I have really enjoyed reading "Reimagining Church". After the deconstruction of the traditional church in "Pagan Christianity" it is good to rediscover what should be taking its place by following Frank Viola through a whole series of "re-imaginings" of every aspect of church.
Frank is very thorough in his writing. All the major points are underpinned with references to the Bible or other writers. And there are lots of magnificent quotations from others so my book wish-list has grown. Yet he is easy to read and some of the time you can almost hear him speaking.
What comes in the place of traditional church is organic church. Church that carries the DNA of its Lord. Church that is a living body with Jesus at its head. Church that is modelled on the life of the community among the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. This organic nature of the church has big implications:
- the church grows of itself
- it reseeds and plant itself
- organization and control is systemic, not hierarchical
Reimagining the Church Meeting
It is becoming more and more clear that the Protestant Reformers only did half the job. They recovered the truth of the priesthood of all believers but failed to restore its organic practice. They got stuck at the theology of salvation (soteriology) and did not move on to ecclesiology.
In Reimagining the Church Meeting Frank sketches this great vision of the gathering manifesting Christ:
"we gather so that the Lord Jesus can manifest Himself in His fullness. And when that happens, the body is edified.
"Note that the only way the Christ can be properly expressed is if every member of a church freely supplies that aspect of the Lord that he or she has received. ... The Lord cannot be fully disclosed through only one member, He is far to rich for that."
Christ is assembled in our midst as each of us is a part of the puzzle and as we fit together in our places .... when this happens Christ is glorified and the principalities and powers are shamed. And this was the mission of Christ ... to (re)launch His Kingdom back on earth through His creatures together manifesting Him.
"the dominant thought in Paul's letters that the church is Christ in corporate expression"
- from human perspective the motivation is mutual edification
- from God's perspective it is manifestation of His Son
Participating in an NT church meeting meant giving more than receiving:
- in the trad church we go as an audience to get entertainment and teaching,
- in the NT organic church we go to bring and share our experience of Christ.
The trad church has it own sustaining force, the organization, the liturgy, the tradition has its own momentum so it keeps business-as-usual going on its own and is oblivious to the fact that the Spirit of God may have left the building. By contrast the organic NT church is dependent on the driving force of the Spirit. If the spiritual life runs to a low ebb - the church dies. Rather like the Tabernacle of Moses where the sacrifices and rituals continued even though the Lord's Glory had departed ... the empty ritual continued.
... how much of our church life has been like that, running empty ritual without the presence of the Spirit of God?
"... the vice of the institutional church lies in its reliance upon humanly devised, program-driven religious system"
At first I was a bit uncomfortable with the concept of 'organic church'. Probably due to the association with promotion of less industrialised forms of foodstuff - 'organic', 'biological' and 'green' seem to be hot marketing messages.
But the idea is growing on me (Oh! sorry, that terrible pun had to force it's way in somewhere). Organic is the nature of the world that God created. It was flourishing organically when he saw that it was good. He created it in such a way that life of all kinds could be sustained in a complex evolving system where each kind of organism from minute to huge can find its place. So it seems natural that the church that God builds is organic in nature.
And the headship of Jesus is an integral part of the organic nature of the church. Leadership is another strong theme of the book, echoing some of "Pagan Christianity", weaning us off our Western addiction to corporate, hierarchical governance models to realise that each of us is responsible for our personal relationship with Jesus and to bring that relationship and its fruits into the gathering of the saints so that Christ is manifest. Ephesians 4
So Jesus is the leader of the meeting and the head of the body. Frank provides a careful exposition of the traditional mapping of various roles mentioned in the Epistles onto our perception of hierarchical leadership structures.
- 'elder' refers to character
- 'overseer' refers to function
- 'shepherd' refers to gifting
"our western obsession with offices and titles has led us to superimpose our own ideas of church order onto the NT"
"superintending is largely a passive role"
And there is a whole appendix devoted to all the Bible passages that are traditionally used to support hierarchical leadership models. The mistranslations, deliberate political translations and misinterpretations are carefully explained. So that in the end there is only one possibility. Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, is the Head of the Church and each member is subject to Him and not to any mediator, go between or system of covering in between.
I am not going to trot out the old cliché "this book will change your life". But it is certainly changing my view of life as a Christian and the essentials of being church. It confirms many aspects of our current church situation - meeting in a home, in a group that has deliberately not appointed leaders and where we are sharing responsibilities in our Sunday meetings.
But I do have some questions on points of detail.
1. Frank is very strong on unity of the Body of Christ.
"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Romans 15:7 (NIV)
The church is made up of all whom God has accepted
- any other requirements result in the formation of a sect
The only church we should join is the one Jesus Christ began
Unity with unbelievers is also a mistake
- unbelievers in the gathering is quite OK, they are welcome
-- but unbelievers are not brethren
On the distinction between brethren and visitors to the gathering - how do you apply that in practice? Does not the actual application have features of sect forming that denominations are accused of?
2. On subjection and obedience p. 213 we are to be in a spirit of humble subjection towards those in authority in the natural order - God had placed them in authority.
"... the Bible never teaches that God has given believers authority over other believers."
But those who have claimed or constructed positions of authority in the church have usurped the authority of Christ.
So God has has a part in appointing Barack Obama to the US Presidency but no part in the appointment of NT Wright as Bishop of Durham? That seems to be the logical consequence of Frank's explanation. Is it what he intended?
I have dumped a copy of my rough notes on a separate page. These were gathered using Zotero and a Moleskine notebook. They include lots of quotes from sections that caught my attention and a couple of book references. But they are not completely representative - in some of the most gripping chapters I did not pause to take notes!