Delving deeper

I.Are you saying it is always dangerous to handle Scripture topically, either in individual study or while preparing to teach on some specific issue? Or do you think, if Christians took the time to gain a panoramic understanding of Scripture, they could avoid the dangers of proof texting?

Topical studies can easily lead one astray if the particular texts that are part of the "topic" are not understood in their historical contexts. For that reason, it is best to begin with the narrative of Scripture, seeing the whole fluid story in its historical context. Once that foundation is laid, topical studies can prove quite meaningful.

2.Is "organic church" a synonym for "house church"? If not, what is the distinction?

No, it is not a synonym. Some house churches are organic, while others are not.

A number of present-day house churches are glorified Bible studies. Many others are supper-fests (the meetings revolve around a shared meal and that is about it). Some house churches are just as institutionalized as traditional churches—with a living room pulpit and chairs arranged in rows so attendees can listen to a forty-five-minute sermon.

Organic church life is a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings, nonhierarchi-cal leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional leader and head of the group. Put another way, organic church life is the "experience" of the Body of Christ. In its purest form, it is the fellowship of the triune God brought to earth and experienced by human beings.

2. What are the signs of a healthy organic church? What are the signs of an unhealthy organic church?

Some of the signs of a healthy organic church are:

• the building together of sisters and brothers into a close-knit, Christ-centered community

• the transformation of character in the lives of the members

• meetings that express and reveal Jesus Christ and in which every member functions and shares

• community life that is vibrant, thriving, authentic, and where the members grow to love one another more and more

• a community of believers who are magnificently obsessed with their Lord, and who are neither legalistic nor libertine in their lifestyle

The signs of an unhealthy organic church are similar to the problems the apostle Paul pointed out to the church in Corinth:

• a perversion of the grace of God to be a license to sin

• a sectarian and elitist attitude

• self-centeredness among members

Since organic churches are face-to-face communities, they experience the whole gamut of problems that Christians face in close-knit relationships. Those problems are dealt with in Paul's letters. Healthy churches survive those problems and become stronger after passing through them. Unhealthy ones typically do not survive them.

>A SECOND GLANCE AT THE SAVIOR: JESUS, THE REVOLUTIONARY

"A true radical must be a man of roots. In words that I have used elsewhere, 'The revolutionary can be an "outsider" to the structure he would see collapse: indeed, he must set himself outside of it. But the radical goes to the roots of his own tradition. He must love it: he must weep over Jerusalem, even if he has to pronounce its doom.'" -JOHN A. T. ROBINSON, TWENTIETH-CENTURY ENGLISH NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR

"If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used. If the church in the second half of [the twentieth] century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting. Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom."

-A. W. TOZER, TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICAN MINISTER AND AUTHOR

JESUS CHRIST IS NOT ONLY the Savior, the Messiah, the Prophet, the Priest, and the King. He is also the Revolutionary. Yet few Christians know Him as such. Doubtlessly, some readers have struggled with this thought while reading this book: Why doyou have to be so negative about the contemporary church? Jesus is not a critical person. It is so unlike our Lord to talk about what is wrong with the church. Let's focus on the positive and ignore the negative!

Such sentiments reveal complete unfamiliarity with Christ as revolutionary teacher—radical prophet—provocative preacher—controversialist—iconoclast—and the implacable opponent of the religious establishment.

Granted, our Lord is not critical or harsh with His own. He is full of mercy and kindness, and He loves His people passionately. However, this is precisely why He is jealous over His bride. And it is why He will not compromise with the entrenched traditions to which His people have been held captive. Nor will He ignore our fanatical devotion to them.

Consider our Lord's conduct while on earth.

Jesus was never a rabble-rouser nor a ranting rebel (Matthew 12:19-20). Yet He constantly defied the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees. And He did not do so by accident, but with great deliberation. The Pharisees were those who, for the sake of the "truth" as they saw it, tried to extinguish the truth they could not see. This explains why there was always a blizzard of controversy between the "tradition of the elders" and the acts ofJesus.

Someone once said that "a rebel attempts to change the past; a revolutionary attempts to change the future." Jesus Christ brought drastic change to the world. Change to man's view of God. Change to God's view of man. Change to men's view of women. Our Lord came to bring radical change to the old order of things, replacing it with a new order.1 He came to bring forth a new covenant—a new Kingdom—a new birth—a new race—a new species—a new culture—and a new civilization.'

