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Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today – Pt. #1 – The Simple Church: Or Is It?

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Probably over a decade ago when I first heard about the House Church Movement I never thought I would be involved with it as I am today. I remember it being called the “simple church” and the vision was to return to the practices of the early first steps of the church as we see it in Acts and the letters of the Apostles. Yet as simple as we might have hoped it would be, I have learned that it simply is not so simple. Over the course of the next several posts, it is my hope that I and my brothers and sisters in The Edge House Church Movement can reflect upon the contextualized dynamics of the early church movement and its reflections to the house church movement today in Visions and Dreams for Mission, Rhythms of Ecclesiology and the Gathering Practices of the Church, Catechisms and Schools of Discipleship, and Measures and Successes.

Before getting into these dynamics of the early church however, it is important to note that they did not recognize a distinction between their calling in discipleship and the everyday practices and events of life. As Steven Bevans writes, “The missionary idea of ‘gossiping the gospel’ was certainly much more than just a verbal message; rather, it was the message of one’s whole life. The conduct of ordinary Christians had the greatest significance and impact for the spread of the gospel. They lived out ‘the language of love.’”[1] This “language of love” would take the gospel not just into the religious establishments of the Temple and the synagogues but also into the streets, the market places, and perhaps most importantly, into the homes of the believers. These homes would become the embodiment of radical inclusionary dwelling places for the family of God as they extended the immediate family unit beyond themselves “to include slaves, freed persons, hired workers, tenants and partners in trade or craft.”[2]

Today these visions and dreams for a radicalized mission and expression of the church have inspired many more people like myself, to embrace an unexpected family that becomes united to experience and follow Jesus into all of life’s moments. It is my hope that together, my Edge family and I might learn from the story of the early church and grow more in the likeness of Jesus and the radical and incredible movement he has called us to be a part of – The Mission of God!!

[1] Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #88.

[2] Ibid.

Gleaning Through Three Stages of the Enlightenment While Contemplating the Great “I Am”

The Enlightenment“Common sense is the best distributed commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it. Cogito, ergo sum.” (I think, therefore I am.) Or at least Rene Descartes thought so as reflected on the age of Enlightenment. With systematic sciences on the rise, the world was changing and humanity’s perspectives on the church, human nature, and God were being revolutionarily transformed by three natural perspectives.

The first of which was the voice of reason or what Platchard called natural religion. This ideological understanding dichotomized “between ‘natural religion’, the basic truths about the existence of God and human morality known to good people in all societies, and ‘revealed religion’, the particular historical claims and doctrines of Christianity and other religions.” (Pg. #240) With science putting systematic categorical placements on everything in nature, the Enlightenment would redefine the gospel outside of the nature of purpose and, in Bosch’s language, turn God into the object for the equal consumption of all as apposed to the subject of relation to the elected few. He writes, “Reason represented a heritage that belonged not only to ‘believers’, but to all human beings in equal measure.” (Pg. #270)

To the believer who dedicated their life to God, reason alone was not articulated enough to express the uniqueness of their relationship to the one true God. The gospel must be “born again” to transcend the simplistic rationalizations of common man. The mystical wondering of an outside Kingdom breaking into the world with the promise of liberation must still evoke the emotions of the heart and overcome the ideological expectations of cause and effect with a spirit of grace. Alas, to think religiously and to live by faith became institutionalized even more through the development of contextualized segmented religious cultures that rather retreated from the world as apposed to transforming the world.

With one voice rationalizing religion as an “opiate to the masses” and the other retreating into institutionalized segregated commonwealths, a third voice was piecing the gospel pursuit in the sojourning life long pilgrimage for the revelation of objective truth. As Gotthold Lessing expressed, “The worth of a man does not consist in the truth he possesses, or thinks he possesses, but in the pains he has taken to attain that truth… If God held all truth in his right hand and in his left the everlasting striving after truth… and said to me, ‘Choose’, with humility I would pick on the left hand and say, ‘Father grant me that. Absolute truth is for thee alone.” (Pg. #250) Alas, as Bosch points out, all to often enabled “humans to remake the world [and God] in their own image and according to their own design.” (Pg. #273)

Returning to Descartes and “Cogito, ergo sum”. As the Enlightenment boxed the gospel into a mental rhythm of simple knowledge and academic exercise, we must peer deeper into the depths of our calling in discipleship. It is not to think that reflects who I am but, it is for the purpose to enflesh the great “I am” that I exist! (John 14:6)

