August 3, 2009
Frank Viola on Postchurch: Part 2
The postchurch perspective fails six tests of legitimacy.
In my first post, I argued that the primary text used to support the postchurch viewpoint is not about the nature of the church at all. Instead, it's about the process of excommunication. Now I have more evidence against the postchurch viewpoint. In my mind, it fails to pass six important tests.
The Original Language Test
New Testament scholarship agrees that the word ekklesia (translated "church") meant a local community of people who assemble together regularly. The word was used for the Greek assembly whereby those in a city were "called forth" from their homes to meet (assemble) in the town forum to make decisions for the city. The Christian ekklesia is a community of people who gather together and possess a shared life in Christ.
As such, the ekklesia as used in New Testament literature is visible, touchable, locatable, and tangible. You can visit it. You can observe it. And you can live in it. Biblically speaking, you could not call anything an ekklesia unless it assembled regularly together.
The Epistle Test
Most of the New Testament's twenty-one epistles were written to local churches--ekklesias--in various cities. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth, for instance. There was an actual, physical, locatable, visit-able body of believers that met together in the home of Gaius. He did the same for the church in Thessalonica, Colosae, Philippi, Laodicea, etc. (Col. 4:16).
Those who belong to a postchurch "church" should ask themselves, Can a person write a letter to my church? Can it be received by the church and read together by all of its members at the same time?
The Visitation Test
If you were living in the first century, you could literally visit any of the churches.
You could visit the church in Jerusalem in A.D. 35 and meet Peter, James, John and Mary, the mother of Jesus. You could visit the church in Corinth and sit in a living room in Gaius' home and talk with Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. The house of Chloe could visit the church in Corinth and attend its meetings (1 Cor. 1:11). And on and on.
Question: If someone comes to your town, can they locate and visit your church? Can they meet the members and stay in their home for a week?
The Consistency Test
Three common critiques that postchurch advocates level against the institutional form of church are:
1) It breeds low commitment.
2) It feeds the consumerist, individualistic Christianity that plagues the Western church today.
3) It produces little transformation in the lives of the people who are part of it.
Ironically, these same three critiques can be appropriately leveled at the postchurch "church."
The postchurch breeds low commitment because there are no regular gatherings, nor any consistent community life. Talking to Christians on the Internent is virtual.
The postchurch view also reflects the consumerist, individualism that reflects our culture. There's no devotion or commitment to a regular community of believers. It's church on your own terms. Whenever you feel like it. The truth is, the postchurch "church" is actually more convenient and easier on the flesh than virtually every other form of church.
The "One Another" Test
Throughout the New Testament epistles, there are nearly sixty "one another" exhortations given to churches. All of them imply close-knit community. Here are a few:
live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 1 Peter 3:8)
care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2)
speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)
submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
forgive one another (Col. 3:13)
teach one another (Col. 3:16)
These "one another" imperatives assume ever-deepening relationships and community.
The Purpose of God Test
The New Testament makes abundantly clear that the eternal purpose of God is intensely corporate. God isn't after a group of individual living stones; He wants those stones to be "built together" to form a house for His full-dwelling and expression.
You are not the church. And neither am I. The church is the corporate expression of Christ that is expressed visibly in a locality, where human beings can see, touch, hear, and know one another and live a shared life together in the Lord.
Consider the analogy of a father who has seven children. One Christmas day, he gives each one a different instrument, which they eagerly learn to play. The years pass, and each loves playing their individual instruments. It's a joy to them.
Years pass by and one day the father sits down with all of his children and says, "I am so happy you have mastered your instruments. Each instrument was given to you as a free gift. But I didn't give you these instruments to enjoy by yourselves. I'm creating an orchestra that will produce music that this world has never heard. And I've invited you to be part of it. That is why I gave you these gifts."
So it is with our Lord. The gift of eternal life is not for ourselves. God wants an orchestra in every city. He wants a spiritual building, not a collection of individual living stones. He wants a corporate expression through which to reveal His glorious Son. And this requires the loss of our individualism and independence.
In my personal judgment, the postchurch view fails all six tests. The postchurch paradigm is rooted in the attempt to practice Christianity without belonging to an identifiable community that regularly meets for worship, prayer, fellowship, mutual edification, and mutual care.
Again, there's nothing wrong with fellowshipping with Christians on the Internet, over the phone, or meeting with friends at Starbucks. I personally love doing these things. But calling these activities "church" or substituting them for ekklesia is misguided.
So it seems to me anyway.