All Or Nothing!

Greg Boyd Teaching at Woodland Hills Church

Greg Boyd Teaching at Woodland Hills Church

Strasbourg Cathedral at sunset

Strasbourg Cathedral at sunset (Photo credit: Giant Ginkgo)

I am a fan of Greg Boyd’s books and sermons; I really appreciate his stand against Christendom or Constantinianism. Moreover, I value how he is one of the godfathers of contemporary Open Theism since I am an Open Theist as well. However, I recently heard a sermon entitled “We The Church” where his reasoning falls noticeably short. It appears that he forgoes thinking and looking at the matter all the way through because his criticism of others in this area could very well apply to himself. Let me explain the matter fully before continuing with the main point that I want to make.

In the sermon, he relates to his listeners how Woodland Hills Church identifies itself with Anabaptism. He provides a short history lesson on Anabaptistica and he focuses on the nature of the universal Ekklesia from the perspective of the Anabaptists. Eventually he addresses how post-first century Christianity in due course allowed the world to squeeze it “into its own mould” (Romans 12:2 J.B. Phillips). Resulting in the aligned Constantinian Ekklesia to become analogs of Roman and Grecian worshippers of pagan gods even adopting elaborate temples to worship their god, in other words they started to build elaborate cathedrals. Boyd goes on to admit that the Anabaptists met in homes to worship and that they viewed “the people as the Church” or God’s temple in place of a building in the same fashion as the first-century Christians (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Now we come to the problem, Woodland Hills is a 2,500-member church; technically this church would be qualified as a megachurch. A 2,000 + capacity facility hardly qualifies as someone’s living room. A megachurch is not someone’s home; it is a few marble statues or one ostentatious mural away from being called a cathedral. Just because you are not a member of some form of the Catholic Church that does not give you, a free pass if you know the truth of the matter.

This is one of things that really vex me about contemporary Anabaptism, even those that claim to be fully aligned with the renowned group of 16th century radicals treat the movement like a buffet in Vegas. They walk along and select the things they want but reject those things that may hamper his or her preferred religious lifestyle. In my opinion, it is all or nothing or just let it go!

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8 thoughts on “All Or Nothing!

  1. i believe I commented on this on your posting on YAR…

    Here’s my thinking, in case I didn’t: A large church attendance on a Sunday morning (or multiple services) is not a good sign or a bad sign of a church… it is what the church is doing with their space, their time, and in the other 6 and a half days of the week.

    While I agree that community in an Anabaptist sense is hard to do in a 2500 member congregation, if all you are focused on is the “Sunday morning experience” then the point of Anabaptism has been lost. The Anabaptist teaching did not negate the central worship service… it deprioritized it. What mattered is what is done the rest of the time.

    Reading Boyd’s books, listening to his podcasts, and looking at the evidence of the folks who are actually in attendance points to a people who are not just focused on the Sunday morning experience.

    Should there be more “small” experiences in the church? Yes… but this does not mean that “large” experiences are inherently “unChristian”… just that we would need to maintain extra vigilance to make sure that they don’t become so.

    • Robert

      I have a few questions for you. What do you think the purpose was for the New Testament to depict ekklesiastical governance and organization in the manner that it did? Do you think Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in “How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth” on page, 97 is correct when it says:

      “Our assumption, along with many others, is that unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is merely narrated or described can never function in a normative way.”

      • A fair question. my answer:

        A lack of explicit prescription for church function is not evidence from the Biblical witness to limit church functions to only those explicit things. So, while Paul’s letters don’t mention centralized, synagogal worship settings (what “modern” churches look more like), this does not mean a) they did not happen and b) they are to be avoided as anathema.

        But also, neither is a lack of explicit PROscription for church functions evidence that all things are allowed. There are certain things that are clearly out of character of Jesus, the person we all follow. We don’t lord it over each other, we don’t show favoritism based upon race, creed, class, economics, we don’t advocate for chaotic disorder but for general respect and love for all present.

        so… to go to Paul’s letters and see them as a manual of “Here is what must be done” or “Here is what is to be avoided” and limit our church functions to only explicitly noted things I think is unfair to the much more dynamic evidence that we find in the narrative of the book of Acts. Christians gathered in the temple as part of Jewish worship (they were Jews), Christians gathered in synagogues, Christians gathered at a riverside and discussed things together, Christians sang many different kinds of songs, Christians prayed outloud… and quietly, Christians gathered in the market place, and Christians spoke in the courtroom. The specifics of the regular gathering are not defined by the Scriptural witness, just general guidelines of “If you DO gather, make sure you act like Christ in these ways.”

