Last Friday and Saturday, my son Jeremy and I attended a “House Church Workshop” in Smithfield, NC which was lead by Steve Atkerson and Tim Melvin from New Testament Restoration Fellowship. In this post, I want to share a few more quotes from the conference, many of which came from the conference introdcution by Steve Atkerson. Also, I want to add a few personal remarks concerning the conference. I am calling this “summary remarks” instead of “concluding remarks” because the conference has prompted futher thought in some areas that will probably result in more blog posts.
Steve Atkerson started the conference by explaining that this would be “A Wineskin Weekend”. In other words, we were going to discuss the church. He said that talk about the church was much like trying to describe a ball – it is difficult because does not have a start or an end, so you don’t always know where to start.
By the way, NTRF does not suggest that the church must meet in homes. They do teach that this is the pattern that is seen in the NT. In fact, they say that there are three aspects of the NT church that all churches should strive for (and meeting in homes is not one of these): the Lord’s Supper as a meal, participatory meetings, and elder-led congregational consensus.
“A Wineskin Weekend” meant that we would primarily be talking about the forms of the church. He brought out a couple of wine bottles – one empty and one full. He pointed out that the empty wine bottle had the correct form, but that it did not hold any wine. He said, “The wine is more important than the wineskin or the bottle. The bottle exists for the sake of the wine and not vice versa. The wine (our life in Christ) must come before the wineskin”.
This was a great way to start the conference and a great way to start any conversation about the church. The church is the people of God. The forms, methods, practices, etc. are all worthless if the church (the people of God) is not present in the forms, methods, practices, etc. In fact, I would say that the forms, methods, practices, etc. flow from our life in Christ and life with one another, and not vice versa. However, many times people expect the forms to create the life. I think this is backwards.
Steve also wanted to ensure that we did not misunderstand their feelings toward other methods and forms of the chuch. He said, “We are not saying that the ‘true church’ had ceased to exist, and we’ve finally found it. But, we’re suggesting that some wineskins are better for the wine than others”. I was glad to hear Steve voice this point. Any time the church gathers together there will be problems regardless of the forms, methods, etc. Why? Because any time people gather together there will be problems, and the church is people. We should not expect any church meeting to be perfect, and we should no expect all believers to meet together in the same way that we meet. This does not mean that all methods of meeting together are equally effective. But, it does mean that even the most ineffective meeting of the church is still a meeting of the church.
Further, in his introduction, Steve stressed that the things that they are suggesting are not new or innovative. Instead, he said, most scholars agree that the way NTRF describes the NT church meeting is the way that Scripture describes the NT church meeting. I have noticed this as well. As I have been studying and writing about the church as described in the New Testament, it has been fairly easy to find scholars who agree with my interpretation of Scripture. However, the difference is not in the interpretation of Scripture, but the application of Scripture. Scholars do not always agree that we can apply NT church practices to the modern day church. The reason? Culture. And, this leads to my last point from the conference.
Steve said, “Culture should not drive what the church does”. He said this in the context of Paul saying that he teaches the same thing “in all the churches”. I agree with this – culture does not drive church practices. However, culture does affect the way the church meets, even if culture is not the driving force behind it. Thus, churches in difference cultures may sing different songs. The speaker may choose to stand or sit based on culture. The clothing that the people wear depends upon the culture. These are cultural issues, and they affect how the church meets.
Because culture does affect the way the church meets, I have spent more time looking at the purpose of the church meeting and how that purpose should be carried out. For example, if Paul was serious in 1 Corinthians 14:26 (and I think he was), then the purpose of the church meeting is edification. Similarly, Paul says that edification is best accomplished when many believers exercise their spiritual gifts during the meeting of the church. The purpose of the meeting of the church (edification) and the way that purpose is carried out (participation of many believers) will not change from culture to culture. However, exactly what that meeting looks like may change from culture to culture.
While I do not mean to slight the teachers at the conference, there was very little new material presented for me. I had already studied many of the topics that they presented. However, the conference was still very profitable for me for several reasons.
First, I completely enjoyed spending that time with my son, Jeremy. I especially enjoyed our drive home after the Friday evening session of the conference. We talked about many of the topics from the conference but in much greater detail. All I will say that this point is that a fourteen year old boy can understand, explain, and apply much more than we usually give them credit for.
Second, I enjoyed meeting some old friends again. We were able to talk during the conference breaks and to discuss some of the topics further. I especially enjoyed hearing how different people were attempting to apply some of things that were being taught in the conference. And, I have to talk about lunch Saturday! It was awesome! Sharing food and fellowship with some dear brothers (and a sister) was challenging and encouraging.
Finally, I also enjoyed meeting some new brothers and sisters in Christ. I did not talk to anyone who was angry with the church or with church leaders. I did not talk to anyone who was hurt by the church or church leader. Instead, I only saw followers of Jesus Christ who had decided that it was important to follow Scripture when it comes to church practices just as they were attempting to follow Christ in other areas of their lives.
As I told my wife, it was encouraging to be able to spend some time with brothers and sisters who whose journey paralleled mine in this area. I thank God for this opportunity.