As you read through the Gospels, behold your Lord, the Revolutionary. Watch Him throw the Pharisees into a panic by intentionally flaunting their conventions. Numerous times Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, flatly breaking their cherished tradition. If the Lord wanted to placate His enemies, He could have waited until Sunday or Monday to heal some of these people. Instead, He deliberately healed on the Sabbath, knowing full well it would make His opponents livid.

This pattern runs pretty deep. In one instance, Jesus healed a blind man by mixing clay with spittle and putting it in the man's eyes. Such an act was in direct defiance of the Jewish ordinance that prohibited healing on the Sabbath by mixing mud with spittle!' Yet your Lord intentionally shattered this tradition publicly and with absolute resolve. Watch Him eat food with unwashed hands under the judgmental gaze of the Pharisees, again intentionally defying their fossilized tradition.'

In Jesus, we have a man who refused to bow to the pressures of religious conformity. A man who preached a revolution. A man who would not tolerate hypocrisy. A man who was not afraid to provoke

The following passages throw light on Christ's revolutionary nature: Matthew 3:10-12, 10:34-38; Mark 2:21-22; Luke 12:49; John 2:14-17, 4:21-24.

The church of Jesus Christ is not a blending of Jew and Gentile. It is a new humanity —a new creation—that transcends both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:15). The ekklesia is a biologically new entity on this planet ... it is a people who possess divine life (1 Corinthians 10:32; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). Even the Christians of the second century spoke of themselves as the new race" and "the third race." See Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, or Miscellanies, book 6, ch. 5. "We who worship God in a new way, as the third race, are Christians": Epistle to Diognetus, ch. 1, "this new race."

In the Mishnah it is stated: "To heal a blind man on the Sabbath it is prohibited to inject wine in his eyes. It is also prohibited to make mud with spittle and smear it on his eyes" (Shabbat 108:20).

According to the Mishnah, "One should be willing to walk four miles to water in order to wash your hands rather than to eat with unwashed hands" (Sotah, 4b); "He who neglects hand washing is as he who is a murderer" (Challah, J, 58:3).

those who suppressed the liberating gospel He brought to set men free. A man who did not mind evoking anger in His enemies, causing them to gird their thighs for battle.

What is the point? It is this: Jesus Christ came not only as Messiah, the Anointed One of God, to deliver His people from the bondage of the Fall.

He came not only as Savior, paying a debt He did not owe to wash away the sins of mankind.

He came not only as Prophet, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

He came not only as Priest, representing people before God and representing God before people.

He came not only as King, triumphant over all authority, principality, and power.

He also came as Revolutionary, tearing apart the old wineskin with a view to bringing in the new.

Behold your Lord, the Revolutionary!

For most Christians, this is a side of Jesus Christ they have never known before. Yet we believe it explains why exposing what is wrong with the contemporary church so that Christ's body can fulfill God's ultimate intention is so critical. It is simply an expression of our Lord's revolutionary nature. The dominating aim of that nature is to put you and me at the center of the beating heart of God. To put you and me in the core of His eternal purpose—a purpose for which everything was created.'

The early church understood that purpose. They not only understood God's passion for His church, they lived it out. And what did such body life look like? Consider the brief glimpse below:6

The early Christians were intensely Christ-centered. Jesus Christ was their pulse beat. He was their life, their breath, and their central point of reference. He was the object of their

See Viola, God's Ultimate Passion for a discussion on the eternal purpose.

The subject of the organic church is so broad that it cannot be covered in this book. However, Frank's book Reimag/ning Church (Colorado Springs) David C. Cook, 2008) provides a thorough, Scripture-based look at the organic practices of the New Testament church.

worship, the subject of their songs, and the content of their discussion and vocabulary. The New Testament church made the Lord Jesus Christ central and supreme in all things.

The New Testament church had no fixed order of worship. The early Christians gathered in open-participatory meetings where all believers shared their experience of Christ, exercised their gifts, and sought to edify one another. No one was a spectator. All were given the privilege and the responsibility to participate. The purpose of these church meetings was twofold. It was for the mutual edification of the body. It was also to make visible the Lord Jesus Christ through the every-member functioning of His body. The early church meetings were not religious "services." They were informal gatherings that were permeated with an atmosphere of freedom, spontaneity, and joy. The meetings belonged to Jesus Christ and to the church; they did not serve as a platform for any particular ministry or gifted person.

