Friday, September 12, 2008



Well it’s been interesting and fun, and I guess that the main thing that WORRIED me from reading Frank’s responses is that we seem at points to not be hearing each other, and what we are actually saying. One illustration must suffice. I certainly do think that the people of God are a living entity, call it a body if you like, and so an organism, but I also believe that any organism inevitably has organization (the question is what kind), and God in his graciousness has given us the task to help in that process. Not all ‘organization’ is organic, but some of it of course is in Christ’s body. So, Frank you have misread me on this point.

What I do insist on is that Paul is indeed using a body metaphor to try and describe the spiritual reality that exists in the church and the spiritual union that exists between Christ and his people. It is simply an analogy, and far from a perfect one (let’s please not call anyone the toenail of the body of Christ :).

The other thing that I found odd in this whole response is that Frank seemed to think I was accusing him of advocating leaderless Christianity. Nope, I was suggesting he was advocating inadequate leadership, and inadequately Biblically modeled leadership for the church, especially as it now exists. We just have to agree to disagree on this. And why exactly should we be following an example of ecclesiology and leadership that only a minority of even house churches follow, which is a tiny, tiny minority of the church universal? That should give pause NOT to the vast majority of the church but rather to that tiny tiny minority and cause them to think—are we missing something here?

What also becomes clear is that Frank and I disagree on the degree to which the Trinity is a model for church life. Again Frank misses my point that I DO think that being partakers of the divine nature means we model on a lesser scale the character God, and have everlasting life, which on a lesser scale is not merely like but derived from the eternal life of God.

What I found quite shocking is that Frank seems to think we can know far more than what Scripture says about the inner life of the Trinity before the universe was created. Where in the world do we get the idea that the Trinity was involved in a mutually submissive dance of giving and taking before all time? The only thing the Bible says about what the Father and the Son and the Spirit were doing back then was creating the universe, or God was planning to redeem it. That’s all folks. We know next to nothing about how the Trinity interacted back then. I guess Frank has been reading too many theologians who don’t feel compelled to ground their theologizing in a close reading of what Scripture actually says. Otherwise, I can’t figure out where this is coming from-- Grenz, Giles, Volf, and Bilizekian I guess? And not an exegete amongst them.

I also find Frank’s whole understanding of the interpretation of the Greek Fathers on the Trinity more than a little wrong. They insisted equally on the oneness and on the threeness of the Trinity, and they were not for blending together the three as if whatever the Father said the Son also said and the Spirit. For example talking about the Son-Father or about the Father dying on the cross or the like was condemned as a heresy. Their words, deeds, and personhood can all be distinguished without turning this into tri-theism.

The Trinity is three distinguishable persons and yes the three can have a conversation, and each could play their part. The fact that they agree doesn’t mean that only one person spoke! That would be like arguing when the three Musketeers said in unison “all for one and one for all” they never said anything individually. The fact that the three agree doesn’t mean they are all speaking in every instance.

But when the Holy Spirit inspires a Christian to speak, it is of course she/he who is speaking, inspired by the Spirit. If you have listened intently enough and spoken faithfully enough, what you say can be called broadly the Word of God. You are speaking for God in such cases, not speaking as God-- either Father, Son or Spirit. The last thing we need in the church is people going around claiming that they speak AS Jesus. That way lies madness, and if it were true, then such a person would become uncorrectable, indeed how dare we correct them? No, we need to take the warnings in 1 Cor. about sifting the words of Christian prophets absolutely seriously. Paul’s warning make evident that we are not, in this life, just extensions of God or Christ. God in any case does not need human beings to express himself on earth. He can do it directly of course, coming down in a theophany. He has however graciously chosen to use us.

As for hermeneutics, Frank seems to me, unless I am missing something, to be adopting what I can only call a spiritualist hermeneutic which privileges theology over history, and ignores the progressive nature of revelation in the canon. I quite agree with Frank that we need to read the earlier part of the canon in light of the later part. That does not mean that we then have permission to read the later part of the canon back into the earlier part when it is not there, and more to the point the NT writers were not suggesting it was! The author of Hebrews put it well when he said the previous revelation was partial and piecemeal and the fullness of revelation came in Christ. That’s a historical perspective on things, and the right one. More on this in my forthcoming two volume work on NT theology and ethics entitled The Indelible Image.

