Reimagining Church and Life

January 19, 2009 at 12:44 pm 3 comments

Have you ever read something and you just keep nodding your head, and saying to yourself, “Yeah, that makes sense”? I find that some writers are more persuasive than others and while initially I may agree with what I read, upon further contemplation and critical thinking I may change my mind. But how does one go about coming to such conclusions about whether what an author says is reasonable or not? Honestly, I am influenced by the opinions of those I respect, and while I do not blindly adopt other’s opinions as my own, certain people in my life do have more influence than others. Here’s my dilemma with Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church – people who have high levels of influence on my thinking have differing opinions. One influential professor of mine has endorsed Frank’s book while another refuses to recommend it for ecclesiological reading. While it would be great if I could say that those conflicting opinions don’t affect my thinking in this matter, that’s not true. The reality is that those conflicting opinions help me to think even more critically and remind me to take responsibility for my own opinions and to think for myself. So, here’s what I’m thinking and I hope my thoughts inspire your own critical thinking on this matter.

Frank Viola, in Martin Luther King Jr. – like fashion, introduces his book with “I Have a Dream” statements. Viola’s dreams are worthy of attention and reflective of the types of captivity Frank percieves the church has fallen into. While MLK’s dream was “deeply rooted in the American dream,” Viola’s dream is rooted elsewhere. I join with Viola in hoping for the fulfillment of such a dream, but I am not convinced the House Church movement is the only way for such a dream to be fulfilled.

I have a concern with giving such power to a form for God’s people to gather. While the places and types of gatherings certainly have an influence on our spiritual formation as followers of Christ, I do not believe it is impossible for larger gatherings to embody the elements of Viola’s dream.

Viola is a very persuasive writer, yet has not persuaded me to abandon all hope for the mega-church. I have been involved with mega-churches most of my adult life. I have my concerns, as I have voiced in previous blogs. But I do not believe the mega-church is the problem nor that the house church is the answer. Viola’s point of view is worthy of consideration, but so is Ben Witherington’s critique. I have chosen to remain committed to my mega-church and trust Christ’s transforming power to be active in our midst. Viola critiques the division that exists because of denominationalism but I fear such a strong stance promoting house churches as the preferred way of dong church will lead to more of the very same division Viola dreams will go away as he dreams “that God’s people will no longer be obsessed with spiritual and religious things to the point of division.” He goes on to dream “that their obsession and pursuit would be a person – the Lord Jesus Christ.” In this dream I join Viola and many others who are committed to Christ and the Church.

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3 Comments

  • 1. cindyinsd  |  January 22, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Hi, Elizabeth

    I’ve read Witherington’s critique . . . have you read Viola’s answer (also on Witherington’s site)? Lots of people I know of who have read the first have no idea that the second exists. I think Viola did a good job of answering. At the time, the book, Reimagining Church was still fresh in my mind, and I agreed with Viola’s gently put suggestion that perhaps Witherington, in his highly involved and full life, only had time to skim the book. I really encourage you to check out Viola’s response for a full view of this story. A man always seems to be correct until his neighbor comes and questions him.

    As for the mega-church model, I don’t believe, and don’t think I know anyone who believes, that God doesn’t work through mega-churches (or anything else He chooses to work through). If you get to know Viola’s work, you’ll find that he’s very critical of the notion that the house church crowd has a corner on God or that we have superior revelation or some sort of special dispensation.

    Don’t get me wrong, though. Viola isn’t my favorite author and I’ve never met him or seen him live and I do find things he says that I disagree with. However, I think he has a lot to share and that God is using him just as God always uses flawed vessels (like Peter or Paul for example–and even me!)

    Oh yes. I did say “we,” earlier, in referring to the house church movement, didn’t I? I have to share my news because I’m so excited about it, Elizabeth. I’ve been praying for a long time that God would connect us with other people He’d called out to do simple church. Well, out of the blue as it seems, we’re now meeting with three other couples! So Praise God for that. He’s so good.

    I think you’re exactly where God wants you to be right now, Elizabeth. First, you want to be in His will. Second, that’s where He wants you to be. Therefore, I see no reason to think you’re not smack in the middle of His will. It’s a journey, of course, and His will for you will always be moving along as, I trust, will you be.

    God bless, Cindy

  • 2. Elizabeth Chapin  |  January 23, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Cindy, I am so glad you commented. Interestingly, I just had a recent experience that brought up some of my issues with my mega-church that have made me feel uncomfortable for a while now. I have voiced my concerns very generally in previous blogs because I have great respect for my church of 15 years, but I’m just not sure it’s where I need to be right now. I have sensed God leading elsewhere, but it’s complicated.

    As for Ben Witherington’s critique, thanks for reminding that Frank responded. It was a great example of healthy dialog. I love so much of what Frank has to say and will be attending an event he is speaking at on Feb. 4th in Newberg, OR at George Fox University called Recalibrating Concepts of Church.

    It’s great to hear about your opportunity to do simple church with others. I pray Frank’s dreams for church come true in your midst!

    Your encouraging words came at a great time. Thanks for reading and responding.

  • 3. Sam  |  January 26, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    I agree with you about the house church bit. I have a good friend who is doing the organic church style and finding great success with it. But where we’re located, in the Midwest, there’s still a secular tradition that church is connected to a location with certain familiar images that gets lost in an organic church that meets, say, in a factory lounge.

    I often wonder what Organic Church 2.0 will look like as it adapts and finds reasons to become more organized and structured than it currently is. (This assumption comes from my reading of history–all good movements eventually find reasons to organize and make official structures which lead to their lack of life and loss of original purpose.)

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