Tuesday, 21 December 2010

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 10-12

10.  Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economics.

The first part of this 'mark' is, I guess, one that would only be making an appearance in lists like this very recently.  Gradually, more and more Christian communities are discovering the important of stewardship of the earth as a fundametal biblical principle (even if a little bit late).   Yet, over the last decade I'd say there has been a large influence to 'get out and keep your neigbourhood nice' often as part of 'servant evangelism'.  Yet, I think this call goes further.  Its about finding ways to make our footpath as people sustainable and responsible as well as having a response to improve the location we are in.  More an more communities have gardens, projects and redevelopment initiatives going on, especially in the inner city, and this is great.

Support of local economics is crucial for the future of our cities.  Our supermarker cultures and the mass production and wholesale of goods threatens local and small business and affects the sense of community.  There is much to be said in Christians leading the way (and indeed, in challenging) local businesses.  The story is told of Bramwell Booth opening a bread factory to bake bread when the local bakers were charging costs above the reasonable rate for people to pay...because Bramwell could do it for next to nothing, they soon changed their minds!  Now, it couldn't quite work like that these days, but the principle is the same.  Yes, we support local businesses and enterprise and invest ourselves in the community, but not at the expense of the poor I shouldn't like to think.

11.  Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

No-one can fail to notice that we live in a war torn world.  Leaving aside the pacifist/non-pacifist debate, regardless of that, there is a huge role for Christians to be reconcilers.  The first place this needs to be ministered is within the church.  It also needs to be ministered into local families who have no healthy ways to solve differences.  It needs to happen in fractured communities where racial segregation fuels tension.  It needs to happen between peoples and nations.  Whether you are for war or not, and whether 'just war' is in your theology,  all of us can and should have a theology of reconcilliation and peace-making.

However, to now enter the pacifist debate, today's new monastics will travel to places and Bagdad and Kabul and look the locals in the eye and ask for forgiveness for the wrongs done in the name of our nations.  They will sit with the killer and the bereaved mother and broker some resolve.  They will sit with the broken husband and wife and weep for restoration.  They will sit in the roads in front of tanks.  They will refuse to be at war with anyone, because to be at war is to fight your brother.  They will move into broken communities and live peacably with everyone so far as they are able, repairing broken walls and repairing places long devastated by the consequence of sin and poverty.  They will be up front and about the fact that the way to peace is through reconcilliation to God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit wherever and whenever they find a soul who needs the light of God.  They'll fight and they'll fight to the very end to see God's Kingdom transformation to come in whatever form it needs to manifests itself.  I believe these to be the steps of Master Jesus.  I ask that God would give a soft hard and hard feet to go to the places it is vulnerable to go to all for the sake of grace.

And finally:

12.  Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

This is pure dynamite.  From our position of freedom in Christ, we submit ourselves to him.  We commit to seeing our relationship with him develop through the renovation of our hearts by his Spirit.  We follow the footseps of Master Jesus who would often go into the night to pray or rise to pray alone to maintain close communion with the Father.  We will reject the shallowness of 20th century evangelical-charismania and plumb the depths, widths and heights of the love of God through Jesus.  We will then live out of that place as we engage in mission to a lost world.

The new monastic will take a spiritual leaf out of a variety of people's books throughout Christian history to seek appropriate help and responses to our current day problems.  We'll pray with the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers, the anabaptists, the Wesleyans, the pentecostals, the charismatics, the Salvos, the new monastices, the eastern orthodox because we're all birthed from the same branch which is Christ and we will recognise the value of the whole Christian tradition, lest we become arrogant and think we have the monopoly on holiness rooted in the trenches of the daily establishing and advancing of the Kingdom.

From the place of close communion, the new monastic engages in close connection with the people around, pouring out their lives and investing in the lives of those who need themselves to reignite the spark of the Divine and reconnect with their Creator.  As they do this, they will pray, talk, drink coffee, mow lawns, sweep yards, preach, worship, work, pray again and on and on for as long as Jesus tarries in his coming again, seeing more and more the answer to 'Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done!'

Conclusion

Thanks for taking this brief wander through the 12 Marks of New Monasticism with me.  I hope, certainly, that you Salvo's out there will have heard something of the call to primitive Salvationism which was an order of preaching friars as much as any people were.  For those tired of routinism in church, I pray that there might be something which will cause you to ask 'yes, there is more to it in this.'  And for all of us, I'd ask 'how might my world see Jesus if I started to live out my Christian faith with others in this way?'  Good question....the answer demands some sort of response from us before God for such a time as this.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 7-9

The next three:

7.  Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

Community happens either intentionally or unintentionally where people are.  We're relational beings, so community is gonna happen.  However, you can have static community (read OAPs in a rest home) or an active community (an Army, a football team etc).  What happens in active community is best described as communitas, as opposed to community.  Communitas is community gathered round a common task.  It is, therefore, always an intentional community.  This is the kind of community Jesus created amongst his discipleship, with mission as the organising principle.  Common life comes with Jesus at the centre.  Although the church in Acts 2:42 - 47 is a very young embryonic church, its a great picture:
"42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

Some people look at this stuff and say the church has moved on from this and this shouldn't be used as a pattern.  No, maybe not detail for detail...the sort of 'if its not exactly like this then its wrong.'  I don't believe the bible necessarily has that sort of blueprint mentality when it comes to the church.    But, my question is why should 21st C church be any less wonderful, transformative and powerful?   I really can't imagine why not.  Sincerely.  It is only our western individualism that can get in the way of this. There are transferrable principles that can be discrened in the NT writings about the function of Christian community which can only help to inform our function as a body.

8.  Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

There are, I think, two issues here.  Firstly, there is discovering the value of singleness.  I know many single people who serve God with abandonment that I'm not able to as a family man.  There is often an unwritten expectation that its 'normal' to get married and have a family.  Lots of people do, but there is something to note in people who commit to celibate singleness for life as a calling as well as those who remain single through circumstance.  We need to find ways to honour the single among us.  In the days when SA officers were required, many officers gave whole lives with single hearted devotion and many still do.  Its about recognising the strength and validity of the 'single warrior.'

On the flip side, its also recognising the place of the family in the war.  Now, monastics of old would hardly have been married.  But in communities of covenant (like new monastic communities or communities like The Salvation Army) there must be a recognised place for the ministry of the family.  I don't just mean having activities or programmes for all the family.  I'm talking about the commitment to discipling the whole family, and that done together as a unit.  Quite truly, the best times in our ministry have been when we've gathered in our home as a family with others around the word, to worship and pray for one another in small group gatherings.  Special times.  Lets not underestimate the capacity of all to live missional lives....even the children.

9.  Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

Commuter church is a strange concept.  It is driven by a church consumerism...the kind that makes people drive to the best Jesus show in town.  Too harsh?  No...the consumerist church is often the antidote to missional living.  It means that people can work in one place, live in a completely different place and worship in an entirely different place.    So, there is something about local geographical presence here.

There is also something about being salt and light in a particular community and living out an alternative way of life visibly with others.  Take Pill for example...one of our corps appointments.  We figured that at the time we lived there, 1% of the population were Salvationist - thats fairly high!  As a result, the Army had a high profile in the community not just through the public life of its officers, but through the visible witness of its soldiers and local officers.  Another example of this are both the 614 communities and the Eden communities here in the UK.  Christians commiting themsleves geographically to an area and joining in the mission of God there.   There is something in banding together to minister to a neighbourhood that is very powerful.

Celtic monks here in Northumbria often went out on mission in bands of brothers, travelling out in small groups and establishing churches and outposts everywhere then leaving some staying on as permanant witnesses in some of those places.  The Army have similar planting stories.   You may or may not have heard of The Seige of London....this was an SA campaign to hold an open air on every street corner in London back in the late 1800s then leaving behind a couple to continue build community with the converts made.  We have much to learn from this stuff.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 4-6

Straight into 'mark' number 4:-

4.  Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

These set of 12 marks have their context in the US, that melting pot of nationalities and races.  I don't claim to be up on the scene over there, but there are still clear racial divisions.  Both in the states and here, especially in the cities here, there are many ethnically divided churches.  Black churches, chinese churches etc etc.  A lot of this was a part of the church growth movement that thought you had to get everyone who was the same together in order to win them.  We are reminded in scripture that we, united in Christ, are a new nation, a new people, a royal nation in fact.

One day we will stand before the throne, every tribe and every nation under God and sing the song of the Lamb.  It strikes me that in a divided world, outrageous unity is one of the most significant prophetic acts we can perform.  In Aberdeen, we never would speak a word against our Eastern European neighbours and, actually, we had to take a family in and provide a few days sanctuary for them against some rampant racism against them.  We're especially proud of Ben, who happily and intentionally befriended the E European lads in his class.  Bramwell Booth, writing about the context of the World War commented that 'every land is my father land, because every land belongs to my Heavenly Father' - this against the backdrop of trying to keep a unified International Salvation Army amidst world wide conflict.

Again, however, it starts at home.  Actively advocating for justice, reconcilliation between peoples whereever or whatever the context....even if its just one neighbour who doesn't speak to another.  We have this ministry of reconcilliation, says Paul.

5.  Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church

Paul exhorts the Ephesians to 'Submit to one another our of reverence for Christ.'  This is a recognition of the fact that the whole body manifests and 'makes up' the Body of Christ.  The inclusion of 'allelon' (Greek - 'one another') here and quoted several other places just emphasises the unity of the body.  We are to do a whole lot of 'one another-ing'.