For Now I see In A Mirror Dimly

Close Up of a Metal Tuning Fork

I grew up in a musical household. My mother would play guitar in the living room and I would sit with her singing worship songs and camp tunes for hours. She used to love taking the break in between worship songs to sing ‘On Top of Spaghetti‘ with me; at least until I learned the alternative lyrics of ‘On Top of the School House‘!  Some how whenever I broke into a different rift of words, the tune would sour and she’d stop playing. How important are the lyrics to the notes which are played along with them? Deeper still, must there be proper emotional response to the lyrics which go along with such notes?

Bevans and Shroeder reminded me of that early lesson in life with their analogy that, “Like a complex fugue or polyphonic motet, God’s unity is constituted by diversity and God’s diversity is rooted in unity of will and purpose; the church is the church inasmuch as it has been included in that harmony.” (Pg. #298) The lyrics of the church’s ecclesiology must be in the harmony and unity of the message to which it embodies or it ceases to be the church entirely! Nor can we void the internal depth of emotion to which that message is to be embraced as a missional community itself!

The contemplation of these last few months has brought a renewed vision to my heart and mind in the significance of a united harmony between the movements and ecclesiological practices of the individual believer and the church as a whole. Together we are on a mission which does not find significance in and of itself, but rather it points towards greater experiences of faith, hope, and love in the promise of a richer and fuller future. To use Bevans and Schroeder’s words, “Christians are incorporated into the divine life and experience a foretaste of the world’s destiny of full communion with God, with one another and with all of creation.” (pg. #299)

I’d be remised to say, like the small taste I had as a boy, I can’t wait for that day to sit with my mother again and sing praises to God; and I promise, I’ll get the lyrics right!

Flesh & Blood: The Incarnation of Enculturation

CommunionI have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15) Jesus words echo through the cosmos of space and time as the church lifts bread and cup in the liturgy of communion again and again. Jesus embraced both the communion of Jewish culture in the Passover with the embodied call of the missio Dei in suffering and the cross. Both place and time found transcendence in everliving Christ and the Word of God.

As a boy I remember growing up in the Anglican Church. I practically knew the liturgy by heart and could walk through the alter boy routine with a blindfold. By my early teens though, it had lost its meaning. What was the spiritual significance, the enfleshing truth to reciting such words from a book? It would be years later that in a Church of Christ, communion would become a significance of faith and relevant again through the practice of shared meditation!

I told you this brief story as a reflection for you to see the significance of recognizing the transcendent realities of the missio Dei finding a communion of sorts to the culture and inculturation of contextualized space and time. As Bevans and Schroeder share in articulation to their sixth constant, “culture, for eyes of faith, becomes a way of deepening in a fully human and contextual way, human knowledge of and relation with the Mystery that is ineffable and yet closer to us then we are to ourselves.” (Pg. #303)

As I have journeyed through the history of the church in the last few months, I have come to recognize the ever deepening significance of the Word becoming flesh and blood through the communion of the missio Dei and the culture of the people it finds rest in. We cannot be afraid of the creativity in which the gospel finds expression in the everyday lives of its followers. Authority only finds root in what we give authority too and in giving all that authority to Christ in faith, culture ceases to rule and instead becomes a tool under Kingdom authority to express a story greater then itself.

The incarnation of the gospel is a marriage in which all find significance and meaning in the communion which brings strength to our cultures, the enriching of our diversity, and the eternal guidance of our mission as His church. As Francis Bacon said, “It’s not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; and not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity.”[1]

[1] Cole, Neil. Organic Leadership: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2009) Pg. #113.

