the weblog of Alan Knox

Ransom letter ecclesiology…

Posted by on Aug 30, 2007 in definition | 19 comments

Ransom letter ecclesiology…

Have you ever seen one of those ransom letters where someone clipped letters from different sources and pasted them together into a letter? (Here is one example.) All of the letters glued together make for a cohesive unit, but it looks nothing like the original – in fact, the final letter does not resemble any of the original sources.

I wonder if our ecclesiology is like that. We’ve taken bits of Scripture here and parts of Scripture there. We’ve glued it together with human wisdom and rationalization, and we’ve come up with a nice, neat package.

But, where in Scripture do we see anything that resembles our conglomeration? Should this not concern us?

For example, we’ve cut and pasted and reasoned that a senior pastor is necessary. But, where do we find this in Scripture? Where is it even hinted at? We never see a single pastor, much less a “senior” pastor.

Or, what about offerings to pay for “church ministries”? We clip the parts about believers sharing with one another, paste them together with the parts about serving one another, add a little logic as the magical glue, and voila! We have a system of tithes and offerings to support the organizations and structures and programs that we call the church. But, where do we see anything like this in Scripture?

There are many more “paragraphs” in our “ransom letter ecclesiology”. Does this concern you? It concerns me.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-30-2007

    It concerns me, yes, when people use (as I admit I have) scriptural ransom letter ecclesiology to support their church’s system.

    My question is, from inside the “system”, what do we do about it? Exit the system?

    Just because the church may be in error doesn’t make it something other than the church.

    And once again, just because something doesn’t appear in scripture doesn’t make it opposed to scripture.

    And believe it or not, I’ve had friends who ask the question from the rarefied air of the ivory tower, where they’re surrounded by like-minded, over-studied intellectuals, but when they get to ministering among non-seminarians, they find that they’ve got to work within the “system”.

    So what do we do out here?

  2. 8-30-2007


    Just to be completely honest, I don’t care about the “system”. I do care about people whether they are part of a system or not. I am concerned about these things because it teaches people how to rely on the system instead of teaching them how to rely on God.

    I agree about the ivory tower thing. I’m not interested in academic exercises. I’m interested in pointing God’s people toward maturity in Christ.


  3. 8-31-2007

    Hence my question: What do we do about it?

    When one of your readers who is in a church that is unhealthy, at least in part because of structure, what do you recommend? What is the biblical model for handling something like that?

    All too often, people up and leave, and sometimes they start something new. It seems to me that we just end up with more schism.

  4. 8-31-2007

    David, I appreciate your questions. If I could just share my own personal perspective, I was one who tried for a while to bring reform to the system from within. I finally came to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible.

    Now, I realize that with God all things are possible, but what I mean is that “reform” in the system really means that the system has to be dismantled and put together in a wholly different way.

    When that is dealing with people’s jobs, standard of living, etc., it becomes impossible.

    Leaving was not my desire. Nor was it my desire to cause “more schism”. But leaving was necessary because those in leadership angrily and vehemently opposed the questions that I was asking.

    The questions. Notice that. I wasn’t rebelling. I wasn’t trying to split the church. I was just asking questions. In private. At their request!

    And I saw a man who, just weeks prior had told me that he thought God had brought me to their church to help them catch a fresh vision for ministry among the body, turn on me with anger and hatred on his face and tell me that I was trying to splinter the body of Christ and that I needed to submit to his authority.

    Because I asked questions…

  5. 8-31-2007


    Thanks for the continuing dialog. I don’t encourage anyone to separate from other brothers and sisters. However, as Steve indicates, we can’t force others to relate to us. My desire to learn and teach those who are interested in learning, to be discipled and to disciple those who are interested in following. I can’t force people to learn or follow, so I don’t try to. Like I said, I don’t care about the systems, so I try to serve the people of God, whether they are part of a system or not.


    Apparently, only certain questions were allowed in your situation. That’s too bad. I think they could have learned alot from you. But, as you’ve found, when you begin questioning ideas that affect people’s livelihood (how they get money), then the defenses are raised.


  6. 8-31-2007

    It concerns me – greatly. When we do this we effectively silence the voice of God that speaks through scripture by substituting our own voices by cutting up God’s words and stringing them together so it says what our religious culture has told us the Bible should say. We stress, magnify and extend some verses far beyond the meaning intended by their context and then completely ignore entire sections of scripture that don’t fit the theological view we want or expect.

    I believe we have effectively turned the Bible into an idol. We use it as a backdrop for our own messages, refer to it to make our points seem authoritative, we point at it and wave it around, but we are not willing to let God’s voice speak from scripture unedited.
    For example, in 1 Cor Paul wrote extensively about spiritual gifts and then concludes with a description of how they should be used in a church service – a service in which each person could minister one at a time with their particular gift. When it comes time to teach that chapter the church on one side of town ignores Pauls main point and uses the text to show that tongues are not to be used in church and the pastor must be the sole speaker to keep everything in order. Another church uses it to teach that tongues are ok to use in church as long as you are speaking to yourself, and that the pastor is the sole speaker to keep everything in order. How is it possible to read a chapter and then teach something so completely different than what the text says? Easy. Just read the chapter and then spend all your time talking about the first or last verse and then throw in stories – and the audience will completely forget what the text seemed to say. It also helps if you use a version of the Bible that is a little more difficult for modern readers to grasp. I’m sorry, this has turned into a rant. I guess you just really hit a nerve.

