Pagan Christianity Chapter Discussion – Preface

This is the second in a series of posts on the book Pagan Christianity (hereafter PC), and in this post we will start the book with the preface to get an idea of what is coming ahead. The preface begins by suggesting that the church of Jesus Christ has fallen into two opposite traps in its approach to the local church: the error of the Pharisees and the error of the Sadducees. The Pharisees were so zealous to obey God’s commands that they developed a whole system of traditions in order to live out their understanding of the Law of Moses practically. However, in doing this they missed the heart of God and introduced many rituals and customs which brought His people into bondage. This ‘tradition of the elders’ was passed on from generation to generation as ‘the way things are done’ and eventually elevated to the same level of authority as Scripture. The Sadducees, on the other hand,erred in the opposite way. Instead of adding to Scripture, they subtracted from it by accepting only the first five books of Moses as the Word of God. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the more supernatural elements of Scripture, such as the existence of angels and the resurrection of the body. Do the Pharisees and Sadducees sound familiar to you? These two parties were the primarily opponents of Jesus during His ministry, and (according to the authors of PC) His church is still greatly hindered by these types of people today.

Firstly, modern Christianity is described in the preface of PC as being guilty of the error of the Pharisees for adding ‘a raft of humanly devised traditions that have suppressed the living, breathing functional headship of Jesus Christ in His Church’ (page xxi). In the authors’ opinion church buildings, modern sermons, paid pastors, worship teams, seminary education etc. are unbiblical (pagan), not very helpful and in many cases harmful to our experience of Jesus (see the previous post for clarity on this way of assessing church). They make a strong statement about their intent of writing PC: “In short, this book is dedicated to exposing the traditions that have been tacked onto God’s will for His church – traditions that run contrary to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Our reasons for writing it is simple: We are seeking to remove a great deal of the debris in order to make room for the Lord Jesus Christ to be the fully functioning head of His church” (page xxiv). Barna and Viola are not saying that all pagan practices are necessarily wrong. They are claiming that, rather than continually reforming our extra-scriptural customs, we have become blind slaves of a new ‘tradition of the elders’ that is often in conflict with God’s desire for His people – like the Pharisees were. “And this is why the church is in the state that it is in today, hampered by endless divisions, power struggles, passivity and lack of transformation among God’s people” (page xxiv).

Secondly, Barna and Viola assert that contemporary Christian churches have become like the Sadducees by either removing or plain ignoring ‘a great bulk of New Testament practices’ (page xxii) that should shape how we gather together as believers. On the one hand, they are saying that there are some direct Scriptures which we do not or cannot obey because of the way we conduct church gatherings. But even more importantly, they are claiming that on a deeper level the actual essence and goal of the local church is ignored.Β Not only are there a Pharisaic mountain of harmful pagan traditions heaped on top of the New Testament foundation, but we have not necessarily even got the original New Testament foundation underneath them! Apparently, most of today’s mainline churches are ‘institutional’ in nature rather than ‘organic’ in nature as found in the New Testament. This is at the heart of how this book assesses whether or not our pagan practices are helpful or harmful. If it supports organic church, it is good. If it suppresses it, it is bad. Organic churches are described as churches born out of and held together by God’s internal spiritual life, rather than constructed by human institutions and held together by external religious structures. Organic churches are characterized by the timeless principles of “Spirit-led, open-participatory, face-to-face, every-member functioning meetings” rather than the “program-led, spectator-driven, impersonal, clergy functioning meetings” (page xxiii) found in institutional churches. Without this New Testament organic pattern at the centre of our understanding on how and why we gather as Christians, we may end up like the Sadducees who knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

“We are making an outrageous proposal: that the church in its contemporary, institutional form has neither a biblical nor a historical right to function as it does. This proposal, of course, is our conviction based upon the historical evidence that we shall present in this book. You must decide if the proposal is valid or not” (page xxiv).

Provocative stuff! What do you think?

