Thursday, May 1, 2008

The "Perfect Chuch" - IX - Freedom

Probably the greatest "concern" and criticism that any of us, who are thinking in the direction of the emerging church, is the terrible danger of freedom. My PCA and Lutheran friends, which I mentioned in the last posting, believe that if you don't adhere to very precise doctrine, and be willing to die for it, that the liberal (or even New-age) bogey man will get you. They believe that as soon as you waver with a little ambiguity, that within months, they will find you in a ditch with your slimy hands wrapped around a Boone's Farm bottle, a porn magazine, a bag of pot and a Buddha.

But that is not true. There is some freedom in what Christians believe . . . but to a finite point. I will illustrate the danger. I will try to do one more posting, bringing the Freedom and Order issues together, then one more posting after that to summarize what my perfect church would look like.

The real danger in freedom lies in the story I am about to tell.

In 1995, I attempted to start a "house church" in Marquette, Michigan. In my long and arduous preparation for the adventure, I traveled to what was considered the "best house church in America." I spent about 4 days with this house church, in Denver.

I would have to say, that my first impressions were excellent. It was like I found that church that I had always looked for. The sense of community was unlike anything I had ever seen.

The entire church decided one day to move to the same neighborhood to 1) be available to each other and 2) to be a light to that community. To make it possible for all of the members to be in the same community, they had to choose a community that all members could afford to move to. So those, who were living in plush homes overlooking the city from the west Rocky Mountain foothills, gave up their lifestyle and moved into this low-class neighborhood.

They really did share all things in common. No one went hungry and the wealthy (doctors, lawyers) freely shared to help the widows and the single moms.

One lady had breast cancer and the people were cleaning her house every day, washing her clothes, feeding her family, taking her to appointments etc.

Their impact on the lost was also outstanding.

Things seemed to be going great until the last day I was there. I attended an elders' meeting. In that meeting, just out of curiosity, I kept asking "Where is your statement of faith?"

Finally one of the elders looked at me and said, "You just don't get it do you. We couldn't care less about what you believe, just as long as you love Jesus. I mean, if you think that Jesus was a great man, and teacher blessed by God in a special way, but you don't believe he was born of a virgin, then that's none of my business . . . as long as you love him now."

I was stunned.

The second thing that happened, was that I observed the "elevation of leadership phenomena" that is the hallmark of cults. The founder of that house church was Gene Edwards. He is a guy who was a Baptist pastor decades ago but then became a strong proponent of the house church movement. He's written many books, some of them really good. But as I sat in on the elders meeting, Gene, who lives thousands of miles away, was on the speaker phone. Every decision that the church made was dictated by him and the elders looked to him in a very unhealthy (prophet-like) way. Men, all men are fallible.

I saw this same problem when I was with the Navigators. Leaders were elevated to a point that they were considered infallible, which is the beginning of the fall.

Even I heard Gene Edwards say (in a taped message) that he considers himself as a modern apostle and there's only 2-3 in the world at that time. That was scary.

So, with my week starting out as a wonderful week seeing the church community working like it was intended to work (and very rarely does) I was very disappointed to see that the church was build on a foundation of straw. It did eventually collapse and disappear.

So to find this balance between the scholastics (thinking that our reason hasn't fallen) and we can find all doctrinal truth absolutely, down to the tiniest of details, like my PCA and Lutheran friends or the freedom of the wonderful house church but with no good foundation, it is very difficult.

I think one simple place to start is with the early church's first doctrinal declaration, the Nicene Creed of 381 AD. Then we would need a statement about scripture being the word of God. Beneath those simple doctrinal statements, a statement about some of the practical guidelines for organization might be helpful.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Francis Schaeffer had a wonderful talk titled: The Aboslute Limits of Christianity. It is a great statement as well.



bryan said...

Even the early creeds at times were too rigid. Look at the controversy over the "Filioque clause" ("[and the son]"). The greatest split in the church came about partially because both the Eastern and Western Christians thought they had perfect knowledge about the relationship of the Trinity.

MJ said...

Good point. You could make a huge theological issue about that statment, or, in the post-evangelical spirit, reach the conclusion of, "not sure."

Part of the split was because the Easten edge of the Church had an even more Dualistic slant than the western half. Don't know how I would have handled that either, since I favor a less-Dualistic churh.