Tag Archives: structure

“Only Love Can See”

People say love is blind, and there is an element of truth to that.  I think of the verse that says “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  But so often when the expression “love is blind” is used I think we are talking about infatuation.  Infatuation is blind.  But Love?  Love is not blind.  It is, in fact, the only force in the universe that enables us to see.

For the past couple years, I’ve been part of a small fellowship.  We’re kind of an oddity.  We’re small, and we meet like a home fellowship, but we ended up in possession (though no effort of our own) of this 182 year old church meeting house, built in 1829.  We were all somewhat puzzled.  We knew we didn’t need it, but the circumstances that brought it into our possession made us feel we had it for a purpose.  So, we met there, and kept asking the Lord “why do we have this?”  Some “meet-in-houses-only” Christians at times explored meeting with us, but the fact that we were meeting in a “church building” really was this huge stumbling stone, and so our meeting together with them never materialized.

I myself, before joining this little fellowship, found myself increasingly of that camp.  I felt so much of “building campaigns” and the like were a waste of time and money and were focused on things rather than relationships. I was increasingly of the mindset that homes were the the only model of church life that really would produce the kind of vibrant community of love that one sees at the end of the second chapter of Acts, one where people were loving each other so much that they were selling their possessions to help those among them who were in need.

But this little fellowship messed with my ideas.  I started going there because I had some old friends who were there, including the leader of the group, Craig.  I really wasn’t planning on being a part of them, but the first day I came, I remember feeling so at home just to worship with them, and I found myself being continually drawn back.  The group was in transition at that time, which meant a number of people left, but the smaller we got the more real we got with one another, and we transitioned from Craig sitting on a stool up front, to turning around the pews in a circle, to finally all sitting in a circle in the back of the room.  That was when we got puzzled.  Five or six people sitting in a circle in a vacant building.  Why not meet in a home?  Some of you reading this, maybe have the same question.  But, I now believe God allowed it to intentionally challenge my ideas.  I was so sure I knew what the “right” model was, and it was as if he was saying to me: “You’re missing the point.”

When I first arrived at this little fellowship, Craig was leading a discussion weekly on John 15, and though we have certainly had many discussions on many other books, chapters and verses since then, there is a sense that we haven’t left that chapter.  It’s helpful to understand this chapter by viewing it from the point of view of Jesus’ humanity.  He knew he was preparing to face an excruciatingly painful death.  When people are facing death, they tend to focus on the most key, most important things.  So what was on Jesus’ mind as he faced his imminent demise? In a word, Love.  If he had one parting word, one parting thought, it was that they love one another.  Yes, he said “keep my commands”, but then if there was any doubt as to what he meant, he said “This is my command: love one another.”

I wrote about this in an earlier essay on this blog.  There, I spoke of my reflections on Judas, and how heart-breaking it must have been to the other disciples to realize they were unaware of what was going on inside of him.  Only Jesus had known.  Why had he known?  Because he loved even Judas.  The disciples, by contrast, in those last moments when Jesus was pouring out his heart, still had not really learned to love one another.  They were still vying over who was better than the other, and because of all their jockeying for position, they were blind to what was happening right in front of their eyes.  Only love can see.

And how did Jesus know that the Pharisees were plotting to kill him?  Was it because he was just so wise in the wisdom of this world?  So often we read his words to them – the “eight woes” they are often called – and we hear the way we might say those words.  For years, I sort of heard Jesus saying “You guys are real jerks.  I really don’t care for you very much.”  But slowly as the Lord loved me in my own moments of hypocrisy (play-acting, pretending), I realized his tone of voice, even then, even in those eight woes, was far different than I had ever imagined.  Now when I read those eight woes, I hear a gentle, loving, chiding voice, pleading with everything in His power for them to see themselves, and cease from their destructive murderous behavior.  Was he serious?  Dead serious.  He knew how terribly harmful their behavior was, but his viewpoint was absolute and complete love.  It was for this reason that Paul the apostle, who was a self-proclaimed “pharisee of pharisees” could write “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

“You’re missing the point.”  Yes, I had been missing the point.  Where I met with other believers was not the point.  No more than the many things the pharisees brought up were the point – whether or not you wash your hands before eating, whether or not you fast, whether or not you consider picking stalks of grain to be “breaking the sabbath.” All these things missed the point.  The point, the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was Love.  Love God.  Love one another.  Love your enemies.  Far from making us blind, Love, true agape love, gives us eyes to see.

