Frank Viola on Postchurch: Part 2
The postchurch perspective fails six tests of legitimacy.

In my first post, I argued that the primary text used to support the postchurch viewpoint is not about the nature of the church at all. Instead, it's about the process of excommunication. Now I have more evidence against the postchurch viewpoint. In my mind, it fails to pass six important tests.

The Original Language Test

New Testament scholarship agrees that the word ekklesia (translated "church") meant a local community of people who assemble together regularly. The word was used for the Greek assembly whereby those in a city were "called forth" from their homes to meet (assemble) in the town forum to make decisions for the city. The Christian ekklesia is a community of people who gather together and possess a shared life in Christ.

As such, the ekklesia as used in New Testament literature is visible, touchable, locatable, and tangible. You can visit it. You can observe it. And you can live in it. Biblically speaking, you could not call anything an ekklesia unless it assembled regularly together.

The Epistle Test

Most of the New Testament's twenty-one epistles were written to local churches–ekklesias–in various cities. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth, for instance. There was an actual, physical, locatable, visit-able body of believers that met together in the home of Gaius. He did the same for the church in Thessalonica, Colosae, Philippi, Laodicea, etc. (Col. 4:16).

Those who belong to a postchurch "church" should ask themselves, Can a person write a letter to my church? Can it be received by the church and read together by all of its members at the same time?

The Visitation Test

If you were living in the first century, you could literally visit any of the churches.

You could visit the church in Jerusalem in A.D. 35 and meet Peter, James, John and Mary, the mother of Jesus. You could visit the church in Corinth and sit in a living room in Gaius' home and talk with Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. The house of Chloe could visit the church in Corinth and attend its meetings (1 Cor. 1:11). And on and on.

Question: If someone comes to your town, can they locate and visit your church? Can they meet the members and stay in their home for a week?

The Consistency Test

Three common critiques that postchurch advocates level against the institutional form of church are:

1) It breeds low commitment.

2) It feeds the consumerist, individualistic Christianity that plagues the Western church today.

3) It produces little transformation in the lives of the people who are part of it.

August 03, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 29 comments

Karen K

August 24, 2009  7:37am

Frank, This article makes good points but I am concerned it may be misleading. You start the article by stating, "Alongside of the missional church movement, the emerging church movement, and the house church movement, there is a mode of thinking that I call "postchurch Christianity." You didn't mention "alongside megachurches or seeker-sensitive churches" so it gives the impression that you are closely associating post-church Christianity with missional, emerging or house church. That may not have been your intention, but it is the impression I got as I was reading it. I was just having a conversation with someone who was very skeptical of house churches for the very reasons you give for post-church Christianity. The problem is I have been in both emerging churches and a house church and they are nothing like what you describe here for post-church Christianity. It gets tiring having to justify my involvement in a house church because of stereotypes that go around like this. I have been part of a house church for the past three years. We have a leadership council structure, are very connected with other churches/pastors in the area, committed to one another–much more so than the megachurches I have spent my life in. There is more accountability and fellowship than I have ever had anywhere else. We are not a disgruntled group of renegades running away from the Church. We simply found it easier to practice forgiving one another, bearing each others burdens etc when we actually were small and intimate enough to truly know each other. We also felt our money could be spent for better local causes than bills for a building. And we value intergenerational fellowship which is hard to find in segregated larger churches. We are a network of house churches so we continue to grow while also maintaining intimacy. And we are very involved in reaching out to our local community. Its more like 1st century church than anything else I have experienced.

Report Abuse

Mick

August 17, 2009  6:22am

Frank, You seem to be missing the actual point, and that is that in every traditional/house/organic church people try to be apart of, they find the same mixed gospel message. The problem is not the form, it's the mixed message of law and grace! We need to stop arguing about what 'form' is correct and start talking about the actual problem. 'What is the gospel? Is it a mixed coveanant of law and grace, or is it a new covenant of grace founded on the perfect finished work of Christ upon the cross? This is the very question that the early church Apostles, elders and leaders came together to discuss in the council of Jerusalem - we need another council of Jerusalem for today.