I'm not sure where I got this from, I think it might be from the Chinese language, but I remember someone telling me about how in a particular culture, a common Christian greeting is 'I submit to the Christ in you'.  Profound, absolutely profound.  It is a submission that we see modelled in the Trinity, mutual submission.  But just the wonder of the discipling of seeing Christ in our brother/sister and submitting to Him in them.  This doesn't preclude leadership, but it certainly adds to the picture of leadership scripture calls us to.  I think this statement is the one key to the abuse of power in church - for everyone to submit to the Christ in each other.  There is transformation in that!

6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.

This is huge, especially potentially so for The Salvation Army.  One of the troublesome things about Christianity these days is that the term 'Christian' means everything and nothing.  Because we've typically had the bar high on our standards of church and low on standards of discipleship, the disciple can be difficult to find in some areas.

Now, my testimony is that whilst in the Salvation Army I still witnessed 'nominalism', the one thing that was a potential counter to that was Articles of War.  In the Army, discipleship is partially defined by a rule of community, a soldiers covenant.   You serve your time as a recruit, you see if you can cut the mustard, you enrol and you embrace the covenant with the community.

It has to be said, that this sort of thing is secondary to conversion....being a member of the body of Christ, getting saved, requires no rule, covenant or promise.  However, that is why monasteries were often called 'Schools of Conversion' and monastic life as a 'second conversion.'   When you confuse membership of the Body of Christ with membership of an order, you get into sticky ground.  The Army is the prime example of this.  I believe it is wrong to see soldiership as church membership for those reasons.  Soldiership is a commitment to a community and a way of life as outlined in the Articles of War and the Orders & Regulations.

Leaving that aside, I believe the day has come where many churches need to articulate in clear terms what they mean when they speak of  'discipleship.'  This is not about creating a second tier of Christian, this is about calling up those who've lost the discipleship vision to live as a radical follower of Jesus.  I believe every community should have  a community discerned 'rule' or 'covenant' where those within it can be supported, guided and kept accountable in their spiritual and missional pratices.  Before we left Torry, we had started to explore common practices which, alongside our soldiers covenants (which, admitedly can be a bit less than striking). to help us flesh out our discipleship.  I'll post them in the next post before going on to steps 7-9.

Bottom line:  "Lower the bar of how we do church, raise the bar on discipleship' (paraphrasing Neil Cole!)

Friday, 17 December 2010

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 1-3

I mentioned at the end of the last post the 12 Marks of New Monasticism.  Now, let me start by saying that one of the reasons this thing fires me up is because I think that Primive Salvationism had the whole New Monastic thing going on long before Bonhoeffer coined the phrase and before people started exploring it.  It may interest you to know that Booth likened his soldiers to versions of modern day St Francis.  Someone else has likened the concept of Booth to the itinerant preaching friars, folks who were right in the muck of society relieving poor but also igniting faith and hope in the Lord, Jesus.  Click the link for a book that is a good read about 'New Friars' - related to new Monasticism. I hope as I go through these you'll see the similarities.  It is interesting that throughout history, God has often used monastic movements to revive the church.  Here is a looks of the 12 Marks of New Monasticism.  The bold type are the 'marks', the rest is my commentary:

1.  Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

This may seem like a strange turn of phrase, but you have to realise that when monasticism has been at its most vigorous (ie outwardly missional as oposed to inward ascetisism), it has always been again the context of forging alternative society to the world around.  As I've said, this is especially true with regards to the Romanising of Christianity.  For the first 300 years of its inception, the early church was a marginal movement amongst a marginal people.  The gospel thrived at the grass roots mainly because the 'top' would see it as too distasteful.  The reality is that Christendom church is well and truly over for urban settings, especially poor urban settings where people have long lost the point of going to church entirely.

Relocating to places the 'Empire' would rather have us forget is not only a way to side up with the poor, but a positive way to deal with the marginalisation of the Christian faith in an increasingly secular world.  Christian faith 'proves its salt' in these places.  The state establishment of the Christian faith has always led to a 'gentry' church, a church of privelege and power.  The height of this was surely the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and the witch hunts etc.  Not exactly a great portrayal of the Christian faith.  Truth is that the radical gospel of the Kingdom of God flies in the face of the standards of the world.

2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

When it comes to voting, I vote Labour or when in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (Alba gu brath!!).  Both are parties of the centre left with political agendas which recognise the responsibility of caring for the needy and poor.  I was dragged up through a local authority council estate in the benefit culture.  My family weren't spongers, they were hard working and dog poor.  Initiatives like Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit etc etc brought many families who were brought up in similar places up and over the bread line.  Leaving aside any issues surrounding, this has been a lifeline for many families.

Why do I start there?  In essence, I believe that we see in the early church as revealed in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul's letters a new race of people who cared for one another in a way that went beyond the extra mile.  The early church was mutually dependant....there was equality and NONE WERE POOR.  I think this is more significant than we realise.  I've been in churches where it has been obvious that people in the church have been poor and others are rich.  I've been in churches where I've sought to ensure that poor brothers and sisters were cared for.  As a whole, the church doesn't always get that we are a separate race and nation.  Yes we care for one another, but that love also spills out in generosity to our wider communities.  Old monastic places were literal places of refuge and provision for the poor.  A new monasticism has the same commitment, but also ensures that those of the family of faith are cared for too.

Some people go as far as common purse, some communities chose poverty for the sake of others less fortunate, and some still engage in the relief of the poor, but like I say, important not to miss the brothers and sisters in favour of  those who aren't part of the faith community.  In the West we have such an individualistic approach to possessions, treasures, wealth etc.  The counter cultural community of Jesus is the sole community...yes, the sole community....that have the potential to model to the world how to care for the poor among us.  Communism is essentially 'Christian wealth distribution' gone wrong and corrupted.  Its a devil perversion of how a Christian community can potentially function showing the world a differnet pictre, singing a different song.  We need to step up to the plate in this area and model this to the world.

3) Hospitality to the stranger

Again, this touches on the individualism of the West.  'We don't go about other people's houses' is the mantra of pride in many parts of our nation as if thats a great thing.  This is amongst our friends!  How often to we give hospitality to the stranger then?

I remember as a young lad this being an automatic thing flowing from Jesus.  I remember as a 16 year old lad encountering a young guy, few years older than me, who claimed to be in need of food.  I thought nothing of it to take him home.  Of course we live in a dangerous world, we must take some care, but we also live in a world where many are lonely and need the care of strangers.  Hospitality, especially to the stranger,  must be one of the most under-rated disciplines and graces of Chrisitan discipleship in these days.  If we are not comfortable with people in our homes, there are other ways to be creative in hospitality.  The important thing to ring in our ears that is in welcoming strangers we may just find that we are entertaining the angels or Jesus himself!

There is also just the intimacy of sharing a meal, of sharing our space, our heat, our light, our space with another.  Here is a Celtic blessing on hospitality for the stranger:

Seeing a stranger approach,
I would put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place,
and look with joy for the blessing of God,
who often comes to my home
in the blessing of a stranger.


What an adventure...give it a go!  Be safe, but be adventurous.  Start with a neighbour, perhaps.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Looking to the years to come

Funny, I was watching Ugly Betty last night.  I don't know if you watch it, but basically one of Betty's ex-boyfriends confronts her about the fact that she's working in a fashion mag when she wanted to be a serious journalist.  She'd forgotten her vision.

Like I said, the Army stuff is difficult mainly because we believed that 'doing officership differently' was part of the DNA of a Salvation Army who's founders were so full of the principle of adaptability - one we heart and soul believe in.  Laying the Army aside, as we've had to do, still leaves us with the call of God upon our lives.  We do have a vision!

So what is the vision then?  We want to be in the place where we can try to live a new model of 'ministry.'  Its not entirely new, of course, its biblical, but it is somewhat contrary to the approach of Christendom church for the last 1600 years.  We want to be self supporting workers on permanant mission to plant a network of small missional communities at the margins of our society, amongst 'the poor', living among them, serving, gaining their trust and being good news to the poor.  We also want to equip others to do the same.  I believe, with Bonnhoeffer, that some sort of new monasticism will bring renewal to the church (more on that another day) and want to encourage brothers and sisters in this.  I believe that people 'out there' are spiritual people who don't just want religious shows, but want community, a sense of depth of spirituality and real honest answers to their questions.   They also need to experience those things in the real world, not in the cloistered conditions of an attractional model church.

We are in transition.  God is gently moving us from on phase to the next.  It has actually been quite important for us in these days just to pay our own rent, our own bills, run our own car, to work set hours and be paid for that rather than being given allowance to live from the church.  I work my hours (and more) and claim back the extra time in lieu. Why?  because I chose to see my work as work.  It is our LIVES that are missional, not just what we are paid to do.  My work stops when I leave the office.  Our live's mission never stops.

When we sense it is the right time to move on from this stage, we will.  We are already working hard on improving our financial situation and developing ideas and strategies for ways of sustaining family life to release us for the next stage.  We value your prayer.

So, just in case you thought I was going off the side of the cliff in the last post, we're not.  There is a place in ourselves where we have to properly grieve the separation and to gradually tease the vision from the institution and take bold steps towards it.  This is an experience that the Desert fathers and mothers had as they began to drift from the increasinly 'state' clericalised church in the 4th and 5th centuries...they withdrew to the desert to ask the question 'How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?' and 'How then shall we live?'  and then sought to live out the reality.  Here in Britain, we have much to learn from Columba, Cuthbert, Aidan and their other Celtic brothers and sisters who engaged pagan British Isles with the radical gospel of Jesus Christ not from a position of centrality, power and privelege, but from voluntary poverty on the margins of society propelled by the Spirit to 'go into all the world.'