    At any rate this practice absolutely kills true Bible literacy. How else could you have faithful saints who have attended 2-3 services a week for 10+ years still not be able to describe the core themes in any epistle? But they can rattle off the key doctrines of the church without breaking a sweat – and if they are really good they can quote from memory the main verses used to support those doctrines.

  7. 8-31-2007

    I had never heard the term ‘ecclesiology’ before. Can someone elaborate a little more on the term for me?

    I do understand the point about making about collecting random scripture passages to advocate personal agenda. I recently left a Methodist Church after feeling manipulated by personal agendas.

    My husband and I stayed a year trying to help build the church by focusing on healing and outreach and were shot down on every idea and activity we came up with. The only thing he allowed us to do was play music in the praise team. Basically, he just wanted us so the music there wasn’t so crappy.

    When we told him we were leaving because we felt stuck and it seemed like there was an agenda issue behind it all he told we were rebellious and were causing division and were accused of divination!!! He told us about authority and how we had not been respecting it (him). Frustrated, we left. It sucked. I wanted to hate him so bad, but I felt conviction immediately.

    After I left, I was terribly hurt. I started to get bitter at the church again (not God, just the church). It seems like I never fit in at a church, unless I do what I am told, put on my happy face, and keep quiet.

    One morning I opened up my Bible to Haggai. I had never heard of it, but I read it and with every word I read I feel like God gave me comfort in what had happened.

    This is what I got out of reading Haggai: The church needs to be rebuilt. It needs to make sure it’s foundation is God and the principles that God stands for. It needs to bring in the new wine. The old ways need to be dismantled.
    The church needs to be “born again.”

    I have started praying for the leader of that church. I pray for the leader of my new church. I pray protection for them and I pray conviction from the Holy Spirit so that their own agendas are not considered.

    I am a newer Christian but I want to learn more about how to do this Christian thing right? I have spent most of the time at home with my Bible, my husband, and with good friends. It is like we are having church in our homes. I love it. We are growing and being challenged. We have accountability. This is what I think church is supposed to be like.

  8. 8-31-2007


    I agree with your conclusions here, which you illustrated very well with 1 Corinthians. Depending upon which verses we emphasize, and which verses we de-emphasize, the passage teaches completely different things. But, why did Paul write that part of his letter? Did he mean to tell senior pastors to control the meeting of believers? Did he mean to tell people to speak in tongues whenever they wish? Or did he mean something else? Very few people are asking this question. Many more people are using Scripture for their own purposes by emphasizes those verses that best justify their own positions.


    Thank you for sharing part of your story with us and for sharing your concerns about the church. Many of us share those same concerns. I appreciate how you continue to pray for the brother who accused you of division because you disagreed with him. You are demonstrating what it means to recognize all believers as our brothers and sisters, even those who disagree with us, and even those who hurt us.


  9. 8-31-2007


    I forgot to answer your original question. “Ecclesiology” is simply a fancy word for the study of the church.


  10. 9-5-2007


    “But, why did Paul write that part of his letter? Did he mean…”

    In all my years I have never heard someone ask what Paul was trying to communicate to his audience when he wrote the words he did. Instead, our view of Biblical inspiration causes us to see each individual word and sentence as packed so full of divine meaning that we lose sight that one human being sat down and wrote a letter to others in an attempt to communicate something to them. We end up applying verses in all sorts of ways, often without first trying to understand how the writer was applying it.

  11. 9-5-2007


    If you can offer any insight into the following passages in 1 Cor I would greatly appreciate it.

    In 1 Cor 11, Paul instructs women to cover their head when praying or prophesing. It seems clear to me that the context is public prayer or prophesy. If it was in the privacy of her room where noone could see, how would failure to cover her head be a dishonor equal to having her head shaved? Also, prophesy as Paul later explains is a gift given for the benefit of others.

    In 1 Cor 12-14 Paul teaches that we are all members of the body and that God has given each of us unique gifts for the benifit of other members of the body. He concludes by explaining how we can each use our gifts in a meeting one by one so everyone will benefit. Then he throws a curve ball by saying it is shameful for women to speak during church meetings.

    So it is shameful for a woman to prophesy without a covering on her head, but it is also shameful for a woman to speak during a church gathering even if she does have a covering. What’s the point of telling women to wear a covering when they speak if they can’t in fact speak. I’m missing something here.

    At this point I’m not trying to figure out what the proper role of women in church gatherings are for us today. I’m just trying to figure out what Paul was trying to communicate to the Corinthian church. I suspect they understood exactly what he meant. Do you have any idea how chapter 11 and 14 work together?

