I Am Not As Smart As Ben

Around the blogosphere there are kudos and high-fives to Ben Witherington’s critique of Pagan Christianity.   Dr. Witherington’s blog has been in my reader for a time, and I have long appreciated his wisdom and scholastic experience.

First let me say that Dr. Witherington makes some points that I agree with.  Those are not the points I have featured in this post.  Overall, I do not see church through the same ecclesial lens as he does, particularly hierarchy, ordained roles, and the nature of gathering to worship.

However, he is much smarter than me, so what do I know.

Here are some direct quotes from the four parts that are currently posted.  I attempted to include enough to provide accurate context yet also tried to keep this post as short as possible.  Refer back to his posts for the complete text.

My comments and clarifying remarks are in blue.

Part One

Everyone agrees that the church is a living thing and organism, not an organization.  So what’s the beef here, and where is the real thrust of the critique?  (From this statement, I presume that Ben believes the church already functions organically and that institutionalism is not a problem.)

The priesthood of believers, clergy/laity, ordination, hierarchy…

Nowhere does the NT say “since we have a priesthood of all believers we no longer affirm the role of set-apart ministers or as they later came to be called ‘clergy’”.

In other words the priesthood of all believers is in no way an argument against there being ordained leaders of various sorts in the church, leaders who are both anointed and appointed not from below but from above, appointed by leaders.

The ecclesial structure of the NT church was hierarchial, not congregational—it started with the apostles and the 12 at the top, worked its way down…

…there was an ecclesial leadership structure in the early church which involved in various cases a process of ordination from higher officials. To say otherwise is to misread the NT evidence.

…this took place through leaders who saw the gift in people like Timothy, and did from time to time use a process of ordination to make clear whom the Spirit had gifted and graced.

Sacredness of worship

The last thing the church needs is a more casual, less reverential approach to all these things which removes altogether the recognition that one is entering into the presence of the Holy One when one comes to worship…

…thank goodness it (mystery, God’s presence) does often come in mediated ways, because like Moses at the burning bush, if we reach out to touch God directly, as an unholy person, we may well experience ‘burn out’ even ‘ministerial burnout’.

In fact, worship is the time when all of creation bows down before God, and all of creation should be offered up to God—including our best music, our best words, our best attitudes, our best art, and so on should be offered up to God.

Part Two

The Worship Service

Mutual participation and open sharing is the model Barna and Viola are uplifting.  A time together without an order of worship, without a liturgy, without a worship leader. What should we think of this notion?

…what Paul is trying to do is instill some order and organization into the otherwise chaotic Corinthian worship times…there was supposed to be an order to things—it was not supposed to be like a spontaneous Quaker or charismatic prayer meeting. Sorry but it just wasn’t.

The leaders of the worship service were then and are now, human beings whom God has anointed and appointed for such tasks…

It is equally clear from a reading of the NT. Jesus stands up in his hometown synagogue reads the Scripture and preaches while others listen. Should we not follow the example of Jesus? Well of course we should. Paul stands up in the meeting…and gives a sermon or exhortation. Others listen... Should we not do likewise– well of course we should.

Worship is not the same thing as a…spontaneous prayer meeting, and it never was intended to be, but it certainly does involve Scriptural sharing from some anointed leader of some sort.

…there is no laity, clergy distinction in the NT, but there is certainly a leader-follower distinction in the NT, and not all are called to be apostles, elders, deacons, etc.

Part Three

The Function of the Pastor

But the problem with the main thrust of this chapter is it is based on the unBiblical notion that anyone should be able to teach, preach, prophesy on a regular basis ‘in church’. This is false–only some have the gift of teaching, preaching, or prophesying.

…there are specific gifts parceled out by the Spirit to specific persons, not to everyone.

…only those gifted and graced by the Spirit and recognized by the church as having such gifts should be doing those things on any sort of regular basis. Period.

Home Fellowships

The problem of course with home groups is that they do not fulfill the mandate of Jesus to his disciples be ‘a city set on a hill, which cannot be hid.’ He might as well have said ‘a church hidden in a suburban home can’t be found’.

If you are meeting hidden in the suburbs in a home with no sign posting and no open invitation to one and all to come and join you, and no public evidence that corporate worship or a Christian meeting is happening there, you are not fulfilling the prime mandate to invite people into a public and personal relationship with God through coming into the living presence of God in worship in public. You just aren’t.