We are, in essence, looking for a new 'order'.  The Army as an order is by far the best description of it that fits it in its purest form.  Now, we look for another cymborgi (companions of the heart) to journey with into a new day.  We're in a stage of history in the church where it is very much twilight.  The curtains have been drawn on Christendom church, in some places its only begining, in others their twilight is dawn instead of dusk.  But whether we here in Britain are in dawn or dusk, the landscape is changing and we need to seek the will of the Lord as to how we can serve our present age and be faithful expressions of the body of Christ on earth in these days.

Have a read for more on new monasticism:  http://missionalchurchnetwork.com/12-marks-of-a-new-monasticism/

 

 

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Reflection on the year that was

I was messing around with one of those random facebook applications earlier.  The one where it shows you your year worth of status updates and puts it into a pretty collage thingy.  You ever wish you just didn't do something?  The status updates around the time of our leaving officership are so difficult.  The conversations, the THQ interview, the promise of another appointment when it was clear we couldn't stay in Torry, the disappointment of that appointment being with drawn and our previously withdrawn resignation being accepted, being asked to leave the quarters to make way for another officer (who for whatever reason has yet to arrive even now) which made  the 'tent-making ministry' we offered to the Army in Aberdeen impossible for us financially, our 'farewell meeting' and then just the heartache of driving out of Aberdeen.

God called me to be a Salvo.  God called me to be an officer.  He also placed a burden on my heart and I went for it and now I'm no longer those things.  Just sadness.  The conclusion doesn't really feel like its what the Lord ordained.   To say that leaving the Army was a bereavement is an understatement.  Its more than that.  Its like a whole part of me died.  Thats pretty painful folks.

In spite of that, I'm so thankful that God has provided what he has provided for us at this time.  We have a roof over out heads and food to eat and more.   He has planted me within a fruitful ministry amongst people who are open and receptive and who appreciate all I bring and yet its so hard.   You know, more than that, its been such a humbling experience to be allowed to offer my learning, experience and ministry to people just delighted to receive it.

Do I regret leaving officership?  Quite simply, I didn't walk away from the Army.  I had no choice whatsoever.  Well, I could have laid aside any conviction that I had, kept my head down and kept my opinions on the future of leadership in urban SA corps to myself.  I could have chosen to ignore what God was saying to me about my officership leadership. I could have fallen into line and continued on.  I could have continued to try to be what others expected me to be.

This blog is subtitled 'notes and rhymes on following Jesus after Christendom.'   Not all the notes and rhymes are happy ones friends.  I grieve the fact that for whatever reason, the Army weren't willing to embrace a different beat from us.  The Lord knows that I'd be willing to step up to the plate again.    But the Lord also knows that I was pressed to breaking point.  At the end of the day, the Lord knows - I don't.  I'm not bitter, the anger has gone....all that is left is just the sadness, the latent Salvo passion and the questions about what the last 15 years of my life have been about and about what the future holds.

Continued prayers appreciated if you're willing.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Shaped Prayer

I'm not one of those who'd say that I find prayer particularly difficult.  God was very real to me from the beginning of my Christian faith and it always felt natural to develop a relationship through prayer.  I remember in those months of searching before becoming Christian of uttering some very real prayers and having a very real sense of being drawn towards God.  Getting saved, getting filled with Holy Spirit, prayer just clicked.

All until the last 3 years in particular.  A combination of things made prayer really difficult all of a sudden.  Firstly, an overwhelming sense of burden for the spiritual heartbeat of the Salvation Army turned prayer into pain.  Secondly, spending two years in close proximity to some difficult stuff, difficult lives and situations in Torry started to make my normal evangelical-charismatic prayer life stale and almost inneffectual, or so it felt.  I still felt it able to 'pray continually' in the sense of just having that ongoing awareness of God's presence and guidance, but specific times of prayer were so difficult....how do I express my heart?  I've always been thankful for the gift of tongues and that continued to be useful but against a back ground of some big inner challenges, I felt a need to go deeper than before.

That influence came from a very surprising place for me.  Someone introduced me to a siddur.  A siddur is a Jewish prayer book.  It has standard prayers for day, night, midday etc...I especially loved praying the Amidah and the Shema (google them!)  I found them so touching and that they focussed my attendtion on God, his people (all his people, not just Israel), and it was also like each day I was building in some really solid rhythms into my life.  The more I build these shaped prayers into my life, the more I just found that place of stability again, a strengthening of the foundations.

I then branched out to use the Missio Dei Breviary and the Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community.  I now use a combination of all these things for various periods of time.  There is a new online and book resource written by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove called 'Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals' which is equally inspiring.  Urban Expression, a urban church planting movement here in the UK, also have a daily liturgy with some fantastic stuff in it.

So, from being someone who had always though that written prayers were something that only spiritually dead people do, I found instead that using some of these resources became a helpful springboard to help maintain an active prayer life whether I felt like it or not!  Instead of prayer becoming spasmodic, dependent on mood and feelings, there was now a regular rhythm.  I recommend that people explore this stuff.  It may just be the source of regular feeding and inspiration you need to ground your relationship with God.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Taking Shape

I remember Dr Rory McKenzie saying in a Practical Theology class, back in 1998 at bible college, that 'the unreflective life is not worth living' and I have remembered that like a bolt of lightening these last ten or so years since I heard the words coming from his mouth.  This, in many ways, is more of a personal reflection.

My heart is overflowing with thanksgiving to God who has not given up on me.  He has continued to carve and shape my life from the desperate 15 year old who yeilded to him to where he bas brought me today.  Of course, I'm by no means 'finished,' but I do praise him for the journey thus far.  My goodness, there was a load of stuff God has had to do in my life.  He did a pretty good job when he saved me, I mean there were a whole load of chains that just fell off there and then.  Some others he's chipped away at, but in all of it I've been able to enjoy his presence and experience his purity, to live a life of holiness.  When I've stepped away from that experience, for whatever strange reason, its so clear where I really belong.

One of the biggest things that I enjoy about living by the Spirit is that I don't have to hold onto stuff.  You know, it takes a lot of energy to hold grudges, to remain angry and resentful.  One of the strong characteristics of my family growing up, and even today, is the inability to 'let go' of things, situations, wrongs, and to offer forgiveness and grace (regardless of who was in the wrong).  Inordinate amounts of effort going into keeping old scores and keeping strife alive.  I've no time for it because of grace, pure and simple.  I figure God didn't hold anything against me, he loved and he forgave and he blesses.   So, I embrace them all:  parents, ex-step-parents, partners of parents, children of partners of parents, brothers, sisters, half-this and half-that, estranged aunts, uncles, cousins....you name it, they'll always find a welcome at my door.  I love them all dearly and would love them to know even a hint of grace that frees a person to drop their guard and embrace others in the same spirit.  It would transform and release so many of them to live happy and dramatically more whole lives.

Why on earth do I say all that?  Simply to give testimony to an active God, a transforming God who is as real today as he was 15 years ago when I met with him.  The same God who began the work is continuing it.  And there, in that truth, is the miracle of the relationship that God wants to have with his people.  The heart of the gospel is the renovation of the human heart, fashioning it into the likeness of Jesus and implanting us into the community of God, his people, to live as a distinct grace-filled, peaceful and counter-cultural race on this planet who belong to the conspiracy which is the Kingdom of God.  We long for the day when he comes again in all his glory and he will take us to be with him, but for now, we marvel at his saving grace and live the reality of eternity here in the midst of the trouble and strife that men and women and children might somehow know him in truth.  Oh come quickly Lord, but in the mean time, enable us to walk in your footsteps, point to your cross, and walk in your Kingdom reality here and now.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

After Christendom Summary

For those of you who might want to 'brush up' on the thinking that accompanies how we might respond as a church after Christendom, Stuart Murray has a book called 'Church Afer Christendom' and one called 'Post-Christendom'.  They are weighty books, although very good.  There are also others in the 'After Christendom' series.

However, if you don't have time to wade through a book, I have discovered a Study Guide for 'After Christendom' which summarises the message of the book, gives some practical helps and then some good questions to ask.  Maybe you have a book club or something, or a leadership team you could explore this stuff with.  Might just help you reposition yourself for mission in post-Christendom west.  Certainly Europe, Australia, New Zealand are  further on into post-Christendom than, say, the United States and Canada but still, helpful stuff.

Its worth pointing out that even by the term 'post-Christendom' that there is a new era to come.  It is dawn, twilight, where the old is fading and we enter a period of night....but hey, joy comes in the morning and we are at a stage of history where the creative church reincarnates itself to communicate the ageless gospel to a new world.  Exciting times.

Anyway, here is the link to the study guide for those interested.  http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/pdf/afterchristendomguide.pdf

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Classless

Now, I've gotten into trouble writing about this before (not that its going to stop me reiterating what is, I believe, a fundamental Christian truth).  The fact is this: the Kingdom of God is a classless race of people. The divide between clergy and laity is a Christendom creation.   Laity, and indeed 'clergy' , is a biblical idea.  But let's expore:

The term laity comes from 'laos' which simply means 'people.'  This is the only 'class' of Christian: the people of God. We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation according to the apostle, Peter.   Even the word from which we get 'church' - from the German Kirche, and before that, from the Greek 'kuriakos' means 'people belonging to the Lord' and refers to the whole people of God.  The 'ekklesia' word is a different word altogether and conjures a different idea (more on that another time).

