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Thoughts on Church, part 6

February 17, 2008

If you read the previous post by my wife, then you know that our life has been pretty hectic lately. It’s about to get a lot more hectic, but I want to wrap up my series of posts on the Church. Since its been a week or so since the last post, let me begin this post by stating a few points that I’ve made (or tried to make) that will help intoduce my final post (maybe) 🙂

1) Salvation is not an individual experience – its corporate. This is the point of church… its where salvation is found.

2) Individualism and subjective personal experience have infiltrated and dominated our modern era churches.

3) There are symbols that mark the identity of the church and her relationship to Christ. These symbols are not just powerless signs pointing to some reality… they are the reality. Just as a intimacy is a symbol within a marriage that strengthens the marriage (when done rightly), so the symbols of the church help to strenthen the body.

4) There is room for creativity within the worship service, but there are definate boundaries.

5) The modern era church, for the most part, has neglected these boundaries and formed the church into something that is foreign to Scripture.

6) The Bible not only gives us the proper symbols for the church, but also gives us a proper model for worship.

In a previous post I gave a couple of New Testament verses that described worship in terms of “sacrifice.” I then made the link to the sacrificial system found in the Old Testament. This might seem odd to many of you, and I think there’s a good explanation – one I’ve hinted at already.

How do we normally translate this idea of sacrifice in the New Testament? Well, I submit that we translate it according to our own presuppositions of worship that our tradition has given us. In this case, our American, individualistic, subjective worship experience. We already perceive worship to look like “Exhibit A” so we define terms like “sacrifice” to fit within our system of worship. Therefore, “sacrifice” means giving our all in worship; having that emotional experience where we connect with God – either through powerful music or preaching. Or maybe we don’t even associate sacrifice with worship at all. As I’ve mentioned before, our worship today seems to be a reaction to what Christ has done for us… not a participation. So in that case, sacrifice finds it’s meaning in our daily, individual lives: witnessing to a co-worker, giving up watching the game in order to work in a soup kitchen, getting up an hour early to have quiet time, etc.

This is not the proper way to define biblical terms and concepts. My point here is not to describe the history and intricacies of biblical interpretation, but I do want to point out one basic rule: use scripture to define scripture. For example, if the New Testament uses the word “sacrifice” to describe worship, it is important for us to find out what “sacrifice” means. The best way to do this is to find other uses of “sacrifice” in the Bible.

As a side note, there is a lot to be said about the poor practice of biblical interpretation that occurs in our churches today. For instance, many churches have a low view of the Old Testament. At best they view it as tales of morality, at worst they view it as obsolete. These churches mistakenly view themselves as “New Testament” churches. I say “mistakenly” because their view of the New Testament is in error based upon their Old Testament views. The only way you can interpret – and therefore live – according to the New Testament is with a proper understanding of the Old Testament. At the very least this means that the Old Testament is vital to interpreting the New Testament, and vice versa. I’ll put this another way: It is heresy to believe that the Old Testament has nothing to do with the New Testament, and it is highly erroneous to view the Old Testament as “LAW” and the New Testament as “GRACE” – as if they were two separate books or Bibles.  

Well, I lied. This post is too long, so I will continue on another post, hopefully tomorrow.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Glenn LaRue permalink
    March 21, 2008 1:57 pm

    Brian,

    I am very thankful that you are putting so much thought into the purposes and functions of the Church, as well as individual churches. You have put your finger on some dangerous, even destructive tendencies of the western Church.

    I have some concerns about some of your conclusions and broad characterizations as well. I do not have the time to interact with regular posts right now, but I think we should talk about these things whenever we get to see each other, which I hope will be soon. It has been too long already.

    Just to give you a brief indication, my concerns stem from a couple main things:

    1. In some of your posts and in some of the comments from friends, I sense a pessimism or even cynicism toward the church in America that discourages me. Even though I agree with many of your concerns, I’m not sure that Christians should take such a tone. If we know that Christ is building his church and the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it, we should operate with great optimism. If you consider Paul’s attitude toward the Corinthians, he is amazingly positive even in the midst of strong rebukes. Even in his letter to the Galatians, which contains Paul’s most scathing New Testament rebuke, he says, “I have confidence in you in the Lord” (5:10). In other words, Paul is saying, “I know that in spite of the disappointments, Christ is building his Church.”