Part Four

The Role of the Pastor

…as I have said, the priesthood of all believers language has nothing whatsoever to do with deciding who gets to be teachers, prophets, elders etc. Those issues are determined by whom the Spirit gifts and graces for such tasks, and whom are recognized by the church to have such gifts and graces.

in no case are all Christians called and gifted to do shepherding. This is why, for example, in two of Paul’s gift lists he refers to the gift of kubernesis or steering, often translated administration. Not everyone has such a gift.

Teaching is a specific function and role in the church played by specific persons who are gifted called, and (gasp) even trained to do it.

In conclusion it is simply historically false to suggest that when we hear about elders, deacons, overseers, apostles prophets teachers, pastors we are only talking about functions most anyone could take on.


Anyway, rather than taking sides in the Ben vs. Frank debate, how about we just discuss the topics.

What do you think about these conclusions?


39 thoughts on “I Am Not As Smart As Ben

  1. Wow, Grace…too many choices for commenting!

    I’ll take a swipe at his home fellowship comment and say “sorry” to the MILLIONS of Christian brothers and sisters in China and other persecuted nations who just aren’t being “obedient” to a pretty narrow call. Wow, I was amazed to read that statement.

    It is a sad commentary on the power of the Holy Spirit to gift and equip the saints in accordance with the will of God when Dr. W. (and others) seems to think that some “person” gets to “choose” who has these “gifts” … when it is the Body that is to discern together what the Holy Spirit has done in their midst.

    Don’t even want to touch the whole chat on “worship” … and I don’t appreciate his recurring dismissive phrase: “Sorry but it just wasn’t.”

    Guess I’ve just run out of patience, on all fronts, with those who approach conversation looking down. That was my problem with V & B and it’s my problem with W. It is possible to be right and be wrong at the same time.

  2. I read Dr. Ben’s first post and while I’m not living in line with some of his views I find him persuasive. Yep, he’s smart.

    I suppose I’m looking to see more than a handful of loving servant-ministers who fill the ministerial role (whatever the hell that means) rather than the proliferation of mini-kingdom builders. Yes, broad brush, but I’m tired of American-brand churchianity. I get the impression a lot of Christians and pagans alike are wondering when the real church will stand up. Doctrine is great but if it doesn’t flow from love we’re up a creek without a Jesus.

    On the other hand, I wonder if real community can be anything but messy. The folks at Corinth hardly seemed to fit the church mold.

  3. I’ll just be up-front with my own bias at the beginning: I’m a member of a Presbyterian Church in America congregation in Lincoln, Nebraska. In our church, only ordained pastors are allowed to serve the Lord’s Supper, perform baptisms, and give the benediction (and only men can be ordained as elders). We have lengthy ordination processes for deacons and elders – there’s debate going on right now about ordaining women as deacons. I favor that move but unfortunately it was voted down at GA. Hopefully it’ll be revisited in the future. My church doesn’t do this, but the other PCA churches in town use a lot of liturgy. And it goes without saying that we meet in a building. I agree with all this, but I also think sometimes the structure becomes laughably absurd.

    All that being said, I see a lot to admire and appreciate in the house church movement. From what I’ve heard Viola’s book isn’t the best defense of it because of the stridency of it and questionable scholarship (which BW3 does a good job of exposing in his review) but I think there’s a lot to be said for the idea of small group communities in which we live life together. And I think sometimes the structure – both organizational and physical – surrounding many evangelical churches gets in the way of creating that community. But I’m also not ready to give up on all of it entirely and say we all need to be in house churches.

    I think space matters. I think order of worship matters. A well-composed liturgy in an aesthetically captivating space can draw one into a kind of awe that is much harder to enter into while sitting in someone’s home.

    However, I was slightly annoyed by Dr. Witherington’s dismissal of house churches, “If you are meeting hidden in the suburbs in a home with no sign posting and no open invitation to one and all to come and join you, and no public evidence that corporate worship or a Christian meeting is happening there, you are not fulfilling the prime mandate to invite people into a public and personal relationship with God through coming into the living presence of God in worship in public. You just aren’t.”

    Biblically speaking, I think what draws people into the church is the grace of God demonstrated in the lives of her members. And I don’t understand what is gained by a sign advertising your building/location. I guess part of the issue for me is I don’t know of many people who came to a church without first being in relationship with someone from that church. I mean, if someone is actively looking for a church, a sign or widely-known meeting place can be good. But I don’t know how many are actively looking for a church – and those who are probably are doing it online or in the phonebook rather than by driving around their community. (I’m belaboring this point, but I really don’t understand where Dr. Witherington is going on this point. It seems like a strange way to dismiss house churches.)