Tracing the term 'clergy' in scripture is a severly difficult task.  The concept is even more alien than the literal linguistic appearance.  The word 'kleros' which we get clergy from appears in the New Testament 13 times.  Are you ready to be bedazzled by them?

  • the "lots" cast on Jesus' tunic (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:24, and John 19:24)



  • Judas Iscariot's "part" in service (Acts 1:17); the "part" of the service and apostleship from which Judas fell (Acts 1:25)



  • the "lots" given on Barsabas and Matthias, and the "lot" which fell on Matthias (Acts 1:26)



  • the "lot" which Simon did not have (Acts 8:21)



  • the "inheritance" which saved Gentiles receive (Acts 26:18); the "inheritance" which the saints share (Colossians 1:12)



  • members of the flock, God's "heritage" or "allotment", whom the elders are to shepherd and not to lord it over (1 Peter 5:3)


Great, huh?  Suffice to say that whilst the bible uses both terms, there is no case for the kleros being distinct from the laos whatsover.  The concept is all rather....well....obscure.  There are, of course, roles within the people of God - this isn't disputed.  But those role are about leadership function, safeguarding community and about equipping the body.  There is no restriction in the New Testament about who can and can't do what depending on what Christian caste you are in. The distinction developed in the post-apostolic Christendom era.

So where does all this hit the road?  It hits the road when there arises a class of people who begin to demobolise the people of God on the basis of some form of ordination or some other such thing.  Now folks, before you lose your teeth....let me just say I've been 'clergy'.  I know lots of fabulous godly people who are 'clergy'.  I know a great deal of those are people sincerely and commitedly leading, equipping and 'oveseeing' the people of God.  The problem, I believe, is the professionalisation of Christian ministry and the distinction between those who are 'in ministry' and everyone else.   This professionalisation came about simply because the new state religion of the Roman Empire demanded impeccable services, clean rituals and professionals to do it excellently.  None of this changes the fact that there are roles within the laos...we still need equippers, safeguarders and leaders.  We need the five-fold ministries of Eph 4.

The other place it hits the road is simply the functioning of the body as I've alluded to in previous posts.  The meetings of the early church for the duration of the apostolic generation and a few following generations we open participatory....everyone brining a prophecy, word, psalm, tongue, interpetation, teaching etc etc through the Holy Spirit with Jesus Christ at the head.

I fought tooth and nail against clericalism in The Salvation Army and I lost.  But for me, I made my own decision.  I now work in a part of the vineyard that has a more articulated clerical system.  However, part of the commitment I admired at Trinity is the commitment in its vision document about every member in mission and every person a missionary.  Also, the concept of an equipping 'staff team.'    I'm happy do be 'doing my bit' towards this journey at Trinity.  My colleagues at Trinity are great folks with a heart for mission and a heart to serve the people of God, do not mis understand me.  The difficulty with this whole issue is that people take this thing personally (which is why people have grumbled about me saying this before).  Its not about good people, its about a system which has its roots more in the paganising of the Christian faith than New Testament vision for the functioning of the body of Christ.

Incidentally, I don't find the term 'lay' or 'laity' easy at the moment mainly because the way it is used is not true to the biblical concept and is used in contrast to 'clergy.'  As a Methodist 'lay worker' I'm reminded of this obscure theology everytime I write an email!  I change it when I can and wince when I can't.  'Just call me Andrew....'  is my favourite line!   Yet its also so funny when I get mail from Funeral Directors etc addressed to 'The Revd Andrew Clark'  - I find that quite hilarious!   So, I'll continue to resist these terms until we hear them in their right contexts with as much grace as I can muster.

Let me share my hope....my hope is that on my death bed as an old man (God willing) - the clerical/laity divide will be a thing of the past.  I am praying that my generation will be the last clerical generation.  Sincerely and truly.  Before that, however, my hope is that from my place in Trinity over the coming years, I'll be able to move on to 'modelling' what I keep on saying about all this.   The simple issue for me is that the only thing I'm qualified in is the professional leadership of churches so we have some creative years ahead of us as we picture how we support our family whilst facilitating organic expressions of the church.  We're leaving that to God, but its good to be on the journey, one step at a time.

My plea, to both my Army officer colleagues and other dear 'clergy' brothers and sisters is that we explore our role, make brave choices, to simply begin the needful process of declericalising Christian ministry in favour of something much truer to the New Testament vision.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Types of Early Church meetings

Frank Viola in his book 'Reimagining Church' highlights that there were four different types of meetings evidenced in the pages of the NT.  They were:

  • Apostolic Meetings

  • Evangelistic Meetings

  • Decision-making Meetings

  • Church Meetings


Apostolic meetings were those where the apostles would 'preach' to an interactive audience.  'Preaching' was rarely monologius, mainly interactive.  The aim of these meetings were to lay the foundation of Christ at the beginning of a new church to help the church to grow and be birthed.  Examples of these meetings can be found in Acts 5:40-42, Acts 19:9-10; 20:27,31.   They were temporary affairs with the one intention to establish a foundation which meant that the body of believers could function under the headship of Jesus Christ without a human MC (eg Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 14:26).  This is the reason that the apostles never hung around in their churches.

Evangelistic Meetings were rarely held because evangelism was often a marketplace activity (to Gentiles) or a synagogue activity (to Jews)(Acts 17:1-33; 18:4,19).   When they were held, they weren't 'regular' church meetings.  These meetings were doing 'in season' and were often with the purpose of establishing a church or growing a current one.  Philip's trip to Samaria is an example (Acts 8:5ff)

Decision making Meetings was where the whole church came together to discuss important decisions or issues.  The meeting of the church at Jerusalem in Acts 15 is an example.  Its noteworthy that everyone participated and that the apostles and elders facilitated when needed.

Church Meetings were the regular gatherings of the church, the early equivalent of modern church meetings but with a very different format from today.  The most significant thing that strikes me is that this meeting was a believers meeting although occassionally non-believers attended.  From the context of 1 Corinthians 11-14 we can see that unbelievers were never the focus of this meeting.  This is a really helpful model for dealing with the stylistic debate of modern churches where the focus is almost solely set on 'putting on a good show.'  This is where the body, under the headship of Jesus, gather to mutually edify each other, not by listening to a sermon and enduring an hour's inactivity en masse, but in operating a fully functioning priesthood. Everyone open and receptive to the spirit and willing to participate.  Bear in mind, however, that the churches had been taught how to function by the apostles during the Apostolic Meetings so there was training and guiding involved.  Over that, it was just sensitivity to hearing God's voice and allowing Jesus to speak through any part of his body as opposed to one or two.  Hallelujah!

You know, this sort of teaching is very unpopular.  It is a threat to denominational systems and to a paid clergy systems but it needn't be.  I'm not at the place yet where we as a family have been able to step out of the established church to explore these things fully, but in the role I am in at the moment, its wonderful to engage in a sort of apostolic role helping the church here develop some of its discipling systems, outreach strategies and training people for ministry.  Most of it is an absolute joy to see people begin to light up and blossom in even the possibility of developing their ministry contribution.  Its about complete mobilisation as a first step in established churches.  There are challenges, don't get me wrong, but its great that there are established churches willing and able to change, thank God.  We know, however, that this is what God is calling us on to...to explore much of the things I'm writing about.  We are trusting God for his timing on that, but certainly happily engaged at Trinity.

 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Participatory Church Meeting

I found this good article (below) which presents the model of 'open participatory meetings' very well in a condensed version.  Enjoy reading.  I will do a midrash on it, adding my comments on it over the next week or so.   Additionally, you might want to look at the follow up to 'Pagan Christianty' by Frank Viola & George Barna which is 'Reimagining Church' by Frank.  Anyway, enjoy the article.

_______________________________

Participatory Church Meetings

by Steve Atkerson

Is worship really the purpose of a church service?
What kinds of things are to go on in such a meeting?
Who is allowed to speak?  Who can teach?
How many different people can address the church?
Are the kids to be in children’s church or with their parents?
What size meeting was typical in the New Testament?



Participatory church meetings not only are the New Testament pattern, but are expressly prescribed.  Related to church meetings, Paul declared that “what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (1Co 14:37).  Obviously, what we do when we assemble is very important.


The first song begins promptly at 10:30 Sunday morning.  Prior to that, folks are hugging and greeting each other, bringing food or children inside the house, getting a cup of coffee from the kitchen, or standing around talking.  That first song is the cue for everyone to assemble in the living room so that the more formal time of the meeting can begin.  There are usually about ten families and two singles present.  Counting children, there are around fifty people.  Some are usually late in arriving.  There are typically enough chairs for the adults, and the children sit on the floor near their parents.  Young children color or play quietly with toys during the entire meeting.  People are dressed casually and comfortably.
The musicians (banjo, djembe, two guitars and a mandolin) do not try to be worship leaders.  Their goal is simply to facilitate and support the group’s singing.  As many or as few songs are sung as are requested by those present.  Spontaneous prayer is often offered between songs, sometimes leading to longer times of conversational prayer.  There is no bulletin or order of service, though everything is done in a fitting and orderly way.  Only one person at a time may speak.  The prime directive is that anything said or done must be designed to build up, edify, encourage or strengthen the whole church.
Sometimes several brothers teach.  Other weeks no one brings a word of instruction.  Those burdened to instruct prepare prior to the meeting, but rarely is anyone officially scheduled to teach.  Interspersed between the songs and teachings, testimonies are shared of God’s provision, of lessons learned, of prayers answered, of encouraging events, etc.  Sometimes there are periods of silence.  Frequently a visiting Christian worker will report on his ministry and of God’s work in other places.
It is not a show or performance.  There is neither moderator nor emcee.  Unless there is a problem to resolve, a visitor would not even know who the leaders were.  There is not an official ending time for the meeting.  Often it lasts one and a half to two hours.  Either everyone who desires to sing or speak has done so, or the kids are at the end of their endurance, or corporate hunger motivates a conclusion.  Generally, the meeting closes with prayer.  Afterwards, folks stay and fellowship as long as they desire.  The meeting usually transitions into the Lord’s Supper, a full meal that everyone enjoys.
The church meeting described above is not fictional.  Such meetings take place every Lord’s Day, all over the world.  They even occur in such unlikely places as England, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand!  They are modeled after the church meetings described in the New Testament.  Modern believers are so accustomed to attending church in special sanctuaries with stained glass, steeples, pipe organs, pews, pulpits, choirs, bulletins, and worship leaders that it is assumed Scripture dictates such trappings.  The reality is that New Testament church meetings were vastly different from what typically is practiced today.

