Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

Free The Church


My Thoughts on “Reimagining Church”

Reimagining Church book cover

Published on: Oct 2, 2008

A couple months ago Jeanette Viola sent me an email asking me to read Frank’s new book, and to review it in my blog. I was flattered that I was asked. Does this mean I have developed a web presence of note now? I agreed, and Mike Morrell of the Ooze sent me a copy. I apologize to both the Viola’s and Morrell for not getting the book read in a more timely fashion. Once I started reading it, I found it to be a very easy read and was able to get through it in just a few days.

I think I was asked to read, not because of my “web presence” but because I have been an avid reader of many of Frank’s books. My wife and I left mainstream Christianity when I heard George Barna speaking to Kirby Anderson on Dallas’s “Point of View” radio about Revolution by Barna. I felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to listen to that broadcast, and ordered a copy of the book. I was greatly excited in my spirit to realize that there was a world of believers not involved with organized religion, and yet were deeply involved with the leading of the Spirit.

Since I ordered the book through Amazon.com, they sent me an email asking me to review the book for their website. After reading other reviews, I decided not to write my own since there were many reviews already. It was there that I first heard about Frank Viola. A quick search brought me to Present Testimonies Ministry. The name for his ministry I knew from Watchman Nee who had a magazine published in China with that title. Those magazines can be found on the Living Stream Ministry website. I have been a big fan of Watchman Nee for over 15 years since his book, “The Spiritual Man” taught me how to follow the leading of the Spirit in my own life.

Pagan Christianity

My wife and I devoured most of Frank’s books. This current book is being advertised as the sequel to his earlier book, “Pagan Christianity”, which was revised with George Barna additions. I have not read the revised version, but I did read Frank’s original version. So, it seems that I have come full circle. For it was George Barna’s “Revolution” that caused me to come across Viola’s work!

If all I had read was Pagan Christianity without reading anything else by Frank, then I can see how this new book, Reimagining Church, would be very necessary. For Pagan Christianity leans on the side of what is wrong with Church, without a lot of what could be right. And this is how they are advertising Reimagining Church. But I have read most of what Frank has written, and I found very little that was new, that had not been written in any of his other books. If you have read Pagan Christianity and only read Reimagining Church, then they do complement one another. In fact, since books need to stand on their own, Frank touches upon much of what is written in Pagan Christianity so much so, I think one could read his new book without reading the former work and still understand it.

The Two Babylons

Pagan Christianity traces church practices that developed after the Protestant Reformation. The main point of that book is that the Reformers still considered themselves Catholics and were not trying to dismantle the Catholic system, only revise it, or reform it. This website of mine was originally called “Reform the Church” and I changed the title to “Free the Church” after reading Frank’s book on Pagan Christianity. Years ago I had read Alexander Hislops book, “The Two Babylons, or the Papal Worship proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and his Wife.” The Two Bablyons is a scholarly exploration of Catholic practice and the case well made that they are almost all derived from Baal worship started by Nimrod. I encourage anyone with scholastic aptitude to read this book. It is in the public domain. There is an online version that I found disappointing because it eliminated the many original Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Chaldean quotes that were in the footnotes of the book. The link I provide above is a PDF version where I had reinserted all those missing quotes from my hard copy of the book.

Frank’s book, “Reimagining Church” is broken into two parts. Part 1 is on Community and Gatherings, and Part 2 is on Leadership and Accountability. I found Part 1 less interesting because it contained material from his other books. In Part 2 he had more material that I had not read before, but still had some from other books of his.

Chapter 1 is on the Church as an Organism, instead of an organization. I fully agree with this assessment and is the basis of understanding an Organic Church. Neil Cole wrote his excellent book with the same title. I delayed reading Frank’s book because I am still reading another older book by C. Gregg Singer, called, “The Unholy Alliance” which chronicles the ecumenical movement funded by the Rockefellers in the Federal Council of Churches in the first half of the 20th century and its successor in the latter half of the same century, The National Council of Churches. I find it startling that many of the terms in use today were used then, too. They called for “organic unity” of Protestant Churches in the 1920’s. It was an effort to draw denominations together in an ecumenical unity. Singer shows that they were more interested in political unity through Christian Communism, which is why they expanded into Judaism and Catholicism. But that is not what is meant by Neil Cole nor Frank Viola. The Church of Jesus Christ is an organism because the living Spirit of Christ resides in the heart of all regenerated believers. And the call of Chapter 1 is for the headship of Christ to lead the priesthood of all believers organically.

In Chapter 2, I think, Frank makes a distinction between the leadership of Christ and the headship of Christ. In his definition, the leadership refers to Christ being Lord of the individual. Whereas the headship refers to His lordship over the Church. I do not know if this is correct. But I will accept it for the time being. Actually, when Jeanette asked me to read the book, I told her that I was not involved anymore with house churches and I am waiting on the Lord for what we should do next, gleening much encouragement from Wayne Jacobsen and the God Journey forum. But even though I am in a transition, I agree that there are no Lone Rangers in the body of Christ. It is clearly the will of God that people be joined together in the Spirit of Christ.