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Experiencing Authentic New Testament Christianity

Author’s note: Sorry to have been away so long.  The better part of this post was actually written last May, but the last year turned out to be very eventful, so my musings got put on hold.  This morning, I woke up with some thoughts that I wanted to put down in writing, but found the draft of this post instead, and realized it said a lot of what I had on my mind.

In my observation there seems to be a huge upsurge of people within the both the evangelical and charismatic Christian traditions seeking something more authentic in their Christianity.  Many are looking to the 1st century church and asking themselves: does what we do line up with what they did?  Does what we are doing look like what Jesus meant for the church to look like?  These are good questions, but at times I fear in our quest for “authentic New Testament Christianity” we may miss the point. Here are some of the points I hear from various different camps looking for authentic Christianity:

  • We should meet in houses, because that’s what the first church did
  • We should have spiritual fathers, like Paul’s relationship with Timothy
  • We should have/recognize modern-day apostles like there were in 1st century
  • We should be experiencing miracles like the 1st century church
  • We should be experiencing church growth like the first century church
  • We should have church structure that matches the first century church
  • Our church government needs to match the first century church

I don’t wish to argue the validity of any of the above statements.  They may all be true, but my concern is that all these points miss the main point.  And if we miss the main point, then our perspective on every other point (which includes those above) will be be wrongly skewed.

So what’s the main point?  When the first century church started out they didn’t know how they were going to do any of those things.  They had only three things, (1) Jesus had loved them in a way that completely broke them to the core, and ruined them for all else, (2) He had told them that they were to love one another in this same way (!), and (3) they knew they will completely and utterly incapable of doing so in their own power!  Point #2 ought to alarm us!  If it does not, than we do yet have a revelation of the depth and power of God’s love.  As I have said on other posts, the greatest miracle on Pentecost was not the tongues or the miracles that followed, but the fact that this group of misfits who just a few short weeks before had been vying for position, now miraculously began to love one another to the point that they were “selling their property and possessions and sharing them with all as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

So, it seems to me if we want to experience a Christianity like that which was experienced by the first century church (and I’m not sure we fully do, but that’s another subject altogether), we need to experience the same kind of love they did, and if we want to experience the same kind of love, then our only path is to gather together in prayer with others of like mind and ask Him to send His Spirit into our midst and empower us to be like, and to love like Him. (Acts 1:14)

“Alternative Church… Organic Church… what?”

I wasn’t sure what to name this blog. I had other names that stuck out at me more than Alternative Church, but they were already taken. My favorite is Organic Church, a term I coined for myself, but found someone else also coined the same term for themselves. I think I like that term because it paints a picture of what I want to be rather than what I don’t want to be. The word “Alternative” indicates there is something that one is reacting against — that is, an alternative is always an alternative to something. There has to be something you don’t want to have an alternative.

Organic on the other hand speaks of a vision of something that is as natural as breathing. Nothing artificial, nothing man-made. Growing naturally, being tended not cultivated. Not manipulated, but allowing it to be what it is naturally.

Still, alternative has some positive connotations for me, and most “alternatives” I have been exposed to came from a desire to have something more authentic, more “organic”, if the truth be told. Growing up, I spent more half my school years in what were called alternative schools. These schools were born out of trying to find methods of education that worked more effectively than the traditional methods. During what would have been considered grades 1-4, I was enrolled in free schools, except for 1 year when I was home schooled. No we were not Christians, which is what most today associate the home school movement, we were hippies. My Dad was an atheist, and my mother agnostic. The home schooling occurred because there were no good alternative schools available where we were living for that year. I have fond memories of trying to dodge the truant officer (we were certainly ahead of our time)!

The Free Schools you can read about at the link (but it’s wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt), but to summarize, they were schools with very few rules or expectations. The idea was to give freedom to kids to learn in their own way at their own pace. Though the schools themselves had age ranges, they did not separate the children into grades, give grades, or have traditional classrooms. Teachers all went by their first names (yes, you could say it was a “hippie school”).

I can honestly say there were some major drawbacks to this method of schooling, though some aspects of it worked well for me personally. Being naturally inquisitive, I sought out opportunities to learn. I remember when I was 8, I had a math teacher named Lou Fabrizio. All the students loved him. We all thought he was “super cool” – long hair he wore in a pony tail, and an easy teasing manner that went over well with everyone. One day, he happened to mention Algebra, and I asked him what it was. He explained it to me in such a way that I understood and actually found fascinating. So at the age 8 I had my first exposure to algebraic equations. It was only years later in the public school system that I found out that Algebra was not typically introduced until 7th or 8th grade at least (I don’t know if that’s still true, but it was then).

