I have many unanswered questions about how we, as believers, should assemble together in the time in which we live. My questions are both theological (what does the Scripture teach about God's will on this issue) and practical (how should our gatherings look/work from a practical perspective). It seems like for every two people you talk to about the topic, you get three opinions.
As I have done with other issues I have struggled to understand, I plan to look at this issue in light of Scripture. I have found that the Scripture sometimes surprising clear (or surprisingly silent!) on many topics if we will just clear away our precommitments (to the extent that is possible) and allow Scripture to speak for itself, paying attention to what the Bible says as well as what it does not say. Only this type of searching (with prayer) will provide a good foundation, a solid anchor for our beliefs.
I wonder if any of you would be interested in exploring this topic with me, perhaps in a weekly or bi-weekly discussion format. My thought would be to start with Matthew 1 and just read the NT--no books, no commentaries, no third party opinions--just letting it speak for itself under the guidance of the Spirit. Our reading could be broken down into a schedule. We could open a discussion on the passage we read and what we learned, allowing each person to share what God has shown him or her through the passage.
If any others are interested, I would urge that we approach our studies with a spirit of mutual edification. Too often a spirit of one-upmanship can creep in and disrupt the unity of the faith. People are more interested in defending a preformed understanding than allowing the Bible and the Spirit to speak to them. I would want to be on guard against an unteachable spirit (especially in myself). I would also urge an absolute commitment to obey what the Scripture teaches (I wouldn't want this to be an academic exercise only, lest we be hearers of the Word but not doers).
After thinking about this a little, I believe that we should start small. Since the pastoral epistles are short and deal with some of the more pertinent issues of what it means to be a church, I would like to start with those. And since Titus is the shortest of the 3, I would like to start with that. So let's read the book of Titus over the next week, jot down our thoughts, and share what the Lord has shown us. That will give us a start.
works for me
So here are my responses/thoughts/questions in no particular order. I broke up each general thought with ********:
1:5 says to appoint elders in every city. How would that work in SC? He doesn’t say in every church body, he says in every city. Could SCs *share* elders? How would you accept their authority if you didn’t know them? How would they oversee multiple SC bodies?
If Paul assumes every church fellowship has its own elders, what happens if there are none that are qualified? If only one is qualified, what happens to the concept of multiple elders? If you and your wife are the church planters for your SC, do you set yourself in as an elder? That seems sort of nepotistic/narcissistic.
He doesn’t say *vote* he says *appoint*. Even Acts 6:3 that involves a sort of collective agreement as to deacons, still includes the apostles *appointing*. So in a SC, when we don't have any 1st cent apostle over us, who does the *appointing*?
1:10-16 talks about Elders refuting bad doctrine. Some SCs don’t have elders. Everything is resolved democratically. But that means someone who has weird doctrine can be there and have as much say as anyone else. How would that be countered with everyone’s opinion having just as much sway?
But even if it’s not doctrinal, how do you maintain the focus/direction. Some SCs that I have been involved with have had conflicts with that. For instance, one group we were in, some people did not really want to study the Bible much. With just a few people in the group, and everyone having a say in defining the group, the only way that resolves is that the group disintegrates. Back to square one.
2:4-5 talks about older women mentoring the younger. But that assumes the younger want to me mentored. In one IC, none of the younger moms ever asked anything of my wife about how to raise their children, etc. Would that ever happen in a SC? Also not every older couple has the same values the younger couple has. We homeschool. If we had asked older people when we were starting out, whether this was a good idea (and followed their advice), I doubt we would have continued.
The bulk of the letter is telling us to live in a godly manner, and to teach younger believers to do the same. And that living in a godly manner does not mean following man-made rules that have a veneer of religion and holiness. It means showing character and action befitting the grace we have been shown and the truth of sound doctrine.
But so many people struggle with good character, and making good choices. So how would we create an environment in a SC that nurtures that? Most ICs assume that you listen to the pastor’s message and privately review your life actions and character to see if there are areas to repent/grow in. But often no one really talks/shares about their struggles to live in a godly way like Paul is saying here. Is there a way to do this differently in a SC?
In the 70’s there were some we knew that lived in Christian community (i.e. a large hotel turned into a community). These families and singles shared much of their lives together. I was never in one, though I interviewed to join one. Supposedly they were all committed to each other and to the community. People tell me that some in there would share deep issues/sins/failings in their meetings. Then it would be sort of weird to see them in the halls later, because you just learned something about them that you really didn’t want to know.
