Tag Archives: unity

Dissecting the body of Christ over errant doctrines

Recently a friend and fellow house church enthusiast alerted me to a division within the fellowship he is a member of. The division centered on doctrine, with one member apparently upset that the rest of the group did not appreciate the reformed doctrine he ascribed to.

Without addressing the doctrines in question, I wanted to encourage this group to seek to function like a family. Here is my letter to the group in question as well as our regular group.

I’ve yet to meet as child who holds nothing but right beliefs. I’ve yet to meet an adult who holds nothing but right beliefs for that matter either. In fact, I’m pretty sure, as Greg Koukl has said, that I hold wrong beliefs as well. The trouble is that we don’t know what those wrong beliefs are unless someone loves us enough to patiently expose them through persuasive arguments based on solid evidence (which includes the Bible).

Thankfully, the biblical standard for admittance into heaven is not our score on some sort of cosmic theology test.

It’s true that doctrine is important. And I would agree that many problems faced by the modern church are due to a severe lack of biblical training. However intellectual development only takes us so far. The other half of Biblical maturity is our actions, particularly our love for one another. Practically this means there is absolutely no Biblical justification for breaking fellowship with another member in the body of Christ outside of habitual participation in unconfessed sin.

Paul wrote Ephesians to a group of people far more divided than we could hope to be. In a city where rampant immorality was praised, and at a time when being Jewish still meant something. Yet Paul thought it was possible for them to live together in harmony. Not only that, but to build each other up (chapter 4) in preparation for the coming battle (chapter 6) with ungodly forces.

We need to prepare in every way for battle. We need to strengthen our minds through diligent study of doctrines like open theism and the tenants of Calvinism. But if we don’t, at the same time, have an equally forceful commitment to loving each other and seeking each other’s growth, being right doesn’t really matter, does it? (1 Cor 13)

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How ought brothers in Christ disagree?

I was asked a couple of questions recently regarding unity and how I believe we ought to pursue it in regards to the Church of Christ. Since these questions cut to the heart of many of the struggles that occur in the body of Christ (unfortunately, often in the name of Christ) I figured I’d share them here. Enjoy!

“Do you affirm that unity is not to come at the expense of truth?”

I think this is a red herring as people can disagree on various theological points and still remain united by their commitment to Christ. Further, I find the very question here to be an implicit concession of my point above regarding the Calvinist tendency to treat the ideological position as of primary importance (something, I might add, which is also carried over into too many Churches) rather than our common commitment to Christ.

In other words, you are not a sum of your ideas and your value is not derived by adding up all of your ideas and subtracting the bad ones.

Our commitment to Christ and each other IN Christ is not predicated on our possession of right doctrine.

“Do you affirm that we can disagree and yet have unity?”

Are you asking if we can disagree and still remained united in our commitment to Christ? If so the sure, I don’t see why not. That is, as long as you DO place your commitment to our common Lord and Saviour as of primary importance.

Before you stroke out at my above statements or attempt to reply with the oft-used but seldom-understood refrain of “postmodernist!” let me hasten to add that I’m not saying that objective truth doesn’t exist or matter or that we ought not to vigorously state and defend our respective theologies.

All I’m saying is that past the very basic confessional creed laid out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 (also captured in the ΙΧΘΥΣ acrostic) we have no reason to attempt and throw others out of a body and bride that is not our own.

In regard to camps, I try very hard not to have one so I find your question regarding “my camp” to be pretty spurious at best. If you are asking if there are non-calvinists who have acted poorly, then my answer would have to be yes. Even I have failed to attain to the ideal of unity Christ commanded us to uphold. However the beauty of the Christian message is redemption so my continued hope (no matter how dismal or unattainable it may seem at times) is that we would stop stabbing each other in the back (which includes trying to throw each other out of the Body of Christ) and work towards what Jesus told us would be a sign to the nations that He was sent into the world (what Schaeffer called “the final apologetic”).

In our search for unity, we need to give up the common refrain of “well you are coming from a philosophical position whereas I am coming from a _Biblical_ position” argument. If we can agree to forgo such infantile arguments or lines of thought then, and only then, will our conversations and debates become more fruitful than a mud slinging competition.