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15 thoughts on “Pagan Christianity Chapter Discussion – Preface

  1. Paid ministers are certainly not unbiblical – it was Paul who pointed out that those who teach/serve in the church should be supported … “Don’t muzzle the ox that treads the corn”.
    So you certainly can’t say that paid ministers are a new invention not found in the Bible.
    Since the ability to teach is a spiritual gift, it follows that some people are far better capable than others. Seeking these people out and training them to use their talents is perfectly in accord with the Biblical teaching.
    Seminary education (of some form) and trained ministers are necessary – how else will you be able to translate the Bible, and check that translations are correct? A knowledge of Hebrew and NT Greek so you can read the Bible in the original language – and a basic knowledge of the history in OT and NT times – is something that the leaders (at least) of the church must have. Ideally, of course, everyone should – but practically it is not possible for us all to study everything… though we should spend as much time as possible on the areas we are capable of studying (and of course, studying the Bible in particular!)

    Worship teams – I don’t know what they dislike about them, but I will say that I think the concept of a worship team (as I have seen it applied) shows a distinct misunderstanding of what worship is.

    I’m curious as to why they consider church buildings to be unhelpful. Aside from the problem of worshiping the building – and I have not yet found someone doing this, although I am aware it is a possibility – it is a practical necessity in any region where there is rain, wind, hail, harsh sunshine or snow. (ie pretty much everywhere). That is, provided the congregation is too large to fit into a house.

    I’m sure I’ll have more to say as I hear more about their views. I won’t comment on some of the other issues above now (eg organic/institution) because I want to check I understand what they are saying before I put my oar in… at the moment I don’t.
    K.

  2. Hi K, thanks for the comment. I foresee a lot of debate around the issues you mention. Even if we take the one you are most sure about – salaried clergy – Viola asserts that the two new testament passages that mention the unmuzzled ox do not support paying a pastor. He claims that the one in 1 Corinthians 9 seems to be talking about itinerant apostolic workers (as opposed to local residing elders) and that the one in 1 Timothy 5 is in the context of falsely accused elders (who deserve honour and the benefit of the doubt for their labour the way an ox deserves food and a worker deserves a salary). According to Viola, Paul taught elders from the exact same church as Timothy was being sent to (Ephesus) NOT to take money from the congregation (Acts 20:33-35), and that the first salaried clergy appeared hundreds of years after the apostles – around 300AD.

    Interesting hey? πŸ˜‰

  3. Starting with Acts 20:33-35 and working backwards:
    Paul does not state that elders may not receive material support or gifts from their congregation for the work that they do: he tells them, “I have *coveted* no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by labouring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’.” (NKJV)
    Nowhere here does he prohibit the material support of people for the work that they do in serving the congregation or church universal. The most that might be suggested by this is that if an elder is sufficiently well off not to need additional support, then they could consider foregoing it.
    Paul himself received material support in his full-time missionary ministry (be it money, food or clothing) from at least one congregation:
    2 Cor 11:7-15:
    “Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? ** I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you **. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for ** the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need**. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” (ESV)

    Phil 4:10 – 18, esp 15 – 18:
    “10 ΒΆ I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
    14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, ***no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.*** 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.
    18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” (ESV)

    Moving back to 1 Cor 9:3-23, on what basis is this limited to Apostolic workers only? The point that Paul is making here is that he and Barnabas have as much right to receive support as any other people – including the other apostles to be sure, but not necessarily limited to them (cf vs 5,6 and 12) – yet, apparently, he voluntarily laid down his claim (‘right’) for support from the Corinthian church to ensure that those who were attempting to undermine his ministry and work could find no means of reproach at all. See particularly vs 11 – 15; note the statement that “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel;” the apostles were certainly not the only ones who proclaimed the gospel:
    ” If we have sown spiritual things among you, ** is it too much if we reap material things from you? ** If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
    Nevertheless, ** we have not made use of this right **, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. **Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple**, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? ** In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.** But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.” (ESV)

    Linked with this, note Matt 10:5-10,
    ” These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. “But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. “And as you go, preach, saying, β€˜The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. “Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, “nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; ** for a worker is worthy of his food. **” (NKJV)
    Why should this principle be limited to the 12 only?
    As Paul pointed out above, the Lord specifically prescrived a ‘salary,’ (for want of a better word) paid by the other tribes for the support of the Levites and priests in the OT era, whom God called to serve his people in the OT church.

