SpiritFarmer


What if we started over?

Last week, in an effort to fool myself into thinking that I’m a tech geek (even though I know zero coding languages, don’t know most of the fancy acronyms, and don’t use the tools I have access to very elegantly), I watched the 80 minute video from Google’s I/O Conference, in which they rolled out their latest brainchild, Wave.  The video demonstrates some pretty cool stuff that will be game changing – like integrating e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, Twitter, wikis, collaborative projects, and entertainment.  If you’d like, you can watch it here.

The video stimulated a lot of questions and thoughts in me, particularly about the implications of these technologies, and how they will be used (both well and poorly) by Christians.  But the statement from the video I keep going back to actually happens very early on (at about 5:00 or so).  The lead developer, who is doing the demonstration, is introducing the mentality behind Wave, and says something like this (very paraphrased):

E-mail is by far the most popular form of communication on the internet today.  That’s very interesting, because e-mail is more than four decades old.  With some relatively minor changes, it still functions in much the same way it always has.  But we decided to ask the question, “What if we were to invent e-mail from scratch today?”

In other words, they want to reimagine communication with today’s tools, rather than continually tweaking yesterday’s templates all the time.  The answers they came up with are very cool – at multiple points in the demonstration, the developers in the audience get all giddy and cheer wildly.  Congratulations Google.  I’ll leave it to others to determine whether they truly reinvented e-mail or not.  Whatever the case, they did succeed in integrating today’s tools and rules, and they certainly got a buzz going among a very important constituency.

I think the reason their question of inventing e-mail from scratch stuck out to me is that it’s very similar to a phrase I’ve heard more times than I could count from pastors and church planters – “What would we get if we just stripped down all of our Christian traditions, and went back to the way the early church did things?”  Tons of books and articles have been written, and a lot of “new” models have been offered up.  But I’m left wondering whether that question doesn’t miss the point a bit.  The fact is, Google didn’t go back 40 years and try to rebuild stuff as though nothing had changed.  No, they used the current technologies available to them to try to accomplish some breakthroughs in electronic communication.

When “we” go back to reinvent church, we go back to Acts and Paul’s epistles to try to distill the simplest expressions of what the first century sisters and brothers did.  We try to rebuild church in very simple forms again, with as few changes as possible to the original systems.  We don’t take our contexts into account nearly enough – for example, we don’t consider that Rome’s big technology was its system of roads, whereas our superhighways are virtual and global and information driven.

I’d like to suggest that this way of approaching things is broken for at least two reasons: First, as we can see from the cranky tones of some of Paul’s writing, the early church wasn’t exactly getting it right all the time.  So when we try so hard to emulate the early church, we’re pursing a broken system.  This may be one of the consequences of letting the inerrancy mentality control so much of our attention – “If it’s in the Bible, it’s got to be literally true, and therefore, should be replicated as closely as possible.”  But if that’s what we’re doing, the very best we can hope for is to build a form of church that gives people the opportunity to be greedy, gossipy, sexually immoral, and power hungry.  (Hmmmm, if that’s our standard of measure, maybe we’ve gotten closer to the first century church than we had thought!)

Second, we’re not being honest about what we’re trying to do.  We’re not even trying very hard to go all the way back.  We take a vast amount of theological, historical, and cultural baggage with us when we look back.  Even people who read authors like N.T. Wright in order to understand the first century Palestinian context stop too short.  When I hear people saying they want to do church the way the early church did it, they don’t really mean they intend to strip down their evangelical systematic theology, their Western wealth and (white) power, their Protestant Reformation, their Christendom power, their Augustinian conceptions . . . they just want the pragmatics of meeting in peoples’ houses and sharing possessions and giving money away to those in need.  The idealism is commendable in some ways, but it’s mostly just that – idealism, and an artificial idealism at that.*

