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Monthly Archives: March 2008

peace.

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so on monday night i saw ‘no country for old men’ for the first time. i know, a little late, so what? i thought it was the best movie that i had seen in quite a while. i couldn’t believe the way that my emotions were caught up with the different characters. wow.

anyways, to be honest, the ending kind of bothered me. i’ve only seen it once, so i’ll have to watch it again to let it sink in but i felt short changed by the ending. i really wanted the movie to resolve, but then again, life isn’t like that.

here are two different commentaries by guys on the movie and the ending specifically.

thoughts?

peace.

i just realized that the more i read and talk about the kingdom of God, the less i understand it. after four years of bible college and even more of personal study, i still find myself lacking any real understanding of what God’s kingdom looks like. sheesh.

in hono(u)r of my americ(a)n friend michael i’m growing a beard. it’s in honour of michael because he, evidently, can not grow facial hair. here is a picture, i’ll keep you updated as i go. anyways, i can’t peg this exactly, but i put it somewhere around 3.5 weeks into the journey. fairly solid if i may say so.

i can now stroke my face with a menacing look and actually have it mean something. after all, i’ve often tried to stroke my face with a menacing look in the absence of any facial hair and boy, was the weird.

slainte (cheers) to facial hair.

peace.

jt.

thus far we’ve looked at different ways that the evangelical church in n.america has typically measured success. simply put, “bigness” is typically how success has been measured. however, this is arguably not a good way to measure success for a number of reasons. as David Fitch puts it, “our focus on numbers, bigness, and large institutions is therefore rooted in two of America’s sacred cows: the autonomy of the individual and the necessity to organize for economic efficiency.” as well as this, merely counting numbers doesn’t necessarily mean anything if sanctification does not accompany justification. finally, if a church gets too big there are many hurdles to overcome in order to be the Church, therefore, pursuing bigness in and of itself can deter the church from actually BEING the Church.

so, this being said, how ought we measure success?

i think a far more beneficial way is to see success as faithfulness.

Fitch puts it this way: “this vision for success aims toward faithfulness in being the body of Christ before the watching world. the goal is not bigness. the goal is to inflame the inner workings of his body…the goal is to immerse the stranger into the salvation of Jesus Christ.”

what would it look like then, to have practices that measure faithfulness? surely we will still measure or count things, however, we will measure and count DIFFERENT things than under the assumptions of modernity. Fitch argues that we ought to use the following as measures of success in being the Church:

1) count baptisms instead of decisions.
“let us have ways of initiating converts into the salvation of Jesus Christ and the work of God in the world that mean more than an isolated decision. let us take a person who has made a new decision to follow Christ from that initial decision into a step-by-step process that leads to baptism.” we must deny isolated decisions and look for ways that this persons decision will become the decision to be a faithful follower of Jesus. this kind of decision will only make sense within the immersion into the body of Christ via baptism. as Fitch says,” these baptisms are powerful points of entry into the world where Jesus is Lord, and th new initiate is born into service for Christ and his kingdom. baptisms then mean something…”

2) use qualitative measures of community.
we ought to really measure community. let’s go beyond survey questions about the quality of preaching, the worship, the usability of kid’s care services and let us ask questions in our surveys like this: “when was the last time someone spoke a hard truth into your life? was it done with love?” “when was he last time you confessed sin to someone you felt safe with in this community?” when was the last time you prayed with someone over an issue of needs or discernment in this body?” “when was the last time someone in this body visited you in the hospital or brought over a meal when you were sick?” “when was the last time a homeless person was brought into this congregation and made whole?” these are the types of questions that Fitch says we ought to be asking. QUALITATIVE questions.

we should ask each other questions that test the manner of life that we are living in order that we might be used by God as the body of Christ. Yoder puts it this way, “what needs to be seen is rather that the primary social structure through which the gospel works to change other structures is that of the Christian community. here, within this community, people are rendered humble and changed in the way they behave not simply by a proclamation directed to their sense of guilt but also by genuine social relationships with other persons who ask them about their obedience; who (in the words of Jesus) ‘bind and loose.'”

as Fitch says, “let us then turn from only measuring church attendance to measuring the life being lived in Christ…then we will be able to tell if being a Christian makes a difference. we will be able to tell whether what is going on within these boundaries is really the functioning body of Christ.”

