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Unraveling the gathering of the saints through church history

Posted by on Feb 5, 2013 in church history, gathering | 42 comments

Unraveling the gathering of the saints through church history

I’m currently working on the chapter in my dissertation concerning the “History of Interpretation.” Since the focus of my dissertation is “the purpose of the gathering of the church,” this chapter will examine why the church gathered through various eras of history beginning in the second century through modern times. (Other chapters will cover the first century gatherings as described in the New Testament.)

As you can probably imagine, there is no homogeneous answer to the question: “Why should believers gather together?” Even within a given era, there are many different reasons given. And, all of the reasons must be considered within their theological, historical, and cultural context.

Another New Testament student recently said this when first reading about church history (see my post “There is no golden age of Christianity“):

First, There is no golden age of Christianity. Each age holds its own flaws, and each leader his or her own failings. The patriarchs, the Roman Catholics, the reformers, the emperors, even the apostles struggled in their understanding of God, and how we relate to Him. As a Christian growing up in the evangelical tradition, I have heard a great deal of praise attributed to the apostles and reformers contrasted by sharp criticism, if not hatred, for all things Roman Catholic. While I am a protestant, reading this text has opened my eyes up to an important truth. The Gospel did not pass away between the fourth and sixteenth centuries only to be resurrected by the Reformation. The name of Christ remained a focal point for a millenium in the midst of plagues, persecutions, and political strife, and the Catholic practice of monasticism preserved all of the ancient writings, including the Scriptures, that brought the reformers to their powerful conclusions. There may have been many distorted and overlooked truths, but there were men who stood firm in their trust of Christ and worshipped Him in the way their culture taught them was appropriate.

As an example, consider church gatherings during the Reformation – a period mentioned by the student in the quote above. When Luther and the other “Magisterial Reformers” first began to rethink the church, they started with the idea that the church should be simpler and flatter – i.e., no hierarchy.

For example, Owen Chadwick writes in The Early Reformation on the Continent (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001):

Everyone [among the Magisterial Reformers] agreed that services in church should be simpler, with less elaborate ritual; that they should be in the language which the people understood; and that they should contain nothing which was contrary to Scripture or could not be justified from Scripture…

It was also agreed that the congregation should be a people that took part with the clergy and did not sit or stand silent while the clergy read the service or the choir sang. How this could be done was harder. (pg 181)

But, something happened to change their mind. Within a few years, they had reverted to a new type of hierarchy and a new type of clericalism (although different from the hierarchy and clericalism of the medieval Roman Church).

John Howard Yoder once wrote this concerning this change in the thinking and practice of the Magisterial Reformers (“The Hermeneutics of the Anabaptists,” MQR 41 (1967): 291-308):

[The Magisterial Reformers] abandoned their initial vision of the [Reformed] visible church, the hermeneutic community, and were obliged to shift the locus of infallibility to the inspired text and the technically qualified theological expert.

Meanwhile, many of the 16th century Anabaptists maintained the idea of a simple and participatory church, with the two groups battling each other over their differences.

But, thinking back about the Magisterial Reformers and their change of heart concerning the simplicity of the church and the participation of all involved in teaching and discipling the community…

Why do you think they changed their mind about the church? Can you think of any good intentions or motives that may have led to this change? (By the way, one of the authors that I quoted in this post suggested a “good intention” that led to a more hierarchical, clerical church.)


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

  1. 2-5-2013

    Good question Alan, what comes to mind, and this seems to be true in my life is change. Quite possibly the ‘The Magisterial Reformers’ were to radical for the folks to follow.

    Traditions regarding worship, and relating to God are very difficult to change, even when the current ‘tradition’ is difficult.

    I like the reference to the Anabaptist, and their simplistic approach. Is their any historical data to show they were contemporaries of the ‘The Magisterial Reformers’?

  2. 2-5-2013

    Jim, Leonard Verduin’s book on The Reformers and their stepchildren is a great look at the relationship between the Anabaptists, the “Radical Reformers” and the “Magisterial Reformers” like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

  3. 2-5-2013

    I can’t speak for the Reformers, but from personal experience there is a period of awkwardness when first trying to transition from a human hierarch-directed (one person or a leadership team) event to one that is congregation-led (all participating).

    It’s tempting to ascribe the awkward silences and conflict that arises from being among siblings (versus people of senior/junior rank) to failure, when we don’t perceive that these are symptoms of our fallen natures experiencing church – maturing pains.