    Finally, 1 Tim 5:17 – 20 says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” (NKJV).
    Vs 17 is certainly not limited to the case where good elders are falsely accused – Surely Viola is not claiming that Paul here says that only good elders who are falsely accused should receive double honour! The following sentence referring to the “labourer” who is worthy of his hire is tied back to this first sentence, so it is independent of whether the elders are falsely accused or not.
    In vs 5:3 Paul states that the congregation must “Honour widows who are really widows”, and he goes on to add in vs 16 that the congregation must “relieve [care for/assist/aid – ESV, RSV, NKJV] those who are really widows.” Honour is not just a mental attitude – it flows out into our actions, in the same manner as biblical love. Honour means caring for the needs of those honoured.
    Cattle and labourers do not deserve the benefit of the doubt for their labour; they are due the payment (support) for their labour, to sustain them and enable them to continue in their labours. Likewise, those who fully devote themselves to teaching the Word and serving the church, are due the payment (support) associated with their labour. This is not necessarily just an attitude of honour, without associated actions.
    Vs 19 is an issue of good governance which goes back to the Pentateuch – do not condemn someone on the basis of only 1 witness. Once again, this is not necessarily limited to whether the elder is falsely accused or not.

  4. For general interest, John Calvin’s comment on 1 Tim 5:17-18
    “To return to Paul, he enjoins that support shall be provided chiefly for pastors, who are employed in teaching. Such is the ingratitude of the world, that very little care is taken about supporting the ministers of the word; and Satan, by this trick, endeavors to deprive the Church of instruction, by terrifying many, through the dread of poverty and hunger, from bearing that burden.”

    • Kenguy, thanks for all the info. My suggestion is that we shift a discussion of nitty-gritty details about salaried clergy to the relevant chapter of the book. What you have written is a good start though – in the meanwhile, until we cover salaried clergy specifically I would encourage you to think through the following common assumptions.

      1) That apostolic worker means inspired Apostle instead of itinerant church planter
      2) That financial support of apostolic workers is synonymous with salaries for locally based elders
      3) That OT priests prefigure our ‘pagan’ tradition of clergy instead of all NT believers.

      Change those three and you’d read all the Scriptures you quote very differently – just like Viola does πŸ˜‰

      Oh, and as an afterthought – I think you misunderstood, Viola doesn’t mean that we should give honour to elders BECAUSE they are falsely accused. He means that BECAUSE all good elders deserve honour for their labour, we shouldn’t hastily accept any accusation against them without solid evidence. Let’s chat about it again later in the series…

      What I am really interested in right now Mr. Kenguy, is what you don’t understand about my summary of Viola’s concept of organic church gatherings? πŸ™‚

  5. Ok, we’ll wait till you cover the chapter in question. Although, before leaving the topic, note that the payment of the priests and Levites is specifically pointed to by Paul as the basis on which he has a *right* to be paid … his right for payment is based on the standard pattern that anyone who works should be reimbursed/supported for that work:
    “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? **In the same way**, the Lord **commanded** that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these *rights*…”

    The argument about the OT priests prefiguring NT believers (whether they do or not) rebounds – according to the context above, that should mean that ALL NT believers are supported for their service … full time ministers included.

    BTW, can you give me a reference in the NT for what is meant by ‘apostolic worker’ ? I can’t think of any passages that use this title.

    Organic – give specific detail and examples of what he considers to be human/institutional structures… and what is actually meant by open-participatory. For example, I would say that Protestant evangelical churches are participatory. Compare them to pre-Reform days, when people were not permitted to partake in communion (proper communion, that is), when they had to attend services in a language which they did not understand, and when they were generally not allowed to access/read Bibles in their language or know much about the Bible at all.

    If I had to guess, I would imagine that by “program lead” he would be pointing at services that are organised according to a basic structure, or liturgical services. I would certainly take issue with this if he does mean that – but there’s no point in me guessing about it.
    A basic structure is necessary to avoid confusion – which is condemned (“Let all things be done in order…”). People approaching God in worship should go about it in a way that reflects who he is and who they are – again, this is a basic structure which requires organisation. And, once again, look to the OT for examples of corporate worship and the specific details God commanded on certain occasions.

    I do think that there are many unbiblical notions floating around in churches today – the church has always had to fight to keep them out, right from the beginning in OT times. The problems I can think of are not necessarily to do with institution and organisation, but rather on issues of worship and what is suitable. One example is the unbiblical idea that “God has made all music/art and therefore all music/art of any type whatsoever is suitable for worship.”
    Another is the idea that “God gave me all my abilities, therefore whatever I can do – everything – must be suitable for serving him”.