The danger in canonical criticism, which most NT scholars find seriously flawed (see the criticisms now in J.K. Mead's Biblical Theology), is that it denies the historical meaning of the text over and over again, which is why it is called a theological or even Gnostic hermeneutic by some. We are not the inspired writers of the canon, and we do not have the right to read into the text things God didn’t inspire those writers to say. Our job is to interpret the text, not remake it in terms of our modern meaning-making exercises.

One of the ways to advocate a position is by what I would call the divide and conquer method. We see this in Frank’s work where he tries to make neat distinctions between church meetings, evangelistic meetings etc. But does the NT encourage us to make these sort of hard and fast distinctions—well no, not really. Church meetings could be evangelistic meetings, they could be council meetings, they could be fellowship or worship meetings, they could include all of these on one occasion.

Another good example of a distinction that is not based in the NT is Frank’s distinction between Paul’s moral authority and his official authority. Paul most certainly did believe he had apostolic authority over his converts, which is why he was perfectly happy to command them when they needed it, to insist on various things, even placing his own imperatives next to Jesus’ in 1 Cor. 7. Notice how he distinguishes his own words from the words of Jesus “I say, not the Lord” says Paul in 1 Cor. 7. This should make ever so clear that: 1) Paul did not believe in the concept of Christians speaking AS Jesus (not even in his own case!). Jesus had already spoken for himself; and 2) he believed his own inspired words had the same authority over his converts as Jesus’. This is more than moral human authority, this is apostolic authority derived from Christ himself—i.e. top down authority. So Frank and I will have to continue to disagree on this, without being disagreeable.

One of the things I find ironic, is that the precious few NT scholars Frank finds that agree, in part, with some of his notions, would vehemently deny many of the building blocks of his major theses. For example, I studied with Gordon Fee, and I knew Fred Bruce, who was a Plymouth Brethren. Neither of them would agree with most of the ecclesiology enunciated by Frank. And neither does Jimmy Dunn who, like myself, is involved in the Methodist Church. Criticisms of the institutional church do not connote endorsement of Frank’s alternative model. Nor would theologians like Bonhoeffer agree either. In other words, Frank cites them when they agree with him. They have been sound-byted to support views they would not be entirely happy with, and exegetical interpretations they would often repudiate.

Robert Banks is another story. He is the one NT scholar of international reputation who has stepped out on the limb Frank is also sitting on. It’s an interesting limb of the tree called the church, but it won’t bear the weight of the whole church, indeed time will tell whether it bears the weight of the few who are out there on that limb now. I’ve tried to coax Frank in from the limb. Looks like I failed.

Frank I'm all for consenual decision making where possible. It is the consensus of the vast majority of the church now and historically that you are wrong. I will stand with them.

Blessings, Ben


Unknown said...

Wow. "Not an exegete among them" feels a bit strong.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Hi Ben,
Speaking of dialogues with fellow Christians there is an emergentist Christian author and speaker whom I'd like to see you dialogue with, i.e., Peter Rollins. He speaks in the U.S. annually, notably at Calvin College among other places. Here's two of his more recent blog pieces:

Ben Witherington said...

Definition: Exegete-- " a person who works with and interprets the Bible on the basis of the original language text without the filter of translations, and is conversant with the secondary literature on the text of a scholarly, not merely a popular nature."


LGM#3 said...


Very nicely done. I agree with you wholeheartedly concerning some of the theoretical speculation coming out of Theological circles in the last century. Stanley Hauerwas is one I have in mind in particular. At one point he notes that he much more knowledgeable in Aristotle's ethics than he is in the New Testament. As in Hauerwas' case, many of these Theologians haven't taken the time to learn and work with the Greek and Hebrew, as you've noted several times, which legitimates the claim that they're not exegetes. But I'd also argue that many of these theologians have imbibed a Postmodern mode of doing theology (e.g., their epistemology) that isn't really conversant with contemporary philosophy, resulting in much opaque and obscure speculation.

Lawrence M.

P.S. I just did a post comparing how a particular media pundit has been hounding and pounding Barack Obama for some of his associations in a manner very similar to ways in which Jesus was reprimanded for associating with the sinners and tax collectors. Let me know what you think if you have the time.

Bill Heroman said...

Ben, there's no airtight, slam-dunk case for house church, but to be fair, the typical defense of pastor/clergy and sunday service is pasted together outside of NT context entirely. And I have to say your refutations of Frank's "assertions" (in both books, now) have contained at least as many assertions as you have cited him as making.

Descriptive vs. prescriptive also comes up against the blank spots in our canvas. Neither traditional nor "house" church folks can make an absolute case that we have the 'true way'. God help us if we could.