Monasticism and the Church Today – By Graham McMahon & Ryan Lassiter

This past semester my MRE brothers Graham and Ryan wrote a fantastic reflection on Monasticism and the Church while reading Steven Bevans ‘Constants in Context’ and David Bosch’s ‘Transforming Mission’. With their permission I had to share it with my readers!! :)

Monasticism and the ChurchBevans paints a picture in chapter four of monasticism as one of the primary means of mission in the church during the fourth through tenth centuries. Bosch adds to this the idea by stating that the monastic movement may be responsible for allowing any hint of authentic Christianity to develop in Europe during their “dark ages” (Bosch, 235). Given this illustrious history, many today in North America are seeing a return to monasticism as a place to go in order to more faithfully live out the gospel. It seems that those who seek to return to monasticism see it as a retreat from the failure of the church, or perhaps even a retreat from the culture surrounding us. While both of these are not necessarily bad, Bevans’ work pushes us to think about the roots of monasticism and understand its true history. If people today have a false picture of early monasticism, how it arose, and its purpose, we may romanticize monasticism and misunderstand what if offers Christians today. Therefore, monasticism could become a place to hide from the world, and even the church, and lose its missional nature. Bevans’ calls monasticism one of the primary conduits of mission during this time period. Rather than monasticism being a retreat, Bevans pushes us to see monasticism as a resource or service to the church. Given this better understanding, we are moved to observe what monasticism offers the church of today.

Monasticism teaches and opens up many things to the church today.  Generally speaking, the monastic movement throughout the fourth to tenth centuries played many important roles both within the church and within society as a whole.  The interrelationship between church, mission and baptism that was at the core of mission in the early church was predominantly lost when Christianity became the religion of the Roman empire. “However, monasticism arose as a movement that radicalized and symbolized this basic baptismal commitment within the church.  The monk and nun replaced the martyr as the ideal in the Christian community” (Bevans 129).  

Currently, we are in an era where most churches in the west view missionary work as a vocation or as something that is a program as opposed to central to the identity of the follower of Jesus.  The monastic movement however, saw mission work as part of the baptismal and communal life of the church and was represented in their rules of life and monastic community.  The Celtic monastic practice of pilgrimage became a practice of missionary work: “But the pilgrim must help others he meets on their journeys, that the concept of pilgrimage often merged into that of mission…” (Bosch 238).  The monasteries themselves were central in cities as places of education, translation, medicine, vocational training, industry, and mercy: “The citizens of the heavenly city were actively seeking the peace and good order of the earthly city” (237).  Monastic movements served and associated with the peasant class of the places they formed their communities: “…through their sanctifying work and poverty they lifted the hearts of the poor and neglected peasants and inspired them while at the same time revolutionizing the order of social values which had dominated the empire’s slave-owning society” (Bosch 237).  The rule of St Benedict emphasized the holiness and spirituality of daily work.  Monastic communities carried out by the work of their own hands the building of roads and bridges, the clearing of land, and the cultivating of agriculture where there was none before.  Their mission not only lifted up the peasants, but transformed the land and reformed the society as a whole.  Thus monasteries and the rule of life were themselves practices of mission.  

Finally, the monastic movement served the local church.  It transcribed manuscripts, trained leaders, priests, and lay people, discipled new converts and deepened their faith and spiritual practices, gave them a sense of mission, and set examples by their own lives and witness.  The monastic movement was often a bright spot in an otherwise dark time during Medieval Christianity.  Furthermore, the Western expression of monasticism was “far more independent of government interference” (Bosch 236) which allowed them to not only play a reforming role in society but also provide a “prophetic witness” to the church (Bevans 134), calling the church to a deeper walk with Christ and a practical spirituality, as well as a critique of tendencies towards power, busyness, wealth, and material possessions.  

“In the midst of a world ruled by the love of self, the monastic communities were a visible sign and preliminary realization of a world ruled by the love of God” (Bosch 235). How could we not see a need for all of these monastic practices and tendencies in the church today?  We need a more integrated spirituality that sees working with the earth, secular work, and identifying with and advocating for the blue collar worker just as spiritual as the work of the pastor.  We need a more communal expression of our spiritual life and a rule of life would certainly help with discipleship and with personal spiritual growth and personal responsibility for mission and acts of compassion.  The slow patient way of St Benedict is needed for transforming our neighbourhoods and there is certainly a need for a prophetic voice to speak to the churches of the West about fascinations with power, wealth, busyness, and consumption and to instead call followers of Jesus to a life of simplicity and an embodied practice of mission and compassion.  Our question is, how is monasticism to be embodied in the local church?  Can one local church seek to serve other local churches in their neighbourhood in helping them see an embodied practice of mission rooted in our identity as followers of Jesus just as monastic orders served the local churches of their day?  Or does this kind of service need to be done by a non-church body for the sake of other church bodies?