Scriptural Arguments for Participatory Meetings


Participatory church meetings are indeed scriptural.  For example, Paul asked the Corinthians, “What then shall we say, brothers?  When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1Co 14:26).
Had Scripture used the words “only one” instead of “everyone,” which would be more descriptive of most modern church services?  It is clear from the text that those original church meetings were much different from what often goes on today.  There was interaction, spontaneity and participation.  In a sense there really wasn’t an audience because all the brothers were potential cast members (depending on the gifting and leading of the Spirit).
The generally spontaneous and participatory nature of early church meetings is also evident in the regulations concerning those who spoke in tongues:  “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two — or at the most three, should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.  If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God” (1Co 14: 27-28).
Were these speakers in unknown tongues scheduled in advance to speak?  Not likely, given the supernatural nature of the gift.  That the meetings were participatory is evident from the fact that up to three people could speak in tongues and that there was the need for an interpreter to be present.
Further indication of the participatory nature of their gatherings is seen in the guidelines given for prophets in 1 Corinthians 14:29-32.  We are informed that “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (14:29).  The spontaneous nature of their participation also comes out in 14:30-31a, “If a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.  For you can all prophesy in turn.”  Clearly, some of the prophets came to church not planning to say anything, but then received a revelation while sitting there and listening.
One of the most controversial paragraphs in the New Testament occurs in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35, regarding the silence of women in the meeting.  No matter how one interprets this passage, there would have been no need for Paul to have written it unless first century church meetings were participatory.  There would be little reason for Paul to write this to modern churches, since in general no one is allowed to speak except the pastoral staff.  It is implied in 14:35 that people were asking questions of the speakers during the church meeting:  “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home.”  Even if Paul only meant that women were not to be the ones doing the questioning, it still remained that the men were free to so.  The point to be gleaned is that a church meeting is not supposed to be a one man show.  There are to be edifying contributions and encouraging input by those who gather.
Almost every New Testament letter is an “occasional document,” so-called because it was written in response to some local problem.   Evidently some in Corinth wanted to conduct their meetings differently than this passage requires.  Some aspect of the church meetings in Corinth was probably amiss.  This much is obvious from the nature of the two questions asked of them:  “Did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached?” (1Co 14:36).
The word of God clearly had not originated with the Corinthians, and they most certainly were not the only people it had reached.  These questions were thus designed to convince the Corinthian believers that they had neither right nor authorization to conduct their meetings in any other way than what is prescribed by the apostles.  As such, whatever applied to the Corinthian church applies to us as well.  The inspired correction served to regulate orderly participation at church gatherings, not prohibit it.  Paul wrote, “Be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:39-40).
Holding church meetings in this generally spontaneous, participatory manner is in fact declared to be imperative.  According to 1 Corinthians 14:37, “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.”  Thus, 1 Corinthians 14 is not merely descriptive of primitive church meetings.  Rather, it is prescriptive of the way our Lord expects meetings of the whole church to be conducted.  Not every gathering of believers need be participatory — only to the regular Lord’s Day gatherings of the whole church.  Other types of meetings, which may not be participatory, are also appropriate (evangelistic crusades, worship services, seminars, etc.).  Caution should be taken that larger meetings, where a select few exercise their ministry gifts, do not become substitutes for the weekly, participatory Lord’s Day gathering of the local church.
When we understand the historical context of the early church, it is not surprising that the meetings of the first-century church would have been participatory.  The first believers in most areas of the Roman Empire were Jewish.  They were accustomed to gathering in the typical synagogue format, which was, at least to some degree, open to participation from those in attendance.  An examination of the book of Acts will reveal that the apostles could never have evangelized the way they did unless the synagogues allowed input from individuals with the congregation (13:14-15, 14:1, 17:1-2, 17:10, 18:4, 19:8).  The apostles apparently were always permitted to speak in the meetings of the synagogue. Had first century synagogue meetings been anything like most twenty-first century church worship services, Paul and his companions would have had to find another way to reach the Jews with the gospel!
There are other biblical indicators as well.  In Acts 20:7, we discover that Paul “kept on talking” (“preached,” KJV) to the church at Troas until midnight.  The Greek word translated “talking” is dialegomai, which primarily means “consider and discuss, argue.”  In fact, our English word “dialogue” is derived from it.  That meeting in Troas was likely participatory.  As one who had known Jesus in person, Paul surely did most of the talking, but the way he taught was not necessarily uninterrupted monolog.
There is still more.  The author of Hebrews urged his readers to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (10:25).  Early believers encouraged one another when they gathered.  Clearly, they met together in order to do this.  Such encouragement, of course, requires interaction.  Additionally, believers are instructed in Hebrews 10:24 to meet in order to stimulate each other to love and good deeds.  This too requires interaction.  How much “one anothering” really goes on in a modern worship service?
The over-arching purpose for anything done in a church gathering was, according to Paul, for the “strengthening of the church” (14:26).  The Greek word used here, oikodomé, means “building up” or “edification” (NASV).  Thayer pointed out in his lexicon that it is the action of one who promotes another’s growth in Christianity.  Thus, any comments made in a church meeting should be calculated to encourage, build up, strengthen or edify the other believers present.  If not, it is inappropriate and should not be spoken.  Any teaching brought must be both true and uplifting.  Even questions must be designed to ultimately strengthen the whole assembly.  All songs need to be edifying.  Every testimony is required to build up the church.  As Peter said, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as speaking the very words of God” (1Pe 4:11).   In keeping with this, Paul encouraged prophecy over the public speaking in tongues.  This is because everyone who prophesied in a church meeting spoke to others for their “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1Co 14:3) with the result that the church was “edified” (14:5).  The Corinthians were instructed to “try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (14:12).  All of this points to the participatory nature of early church gatherings (participatory in the sense that any brother could potentially address the assembly).
One final observation:  today’s church gatherings are commonly referred to as worship services.  This title suggests that the reason for regular Christian gatherings is to worship God.  Yet the New Testament never refers to a church meeting as a worship service.  As we have already seen, Scripture indicates that the early church gathered primarily for the purpose of mutual edification and strengthening.
Don’t misunderstand me.  Corporate worship can certainly contribute to the strengthening of the church.  Worship, however, is not the only activity that can edify.  The problem lies partially in naming the meeting a worship service.  First, church meetings are to be open to meaningful audience input, not a service where everything is done for them.  Second, such a title suggests that worship is the only appropriate activity that is to occur.  Other modes of edification are seen as less important.  People are led to expect emotional feelings such as are associated with cathedral architecture, candles, hushed sanctuaries, stained glass windows, awe-inspiring music, and the presentation of a program that is in essence a performance.  With such unbiblical expectations, a truly biblical 1 Corinthians 14 meeting will seem strange, uncomfortable, or even disconcerting.
So where does worship fit?  Jesus told the woman at the well, “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (Jn 4:21-24).  In saying this, He made it clear that the new covenant worship would have nothing to do with any particular location.  It transcends 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning and should not be localized in any church sanctuary.
There are primarily two Greek words in the New Testament for worship.  The first is proskuneo and refers to an attitude of adoring awe toward God.  It is humility toward the Father.  It is reverence, appreciation, fear and wonder.
This attitude of inner devotion is very practically worked out in the second New Testament word for worship (latreia), which refers to a life-style of obedience and service.  Worship is thus both an attitude and an action.  As Francis Scott Key penned in a hymn: “And since words can never measure, let my life show forth Thy praise.”  Thus, while our participation in the weekly church meeting is undeniably an act of worship, so is going to work honestly, the discipline of our children, loving our families, etc.  Our daily lives are to be a continual act of worship.
The Sunday gathering is for the benefit of the people present.  It is not God who needs strengthening because He is not weak.  The Lord doesn’t need to be encouraged since He is neither tired nor discouraged.  Jesus is not lacking in anything, but His people certainly are.  Thus the primary purpose of a church meeting is to equip God’s people to go out to worship and serve Him another week (Heb 10:24-25).  It is to motivate the elect to deeper worship and obedience.