  6. The institutional aspects of church (according to the book), are the ‘business’ type things like having a official salaried staff, committees and constitutions, expensive facilities and equipment etc. He isn’t saying its all bad, but rather that its not all scripturally necessary or always beneficial – for example the overhead costs of institutional church are huge and consume most of our giving when it might be used in better ways. But let’s keep that for the chapter on church buildings okay? πŸ™‚

    As to your question about open participatory… According to my understanding so far, to Viola an open meeting is a meeting that is guided by the Holy Spirit rather than by ritual or fixed liturgy. It is a gathering that practically ‘experiences’ (rather than just theoretically affirms) God’s presence through each member’s contribution. In other words the meetings are orderly but possibly very different and ‘fresh’ every week, rather than the ‘stale and predictable’ weekly order of worship. Viola would say that God is not only orderly but creative and refreshing πŸ˜‰ I am not so sure if we should take our cues from the Old Testament temple services – lets keep that one for the two chapters on music and the order of worship πŸ˜›

    He would also say that our church services should have a lot more space to allow God to communicate with us than just through one person preaching a sermon with their one gift. So to make that practical, I imagine this would be a meeting that allows different people to contribute according to their different giftings in a turn-based way; one shares a testimony, then one shares a revelation, then another one a song, then another a teaching or a tongue etc. in an orderly but *non-heirarchical* and *uncontrolled* fashion. His challenge is that we cannot claim that uncontrolled meetings are necessarily disorderly unless we do not believe the Holy Spirit can lead a meeting – he claims he has been to countless such meetings. I must admit I haven’t seen many churches imitating this even though it seems to be Scriptural (1 Corinthians 14:26-32). Have you?

    As for participatory meetings, I guess i already covered that. Open-participatory thus means Spirit-led and every-member-functioning. Viola would say that a good church ‘structure’ should facilitate and not frustrate this kind of experience in gatherings (generally that is, he acknowledges different types of meetings). He uses this model to assess the different aspects of institutional church. His claim is that most of our traditions foster a passive attitude of watching a select few perform their ministry. He calls it spectator-church. To Viola, an institutional church can continue in a program-led way even if (literally and metaphorically) “God left the building”, because it is sustained by us. Whereas an organic church would simply collapse, because God sustains its life and operations in a practical way.

    Ja let’s chat about clergy salaries later – should be good. While you wait, check out http://www.alanknox.net/2008/10/1-corinthians-9-and-salaries-for/ and the links in the first paragraph. Very enlightening comments as well.

  7. It’s not so much about whether the Holy Spirit CAN lead an orderly gathering – it’s about whether the Holy Spirit DOES lead an orderly gathering, by default, **without people making any effort to structure it or putting time and effort and preparation into it**. That’s a big difference.
    God, in general providence, works through people and their abilities (which he gave them by his Holy Spirit).
    The abilities to teach, to pastor, to care for, to guide, to reprimand etc are all God given… so there is no contradiction between organisation in advance and the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Where does the Bible say or imply that every person (or most or even several people) who attend(s) a worship service must have the chance, **as an individual**, to teach, or give a testimony, or sing a solo song in order to allow God space to communicate? The important means by which God communicates to us is his Word, read and heard. His Spirit is as free to work in people’s hearts as God desires.

    There are always some people who attend church gatherings who are not Christians (knowingly or unknowingly) – where do they fit into Viola’s picture? Does the Holy Spirit guide them to ensure they do not interpose disorder on worship? Where is the Biblical support for this…

    No congregation should have a passive “spectator” attitude in a church service – but this does not prevent organisation and structure or mean that they are wrong. It shows a misunderstanding of what worship actually is about… declaring – unitedly – as the body of Christ – the greatness of God in response to hearing his word, the deeds he has done for his people, and who he is by nature.

  8. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says “each one”, so I would imagine that most of them participated. I might be wrong, but I see open-participatory meeting written all over 1 Corinthians 12-14. There are individual people praying (and singing) in tongues, interpreting, prophesying and teaching. I agree with you that such a meeting should be regulated (as Paul is doing in this passage because the church had some excesses), but the whole point is that there is something (i.e. participation) to regulate. Paul doesn’t tell them to stop doing it, he tells them to do it properly.