    There’s a very strong impulse to pursue comfort again, and that can pull us back into the more hiearchial forms that help us avoid relationship and the associated challenges.

  4. 2-5-2013


    “Magisterial Reformers” refers to those believers in the 16th century who separated from the Roman Church and yet continued to connect the church to the state. Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli are included among that number. They definitely interacted with the Radical Reformers (Anabaptists) who refused to connect the church with the state. The two groups fought physically and verbally for many years (and continue to this day), although, at that time, the Anabaptists took the brunt of the physical fight given their typical views on pacifism and the fact that they didn’t have the state’s army backing them up.


    What do you think about the Magisterial Reformers beginning with simple, participatory type church gatherings? Why do you think that changed?


    That’s a great observation! I’m glad that you brought this back around to us today… that’s exactly what I was hoping people would do.


  5. 2-5-2013

    Change is hard. We don’t realize just how much we are dependent on familiar surroundings and landmarks. In my church journey, from being the Body in the IC to being the Body without the IC, I have far too few landmarks and reference points to hang on to. Theory, without practice, is almost insufficient as you begin practicing the theory. It’s truly a lot like bushwacking. chopping at underbrush and breaking trail. It’s work. Too few are up for the task. That’s not really a condemnation, instead it’s just the reality.

    Once a new trail has been blazed, more folks will use it. The Magisterial Reformers were breaking a trail. It was probably, rough, uneven, muddy and difficult and the vast majority of folks found the old path to be easiest. In the meantime, they are adventurously trying to walk a little on and a little off the trail.

    When it’s hard, I remember that one day, many other folks will use this trail and will appreciate that someone has gone before them. Alan, thanks for the trail breaking you’re doing!

  6. 2-5-2013

    Good comments here so far, I’ll try to add something useful to the discussion as well.

    Sometimes a step can be a step too far, not in the sense that it’s in the wrong direction but just that it’s too big or difficult to manage. That’s what Jim, Heartspeak and Tim have commented on.

    Coming at the same idea from a fourth angle, imagine you are at home in your back garden (or back yard for those in the USA). You feel the place Father wants you is in your neighbour’s back garden.

    You could try to take a massive step of ten metres across the dividing fence, but you will fail. It can’t be achieved that way. Instead you must take a series of steps of manageable size and go by a different route, out to the street, onto your neighbour’s land and through to your destination.

    In church life we have come by a series of steps from where we were to where we are today. Some of us have come further than others, but we are all taking steps to draw closer to the destination set for us. None of us has arrived yet.

    The important thing is not where I am (or whether you are ahead of me or with me or behind me). The important thing is whether I am making the next step towards the destination. The objective is to be more fully in the presence of Christ.

    The reformers were wise enough to realise that an attempt to step too far would fail. They settled for a less ambitious step in the right direction.

  7. 2-5-2013

    Wow, very interesting stuff here. Not an academic student of church history, but glad some are and can share. One thing that keeps coming to my aged mind as I read so much of what others think about church…is the ambition I sense in so many regarding the Gospel. I think that I see living life as a Christian in much simpler terms than some. I know that energy and ambition are resident in the more youthful and yearn for expression in their lives. A complex concept with many pros and cons, but how that part of our nature effects how we experience the gathering of the saints is certainly a source of much conflict. Love Tim’s comment: There’s a very strong impulse to pursue comfort again, and that can pull us back into the more forms that help us avoid relationship and the associated challenges.

  8. 2-5-2013

    I put hierarchical in parenthesis because I corrected the spelling but it deleted it for some reason…so it is missing from Tim’s quote.

  9. 2-5-2013


    The Magisterial Reformers were certainly walking a path that they had not walked before. I like your description: “In the meantime, they are adventurously trying to walk a little on and a little off the trail.” I think that applies to all of us.


    A step too far? That’s possible. For the Magisterial Reformers, it seems that they headed in a certain direction, then turned back, at least when it came to church gatherings. Are you suggesting that they turned back because if they had continued in the direction they were going (simpler, more participative church gatherings) then they would have gone too far?


    I’m not sure what you mean by this: “the ambition I sense in so many regarding the Gospel.” I’d love to hear more.


  10. 2-5-2013

    Lots of food for thought. I have read some one the movements of that era, especially the history of the Moravian movement. (A special interest having grown up not far from Bethlehem PA.) I was struck at how they over time drifted from being alive and vibrant to become something less. I suspect the desire for comfort had something to do with it, perhaps safety as well, since being “different” in any way tends to bring persecution.