I appreciate a lot about your comments, but you're pretty defensive about traditional assumptions. I don't think your arguments for your own position are anywhere close to airtight. Yet you seem to feel assured they are. Ah, well. As you say, we shall disagree...

But I think Frank has a better case than you give him credit for. Not as airtight as [you think] he'd have it be, certainly. But more than enough to proceed on.

We'll see what happens out on this limb. My only request, Ben, is please don't discourage others from coming out here with us. Take it from Gamaliel - you never know what God may be doing...

And again, thanks so very, very much for the conversation.

andrewbourne said...

I am concerned Ben on your use of three person for the Trinity could be interpreted as Tritheism. Also your use of person is difficult it appears to assume what the word Person means when applied to the three person of the Trinity. As per dancing involving the Trinity this is a misunderstanding of the word perichoresis. The word is concerned with indwelling so total that it strains our language and knowledge to understand the concept. I acknowledge that you state areas of mystery concerning God. Barth states our knowledge of God begins with the revealed which i feel has problems but is a good starting point. It may be that Viola has confused Biblical Theology with exegesis. For the Person related to Trinity Alan Torrance `Persons in Communion` and John Zizioulas` work are good places to start

Ben Witherington said...

Perichoriesis has nothing to do with a dance of submission between persons. Nothing. It has to do with mutual indwelling, a condition, not an action or act of the will like submission is.


Ben Witherington said...

Bill, this is not so. There are leadership roles spoken of and endorsed in the nT, and we have both the elements of, the creeds for the confessions for, the singing for worship in the NT. In addition to which Paul's or James etc. letters were meant to be performed orally in the church as part of the worship srrvice, so we do indeed also have preaching in these house meetings. You are right that after NT times this developed into a clergy and lay distinction. But the leader follower distinction and worship practices were always there.


Corpus Christi Outreach Ministries said...

I just stuck this on another site and thought i might as well 'paste' it here! I love the dialogue. I know of no other 'Arminian scholar' who has enetred the fray in such a strong and popular way. I know of too many calvanists who have done so [Though I consider myself a calvanist!] This shows you the need to be able to hear and listen to all sides. I mostly come down on franks side of ecclesiology, but some have such an anti clergy spirit that they cant see truth in the other camps.