3) measure the number of new church plants, not the size of church buildings.
“let us count the number of local congregations each church has formed outside itself instead of the attendance figures on sunday morning or the increased size of the worship facility…if indeed the facts are true that the greatest conversion growth occurs in churches when they grow from fifty to two hundred people, why is it that we insist on building bigger churches after they have reached one thousand?”

more can be said on all of this of course, and be sure to add your thoughts, but i’ll wrap up with that.

peace.

jt.

for our intents and purposes here i’d like to restate what i think it means to be successful (and even now i hesitate to use this word) as the Church. simply put, success as the Church comes when we *are* the people of God, not only within our church buildings, but in the world that is watching. to be the people of God is to be immersed in the way of Jesus, a way that is completely different than our current culture in north america. this means not only having different “beliefs” but more-so, actually LIVING differently and in a way that reflects the values and teachings of Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures. more will be said on this later but a few examples would consist of resisting materialism and the drive to build up for ourselves kingdoms on earth, loving one’s enemies as opposed to practicing vengeance and practicing justice and mercy as a community of believers as opposed to individual justice. in other words, we are called to EMBODY the gospel of Jesus as opposed to merely SPEAKING the gospel of Jesus. secondly, the Church is successful as the Church when the inner workings of the Church are practiced and lived out in the community of faith.

the later point is what i would like to examine at the moment. i think that scripture suggests, along with many others since, that the Church is DOOMED from actually being the Church if our goal is to “get bigger”. i wish to challenge the idea that a larger church necessarily is more successful at “doing church” (whatever exactly that means) especially given the fact that a church, if too big, is actually hindered from BEING the Church in the sense that it is harder to practice and live out the inner-workings of the Church.

a goal of the Church ought to be to bring new believers into maturity as followers of Christ and participants of salvation in the context of community. the question, as Fitch puts it, is “what kind of organization facilitates the inner workings of a local body of Christ that are necessary to properly mature new believers into followers of Christ and participants in his salvation through the body of Christ?”

again, i wonder if these inner-workings of the Body are at all hindered if a church becomes too big. the following is a lengthy but great quote from Fitch:

“once we see it is the quality of these inner workings of the body of Christ (not the quantity) that are necessary for the nurturance of each new convert, we can no longer manage the body of Christ as if its size is irrelevant. in fact, in critique of modernity, we should note that largeness and organizational efficiency risk crushing the goals and substance of what it was we were organizing for in the first place. if we make bigness and efficiency a goal in itself, we may leave the church void of its original calling to be the living workings of the body of Christ before a watching world. therefore, it will not do any longer to naively measure success via the size and efficiency of an organization to manufacture decisions for Christ. instead, we must have measures of success that locate whether an organization is indeed functioning as a living breathing body of Christ. this does not require that bigness in itself is antithetical to being the body of Christ. but what it may uncover is that bigness is a hurdle to overcome and not a goal to be sought in being the successful body of Christ.”

when decisions become a goal in and of themselves, then obviously it makes sense for the church to organize itself in such a way as to be efficient at accomplishing this goal. “but if we see that salvation is more than one’s personal transaction with God, if we see that salvation is the invitation into God’s cosmological work of redemption over sin through Jesus Christ, our idea of church changes and we must organize accordingly.” when we no longer separate one’s sanctification from justification but rather, recognize that one’s sanctification is dependent upon membership into the body, then our idea of the church shifts and we must organize differently.