I also believe the schools were very positive for fostering creativity. I wrote and bound my first book during that period. It was called “The Cat Who Had Too Many Kittens”, and was about a cat that had an astronomically large number of kittens, and all the trouble it caused her. My best friend and I wrote and starred in a musical that we performed for our families. I also wrote poetry, many short stories, and was apprenticed for a time to the improvisational theater group Living Stage. Where we did “miss it” was that we went to the far extreme in the other direction. Believing structure was the enemy, we had almost no structure. For me that worked okay, since I am fairly self-directed, and thrive in that kind of atmosphere, but for other students not so well. Structure was not the enemy. Killing the human spirit and the natural exuberance of the children was.

After that, from 5th to 9th grades I went into the normal public school system. Talk about culture shock! To make matters worse it was a public school system in a rural area, which had been largely untouched by the social movements my family had been so much a part of. I instinctively knew that my past life did not fit into the frame of reference of those around me, and for most of my public school years hid my previous school experience from even my closest friends. Nonetheless, I did well academically. My brother not so well. However, not fitting in with the “brainy” crowd, who all thought I was a little weird, I soon was hanging with “The Outsiders” (S.E. Hinton was a novelist I and a number of my friends read back then, and we all related to “the Outsiders”. We didn’t call ourselves that really, but remembering I find the term and the mindset fits us well).

My mother seeing that I was languishing in the public schools suggested private school, but I didn’t want to go to a school with a bunch of “preppies” (the word at that time was a term of contempt among my crowd). Thank God for the “alternative” that presented itself, which was an alternative school I ended up attending for grades 10-12. This school had taken the best ideas of the free schools and yet added necessary structure. It was far from “preppie” (though we did have one or two token preppies in our student body, but they too were part of our community).

We had classrooms, but they were small, and had round tables at which everyone sat instead of desks in rows. We had grades, but the entire community of the school had daily and weekly interactions with each other across grade levels through school meetings at which everyone, student and teacher alike had a voice. Our classes emphasized traditional subjects of math, English, history, literature, and foreign language, but also gave equal importance to philosophy, art, music, drama and environmental studies. We had no “study halls” instead students all had several “free periods” each day which we could use as we saw fit — hanging out, studying, working in the art studio, playing music, or debating philosophy on the back porch (my personal favorite). And, as in the free schools, all the teachers were known on a first name basis (to this day some teachers I can only remember by their first names: Roger my English teacher, Tom my biology teacher, etc). I honestly believe that school changed my life. Instead of languishing, I thrived, and my heart came to life again.

What does all this have to do with church? Am I saying that we should have “hippie churches”. No, not exactly. Wouldn’t exactly work since the hippie movement is by and large gone. It’s really kind of a parable of church life today. Maybe we can learn lessons from these folks who went before us who were looking for more authentic and organic in models for educating children, in the same way that many today are looking for more authentic models of Christianity and Christian community. Can we learn from their mistakes as well as their successes? The free schools made the mistake of seeing “structure” as the enemy. Today I think sometimes we in the “alternative” Christian community are making the mistake of seeing “institutions” or “programs” as the enemy. In fact, neither is the problem. You may beg to differ, but actually it is possible to experience true community in an institution. I did at my alternative high school (yes, isn’t a high school an “institution”).

We run the risk of thinking the answer lies in finding the right model. We also run the risk of becoming reactionary. The free school movement didn’t keep kids from getting damaged, we just got damaged in different ways from what happened in the public schools (just as we did also in fact thrive in different ways).

In the same way, if we develop new models of church life, new models of Christian community only as a reaction to what we see not working we may find ourselves throwing out necessary components which in our minds we attach to what didn’t work, but may in themselves be neutral, just like the free schools threw out all structure because they saw certain school structures stifled natural childhood creativity and exuberance. History is full of many more examples. Instead we may need to see structures as subservient to function, just as the alternative high school I went to embraced the structures that helped them while throwing off the ones that did not. The catch is we’ve gotta know what we are for, and not just what we are against.

So what are we for? I’m still learning myself, but I believe Hebrews 10 hold as clue. I’ll write about that next time. I’ve rambled enough for now.