    I wonder though if perhaps the biggest element was not fear, fear of the new and unknown. Perhaps that (along with pride,) explains the tension between “innovators” with perhaps a fresh revelation and traditionalists who fought to maintain the current system. We can see this conflict throughout church history even unto the present day, and is, I believe, the root cause of many denominational rifts.

    My last thought, also previously touched upon is just the simple fact that it is hard. There is a reason why geese rotate the lead and back country snowshoers take turns leading on the trail. The guy in front has a great view perhaps, but at the cost of having to work harder and face more difficult progress. Sticking to the well blazed and beaten trail is not only safer but easier.

    I guess in the end though it all boils down to simply this: We are human, and this side of eternity, we will have to deal with failings both personal and corporate. We will tend to seek the easy way, the safe way, the one that requires the least thought and energy. It takes and will always take continual, deliberate effort and oftentimes difficult choices to press in for more of God and more of His truth. Whether we are speaking corporately, or individually, we have to make the choice each and every day to press in for more. The day we do not make that choice, we choose to go backwards, because inertia will set in and once it sets in, we soon find ourselves reverting to the safe old ways.

  11. 2-5-2013

    Great discussion so far. I love and agree with all that’s been said. I hope I can add an additional perspective as well.

    As I’ve thought about this, I’ve boiled it down to three strong forces that I believe were at work that influenced the Reformers’ decisions to move away from a simpler, “flatter” expression of the church to that of the “magisterial” expression that prevailed.

    The first, as has been commented on much here, is “tradition”. Tradition has a powerful psychological affect as well a unifying sociological affect on people. The web that tradition(both good and bad)spins in those two realms is very difficult to break.

    It’s been said, “It is one thing for the man to come out of the system, another for the system to come out of the man.” It seems the Reformers themselves did not have a significant period of “wilderness” in order to fully “detox” from the magisterial church system that dominated their world, and had for a millennium and a half prior. It takes a wilderness to get the system out of a person, as well as a people. It seems they were, rather, thrust into these climactic changes and almost immediately were shaping its principles and patterns from the outset. Not only was this true of the Reformers, but also of the people in general. They were not fully conditioned for such a hugely radical change. Tradition, therefore, held sway over the movement as it developed from the beginning.

    Going hand-in-hand with tradition, as it usually does, was what we would call “pragmatism.” It was a matter of sheer survival to cling to a magisterial concept and practice of the church in order to have the military might of the State to combat the Roman Catholic persecution and might. Catholicism was a territorial religion and so in order to survive, the Protestants had to secure territories where there movement could survive and strengthen. They needed the power of the State to do that.

    The union of Church and State also meant that the populace of the regions were a mixture of true believers and infant-baptized unbelievers. A church assembly for such a mixture, practically and spiritually speaking, was best held in a pulpit/pew, passive congregation, setting and format.

    This also pragmatically worked well as they took over and conquered Catholic territories. They simply converted many of their cathedrals into Protestant church buildings and moved the pulpit to the center of the platform while maintaining the rows of pews for the congregation. Preaching, rather than the Eucharist, became the centerpiece of their assembly. This setting discourages the type of mutually-participatory, servant-leadership expression of the church found in the New Testament. “Pragmatism”, working together with “tradition” won the day.

    The third influence is what I like to call “eccentricity.” This is the misplacing of our most significant focus upon something other than Christ Himself, God’s ordained Center in all things. The “good idea” of the Reformation was essentially, “Sola Scriptura”. This is what came to be known as the “formal principle” of the Reformation, i.e. what primarily shaped the Reformation. The Reformers sought to restore the authority and centrality of the Scriptures to the church. Unfortunately, the Scriptures can never be the Ultimate Center of the Church, for they are not an end in and of themselves, but always point beyond themselves to Christ. When a Book becomes the Center, the Church has no Living Head. Theologians and preachers, therefore, are needed in order to interpret and communicate the Word of God properly and effectively to the church. They in turn become the living authorities and governing heads of the churches and the congregation the receptive audience.

    Because the Word is also a “sword”,it also means that division and schism will undoubtedly become an inherent characteristic of a movement that is ultimately centered around “the Book.” Even among the Reformers, this was the case, and it has proven to be true in the entire history of the Protestant movement.

