Tag Archives: organic

1 Cor 14:26 Descriptive or Prescriptive?

I have been known as a proponent of “organic” church life for several years now. Due to the confusion over this now popular nuanced term (cp. Sparks, Cole, & Viola’s usage), I have decided to stop using it when describing the sort of church life that is to be enjoyed by all Christian communities in every cultural context until Christ returns.

It’s just not worth having to respond to all of the questioners with, “Well, what I mean by it is…” It was helpful (at least to me) for a while, but not so much anymore. I do still use it when I’m among close friends, but other than that it only becomes one more obstacle in communication.

I must admit that over the last year or so I have been led to believe that some dear saints run the risk of promoting organic church life at the expense of Christ and unity among all believers—as well as promoting Christ while attached to a specific church model (though they would claim they are not promoting a model) or even a “no order at all” approach.

The first group is likely not aware that they have bound Christ to a rigid church order. And the later group, while talking a lot about Christ, is mostly concerned with maintaining no set order in their meetings. No order has become their order. They will do nothing that even comes close to resembling organized Christianity (a person standing to deliver a message longer than 10-15 minutes is definitely out!).

If that fellowship doesn’t change its reactionary thinking, it will eventually meet its demise. Hopefully, there will be enough folks who grow tired of just chatting about Jesus over coffee for a couple hours a week to bring about a healthy change.

I found that it is possible to begin with a new vision of Christ in community, only later to gravitate toward an “us vs. them” mentality. Of course, it might have always been a mix of both—some days more of this, other days more of the other. I have become sensitive to those thoughts of mine that set myself above another person that clearly loves Jesus, but is just currently being faithful to Christ in a different setting.

Christ in Community

Looking back over the last several years of study, reflection, and experience, I’m convinced that the NT reveals some basic principles concerning church life that can be summed up like this: Everything should look like Christ and build up the saints (Eph 4:16; 1 Jn 2:6).

Beyond that, there is no church law. There is no restrictive law that says, “You can’t do that!” Nor is there the libertarian law that says, “Anything goes!” The law is Christ… Christ in community.

Regardless of what side of the church fence you’re on (organized or organic), you may think my “no law” declaration needs a qualifier. Well, I just don’t think so. Anything beyond “Christ in community” leads to divisions among us, and becomes self-righteousness dressed in the garb of the centrality and supremacy of Christ. It’s time we stop it.

“Christ in community” does involve what some have called a NT pattern. But let’s be clear, the principles of that pattern are known only in an examination of the person and work of Christ. Failing to closely examine and take serious the life and teachings of Christ is something that both institutional and organic churches do regularly.

Both groups have isolated and eisegeted (read things into) certain texts to promote their church order, all the while neglecting the life and teachings of Jesus, the very center of our faith.

For example, when his disciples were arguing over who would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus made it very clear that true leadership was not reflected in the “top-down” hierarchal leadership seen with the politicians and corporations of the world (Mk 10:35-45; Jn 13). No, you can’t have a nation of priests when one person, other than Jesus himself, gets to be the “high” priest and the inheritor of special treatment, and regular monetary blessings.

Therefore, a prime example of the Jesus prescription—the one that goes to the heart of what’s wrong with organized religion—is that anything that doesn’t look like servant-leadership, or creates an unhealthy dependence upon one human priest, leads to spiritual paralysis in the body of Christ.

Whatever each local ekklesia decides about the role and function of pastor/teachers today, our conclusions should always be based upon the example of Christ and what he said about leadership. Church practice should always reflect the person and work of Christ among his first disciples.

Paul in Community?

What about Paul, you ask? Well, what about Paul? Paul’s idea of community comes by merely expounding upon Christ. Therefore, viewing anything Paul says as a rigid “prescriptive” order for the church in every age, when Paul is merely describing a communal life that flows out of Christ, is to put forth a law other than Christ himself.

Jesus is the only prescription for the church in every age.

That isn’t to say that Paul can’t tell us anything about church order in the 21st century. By no means! Instead, it means that Paul should be read as an apostle who guides each church to creatively adhere to the life and teachings of Jesus in their own unique context.

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul addresses the believers at Corinth concerning their disorderly meetings. If the saints in Corinth were not squabbling over spiritual gifts, we likely would not even have Paul saying anything about order for the church. So notice, the pattern is given in a context of disorder and division over the way things ought to be done.

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.  1 Cor 14:26 NIV

The pattern here is not that all these things, and nothing else, should happen in a church meeting. It’s simply what was happening in Corinth at this moment in time. Paul was not intending to say that every church meeting for all time should always look like what is described here (i.e. every single meeting should always and forever be open-participatory).

No, the pattern for every generation is always and only Christ.

So, what does Christ look like in this particular gathering? He looks like ordered sharing, not disrespectful neglect of others and their gifts (14:27-33). It’s this open-participatory meeting, and only this type of meeting, that we hear Paul addressing with his guidance.

