Frank Viola on the Postchurch Perspective
Is "where two or more are gathered" a church?

There is a growing phenomenon in the body of Christ today. 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."

The postchurch brand of Christianity is built on the premise that institutional forms of church are ineffective, unbiblical, unworkable, and in some cases, dangerous. Institutionalization is not compatible with ekklesia. So say postchurch advocates.

But the postchurch view goes further saying, "any semblance of organization whatsoever . . . any semblance of leadership...is wrong and oppressive. Church is simply when two or three believers gather together in any format. Whenever this happens, church occurs."

Here are some examples of what you might hear a postchurch advocate say:

"Sally and I had coffee at Starbucks last week. That was church."

"I get together with two other men once a month at Sonny's BBQ. That's church for us."

"I travel a great deal and whenever I visit Christians in other cities, we're having church together."

"I live in Dallas, TX. Last week, I talked to my friend on the phone for an hour. He lives in Miami, FL. The week before I talked with a friend who lives in Portland, OR. We were having church on the phone. I belong to the same church that they do."

"I don't attend any Christian meetings. I have church on the Internet. I belong to several Christian discussion groups and social networks, and that's church for me."

"I don't understand how people can talk about church planting? How can a church be planted when we are already the church? I'm the church. You're the church. So just be the church."

To my mind, all of the above reflects a redefinition of ekklesia as it is found, used, and understood in the New Testament. No first-century Christian would have used "church" in this way. While there's certainly nothing wrong with fellowshipping with Christians at Starbucks, on the phone, or through the Internet, the biblical meaning of ekklesia is something quite different.

The biblical text that postchurch advocates hang a great deal of their doctrine on is Matthew 18: 20:"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

But it's important to read this verse in context:

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:15-20)
August 03, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 42 comments

Mic7

September 18, 2010  10:22am

The question is...what is the church? According to the word it is Jerusalem above which is the mother of us all...the olive tree in which we are engrafted into by faith. It's not a gathering together of any kind in the natural...it is established in the spiritual through faith by God. Note: tares cannot exist in the true church since we are members by faith (only believers can abide). Local churches and denominations can contain tares as well as wheat since you can join without faith. Does that mean that there is no place for organized churches? No...but I would challenge anyone to find a local church or denomination that operates the way Paul instructed in the bible. Do the people come together with a revelation, a psalm, tongues, and interpretation? Does spirit-led,God given prophecy take place so that each may be edified? Do the people encourage one another all the more as they see the day approaching? No...most churches have a praise and worship service and sit and listen to a Pastor give his sermon. The members rarely participate. Most organized churches are about the building of that church and the pastors vision...not about building the kingdom of God or about exhorting the people to continue in the faith...and many of them have become nothing more than social gatherings. As one who does actually continue to attend an organized local church I don't see how you can point the finger at those who have left as not following the word of God when the churches themselves don't follow the word of God either.

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Law Professor

March 22, 2010  12:40pm

Frank Viola is dangerously (and likely self-interestedly) quoting Matthew 18:20 out of context. Jesus was, in Matthew 18, engaging in a time-honored rabbinical tradition: the linking of thoughts one to another, in a stream of consciousness–a common Hebraic poetry format. Examples can be seen in other parts of the scriptures, e.g., Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, or in ancient rabbinical literature. Thus, there is not necessarily an overarching "context" involved; one can do great mischief to the meaning of Jesus' words if they try to insert one. Jesus starts his discussion with children and the Kingdom of God, then, picking up the children theme, expresses another thought: the abuse of children by evil doers, and what those evil doers ought to do with themselves (i.e., better to commit suicide than lead children astray). He then, picking up on the evil doer theme, discusses what one ought to do with evil in their lives (cut it out at all costs), He then mentions children again in the passage (don't despise them) and how he looks after all of them and us, His lost sheep. Then, picking up the evil doer theme again, He discusses what to do with those who do so in a church body context, how one ought to have two or three witnesses to confront them, then picking up on the two or three theme, how whatever we ask in the Father's name will be given if two or three are in agreement, then, finally, again picking up the two/three theme, God is with us when we're gathered in groups of two or three. These are free-flowing thoughts, linked by by theme or common words–-again, very much a Hebraic poetry format–-but not by overall context, to try to do so does violence to the truths Jesus was conveying. These truths are not linked in a pedantic manner, such that the last "two or three" reference in verse 20 need be related to church discipline, shepherds, sheep, evil doers, children, or suicide by drowning! We need to take the text for what it is, understanding that Jesus was an easterner speaking to easterners. His ministry was not to the gentiles, and He most certainly did not speak to them or their mindsets. For several sterling examples of transcendent truths put into linear and deductive western thought, see the Pauline epistles; don't try to order Jesus' thoughts around western logic, you will almost invariably come to the wrong conclusions.