    Does that make sense? I guess I’ve kinda felt like the reviews have been hit or miss, Dr. Witherington has done a wonderful job of addressing the problems with Viola and Barna’s thinking (and I think those problems are significant and multiple, so they’ve been begging for someone with the academic clout of a Dr. Witherington to examine them). But sometimes there’s a caustic and dismissive attitude to the review that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe that’s because I’m so sympathetic to both sides? I dunno. Thanks for posting this Grace, I’ll be curious to see what others have to say :).

  4. I’ve got a few opinions on this topic. Its a little easier to nail this one down than trying to figure out which solar system Driscoll and Bentley hail from.

    Part 1. I don’t see how Dr. W can specify that some are anointed and appointed. We are all anointed and appointed by the Holy Spirit. The apostles and the church recognized what God had already done in gifting some for particular ministries and released them to what God called them. I don’t see a hierarchy in this. Furthermore, the ecclesial structure of the NT church was not top down, it just followed the logical path of passing the torch from those who knew Jesus on to those who did not or who were growing in their knowledge and obedience. It was like a relay marathon. The first runner is not the top of the hierarchy, just the initiator. I don’t see any process of ordination, whatever that means. The phrase is foreign to the NT so the context has got to be later Christendom, and that can lead us to reading all kinds of contemporary practices back into the text. Scholars have almost always concluded that the NT lacks any consistent pattern in church structure and leadership. It seems strange then, to talk about a process of ordination as if there was some set pattern.

    Part 2. This section on worship is troubling. Dr. W separates worship from everyday life, insists it be completely planned, and passes the management of it over to a a special individual. If this was Paul’s intent, that the worship in Corinth be organized by some leader, then who was that leader? 1 Cor goes on and on about worship but where’s the leader in all of this? There is not a hint of this anywhere. Completely unsubstantiated. And the synagogue thing—is W suggesting that I show up at my local synagogue and proclaim the gospel? As far as the qualifications for elders and deacons: these are not referred to as spiritual gifts or special callings. The qualifications for these is spiritual maturity. Plain and simple. An elder and a deacon knows Jesus and lives accordingly. You can’t pass a torch if you’re only carrying a paper match.

    Part 3. As far as the light on a hill thing, someone please introduce Dr. W to missional christianity.

    Part 4. Its ironic that though Dr W rants against a general participation in teaching, preaching, prophecying; the model he is striving to hold up (I’m assuming he likes the standard evangelical model) has one man doing it all. Does anyone out there know a pastor who is not expected to teach, administrate, propehecy, preach, be an elder, be merciful, have extraordinary faith, be able to pray for healing, etc. You tell me which model is biblical. How many pastors do you know who have been ordained upon proclaiming, ” I can’t preach, teach, lead or administer but I know how to show mercy”? Something’s seriously wrong.

    In conclusion, I have to return to the qualifications for elders and deacons: spiritual maturity. Contrary to Dr. W, these are “functions” that everyone should aspire to.

  5. I have a few comments.

    Part 1.

    If the leadership of the church was hierarchical then why was Paul appointed by a mere local church to be a missionary and returned to Jerusalem years afterward to see if had “run in vain?”

    Why was there such rich participation from all sorts of people in the council of Jerusalem?

    Why did Jesus tell his disciples that they shouldn’t be as the gentile rulers that exercise authority over each other?

    Why did Jesus tell his disciples that they shouldn’t use titles because they all brothers?

    I don’t think anyone would challenge the idea that the apostles held special prominence in the church. The simple church movement needs to acknowledge that elders were appointed. However a pure hierarchical framework just doesn’t fit with large amounts of scripture.

    Consider Paul’s opinion of those reputed to be pillars.

    Acts 15 “6 And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me.”

    Part 2.

    Where in 1Cor 14 does Paul call this gathering a worship service?

    Constructing a theology of worship, let alone worship meetings from the New Testament is a tenuous task because worship just isn’t mentioned a whole lot.

    Part 3

    There are specific gifts given to everyone and if ministry is dominated by one person then how do they exercise as Paul describes in 1Cor 12?

