Friday, March 26, 2004

Yesterday I sent an email in which I finally stated my beliefs about the church (some of them, anyway) in such a way that folks who haven't "gotten it" yet can at least begin to "get it."

At least, I hope so.

Here's what happened. I attended the wake for a man who had been a deacon at the church Janet and I used to belong to, the church where I spent 10 years in the pulpit as an associate minister. His name was Walt. Naturally, a bunch of church members were there, and the former pastor was there.

One of the members asked me, "When are you coming back?"

I try to be diplomatic pretty much all the time, so I didn't simply say, "Never." Perhaps I should have. What I did say (and I don't remember now exactly what that was) was not clear enough. She asked me, "Why did you leave?"

I remember my answer to that one better: "My reading of Scripture convinced me that I need to be part of a home-based fellowship." Still trying to be diplomatic, you see. With the result that I was still not clear enough.

I know that I was not clear enough because she then said, "Maybe God is calling you to do small groups at the church. We don't have anyone doing that now. "

I was speechless, tongue-tied. Was there *any* way to make this clear to her without jumping up and down, waving my arms and yelling at the top of my voice, "Your church is a travesty! It is heretopraxic! It is inherently and systemically unbiblical! It can't be fixed, it can't be made biblical, by adding on another optional ministry that is ancillary to its Sunday morning worship service! It can't be fixed at at all! It must be broken!"??

I felt not. And I didn't want to do or to say all that, because it's not me (so far, anyway), and because we were at Walt's wake, for crying out loud. I hadn't come there to argue ecclesiology - or to introduce people to the very concept of ecclesiology.

About then, the former pastor, whom I had not seen in so long that I forgotten how much I loved him, joined in. And he said, I live for Sunday mornings. He said, it saddens me that you're not having that experience.

I was now at the center of a small crowd of people who don't understand why Elwin left the church and want to know when he's coming back. What to say? If I had been really sharp at that moment, I might have said,

"Well, it saddens me that none of us is having the experience of the ecclesia that Peter and Paul and Barnabas and Silas and Aristarchus and Timothy and Titus and Phoebe and Prisca and Aquila and Trophimus and Urbanus and Herodian and Epaphras had. It saddens me, and on a really bad day, it pisses me off like nothing else."

But I didn't say that, either. I was trying to be diplomatic. And it was Walt's wake.

The sister's last words to me that evening were something like, "I look forward to that day," meaning the day when I would walk back through the church's doors. To stay.


And yet, it was good. It was good, because it forced me back into thinking about how to say all this stuff without blasting off like a rocket. And yesterday I sent that former pastor an email, in which I said:

It was a joy to see you again, after too long a time
of silent invisibility. And our too-short conversation
blessed me, because it helped me to articulate my
convictions with a new clarity. Unfortunately,
perhaps, this articulation came *after* our
conversation, while talking to myself. So you missed
it, as did (bunch of people's names). I offer for
your consideration three propositions:

1) Jesus Christ and His apostles established normative
patterns of common life for the people of God.

2) We have lost sight of those patterns and have
replaced them with our own traditions.

3) The traditions which we have established in place
of apostolic patterns obscure our theology and hinder
our obedience.

Let me know what you think of these propositions. If
you're interested in discussing them, I'd like that.
If not, I won't force it. I will ask you to
understand, however, that my great challenge in life
is not to persuade others that they are true, but to
live as if they are. For that reason, whatever else
lies ahead for me, the institutional church lies
behind me.

That's it. Ball's in his court now, as far as the discussion goes. As far as living goes, the ball remains in mine, where it always is. So I also emailed the folks at The New Testament Restoration Foundation to offer two article suggestions, in the form of questions: How is church-planting done? What is the life of a church planter like?

At AFC last night, we installed new officers. Gene invited Lisa and me to join him in offering words of encouragement to the incoming folks. After considering several other passages, I came at the last minute to Nehemiah 4:1-9. I told them that they would face not only temptations, but distractions, and possibly be the subject of hostile lies, and encouraged them to to remember Nehemiah's response: I am doing a great work. I reminded them that great work doesn't always feel great; the doing of it can be boring, tedious and frustrating. At some point they may simply need to encourage themselves by saying, "I am doing a great work."

All that I said to them, I needed to hear.

Then we all prayed for them. Gene asked me to close. He had encouraged them earlier from 2 Kings 2:9-12. In my closing prayer, I asked the Lord to grant the new leadership, not a double portion of Himself, because each believer has Him without measure, but a double portion of revelation, that they may lead AFC's members into a deeper knowledge of Him than any of them have experienced; that AFC may be known as people who know God.

All that I asked for them, I need.

So here I am, starting over, girding up my loins again. There is a great work to be done - the planting of churches. I beg for the privilege of doing it. More, I dare to seek the privilege, in time, of training church planters.

This, Lord, if nothing else.

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