    The Radical Reformers, on the other hand, were much more committed to the restoration of Christ Himself to the central and supreme place with He being the only Foundation, Center, Head and Identity of the church. When Christ is the supreme focus and preeminent authority in the gathering of the church, then Body ministry under His Headship becomes the natural expression of the assembly. It becomes much more participatory and “flat”.

    The “eccentricity” of having the Scriptures and preaching as the Center lent itself well to the clergy/laity system that was in place.

    So I believe that the combination of these three forces at work and interwoven together, lie much at the root of the “Magisterial Reformation” rejecting a simpler, more participatory form of the church and instead forming and practicing the way that it did.

    To bring it also to today, those same three factors, I feel, are still some of the most powerful forces shaping the Church. If we are going to press forward to a fuller restoration of the Church according to God’s ultimate heart and mind in Christ, therefore, we will need to reckon squarely with these three things.

    Thanks, Alan, for this post. I’d love to talk with you at length about your dissertation! :-)

    Love and blessings,

  12. 2-5-2013


    You’ve added some good thoughts to this discussion. I especially appreciate that you added the question about fear of the unknown. That’s definitely a big motivator (or demotivator, depending on how you look at it).


    Again, great thoughts. Thanks for adding to this discussion. Another issue with the Magisterial Reformers was related to education. The leaders were all educated men who had be taught in the Universities what it meant to teach. I think it was difficult for them to turn off that understanding when they gathered with people who were not “educated.”


  13. 2-5-2013

    Wow…very stimulating discussion here and great clarity. Two things are resonating for me here. Possibly if I can gather them together I might be able to clarify what I meant by “ambition” Alan. Please note I was not insinuating you or your posters necessarily, more like from my experiences with gatherings.

    This from David, “…It seems the Reformers themselves did not have a significant period of “wilderness” in order to fully “detox” from the magisterial church system …”.

    And your own comment, “…I think it was difficult for them to turn off that understanding when they gathered with people who were not “educated.”

    These two factors can combine to produce what I expressed, perhaps ineptly, as ambition. The human drive to fulfill some residual concepts of the missions and visions. A true wilderness experience (this is not something we can write into our own calendar, but that we are led into unawares – in my experience)- that has cleared out the cobwebs and prepared us to be able to embrace the real liberty that Christ offers, leaves us more available to be led left or right or straight on at the Spirit’s bidding, and thus have very little investment in our own safety, comfort or the outcome of many things that consume us and cause us to err. Not that we become infallible, but we become free to expand our capacity to love one another…without putting heavy burdens on each other to fulfill visions or goals. If I go any further I will dig myself in deeper so I will leave it at that. Definitely enjoying this. The post about the monastic life being effective in preserving the sacred writings makes me think of a classic that probably most Christian school children read or have read : Otto of the Silver Hand. Beautiful story of finding refuge from brutality for a young boy in a monastery.

  14. 2-5-2013


    It sounds like you’re talking about the expectations and assumptions that we bring with us when we gather with other believers.


  15. 2-5-2013

    That is a very adept nutshell Alan. Pretty close if not right on. Thanks.

  16. 2-6-2013

    Great Discussion – wow.

    I think what David said is awesome – tradition, leadership formed with no wilderness experience, the power grab resulting from competition, worshipping the book (or our own understanding of the book) instead of the book’s author- all result in church centered around leaders instead of Christ.

    In China – tradition was destroyed by the state – putting believers in a wilderness experience like none other. Power was given to the anti-Christ State (as all governments eventually migrate to worshipping man as god) – and the book was mostly irradicated – and thru all of that – the greatest revival in the history of the church was put into motion.

    Guess you have to be careful what you pray for.

  17. 2-6-2013

    Oh sorry – I left out one more thing about China – all of the Christian leaders were put in jail – then the greatest revival in the history of the church was put into motion.

  18. 2-6-2013

    “Theory, without practice, is almost insufficient as you begin practicing the theory. It’s truly a lot like bushwacking. chopping at underbrush and breaking trail.” Heartspeak
    I think the analogy is more apt that intended since cutting down brush still leaves the roots and, given some time without much traffic, you have the same brush all over again. Where we live we have heavy machinery-attachments called root rakes which drive heavy fingers underground and lift out any roots that remain.
    I find it fascinating that Wesley had his quadrilateral which put tradition up there as one of the things to shape belief. I’m not sure to what extent it is even possible to divorce oneself from one’s tradition.