    I don’t think anyone is saying there aren’t people should operate in there area of gifting. I’m just not convinced going with a clergy is the best way to have people operating in their area of gifting.

    Home fellowships
    Is it me or does this seem like a bit of stretch? Jesus is talking about our lives right?

  6. To respond to these conclusions now would be wrong on my part as I feel a little huffy at some of the broad brushstrokes Witherington has used on the canvas.

    I.e “He might as well have said ‘a church hidden in a suburban home can’t be found’.”

    Anyhow Grace, I don’t know if you are not as smart as Ben, but if these comments are anything to go by, I feel you might be a lot wiser.

  7. There’s another scholar who is as smart as Ben who is exposing the weaknesses and errors in Ben’s review of the book. I’ve seen it on a few blogs and then read it. I thought it makes the case that we shouldn’t take Witherington’s review so seriously or as gospel. I read it here http://www.paganchristianity.org/zensresponds1.htm but it’s on some other sites also. I think the sequel to Pagan Christianity comes out very soon. I’ve read some of the endorsements on Amazon and it looks impressive.

  8. If you are meeting hidden in the suburbs in a home with no sign posting and no open invitation to one and all to come and join you, and no public evidence that corporate worship or a Christian meeting is happening there, you are not fulfilling the prime mandate to invite people into a public and personal relationship with God through coming into the living presence of God in worship in public. You just aren’t.

    Ummmm, where is that “prime mandate” in scripture? I don’t recall anything along those lines. But then, like you, Grace, I guess I’m just not as smart.

    Frankly, BW lost me right at the very beginning with the whole “I wasn’t even mentioned in the bibliography” pouting.

    I have yet to make it through the whole review he posted because I keep getting this nagging feeling that I’m wasting precious time reading it. It’s just so full of anachronistic justifications for modern institutionalism.

    To whatever extent Viola/Barna swung to an extreme to abuse historical evidence, BW has swung to the other extreme in his very….ummmm…. interesting “exegesis” of scripture.

    Furthermore, I keep hearing this notion of Paul “moderating chaos” in Corinth, yet have never seen any historical documentation to back it up. To me, it’s just an excuse to throw out any instructions in 1 Corinthians, especially 14:26ff.

    Does BW believe that someone can interrupt the pastor when he’s speaking? Paul says they can, and that the one speaking needs to defer to the one interrupting.

    Does BW realize there is a huge distinction between evangelistic preaching (i.e., Jesus and Paul in the synagogue) and teaching within the church?

    Sigh….so many points to nitpick. I’m off to do something more profitable with my time.

  9. Thanks Dave – a PhD answers a PhD – isn’t the internet wonderful?

    Dr BWIII is at Asbury – where the revival took place in 1970. I spent a couple hours on You Tube watching footage from various sources on this. It was awesome. There was NO preaching -none (gulp)- only one after another coming to the mic to give testimonies. The dean had gone on a trip when the revival broke out – he wasn’t even there. (this is significant). The dean later attributes the revival to a group of 6 students (gulp) who had purposed to pray and see God come. Later – they split up – and each of those 6 – took 5 others – so then they had 6 groups of 6 (small groups – gulp) purposed to pray and see God come.

    There must not be a prophetic person within a hundred miles of Asbury – because this isn’t all that difficult to interpret the witness of Asbury. The dean is gone – the preaching is gone – there are small groups – seeking God together – and He comes!

    Then you have to hire a bunch of teachers to explain it all away. BWIII doesn’t really believe in prophets from the way he writes. He really believes that God gave some to be teachers and some teachers and some teachers and some teachers and some (oh year) pastors (his rendition of Eph 4:11).

  10. Jake:

    I grew up in the Presbyterian church. Me and my buddy were selected to go to a presbytery once (what the Presbyterians call their assembly of leaders making global decisions for the Presbyterian church). The only thing Dave (my buddy) and I could talk about for weeks after that meeting – was about 15 minutes before lunch – they got into a discussion on whether to break early for lunch. This happened to be the first discussion of interest to us that day. The discussion lasted for 30 minutes – and so we were 15 minutes late for lunch. I’m not sure how old I was – maybe 14 or 15 – but I should have learned right then that many of the smart people making decisions really get way too carried away with the titles, positions, and process.

  11. I expected that I could count on you all for some intelligent discussion on these topics. Your insight always amazes me.

    Love this comment – It is possible to be right and be wrong at the same time.