With the tenuous nature of SCs that can disintegrate at a moments notice, why would someone share deeply?
How should SC interact with the balance of expectations vs liberty?
Let’s take homeschooling, for instance. My wife and I are, obviously, strong believers in that. In a hypothetical SC, let’s say we are there with a young family that has no clue about raising kids, their preschool kids are out of control, and they intend to put them in public school. There is no particular verse that commands parents to homeschool. There are verses that say that parents do have the ultimate responsibility to raise their children in obedience, verses about how children should act, etc. It would be very easy for there to be an environment whereby they would feel subtle but unmistakable pressure and expectation from us to homeschool. For us it would be agonizing. Trying not to say anything negative, trying to give them space/liberty to do what seems best to them, yet trying to mentor and give them perspective about consequences to their parenting that they don’t even know they need.
The very weakness of the IC – that there are often low expectations for believers’ conduct – is it’s very strength. Which is that I can have the liberty of my own convictions.
Certainly, a larger IC can have the opposite problem – a *group-think* mentality, as well. However, imo it seems like it would be that much easier for that to happen in a SC.
Phil, thanks for your thoughts. I've been reading and meditating on Titus, and the sheer volume of teaching on this topic might be difficult to wrangle into a single discussion. I want to read and think about your thoughts a little more closely, but I can see how this will get overwhelming if we try to talk about it all at once. I would like to suggest that we take a look at it by chapter, with a discussion devoted to each.
I'm going to start three new threads, one for each chapter. We can then post our comments on a per-chapter basis and try to digest it in smaller chunks. Would you mind cutting and pasting your comments into those threads? We can then share concluding comments in a final thread once we've worked through the entire book. What do you think?
In the opening verses of Titus, Paul describes himself as a servant and apostle, commissioned to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of truth that leads to Godliness- in the hope of eternal life. Who are God's elect? is it everyone fellowshipping within SC or LC? Perhaps it would be those amongst us who would have our faith increased by applying ourselves to the truth of the Word as revealed by the Holy Spirit. The truth that their is an eternal life and that the life we live here in the temporal realm would determine where we spend our eternity. That this should be our focus in living here and now with this in mind that within the Kingdom of God there is structure and order to living life hence the appointment of elders who would serve God amongst us by helping to keep us upon the path of truth by way of encouragement, sound doctrine the speaking of truth in love to those who seem to be walking off course. The criteria for appointment that Paul highlights speaks of a person or persons who have matured in the faith and whose life bares fruit of the Holy Spirit as well as a complete submission and dependency upon God even as Paul demonstrates.
He further points to the very things that if permitted to continue would destroy us describing carnality in its fullness. Someone had to speak to the persons continuing on in this carnal lifestyle so that they could have an opportunity to recognize their error, repent and commit to the life the Christ died for us to live. He concludes the chapter by by highlighting that it is not about what we profess but about what we live. Our lives must reflect godliness if we say we know God.To be obedient to God would be to obey those charged with the responsibility to encourage and assist us in our life in Christ.
I have a question: why do a long Scriptural study on this subject?
It's been done lots of times. Jesus said that the right way to judge a prophet--and thus, I assume, a message as well--is by its fruit. Why don't we instead look at the various models that people have already pulled from Scripture and see **what's working**?
Gene Edwards had plenty of Scriptural advice for home church meetings. James Rutz (I think) wrote a whole book on Gene's ideas called _Open Church_. But the fact is, by Gene's own admission, almost all house churches following his advice were failing. At one point, he was saying he only knew of 4 or 5 successful ones. I, on the other hand, knew at least 30 or 40 that had started based on his teachings, and I'm certain that I knew only the smallest percentage of them.
Personally, I think we should be talking to the successful simple churches, who would claim to have found joyful fellowship with the Lord and each other and who have lasted for at least, say, five years.
That, to me, seems a lot more fruitful than rehashing interpretations of Scripture one more time.
Yeah! Let's not study scripture. Let's study stuff that is already working. Joel Osteen seems pretty successful. Jim Jones was kind of a simple church guy. There must be people out there that know all there is to know about doing church. Let's just do what they do.
Peace from the NN's of the Earth,