  19. 2-6-2013


    From what I understand about China (and I could be wrong), there are Christians leader, but their “leadership” looks alot different than church leadership in the west.


    You may be right. The big problem with gathering with the saints in a more simple and participatory manner for the Magisterial Reformers may be the difficulty in shifting from theory to practice. There are some other groups in history before them who have met in a less structured way, but they tended to be ostracized, hunted down, and killed. So, the Magisterial Reformers did not have any (or many) examples to follow.


  20. 2-6-2013

    “I’m not even sure…. it’s possible to divorce one’s self from one’s tradition” – Tom

    I’ve often pondered the fact that God essentially had to let the Egyptian raised Israelites die off in the wilderness for 40 yrs. Yes, it was a punishment for their faithlessness. But could it well have been God’s tacit admission that they needed a people untainted by Egypt to actually do the work of conquering and embracing the Promised Land?

    God ‘can’ do anything. He got the people into the Promised Land. Dare I even speculate that the one thing He couldn’t (okay, let’s just say, ‘didn’t) do was to get Egypt out of the people.

    What are the implications of that for us today? (I suspect the possibilities of some things but I’m not willing to go out on a limb categorically) I continue to ‘ponder’ and seek guidance for my own response to this one.

  21. 2-6-2013


    While it can be very difficult, I know that it’s possible to separate from one’s traditions.


  22. 2-7-2013

    I know very little about Magisterial Reformers but I know something about breaking trail.
    One kind of breaking trail is what is done by a hunting guide working through familiar territory.
    The kind that matters here is the kind that ventures into unknown territory. The trail breakers, I call them pioneers, have some interesting characteristics.
    They are, by definition, not traditionalists. As a general rule, they do not think of themselves as leaders making a way for others to follow. They are usually following their own curiosity or in some way serving their own purposes.
    It is left to others, I call them settlers, to come behind them, make the trail into a road, and establish stable communities (or in the context of this discussion, establish new traditions).
    The pioneers are usually not welcome in the settlements but they don’t care.

  23. 2-7-2013


    I agree about pioneers and settlers. And they are not welcome in the settlement because they can’t settle and they stir up anyone who wants to settle. I think it’s called restless legs syndrome or something – there’s a drug for that ;)


    Yeah – different leadership – ‘fathers’ – not ‘CEOs’ (the pastor) of the 501C3.

    “Fathers” would gladly ‘spend everything they have and expend themselves as well’ so that their children could go farther than they themselves have gone. Paul actually paid the way of (what you would call) his disciples – he thought of them as his sons not disciples.

    ‘CEOs’ are paid for by the corporation but in church terms – the kids are paying for the father. The CEO model has a total conflict of interest between the maturity of the saints and the CEO’s (pastor’s) income. CEO’s create franchises – Fathers create families.

  24. 2-7-2013

    Nelson and Jerry,

    I appreciate your analogy of the “trail blazer / pioneer.” If Paul would be considered a pioneer, he didn’t seem to have problems fitting in with the “settlers” or being welcomed in the settlement.


  25. 2-7-2013

    “If Paul would be considered a pioneer, he didn’t seem to have problems fitting in with the “settlers” or being welcomed in the settlement.”

    Yes, that is true Alan, but as I read this I had a couple of thoughts I will toss out. First, Paul didn’t seem to stay very long at any one place. Second, Paul was a father in the biblical sense, and a good one at that. One of the characteristics of a good father is that they raise children who pattern their lives and aspirations after those who were fathers. Both of my natural children are outdoorsy types, imparting their love and knowledge of the outdoors to others. This is not surprising, since I began to take them hiking, camping, fishing etc. when they were still in diapers.

    So it is with things spiritual I think. If your “spiritual father” has an apostolic bent, or prophetic, or whatever you will tend to follow him or her. Likewise, if they are constantly pressing in after Jesus, so will the children. I think the ministry at IHOPKC is a good example. Mike Bickle is the spiritual father to many who have been or are there, and when you meet someone who has spent some time there, you see a little of Mike in each one of them. I realize this is a less than perfect analogy as the ministry will tend to attract like minded people, but it is the clearest example I can think of at the moment. I imagine that those who gathered about and made Paul their mentor would also be somewhat like minded as well.

  26. 2-7-2013

    Good point Alan. Yet he seemed to have strong differences of opinion with church members who wanted to establish a status quo. I suspect Kevin is right. Maybe Paul’s problems were with those who followed his trail and tried to ‘build on another man’s foundation’ like Simon the sorcerer did with Philip in Samaria.

