Monday, December 31, 2007

One

A few years ago, when it began to be clear that CTK was shaping up differently than any church I'd ever seen before, I was moaning in my office about how I didn't have mentors to show me the way. "I can't think of any other church that is behaving like we are - one church in multiple locations!" A wise staff person (can't remember who it was, actually) said, "Well, aren't we basically doing what Paul did in the New Testament?" (rim shot followed by dead silence here)

I went home that afternoon and got out my Bible and started reading Acts and the Epistles of Paul with new eyes. What if what Paul was doing back then was actually planting one church, the church of Jesus Christ, in multiple locations? Previously, I had always viewed Paul's ministry through a western-independent-church-planting lens (that Paul was planting multiple, separate churches). Now I started to see Paul's ministry through an eastern-interdependent-relationship-expansion lens (that Paul was adding nodes to a network in an ever-expanding circle of relationships), and the world looked very different to me. But the new lenses also explained a lot to me. Why was it that believers in Macedonia sent funds to believers in Jerusalem? Maybe because they were all part of the same story. Why is it that Paul is writing letters and still exerting influence in various congregations long after he's been gone? Maybe because they are all part of the same story. Why is it that a council is convening in Jerusalem and sending a theological statement to believers in Antioch? Maybe because they were all part of the same story. Why is it that the church in various cities is referenced in the singular, "church" instead of "churches"? Maybe because they are all part of the same story. Maybe there's really only one church in the first century, and it meets in various places.

I say "maybe" because we should always let our dogmatism rise and fall with the clarify found in scripture. Church organization is one of the areas where there is less clarity than we might like. The lack of clarity has given rise to many different church organization models, all of which can in some way find validation from scripture. But I have to say, as I have looked at the scriptures, the "apostolic organizational model" is better than any I've seen to describe what was actually happening in the early church. It appears to me that the early church was one church that convened cellularly and congregationally in a variety of locations. It was a network tied together by meaningful relationships and meaningful responsibilities.

The first few chapters of Acts tell us that within a few weeks well over 10,000 people had come to Christ and that more people were being added "every day." So the church in Jerusalem went from 120 to over 10,000 in one week! Three times in Acts a reference is made to the church in Jerusalem, and each time it is referred to in the singular. Acts 8:1: "There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem." Acts 11:22: "The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch." Acts 15:4, Luke describes Paul and Barnabas' return to Jerusalem: "When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders." There is reference to multiple leaders, but not multiple congregations. So what we have in Jerusalem is one church with at least 10,000 adherents, lead by a team of apostles and elders.

Because of its size it is unlikely that the Jerusalem church gathered as one large group. There was simply no facility that could hold them. Acts 2 tells us they were meeting to hear the Apostles' teaching daily "house to house and in the temple courts." The church appears to be convening in multiple, smaller meetings, with multiple teachers. This would mean that every day some portion of the group was meeting, but not the entire group. At the same time there appears to be some system-wide solutions that were provided, for meeting the special needs of particular groups (Acts 6), and for theological direction (Acts 15). While Jerusalem was the epicenter, the rings of the church continued out as predicted from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth. The expansion was facilitated by apostolic missions, Christians transferring from one region to another (often because of persecution) and circular letters.

Compared with the western church of the past couple centuries, CTK's organization appears unconventional. But it actually resonates with the story of the first century church that we read in the bible. I guess we have somewhere to go for guidance after all!

1 comment:

Nickname unavailable said...

Excellent observation, one that I have been pondering in my mind for sometime. I think the way the body functioned in the NT gave itself to the way it grew. Instead of having programs and meetings to teach and preach. They had meetings that are described in 1 Corinthians 14, where everyone came with something, whether a hymn, a teaching, a story, a word, no one person in charge. We have a hard time with that, particularly in the western world, we like things in order and under control.

We need each other, God has designed us that way, but we also need to understand, that he wants to teach us through the Holy Spirit, John 8 is very clear on this.

As we move more toward the 1 Cor 14 style of worship we will find the church developing more and more believers, believing. We will see the 10,000 getting saved in a week again. Because then we will be all teaching each other, instead of coming into a place where 'one' person does all the teaching 'one' person gets the music, 'one' person leads the evangelism. It will be all coming with something for the church.