    You are passionate about corporate expressions of worship, and I agree with you. I imagine they did declare through singing and prayer etc. together. But, perhaps you could expand your idea of edification to include individual people using gifts other than teaching by people other than the preacher from a source other than the bible – and then checking it with the bible of course πŸ˜‰ Now I have a personal question for you – how much does your experience of church have in common with the pattern Paul establishes here? Are you allowed to contribute with a prophecy/tongue, or would you be seen as interrupting? Is it open to God’s intervention, or is it basically the same type of service format every week?

  9. Well, I just took almost half an hour to read through your boys’ discussion.

    The salaried clergy is an interesting topic – I am eagerly awaiting the continuation of the discussion so that I may participate.

    From how I understand I Cor 12-14, the spiritual gifts exist to serve the church. With the exception of praying in tongues, the spiritual gifts are mainly to be practiced during church gatherings, for the benefit of the saints. And, in order to not freak our seekers/visitors, the practicing of the gifts should be ordered.

    Kenguy, you emphasize a lot that teaching (from the word) is essential. Nobody is disputing that. The question is, is that the only thing that the NT calls for in churches.

    About the Holy Spirit leading a meeting. I think a telling way to ask the question, is: In a given church, can one meeting be entirely different from the next? For example – will it be possible that, because the Holy Spirit leads the congregation so, one meeting will have only worship through music, while the next will be a preaching from the word and praying for (and healing of) the sick, with no music at all. Or, is the structure of the meetings so rigid that this kind of leading by the Holy Spirit is simply not possible in practice?

    In The Bay Community Church where I was, we’d start out with worship through song, and then there was often a time when the gifts were practiced during worship – people come forward with a word of wisdom (e.g. “do not worry – God is with us”), a word of knowledge (e.g. “There is someone here who is going through a divorce, and she is a 28-year old lady. God wants you to come to him about this – please come to us after the service so that we can pray with you), a tongue (and hopefully a subsequent interpretation), or a call for the sick to come forward for prayer, or just a reading of a passage from the word, or a word of prophesy (e.g. “I believe that God is saying to us today…”)

    There was usually a gate-keeper. This is someone who asks a person what they have to say before giving them the microphone. This is usually an elder with the gift of discernment. There is also a pastor who leads the process in terms of saying when it stops at least.

    Oh, and that “phase” of the service would usually be followed by a message from a teacher. Though I do think that once or twice, the Holy Spirit had so much to say through believers, that the “message’ only lasted about ten or fifteen minutes.

    So, I thought that was pretty biblical.

    I’m definitely for the concept of organic church as you guys have discussed it.

    The other day I said that, the experience of going to some of the churches that I went to, could be compared to going to watch a moving or enriching film at the cinema with a bunch friends you don’t really know all that well yet. You arrive, you sing a couple of songs, you listen to some guy share his thoughts on scripture and then, you leave.

    And I don’t think that when we say participation we mean that you sing along or that you take communion. I think we mean that you use a spiritual gift, through the moving of the Holy Spirit, to minister to your fellow believers.

    I believe that God has not gone silent. I believe that, even today, He wants to speak to believers through believers through the gift of prophesy as much as He wants us to study his Word.

    πŸ™‚

    I guess it’s clear that I have a strong opinion on the matter. If the structure of the church inhibits the work of the Holy Spirit, it should be loosened.

    • I agree we are going to have to try and keep the responses short so that people aren’t discouraged to join in. Imagine we had a word limit or something, that might be challenging πŸ˜› So in that spirit, I will keep it short. I think its clear that you and Kenny come from very different church backgrounds – I think that’s great and I hope we can encourage one another to broaden our perspectives. I have a question for you: I have also seen a lot of this gatekeeper stuff in services, which is fine I guess, but do you agree that it seems Paul wanted the entire congregation to be the gatekeepers (1 Corinthians 14:29)? It seems to me we are very afraid of something false being prophesied (for good reason!), so we stop it before it happens, but perhaps if a church trained all their members inside the church to ‘test the spirits’ like Paul recommends, they would be more immune to falseness in general outside the church.

      • I’ve actually had exposure to some different church backgrounds:
        About five years in the APK (very conservative, orthodox, reformed), about five years in the NGK (reformed, liberal and traditional), about 5 years in Shofar (charismatic and evangelical, yet often with a structured, rather than organic, approach), a couple of months in The Bay Community Church (smaller, independent and quite organic charismatic, evangelical church), and now two months in a similar church to The Bay.

