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Faith on the Edge Podcast and Ditch the Building

Faith on the Edge Podcast and Ditch the Building

Steve Kindle and Bruce Epperly got together on the Faith on the Edge podcast (episode 33) to discuss Nick May’s book Ditch the Building. I’m publisher to all three authors, though as pointed out in the podcast, Bruce has books with a number of publishers. It should be noted that Bruce’s written output is too great for any small publisher!

Here’s the Facebook post and the link:

I am delighted to see this kind of discussion taking place. I would have published Nick’s book even if I disagreed, but I find myself very much in agreement with his suggestions. I have a personal connection to the traditional church, but I also think we spend most of our time trying to figure out why it isn’t working.

That is a suggestion that we need to do radical surgery. How radical? That is worth discussing. I am watching as multiple churches I know are working on their structure, attempting to bring it more into line with the gospel and with the command of Jesus not to be seeking to be greater than one another.

Sin and the Church as Community

Sin and the Church as Community

In what he confesses is a long post, but is still shorter than my normal post, Dave Black discusses how to translate the Greek word ekklesia, both in terms of an English word (he chooses “community”), and in practice.

I’ve been discussing this in connection with the question of dealing with sin in the church. Many mainliners don’t want to think about this, or even think we shouldn’t deal with it. It’s part of “not judging.”

But then you have issues such as sexual abuse which must be dealt with, and we find that we really don’t have any idea what to do.

In the several cases in which I have had the opportunity to discuss this, I have always come back to this: We cannot adequately deal with sin in the church because the church is not functioning as a community. There are many elements to this issue, including clergy-laity distinctions, or more precisely leadership-followership.

People have been told not to report evil, because they will damage the reputation of a “good man.” (I suppose it could be a good woman, but I have heard it several times, and only regarding the reputation of good men.)

We need to be looking at—and implementing—ways of making the church a functioning community. One characteristic (of many) of this would be that we do not excuse abuse by leaders.

Nobody Ever Thinks They Are Creating a New Denomination

Nobody Ever Thinks They Are Creating a New Denomination

kineso ten luchnian
Revelation 2:5

Christopher Ritter is complaining, though only in the nicest, most creative way, about critics of the new Wesleyan Covenant Association. It’s interesting how efforts to reform often end up creating new denominations, even when the leaders don’t intend to do so. Just look at the example provided by Ritter in his post.

I commend Ritter for his excellent way of presenting his complaint, but at the same time I have to ask whether a movement to reform the United Methodist Church at this point is not also likely to contribute to the division of the denomination. It seems that we require such organizations to deny that they contemplate schism in any way. It’s part of the game. I suspect that the WCA people are entirely sincere in that desire.

Reality may not be on their side.

I’m a member of a United Methodist congregation. I would note that when my wife and I discussed the idea of moving to a new church prior to this move, we thought that our next church congregation would not be part of the UMC, but here we still are, and here we will stay as long as we believe God is leading us to do so.

What I’m not going to do is get stirred up over the survival of denominational structures. My friends sincerely wish to prevent schism, but as a church, we’re the product of a group that broke off from a group that broke off, and that earlier break-off was not very holy, I might note. Not to mention that I don’t see very much Jesus in the structures of any of the above.

Unless the Holy Spirit changes a bunch of people, the UMC is at an impasse over same-sex marriage and inclusion of LGBT people. We are a divided church. We can claim to be united, but it’s a fake. The question is whether the structures will follow the actual practice or whether we will continue to find ways (and spend large amounts of money) to pretend.

What is needed is to change our focus to become Christ’s body in the world, Christ’s witnesses, the bearers and proclaimers of Christ’s gospel. We are a church that is apathetic, self-centered, and wasteful. We are more concerned with our buildings and our power than with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But that is something that can change. I don’t know about the denomination, but the only person who needs to change in this is me. And you. And you. Each of us.

Is the church building taking up more money than caring for your neighbors? Get rid of it.

Do you pay more for Sunday School curriculum than for evangelism or textbooks for needy children? Cut it out of your budget!

Is your primary concern for your worship service done your way at your time? Drop it. Be concerned about your neighbors.