      • Note, please, that I’m not saying that large gatherings like Boyd’s church are the “normative” model that everyone should follow… but I’m also not saying that they are something to be avoided simply because Paul’s letters don’t mention such large gatherings.

        An interesting question in my mind… in Acts 2-4, when it talks about them gathering in the Temple, how many gathered at a time? Only 10-20? Or were they gathering in the thousands at the temple in a large corporate worship experience? After all, there were thousands of them in Jerusalem… If they all show up at the temple at regular times, we can expect gatherings at LEAST in the hundreds…

  2. Robert

    First, I would like to say that I am enjoying these exchanges and I hope to have more in the future.

    Now your initial response raised some other inquiries. How do you define apostolic tradition? Moreover, what value do you think they have, are they important for congregations of all ages? Compare with 1 Corinthians 11:1-2.

    In addition, I think that the disciples’ presence in the temple in Acts chapter 2 was for proliferation of the gospel because in the third chapter and in the fourth that is exactly what they were doing. At the very least, they were gathered in the areas of the temple that was open to the public in general and we have to factor in that Acts 2:47 mention homes or houses. Evangelism must have been occurring because many continued to be added to the community (See Acts 5:42).

    As mentioned, we see the apostles actively preaching and teaching there to unbelievers. Further evidence that there were house churches in Jerusalem Acts 12:10–17 records a meeting of believers in the house of Mary, mother of John Mark. Verse 12 mentions many were congregated together praying.

    Looking back at Acts chapter one may ask what was the purpose or function of the upper room, was it the beginning of the whole house church system?

    • Okay… well, let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 11:1-2… by “traditions” are we talking about the traditions such as liturgies and such… or are we talking about the traditions that Paul mentions several chapters later that he “passed down”? I’m not convinced that Paul was specifically saying “These are the normative way of doing worship across the board” vs. “These are the fundamentals of what is in the apostle’s teachings”.

      So, when it comes to “apostolic tradition”, I think what is more important based upon Paul, Peter, James, the book of Acts, etc., is not as much function and form of the church gathering but the basics of the fundamentals of life in Christ. Corinth was an unruly bunch… and Paul needed to rein them in, frequently… I would suggest that, when it comes to applying Corinthians to church function, it would be better applied to reining in superfluidity and chaotic stuff in a church than in any necessary normative prescriptions of church form and function. It comes down to making sure to keep to the character of Christ and the unity of the body (1 Corinthians 11-14) and remembering the fundamental basics (1 Corinthians 15).

      I am not denying house churches… They are good… nothing wrong with them… they may very well be the new church paradigm.

      As for the upper room… I don’t think it was the beginning of any such system… it was simply a convenient meeting place for all the faithful followers of Jesus. I mean, can you REALLY fit up to 120 people (1 Corinthians 1 gives that number) in a house? For that matter, 1 Corinthians 15 says that Jesus actually appeared to up to 500 people before his ascension. So… I’m not sure the “upper room” was a “house church” size like we like to think of it. It was a place big enough to hold them all, a common place, a place that ANYONE could use if they had need (the Temple had such rooms), and so on. I think the upper room was less, again, of a prescription of how things should be done and more of just a narrative of how they did things when stuff happened.

  3. AO Green, I sympathize with your concern. I attend a fair-sized Pentecostal church and often express a wish for the good old days when things were smaller, closer, and more spirited. However, as Robert Martin seems to suggest, I’ve found that some of the ministries of our church, such as its small groups, can meet that need of mine.

    BTW, being an open theist as well as Pentecostal, I’m also a “fan” of Greg Boyd’s books. In fact I have ready to post at my Open Theism blog in the middle of June a brief review of the four books of his that our family has.

    • Bob Hunter

      My whole argument is that we have the New Testament and history telling us that certain things was how it originally was done. In churches you always hear the proclamation that they is/want to be a New Testament church. But they always fall short when it modifies their lifestyle.

      By the way I started following your blog not too long ago.

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