I would like to suggest that if we really want to get back to basics in the way we embody the bride of Christ, we do so more honestly.  When Pentecost took place, and the church was both born and unleashed in a series of radical events, they were creating something truly new, without a template.  They had a religious memory and heritage, which they honored in many ways, but they also knew the rules had changed.  We, too, have a religious memory and heritage – some of which can rightly be honored.  But if we’re going to do/be church the way they did it back then, we’ve got to be creative enough and courageous enough to know when to break the rules of our day, and take some risks.  In our fear of abandoning “orthodoxy,” I think the vast majority of us lack the courage to break those rules.  We’re so beholden to our denominations, our subculture, our seminaries, and (once again) our power that we chicken out.

So what do you think?  Am I wrong that most of us haven’t tried very hard to go all the way back?  Am I unfair in my assessments?  This post if fairly off the cuff (though it’s taken me quite a long time to write it).  Please tell me if you disagree – I’d like to tease out my own thinking on this some more, so I’m not looking for a fight.

*I’ve not read Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity, but from what I understand, he deals with a lot of the stuff that’s been layered onto “church” over the years.  I also understand that he’s squarely on the idealistic side.  If I’m wrong on this, please let me know – I just felt the need to note that I’m not trying to either plagiarize him or take cheap shots at him.

Advertisements


Blogging the New Conspirators, part 2
February 29, 2008, 10:27 am
Filed under: conference, house church

Sitting here with Mark Van Steenwyk.

Morning session with some great music, and a panel discussion with Mark Scandrete, Tom Yaccino, Kathy Escobar, and Tom Morey. They spoke to various streams in the new way of approaching faith in the way of Jesus – the emerging church, the monastic, the mosaic, and the missional. I really should unpack all those things, but no time for now. Gotta head off to the first workshop session. I’m going to Tom Yaccino’s talk, on his missional expressions of church in the Latin American context.

More to come later.



What’s up with the house churches?
July 2, 2007, 11:07 am
Filed under: house church

About six or seven years ago, when I began to rethink my role in faith, church, theology, mission, culture, etc. I didn’t know anybody who was asking the same kinds of questions I was. Oh, there were plenty of people out there that were farther along than I was – I just didn’t know any of them. I slowly began meeting some of them online. About five years ago, I began meeting some of them face to face. For whatever reason, I was meeting a lot of guys that were part of house church communities. Since that time, I’ve continued to meet new folks, and maintain contact with the others.

Michelle and I have had the honor of hanging out with several house churches over the past few years. Good people, good communities. We’ve even been a part of house church expressions as our primary worship communities. Good experiences there.

But something seems to be happening. Within the past six months or so, I know of no less than five house churches that have functioned at varying levels of strength (some fledgling, others what I’d call rock solid), but have decided to call it quits. Different parts of the country, different sets of reasons involved. But the same ultimate result – they no longer meet regularly for worship, community, mission, etc.

I’m not going to assume that it’s either a good thing or bad thing for any of these communities – I’m sure that most have had really solid reasons, and that God still likes ’em.

It does cause me to ask some questions, though. Especially in the area of sustainability. One of the things I love the most about a simple community is that it’s so relational, and not dependent on a paid staff person or programs or buildings, and as a result, has sustainability built right in. But apparently for some, that’s not proving to be the case. That’s sad.

I don’t believe that this is necessarily a bad, bad thing. Even in the cases of communities that have ceased to exist, many have found safe places to explore faith, ask hard questions, heal up from past church-related hurts, and gain a new perspective on the Kingdom of God. That’s all great stuff. I’m thankful for these communities.

So what to think? Do some churches (regular and simple) have a natural life cycle, and it’s o.k. that some die? Does this indicate something about a lack of health? What about sustainability? What about growth and multiplication?

Got way more questions than answers here. Especially given that my own primary worship rhythm doesn’t include house church . . . which I’m not entirely content with. I’ll be interested to watch and listen to what some of my friends have to say about all of this.

On a related note, Jason said some good words about house church last week.