Fitch sums up a quote by mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder by saying: “it does not make sense for the church to seek decisions for Christ as an end in itself apart from being his visible body on earth, which makes it possible for people to make such decisions. the church is much more than the machinery that produces decisions for Christ. it is the social space, under his lordship where the Holy Spirit works to build up believers and equip the saints (Eph. 4). it is the social foretaste of his reign where God is taking the rest of the world. it is spatial because we are a people “called out” from the world to be the ecclesia.”

it is only when the world sees the life of this new society (the Body) that they are made aware of their lostness and separation from God. out of this new life, the decision to a call for Christ, to repentance from sin and new life in Christ actually makes sense to those who are lost without Christ. Fitch carries this on by saying: “when we see the church like this, we cannot organize blindly for the manufacture of decisions. we must organize toward the goal of being the body of Christ, the manifestation of the work of his Spirit among his people, into which the lost are invited to be saved. we must organize for the facilitation of the inner workings of the body, not for the end result of decisions regardless of whatever it takes. we must measure for the quality of these inner workings that mark faithfulness to the call to be his body, not just measure numbers of decisions, which can be meaningless without a context that allows them to make sense.”

wow. so, in other words, the church must not organize itself in such a way as to simply manufacture or collect decisions for Christ. we must, as the Body, organize “toward the goal of being the body of Christ” and for the “facilitation of the inner workings of the body”. as we live this out and as we actively BE the Church in the world, then people see this alternate society that is under the lordship of Christ and can make decisions to become a part of this kingdom. NOW these decisions can actually make sense. they are no longer arbitrary. they are no longer self-serving. for they arise out of a longing to submit to Christ Jesus and to participate in a BETTER way, the way of the kingdom. on the other hand, people will never know what they are signing up for (sorry for the choice of words) so to speak, if the Church isn’t actively BEING the Church because we are merely settling for the manufacturing of decisions.

however, the problem is that these inner workings of the Church (that allow the Church to actually BE the Church and therefore draw out decisions that make sense) become more difficult the larger a body becomes. please note, i’m not saying that the inner workings of the Church are impossible if a church becomes too large, only that they become significantly more difficult. so, what exactly do we mean when we speak of the inner workings of the Church?!

as the body of Christ we:
– speak the truth one to another in love (eph. 4:15)
– we bring things out into the light (eph. 5:8-13)
– we gather together to resolve conflict and forgive one another (matt. 18:15-20)
– we discern and make decisions (matt. 18:15-20)
– we share the gifts of the Holy Spirit with one another for mutual upbuilding (1 cor. 12, 14; rom. 12:3-8; eph. 4:11-13; 1 pet. 4:10-11)
– we confess our sins one to another and pray for and anoint the sick (jms. 5:14-16)
– we gather to take part in the Lord’s Supper in his special presence and worship (1 cor. 11)

Fitch argues that, “activities such as these define the church as Christ’s body. they can happen here in a way like nowhere else. these inner workings, however, rely on interpersonal community that resists larger more efficient forms of organization.” the reliance of these inner workings upon genuine community means that larger communities may, in fact, hinder the Church. take the exercise of spiritual gifts in community as an example. for Paul and much of the new testament, the spiritual gifts define the very essence of the church. in order to fully exercise these gifts, “church members need to recognize, affirm, test each other’s exercising of the gifts in the arena of Christ’s body (1 thess. 5:19-21). this requires that we know one another. therefore, the exercise of one’s gifts will become more difficult the larger and more impersonal the church gets.” there are many other examples like this. in the same way, true community diminishes with increased size. and there really is no way for a larger church to mass-organize thousands of people for the goals of community. Fitch takes this a step farther saying, “it is nigh impossible to organize multiple groups who can genuinely come together to pray for one another, edify one another, support and affirm one another, correct and forgive one another. because in mass, groups will always tend to come together based upon affinity instead of the Lord’s Table. groups will not come together as black and white, Jew and Gentile, woman and man, poor and wealthy. such groups, when mass organized, easily degenerate into self-fulfillment enclaves that last only as long as we each have need of specific services and supports.” without a pastoral leader willing to guide this “inner working” of true community, it will be lost.

to wrap up, here is Fitch one more time:

“the body of Christ is an alive organism of the Spirit, which cannot be manufactured. it truly is a culture as opposed to a company. through our worship and conversations, our reading of the Word and ensuing hospitality, we learn a new way to speak and a new narrative to live. the body of Christ is a way of life lived and practiced, not a set of programs and activities volunteered for…evangelicals therefore should pursue a version of success that is formed out of faithfulness to God’s call to be his body as opposed to success via numbers. we should organize ourselves consciously away from the goal of getting big toward the goal of being the body.”

peace.

jt.