  27. 2-7-2013

    This might be a good place to talk about whether we are taking our experience and using it for a template to measure scripture, or taking scripture and using it for a template to measure our experience.

  28. 2-7-2013


    Well, we do know that Paul spent 18 months and perhaps up to 2 years in the same place at times. And, he returned to the same places several times, and spoke highly of many people in those places.


    This post began as a discussion about church history and why the Magisterial Reformers started down the road toward a simpler more participatory church gathering but turned away from that. What part of our discussion now do you think we’re using our experiences for a template to measure Scripture?


  29. 2-7-2013

    I really appreciated your comment David. I think you hit the nail right on the head. And Rita I think ambition is a big one as well, even good ambition.

    I think whenever the Holy Spirit places a vision in a person’s heart it can challenge existing leadership if it doesn’t come thru them. Think Jesus-pharisees, Early Church-Paul pre-conversion, Martin Luther-Roman Catholicism, Anabaptist-Martin Luther, etc.

    When someone with a vision challenges existing leadership’s views, authority is challenged and ultimately hierarchy gets challenged. It must be this way or else one must abandon one’s vision and get back in line. That’s why new movements often start out proposing a flat view of authority. As time progresses the movement gets more established with more adherents to the vision. As the movement gets farther disconnected from the original group it challenged, you often see the original visionary leaders trying to maintain more control over their vision and ambitions. Then the new leaders start slowly working back more hierarchical views into their teachings. This may even be done subconciously without evil intent. George Orwell understood how this worked very well as demonstrated in his book Animal Farm.

    The house church movement is not immune to this either. When people see that church has to be done in a certain way, that ambition can quickly lead to trying to control. When gentle persuasion doesn’t work we can quickly grab the positional authority stick.

    So how do we avoid going down this same road? I think David answered well in keeping Christ central, not our specific interpratation of scriptures, not how we meet, not anti-hierarchy :) Having a good revelation that Christ expresses himself in my mortal body when I allign myself to his purposes, I find myself genuinely loving people. More concerned about the person’s longterm heart change rather than winning a theological argument or proving my view of the scripture is right. More concerned about a community functioning as a loving family rather than wanting to maintain a good housechurch appearance to outsiders. I find myself bending as much as I can to accommodate other brothers and sisters. I get more joy seeing my brothers and sisters operating in gifts rather than myself. More excited seeing Christ change an unbelievers heart towards him regardless of whether he becomes a part of my gathering or not. Enjoy seeing people grow in their ability to hear God speaking to their heart and watching to see where all God takes them. Knowing that God will do a much better job guiding them than I could ever do.

  30. 2-8-2013

    Alan, I’ve watched this pioneer/settler analogy play out time and again in my own experience over 40+ years, in addition to reading about it in other times. But still, it is only an analogy. I put the question to myself as a kind of reality check.
    One strength of this analogy is that both the pioneers and the settlers are required. Neither is the ‘bad guy’.
    Without the pioneers the settlers won’t expand into new territory. Without the settlers, the pioneers have no economic base to stand on.

    One recent example concerns Jim Bridger, Jedidiah Smith and their associates. They wanted to see what was in the blank space on the map. (The space now occupied by Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.) In the course of their exploration they found the route later used by the settlers, called the Oregon Trail.
    The settlers needed the pioneers to find the route for them. The pioneers needed the settlers market for beaver furs to fund their explorations.

    I use this analogy to remind myself that even though the pioneers are ‘on the cutting edge’, it’s the settlers that are organizing the huge evangelistic crusades and the massive overseas mission work and the important ‘social gospel’ things like feeding the hungry and rescuing the slave trade victims.
    On a personal level, I think the ‘simpler more participatory church gathering’ helps us grow in Grace better than a hierarchy, and I bless the huge organizations for the good they do; for the Kingdom and for society.

  31. 2-8-2013


    Thanks for the further clarification of my comment regarding ambition. “As the movement gets farther disconnected from the original group it challenged, you often see the original visionary leaders trying to maintain more control over their vision and ambitions. ” Definitely a vital aspect of what I was trying to express.

    Great conversation folks. Appreciate all the comments. Hot topic!!

  32. 2-8-2013

    I should have said Pioneers are not welcome for very long in the settlement. Everyone wants to hear what great things God is doing in the mission field. It’s when you start insisting that the mission field is the “HUD apartment complex” a mile from the settlement – or when you start bringing addicts, gays, the homeless, or gang bangers into the settlement -that’s when the settlers get eager for you to go back to the mission field.