Logical Arguments for Participatory Meetings


It is a simple fact of history that the early church met in the homes of its members.  No special church buildings were constructed during the New Testament era, nor during the following two hundred years.  This necessarily meant that their gatherings were smaller rather than larger.  Such smaller settings would have essentially eliminated the possibility that those pristine meetings might consist of an eloquent sermon delivered to a massed crowd of hushed listeners.
After Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire, pagan temples were turned, by government decree, into church buildings.  Believers were herded out of their home meetings and into large basilicas.  Such huge gatherings naturally were more of a show or service.    Interactive teaching became nonexistent, and instruction was monologue oration.  Questions from the audience were not allowed.  Spontaneity was lost.  Individual participation was squelched.  The “one another” aspect of an assembly became impossible.  Informality gave way to formality.  Church leaders began to wear special costumes.  Worship aids were introduced:  incense, icons, hand gestures, etc.  It continues even today, to a lesser or greater degree.  In short, the New Testament way was jettisoned for a way of man’s own devising.
Which type of church meeting best meets the needs of God’s people?  Certainly much good comes from the weekly proclamation of God’s Word by those church leaders who have come to be known as preachers or pastor-teachers.  The worshipful and inspirational singing of the great hymns of the faith is also beneficial.  Yet scripturally, there is supposed to be more to a church meeting than merely attending a service.
Allowing any of the brothers who so desire to participate verbally in the meeting lends for a greater working of the Spirit as the various ministry gifts begin to function.  Not allowing them to function causes atrophy and even apathy.  According to what Paul wrote, God may burden several brothers, independent of each other, to bring a teaching.  Learning is increased as appropriate questions are asked of a speaker.  Additional applications and illustrations can be offered to a word of instruction by the body at large.  New believers learn how to think biblically with the mind of Christ as more mature believers are observed reasoning together.  Maturity rates skyrocket.  The brothers begin to own the meeting, take responsibility for what goes on and become active participants rather than passive spectators.

Scholarly Testimony for Participatory Meetings


That New Testament church gatherings were completely open and participatory, with no one leading from the front, is agreed upon by researchers.  For instance, Dr. Henry Sefton, in  A Lion Handbook  - The History of Christianity, stated,  “Worship in the house-church had been of an intimate kind in which all present had taken an active part . . . (this) changed from being ‘a corporate action of the whole church’ into ‘a service said by the clergy to which the laity listened.’”1
Ernest Scott, in The Nature of the Early Church, writes, “The exercise of the spiritual gifts was thus the characteristic element in the primitive worship.  Those gifts might vary in their nature and degree according to the capacity of each individual, but thy were bestowed on all and room was allowed in the service for the participation of all who were present . . . Every member was expected to contribute something of his own to the common worship.”2
In the Mid America Baptist Theological Journal, Dr. J. Milikin stated that in early Christian congregations “there was apparently a free expression of the Spirit.  In the public assembly one person might have a psalm, another a teaching, another a revelation, another a tongue, another an interpretation.”3
Dr. John Drane, in Introducing the New Testament, wrote, “In the earliest days . . . their worship was spontaneous. This seems to have been regarded as the ideal, for when Paul describes how a church meeting should proceed he depicts a Spirit-led participation by many, if not all . . . There was the fact that anyone had the freedom to participate in such worship. In the ideal situation, when everyone was inspired by the Holy Spirit, this was the perfect expression of Christian freedom.”4
A. M.  Renwick, writing in The Story of the Church, said, “The very essence of church organization and Christian life and worship . . . was simplicity . . . Their worship was free and spontaneous under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and had not yet become inflexible through the use of manuals of devotion.”5

Practical Considerations


One aspect of New Testament meetings that is still practiced today is the singing.  The Ephesian church was instructed to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (Ep 5:19).  Similarly, the Colossians were exhorted to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).  Perhaps not so familiar to modern believers, however, is the “one another” (Ep 5:19, Col 3:16) emphasis of the singing.  According to 1 Corinthians 14:26, everyone of the brothers had the opportunity to bring a hymn.  No mention is made anywhere in the New Testament of a minister of music or worship leader controlling the singing.  It is certainly a blessing to have gifted musicians who can assist the congregation in worship and singing.  However, to be true to the New Testament prescription, musicians must be careful not to perform like those on stage in a show.  The brothers of the church must be given the freedom and responsibility of requesting which songs are sung, and when.
On a related note (pun intended!), some Christians are adamantly against the use of musical instruments in church meetings.  However, the Greek word for “hymn” (1Co 14:26) is translated from psalmos and which fundamentally means, “songs accompanied by a stringed instrument.”  Since instruments are not forbidden, and since there is no known pattern of specifically not using them, this arguably is an issue where each church has liberty to determine its own practice.
Another feature of early church meetings that is still practiced today is the teaching of God’s Word.  Our Lord instructed the apostles to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything He had commanded (Mt 28:20).  Accordingly, we learn from Acts 2:42 that the Jerusalem church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.  Further, teaching is listed as a spiritual gift in both Romans 12:7 and 1 Corinthians 12:28.  Moreover, one of the requirements of an elder is that he be able to teach (1Ti 3:2).  Elders who work hard at teaching are worthy of double honor (financial support, 1Ti 5:17-18).  In 1 Corinthians 14, however, teaching is tossed in with the other activities in an almost cavalier way.  The teacher is not given the prominence that one sees in today’s typical church meeting.  Every one of the brothers in good standing with the church was to be given the opportunity to contribute a word of instruction (14:26).
All this, taken together, demands of us an appreciation for the importance of those called to teaching ministries, yet we should also allow opportunity for any brother to teach in our regular 1 Corinthians 14 gatherings.  Practically, it would also suggest each teaching during the 1 Corinthians 14 style of meeting be shorter, rather than longer, in order to allow the opportunity for others who might desire to teach.
Amazingly, pastors and elders are not even mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14.  This may be because pastors did not dominate these types of gatherings with their teachings.  This is not to say that elders did not teach in the meetings, but it is clear from 1 Corinthians 14 that non-elders also had the opportunity to do so.  Thus, the author of Hebrews made the general statement that “by this time you ought to be teachers” (5:12).  That he did not have the leaders in mind is evident from his salutation (“greet all your leaders,” 13:24), revealing that he did not even expect the elders to read the letter!  Still, just because the opportunity exists for someone to teach, it does not necessarily follow that they should teach.  The elders must remind the church of James’ warning that “not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (3:1).  James’ caution makes sense in light of the intimate, participatory meetings that characterized the early church.
This freedom for any brother to teach is precisely when the elders are needed most.  If a brother brings an erroneous teaching or application, the elders must gently correct the error.  Timothy, an apostolic worker stationed temporarily at Ephesus, was to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” (1Ti 1:3).  Scripture also tells us that one qualification for an elder is that he must “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Tit 1:9).  Similarly, Titus was told to “encourage and rebuke with all authority.  Do not let anyone despise you” (Tit 2:15).  The aged apostle John warned about a known deceiver: “do not take him into your house” (2Jn 1:10).  (One can easily see how John’s instructions could have been applied to house churches with participatory meetings.)
Obviously, some brothers are far more qualified to teach than are others.  An aged, godly man, gifted to teach, who loves the Lord, and who has studied the Bible and served people all his life, is going to have profound insights to share with the church.  Especially in the presence of such men, the rest should be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (Jam 1:19).  Special times should be devoted to allow such a man the opportunity of expounding God’s Word.  However, these teaching meetings should be considered worker’s meetings or apostolic meetings or ministry meetings, not 1 Corinthians 14 church meetings.  There is a time and a place for both.  Rather than a lot of participation by one person, a Lord’s Day church meeting is to be characterized by a little input from a lot of people.
Charismatic and Pentecostal churches are quite familiar with revelations, tongues, and interpretations.  Churches that practice such gifts should be sure the guidelines of 1 Corinthians 14:26-32 are followed closely.  Uninterpreted tongues are not to be allowed.  There is a limit on the number of those who do speak in tongues.  Only one person at a time should speak.  Prophecies must be judged, and anyone who desires to prophesy needs to realize in advance that his words will be weighed carefully.  Doubtless some that passes for prophecy and tongues is bogus.  Dealing with this area can be messy and frustrating since the overly-emotional and unstable often imagine they have such gifts.  Perhaps that is why the Thessalonians had to be told, “do not treat prophecies with contempt.  Test everything.  Hold on to the good.  Avoid every kind of evil” (1Th 5:20-22).   In the midst of all these supernatural utterances, there must be order:  “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets.  God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1Co 14:33a).  Elders play a key role in helping everything that goes on in the meeting to be done in a “fitting and orderly way” (1Co 14:40).
Some churches believe that charismatic gifts ended in the first century, or have no one present who is so gifted.  Even so, the principle of participatory meetings remains.  Brothers should still be free to spontaneously bring teachings, request or introduce songs, share testimonies, offer prayer, question speakers, etc.  Yet despite their theological suspicions, it should give pause to read that Scripture clearly instructs, “do not forbid to speak in tongues” (1Co 14:39).  Perhaps tongues have indeed ceased, but maybe not.  Are we really so sure of our theology that we are willing to directly contradict a biblical command?
Another practical consideration for participatory meetings concerns the idea of a moderator or master of ceremonies.  Notice that none is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14.  As a church matures in experiencing participatory gatherings, the need for someone to moderate the meeting will diminish.  Ideally, a visitor to a properly functioning church would not even know who its leaders were unless there were a problem that requires correction.
A warning shot across the bow was fired by the inspired writer in 1 Corinthians 14:38.  After stating that these orderly, participatory meetings are the “Lord’s command” (14:37), he then cautioned that anyone who disregards what was written would be ignored.  Though unclear as to exactly what this meant, some type of penalty was threatened.  A price would be paid for disregarding the Lord’s command for church meetings.

