maandag 24 maart 2014

Time for new wineskins!

The most common form of ‘’doing church’’ is in the form of the audience-stage model. We see this model in the New Testament in Acts 19:9-10 in Ephesus where the apostle Paul for two years preached daily in the hall of Tyrraneus in the centre of the city until everyone in the region of Asia had heard the gospel of Christ.  In Peter’s Pentecost gospel preaching in Acts 2 we find an outdoor variety of the same audience-stage model. We also see the same style in the gospel preaching in the temple in Acts 3:11-4:4. These examples show that there is certainly a place for organising Christian meetings that follow this model. However, about the normal spiritual family-life of the people of God we read that the broke bread in their homes and that when they met together everyone contributed something during the meeting: What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up (1 Cor. 14:26). In other words, the normal meeting style of the family of God was highly participatory. Of course even then there were special occasions where a visiting speaker would teach for a long period like Paul did in Troas when he knew he had to leave the next morning and so used the opportunity to teach until midnight (Acts 20:7-12). Nevertheless, this seems to have been the exception rather than the norm in the early Christian church. Until the Constantinian era Christians met in this way but with the conversion of Roman emperor Constantine in 312 AD things changed dramatically. 

Constantine and his mother, Helena, did like what all Roman emperors before him did, namely build places of worship in honour of his preferred deity all over the Roman Empire. Because of the Christians dislike for temples they followed the model of the common public building, the basilica, and build basilica in honour of Christ all throughout the empire as places for the Christians to meet. At the same time there were large numbers of pagans who now wanted to become Christians. Some with honourable intentions, others simply because it was now more beneficial to be a Christian than to be a pagan.  This influx could have virtually obliterated the churches' biblical foundation had they not found a way to instruct the new believers en masse in large meetings in the basilica.  The more personal discipleship course or catechumenate - the process to teach new believers the essentials of the faith- was shortened from three years to only forty days. In order to compensate the normal participatory meetings on the Lord’s day made way for lectures and sermons to an audience whose participation was now reduced to participating in the singing of hymns. This model has persisted as the dominant model ever since and even in churches that have home groups or cell-groups to provide some room for participation the Sunday meeting with the lecture is still seen as the actual going to church. While this style of doing church has certain advantages it also creates two classes of believers, those who are allowed to participate on stage and those who are not. Those who are on-stage are expected to perform well and otherwise can expect serious criticism, those who are content to be simply part of the audience are expected to follow the lead and participate in the areas where they are allowed to participate and listen attentively to what they are told. In some extreme cases the focus becomes the religious entertainment and gratification of the feelings of audience whereby those on stage basically have become reli-performers. We must ask ourselves the question whether our current model of doing church facilitates the working together of various ministries in the family of God to produce the mature believers that Ephesians 4:11-13 talks about? I suggest that we tend to perpetuate childlike dependency and spiritual immaturity and as a result people are tossed about by every wind of doctrine or new religious fad that Ephesians 4:14 warns against. In the light of this we must wonder whether it is not time to use different wine skins? More participatory ways of celebrating our family meetings as the people of God!

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