therefore no need for a physical resurrection of our bodies. This view highlights the work of the cross but overlooks the importance and power of a physical resurrection in order to maintain its toxic eschatology.

We can’t afford to ignore the earliest Jewish meaning of the word resurrection. Resurrection always refers to a new bodily existence. Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s bodily resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:12-58 is to assure the saints that we too shall receive the same.

It should be equally accepted as his purpose for addressing those believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The believers there were dealing with the deaths of loved ones around them. They had “fallen asleep” before the coming of Christ.

Concerning the Christian hope at death, Stanley Grenz writes:

“As Christians, however, our hope does not focus on any conception of life after death. On the contrary, our hope is directed toward the promise of resurrection. Therefore, anything we say about the status of the dead must arise out of our hope for resurrection.” Created for Community, p.271

It is by Christ’s death on the cross that we died. But it is through Christ’s resurrection that we may live. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Paul continues, “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom. 6:4-5).

Without the physical resurrection of our bodies, we may not enter into the fullness of the new creation. When heaven comes to earth and “the dwelling of God is with men,” we shall receive a body that is clothed imperishable and raised in immortality; a resurrected body for a resurrected world.

It is in the physical resurrection of the dead and the judgment that the “last enemy” is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). Death shall be no more!

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus, John 11:25-26

Resurrection Now

Does the resurrection of Christ on the third day have any effect on us in the present? Paul believed we could know the power of Christ’s resurrection even now.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Paul, Philippians 3:10-11

Paul wrote, “outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). How is it that resurrection has already begun in an inward way? It has happened by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. As N.T. Wright has written, it is in the resurrection of Christ that the world is already now “being born with Jesus” (SH, 73).

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life…” and receiving his indwelling Spirit is receiving resurrection life (Jn. 12:24; 14:15-31; 16:5-16; Acts 1:8). The Kingdom of God has broken through into the old order of things and has already begun the work of resurrection in the here and now. It is doing a work within the hearts of men.

“The Kingdom of God belongs to the future, and yet the blessings of the Kingdom of God have entered into the present Age to deliver men from bondage to Satan and sin. Eternal life belongs to the Kingdom of God, to The Age to Come; but it, too, has entered into the present evil Age that men may experience eternal life in the midst of death and decay. We may enter into this experience of life by the new birth, by being born again.” George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 71

We are able to stand firm and give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord because of our hope that soon Christ’s victory over death will become a reality for all of creation (1 Cor. 15:54-58). Resurrection is now working in the spiritual order of things.

The Kingdom of God is already here now and it is yet to come (Matt. 12:28; Mk. 1:15). It is working behind the scenes to destroy the sovereignty of Satan and is restoring the creation in every act of Christian love.

The Kingdom of God is breaking though into this present evil age because of Christ’s resurrection and it is testifying of the age to come when God will bring heaven to earth. The two-stage coming of the Kingdom should not be overlooked any longer (Lk. 19:11). The Lord is advancing his Kingdom even as I write this article. Heaven is invading earth in a covert operation of love.

How is the resurrection impacting our world today? What does the Kingdom look like in action? I believe Gregory Boyd very simply describes its nature and power.

He says, the Kingdom of God “always looks like Jesus—loving, serving, and sacrificing himself for all people, including his enemies. To the extent that an individual, church, or movement looks like that, it manifests the Kingdom of God. To the extent that it doesn’t look like that, it doesn’t.” The Myth of a Christian Religion, p. 14

If we are not willing to bleed like Jesus, we shall not know the power of his resurrection life. There is always a cross before there is a burst of light coming from the empty tomb. We must return to Christ and the foolishness of his cross if we wish to exhibit resurrection. For his Kingdom is not a matter of talk, but of power (1 Cor. 4:20).

This power does not come through utilizing the power-over structures of man to baptize the culture into the Christian religion. It is a spiritual authority that is earned by sharing the suffering of mankind. It happens when we see our neighbors as objects of God’s love instead of souls to conquer for our work-centered faith.

Resurrection happens in the here and now when the church is reflecting life as it will be in the new heavens and earth.

And that life always looks like Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

“For, as I have often told you before and now say again with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians3:1821

Suggested Reading:

The Bible & the Future by Anthony Hoekema Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation by Bruce Metzger Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living by S. Grenz The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Toward a Christ-Centered Approach by Adrio Koenig An Evening in Ephesus: A Dramatic Commentary on Revelation by Bob Emery Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God by George Eldon Ladd IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL OR RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD? by Oscar Cullmann The Myth of a Christian Religion: Losing Your Religion for the Beauty of a Revolution by Gregory Boyd Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright Dispensationalism: An Inquiry Into Its Leading Figures & Features by Jon Zens


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