ChurchETHOS

Big Ideas – 11.4.08

Posted in body of Christ, christian habits by Nathan Creitz on November 4, 2008
I am a seminary student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Each day brings new insights so I thought I would try and reflect upon my day and the big ideas I’ve learned. It’s hard to find space to ponder and meditate when I’ve got so much to read, so many papers to write, so many lectures to attend, and so many tests to take. But I think the most valuable times in seminary are the times we can reflect on the big ideas, talk them over with friends, and put them into practice. These posts will be an attempt to engage with you who are reading so that we can process these ideas conversationally. 

Ecclesiology

How do we go about forming an ecclesiology? What are the essential ingredients of church life that should be universal to all followers of Jesus living in community? Are there Scriptural norms that should inform the way we live life together and the beliefs that we believe together?

The Pre-Constantinian Model
Today I was speaking with a couple of friends about a book we have been reading called Journey to Jesus by Robert Webber. I really enjoyed the book but just like most books about ecclesiology, the author seems to get stuck on one system or one paradigm that seems best to him. A lot of it is great stuff but I find it hard to believe that this is the best or only way. This particular author wants to renew the ancient traditions and rites of the pre-Constantinian church. I like studying the ancient church but I think this is a bit short-sighted. Even the second and third century church was a product of its culture. Some of that culture is similar but much of it has changed in our Post-Constantinian Christendom of today.

Postmodern Model
Another friend of mine believes we need to focus on today’s culture to the exclusion (almost) of the ancient way of life of the church. He would argue that in our postmodern culture, preaching and singing are antiquated and no longer connect. Organized religion is out and there is no need for elders and hierarchy. He would say that every believer has access to the Bible today so there is no need for one person to teach, let’s learn communally. Again, I find this to be limited and, though I think it’s important to understand the modern culture, I don’t want to reject all of the ancient practices and habits of the church.

New Testament Models
Then there are those who believe we should be going back to the New Testament church. This sounds great, but what do they mean? The Corinthian Church? The Church in Ephesus, Jerusalem, or Laodicea? Do we model the leadership of our churches around Paul’s tent-making, bivocational ministry or his full-time missionary journeys? I love discovering principles in the New Testament that informs the way we structure (or unstructure) church life today but is it right to do the house church thing or the large church thing…or both separately, or both together? 

Jesus Model
Yet another friend has rejected all of these concepts and is trying to be like Jesus before the church was established. He believes the church should grow and develop organically as we try and live like Jesus. So, he spends time in his neighborhood making disciples and gathering them together in intense and intentional community. As leaders emerge he empowers them to serve God and make disciples in their own neighborhood. If it grows into a large church, fine. But if not, he will always be discipling men and women to become true followers of Christ.

Wonderful ideas! One person is concerned with embracing our modern culture and making church relevant to them. Another person wants to revisit the ancient church and reestablish its rites and routines. Another person studies the New Testament for insight. A fourth person tries to live like Jesus lived with His followers. Why can’t all of these be viable options? What do they have in common? I think everyone would say our Greatest Commission is to make disciples. Is it best to do that in a large church or a house church, a postmodern church or a traditional church? No matter what way a person decides, I think there is room for all of them, even all of them together as one church, perhaps. I know a girl that never went to church until she found a small group of believers who met in a house and ate meals together and shared life. I know a guy who hated the intense scrutiny of such an intimate setting and needed (at first) the anonymity of the large crowd and the option to go deeper as the Lord led. Could one local church incorporate all of these ideas in their ecclesiology?

An Integrated Ecclesiology
As for me, where do I land on the issue? I’m not sure. I was the pastor for four years of a new church that focused on intentional, relational discipleship. Could I one day pastor a large church that has programs and policies and procedures? Maybe, if I can still invest in a few people one-on-one and encourage church planting rather than simply making our church as large as possible (numerically). Could I one day pastor a small house church where we don’t preach sermons or sing songs of praise together but spend most of our time in table fellowship? Maybe, if at various times we can gather together with a larger body of believers to celebrate what God is doing corporately. Whether in small or large churches I think the essentials remain the same.

So here are the essentials in my opinion: Love God, Love People, Make Disciples, and teach them to do the same. If there are ways that the ancient or New Testament churches have found to do that successfully that still work today, then let’s integrate that into what we are doing. If there are new ways in modern culture that demand a shift in thinking about how we do those essential things today, then let’s do that too. But let’s not get swept away by methodology and “tactics”. Let’s meditate on how we can love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and how we can love our neighbor as ourselves. Let’s pray for opportunities to make disciples and teach them to obey all that our Lord has commanded. What has He commanded? To Love God, Love People and to make disciples and to teach them to obey. It’s a beautiful circle that is clear and unchanging regardless of culture. These are the things we are to do as a church. It’s simple. It’s hard, but it’s simple. Love God, Love People, Make Disciples, and repeat.

I think Paul had this in mind when he told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Here we find four “generations” of disciples. Paul taught Timothy to love God, love people, make disciples and teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded. Timothy then entrusted that to reliable men who would then go on to teach others. These commands that we have been taught to entrust to others is why we have a church today. The church has stood the test of time because of the “ecclesiology” that Jesus instigated at the very beginning. Sure there are other commands and other aspects of church life: sacrifice, hospitality, preaching, fellowship, service, etc. But everything that we do should be out of love for God and people and from our desire to help others to do the same.