Exodus and the Enslaved Imaginations of the Christian Right

A Called PeopleWe crowded into a dark lit theatre as we awaited the beginning to the telling of an age old story filled with adventure, action, violence, love, mystery, and yes, even the miraculous!! As the lights went down it was clear, no one around us could be recognized for their beliefs, no ones theology was visible to the neighbour beside them let alone written on their sleeves. We truly were Nicodemus’s in exodus of reality to a world of a called people and the wrestling with a God called “I AM”!!

I love these moments, the ones where we can retreat into our imaginations, seek out the deeper questions and meanings of these cultural stories, and see how they shape our lives and who we are! Yet, when the lights all come back on, it seems like the chains of dogmatic judgements, theological and denominational boundaries, all creep back in to enslave us back to the Christian Right to which we are supposedly apart of; as though our lack of imagination, our literal word for word expectations, and our inability to “read between the lines“, some how sets us a part from the world as people of righteousness; as people who are superior to that of the “non-believer”. What a people of enslaved grotesque spirituality we have become!

Boy YHWHRidley Scott, in his film ‘Exodus – Gods and Kings’ has taken up the story of YHWH and his people once again. Yes, you heard right! It is not a story about Moses, Ramesses, or Pharaoh. It is a story about YHWH, the God named ‘IAM’, and the people he chose to call his own!! Hollywood got it right and it is the brilliance behind Scott’s film.

Sitting on the front opening to a house of a make believe king, Moses corrects an overseer to the Hebrew people who interprets the peoples name as meaning “One Who Fights With God” and rebukes him saying, “No, it means ‘One Who Wrestles With God’! There is a difference you know!” Ironically, historically this is what the Egyptian people did themselves with their gods as they appeased them through worship and sacrifice. To rebel against this was to fight their perceived powers; most often found in the natural elements of their culture. This is what the ten plagues was about! YHWH broke forth in showing His power by protecting his people while demolishing the gods of Egypt. Whether it was Osiris of the nile and the river of blood or Pharaoh himself pronouncing death to the first born; all of Egypts gods would fall to the greater power of YHWH, “I AM”, and his people. (Click Here to see the fall of Egypts gods to YHWH)

This paints an even deeper theme of wrestling that we find in the film. It wasn’t just the Hebrew people who wrestled with God; it was the Egyptians too! Who was this YHWH who held authority over their gods? Who were these Hebrew people, those called people of “I AM”? Who are they as a nation called Egypt, neighbours to YHWH’s called nation?

It wasn’t just Moses who sat on the shore of the Red Sea questioning God, “If I am not an Egyptian General, if not a deliverer, a messiah to the Hebrew people; who am I?” Ramesses too questioned his vocation and calling in the eyes of his creational identity. What are the issues a king is suppose to address – issues of glory, greatness, and inspiration or issues of legacy, death, and the altars of a tomb? From his own lips. “Am I a pharaoh who is to live as a Bedouin his hole life?” What contemplations that question may offer when you consider the coming 40 years Moses would spend roaming the dessert with the shadow of God in the midst of a Tabernacle moving from place to place!!

In Exodus 6:7 God speaks to his people and says, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” What does it mean to truly know God?

The word “to know” in Hebrew is “yada“. Yet yada is to know in the most deepest way, the most intimate way, so that ones vocation, ones calling and characteristics, ones very identity is intertwined into that which they are in relationship of knowing. To yada God, to know “I AM”, is to be eternally wrestling with the very fabric of what he is doing in shaping your character, your personhood, your life. God is saying, “I AM in your work place!”, “I AM in your home!”, “I AM in your thoughts!”, “I AM in your marriage’s!”, “I AM in your friendships!”, “I AM in your churches!”, “I AM in your theatres!”, “I AM in your life!!”

Yes, this is a film of a great many of people who wrestle with God and the ways in which they encounter him. It is a wrestling that still happens today as we are confronted in dimly lit theatres and the oppression of the Christian Right’s cracking whip to resist wrestling with the one called “I AM” as apposed to the one called “I say”.

I’m sure, like me, there is much that you are wrestling with in Ridley Scott’s latest telling of Exodus; some of which may be fair. Yet let us wrestle with this freely as people who God has given a promised land of imagination, freedom of expression, creative artistic talents, and a living heart for the one true God. And to those who would turn a face of condemning judgement over those who dare to see beyond the confines of earthly empires and institutional structures; I say to you… LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!