    For example, I don’t like Andy Stanley’s ministry philosophy at all, but I do believe that Christ is saving people through his ministry and building the Church. When we use expressions like, “This makes me want to puke,” I’m not sure we are building up the body. It encourages other Christians to take on such a tone. And it certainly comes across to non-believers like division. It also puts a wall between you and the ministries you are seeking to change. I have certainly been guilty of this type of tone in the past, but I do not want to speak like this in the future. Even Luther at Worms, though he would not recant his writings against the Pope, apologized for much of his strong language.

    2. I wonder if you have enough balance in your conclusions. To me, you come across as quite polarized. For example, you rightly emphasize the corporate aspect of salvation. But it is so strong that even though you give some lip service to personal disciplines, the overall impression strongly diminishes the individual aspects of walking with Christ. I’m not sure that you want to come across as negative toward books like Pilgrim’s Progress or Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Honestly though, I think this is how you come across.

    There is so much content in the Old and New Testaments that speaks to the individual demands of living and faith. The Psalms, for example, have as much “I/me” language as “us/we” language. And the New Testament consistently makes one’s personal walk the basis for fellowship in the Church. Church discipline and individual faith are inseperable. Christ says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” This is a very personal call. The Sermon on the Mount is largely concerned with personal daily ethics. I also believe it is significant that the first and greatest commandment is given in the second person singular. Both Deut. 6:5 and Matt. 22:37 are commands to the individual: “You (singular) shall love the Lord your (singular) God with all your (singular) heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is also true of the Ten Commandments.

    Of course, many times the Bible also speaks in corporate terms with the plural “you” (ie. Eph. 1 and 2). My point is that we must be ballanced and emphasize both aspects to salvation pretty evenly. They are so intimately connected. Being in a church, taking communion, baptism, etc. are no guarantees that one is a true worshiper. “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Tares will exist among the wheat until the judgment.

    I wish I had more time. I look forward to any response you may wish to give on here. I probably won’t be able to interact much with this because of the demands of my semester. I just wanted you to know that I look forward to discussing these things with you.

    I miss you and your family and think about you guys often.

    Glenn

  2. March 27, 2008 3:28 pm

    Glenn,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. You always cause me to go back and take a second look at what I wrote… and, as usual, I don’t always come off the way I intended. For instance, I should have clearly stated that my problem with NorthPointe is the philosophy – not the people. Truly, I love the church and recognize all of its members in every tradition. In one sense, this is a wonderful thing. That said, I really don’t see a problem making a harsh comment about something like the Auburn Church video. Of course, my initial comment was not really that harsh (imo), but I guess it got perceived that way.

    To briefly answer your points:
    1. I really do have an optimistic outlook in regards to the church (I’m a postmillenialist for crying out loud!). This is another area where I could have been clearer in my posts. Even still, though, that doesn’t mean that church makes a few missteps along the way. I see the NorthPointe philosophy as a tremendous misstep… I may be wrong, but I doubt it. My main concern with posts like this is to generate discussion that hopefully remains civil… I think a lot of good can come from that. Ultimately my comments stem from a concern for the church – but I still recognize her as the church. I think it’s funny that some people (I’m not saying just you, or anyone that has commented on this blog, but all over) have a problem with criticism of an “evangelical” church, but will be the first to call Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or even Church of Christ members heathens and in need of salvation. My problem with NorthPointe is the same as my problem with purgatory in the Catholic doctrine or icons in the Eastern Orthodox tradition: I disagree with the practice, but they’re still my brothers in Christ.

    2. My point in emphasizing the corporate aspect of salvation is not to deemphasize the individual aspect. As I stated – it’s alive and well in the protestant church. It just needs to be put in its proper perspective and place. As I stated, it’s not a first, second, third, kind of placement, but rather one leading into the other.
    BTW, I think Pilgrim’s Progress is a good read but one of the worst Christian books ever written…. probably responsible for a lot of the problems we have in the western Church today!

    Much luf,
    Brian

  3. Glenn LaRue permalink
    April 2, 2008 9:07 am

    Brian,

    Thanks for responding. Thinking about the church in our culture is very difficult. Being the church in our culture is even harder. So I appreciate your desire to converse about these things.

    The hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
    The difficulty will not me offend;
    For I perceive the way to life lies here:
    Come, pluck up heart, let’s neither faint nor fear.
    Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
    Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.

    Glenn

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