        So my opinion is not based on a single church experience – I’ve had the privilege to compare different approaches to “the way we do church”. Even so, I believe we should measure these things against scripture rather than against experience. It also makes for a more honest report when one can admit that “this and this is not that good about my church, but I really think we get that part right”.

        JC, though I like how a word limit will force us to be more concise, I like how longer posts provide for responses with a bit more depth. It was by no means boring (to me) to read through the discussion so far, it was just a bit timely.

        Now, to answer your question:
        I think it is always a tricky business to bring what we read in the Bible in line with what we observe in our everyday life. The Finch once discussed with me the principle that we should read the Bible as descriptive in some places rather than as prescriptive (that’s a long discussion of its own, so please let’s not split hairs about it).

        What I am trying to get to is that, not many churches find themselves in a situation where there is a significant amount of members that will be able to “test the spirits”. This necessitates a gate-keeper, not so? However, when a church has indeed trained enough of their members in testing the spirits, then yes, I think a gate-keeper is unnecessary admin, and will also cause the members to miss out on “growing” through recognizing false prophesies.

        According to one of my favorite teachers (David Pawson), spiritual gifts should only really be regularly practiced in congregations that are no bigger than (I think) 80 people. And congregations that grow beyond 80 should split. This way, it becomes possible for people to test the prophet (because they know him and his lifestyle) before they even have to test the prophesy.

        But applying that teaching would seem very radical to many Christians that attend Sunday services of size hundreds or even thousands of attendees.

        But I do believe that you are right, my friend. Paul did so much want Christians to grow in maturity and yes, he wanted us all to be gate-keepers and yes, it would be so much better that way in order to keep deception at bay. Maybe we should be comforted by the fact that it was by no means that way back then πŸ˜› Deception was rife in the church back then, just like it is now.

        Because of my pragmatic personality, I am very unsatisfied if we keep discussing what an ideal, biblical church should look like, but if we do not find a practical way to reform our current churches to be that way. That’s why I like practical abridgments like gate-keepers – perhaps we should just keep reminding ourselves that they are only there forming part of a work-in-progress.

        Do you think that gate-keepers could be a useful stepping stone for going from a congregation with little to no experience in the Gifts, to a group of mature spirit-testers?

        • Levra, I like the pragmatic influence you bring to the blog, keep it up πŸ™‚ Being more of an idealist by nature (not by choice), I think I do tend to be impractical, but I really agree with you about the gate-keepers being necessary. It reminds me that churches are ‘in process’, full of people ‘in process’, and so just as an organism has phases of development and maturity so will congregations. But then, it seems to me people need to be proactively *trained* by mature believers to exercise their gifts in a practical way in gatherings and also in an individual capacity in their lives and relationships. How can we hope to have Body ministry if we only merely preach it instead of mentor it? I wonder how hands-on Paul was with his converts in this regard…

          Lastly, I think the descriptive vs prescriptive dichotomy is a key issue for bible interpretation in this area especially – if some of us assume that all Scripture is prescriptive and others lean the other way, we aren’t even talking the same language. I must admit that at the moment I am finding this whole issue of how the bible is supposed to inform this issue extremely challenging at the moment. There is some sort of emotional comfort in looking for a blueprint in the bible, which I know doesn’t exist, and I sense that the Lord wants to cut away this way I have learned of relying on Scripture for absolutes but I am finding it a rather painful experience.

          • πŸ™‚ Thanks for your answer – for some reason I felt complimented by it.

            I think you make a very valuable distinction between preaching and mentoring. I believe that their is truly only so much you can learn by listening and/or reading – to grow beyond that you *must* start doing. And yes, it’s interesting to wonder how good Paul was at mentoring – he seems like the kind of guy who liked talking a lot. It’s also scary for the more mature one to let the other one “take the reigns” for a bit, because newbies can easily mess up.

            And yes – maybe we should then address the prescriptive and descriptive issue more directly before we continue too much with the discussion. How would you propose we do that?

  10. Levra, since your last blog post was so popular πŸ˜‰ – would you please consider doing another awesome blog post (soonish) about prescription and description in the bible and how it relates to deciding on church practices? I long to turn the tables and become YOUR long response friend πŸ˜›

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