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The unbiblical clergy/laity division

Daniel,
Thanks for taking the time to ask to clairify my words from earlier, and I trust that you understand that because my statement was made to the general clergy/laity split it was not directed at you personally. At the outset I want to acknowledge that there are clergy like yourself and Christ Wyatt who
There are three main reasons why I say that a clergy/laity split is unbiblical and harmful to the body of Christ.
1.) Jesus told his Disciples (the apostles) in Matthew 20:25 not to be like the rulers of this world and lord their positions over others. Even if clergy are very careful and use all the right self-deprecating language, I don’t see how they can escape the holier-than-thou impression. I also think the constant “we will be judged more harshly than you” is a misnomer because it doesn’t acknowledge the “unordained” masses of SS teachers, “parachurch” teachers, etc. that are all, well, teachers.
In short, the clergy/laity split inherently violates the “do not Lord it over” mentality taught by Jesus and followed by the Disciples. You might object by citing their leadership status but I would point out that their method of leading was not a top-down approach practiced by clergy today but a bottom-up serving which didn’t result in their being seen very much. Clergy are not like that at all.
2.) We are all priests according to the new covenant according to I Peter 2:9. What does this mean, if not that there is to be no more priest/commoner distinction? Was it a meaningless statement? In most prodestant churches we give lip service to this doctrine but rarely live it out. I think the reason for the suppression of this doctrine is the clergy/laity split in a manner not unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to maintain control over it’s “subjects”.
You mentioned there were some who were paid for their ministry and that is true. However there were many, like Paul, who made a big deal of not accepting money from those they ministered to. Combined with the Jewish idea that rabbi’s ought to maintain a marketable skill and what you end up with are bi-vocational pastors at best.
No where do you see the modern pastor, that is a man who has all the responsibilities and duties expected of a modern pastor, described in the text. I believe that is because of…
3.) (I’m hurrying because I need to get going for work.) Every Christiain is said to be a member of the body of Christ and every member is said to be of equal value (except the head, which of course is Christ). How can every member be equal or function properly if there is a clergy/laity distinction in place?
How can we avoid the favoritism James preached against if we claim that missionaries (as wonderful as they are), clergy, children’s teachers, etc. are exalted as somehow more special than everyone else?
How can we avoid the command to not cause divisions (sects, parties, etc.) within the body if we exalt an entire group of people?
In short, every member ought to function as it was designed and ought to be respected and revered as much as all the other members without either thinking itself special or more lowly. The clergy/laity split fundamentally undermines this, placing unnatural burdon on one member (the clergy) and not expecting anything of other members (presumably because they are too stupid or unreliable or untrained).
There is much more to say on this subject, and I fully hope we have time to explore it even more. However I feel it necessary to close my letter on another note by saying that I hope you don’t take my words as a personal attack. I love you and respect the sacrifices you’ve made and the commitment you have to our Lord. I’m not sure what an amicable resolution would be to our present dilemma but I do hope you bear in mind the fact that we are brothers under the same Lord regardless of our ecclesiological differences.

Recently, I was asked by a friend of mine about my position on the common practice of dividing the body of Christ between two distinct classes (castes?) of members, namely the clergy and the laity1. Since this is one of the most notable differences between a simple church and a legacy church I felt it worthy of a somewhat detailed treatment here.

There are three main reasons why I say that a clergy/laity split is unbiblical and harmful to the body of Christ.

1.) Jesus told his Disciples (the apostles) in Matthew 20:25 not to be like the rulers of this world and lord their positions over others. Even if clergy are very careful and use all the right self-deprecating language, I don’t see how they can escape the holier-than-thou impression. I also think the constant “we will be judged more harshly than you” is a misnomer because it doesn’t acknowledge the “unordained” masses of SS teachers, “parachurch” teachers, etc. that are all, well, teachers.

In short, the clergy/laity split inherently violates the “do not Lord it over” mentality taught by Jesus and followed by the Disciples. You might object by citing their leadership status but I would point out that their method of leading was not a top-down approach practiced by clergy today but a bottom-up serving which didn’t result in their being seen very much. Clergy are not like that at all.

2.) We are all priests according to the new covenant according to I Peter 2:9. What does this mean, if not that there is to be no more priest/commoner distinction? Was it a meaningless statement? In most prodestant churches we give lip service to this doctrine but rarely live it out. I think the reason for the suppression of this doctrine is the clergy/laity split in a manner not unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to maintain control over it’s “subjects”.