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Michael Collum

March 19, 2010  8:57am

I think Frank Viola means post Catholic version of Church . Protestantism is no different . Different traditions different sacraments but same old sacramental structure to receive grace just with pretense . Begin with grace but made perfect with the works of the law . Since epistles were sent to churches then the internet opens up the definition of what church is . letters can be sent through the internet . works just fine . the church is best described in Ephesians 2:22 this is the invisible church . This is the church Christ builds and the gates of hell will not prevail against it . But the physical location church doesn't even measure up to the standard of "Worshipping in Spirit and in truth" (let alone the being prevailed against) We've gone back to the mentality, We worship on Mount Samaria but you worship in the Temple at Jerusalem . and denominationalism is so Paul and Apollos when Christ died for us all . The central location form of Church is actually very old testament . you have a temple and a priest of varying labels but same old same old . "Post Church" Christianity is really the end of Brand Name Christianity . and perhaps the end of tolerating false teachings that are bundled in like that . there is more dialogue than in the lecture hall format . Though i attend a central location form of ecclesia . i see the harder to nail down version (Jesus minus the corporation) the future of the faith .

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punkestoy

January 18, 2010  9:36am

the post-church paradigm is obviously less necessary or attractive to those content in a traditional church expression. for those of us who have encountered dysfunctional church after dysfunctional church or have a lesser tolerance for all of the cultural baggage that tends to get fused to the american churchgoing experience, it is affirming to know that god is wireless and continues to meet us creatively–outside of "the four walls", which are seldom ever the safe zone those invested in it believe it to be. the barna study reveals that home church is the way of future. ladies and gentlemen, the external institution is passing away and we are returning to the underground. see some of you there sooner and some of you later.

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Messy Christian

December 07, 2009  12:31am

Unfortunately, most churches seem to KEEP the folks in there spiritually mature. I mean "spiritually immature". Apologies.

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Messy Christian

December 07, 2009  12:29am

Michael said: "Now I believe he has starved himself spiritually by not going to an organized Bible Studies, Worship" Being in church doesn't necessarily mean you'll be fed spiritually. I did all the right things once upon a time, and was still spiritually starved because the church was feeding me the kind of "food" that you'd call "junk food". Prosperity gospel stuff, some even outright cult-like nonsense. On the other hand, when I was a much younger Christian, just starting out, the church was invaluable in feeding me what I needed to grow mature. However, after a time I needed more and it couldn't give me the nourishment anymore. Of course the role of the pastor is to ensure that the Christian is taught so that he can mature. Unfortunately, most churches seem to KEEP the folks in there spiritually mature. The more spiritually mature folk are thus forced to listen to sermons catered to young Christians most of the time - what are these people to do then? This is the third year I'm out of the church, and I would say that being without a church or community has been both a relief and also a frustrating thing. Frustrating because I do love being with other Christians; a relief because I just can't stand another week in the pew listening to sermons I've heard a thousand times before and going through the motions, pretending that I'm part of the community when I'm not, really. Part of the blame is at my feet though. There's a special skill one needs to navigate the 21st century church. And boy do you need lots of maturity and patience for that...

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Messy Christian

December 07, 2009  12:15am

I think Christians need a community, an ekklesia. For a while I was of the post-church mentality, and I think it was a reflex reaction after years of enduring spiritual abuse from my church. But I now realise that the period of churchlessness was beneficial for me. I needed to recover from the trauma, and for to rebuild my trust, to recentre my life on Christ instead of performance-oriented religion. It also allowed me to restore myself - I have a lot of stuff in my personality and emotional life that is preventing me from being in a community - ESPECIALLY a community as flawed as the church's. While although I do not advocate churchlessness for everyone, I think it's necessary for some. WE shouldn't put God in a box when it comes to him dealing with his children. For me, being churchless was good. It saved my mind, literally. But now I'm aware that I want to be in a community; and that I want to contribute to the community rather than lookat them askance and wonder what they can do for me. This maturity and growth came from my years of being away from the church, believe it or not.

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davidll

October 11, 2009  9:42pm

I disagree that "tell it to the church" means going to the local denominational church. One of the principles of exegisis is historical context. What did this passage mean to the original hearers? Did it mean go to the local denomination church? – no, because at that stage the church did not exist. The church began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. In Matthew 18 all you had was Jesus and the 12 disciples. Jesus attempted to be involved in the local religious institution of the time – the synagogue but was thrown out (Luke 4). Then he spent most of his ministry in the market place or in peoples homes. Eg Samartian woman at the well (John 4), Rich young ruler (Luke 18), Eating at Zaccheus house (Luke 19). Therefore people who share their faith, encourage, love one another at work, on public transport, at a restaurant is not necessarily unbiblical. Remember the man in Mark 9 who was casting out demons but did not follow the twelve. Jesus said do not stop him. When Paul was in prison was he not part of the church just because he didn't attend a Sunday service and a mid week small group? Salvation is by faith, not attendance or membership, and the Christian life consists on loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself.

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Alan PT

October 04, 2009  3:13pm

The condemnation in the tone of alot of the comments here helps to re-affirm my post-church experience. Every person I know who is post-church wants to be in authentic Christian community they just find the current institutional churches more harming to their faith then enhancing.

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Joey

September 17, 2009  6:45am

Amber, I believe that you have totally misunderstood Frank's article. I think he is clearly saying that he DOES believe that Jesus meant exactly what He said about "telling it to the church". That is the whole point. It doesn't make sense that the 2 or 3 are the church if they are the ones telling it to the church. Get it?

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