ACTS study

Introduction; Yesterday I took my kids to the mall after church, I usually get lost in the book store. Even though I bought an entire shelf of books a few months back, I still can’t help from buying more books! So I picked up a few more and found a comfortable bench and started reading the History of Christianity. At the house I am almost thru with another ‘history of Christianity’ that covers the story of the church from Pentecost to the present day. I own a few complete volumes and have checked out many from the libraries over the years. I read from both the Protestant and Catholic [Orthodox] perspectives. I also read from the ‘out of the institutional church’ perspective. These are the histories of various groups of believers who never became Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. I consider all these groups Christian and appreciate the tremendous wealth of knowledge that these communities provide.
Now, as we go thru Acts, I want to stay as close as possible to both the doctrine and practices of the early church as seen in scripture. We are not the first [or last!] study that has attempted to do this. That is attempted to ‘get back to the original design’ as much as possible. Historically you have whole categories of believers who fit into this mindset. They are referred to as ‘Restorationist’ as opposed to Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. The Church of Christ, The Disciples of Christ, the Anabaptists and others fall into this class. I believe you find true believers in all of these groups.
As you read the history of Christianity as told by the other perspectives, you will find it interesting as to the way the institutional church describes these ‘out of church’ groups. Some are called heretics [Waldensians] others are simply seen as fringe groups. The strong institutional church has branded those who would reject her authority as schismatics and heretics on the grounds of their refusal to submit to the hierarchy of the institutional church.
As we go thru Acts, I want us to read carefully and see the story as told by Luke. We will not find ‘another more true group’ in the sense that I want to start some new denomination. I also don’t want to simply find proof texts to justify doctrine. Many well meaning believers can find the verses they like the most and use them to combat the other points of view. We will see verses emphasizing the importance of water baptism, or various truths on the outworkings of the Spirit. We will see prophets functioning and read texts that clearly teach Gods sovereignty [as many as were ordained unto eternal life believed]. Instead of getting lost on these side trails, I want us to read with an open mind and allow our beliefs to be shaped by ‘the story’.
I will spend time defending my own view of Local church. Not because I believe ‘my view’ is the only thing worth arguing about, but because I believe we see the intent of God for his people to be a living community of believers in this book. Right off the bat we will see giving taught in a radical way. The early church at Jerusalem will ‘continue in the Apostles doctrine and breaking of bread and prayers’. They then sell their goods and distribute to all who had need. Where in the world did they get this idea from? The Apostles doctrine obviously taught the plain teachings from Jesus on sharing what you have with others. So instead of seeing an early tithe concept, you see an early ‘give to those in need idea’ straight from the teachings of Jesus. We will see this early Jerusalem group meet daily, as opposed to seeing ‘Sunday worship’ as some sort of New Testament Sabbath. Of course this group will meet at the Temple [actually an out door courtyard called Solomon’s Porch] and from ‘house to house’. But the simple realty of Christ’s Spirit being poured out on them as a community of people will be the basic understanding of what ‘church’ is.
You will find citizens of many surrounding areas going back to the their home towns after Pentecost. These believers shared the gospel with those in their regions and this is how the early church would spread. Some commentaries will show you how when Paul will eventually show up in Rome there already was an established church there. They obviously heard the gospel from these early Roman Jews who were at Jerusalem during Pentecost. So we will see ‘church planting’ from the paradigm of simple believers going to areas with the message of Christ. Those who would believe in these locations would be described as ‘the church at Corinth’ or ‘the church at Ephesus’ and so on. So we see ‘local church’ as communities of believers living in different localities.
We will see the development of leadership along the lines of ‘appoint elders in every city’. Not a top heavy idea of ‘Bishop’ in the later sense of Catholic belief, but a simple ordaining [recognizing!] of those in the various cities who were stable enough in the basic truths of the gospel, that in Paul’s absence these elders were to be trusted as spiritual guides. Now, many of our brothers can trace the historic office of Bishop as a fairly early development in church history. Polycarp and others were considered direct disciples of the Apostles who would be seen as Bishops and even write of the importance of Bishops for the church ‘Where there is no Bishop there is no church’.
This will cause many well meaning believers to eventually become Catholic/Orthodox as they read the church fathers and see the very early development of Catholic Christianity. In many of the church fathers writings you will also see an early belief in the Eucharist as being the actual Body and Blood of Jesus.
To the consternation of many Protestants you even find Luther condemning fellow Protestants for not taking literally the words of Jesus ‘this IS my Body’. Now, I will not defend transubstantiation, but try to follow the trend lines in Acts as to the lack of this doctrine being a part of the early church. We will find Paul’s letter to the Corinthians addressing the Lords Supper, but for the most part we do not see a strong belief in the transmitting of divine grace to the soul thru the eating of Christ’s literal Body and Blood as they ‘broke bread’. We do see the sharing of the common meal and the ‘Eucharist’ as one meal called the ‘love feast’. Only later on in church history is there a division made between the full fellowship meal and the Eucharist.
So to be frank about it, I will challenge both our Catholic and Orthodox brothers on some very fundamental beliefs. Well I hope this brief introduction sets the proper tone for the rest of this study, God bless you guys and I hope you get something out of it. John.

(738) ACTS 1- Luke, the writer of this book, feels the need to document the ongoing work of Jesus and his revolution. He already wrote a gospel and believes this to be the beginning of the story. In essence, the reality of Jesus and his resurrection are just the start, we have much more to do and become on this journey. Most writers jump to chapter 2. We have churches and music groups called ‘Acts chapter 2’. Why does Luke seem to wait till chapter 2 before getting to ‘the good stuff’? Chapter one records the 40 days of Jesus showing himself alive after his death. Luke feels this singular truth to be important enough to simply stand alone [I do realize the early letters did not have chapter and verse

Ben Witherington said...

N.B. Indwelling is what happens when a baby is in its mother's womb. This has nothing to do with mutual submission, indeed when the baby is kicking away, the mother will tell you that though the baby is indwelling it is most certainly not submitting to the mother's will or preferences!


Don said...

On 1 Cor 7:10-13, I accept the understanding of David Instone-Brewer.

Paul is translating the teaching of Jesus given in a Jewish context in the gospels into the Roman context at Corinth in the first 2 verses and then writing about something that Jesus did not speak about as he did not need to do so, what about when married to an unbeliever?

In modern terms, Jesus said do not divorce for no reason at all and Paul is saying being married to an unbeliever is not a sufficient reason, but if they choose to divorce you for no reason at all, accept it.

Bill Heroman said...

after NT times this developed...