Report Abuse

Seipp

August 13, 2009  10:46pm

Frank, Great observations. My next question, however is: How many existing churches - traditional churches could pass a "church" test? Many of the "one anothers" don't exist. More importantly, we err when we use "Ecclesia" as the measuring stick towards church "success". Names do not equal purpose. The church was not created to "Gather", It was, however, called to gather for a purpose... Many traditional churches need to revisit the reason they gather together from a Biblical perspective and find those areas that are missing. If only one spiritual gift within a body of believers is being used, can it really be called a church - at least from a Biblical definition of what is supposed to be going on there? Great thought provoking stuff! Peace! ;) http://missionalreformation.wordpress.com

Report Abuse

Heather W

August 12, 2009  12:30pm

Frank, I read this and agree with you on some levels, but on other levels I am nervous. I just visited an organic church, an intentional community, where the themes of commitment and community ran so high that it was actually oppressive. To be part of their church you had to take a vow (!?!?) to be part of that church and everything it does for the rest of your life. While I applaud these peoples' dedication to the eternal purpose and so forth, and overall the church was very alive and functional, it really was a bit frightening that there was little room for the Holy Spirit to lead anyone in any direction that didn't completely revolve around the activities of that church. I very much dislike the word "commitment." Was it Wayne Jacobsen who years ago pointed out that it is missing from the NT? I myself would prefer the word "devotion" and "devoted" which is more represented in the book of Acts, yet seems to have a slightly different overtone than "commitment." When people talk about commitment they seem less heart-focused to me than if they talk about devotion. And the fact is, even in the NT, while there were visible, tangible groups of believers meeting here and there, no one talked about being committed "to the group" as a whole, but rather being devoted, "to one another." Philip, being "devoted" to his brothers and sisters, could still easily be "led by the spirit into the wilderness..." and no one would question whether or not he was still part of the church.. (who sent him? did anyone sign off on it? did he make sure he was functioning in harmony with the rest of the believers first? no...but he could come and go as the Lord directed and still not be unattached to the body...) There's a slightly different vibe then between our fears about loss of commitment and the altogether never mentioned Biblical call to devotion.....but the distinction there is one that I think makes a huge difference when it comes to describing the type of freedom and fervent love we are called to walk in relative to the rest of the church - both freedom and true knitting together elements expressed at the same time... Just some thoughts...

Report Abuse

Susan

August 09, 2009  8:45pm

This article was very timely, helpfully giving me language for some checks I've felt in my heart as I engage in conversations with others about church. I'm grateful.

Report Abuse

Frank Viola

August 08, 2009  5:42pm

I appreciate all the great comments, challenges, and questions. Very thought-provoking. One of my favorite texts in the Bible is "we know in part." I think this is especially true as it relates to the church. We're all learning on this journey into God's heart for the church, putting our parts together to try and see the whole. So I'm very thankful for the dialogue and the push-back questions. I'm going to be out of pocket for a while so I won't be able to follow this conversation very closely here. Therefore, if you would like to dialogue with me further or have any specific questions you'd like me to answer, please feel free to email me at violabooks@aol.com. I'm quite accessible that way. Yours in the Lamb, Frank.

Report Abuse

Chad Hall

August 08, 2009  5:32pm

Frank, These are two of the better posts on Ur in a long while. Thanks for the clear and compelling thoughts. Well done.

Report Abuse

Jon Zens

August 08, 2009  12:20pm

Jesse – You raise some good points. I would like to respond briefly to some of them. First, while it is true that the NT letters circulated beyond the original locale, the point remains that the NT letters assume believers will be in committed relationships in the area where they live. There were times when Christians were on the run, or forced to move, but the assumption is that such folks would settle down somewhere & be in fellowship with others. Aquilla & Priscilla are examples of people who moved several places as the Lord led, and then had "ekklesia in their home." As to your observation about community looking very different in the 21st century, that is certainly true, but it is still the case that some NT contours will remain constant in all centuries. The DNA of the ekklesia blossoms in line with some basics in all eras of history. For example, the 58 'one-anothers' in the NT assume deepening relationships in the setting where you live. How can we bear one another's burdens without the context of ongoing relationships? How can an issue be "taken to the ekklesia" without the reality of a committed group? How much sense does my responsibility to be longsuffering with you make if I only see you 5 times a year? Regarding your statements about the need for apostolic leadership – all ekklesias have access to the apostles' teachings in the NT. There are mature gifts in the body today that can help ekklesias with concerns, but the reference point is still the original apostolic guidelines in the NT. There are no positions of authority in the ekklesia, only functions of servanthood at the bottom of the ladder (Matt.20:25-28). Of course, any problem can occur in several contexts – institutional or organic or whatever. But I think Frank's contention that the post-church practice fails these tests is nevertheless a valid observation. I think we all agree that "worship is all of life." But the NT assumes that the Christian life will be lived out among the brethren in a geographical setting. When Paul begins to talk about "the worthy walk" in Eph.4, he starts with life in the Body – longsuffering & forbearing with one another, etc. Eph.3:10 teaches that "through the ekklesia" the manifold wisdom of God is to be revealed to a watching world and the watching heavenly powers. He apparently has ordained for this reality to come to expression through committed groups of believers that can model a new paradigm – a dynamic context where issues can be resolved and disputes settled (Matt.18:15-18; 1 Cor.5 & 6). Frank's main point about the word 'ekklesia' in the NT is that the bulk of the time it refers to a concrete manifestation of Christ's body connected to a geographical reference point. Christ builds his ekklesia in places all over the world, not in some generic, a-geographical manner. Again, Eph.3:10 assumes a living expression of God's wisdom through Christians functioning in places like Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. Examples of post-church thinking abound. Here is one I received the other day from an e-columnist – "I love my computer because there is where my congregation assembles."

