What should Church really be all about?
Is the Church the really best it could have been … ?
It’s time to tie things together in a practical sense. It’s all very well having good intentions and creating a theological foundation, but the proof is in the pudding (another strange image, where do I find these?) We need to suggest ways of implementing Hebraic Church, even if we start with careful tentative steps.
We start by reviewing our seven big thoughts: Remember, don’t analyse (connecting with God). Function is to be preferred over form (connecting with God’s plans). How real is your faith? How Jewish is your Jesus? The Bible is God’s mouthpiece. Do the Jews have any divine favour? Is there real life in your church?
These should form the bedrock of where we will go next, and here’s how.
Remember, don’t analyse shows us the importance of divine encounters. We need to provide frameworks so that this is normal in our gatherings.
Function is to be preferred over form encourages us to see purpose not just in ourselves but in all of God’s creation.
How real is your faith? encourages us to trust God in everything and not to put limits on His actions or intentions.
How Jewish is your Jesus? reminds us of the cultural context of our Saviour and what can be gained by a corresponding understanding of his Jewish origins.
The Bible is God’s mouthpiece teaches us that the Bible is alive and is God’s principle means of communication to us.
Do the Jews have any divine favour? compels us to re-evaluate the Church’s treatment of the Jewish people and to be an agent of change.
Is there real life in your church? encourages us to have real expectations of God working in our lives and that He has created us all to worship using the gifts that He has given us.
Now, before we move on, we must accept that there are many churches in our country that already fulfil these seven criteria and my message to them would be more power to your elbow! Just keep doing it! It is not my intention to fix what ain’t broken. At least for these churches I have provided some context for their thoughts and activities and hopefully much food for thought.
For the rest of us (including myself) there could be a great adventure up ahead and the next stage is figuring out how theory can become practice.
We should first look at the conventional model of the institutional Western Church. It has lasted for many centuries and it only started crumbling around the 1970/1980s, when Christians started exploring new expressions of Church, such as the house church, or the more recent Fresh Expressions initiative.
The model is a Greek one, imposed on Christians from that point in the 4th Century AD when State Christianity, Christendom, was born. The accent was on control, with the professional Christians (clergy) intent on keeping the others (laity) compliant. As Christianity was now the State religion you had to be a Christian to flourish in the Roman Empire, so overnight thousands of sun-worshipping pagans were now Christians, the transition made easier by retaining their annual jamboree on December 25th and just shifting the object of worship from the sun god to the Son of God. The problem is that few of these new “Christians” had a clue what they had signed up to as Bibles were not available in the common language and most couldn’t read anyway. So the clergy were free to do what they wanted. Under the emperor, buildings were constructed, based on the Greek governmental models (basilicas), where the masses could be seated in such a way that they could all face the principle speaker, declaiming from the front on a raised platform. These buildings were called churches and, at a stroke, the identity of the Body of Christ was skewed. Previous to this individual Christians were the Church, the ekklesia, the “called out ones”, meeting in homes and in small halls. Now the church was re-defined as the building in which they met and, most importantly and tragically, you couldn’t be a Christian unless you met inside this building. Inside you were saved, outside you were lost.
It was control. The laity were herded into these buildings and told what they had to do in order to get to heaven, something they were told to yearn for because life on Earth was particularly horrid at that time. So much for the Christian life! Inside the “church” they would receive instructions from the bishop or priest, who spoke from the raised platform, dressed in finery in order to display his badge of office as God’s spiritual representative. To be saved involved external actions called sacraments, from baptism to extreme unction, elements that are still a feature of the Catholic Church today.
It was a thoroughly Greek experience. Church became a ritual and the whole life of the laity revolved around these observances, as the clergy had the power over life and death and could even withdraw heavenly privileges from their superstitious victims. There was no life and little love, it was simply endured as a fact of life. Some bucked the trend over time, but the intention here is just to show the normal Christian life that existed for hundreds of years since the 4th Century, remaining in general form even since the Reformation, when true biblical teaching became available to individuals and many broke free from the ritualistic life.
This model is still with us, not as an oppressive force but as a relic from history. These church buildings are still with us, you’d be hard-pressed to find a village in England that does not have examples. There is often a beauty to them and ironically they are often seen as places of quiet and peacefulness – the irony is purely due to the fact that the serenity is due to their lack of worshippers, apart from some elderly folk who have worshipped there since their young days, when the places were full.
This is an extract from the book, Hebraic Church, available for £10 at http://www.sppublishing.com/hebraic-church-101-p.asp