    Paul stayed about 18 months in Corinth (which was a huge city) and 3 years in Ephesus with the school he started, but I don’t think you can call Paul a settler – not by any stretch. Other places he stayed for a day or a week.

  33. 2-8-2013


    Interestingly, the Magisterial Reformers were “pioneers” in many ways, stepping away from the traditional and comfortable into unknown and uncharted (to them) territory.


    I agree. This has been a very good discussion.


    No, Paul was definitely gifted as and lived as an itinerant (apostolic) servant. He does not seem to be uncomfortable around those who did not travel from place to place though.


  34. 2-8-2013

    Well, we do know that Paul spent 18 months and perhaps up to 2 years in the same place at times. And, he returned to the same places several times, and spoke highly of many people in those places.

    Yes that is true, but really, two years is not a very long period of time. Another aspect to consider in the settler vs. pioneer analogy is that (as always), there are two sides. Yes, the pioneers often do not fit in, with friction and misunderstandings arising as a result. However, and perhaps more importantly, those of a pioneer bent are also not content to stay in one place. Instead of settling in, the very thing that caused them to blaze a trail to a new place causes them to strike out once again in search of that “something more.” I wounder how many of those early reformers of any movement simply pressed in further seeking more of what God had for them, leaving those of a settler mentality behind to establish their “tents” of ritual and tradition.

  35. 2-8-2013

    The house church movement is not immune to this either. When people see that church has to be done in a certain way, that ambition can quickly lead to trying to control.

    Great post. I was thinking about just this today as I was showering. Actually, it has been a big part of what I have been thinking and teaching about for years. We must remain in His love. All we say and do, (or don’t,) must be rooted and grounded in His love. If we do not, we can not be true parents in the faith. Discipleship mandates that the teacher walk in love at all times. Impacting the world for Jesus mandates the same, for we can not be faithful reflections of Jesus except we be immersed in His love. As Paul so aptly observed in 1 Cor 13, if we do not have love, real God love, everything we do is just so much noise.

  36. 2-9-2013


    Of course, the Magisterial Reformers were already breaking out of many “tents” of ritual and tradition, but then they were holding on to others. That “settler” mentality can certainly explain some of their reaction (backtracking, that is).


  37. 2-9-2013

    What a great conversation! I only read this now and in its totality a great read. So many great insights. One point that I did not see discussed that I usually think of regarding the Anabaptist and the Magisterial Reformers; were they afraid of what they were unleashing. The very truth they were proposing began to take on a life of its own in the Anabaptists and the Reformers decided to try and re-cork the bottle. In other words it was all good in theory but when the theory started resulting in the uncontrollable did they decide the theory was wrong? Unworkable? Not worth the fallout? Just too messy?
    Rome recoiled and stiffened in reaction to the Montanist, The Reformers reform less when confronted with the uneducated farmer following the truth of the reformation. The Jesus Movement bubbles over and leaders need to restrain the “sloppy agape and Charismania” into authoritarian discipleship, dominion theology and evangelical purity tests.
    I am no fan of out of control over the top craziness either but the instinct to control and “protect” God’s work seems to typically end in opposing God’s work. If there is no room for error is there room enough for life? “by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Mat 15:6)

  38. 2-9-2013

    Oh boy…more clarification of my discomfort which I expressed originally as “ambition” in Tom’s last sentence: “I am no fan of out of control over the top craziness either but the instinct to control and “protect” God’s work seems to typically end in opposing God’s work. If there is no room for error is there room enough for life? “by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Mat 15:6)”. Some very articulate folks around these parts! Yahoo.

  39. 2-12-2013


    You said, “I am no fan of out of control over the top craziness either but the instinct to control and “protect” God’s work seems to typically end in opposing God’s work.” Control is a slippery thing, isn’t it? People actually enjoy and want control from someone else. It’s hard work, but we must ensure that we never attempt to control another brother or sister in Christ.


    I agree that control often (perhaps always?) ends in opposing God’s work, regardless of the original intention. It’s often difficult to see, though.


  40. 2-12-2013

    One of the great things about getting older and old is that we learn to detect it sooner Alan!

  41. 2-14-2013


    So, there’s hope for us – ahem – youngsters? :)


  42. 2-14-2013

    I reckon that’s true.