Chapter 3 addresses the Lord’s Supper in that it is not crackers and juice, but a full meal. I have always said, “If you feed them they will come!”. My wife and I spent a year in one house church that was trying to allow the Spirit to move through the body, but was actually strangled by the mother and son who controlled everything. The second group had a more traditional singing of songs followed by the head of the house teaching. What was different is that the end of the gathering was a complete meal. And, frankly, the best discussions and experiences of the Spirit occurred while we had lunch together. And this is what Frank addresses regarding the Lord’s Supper being part of a full meal.

Chapter 4 addresses where shall we gather? Much of this was discussed in Pagan Christianity regarding buildings. Building programs are a multi billion dollar expense and much of that through debt to banks, which means more eaten in interest. Frank makes the case for meeting in homes. He also makes the case for interactive gatherings where everyone has opportunity to contribute. Steve Atkerson from the New Testament Reformation Foundation has much more information on how to have an interactive gathering, and I encourage all interested readers to look at his material. He encourages the Socratic method of asking questions as the way of teaching if one is a teacher. What Frank says that is more than Steve, however, is that a gathering of believers should reveal a corporate expression of Christ. Steve tends to be more natural in his teaching, whereas I feel Frank has a better sense of the Spirit in his explanations in the purpose of gathering.

Chapter 5 is on the Family of God. Frank uses the expression “metaphor”. The way church is operating today is metaphorically a business organization, whereas the organic gathering is metaphorically a family. I think he is too kind, and thus misleading. Churches are businesses, and they call themselves metaphorically a family. The body of Christ is not metaphorically a family, but is a family. But the point of the chapter is that real family dynamics do not occur in the church businesses, whereas they can in organic settings. I agree that the dynamics have a better chance of <!– @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –>occurring in organic gatherings, but, frankly, I believe that the real church is each family. As I read through the book, and especially in part 2 on leadership and accountability, I realized that the organic experience of Christ has to be built in the home of natural families for it to benefit the extended family of the larger gathering. Husbands should submit to their wives and seek agreement with their wives in hearing Christ together. If family members are in the practice of experiencing Christ together in the home first, they will naturally contribute to the corporate experience of the larger gathering.

Chapter 6 is on Church Unity. Frank declares that unity can not come from organizations, doctrines nor denominations, but has to be an organic unity. I agree with him, but believe a distinction needs to be made. In reading about organic unity the feeling in the back of my mind is that it is something that we have to work for. But the truth is, Christ’s prayer for unity was answered in the resurrection. The Church is already organically unified in the Spirit. What Frank is addressing is in the soul. Division is a soul issue, not a spirit issue. All the exhortations of the New Testament on unity is in the soul, for as Paul said to the Ephesians there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one Father (Eph. 4:4-6). Keeping the bond of peace in love (Eph 4:3) is in the soul. The rest is in the Spirit. If we look at the disunity of the Church in the soulish realm, then one would be greatly discouraged and tend to believe that God has no power over His body. But that is not case. For in the Spirit the unity is already there. And in the panorama of history the organic unity has continued from the resurrection until today. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God comes not with observation (Luke 17:20). The challenge for all believers is to bring that spiritual unity into the realm of our souls.

Chapter 7 concludes Part 1 with God’s Eternal Purpose. I had already read DeVern Fomke’s, “Ultimate Intention,” as well as Frank’s variation on this point, “God’s Ultimate Passion.” This conclusion to Part 1 is an excellent conclusion. For in it all, we should know why God wants us to gather in the first place. I am not in full agreement with their reasons, but neither do I dismiss them. Ultimately, God is a single being made up of three persons who flow together in unity of love. This is a mystery to me, but I understand their point. Ultimately, the Church has been given the privilege of being participants in the life of the Godhead as a fuller expression of God Himself. My problem with this is in my understanding of the Trinity as God has shown me. The view of the organic church is that God has no hierarchy in the God head, and that does not square Scripturally. I believe that mutual submission in the God head is a reality. But structure is clearly declared in that the Father is the center of the Godhead and that the Son is the expression of the Godhead and that the Spirit is the expression of the Father through the Son. Also, there tends to be a pluralism in viewing God as three “separate” persons that does not bear witness in my Spirit.

Years ago when I first came to Christ, this issue of the Trinity was one of the first things Father showed me. The emphasis that God gave me was that man was made in His image. I am also three persons in one in that one person is my spirit, another is my soul, and the last is my body. But I do not see myself as three separate people. I am one person. Likewise, God is three persons in one, but He does not see Himself as three separate people but as one person. To carry this further, in our bodies we have billions of cells. Every cell is a complete unit that could function on its own just as an amoeba does, but can not unless it is part of the body. Without being joined to the body the cells will die. Those cells are not separate entities, but are part of the whole. Neither are my spirit, soul and body separate but are part of the whole. Likewise with God. And I believe that is God’s ultimate intention for the Church, that we will be one with the Father just as Jesus was one. Yet, we will also be separate, for God’s intention goes beyond being His body, we are also His children and His temple. In our spirits we are His body, in our souls we are His children and in our bodies we are His temple. So it is much more complex than I can get a handle on. Nonetheless, Frank is absolutely right in addressing the need to see it from God’s point of view and not our own as to why are to gather together.