Right. And I think you're reading aspects of that development back into the NT itself with great anachronism in your vision. Actually, I presume you've inherited this habit. So I don't blame you personally. ;)

Forgive me if I don't care to argue endlessly point for point. Again, thanks for the convo, and c'est la vie! :)

But I'll give you this, at least. You gave me a new way to look at the word "hierarchy". Previously, I would never have applied that word [which still strikes me mainly as referring to a military style chain of command] to my own relationship with my son and daughter. That idea was new to me and I'll have to consider it some more.

Still, when I am old, my son and daughter may take me by the hand in turn. And what clergyman ever follows his parishoners?

But enough. :)

Neil said...

Remember when the Lord said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" I wonder if you were in Paul's shoes at that moment, would you have replied that "the body of Christ is NOT Christ"? Would you have informed the Lord that He was pressing his metaphors too hard?

Or when Paul warned the Corinthians not to join Christ to a prostitute? If he had taken Hermeneutics 101 he would have known better than to talk that way, wouldn't he? Ben, I have a fairly high estimation of your education and your work. But on this matter of the Church's oneness with Christ, I think you just don't get it.

I think one of the main points of Frank's book is that we haven't been taking the NT analogies seriously enough. That's why our ecclesiology comes up lacking. We need to "reimagine church" around a deeper appreciation for the presence of the Spirit of Christ in all the members of His body.

I will heartily agree with one of your comments: You confess that "time will tell" whether folks like Robert Banks, Frank Viola, Jon Zens, and others like myself will find sure footing out on this limb that we are on. I imagine the same things were said to folks like Luther when they were still the minority voice. Numerically speaking, they're still the minority voice in the world. But numbers don't determine truth.

I like the Vincentian canon as much as the next guy (affirming what most Christians have affirmed most of the time), but that's a notion that could definitely be "pressed too far." Everything must be sifted as you have said. And time will tell if we are an aberration or the first signs of something new.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Neil:

Of course Christ is not his body, they are distinguishable. But what is true is there is a deep and abiding spiritual connection between Christ and his body such that when they suffer, he suffers. This is clear enough. We could compare this to the "if you have done it to one of the least of these" saying from during Jesus' ministry. That didn't make Jesus somehow identical to 'the least of these' but he did identify with them and their plight.

You are right. Numbers do not determine truth. But when so many of your wise and often more experienced brothers and sisters tell you that you are wrong, you owe it to yourself to ask why they are doing so, and you need to ask yourself--- 'Could I be wrong about this?'. If the vast majority of my church members came to me and told me I was way off base on something, I would absolutely need to do a rethink and ask such a question.



LGM#3 said...


Ben's response is right on concerning this one. I think that you are pressing the issue of identity far too much and am not taking into account the manner in which metaphors were used in the ancient world. You should look into reading the introductions of Metaphysics by Peter van Inwagen and Michael Loux, for your notions of *identity* seem to be caused by a lack of Philosophical reflection, particularly as it relates to the area of Metaphysics. Your proposal seems to reduce to the same problem of identity and difference, particularly as it pertains to the idea of Christ(ian) identity with Christ, as was asked by Parmenides, one of the first Philosophers we have on record in the West. I just can't understand your ontology on this issue.

Best Wishes,

Lawrence M.

Chris McMillan said...

To those sitting out on the limb, I still ask where are the African-Americans, Latinos, Africans and Asians on your limb? It seems to me that the only people out on the limb are disgruntled white American Christians. Isn't it true that this is just a movement comprised of overwhelmingly white middle class church-hopping Christians who think that by doing their own thing and playing by their own rules they create Christ's church in their own image? If this is really a move of God, another Protestant Reformation, shouldn't there be more than just American whites participating?

Ben Witherington said...

Chris, if you check the stats I listed in the previous post, you will discover that at least there is a goodly number of African Americans involved.


Ben W.

David Z Anderson said...

Ben, these stats are impossible yet typical of the numbers from those selling books about their "revolution."

At a glance, what tips me off is: "41% home school their children."

Now, friends and foes of home schooling in the USA put homeschoolers at about... a million. Thus, the "tens of millions" of house churchers, per Barna, has to be contrived figure.

Personally, I have no problems with quantifying a movement of God. This is seen in scripture as you know. I desire to see the house church movement grow along with all churches where Jesus Christ is lifted up. There's plenty of lost people to go around, no?

Neil said...