    A humble, intelligent discussion of the issues would be nice, although it would seem that PC’s approach is inflammatory enough that it creates a like reaction, even from scholars.

    I share your feeling that there must be something else. I recently ran across this comment I left many months ago at another blog. It encouraged (reminded) me that the real church is emerging (so to speak).

    As we move forward, I believe we will see many more hybrid models that don’t fall neatly into the categories of either institutional or house church. Right now, I think that missional orders are tapping into some of the components necessary to move forward into a greater degree of discipleship, although I can’t say that I can fully understand or envision this yet. Also I believe we will have to have a degree of fluidity and adaptability in order to change structures as needed.

    Whatever “it” is, it will be a response of Jesus’ love to the world around us.

    Part of the problem with the discussion between Frank and Ben is that it is framed in a way that seems to be either/or, tradition or house church.

    One of the points that I agree with Ben about is that there can be a beneficial place for sacramental items, images, and liturgy. Rather than tossing them completely out, I think we could acknowledge and appreciate the context in which they are an asset to worship.

    I am sympathetic to both sides also. It is important that the discussion of these issues continues, so I am interested in and appreciative of the comments being shared.

    I would like to see a more specific apologetic for ordination from Dr. Witherington since that is the position he claims, and I would like to see a direct response to the arguments against appointment and ordination.

    I do not agree with the dualism in Ben’s view of worship, both the clergy/laity view and the sacred/secular notion of style and place. While I can appreciate a highly sacramental service, I would never say that is the “biblical” way worship should be. My experience of life and worship is more holistic than he describes.

    Hierarchical structure became a part of the church so early on that it seems impossible for people (even early church scholars) to see the epistles without that ecclesial lens.

    As far as appointing elders, I believe that they were pointed out or recognized for their maturity, gifting, and service within their group. I do not believe (JMO) that they were assigned to a titled role or position within an organization, which is the way appointment or ordination is now viewed.

    It is true that there is very little that can be concluded about the order of worship service from what the NT says. It says much more about life together, which in itself may be saying something.

    I have a feeling that Dr. Witherington will come to regret that statement as it is quite a stretch.

    Thanks for including that link. I have read that as well. It seems that Zens’ arguments are being dismissed as biased in many circles due to his known association with Frank.

    I have read and endorsed the sequel. I am very curious about the kind of response it will receive and whether those who reacted so strongly to PC will even be willing to take a look at it. It is available to order on the paganchristianity.org website.

    Come on steve,
    You know – the prime mandate – to invite people to the sacred church building to sing sacred songs led by the appointed worship leader and listen to the sermon by the appointed pastor.

    I am interested in seeing where this discussion goes. Enjoy your time doing something else, although you are welcome to come back and jump in the fray. ;)

    The Asbury story is interesting. I wasn’t aware of the revival there. And the lunch story is funny (but sadly typical of committees).

  12. I think we need to accept the fact that when one writes a polemic, one will get a polemical response. BWIII and Viola both have dogs in this race and their thinking/research/opinions are framed by that race.

    These polemics are simply a part of the profound change that is taking place in the Western church. We are caught between the now and the not yet – a liminal space – and the dialectic nature of this discourse can only suggest where the church will land. I don’t believe it will remain where Ben wants it to stay – nor will it land where Frank wants it to land – but the discussion they are forcing is a critical part of the process of this next reformation.

    I think you’ve provided an important forum, Grace, for us to graciously engage with both Frank and Ben. (As a charter member of The People Formerly Known as the Congregation, my sympathies would normally lie with Frank – but, as I’ve stated elsewhere, PC was over the top, even for me. I’m with the Abbess on this.)

    I appreciate the varied voices here in this discussion.

  13. In my personal study of the New Testament on church I found that a bigger issue is our concept of ministry. Traditionally ministry is largely a cognitive affair. One approved appointed person (usually a middle class man) is trained as specialist and talks to a group of people passing on his or her knowledge to them. Depending on the tradition there might be a specialist who leads the group in some sacred ritual.

    In the NT ministry is used to describe people ministering to each other in the context of a personal relationship bound together by sacrificial love.

    It isn’t as though large group ministry is absent from the NT, but most of the time we see it is used to proclaim the gospel.

  14. “Home Fellowships

    The problem of course with home groups is that they do not fulfill the mandate of Jesus to his disciples be ‘a city set on a hill, which cannot be hid.’ He might as well have said ‘a church hidden in a suburban home can’t be found’.