You mentioned there were some who were paid for their ministry and that is true. However there were many, like Paul, who made a big deal of not accepting money from those they ministered to. Combined with the Jewish idea that rabbi’s ought to maintain a marketable skill and what you end up with are bi-vocational pastors at best.

No where do you see the modern pastor, that is a man who has all the responsibilities and duties expected of a modern pastor, described in the text. I believe that is because of…

3.) Every Christiain is said to be a member of the body of Christ and every member is said to be of equal value (except the head, which of course is Christ). How can every member be equal or function properly if there is a clergy/laity distinction in place?

How can we avoid the favoritism James preached against if we claim that missionaries (as wonderful as they are), clergy, children’s teachers, etc. are exalted as somehow more special than everyone else?

How can we avoid the command to not cause divisions (sects, parties, etc.) within the body if we exalt an entire group of people?

In short, every member ought to function as it was designed and ought to be respected and revered as much as all the other members without either thinking itself special or more lowly. The clergy/laity split fundamentally undermines this, placing unnatural burdon on one member (the clergy) and not expecting anything of other members (presumably because they are too stupid or unreliable or untrained).

There is much more to say on this subject, and I fully hope we have time to explore it even more. However I feel it necessary to close this post on another note by saying that I hope pastors don’t take my words as a personal attack. I love you and respect the sacrifices you’ve made and the commitment you have to our Lord. I’m not sure what an amicable resolution would be to our present dilemma but I do hope you bear in mind the fact that we are brothers under the same Lord regardless of our ecclesiological differences.

For anyone seeking a more in-depth treatment of this subject I highly recommend and of Frank Viola‘s works, particularly Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church. Also, if you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to leave them below!

  1. Helpfully defined by Wikipedia as “anyone who is not in the clergy“ []
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What is simple church?

A friend of mine recently asked, “What is simple church and how is it different than what we normally call ‘church’?”

Simple church is a pretty broad term and is rather hard to nail down. I think the best place to begin is to say that the aim (at least in the one I am in) is to be as close to the model of a church as portrayed in the Bible as possible.

Simple simply refers to the desire to jettison all the cruft normally associated with institutional organizations we mistakenly label “church” these days including programs, buildings, bulletins (which represent a strict order of worship), clergy (that is, we reject the common clergy/laity distinction as divisive to the Body of Christ), etc (more mentioned in Frank Viola‘s excellent book, Pagan Christianity.

Another aspect of “simple” is that we strive to maintain a small group and will unhesitatingly spawn another group if/when ours grows beyond what can comfortably fit in a modest living room (around 20 to 30 people).

One of the different things we do, as a consequence, is maintain open-participatory meetings where every member is free to add and interject anything they wish. Many people cringe at this thought and wonder how such a meeting wouldn’t devolve into a complete chaotic mess. But this is where an odd reliance on the unifying and guiding power of the Holy Spirit comes into play, to the point (at least in the small group we’ve had the privilege of being a part of) where both order and mutual edification are possible. In fact, in this type of meeting we tend to see more mutual edification and instruction given because the burden of preparation and teaching do not fall on the shoulders of any single one of us but are instead borne by each of us who are given the gift of teaching which is far more Biblical than having these responsibilities rest in any single individual week after week.

Another interesting difference is in how we relate to each other and how we handle differences among ourselves. In our group we all come from a variety of backgrounds and theological persuasions which, on the surface at least, would seem to make the task of unity far more difficult than if we were to simply ascribe to a denominational profession of faith. However, what I’ve found is that our lack of confessions, creeds, and councils tends to make us far more willing to debate in love our differences as we know that our ability to disagree in love is a key element to our community’s continuing to exist. Our smallness and lack of a membership roll provides much more incentive for us to be more careful where we draw lines of division and makes us much more generous in our debates with each other.

Some excellent resources to help you get a better idea of what a simple church is (or ought to be) can be found at:

I’m by no means an expert. We’ve only been attending a local house church for the past couple of months. But what I’ve seen so far (and I thank God for the wonderful people we’ve met considering the horror stories we’ve heard) has been very good and meshes quite well with all the research I’ve done in the area of Biblical ecclesiology.

The bottom line is that while most other places merely preach the priesthood of the believer in passing, it has only been in simple church where I’ve actually seen it put into practice.

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