Related Post: An Unnatural Life

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7 Responses

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  1. Tim said, on November 4, 2008 at 7.57 pm

    I think in order to develop a biblical ecclesiology, we must first have a correct Christology. A biblical Chistology leads to a biblical missiology, and our missiology must be used to form our ecclesiology.

  2. Nathan Creitz said, on November 5, 2008 at 8.12 am

    Great perspective Tim, I like the order and the emphasis you place on the necessary “-ologies”. I think you are correct. My emphasis, I believe, is similar as I am starting with the commands of Jesus (Christology) which leads to the mission which is to make disciples of all nations (missiology). Therefore, the ecclesiology may be anything that accomplishes that without compromising other “-ologies”.

    Thanks again for your contribution.

  3. Rob French said, on November 7, 2008 at 7.28 am

    Christology is important, as is theology proper, pneumatology, and a host of other “-ologies” (Note, I’m not saying Christians have to be technically familiar with all/any of said terms!). All of Scripture speaks of Christ, so we can’t simply do the “Red Letter Christian” thing.

    I do think the somewhat “holistic” approach to which you’ve alluded is useful, and I’m reminded of some teaching by Drs. Richard Pratt and John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary.

    In figuring out an appropriate Biblical approach to any of our “-ologies” (including ecclesiology and missiology), they might suggest a three-pronged approach:

    (1) Private interpretation of Scripture
    (2) Interaction in community with present believers
    (3) Historical continuity with past believers

    Striving to keep these balanced will hopefully be at least somewhat useful in avoiding three negative things:

    (1) exaltation of ourselves and our own opinions
    (2) casting the church to the winds of cultural change
    (3) stagnating into “dead orthodoxy”

    while also striving for three positive things:

    (1) Acknowledging the Spirit’s work in individual believers
    (2) Keeping the church relevant to the modern situation
    (3) Building on the Spirit’s work in our forebears

    My two cents (you get a lot of words for the two cents, but I can’t claim they’re actually any more valuable!)

    -Rob

  4. Nathan Creitz said, on November 7, 2008 at 7.53 am

    Hey Rob,

    Well thought out answer…thanks for your two cents. I would’ve paid a whole dollar for that 🙂

    I agree with you that generally people don’t need to know the terms “pneumatology” and “ecclesiology”…I lean more towards Biblical theology than systematic theology. They should be taught the Bible and learn these “-ologies” more inductively in my opinion.

    Your summary of RTS approach to theology is a good one. Always helpful to keep in mind our approach and I especially like the personal interp. + communal interp. + historical interp. (my own wording of your 3 points). Today, I think people are tending more towards one or the other and aren’t willing to include all 3 to inform their theology.

    Thanks for your contribution to this blog.

  5. Rob French said, on November 8, 2008 at 9.14 am

    No problem. Thanks for the insights.

    Just to be mildly contentious, albeit in an amicable way… I thought I might mention that one of the fathers of modern Biblical theology, Geerhardus Vos, points out that Biblical theology is no more (or less) “Biblical” than systematic theology. Both “transform” Scripture by applying a framework to it: topical in the case of of systematic theology, historical in the case of Biblical theology.

    I’ve become quite interested in literary theology, which approaches the books of Scripture by considering original author, original audience, original purpose/concerns. Yet, at the same time, I have to agree somewhat with Dr. Frame that ultimately, the type of theology that is most involved in day-to-day life is systematic theology–because, in theory, it deals with topics/situations, which frankly is how we naturally approach everyday life.

    I think, however, that good literary and Biblical theology help us improve how we develop our “systematic” theology, that is, how we figure out how God’s revelation should impact our day-to-day lives.

    As an aside, you might want to check out some of Dr. Frame’s stuff… visit http://www.frame-poythress.org … Although a PCA pastor and thus Westminster subscriptionist, he nonetheless has fairly open views on things like how worship ought to be conducted, the role of preaching/teaching and highly educated clergy, etc.

    -Rob

  6. Nathan Creitz said, on November 8, 2008 at 9.39 am

    Thanks Rob for the amicable and substantive debate. I agree that all of it is Biblical Theology in the largest of senses. On the other hand, when I am studying Paul as he writes to the Romans, I try to consider what Paul is saying and not conflate my systematic theology into it. Sometimes we have our own theology systematized in our heads and so when we come across a verse or a passage and it seems to go against what we think we put our own interpretation on it rather than think open mindedly about what the author is saying. Biblical theology starts with the context and seeks to ask, “What is this author saying to the original readers?” It’s a different starting point and I prefer starting with the passage and its context and not trying to have everything completely figured out and systematized (though I study systematic theology and don’t think it is without it’s merit).

    Make sense? I think in the end we are talking about the same thing. I mean, all of the approaches are helpful to understanding God’s Word. We all just choose to approach it at a different angle.

  7. Rob French said, on November 9, 2008 at 7.29 am

    Actually, what you just described there is what I termed “literary theology” and is what I generally attempt to do when studying passages.

    “Biblical theology” is in fact a historical discipline popularized by guys like Geerhardus Vos, and deals with “the history of redemption”. So, when someone starts talking about (for example) “covenant theology”, they are generally referring to a particular view of “Biblical theology”, with an overarching view of the covenant as the structure of Scripture. As might be evident, this “imposes” as much on Scripture as systematic theology because it comes to Scripture with (in this case) the view of the covenant as being the structuring phenomenon.

    But, what you are calling “biblical theology” and what I called “literary theology” are essentially the same.

    -Rob


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