If you let the gospel become central, many things that seem critical right now will fade into the background. You may not change church headquarters, but you can change you.

Pastor Searches and Job Interviews

Pastor Searches and Job Interviews

Church politics is necessary. Even those who most avoid it live with it. What we must work toward is a way of making decisions in the church that isn’t just a pale reflection of the way things are done in the world.

One of the ways we create a pale reflection is by doing what the world does, only doing it less effectively. Growing up, I was informed regularly that the church functioned democratically. I could see, however, that it was much more of an oligarchy. Why? Because while the church wanted to carry out activities by vote, they didn’t want the discussion and potential acrimony that went with it. For a church such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which I grew up in, or the United Methodist Church, of which I am a part now, this “peaceful” approach, in which members vote for what the leaders have decided, generally breaks down as you move up the chain. In that breakdown, local church members see a great divide between what they would have wanted and what their church is doing.

ThriveThe form of democracy, without a lively dialogue and exchange of ideas on issues, doesn’t really function much like democracy. There are doubtless many reasons why we might not want actual democracy in the church, though the priesthood of all believers does tend to imply that more people have influence.

Thom Rainer, in a post titled FIVE QUESTIONS PROSPECTIVE PASTORS RARELY ASK SEARCH COMMITTEES (BUT SHOULD), perhaps unintentionally highlights this problem with a pastor search. A pastor search is like a job search, only with  spiritual veneer. So we sometimes avoid talking about the things that we really should be interested in and pretend the situation is other than it really is. (I should note that businesses are also very much subject to doing the job badly, though usually for different reasons than the church.)

In her book Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations, Ruth Fletcher discusses discernment frequently. She says,

In transforming congregations, leadership teams meet frequently to talk about what the Spirit seems to be doing in the congregation and to notice where the Spirit seems to be guiding the church to go. They keep their own sand moist by engaging daily in the spiritual habit of prayer, and practice the spiritual habit of discernment in their personal lives. They discipline themselves to open their minds to new understandings, to open their hearts to the plight of their neighbors, and to open their wills by setting aside their own agenda in order to seek God’s new creation. (p. 119)

Provided the church congregation believes it should have a paid pastor at all, this would seem like a good approach. Talk about what the Spirit is doing. Engage in the “spiritual habit of prayer” and the “spiritual habit of discernment.” Set aside “their own agenda.”

What would it look like in a church if the process of filling roles or offices in the church was a process jointly of congregational leaders and candidates setting aside their own agenda and discerning what the Spirit is saying to their church?

They’re Bad so We’re Good

They’re Bad so We’re Good


Recent political discourse reminds me of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 18:9–14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

It has been interesting to read articles by partisans of one party or the other explaining how unelectable the candidate of the other party is, and how that party is truly in trouble and going down in flames. “They’re so bad that we’re good,” seems to be the subtext.

I’m not primarily interested in the politics, however, but in some things in shows about human nature. These articles and conversations point to a dangerous, perhaps even fatal way of measuring ourselves. We do it in church just like we do it in the broader society. If I can point out enough negatives about a church or a group, I will surely have demonstrated the value of my preferred group or position.

Thus comes the Pharisee. Now I think we should be careful about how we talk about the Pharisees. In many ways they would make excellent Christians. They were good people trying to fulfill God’s law. Nonetheless they suffered from one of the many failures of the righteous—self-righteousness. It’s interesting that when we look down on the Pharisees for their flaws, we generally are participating in the same ones. We’re not Pharisees. Aren’t we special?

Jesus is here bringing in a character who will be considered righteous by his audience and putting him up against one who will be considered wicked. Note the prayer. “I thank you that I am not like other people.” Face it! We thank God that we are not like other people on a regular basis. We may pretend to be the tax collector who went home justified. But more often we’re looking for the position of the Pharisee. However much contempt we may put into saying the word “Pharisee,” it’s his position we long for. It’s just that we want to thank God that we “are not like other people … or even like this Pharisee.”