Yes David Platt, Heaven is for Real!

HeavenI realize that I’m a nobody. I’m just a small house church leader in SE Calgary who’s voice is but a whisper in the midst of great speakers such as people like David Platt. But, I couldn’t help but cringe as I listened to these words in his post “Why You Should Not Believe in ‘Heaven is for Real“. Have we so lost our imaginations to the power of telling our story?

My mother lived to be 39 years old. I was 15 when we both were in a car accident in 1994 where she passed away and I would spend the next 3 months fighting for my life in the General Hospital Intensive Care Unit. Over that year I witnessed several miraculous experiences but one will be with me for the rest of my life.

I laid there, starring at the wall at the foot of my ICU bed listening to the beeps and the whirrs of the machines around me. Then a small pin light appeared at the foot of my bed. It grew over the next few minutes until it was the size of maybe a yoga ball that radiated all around the room. I didn’t really think or feel anything until a voice spoke to me from the light. My eyes filled up with tears and I could feel my self choking a bit as I heard my mother’s voice. It was warm and filled with love and only spoke a few words. She said, “You and your father will be ok.

It perplexed me in many ways that I won’t share here but I felt a great sense of hope and peace knowing that my mother was with Jesus. Perhaps that is what many of these experiences and stories of the miraculous are meant to mean; a struggle or paradox between our rationality and reason with the ever present tense of the Kingdom of hope and peace being near! Should we ever hide these stories? Should we be quiet out of the fear that others simply will not understand?

David Platt is right that several of the biblical authors also experienced prophetic visions of heaven with Isaiah seeing the Lord on a throne with his robe filling the Jerusalem temple and angels all around him (Isa. 6); Ezekiel envisioning fire lashing out with gleaming metal (Eze. 1); not of Paul’s vision, but the testimony/story of another man’s vision of the “third heaven” – “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” (2 Cor. 12:2) (Interesting to note here that Paul himself accepted the story of a fellow believer while leaving the wonders of it up to God); and of course John’s vision of doorways to heaven, thrones, and voices like trumpets (Rev. 4)! Yet each grappled with what words to use to describe what they saw and each were ostracized, judged, and told to be quiet by the priests and community around them much like those who share such stories today.

There were also many who experienced resurrection and coming back from the dead such as the young girl who Jesus laid his hand upon as she “awoke” (Matt. 9:18-26); a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17); and most famously, the story of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Again, you are correct David Platt that the scriptures do not speak of any stories or experiences that these people shared and yet, that does not mean they did not share any. What stories do you suppose Mary and Martha shared with the villagers and those they saw in their travels? What experiences could Lazarus have spoke of while being dead in the tomb? Who are we to say, or were you there?!

I don’t profess not to struggle with some of the details in people’s visions like Colton Burpo’s story. But I don’t doubt at all that they experienced something significant that greatly affected the trajectory of their lives! So in what ways can these visions and dreams speak to us today?

In the first sense, these events happened to these people and their experiences have deep and meaningful significance to them. They have a right to speak of them and share how God may have spoke into their lives! We may not understand or even agree with everything they share but, we cannot deny that they experienced something in their life and it is shaping who they are.

Secondly, by listening to their stories we can find symbols of hope! By witnessing their testimony and the radical transformation that it has on their lives, we find an epiphany of God’s presence, love, and recognition to our existence. Though we know only in part, God’s glory is still in these stories. They are visions of God’s Kingdom come near in both the personal experience of the individuals and the communal promise of hope to the greatest story ever told!

Perhaps the greatest way we can treat these stories is by taking the advice of James, being quick to listen and slow to speak so that whatever righteousness God might work (James 1:19-20), might be done so through His works and not our own. Or should we become like the Pharisees commanding the crowds to silent at Jesus’ presence?! I think not less the stones begin to cry out! (Luke 19:40) If we all were willing to cry out “The Kingdom of God is near!” without fear of the judgements of others, perhaps then yes David Platt, we will recognize heaven is.. for real!

Lastly David Platt, regarding Kevin Malarkey… Who are we to speak against a person’s birth right and family name let alone that of a boy?! Does not the bible speak of the significance to a person’s family name? These are names of importance, history, meaning, and they deserve respect and honour in any room! To demean and mock them with a tact of bullying is in no way an act of Christ discipleship!

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