Problems to Expect


The authors of this book have many combined years of practical experience with participatory meetings.  We have observed that there are some typical problems to be expected.  We detail these below in the hope that those just beginning to experiment with participatory meetings can avoid some of the more common pitfalls.
Pew Potatoes. Most church folks, after years of attending services, are conditioned to sit silently, as if watching TV.  It takes encouragement and patience to over come this.  Meaningful participation will seem awkward to people at first.  Continual prompting and encouraging by the leadership during the week may be necessary until people “break the sound barrier.”  The leaders can prompt interaction by asking, “Is there a testimony the Lord would have you to bring?  Is there a song that would edify the church?  Is there some subject or passage of Scripture to teach on?”
If a string were stretched across a stream at water level, various things would become attached to it as the day passed, things that otherwise would have floated on past.  Similarly, thinking all week long about what to bring to the meeting helps greatly.  If no one brought food for the agape love feast, there would not be much of a feast.  Similarly, if no one comes to the meeting prepared to contribute, there will not be much of a meeting!  Men, do your wives spend more time preparing for church (by cooking food for the agape feast) than you do (in considering something to say in the meeting)?
Unedifying Remarks. Sometimes after folks do start talking, they get a little too casual.  They begin to chat about things that really don’t edify the assembly.  Just because it is an open meeting does not mean people can say anything they want to say.  Leaders need to remind the church that anything said in the meeting must be designed to build up the body and to encourage everyone.  Church meetings are also not to be therapy sessions for the wounded, with everything focused on one person and his needs.  Though such people do need counseling, it is generally to be done at a time other than the corporate assembly.
False Teachings. The lure of an participatory meeting may be strong enough to draw in those with aberrant theology who are looking for a place to promote their unique doctrine.  Following the biblical pattern of participatory meetings must not become an occasion for false teachings to flourish!  The prevention and correction of error is precisely one reason elders are needed.  Elders must be men who are mature and grounded in the faith.  They must detect and refute error when they hear it, giving it no quarter.  No teaching should be allowed in the meeting that is contrary to historic Christian orthodoxy.
Pooled Ignorance. Rather than study a subject in advance to bring a teaching, some folks will come to the meeting totally unprepared and simply plop a question out before the gathered church for an answer.  This is the opposite of bringing a teaching.  It is sort of an anti-teaching.  Leaders should discourage people from asking such questions to the church out of ignorance.   Such questions only draw attention to the person asking the question and are not designed to edify the church.  It is too self oriented.  It is asked to meet a personal need.  Moreover, since it is unlikely that anyone will have recently studied the topic under question, pooled ignorance will likely abound as everyone offers their opinions.  There simply is no substitute for the careful, systematic, in-depth study of Scripture in private and in advance of the meeting, and there is no excuse for not so doing.
Over-Scheduled Meetings. Those used to church bulletins will want to arrange such things as teaching, music and prayer in advance.  Beware of quenching the Spirit!  It is clear from 1 Corinthians 14 that New Testament church meetings were generally spontaneous.
Disruptive Visitors. There are many kinds of disruptive visitors.  Uninformed guests can easily hijack a meeting by unedifying remarks.  Self-centered people will try to take dominate the meeting.  The mentally unstable will speak loudly and often, to the chagrin of the assembly.  Critics may attack what the church does or believes in the meeting.  Heretics will view the participatory meetings as a chance to promote their errant theology.  Leaders are needed in such cases to restore order with wisdom and patience.  Visitors should be prompted in advance of the divine guidelines found in 1 Corinthians 14.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!  (See the sample prospective visitor’s letter at the end).  It may be appropriate to invite the critic to air his opinions later, after the meeting is over, during the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper or in private with the elders.
Population Control. Meetings that are either too big or too small create their own set of hindrances to participatory gatherings.   Too few people can seem dull.  Too many people present will intimidate the shy and work against open sharing.
Worship Leaders. Musicians are to facilitate the church’s singing and worship, not control it.  Beware of worship leaders who would take over the meeting and make it into a show.
Punctuality. Relation-based churches are notoriously bad about starting late.  If it is announced that a meeting will begin at a certain time, then the leaders need to be sure that it does start at that time.  It is a matter of courtesy and respect for the value of other people’s time.  Arriving on time also shows respect.  Consistently being late for a meeting is often a sign of passive aggression.  At the very least it is rude and inconsiderate.
The Master of Ceremonies. Some leaders will tend to want to emcee the meetings, as if they were television talk show hosts.  Perhaps such prompting will be necessary in the infancy of a church, but in maturity this will not be needed.  Further, there is nothing wrong with silence occasionally.  Trust the Holy Spirit to guide the assembly.  Ideally, a visitor in a 1 Corinthians 14 meeting should not be able to tell who the elders are in the church.  Unless there is a problem, the elders should just blend in with everyone else!   Admittedly, lack of participation on the part of the members can be a problem, so elders may need to lead out more in such cases to encourage input from others.
Children. The New Testament pattern seems to indicate that children were present in the meeting with their parents.  For example, Paul intended some of his letters to be read aloud to the entire church (see Col 4:16).  Based on Ephesians 6:1-3, children were present in the Ephesian church meetings or they would not have been present to hear Paul’s instructions to them when the letter was read.  (Compare also Mt 19:13-15, Lk 2:41-50, Ac 21:5.)
However, a very young child who begins crying loudly in the meeting should be removed from the meeting by a parent until he is quieted.  Older children must be taught to sit still or play silently on the floor so as not to disrupt the meeting.  Some parents will be oblivious to this need and in such cases the leadership must speak to the parents in private to enlist their cooperation in controlling their children.
False expectations.  People will invariably come to the 1 Corinthians 14 gatherings with preconceived notions of what the meeting should be like.  Some, for instance, will want a moving worship service, or to sing only the great hymns of the faith.  Others will exclusively associate praise songs with heartfelt worship, or expect dramatic healings to take place, or want a high powered Bible lecture, or some emotional presentation of the gospel.  When their expectations are not met, disappointment and discontentment are the result.  Church leaders need to be aware of this and take steps to help people to have biblical expectations of the meetings and to have the same goals that our Lord does.

Some Objections


Some overseers voice vigorous objection to this type of church meeting.  With good reason they fear that chaos and anarchy could break out.  Remember, however, that while there is order in a cemetery, there is no life there.  It is much better to have life and  risk a little disorder!  Keeping order is one of the duties of an elder.  Church leaders are also responsible for training the saints so that they are equipped to contribute meaningfully to such a meeting and to judge error for themselves.  Further, the Holy Spirit must be trusted to work in the life of a church.  If the Scriptures truly reveal God’s desire for participatory meetings, then God will also see to it that the meetings will be successful in the long run.
In commenting on the contrast between early church meetings and modern church meetings, Gordon Fee observed, “By and large the history of the church points to the fact that in worship we do not greatly trust the diversity of the body.  Edification must always be the rule, and that carries with it orderliness so that all may learn and all be encouraged.  But it  is no great credit to the historical church that in opting for ‘order’ it also opted for a silencing of the ministry of the many.”6
Frankly, some pastors will oppose the guidelines of 1 Corinthians 14 precisely because enacting them will result in a lack of focus on the pastor.  Sadly, a small percentage of pastors are on ego trips, or have their need for self affirmation fulfilled by being the star player in a service.  This is a blind-spot that must be overcome.
Impedance to the commands of 1 Corinthians 14 can also occur if believers become so intoxicated with their newly found freedom that they essentially run off into anarchy or gnosticism.  They become overly wary of agendas.  To them, anyone with leadership skills is somehow self-willed or evil.  Yet it is obvious that Paul, a godly leader, had a godly agenda for the churches to which he ministered.  Balance is a key consideration.  We need to be about the Lord’s agenda of helping His churches come into compliance with everything the Lord commanded!
Many people have read 1 Corinthians 14 and judged their churches to be in complete compliance merely because the congregation participates through responsive readings, genuflecting, partaking of the wafer and wine of the Lord’s Supper, singing hymns, giving tithes and offerings, etc.   Part of the problem is that all of this is planned out, it is not spontaneous, the structure is the same every week, and the entire order of worship is laid out in the bulletin.  There may be limited audience participation, but there is no real liberty.  Is any one of the brothers free to pick a hymn?  To bring a teaching?  To raise his hand and ask a question?  Is there spontaneity?

Conclusion:  Affirmations & Denials


What conclusions can be drawn about the way God desires the weekly, Lord’s Day church meeting to be conducted?  We deny that:
1.  “Worship services” were held by the New Testament church.
2.  Huge assemblies of Christians meeting for weekly worship is a New Testament pattern.
3.  Church meetings need to be led from the front by a worship leader.
4.  Bulletins are necessary or even slightly beneficial to a church meeting.
5.  Only one person can teach in the meeting.
6.  Teachers should be scheduled in advance.
7.  Ritual and ceremony were part of New Testament church meetings.
8.  Special aids to worship are important, such as incense, costumes, icons, statues, stained glass, or ornate cathedral-like buildings.
9.  Performance-like shows are legitimate substitutes for the New Testament prescription of interaction.

On the positive side, we affirm that:
1.  The regular weekly church meeting is to be participatory and spontaneous.
2.  Anything said or done must be designed to strengthen (edify) the whole church.
3.  Only one person at a time is to address the assembly.
4.  Everything is to be done in a fitting and orderly way.
5.  One of an elder’s roles in such meetings is to keep it “on track” and true to the prime directive that all things be done unto edifying.
6.  This type of participatory meeting is not optional, is not just interesting history, is not just quaint information.  Such meetings are the “Lord’s command” (1Co 14:37).
— Steve Atkerson

Notes


1 Henry Sefton,  A Lion Handbook  - The History of Christianity (Oxford, UK:  Lion Publishing, 1988)  151.
2 Ernest Scott, The Nature Of The Early Church (New York, NY:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941), 79.
3 Jimmy Milikin, “Disorder Concerning Public Worship,” Mid America Baptist Theological Journal (Memphis, TN:  Mid-America Baptist Seminary Press, 1983), 125.
4 John Drane, Introducing the New Testament (Oxford, UK:  Lion Publishing, 1999), 402.
5 A. M.  Renwick, The Story of the Church (Downers Grove, IL:  Inter-Varsity Press 1958), 22-23.
6 Gordon Fee, New International Commentary on New Testament, The First Epistle To The Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 698.

