the weblog of Alan Knox

How should we study the church?

Posted by on Mar 27, 2009 in definition, elders, scripture, service | 27 comments

Last weekend, during our seminar, I made the statement that we should study the church by beginning with Scripture, not by beginning with our current beliefs and practices. This is still an important distinction for me, just as it was three years ago when I started this blog. Here are two posts that I wrote during my first month of blogging that deal with this issue.

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How should we study the church?

This is one definition of ecclesology: the branch of theology concerned with the nature and the constitution and the functions of a church.

How should someone begin studying the nature, constitution, and functions of a church? I have found two distinct paths toward developing a biblical ecclesiology.

The first path begins with the contemporary church along with its nature and practices. The theologian then uses Scripture to justify the various roles, functions, and practices of the contemporary church. This method allows various theologians to justify different and divergent practices.

The second path begins with Scripture. The theologian examines the nature and practices of the NT church as recorded in the Bible. These “descriptions” are then used as “prescriptions” for comparisons to the contemporary church.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul encourages the church in Corinth to compare their practices to the practices of other churches (1 Cor 7:17; 11:16; 14:33-34; 16:1). We should compare our practices to those of the NT churches as well. We should not begin with our practices, then justify them with Scripture. We must begin with Scripture when we are developing our ecclesiology.

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Called into full-time ministry…

Yesterday, in discussing ecclesiology, I made the following statement:

We should not begin with our practices, then justify them with Scripture. We must begin with Scripture when we are developing our ecclesiology.

Today, someone mentioned being “called into full-time ministry.” From the context, I know that he did not mean that God has called him to serve others (minister) full-time, just as God has called all believers to serve and not to be served. Instead, he meant that God had called him to find a vocational position in a local church (probably other than his own local church) in order to earn a living. This is a normal understanding of what it means to be a preacher / pastor / minister – at least among the people that I know.

Did this understanding come from Scripture? Will reading Scripture lead someone to understand that God specially calls some people to stop working a “secular” job in order to be part of a paid staff at a local church? Does Scripture describe the pastor as someone hired from outside the body?

If this idea does not come from Scripture, then from where does it come? And, more importantly, why is this the “normal” practice in our churches today?


27 Comments

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  1. 3-27-2009

    The church existed prior to the scriptures, though. And there is that whole “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.”

    I think it is impossible to reconstruct the first century church simply by reading the scriptures. It would be akin to trying to make the mustard tree return to the seed.

    While ultimately the church in the 21st century looks different in form and practice, it is the same “organism” in much the same way that a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, a baby becomes an adolescent and then an adult, and a mustard seed becomes a vast plant wherein the birds can build their nests.

  2. 3-27-2009

    While Brian is right that the church existed prior to the new testament scriptures… I still believe scriptures are the plumbline. The church is an organism, but the healthy organism has good DNA. The church in the west today has mutated malfunctioning DNA by the insertion of a lot of human traditions.

    I agree with Alan on this. Use the scripture to study the church.

  3. 3-27-2009

    I am not disagreeing with Alan’s premise to use the scripture to study the church, but I don’t think that you get a complete picture of how the early church existed by simply looking at the scriptures. I don’t consider the scriptures the DNA of the Church, and I don’t find anywhere in the scriptures where the scriptures themselves tell us that they are to be the plumbline.

    1 Thessalonians 5:19-23 Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying,but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.

    Not everything that is human tradition is contrary to the scripture.

  4. 3-27-2009

    I am also concerned that my predisposition to seeing what I find incongruent between the church, as I have seen and experienced it today, and scripture will lead me to want to prove it wrong.

    I must ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance to let me see it as if “for the first time”.

    Nonetheless, I agree with you Alan. However, I am even suspect sometimes of our post-Enlightenment methods of analyzing things. Does it taint our impressions?

    Anything we build, create, construct for consistency purposes always begins with a standard. We do not simply build a house by looking at another house even though another house may be the inspiration for our design. We use a standard blueprint.

    I might propose that the standard is not the written Word. Might it be the written Word inspired by the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

  5. 3-27-2009

    yes! :) thank you. Enjoyed that a lot & agree.