I believe the root, however, is our bad approach to measurement. We want to be “better than.” We want a church that is less unfriendly, more mission minded, more biblical, better structured. If we can say with any justification, even just enough to convince ourselves, that we are better than the church down the street, then we can be happy. As a Methodist, I can give thanks to God that I’m not the frozen chosen as are the Presbyterians or self-righteous like the Baptists.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this, as someone points out to me the flaws of the United Methodist Church, which are doubtless legion. How can I be a member of a United Methodist congregation? Surely all of these flaws mean that I should instead be a [Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed (some variety), charismatic, pentecostal, house church, high church, etc.].

Here’s what experience has taught me: Don’t look at the church down the street. Ask this question: Am I doing God’s will by being where I am? Where can I best do God’s will?

Every church I have been in has had flaws. If it didn’t have them before I got there, it definitely did after! One of the most dangerous things we can do is determine our value before God by comparing ourselves to other churches. This works in many ways. The church down the street can provide us with an excuse for continuing to behave badly. My Methodist congregation may be comforting itself by noting that it’s better than the Baptists while the Baptists are comforting themselves that they are doing better than we are. We can follow that spiral right to perdition as our errors give others an excuse for theirs.

On the other hand, we can become extremely discouraged by comparing our performance to others. If the church down the road is growing by 10% per year, what’s our problem? If they have money to build  a new Family Life Center why can’t we?

We need instead to take the parable to heart. What is God’s will for us? Let’s seek God’s will and God’s mercy as we work that out.

Here’s a video of a sermon I preached many years ago. I wonder if it’s still relevant.

My Church Preferences

My Church Preferences

From, johnny_automatic.

A few months ago a friend, commenting on my approach to publishing, and really to many other things, said, “It’s hard to be both a prophet and a facilitator.” Now he wasn’t talking about the way a prophet might get his or her words from God, but rather that prophets advocate ideas. Facilitators encourage others to do so and to enter into dialogue.

He’s absolutely right, and this is demonstrated by my post today on the Energion Discussion Network, Toward a Biblical Church. In it you might say I’m advocating for diversity, or perhaps trying to facilitate discussion of our diverse views of church that we have in the Church. I think Paul does a rather good job of this in 1 Corinthians 12. We often read just the sections that talk about us being one. But Paul is talking about how we can be one body while coming from diverse places and backgrounds, and he doesn’t say all those differences are eliminated, but rather that they cease to be central when we’re in this one body.

We would do well to study 1 Corinthians, and particular chapters 12-14, regularly in the church. Paul is looking at precisely the sorts of problems we have in many of four churches today, and his prescription in chapter 13, applied in chapter 14, is also still quite applicable. I do note that we can only wish that we had some of the Corinthian problems, such as too many people coming to church filled with excitement and a desire to express what they’ve heard from the Lord. But we do have ample portions of the problems of factionalism and self-centeredness.

Is there a way to advocate changes in our church organizations, whether at the denominational or congregational level, without also implying that everyone else better do it the same way? That’s what I’d like to do. If you’ve read any of the books I linked in my EDN post, or some of my posts on Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, you’ll know where I got these.

  1. I’d like to see a church where Jesus is acknowledged as the senior pastor. I’m not as concerned about what we write on signs or church bulletins, though I’d be pleased to see Jesus listed there. My problem is that I think we might list Jesus on the sign and then keep on living just the way we did before. “What would Jesus do?” has become a slogan, often used just to claim that Jesus would support what we wanted to do in any case, but it’s also a very good question—if we let Jesus answer it.
  2. I’d like to see a reduction of church facilities. In fact, I like the idea of house churches, and one of the major reasons is that we cease to spend so much money on the physical structure. Some churches rent space temporarily, and for them it’s a stepping stone for the time when they can have a real church in a real church building. Perhaps living without a building should become a way of life.
  3. I like a church with accountability outside of itself. This is why I’m not really a congregationalist. But I could be. It’s quite possible for a church to make itself accountable to others, and to live in an accountable way by being open and honest, especially in finances.
  4. I’d like to see a church that empowers youth. “Empower” is often seen as a buzz word, but it’s a good one if it’s actually put into practice. The church can be a safe place for those who are young or inexperienced to learn. This would involve sharing in all aspects of church life, with appropriate levels of support and supervision. That young person in your church who feels called to a preaching or teaching ministry should have the opportunity to practice.
  5. I’d like to see a church where many people share. Many churches center around the pastor and his or her preaching. That’s what brings people in. How about testimonies, short messages from various congregants, presentations by experienced people other than the pastor, and hearing from those who are learning to share? In a seminar on faith sharing I sponsored, I recall that only a small portion of the people who came to the class felt comfortable talking about their faith. Where better to get comfortable than in church?
  6. I’d like to see a church where members could safely explore ideas. Our focus is often on making sure we have good doctrinal statements. What I’ve found, however, is that few people actually know what those statements say. I honestly don’t think that this problem will be corrected by more talking from the front about the doctrinal statement. People’s minds and will must be involved, and that means allowing exploration.

