Thursday, March 02, 2006

RELATIONSHIP NOT RITUAL

Nostalgia is a yearning for an imagined past, inspired by a dissatisfaction with the present. This attitude can be seen throughout sections of the church. Wherever there is dissatisfaction and desire for change, there is a tendency to turn to the example of the early church to see how we have departed from the “true” blueprint. However, that tendency often includes selective blindness; seeing only those things that confirm a predetermined viewpoint and ignoring those things that don’t support it.

House churches anyone? They are found in accounts of the early church. Apostolic and prophetic ministry? There too! Healings and miracles? Add them to the list. Whatever the present day Christian obsession, it’s usually got a New Testament precedent to add a bit of legitimacy. But don’t forget that selective blindness. We should avoid the desire to pick and choose select examples from the past to support our current interests.

In Acts 2 we get a glimpse at the earliest days of the early church. We can learn that:

They steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread and prayers.

They all experienced a sense of reverential fear, and many signs and wonders were performed through the apostles.

All who believed were united, were together, had everything in common – to the extent of selling their possessions and contributing the proceeds to make sure no remained in need.

And daily they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and they met in their homes to eat together, in remembrance of the Lord and His sacrifice. They shared their meals with gladness, simplicity and generosity.

They constantly praised God, got along well with the people around them, and the Lord kept adding to their numbers daily as more were saved. (Taken from Acts 2:41-47, AMP)

Does this resemble anything we’ve experienced in any of our attempts to play church? Forget about the problems of the mainstream denominational churches, or the spin-off non-denominational fellowships. Forget about the disappointments we constantly had as we religiously joined the organised programmes run in our local church building. Forget about the failings of the pastors and elders we submitted ourselves to.

Does it even slightly resemble anything in our lives, in our experience, in our walk with God?

Those who have moved on from the traditional fellowships and tried some kind of alternative expression of Christian life, whether “house church” or “wilderness” – how close have you been to making THIS example YOUR experience?

I look over this account of the first days and weeks of the first church, and see a vast difference from any form of Christianity I’ve experienced, both corporately and individually. Just look at some the descriptions of their actions and attitudes.

Steadfastly.
Persevered.
Devoting.
Constantly.
Fellowship.
Reverential fear.
United.
Together.
Everything in common.
Daily.
Regularly.
Assembled.
United Purpose.
Gladness.
Simplicity.
Generosity.
Constantly praised God.
Favour and goodwill.

In this list I see two separate groupings; words that describe commitment and words that describe relationship. I don’t think it takes a great leap of logic, and it doesn’t take anything out of context to see the importance of commitment to relationship; firstly between us and God, and also between each other.

While we can select parts of this account to support several Christian practices, the overall picture is not one of methods and procedure. These first days of the church point us towards relationship not ritual, fellowship not format.

3 comments:

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

Yes, I like very much what you have written. If you check my profile, you will see that I am a Greek Orthodox Christian, but that I consider the call of Christ far more important than even the church I "belong" to.
I go "witnessing" with a 22 year old Baptist brother who is also a film maker and writer at the beginning of (what I believe) is to be a brilliant career. I am most impressed by his love of the Bible and his "cut thru the spiritual materialism" attitude. I am a Christian writer and speaker, but only when there is a need. My young friend is a very good writer indeed, and I have chosen to make our "mission statement" out of excerpts from his journal. I think I may post it in my blog later today.
Anyway, I suppose I wanted to congratulate you on this blog entry, and say these few words, inviting perhaps occasional correspondence.
Since I was a young adult Christian, I expected the "church" to be organized and functioning roughly like what I read in the book of Acts (comparable to your list of words). I wanted to live a common life (my wife put a speedy end to that, tho she is a better Christian now than I am, for sure). My desire to live in a Christian commune was partly satisfied by fathering with her our four sons (now grown up, three still living at home). Wanting to worship, fellowship and otherwise spiritually hobnob in a house church was partly satisfied by being isolated geographically (in the wilderness of British Columbia) from Orthodox congregations, when WE were the "local church." Oh well, it was fun while it lasted, but back in the old city of Portland in the midst of a thriving Orthodox community (tho not as thriving as that of Melbourne, I'm sure, with its abundance of Greeks), we are once again tithe-paying members of a large Greek "koinonia" (community, church), understaffed by two presbyters and a deacon and their wives, and my heart is as usual these past 30 years longing for "the apostolic simplicity of Christian life as in the book of Acts." I find the ending of my life mirrors the beginning. Except now I know for sure that what the visible church claims to be, in all its denominations and formats, can never be more than our feeble attempts to live together in Christ, according to our lights and the best of our abilities. In the end, as always, it will always boil down to "God and me" in this world, as the Desert Fathers testified. As for the rock tumbler of the "church," at least our rough edges are being worn away and our faces are being polished by bumping into one another over our lifetimes. Perhaps when the Lord brings us home, we'll finally be ready for Him. We have a saying, "You don't EARN heaven, you GET USED TO IT!" God grant that we all someday, ransomed by the Blood of His Son, will be able to finally put up with God and His plans for us, without complaining!
Again, I appreciated what you said in your blog, and I will look in again. God bless you, brother!
Oh, one more thing: If you happen to look at my profile, click on the hyperlink "My Resurrection Body" in the "Interests" category, and that will bring up my profile again, along with the profile of my young film maker friend. I hope he will add more of his journal entries about our missionary forays. They are very well-written and full of both wisdom and humor.

GuyMuse said...

You write, "Does it even slightly resemble anything in our lives, in our experience, in our walk with God?"

My wife and I are house church planters in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We can certainly identify with much of what you write in this post. Many people question the validity of house churches as true expressions of "church". In an attempt to help people see what a house church looks like I posted a step by step description of all that took place in a house church meeting recently attended. If you'd like to read it please click HERE. There are several other posts dealing with "simple church" and "house church" from our own personal experience on our "The M Blog"

I have enjoyed reading through several of your posts. Keep up the good work!

ajesusman said...

I enjoyed the article and took something from it, brother. I am going to go to the blogs of those here mentioned (who commented), and I want to leave a blog address of my own. This is not my 'personal blog', but something I use to share with others who I invite to participate in our relational fellowships (funny we have to add the word 'relational' to the word 'fellowship' these days, in order to distinguish ourselves from all the essentially 'non-relational' fellowships). Here it is: http://thespirit-ledsabbath.blogspot.com/2008/04/sabbath.html