    If you are meeting hidden in the suburbs in a home with no sign posting and no open invitation to one and all to come and join you, and no public evidence that corporate worship or a Christian meeting is happening there, you are not fulfilling the prime mandate to invite people into a public and personal relationship with God through coming into the living presence of God in worship in public. You just aren’t.”

    I’m not sure if BW means this to be prescriptive, but if he does, it seems like a tenuous position at best. While there is no scriptural/historical mandate to avoid buildings set aside for worship, neither is there a mandate to avoid worshiping in homes. The appeal to not being a city set on a hill, while being a matter of practical concern for the church at large, does not set the rule for everyone. There can be very good reasons to meet in homes, especially when broadcasting your presence is likely to get somebody arrested, as in communist countries today as well as the early church.


  15. Ok, I think Steve S. well summarized it in this sentence…

    It’s just so full of anachronistic justifications for modern institutionalism.

    Grace, fortunately, a lot of us aren’t as smart as Ben WIII.

    T. C. Christian II

  16. I have read the book, and the critique. I believe the biggest issue here is something others have already mentioned. Both of these men see things from their limited perspective. Every human alive does it. We can’t help it. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how many degrees you have, if you are ordained, or what. You are still limited to your own perspective.

    I think it is very likely that both the book and the critique have some things that are right as well as some things that are wrong.

    The real problem I have is when people try to take their views and use them as weapons against someone else’s views.

    I view it as a bad example of Christianity when someone is so arrogant as to think their theology so perfect they can use it to attack and lay waste to someone who doesn’t agree with them. That’s just my opinion though. I could be wrong.

  17. Grace,

    This is wisdom;

    One of the points that I agree with Ben about is that there can be a beneficial place for sacramental items, images, and liturgy. Rather than tossing them completely out, I think we could acknowledge and appreciate the context in which they are an asset to worship.


  18. Bill,
    Good comment – I don’t believe it will remain where Ben wants it to stay – nor will it land where Frank wants it to land.

    I found it interesting that people are so anxious for a corrective to PC that they overlook these positions that basically represent much of what emerging and missional are moving away from.

    Your article on The Heart of Ministry is a favorite of mine.

    In February, we spent about a week here at the blog discusssing the topic What Is Ministry? I mostly just asked a few questions as people shared and described their thoughts about NT ministry. If you get a chance, I’m sure you would enjoy reading what they had to say. There are 5 posts, starting with the one I linked.

    Good point about those who don’t have the same freedom to gather as we do.

    Overall, I would say that the building has hindered the visibility of the church in the world. The buildings are cities on a hill, yet the church, the people, have become invisible within those cities. The problem isn’t the building itself, but how we have used them.

    Steve is smart, you are too. ;)
    E.K. Grace IV, B.S., M.O.M.

    I very much agree. I wonder if it is possible to come to decisive conclusions on these topics or if in the end, it will always be a matter of perspective.

    Perhaps the ideal is to be able to share one’s perspective in a way that is persuasive enough that people will want to listen and consider it.

    Hi Nathan, great to see you. I hope you are well.

  19. I dunno about smart, but I enjoyed doing other things instead of reading BW3 ;) Don’t know if you got a chance to check out the new podcast I’m a part of, Grace, but I think it might be up your alley. I pushed thoughts of BW out of my mind and spent the weekend getting that up and running.

    Now that I’m back, I still don’t feel like I have anything more to offer on this subject. I’m just continually saddened by what you termed “kudos and high-fives” in response to stuff like what BW wrote.

    The answer to one extreme is not the other extreme. I try very hard not to “react” against institutionalism, even though I have serious concerns and frustrations with it. But, even though I think Frank and George could have possibly been a tad more diplomatic in their approach, their points are being dismissed and ignored for the wrong reasons.

    Ben, on the other hand, wrote such a reactionary response to it that he showed himself to play just as fast and loose with evidence (and especially with scripture) as he was accusing Frank and George of doing.

    Frankly (no pun intended), his credibility dropped significantly in my eyes as a result.

    Just Little Ol’ Me the First

  20. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in discussions where people have asked what degree I have — I have finally learned to either say it completely (i.e., “Bachelor of Science in Bible”) or just say “Bachelor’s in Bible”, rather than the abbreviation.

    Because invariably, if I say it with the abbreviation (“I have a BS in Bible”), it gets laughs. Sigh — why couldn’t it have been a bachelor of ARTS??? ;)

  21. Steve,

    Gotcha, Bro.