None of these things require a particular variety of church organization, though in many cases, existing church and denominational structures will work against them. I’d like to emphasize that even though I have a hankering after house churches, I am a member of a regular United Methodist congregation. I’m not trying to beat up on people in regular churches.

But the Holy Spirit may be. That’s another story!

Seven Marks: Excursus on Change

Seven Marks: Excursus on Change

nt church books9781631990465mOne of the most interesting and troubling things I’ve found about myself and my church (any of the churches of which I’ve been a member!) is the number of things we know we should do and even decide we will do, but which never get done. Seven Marks of a New Testament Church is certainly ecclesiology, but is it shelf ecclesiology (that’s nice) or is it practical ecclesiology (let’s do that)?

In this case I can’t point fingers. In my personal life I need to get more exercise and lose a significant amount of weight. How long have I known this? Well, I’m the son of a doctor who was medical director of a health conditioning center when I was in my teens. And yes, he knew about these things before that time and after that time, and he taught them to me. I cannot claim that I didn’t know what the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle and excessive food intake (biblical gluttony, no?) would be. While I’m working on reforming this now, I do so slowly and under constant temptation to avoid the needed change. It’s not that I’m tempted to do useless things. In fact, I’m tempted to work, and for me work involves being in front of a computer. So one good thing tempts me away from another one. But that doesn’t make it right. I know I should get more exercise. I know I should eat less. Making those changes so that they are a fundamental part of my new normal is very difficult.

Romans 7 anyone? I know many Arminians see Romans 7 as a description of our pre-Christ experience. I see it as very descriptive of what I and many Christians live every day. The problem comes in when we make Romans 7 into a continuous, hopeless loop about everything. Yes, we all have our Romans 7 experiences, but we’re invited into Romans 8. Not that we’ll live at “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25) at all times and on all subjects.

It’s easy to make excuses. I’m very busy. It’s hard building up a small publishing company. I have a lot of work to do. I’m very healthy, taking no medications and very rarely missing work. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I’m a vegetarian, for heaven’s sake! (Ice cream, sweets, lots of butter, bread—they’ll do it even to a vegetarian!)

But no matter how many excuses I produce, I know this: I need to change.

There are many reasons why we don’t change, and many excuses for why we can ignore things that we hear.

  1. We find some fault with the messenger. The wrong person is making the suggestion, so it can’t really be right.
  2. We nit-pick the message. There’s something in there that won’t work in our situation, so we discard everything new and go back to what we were doing.
  3. We are change-weary. We’ve tried to make changes so many times and have failed. Why should we try yet another thing?
  4. We don’t see our present problems. We’re so used to the way things are and the level of success we’re having, that we think that’s precisely what should be going on.
  5. Other people are much worse off than we are. The church down the street is so inward-looking. By comparison, we’re outgoing, gospel-oriented, and on fire for missions. (This is like my “I don’t smoke” excuse. I’m better than the person who’s killing himself with cigarettes.)
  6. This change is going to cause problems. Usually this means that the leadership is afraid of losing control.
  7. I don’t have enough guidance. Where is the calendar, worksheet, study guides, long term plan, etc.?

I could go on, but we’ll stop at seven. Nice number!