Report Abuse

Pal Madden

August 07, 2009  10:05pm

There are followers of Christ exemplifying a more authentic life of Christ in the Institutional church than the organic, and visa versa. That's not the point. It's like the song says, "Home is where the heart is, it's where we started, it's where we belong." It was the empowerment the early church had that was usurped by Rome, and foiled the power of the church by removing it from the home and placing it in impersonal environments where there is little transparency, relational development, or penetration and transformation of the culture. The need today is to lead ALL to take HOLD of that which Christ took hold of us, to take ownership of the responsibility vessel through which He pours out His life. They, those in the early church were "weak", mostly illiterate, without efficient means, and yet were transforming the culture in the midst of athe Roman Empire, who despised the Revolution taking place in their midst. Rome moved in, and took it over with legalism and unlimited financial resources. God uses the "simple" to confound the "wise". Hmm...the "Simple Church", (the home church 'movement'), confusing the "wise", those from seminaries, the institutional structures built after Rome's invasion into the SIMPLICITY of the early church. Wolfgang Simpson, a Home Church leader says, "As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots, back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history." This quote leads us to something deeper - the belief we are at the end of world history. We should look deep at the culture, the unrestrained corruption of sinful humanity as never before seen, and the church with little power or transformation. Is there any doubt. God is leading the church back home. It's where the heart is. It's where we started. It's where we belong. The IC will not be able to stand the pressure it is under for much longer. It is going to fall like a house of cards. It is built around performance. It is built around rhetorical oratory, pastor worship, and worse, it is grown from Roman, pagan roots. We are at the end of world history, and Christ's return is closer at hand than any of us could ever imagine.

Report Abuse

Jesse

August 07, 2009  9:23am

Both of these articles are very interesting, and I appreciate your work very much Frank. I also downloaded "Reimagining Church" and am enjoying that read as well. However, I want to try to be a positive voice for the postchurch position, both by offering a few "push-backs", and trying to explain a bit more my postchurch perspective. First, one of your primary biblical arguments is that 1st cent. churches were specific locations, evidenced by the letters written to such churches. However, these letters were also distributed amongst many Christians, passed along, and even James writes to the tribes "scattered abroad." While it's true Paul's letters were written to specific churches, these are not the full extent of Christian community in the 1st cent. Second, (and IMO this is a big problem), we should not be striving to reproduce *exactly* the 1st cent. church. I'm pretty sure you would agree, and for the most part you avoid that argument, but I feel like when you make these parallels and comparisons regarding location to a 1st cent. community when travel, communication, etc. was totally different, you are being silly. Community in the 21st cent. can look very different and still be community. Third, if we are to take the 1st cent. church as our model, then we would need more authoritarian apostolic leaders functioning as Paul and Peter did. The basis of the NT epistles are Paul writing to correct what he saw as mistakes in the churches, and then Christians took these words as normative. Should we appoint similar leaders amongst organic churches and give them such authority? Fourth, the "consistency" "one another" and "purpose" tests may apply to some church situations (post, institutional or organic), it is a broad and unfair claim to say all postchurch examples fail these tests. To me, postchurch does not mean "against" or "no more" church, but rather moving "beyond" church, recognizing that church is not where the Christian primarily lives out his/her Christian walk. God's people are living and functioning as his body in many different ways throughout the week, and not only in a specific, local, gathered setting. That *may* be part of it, but isn't necessary and *certainly* is not the extent. This is my biggest complaint with any church model: It purports that this particular model (whatever is en vogue) is the highest example of God's life. Rather, all of life (break the sacred/secular divide) is the highest example of God. Following the incarnation, believing that God's presence is everywhere, and striving to exemplify Christ at all times in all places leads me to be postchurch - moving beyond church into the rest of my life. Two final, specific points: One, I am astonished, Frank, that you would say you do not believe the NT teaches a universal church of believers. This is a core Christian teaching and for you to seemingly deny that is a big deal. Perhaps I misread your response to Justin above; if so please clarify. Second, I have yet to see in your book or your blog posts specific examples of the "postchurch" perspective you are critiquing. More than anything, it seems to me you are talking about a select number of individuals you know personally, but without any source material how can you discredit the perspective? Please offer websites, books or individuals who are official proponents of the postchurch perspective. Thanks again - and peace.

Report Abuse