    I wonder sometimes though about those who desire to just "scrap it all and do over"…. leaving all those they were connected with to just find a different group, doing "it" differently…. I wonder if there isn't a way to stay where you are planted… and still somehow bloom and help be the change necessary to be the church God called us to be. I guess it depends on how "bad off" the place where you are… is. If you are strapped/burdened/chained by where you are…. then you must move to bloom. But if you're not really strapped… then maybe then you are there for a reason… and it is a season of growth – and the transplanting will come later.

    Just rambling :) Did that make any sense? I guess not to somebody who didn't get my specific experience. Sorry if it didn't make sense.

    thanks!!

  6. 3-27-2009

    Brent, I think you are on to something there. :-) The question then becomes, how can we be certain of what is truly the Holy Spirit’s guidance and what is simply the mind of man?

  7. 3-27-2009

    Brian,

    Traditions are not bad. However, when traditions hinder us from keeping the commands of God, or when we begin teaching traditions as if they are the commands of God, then that’s a problem. Jesus talked about this in Mark 7 (and the parallel passage in Matthew, but I don’t have the reference with me).

    John,

    We should never expect the church to look exactly like the church of the 1st century. But, we should expect the church to relate to God, to one another, and to the world the way that the 1st century church did. Thus, Scripture gives us a good view into these things.

    Brent,

    Yes! Absolutely! We can always trust the Spirit to guide us into truth. Only the Spirit can help us understand Scripture, and only the Spirit can show us how and enable us to live according to God’s will.

    Randi Jo,

    I am certainly not suggesting that we “scrap it all and do over”. However, I think we should continually question the things that we do and the things that we believe. Why do we do those things? Why do we beleive those things?

    Similarly, if we jumped ship and left behind all those people that God placed in our lives, then we’re doing exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. No, we should be cultivating those relationships.

    -Alan

  8. 3-27-2009

    Alan, I absolutely agree. Traditions which hinder us from keeping God’s commands are obviously not of God. That is what St. Paul is talking about in the passage from 1 Thessalonians 5. That is why he admonishes us to test everything and hold fast to that which is good. Human traditions which do not hinder us from living the Gospel and are not contrary to the will of God should not be rejected. And if those same traditions aid you in keeping God’s will, I would say they are very good.

  9. 3-27-2009

    Edit…I should have said human traditions which do not hinder us from living the Gospel and are not contrary to the will of God should not be rejected simply because they are human traditions.

  10. 3-27-2009

    Brian,

    In Mark 7 (and Matthew 15 – I found the reference), the religious leaders ask why Jesus and his disciples do not keep the tradition of washing their hands before eating. This tradition did not hinder (nor help) their ability to obey God. Yet, they felt no compulsion for keeping this tradition. I think this is a good model.

    -Alan

  11. 3-27-2009

    Will reading Scripture lead someone to understand that God specially calls some people to stop working a “secular” job in order to be part of a paid staff at a local church?

    I don’t believe it does. I always had a problem with this specific “calling” myself. Are some people gifted with teaching and leadership skills? Absolutely. I don’t see anywhere in Scripture that would suggest that any office in the church is a paid vocation.

    I guess I’m trying to imagine a scenario where the Lord says “You need to be on my payroll!”. If that sounds silly, perhaps it is because it just might be.

  12. 3-27-2009

    Alan,

    I knew what you were talking about, and I agree. I don’t see a problem with human traditions so long as they do not supplant the commands of the Lord.

  13. 3-27-2009

    Jeff,

    I’m right there with you, but many, many Christians disagree with us.

    Brian,

    I’m neutral when it comes to traditions that do not hinder us from keeping God’s commands. However, I’ve found that many in the church are more careful about keeping their traditions, and often don’t know the difference.

    -Alan

  14. 3-28-2009

    Alan,

    I am with you bro and though I have not studied ecclesiology long, one thing I have recognized acrossed the ecclesiological horizon is that: Long Standing Tradion=Commands of God. And if you question these traditions you become the odd man out.

  15. 3-28-2009

    Lionel,

    Traditions are comfortable. It is difficult to break from tradition, even if we realize they may be dangerous or a hindrance.

    -Alan

  16. 3-29-2009

    thank you for the followup! :) I needed that reminder/encouragement! :)

  17. 3-29-2009

    However, I’ve found that many in the church are more careful about keeping their traditions, and often don’t know the difference.

    Alan,

    Perhaps you should ask them. You might be surprised to find that their carefulness in keeping traditions is based in their love of God, the pharisees in Mark 7 being the obvious example of an exception.