I think, nonetheless, that our bottom line is fear. We are surviving the way we are, but will we survive after we change? The pastor wonders if he’ll lose members. The members wonder if they’ll be happy with the new church service on Sunday morning. The education team wonders if anyone will attend Sunday School. Everyone wonders whether they’ll be annoying their neighbors. And while we might not admit it, we wonder whether we’ll be happy ourselves. So we stay the same.

One of the great fears is that we will lose control. This has been the bane of the church from very early times, I think. We’re very much afraid of the movement of the Spirit because the Spirit is not under our management. Not that we don’t try!

In Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations, the 12th habit Ruth Fletcher mentions is Choosing (p. 123). Here’s a key quote:

Transforming congregations learn to choose and choose again. They don’t have to get it right the first time around. They can gain insight from any action they take and that insight will aid them opting to take the next step into the future. Transforming congregations acknowledge that when they act with courage, some people may decide to leave, but they would rather decide to do something than to remain lukewarm about everything. (p. 126)

Bruce Epperly comes at this from another angle in Transforming Acts:

The spiritual leaders acknowledged that they couldn’t do everything. They confessed that the task of sharing God’s word left no time for taking care of domestic issues. They needed partners in ministry: so they prayerfully chose a group of people to insure that everyone had a share in the community’s resources. They let go of control, and let go of power, so that human needs could be met.

In ways that are still countercultural, they relinquished the power of the purse for a greater good, the well-being of the whole people of God. They recognized that within the body of Christ, everyone  has a role – their spiritual leadership of the community did not lead to micromanaging or power plays, or a sense of spiritual superiority, but a vision of shared responsibility. Perhaps, their selfless  leadership inspired the Apostle Paul’s vision of the multi-gifted body of Christ in which the well-being of one shapes the health of the whole body and the whole body, operating effectively, provides nurture and support for each constituent part. (pp. 67, 68)

Giving up control and choosing to act. When we have acted, we choose to learn from that action and act again.

What has impressed me about the church, not to mention my own life, is what a difference we could make if we simply acted on the things we already know are right. Yes, new information is good, but we have a tendency to collect the information and fail to perform the actions. There are many controversial things. But if we laid those aside and simply acted on what we know to be right, what might happen?

I doubt that church would like like the church in America at this moment.

Experience, Belief, Action: An Exercise from Bruce Epperly

Experience, Belief, Action: An Exercise from Bruce Epperly

9781938434648sI will be putting more material from Bruce Epperly in as I post more on the church, but here’s an exercise he suggests in his book Transforming Acts, pp. 19-20.

Acts of the Apostles is clear that doctrines are symbiotically related to behavior. Our doctrines emerge from spirit-centered experiences. Our experiences are clarified by our beliefs and take shape in practical application. Accordingly, what behaviors might your beliefs inspire in the areas of:
»» Personal stewardship
»» Care of family and children
»» Marriage and other significant relationships
»» Community involvement
»» Political involvement
»» Care of the Earth
»» Response to diverse opinions
»» Ways we respond to personal or global conflict (violence, reconciliation, consensus, peace-seeking balanced by appropriate protection).
»» Involvement in justice issues – first-hand support of vulnerable people and/or political involvement to achieve a social order more reflective of Jesus’ values.

One of the great strengths of Bruce’s book is that he challenges us at the end of each chapter to thoughtfully and prayerfully move to action.

Spectrums: Liberal to Conservative Is not Enough

Spectrums: Liberal to Conservative Is not Enough

nt church booksLast weekend Dave Black was our guest here in Pensacola. I recorded some videos for promotional and educational purposes and Dave also preached and talked about missions (with plenty of pictures) at Chumuckla Community Church. I will be posting some of these videos soon, but they are not quite ready yet.

Dave is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’m a United Methodist with the dreaded ‘L’ word in my blog tagline (“Thoughts on biblical studies, religion, and living from a passionate moderate, liberal charismatic Christian”). Obviously this is some sort of liberal-conservative dialogue.

Not really. I’ve written recently about dialogue and why, as a publisher, I publish books from a variety of perspectives. In a video I produced in the early days of Energion Publications I used a triangle, with the points being charismatic, liberal, and evangelical. I would note that for this to work now it should be “conservative evangelical” as the label “evangelical seems to have lost some cohesion. This will happen to words, especially those that are perceived as positive labels.