  12. 9-5-2007


    I think you’ve asked a very important question. However, we interpret 1 Cor 11 and 1 Cor 14, I would suggest that Paul didn’t make a mistake, nor did he change his mind after only 3 chapters. Instead, I would suggest that Paul recognizes that women can pray and prophesy in public in 1 Cor 11. Therefore, 1 Cor 14:34-35 cannot be a command against women prophesying. I think 1 Cor 14:34-35 is about judging prophesy, but there could be other ways to interpret this passage.


  13. 5-5-2011

    Jon Zens’ excellent book, “What’s With Paul and Women?” answers this mystery from 1 Cor about women in the church. In a nutshell, the statement about it being shameful for a woman to speak in the church is not Paul’s statement. He is responding to the letter sent to him by this Church and he is quoting their quote of a Jewish Rabbi who taught this. Read that section again and it will explain several things: First, why Paul states in v.34: “(women) are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” Because the law says no such thing. But the Jews of that day did teach that.

    It also explains why Paul follows this section up by saying,(in v.36-38), “Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.”

    In the Greek (and Alan you can verify this), there’s actually a “What?!” before v.36 which some translations leave in, as if to underscore Paul’s disgust that these Corinthians were taking the Jewish rules upon themselves rather than embracing the freedom they have in Christ. With this in mind, read the next verses that follow:

    v.39-40 “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

    So, Paul ends this by repeating, as he has done earlier in the letter, that both men and women should be eager to speak openly in the meeting, to prophesy equally and to not forbid the speaking of tongues (male or female), as long as the meeting is not chaotic.

  14. 5-5-2011


    I haven’t read Zens’ book, but I’ve heard good things about it.


  15. 4-11-2012

    It is sad to hear several folks describe really bad church situations. After two years I am beginning to get my own similar experience in perspective and see that some positions are open to discussion while to question others is seen as a personal attack. I recently encountered a book on how to argue and see that there are times when I should just shut up!
    How to interpret Scripture is an interesting study. I believe a passage should first be understood in its context and its meaning for the first hearers before attempting to apply it to today (and even then, after allowances for cultural differences, the meaning should remain the same. Don’t get me going on the idea of hidden meanings and special symbols and codes buried by God in the text for a far-in-the-future set of readers!

  16. 4-12-2012


    Thanks for the comment! I also forget that there are times when I should shut up. :)


  17. 1-18-2013

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been (back to church in 9 years):….married to an abuser for 31 years; finally found the courage to get a divorce and then after fight the spiritually abusive system for 18 months to try and stop the pastor (of disaster) from “counseling” any more women going thru a divorce, my name was put up on a big screen, followed by the words, “Conduct Unbecoming a Child of God.” They did this to me on my birthday (voted me out of membership), but my amazing sense of humor saved me; I said, ‘Wow, I didn’t think this many people would show up to help me celebrate my birthday.” They were grim as a heart attack; I was smiling.

    Called to a meeting of deacons (16 “men”) not allowed to have a woman with me and asked: “Are you still having sex with your ex?!” No boundaries

    At first it was because I was getting a divorce and then their problem was that I allowed the x to live in my house for awhile after the divorce. Sadly, some of my family still attends and it is like a knife in my soul.

    I may never be able to attend a church again and can’ bear to hear “religious” words…..they took me out of choir (one of the joys in my life), but I stood up and fought for my principles.

    at age 60, because of what I wrote about my life of overcoming and thriving I won a scholarship and am a sophomore at age 66!! I believe we are here to make a difference and it is my intention to appear on national tv to bring awareness regarding verbal abuse; 1 in 3 women will be assaulted in their lifetimes.

    I was invited to present my paper (and passion): Society’s Hidden Pandemic, Verbal Abuse, Precursor to Physical Violence and a Form of Biochemical Assault to the Michigan Counseling Association and will never stop speaking up.

    I don’t know how or if…..I can ever heal from what that church did to me; after 9 years it is still as painful.

  18. 1-18-2013

    Hi, Alan! I love the analogy, and completely agree with your take on the issues mentioned. I don’t take it on as a concern that I can personally address, though. I guess I think of it as a burden that God carries for me. (I do have blog posts about it though! :) Trying to express what I’ve learned and discuss it with others.)

    Like you mentioned in the comments, I also could care less about the system compared to my brothers and sisters making up the Body. I can only hope to influence those in my immediate circles, and at that, only prayerfully, that they are influenced to see Jesus more clearly. In turn, that is what I’m looking for in others; because I believe it’s a focus on Him that brings the contrast on the human systems versus the kingdom of God. For example, if I sense someone is trying to influence me or my loved ones in a direction that isn’t focused on getting to know the Lord better, I try to lovingly steer clear. I try to follow God’s Spirit, extricating myself from error when necessary.

  19. 1-18-2013


    Thanks for the comment! I’m glad this post spurned these thoughts and that you shared them with us.