Thursday, November 16, 2006

Current State of the Congregation

I have been enjoying conversations with John Lynch about where the church is and where it needs to go. In between our meetings after reflection and study I have come across author Leith Anderson who seems to have a great understanding of contemporary church life:

"While the New Testament speaks often about churches, it is surprisingly silent about many matters that we associate with church structure and life. There is no mention of architecture, pulpits, lengths of typical sermons [or sermons!], rules for having a Sunday school. Little is said about style of music, order of worship, or times of church gatherings. There were no Bibles, denominations, camps, pastor's conferences, or board meeting minutes. Those who strive to be New Testament churches must seek to live its principles and absolutes, not reproduce the details.' Those details simply aren't given.

"Now you might ask yourself, Why does the New Testament say nothing about all those matters to which the usual congregation today devotes almost all its thought and effort? Answer: Because those matters are not primary and will take care of themselves with little attention whenever what is primary is appropriately cared for. Pay attention to the "principles and absolutes" of the New Testment church and, one might suppose, everything else will fall into place--in large part because "everything else" really doesn't matter much one way or the other. To fail to put the focus on those principles and absolutes, on the other hand, is to wander off into a state of distraction, which is where most of our local congregations actually are. They wind up majoring on minors and allowing the majors, from the New Testament point of view, to disappear.

"If you make the minors out to be essential or even very important - even if you do so only practically, in the sense of spending most of your time on them - the local congregation will make little or no progress in terms of the spiritual formation of those in regular attendance. These 'vessel' matters do not bring anyone into Christlikeness, whichever side of them one stands on. That is a proven fact of life. Look and see."


Makeesha said...

absolutely! I just commented on this in a post of my own :)

John Lynch said...

That's a great quote, Q! What awesome insight into the distraction we (including me) so frequently fall into.

I love that summary, "To fail to put the focus on those principles and absolutes ... is to wander off into a state of distraction." That really pushes the ball down the field.

I wonder, as I reread it, if it might also have some important room for improvement? Focusing on "principles & absolutes" strikes me as one more extra-biblical way of looking at things... a Modernity way, to be specific.

I wonder if the summary might better read, "To fail to put the focus on the person of Jesus Christ ... is to wander off into a state of distraction." I was thinking that such a refocusing keeps Jesus, our Truth, at the core of our pursuits instead of impersonal ideologies extracted from the Text.

Sometimes I think "principles & absolutes" become just as distracting as everything else when they're looked at independent of the person of Christ.

What do you think?

Missional Jerry said...

excellent post!

Quentin Mullinix said...

When Leith Anderson wrote this, I don't think that he was speaking in the Platonic sense as if we should focus on principles & absolutes as eternal values seperate from Christ (though, I confess, we have a tendency to do this). Of course we should come to understand them in a deeper and relational sense to Christ. Anderson was just making a contrast to what we usually focus on--which although has an appearance of godliness, because it involves a "works" connection to Christ, ends up being a secular-like goal--think Mary & Martha (After all, you can be a non-Christian and be the most efficient treasurer in a church--but absolutely no spiritual growth will necessarily take place).