But even those three points fail to catch some of the issues, and there’s a bit of a tendency to think of Christians grouped at the points of the triangle. One of the reasons many have trouble with labels is that people don’t fit into the center of the semantic range of a label. In addition, on different issues one may take different positions. I have political views on some subjects that seem very conservative, while on others I seem quite liberal. Similarly on theological issues I don’t try to fit all in one camp.

There are two points (I think!) in all this rambling. The first is that we don’t fit cleanly into one label on all issues. The second is that we may be able to connect with people in other camps on particular issues. In all cases (should this be #3?) this should suggest options for learning from one another.

For example, when many charismatics talk about modern revelation they use theological arguments that are also commonly expressed by liberal or progressive theologians. Not a few of those I’ve talked to want to deny any connection, but behavior and practice tell a different story. There is some theology to be learned here! Similarly many charismatics should—and do—learn biblical studies from their evangelical brethren.

Many liberals or progressives, on the other hand, don’t want to be linked to charismatics because of emotionalism or other extremes. Yet too frequently progressive biblical reflection tends to be more a matter of challenging the conclusions of evangelicals rather than developing a robust theology and application of scripture. Yes, this can be a stereotype. I have several authors in the Energion Publications list, such as Dr. Bob Cornwall, Dr. Bruce Epperly, and Dr. Drew Smith, none of whom fit the picture. And there are many more like them.

9781631990465mOne of the interviews I conduced with Dave was about his book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. Dave goes back to the book of Acts for keys to how the church should behave now, in the 21st century. And this brings up a very different spectrum: church structure.

We could make a spectrum that runs not from conservative to liberal, but from strongly hierarchical to mutually submissive, from high church to low, from central control to local. Similarly we might look for a spectrum of views on who is in charge of the church, how much, and in what way. That could run from Jesus in charge directly to a highly hierarchical view of how the lordship of Jesus is implemented in the life of the church. None of these would exclude people from any liberal-conservative, charismatic-evangelical, or any similar ideological spectrum.

My plan is that as soon as I’ve posted my interview with Dave on his Seven Marks book, I’m going to start blogging through the Marks. As I do so, I’m going to bring in points from some other authors, such as Bruce Epperly, whose book Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel also goes back to Acts to ask what we can do in the church today. Beside both of those I’m going to reference the book Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations by Dr. Ruth Fletcher. There are definite differences of approach in these books, but there are also many points of contact.

So I’m going to ask two questions in my series:

  1. Can we find a way to apply these seven marks in other theological and ecclesiological traditions? (I fully believe we can, though there are places where our ecclesiology needs to change, and that’s a good thing!)
  2. More specifically, how can a United Methodist congregation look back to the New Testament and so become a more authentic witness for Jesus in the world today? There are those who would say many of these ideas are not possible under denominational rules, but I wonder. How much would a simple commitment to being “servant of all” on the part of those at the top of the organizational chart might change the reality without altering the paperwork?

So watch here over the next week. I’ll post the video and then begin the discussion. I hope I can find some people to discuss this with me vigorously. My comment policy is largely open. If you don’t threaten the family friendly nature of the blog, you can express yourself.


Yet More Hebrews and Old Testament-New Testament Continuity

Yet More Hebrews and Old Testament-New Testament Continuity

One of the things I love about both blogging and publishing is the number of interesting and capable people I get to interact with. It’s something I’ve missed since graduate school days—the opportunity to run my ideas up against people who can really challenge them.

Dave Black has written some commentary on this matter of continuity between the Old and New Testaments. I’ve extracted the relevant entry from his blog and reposted it to (For those who don’t know, Dave’s blog doesn’t provide a way to link to a particular entry.) If you haven’t, read Dave’s notes. There is a great deal there. I intend to respond to the matter of who I publish over on the Energion Publications blog. (I’ll add a link here once I’ve done that.)

