Friday, February 15, 2008

How Do You Do Church?

I don’t mean to keep harping on the Regulative Principle, but the matter of ecclesiology keeps pegging away on the radar screen of my intellectual air space and I can’t help but to think that if I write about it it’ll go away and leave me to write about other things.

Tominthebox News Network continues to use exquisite humor (with the caveat that this compliment comes from someone whose sense of humor has been described recently as “corny”) to illumine our penchant for theological error. A recent article shared the pamphlet of a fictional church that combined a poor hermeneutical principle with the Regulative Principle to produce some interesting ecclesiological (how we do church and why we do it that way) results.

Hermeneutics are the principles we use to understand what the Bible means. For example, we use hermeneutics to determine if the word “all” in a passage means everyone everywhere, or just all of a certain type of people (population of a city or faith affiliation), or all ethnic groups but not everyone of every ethnic group. Perhaps you’ve heard a preacher refer to the number of times the Bible says something. I’ve heard this with regard to the teachings of Christ. It is noted by good teachers of the Bible that Christ mentions eternal condemnation at least as much as He mentions the kingdom of heaven. This isn’t necessarily a bad observation, but it makes for a poor hermeneutical principle. In other words, all Christ had to do was mention it once for us to know about it. Multiple mentions may indicate emphasis, but not necessarily.

In the case of this fictional church, they took this principle and counted the number of times different types of worship were mentioned in the Bible to determine their importance in worship. If it’s mentioned in the bible, it’s fair game as far as the Regulative Principle is concerned. If it’s not in there, don’t do it. Here’s the breakdown according to this pamphlet:

  • Singing: "The Bible mentions "singing" 20 times (NIV)."
  • Lifting Hands: "Not coincidentally, the Bible also mentions the lifting of hands 20 times (NIV) proving that the lifting of hands is equally important as singing."
  • Dancing: "In the Bible, dancing is referenced 14 times in the NIV. It's referenced 19 times in the KJV! So hop to it!"
  • Ripping Clothes: "Mentioned 29 times in the NIV (32 in the KJV), individuals would "tear," had "torn," or unashamedly "tore" their clothes as a sign of humility [in worship]... Why not participate in an activity that is 50% more important than singing or hand lifting and up to 100% more important than dancing? Sackcloth is available in the foyer for 1st time visitors."

The logic sounds plausible, but the conclusion is silly. So what’s the answer?

Dusman has posted a couple of articles [one and two] at Triablogue regarding the form and function of church. These articles are a response to a theological error fueling a movement of house churches called the New Testament Reformation Fellowship. There’s nothing wrong with house churches, but it’s erroneous to think that meeting in homes is the only legitimate way to do church. (Tominthebox has addressed this one as well recently.)

Dusman’s articles trace the form of church back to the conversion of believers. Soteriology (the gospel – the area of theology that deals with our salvation) is the crown jewel of theology with Christology as it’s setting and Theology Proper (the doctrine of God) as the crown itself. This means that Christ’s work on the cross is singularly important to our being able to know God. Pneumatology, Anthropology, Harmatology, Bibliology, etc. all encircle this crown jewel and are unknowable without the gospel. The act itself, written accurately in the passages of Holy Scripture, transcends the capacity of mere words to convey the depth of God’s self-cohesion.

This cohesion is to be illustrated in our local fellowship as we bear one another’s burdens. Dusman argues therefore, that the function of a local fellowship follows conversion. Only then do we derive the form of church – from the function. Whether a fellowship of believers is a small house church or a megachurch, the form must bring believers together for the sake of propagating the gospel. He offers an abbreviation of 58 “one-anothers” found in the New Testament for our consideration:

In sum, we promise to…
honor one another,
be members of one another,
live in harmony with one another,
build one another up,
be like-minded towards one another,
accept one another,
care for one another,
serve one another,
bear one another's burdens,
be kind to one another,
forgive one another,
abound in love towards one another,
comfort one another,
encourage one another,
stir one another up to love and good deeds,
confess our sins to one another,
be hospitable to one another,
greet one another,
fellowship with one another,
submit to one another while
not passing judgment on one another,
not provoking one another,
not envying one another,
not hating one another,
not slandering one another,
and not bearing grudges against one another.
We do all this because Christ has loved us in each of these ways and this frees our hearts to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34; 8:32).

And He loved us sacrificially. Consider this: do you focus on the form or the function of the church with regard to the glorification of Christ and the ministry of the gospel? Do you treat your fellow Christians like this?

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