We should not gather from the NT that there is never a place for a meeting set aside to hear a teacher. Paul’s concern in this open meeting is that Christ would not have chaos and disrespect of others when meeting in such an intimate familial setting. I imagine that he might have said something similar in spirit if there was a church who opted to have teaching times in a larger setting. He apparently was cool with this sort of thing when he held his own “apostolic meetings” (Acts 20:7).

There is no church manual that prescribes the activity and function of church meetings. Even if you were to gather up all of the “one another” verses of the NT, you are still not given a rigid order of how things must be done in a church meeting. To force that upon the NT is not only promoting an agenda, it undermines the only prescription, which is Christ.

Biblical scholar and “house church” attendee, Robert Banks, writes:

“The basic principle that Paul lays down for the conduct of the church is that all things should be done for edification. Only when a contribution has this as its object should it be exercised” (Paul’s Idea of Community, 100).

Jesus (and Paul) leaves a great deal of freedom to all local churches. However, that freedom will in the long run never undermine Christ expressed throughout the entire priesthood of believers over the many seasons of the church.

D.D. Flowers, 2011.

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Walking the Line: Staying Out of Theological Ditches

I am continually reminded that much heartache comes in our journey by not embracing the tensions in theology (our knowing of God) and seeking to walk in the middle of those tensions that seem to contradict one another.

Our Christian journey is often a tension-filled road of discipleship. Instead of striving to walk in the middle of the road in what’s taught about Christ and the essentials of our faith, folks often end up in the ditches. And boy are they dirty!

Here are just a few ditches I’ve personally encountered:

  • faith alone vs. good works
  • human reason (head) vs. blind faith (heart)
  • predestination vs. free will
  • love vs. wrath
  • Old Testament vs. New Testament
  • historical Jesus vs. theological Jesus
  • Scriptures vs. Jesus
  • rest vs. work
  • justice vs. mercy
  • oppressive law vs. cheap grace
  • conservative vs. liberal
  • traditional vs. charismatic
  • Southern Baptist vs. the world
  • rules vs. freedom (1 Corinthians vs. Galatians)
  • holy huddle vs. “I have to save the world” evangelism

How much doctrinal division and denominations have been formed out of choosing one side of the ditch to walk in?

All of this comes about because folks are unwilling to embrace the tensions. I wonder what kind of people we would be if we chose to walk God’s line—walk His road and stay out of those ditches.

What kind of people would we be if we accepted every believer’s portion of Christ? What if we were known by our love for one another and how we humbly explore the mystery of Christ together?

I’m confident we would be better listeners. We would be His learners.

Isn’t that one of the reasons we so desperately need each other? We help each other stay out of the ditch. But instead we often hear believers express this in a round about way: “Look!  I’m over here… my side is better.  Why aren’t you doing what I’m doing?”

And we think things to ourselves like, “Whew! I’m so glad I’m not stupid like that guy. I’m so glad I’m free. I’m glad I really know what’s going on.”

We go out trying to jerk wheels over to our side of the ditch through books, blogs, and magazines, and movements. I have found that people who jerk the wheel into any ditch probably aren’t paying much attention to what’s really going on. They make over-correcting a lifestyle.

If someone were to follow behind a drunk driver, that’s about how they drive.  (They do often slam into the back of people because their vision is impaired.)  And if they’re not drunk, it makes me say to myself, “Who taught that guy how to drive?” (I live in Houston, so I ask myself this almost everyday.)

I have followed behind some believers like that. And yes I know they have been behind me. I was in vocational ministry for a few years.

I submit that we have not learned these things from our driving instructor: Christ.

Think with me for a second. Maybe the ditches are there for a reason. It could be that those lines have been placed before us so that we can see the road. Sure, no one drives in a perfectly straight line. Nobody walks in perfect symmetry either.

But it is expected that we stay in our lane and walk on the pathway provided for us. When we don’t we’re likely to have a wreck or walk into a signpost. I think the sign says, “DON’T WALK ON THE GRASS!”

And let’s not forget this point. I look at these ditches and find that some of them don’t even really exist (e.g. love vs. wrath). We have dug our own ditches—potholes in many cases.  Because we don’t see the Instructor properly, we end up driving however we like.

This makes the roads unsafe to drive on and the ditches cluttered with wreckage.

WARNING: Ditches often collect trash! They’re dirty, smelly, and they induce vomiting. There might be an occasional rain that washes it out, but eventually there will be more filth collect there in the gutter. Stay out of the ditch! It’s hazardous to your health.

Dear saints, trust God in the tensions and understand that He has given us His truth in tension-filled pairs for a reason. Seek to discover a hermeneutical (biblical interpretation) practice where you’re taking the time to listen to others in community.

A communal hermeneutic keeps us out of the ditches and helps us to stay on the road that leads us to Christ; where we may encounter the Living Lord in His written Word.

We were not created to walk behind each other, but beside each other. We were created for community. In this way we are able to lookout for the potholes, stay out of the ditches, and walk the line we have in Christ.

Lord help us to walk Your line and find the balance of traveling the road You’re walking. Amen.

So, what ditches have you encountered?


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