Did you hear the one about the Catholic, the Presbyterian, the Greek Orthodox, the Anglican, the Pentecostal, the Methodist, and the Anabaptist?
Sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke, doesn't it?
Imagine for a moment that these seven folks walked into the same room to be confronted with a series of questions:
"Do you believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God?
"YES!" they all reply in unison.
"Do you believe that he died on a cross for the sins of humanity?"
"YES!" they all shout together again.
"Do you believe that he rose again on the third day and ascended to the right hand of the Father?"
"YES!" they shout, with at least one pump of the fist and a "Hallelujah!"
Then the inquistor asks, "What do you believe about church government?"
A brief silence, followed by a passionate shouting match.
What's the moral to this story?
There are things that the church universal has affirmed for centuries, things about the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and the supremacy of the name of Jesus above all other names, on heaven and on earth. This is the "mere christanity" of C.S. Lewis, Richard Baxter, and St. Vincent of Lerins. These are central tenets of our faith.
But matters of praxis, like church goverment, ministry models, and worship style do NOT fall into that category. Those are matters on which the historical church has held widely varying views. I am not comfortable straying from the majority of the Christian community when it comes to those things about which there has been essential agreement. But matters of practice are a different story.
Liturgy vs. Open, participatory meetings. Episcopal government vs. Congregational. Guitars vs. Organs. House church vs. Steeple-topped sanctuary. For these things, there is no clear and authoritative consensus.
So here will be, out on this limb, along with possibly millions of Anabaptists, Baptists, Waldensians, Moravians, Priscillianists, Bogomils, Cathars, Albigensians, and who knows how many others across the centuries. With (seriously) all due respect for the faith of our fathers, I'm pretty comfortable out on this limb. It's a big, strong Tree.

G said...

I agree that the majority of the historical church has practiced the hierarchical institutional clergy/laity model. However, if I was not willing to go out on a limb, based on the the purity of the New Testament texts vs later Church tradition, than I would not be a Protestant. While the Church was born out of the Old Testament community, it also was a radical revolution of liberty through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If anyone fails to see the empowering event of Pentecost as nullifying the limitations of the Old Covenant, whether is be the limitations such as a sole leader like Moses or a single elder in a synagogue than they will continue to follow not only the traditions of the stagnant church in history, but also the traditions of all the religions of mankind. Is is the way of religion, to limit the access of the masses to the divine. All religions emphasis the spirit doctor, the seer prophet, the priest the special channel, only the message of the New Testament makes a radical break from this oppressive tradition.

John L said...

Neil, you make the point well. After all is said, the universal Jesus community rallies together around a very compact understanding. So simple a child could understand it.

Leaders aren't created by graduate degrees but by inspired wisdom, a heart for people, and a love for Christ. These kinds of leaders usually look more like servants, infusing their communities like fine spices (rather than dominating the conversation like a big thick steak in the middle of the plate.)

While I don't agree with some of Frank's ideas, I think he is capturing the spirit of Christian community FAR more appropriately than most of our inherited lay/clergy, line-and-staff, CEO-style organizations. I think Ben is a product of such thinking, so I can't blame him for his positions.

Over generations, the ideas that Frank is presenting, combined with globally emerging virtual-ecclesial connectivity, will usher in a new era of collective, flattened community.

Nice job Ben and Frank - that these ideas are now being widely discussed gives me great hope for our shared future, and the eventual (virtual) gathering of a true universal body into a common place of meeting - the "global house church" if you will - as institutional barriers are rendered increasingly irrelevant.

Ashley Biermann said...

A fine discussion to seek to understand and comprehend. One thing that often strikes me is that in the midst of much discussion, the reason for the structures of the church so protected is surely to support and facilitate the making of disciples. "Followership" of Jesus is after all the main aim, and if the structures are contrary or stop this then one can only think that there is something wrong with the structures. The ekklesia or called out ones, were called to follow, while impossible to do in human strength (made obvious by the Gospel accounts) acts shows the key role of the Holy Spirit in being disciples of Christ.

So I guess if the leadership is facilitating and supporting the growth of disciples then it must be doing something right, if it is instead just making very fat and lazy children who are unable to follow Christ on the way of suffering, then it would seem that maybe those particular structures should come clean and move out of the way. Jesus came outside the institutions of the day as they had stopped people from coming to God, so vital for the Church leadership to be focussed on the discipleship of all believers within their realm of service.

I am come upon many who understand this aspect both within and outside of the organised church. It is those who see the importance of making disciples as true leaders in Christ's body, whether it is in a home fellowship group or in a denomination.

Just wanted to add how much I appreciate the issues you cover Ben, have the joy of using your commentary on Mark for this final assignment for my final subject of a degree in biblical studies. You bless many, pray that you continue to hear the still quiet voice of God as you follow Him.