Part 2 begins with Chapter 8, Reimagining Leadership. This is a difficult topic because he goes back and forth between the secular world and the Church. Compounding the difficulty is that worldly leadership is in most of the Church. And how does the Church deal with governmental authorities? He makes the distinction of submitting and obeying. We can be subject to the authorities while disobeying them. But how we disobey is also an issue. Daniel was subject to the Babylonian authority but disobeyed the authority. He disobeyed by requesting the test of eating grain for three weeks instead of the king’s food. In the church, leadership exists, but not permanently. Leadership is a functional activity that is temporary, not permanent. In other words, as the need arise God brings leadership into play.

Chapter 9 is on Oversight. Does oversight mean control? No. Is it an office? No. Is it self appointed? No. Oversight comes by maturity and love for the saints. Oversight does not violate free will. It may try to persuade, but does not command. So an elder is just that, one who is older.

Chapter 10 addresses the decision making of a group. He and Steve Atkerson both use the expression “consensus”. I have a problem with that because that term is part of Hegelian Dialectics, which tries to steer a group to a predetermined conclusion through consensus. I know what they mean is agreement in hearing the Lord. Or that decisions are based upon a groups’ understanding of the Lord’s will. I have seen these terms such as “organic”, “missional,” “sacred and secular”, and “consensus” used with completely different intentions. I think agreement on the Lord’s will is better stated.

Chapter 11 addresses spiritual covering which is just another word for control. We are all spiritually covered when we agree to let Christ be our Lord.

Chapter 12 addresses Authority and Submission. Again a little confusing because he goes back and forth between the secular world and the church. So for this review I will stick with the Church. True spiritual authority is found in the Author, Jesus Christ. Anyone who genuinely speaks on behalf of Christ is a spiritual authority regardless of their maturity. However, maturity is more likely to to speak on behalf of Christ. Hence, mutual submission.

Chapter 13 addresses Denominational Covering. Similar to other chapters. Frank points out that denominations can increase heresy because of the system, whereas a heresy in a local organic group will not usually spread. I disagree since my experience with the “dechurched” is that they are still networking, and I believe this was true in the first century which is why John had to address the heresy of gnosticism in his epistles. However, I do agree that denominational machinery will spread the heresy faster and more effectively. Bottom line on denominations is that they are part of the corporate franchise system and create schisms in the body of Christ.

Chapter 14 is on Apostolic Traditions. This is similar to finishing with God’s Ultimate Intentions. He says that biblical blueprints fail, and I have trouble with his assessment. What we have of apostolic traditions comes from the New Testament. The Catholic Church has claimed that they are retaining those apostolic traditions that were not written down. Does Frank suggest that there is such a thing? If so, how do we know them unless they were written down, since both the Catholic and Greek Orthodox make the same claims. So, frankly, Frank, I reject your arguments for this last chapter. I agree with what can be understood of the apostles from the New Testament, but it is a matter of the Spirit’s leading for our generation.

Currently I am not in any gathering. I do meet saints from my work and I am looking for Spirit formed friendships. I believe that when the expression “fitly formed” in the Bible is used it means by the Spirit. Groups that form on their own with out the Spirit leading is still a natural endeavor. My core congregation is my family, for it was God who chose my wife for me. The fellowship I have with my friends are also friendships that God has put together. I want to exprerience what Frank is describing, but I know such things have to happen by the Spirit. Meanwhile I am content in knowing that I am in God’s will where I am right now. And that is what organic Christianity is really about. And while the businesses calling themselves “church” are not the church, the Church is still within those businesses. And for many, they are there because that is where God wants them to be at this time. So they are still the organic church within that system. I know the system does not encourage spiritual maturity, but I also know that our Shepherd will lead them out when He is ready.

Comments to the Original Post

Amy
Submitted on 10/02/2008

Alex,
Very detailed review of Frank’s latest book. I have also read it.
I love your last paragraph here of this blogpost. So much within it resonated with my heart.

Blessings my friend,
~Amy 🙂

Editor
Submitted on 10/03/2008

Thanks Amy,
You are a prolific reader. But knowing that you are a professional teacher, that does not surprise me. I had to put the last paragraph in because I want to be in a gathering that the Lord directs me into, which I still have not heard Him say where.

2 to “My Thoughts on “Reimagining Church””

  1. Anonymous says:
  2. Alexander says:

    Thank you for your comment. You are right. I do not update frequently. I have no interest in building a following. I do not use SEO techniques for this reason. When I feel led to write a post, it is my belief that it is for some one in particular that the Lord wants to read it. Therefore, I expect the Lord to direct the people He wants to read my post for me.

    I do not monetize the site. It is mine. I pay the domain and host fees out of my own pocket so I am not beholden to anyone for what I write. Consider John the Baptist. If he followed the way of the world he would have spoken in the market places and in the temple. Instead the Spirit led him to the wilderness to preach. It was the Spirit who brought the people to John. I care not if only one person or a thousand people read my posts. This site belongs to the Lord. It is for whatever He wants, not me.



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