    I usually just say I have a B.S., instead of a B.S.Agriculture…that Agri part is sure to prejudice credibility in all areas except Artificial Insemination.


  22. If a person is a follower of Jesus, they should hear his call (“my sheep hear my voice”). He will tell them where he wants them to be part of his body (the church). He will call them to be incarnational and transformational where they live, work, play, and worship.
    I also think there are “weeds among the wheat” in any version of Christian fellowship be it house church or institutional church in any variety. True followers will sin and so will those to whom Jesus will say he never knew. I think sometimes it may be hard for us to see (or accept) what fruit is really being produced. So rather than endlessly debate, why don’t we listen to the call of Christ and make him known in whatever setting he has called us?

  23. Sorry about being a little late returning to the discussion: I think you’re (Grace) right to say that it isn’t an either/or. I think most of the problem is coming from the fact that people on both sides seem to feel like it is…

    You can have a church building, ordained elders, ordained deacons, and all the other trappings and still have a strong sense of community and equality. I know because that’s what I’m seeing at the church I’ve been attending for the past year.

    David – I don’t think he’s negating the idea of worship being something that’s part of every aspect of life. I think he’s just making the point that there’s something to be said for public worship guided by liturgy in which you have preaching, singing, and the sacraments.

    Jerry – Oy, yes, we’re quite good at arguing about the most inane topics. Go read Frame’s article “Machen’s Warrior Children.” I actually heard that at the Synod of Dordt (the only ecumenical Reformed counsel in history… what does that tell you?) there was a duel over infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. (As a rule, I think duels over words consisting of more than six syllables are always a bad idea.) That said, if you can find the reformed folk that don’t belong in a locked cage, it can be a pretty cool group. Go read Tim Keller or Jerram Barrs and you might see a bit more of it :).

  24. A few snippets from the bible on that comment “that if you are meeting in a home with no sign you are not fulfilling the prime mandate of God. You just aren’t.”

    *** “To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home” Philemon 1:2

    *** “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus…..Greet also the church that meets at their house.” Romans 16:3-5

    *** “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.” Colossians 4:15

    If my idea that home fellowships are a very authentic and valid expression of church is wrong, then at least I am in good company!

  25. “Those issues are determined by whom the Spirit gifts and graces for such tasks, and whom are recognized by the church to have such gifts and graces.”

    Yes. However, the trouble comes, and came, in the fact these became two separate categories.

    The Spirit gifted, but the church didn’t recognize. Or the church recognized, but the Spirit didn’t gift. People became involved in leadership out of misplaced motives, ambitions, and other aspects which pushed them away from the Spirit’s calling.

    Also, the prophets became entirely unrecognized. Prophets were by definition outside the hierarchy. When they became silenced by an increasingly politically entrenched leadership, then the Spirit no longer mattered.

    The Spirit gifts. The church recognizes. In that order. Now we have all manner of rules saying precisely in whom and when and how the Spirit can give and use teaching and leadership gifts. The church tells the Spirit who the Spirit can work through. The Spirit doesn’t care, gives gifts to men and women anyhow, who feel the burden of their call and the strain of an unrecognizing, unrecognizable, church.

    Chaos ensues.

  26. One thing too that comes to mind that I haven’t heard properly addressed. Jesus came out of a Jewish culture.

    The church, we can say, is based on the synagogue. That model has both hierarchy in functional roles (elders, leaders, readers, etc.) but no overarching hierarchy. There is no Great Rabbi leading regions. There is no grand meetings to determine policy.

    In that model 10 Jewish men made a synagogue. If there were 10 men they were supposed to organize. They had roles that derived from their being gathered.

    No one could tell them they were not a synagogue.

    If there was no building they still met. By a river ideally. If there weren’t enough men, they still met, though not officially as a synagogue.

    The confusion derives, I think, from seeing the church as Temple rather than as synagogue–as the place for sacrifice rather than the place for gathering. Hebrews clearly tells us, and the historical work of God demands, there is no more Temple imagery outside of heaven. Jesus is the sacrifice, once and for all.

    Which leads to deeper doctrines on the eucharist and baptism.

    The Apostles had authority not based on hierarchy but on their positions as witnesses to Jesus. They could not pass on this real witness so they left written testimony, and left models reflecting the Jewish culture at the time which entirely rejected, and still does reject, some sort of human ladder of authority that goes beyond local congregations.