I think Dave and I are quite close to agreement, though I do think we have some difference of emphasis. Perhaps his is a more radical approach, and I think the parallel to ecclesiology and the Anabaptist movement as opposed to the more traditional reformers. In fact, labeling them “more traditional” may summarize the whole issue. This does not, of course, tell us who is right. I think my difference with Dave here would be that I allow for more variation for time, place, and culture. I think that is in one sense a minor difference, but not truly insignificant.

The problem with radical reformation is that it may get derailed in practice. As I read Scripture, God has always led his people with some consideration for their starting point. I’ll say a bit more on this in a later paragraph regarding the study of Torah. So the perfect, or even the “better” becomes the enemy of the good. I see this in my own church. I can look from one angle and say, “There is so much wrong with this church.” (Some might note as a problem that it has Henry Neufeld as a member!) But if I look from another angle, there is so much that is going right in the church, including the fact that the gospel is being preached there regularly. What do I want to reform and when do I want to reform it? Of course, the reality is that I have very little to say on that. The pastoral staff and the church council do most of that work, and I’m involved in neither group.

But there is a problem with the “gradual change” folks as well, and I think the reformation provides examples of this. Gradual change often becomes stagnation. We don’t become more Christlike on a continuing basis, but instead become, in our own eyes, more Christ-like than our neighbors and then hang out there, or even begin deteriorating from that point. I think that if you look at the energy and focus of the Methodist movement during John Wesley’s lifetime and then at the United Methodist Church now, you don’t see progress.

But how does this relate to the Old Testament/New Testament continuity or discontinuity?

To steal a phrase from Paul: Much in every way!

I see the progress from the Old Testament to the New as one of moving to the next chapter of a book, one that we, as Christians, see as the climactic chapter. So there is a substantive change as we enter into the final phase, the solution of the whole mystery, the resolution of the conflict. That is very different. But at the same time, we should not say that previous chapters were bad because they weren’t providing the whole solution. Rather, those chapters led up to the final chapter. They provided the clues. They provided the background. the seeds of the conclusion were planted there.

The priesthood of all believers, for example, is foreshadowed in Exodus 19:6, but it is a strong New Testament concept. The latter verses of Exodus 20 (after the giving of the 10 commandments) tell us something of why. The people were afraid and didn’t want god speaking directly to them. There was comfort in having Moses and Aaron handle that part for them. There was comfort in having a priesthood. I suspect that the priesthood of all believers frightens us now for the same reason. We share the same human failings as the people around Mt. Sinai. We’d like something solid and comfortable that doesn’t tell us things that are upsetting. They turned to the golden calf. We turn to our denominational structures. “We’re Methodists,” I’m told, “We don’t do things like that.” It’s the same avoidance.

Hebrews uses Jeremiah 31:31-34 which foreshadows the same idea. From looking at these texts in their place in the story, I began to see certain of the texts not as a destination, so much as a road map leading forward. The author of Hebrews taps into that road map and proposes to draw the path forward and say something about the destination. But everyone knowing the Lord is something that looks good on paper, or when spoken by the prophet. Just don’t make anyone implement it. Or is it not the same attitude that is displayed when someone says, “Please just tell me what this means! Don’t go into all those details!”

There is a tendency to think of the professional class of pastors keeping the people away from their priesthood. And there are doubtless times and places where that is what’s going on. But I see more of a refusal to take that much responsibility for our own souls, our own calling, and our own decision making. Because of the priesthood of all believers the failings of the church are my failings. I do not get to blame this on others. Jesus has called me. I do not have permission to blame it on the paid pastor.

But God’s ideal for Israel, expressed in many of the very passages quoted in Hebrews, was the same. It was for all to know God for themselves. This is one of the things I have learned in studying about what Christians call the “ceremonial law.” It was a teaching tool. It was not God’s intention to leave the priesthood in the hands of the few. It was God’s intention to eventually have a nation of priests.

Is there discontinuity? Yes, but it is the discontinuity of turning back to the ideal, to what God had planned all along. It is radical in the extent to which it is not radical.

Dave asked how much we differ. I think not that much on the Old Testament/New Testament discontinuity, though I am ready to have this view adjusted. On the nature of reform and how to carry it out, perhaps we differ a bit more.

I’ll have to write some more about ecclesiology. That might get us to the more serious differences.