    Maybe we are thinking about two different kinds of traditions. Washing hands to me is something not necessary, although if you wash your hands for love of God, more power to you.

    Just so I can know we are on the same page, what are some other kinds of traditions that you would use as examples?

    Lionel,

    I think we can always use St. Paul’s advice to the Church at Thessalonica when judging long standing traditions. I hesitate to say something that is “tradition” should be discarded simply because it is old.

  18. 3-29-2009

    Alan,

    I agree with you. I don’t see anywhere in scripture, that it indicates people should enter “ministry” as a vocational career. I think this idea has caused a lot of what is wrong in American Christianity, (ie, jealousy, territorialism, politics). In many cases, the secular work world is a safer environment to be in.

    I was speaking to a christian that I work with, the other day. She told me that an Evangelist came to her church some time ago, who said that God doesn’t talk to christians. He only talks to ministers. She already knew that bad theology. But, it just goes to show the kind of bad theology that gets created with this kind of a system.

    Any way, I’ve rambled on long enough.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  19. 3-29-2009

    Randi Jo,

    I often need encouragement and reminders too… in fact, we all do.

    Brian,

    I know more about Protestant traditions than Catholic traditions. We have traditions that tell us when and how to pray, who should teach, where we should meet, when we should sit and stand, who can speak or sing or pray or read, etc.

    Gary,

    I’ve heard similar things.

    -Alan

  20. 3-29-2009

    Alan,

    That is helpful. We have similar traditions, but we don’t view them in the same fashion as we do the Sacred Tradition of the Church which we believe is divinely revealed, and even that is difficult to adequately explain. It is not really unwritten beliefs that we hold but more along the line of the lens through which we understand the deposit of the faith. If that makes any sense. The things you have mentioned are non-essentials.

  21. 3-30-2009

    I am reminded of the difference of opinion between Paul and the apostles at Jerusalem over the Gentiles. Did not they choose to go separate directions, for the most part?

  22. 3-30-2009

    Brian,

    How do you know that “Sacred Tradition of the Church” is the command of God and not traditions of men?

    Brent,

    I was thinking that the apostles to the Gentiles and the apostles to the Jews came together in Acts 15. Did I miss something?

    -Alan

  23. 3-31-2009

    To piggyback on Alan’s question, does the average lay Catholic know the difference between what are just regular, non-essential traditions and “Sacred Traditions of the Church”?

  24. 4-1-2009

    Alan,

    Because it is the entire deposit of the faith as it was handed on by the Lord to the apostles. Look at it this way: how do you know that the accepted canon of Holy Scripture is not a human tradition?

    Arthur,

    When presented with the two options one of a tradition and one of Sacred Tradition, I believe most Catholics would get it right. We know the difference between traditions of men and Sacred Tradition. However, I can only speak for those Catholics that I know, so there may be a few who mistake the two, but I am certain you would find protestants guilty of the same.

  25. 4-1-2009

    And one other thing, Arthur. I consider myself an average lay Catholic.

  26. 4-1-2009

    Brian,

    There are several accepted traditions concerning what constitutes the canon of Scripture. If we look back through history, we’ll find even more versions of the canon of Scripture.

    What’s interesting to me concerning “Sacred Tradition” is how it continues to change.

    By the way, from talking with you, you know much more about Catholicism and Scripture than most Catholics that I’ve talked to.

    -Alan

  27. 4-1-2009

    Alan,

    Sacred Tradition as we define it does not change. It is difficult for me to define it to my own satisfaction. I have read it defined as the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, which grows in expression but is the same in essence. In other words its application may change as circumstances surrounding the life and practices of the Church are bound to do, but the dogmas themselves do not. An example of its application is found in Acts 15 (the Council of Jerusalem).

    So, regarding the canon, how do we decide which books are included in the canon and which are not? How do you decide? The books of the bible themselves do not provide a list, and there most certainly was not a table of contents. Which ones are canonical and thus inspired and which are not?

    I think what you may find is that I am an exception to the rule among most lay Catholics, and here is why: my wife and a friend of mine who is a priest say that they don’t enter into conversations with Protestants much because they just don’t know many and they find it difficult to discuss things with them because we speak two different languages when it comes to describing the faith. I, on the other hand, am a convert to Catholicism (April 2, 1988), and I encounter Protestants more often. I also see much more common ground between Catholics and Protestants because I have experienced both backgrounds and “speak both languages.”