    Paying more attention to our Jewish roots here would be most helpful.

  27. Steve,
    I did get a chance to listen. You guys did great. I can’t imagine doing such a thing without needing a lot of editing.

    We are each uniquely gifted. ;)

    That would be ideal. I believe there is a place for challenging systems that create sterility and lack of fruit.

    Frank’s argument is for organic life in the church. The question I have at this point is to what degree is that possible. From comments like yours, I believe that there are traditional models who do experience this kind of life within their fellowship.

    Good point carlo!

    Very interesting. Positional roles tend to negate the recognition of spiritual gifts within a body because they are organizationally defined with little flexibility for change, and as you said the gifts of many go unrecognized.

    I enjoyed your thoughts about temple versus synagogue. I was not familiar with this and agree that we need more understanding of our jewish roots.

    PS. Congratulations on your engagement! I saw your post in my reader earlier today.

  28. I think in different times and different places, the church will look different. There needs to be room to be somewhat organic. I like the ability to reach large numbers of people and support many, many parachurch and mission/compassionate ministries that the traditional church has. I like its ability to focus on particular age groups for outreach and discipleship.
    I like what house churches have to offer about connectivity and relationships, along with accountability.
    They each have weak points as well. We are good at finding the faults in the others’ way of doing things, what about focusing on the strengths, and what they add to the equation that’s positive?

    I also think that in the midst of this dialogue we get distracted from other really, really important topics and questions – like more information and dialogue about discipleship – about how we do it, what it looks like, about how people grow in Christ. If the purpose of the Christian is to become more like Jesus in attitudes, words and actions, how do the church models we work with encourage and support this transformation?

  29. Great discussion. Ol’ Ben has done us a favor by taking sides in the debate and making a strong statement.. even if I do disagree with 90% of it.

    I didn’t read all the comments so forgive me if I repeat anyone. I want to take a mediating view with regard to apostolicity, and I heard some echo of this in Leighton’s comment.

    In much of the emergent conversation we readily affirm individual and local, grass roots initiative that is self-authenticating. Most of us would rejoice to see another fifty independent, non-aligned house churches spring up overnight. But would that really represent God at work, or just another manifestation of expressive individualism and protestant fragmentation? “I’ll do it my way thank you very much.”

    Is there a middle ground between what Ben describes as hierarchy top-down and grass roots bottom up independence?

    Is there the possibility of something both more generous and more like catholicity? If there is, it will occur relationally and hopefully be rooted both locally and trans-locally and be truly connected to a larger network. It might be formed around a missional order, or it might be simply participating in something like CMA, but it will genuinely involve mutual submission to Word, Spirit and community and will move away from Lone Ranger Church Planter but also distinguish itself from business and sola pastora models..

  30. Incidentally, another lens to read Worthington is through the lens of the industrial revolution. Its obvious that his image of leadership is dominated by a certain paradigm that evolved during that time. In contrast I’m thinking of the work coming from Senge, Drucker, Wheatley, Pascale et al and in particular of this little piece from Drath and Willard some years ago (Drath more recently author of The Deep Blue Sea).

    “Drath and Paulus argue that the old understanding of leadership rested on a set of assumptions about human nature and motivation. The dominance-cum-social-influence view assumes that humans are naturally at rest and that they need a motivation force to get them going. The meaning-making view assumes that people are naturally in motion, always doing something, and that they need, rather than motivation to act, frameworks within which their actions make sense.

    “From this theory appears an important difference and a powerful advantage. When we no longer see dominance and social influence as the basic activities of leadership, we no longer think of people in terms of leaders and followers. Instead, we can think of leadership as a process in which an entire community is engaged. This enables us to disentangle power and authority from leadership. Authority is a tool for making sense of things, but so are other human tools such as values and work systems.”

    Making Common Sense, The Center for Creative Leadership, 1994

  31. steve,
    I agree that it is important to find what works and is fruitful in our models of church. I’m afraid that won’t always be a discussion without tension however, because to take a critical look at why some of our treasured models haven’t been fruitful is usually controversial.

    Interesting thoughts about apostolicity within organic movements. Personally I am still fairly suspicious of most of what I have witnessed that positions itself in an apostolic role, even within organic networks. However, I believe that we will eventually experience and recognize the Christlike nature of trustworthy apostolic ministry.

    Manure fork skillz are useful in many arenas.

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