Discussion Questions


1.  Suppose 1 Corinthians 14:26 contained the words “only one” rather than “everyone.”  Which would be more descriptive of modern worship services?  How so?
2.  Suppose 1 Corinthians 14:26 is actually a criticism of what the Corinthian church was doing (allegedly chaotic meetings), was the inspired solution a prohibition of participatory meetings or a regulation of it?  Explain.
3.  What role did music and ministers of music play in the early church meetings?
4.  Taken as a whole, what are the various indicators throughout 1 Corinthians 14 that combine to show the participatory nature of early church meetings?
5.  What are some of the guiding principles for participatory church meetings, based on 1 Corinthians 14 and Hebrews 10:24-25?
6.  Why is it so important that everything said and done in the church meeting be edifying?
7.  How can the participatory nature of a church meeting be reconciled with the need for the in-depth exposition of God’s Word by gifted teachers?
8.  What does 1 Corinthians 14:37 indicate about whether the guidelines of 1 Corinthians 14 are merely descriptive or actually prescriptive?
9.  Many churches have no one gifted in the more obviously supernatural “charismatic” gifts.  Why would the absence of such gifts not nullify the Lord’s command (1Co 14:37) that church meetings be participatory?
10.  What other contributions to a church meeting can be made, based on Acts 2:42, 14:26-28 and 1 Timothy 4:13?
11.  What setting would better facilitate a participatory church meeting, a smaller congregation in a living room setting, or a huge congregation meeting in a canvernous worship center?  Why?
12.  What role should an elder play in an participatory meeting?
13.  What risk does a church without an elder take when meeting for a time of participative encouragement (1Co 14)?
14.  What evidence is there that children remained in the church meeting with their parents?
15.  Having a open format could conceivably attract heretics who would seek to advance their novel views.  How should this be prepared for and handled?
16.  What should be done if, week after week, few people contribute anything of significance in the participatory meeting?
17.  Where does the New Testament reveal that the purpose of a church meeting is to conduct a worship service?  Explain.
18.  In what ways does the church you currently attend conform to, or deviate from, the New Testament standard?

A Letter To Prospective Visitors


We have made a conscious effort to seek to follow the traditions of the original apostles in our church practice (see www.NTRF.org).  Thus, even though we are quite “traditional” in the New Testament sense, what we do is rather unconventional by contemporary standards.  Our hope is that you will feel comfortable and encouraged when meeting with us.


Our church is relationship based.  First and foremost is each member’s relationship with the Lord Jesus.  Then comes our relationship with each other as brothers and sisters in the same heavenly family.  This does not mean that we believe doctrine to be unimportant.  In the essentials of the Faith we believe there is to be unity.  In the non-essentials we believe there is to be liberty (Ro 14 & 15).  We leave it up to each father to decide these issues and lead his own family in them.  If you hold certain secondary (and disputable) issues so dearly that it causes you to separate from other brethren, then our church is probably not for you.  A few examples of such issues that we consider to be secondary, and not worth separating over, are Bible translations, nonresistance, head coverings, Christmas, politics, the Sabbath, end-time events and music styles.

We meet in the morning, in NE Atlanta, near the Perimeter.  For location and directions, please call:

Pete & Eta at 000-000-0000

John & Meg at 000-000-0000


1.  Following the pattern of the New Testament, the church comes together regularly on the first day of each week.  This is known in Scripture as the Lord’s Day, the day Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave.  We do not, however, see it as any type of sabbath day.  Every day is a holy day under the New Covenant (Heb 4, Col 2:16 - 17, Ga 4:8 - 11).


2.  The doors of the host’s home open at 10 a.m. and the singing starts promptly one half hour later.  Thus, you can see that there is a thirty minute window for folks to come in, get settled, visit, get coffee, etc.  Please try to park on the same side of the street on which the home is located.  This will make it less likely that our cars will choke up the neighborhood street.


3.  Our dress code is casual and comfortable.  Nobody wears a tie.  Ladies wear anything from comfortable dresses to pants to capris.  Children usually end up playing outside after the meeting and therefore wear play clothes and shoes.  Getting dirty is not uncommon for the kids.


4.  The Lord’s Supper is an integral part of our gathering.  Actually, it is the main reason we come together each week.  We eat it as a full meal per 1 Corinthians 11b.  It is potluck with everyone bringing something to share with the rest.  We believe it is to be a true meal to typify the wedding banquet of the Lamb.  It’s a great time of fellowship and encouragement and very much like a wedding party rather than a funeral.  In the middle of all the food you will notice the one cup and the one loaf, representing the body and blood of our Lord, designed to remind Jesus of His promise to return and partake of the meal again with His people.  All believers are free to partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine as they go through the food line.  There is no official ending time.   Just leave after you have dined and enjoyed sufficient fellowship!


5.  Before we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we have a time of sharing and singing.  It is spontaneous and participatory (no bulletin!) per 1 Corinthians 14:25ff.  Nothing is pre-planned except the starting time of the first song (10:30 a.m.).  Sometimes we sing a lot, sometimes not much at all.   On one Sunday three brothers may teach, while on other weeks no one will teach.*  Sometimes we pray a long time, sometimes very little.  Any of the brothers may participate verbally, but everything said must be designed to edify the whole church (14:26).  Only one person at a time is allowed to address the assembly, and everything is to be done in a fitting and orderly way.   All teaching and prophecies are liable to public cross examination and judgment.  Further, there is no moderator nor emcee per se.  In fact, unless there is a problem to correct, you would not even know who our leaders are.  Ladies do not speak out publicly in the 1 Corinthians 14 phase of the meeting (14:33-35).  In contrast, they speak quite a bit during the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper.

*Our in-depth teaching ministry is on Wednesday nights at 7:30.


6.  The children stay with us in the meeting, though if a really young child gets noisy one of his parents will take him out until he calms down.  If you have young children you may wish to bring along something to keep them happy, such as a drawing pad and crayons or quiet toys.  The kids usually sit on the floor next to their parents.  We believe it is the parent’s job, not the church’s, to teach their children about Jesus.  Thus, we purposely have no Sunday school nor children’s church.


7.  Inquiring minds will want to know that most of us hold to the doctrines of grace (Augustinian soteriology), new covenant theology , biblical inerrancy, and the Danver’s statement on biblical manhood and womanhood.  You can find out more about New Testament church life at www.ntrf.org.  We also are decidedly in alignment with historic Christian theology and morality.  Our elder’s favorite statement of faith is the First London (Baptist) Confession of 1644.


8.  In short, we believe that the patterns for church life evident in the New Testament are not merely descriptive, but are actually prescriptive (2Th 2:15, 1Co 11:2).  Thus, we believe that churches should be smaller rather than lager, in elder-led congregational consensus, in participatory church meetings, and that the Lord’s Supper and the Agape Feast are synonymous weekly events.  You may find it helpful to read through 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 and 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 before coming.


9.  For us, true church life occurs every day, as we see each other during the week, all week long.  To facilitate this, we place a high priority on living as close together as is practical.  So, the Lord’s Day activities described above are just the icing on the cake.  To evaluate us based solely on what you observe in a Sunday meeting would be an incomplete analysis.


10.  In a perfect situation, church is to be about community, not
commuting. To fellowship with the saints only on Sundays is to do
yourself a disservice. If you don’t live on our side of town, we would
like to help you eventually start (or find) a church in your own
neighborhood, once you get the vision for New Testament church life.  In the mean time, come advance the Kingdom with us.

In sum, our church is committed to meeting and living out as simple as possible a reading and understanding of what the New Testament church gave us for a pattern. We know we don’t have it all figured out yet. We are a work in progress! We tend to take issues one at a time and attempt to come to a biblically based consensus before moving on. Everybody counts and ideally nobody gets run over or discounted. This means we sometimes move pretty slow, but with a high degree of peace and unity. For that we have been blessed and are grateful.

Participatory Meeting Audio

Participatory Meeting Video

Participatory Meeting Teacher's Notes





Steve Atkerson


Married since 1983, Steve Atkerson and his wife Sandra have three children, one in high school, one in college and one married. A graduate of Georgia Tech, Steve worked for several years in electronics before enrolling in seminary. While there he served on the part-time staff of a 14,000 member Baptist church. After receiving an M. Div. from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, he ministered on the pastoral staff of a Southern Baptist Church in Atlanta with a membership of around 1000 folks. Then in 1990, after seven years in the traditional pastorate, he resigned to begin working with churches that desire to follow apostolic traditions in their church practice. He thus has transitioned all the way from mega churches to micro churches! He travels and teaches about the practice of the early church as the Lord opens doors of opportunity. Steve is an elder at a local house church, is president of NTRF, edited Toward A House Church Theology, authored both The Practice of the Early Church: A Theological Workbook and The Equipping Manual, and is editor of and a contributing author to both Ekklesia: To The Roots of Biblical House Church Life and House Church: Simple, Strategic, Scriptural.