The New Testament church lived as a face-to-face community. While the early Christians gathered for corporate worship and mutual edification, the church did not exist to merely meet once or twice a week. The New Testament believers lived a shared life. They cared for one another outside of scheduled meetings. They were, in the very real sense of the word, family.

Christianity was the first and only religion the world has ever known that was void of ritual, clergy, and sacred buildings. For the first 300 years of the church's existence, Christians gathered in homes. On special occasions, Christian workers would sometimes make use of larger facilities (like Solomon's Porch [John 10:23, Acts 3:11] and the Hall of Tyrannus [Acts 19:9]). But they had no concept of a sacred edifice nor of spending large amounts of money on buildings. Nor would they ever call a building a "church" or the "house of God." The only sacred building the early Christians knew was the one not made with human hands.

The New Testament church did not have a clergy. The Catholic priest and the Protestant pastor were completely unknown. The church had traveling apostolic workers who planted and nurtured churches. But these workers were not viewed as being part of a special clergy caste. They were part of the body of Christ, and they served the churches (not the other way around). Every Christian possessed different gifts and different functions, but only Jesus Christ had the exclusive right to exercise authority over His people. No man had that right. Eldering and shepherding were just two of those gifts. Elders and shepherds were ordinary Christians with certain gifts. They were not special offices. And they did not monopolize the ministry of the church meetings. They were simply seasoned Christians who naturally cared for the members of the church during times of crisis and provided oversight for the whole assembly.

Decision making in the New Testament church fell upon the shoulders of the whole assembly. Traveling church planters would sometimes give input and direction. But ultimately, the whole church made local decisions under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It was the church's responsibility to find the Lord's mind together and act accordingly.

The New Testament church was organic, not organizational. It was not welded together by putting people into offices, creating programs, constructing rituals, and developing a top-down hierarchy or chain-of-command structure. The church was a living, breathing organism. It was born, it would grow, and it naturally produced all of what was in its DNA. That would include all the gifts, ministries, and functions of the body of Christ. In the eyes of God, the church is a beautiful woman. The bride of Christ. She was a colony from heaven, not a man-made organization from earth.

Tithing was not a practice of the New Testament church. The early Christians used their funds to support the poor among them, as well as the poor in the world. They also supported traveling itinerant church planters so that the gospel could be spread and churches could be raised up in other lands. They gave according to their ability, not out of guilt, duty, or compulsion. Pastor/clergy salaries were unheard of. Every Christian in the church was a priest, a minister, and a functioning member of the body.

Baptism was the outward expression of Christian conversion. When the early Christians led people to the Lord, they immediately baptized them in water as a testimony to their new position. The Lord's Supper was an ongoing expression whereby the early Christians reaffirmed their faith in Jesus Christ and their oneness with His body. The Supper was a full meal which the church enjoyed together in the spirit and atmosphere of joy and celebration. It was the fellowship of the body of Christ, not a token ritual or a religious rite. And it was never officiated by a clergy or a special priesthood.

The early Christians did not build Bible schools or seminaries to train young workers. Christian workers were educated and trained by older workers in the context of church life. They learned "on the job." Jesus provided the initial model for this "on-the-job" training when He mentored the Twelve. Paul duplicated it when he trained young Gentile workers in Ephesus.

The early Christians did not divide themselves into various denominations. They understood their oneness in Christ and expressed it visibly in every city. To their minds, there was only one church per city (even though it may have met in many different homes throughout the locale). If you were a Christian in the first century, you belonged to that one church. The unity of the Spirit was well guarded. Denominating themselves ("I am of Paul," "I am of Peter," "I am of Apollos") was regarded as sectarian and divisive (see 1 Corinthians 1:12).

We believe this is God's vision for every church. In fact, we have written this book for one reason: to make room for the absolute cen-trality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in His church. Fortunately, more and more Revolutionaries today are catching that vision. They recognize that what is needed is a revolution within the Christian faith—a complete upheaval of those Christian practices that are contrary to biblical principle. We must begin all over again, on the right foundation. Anything less will prove defective.

And so our hope as you finish this book is threefold. First, we hope that you will begin asking questions about church as you presently know it. How much of it is truly biblical? How much of it expresses the absolute headship of Jesus Christ? How much of it allows the members of His body the freedom to function? Second, we hope you will share this book with every Christian you know so that they too can be challenged by its message. And third, we hope you will pray seriously about what your response should be to that message.

If you are a disciple of the Revolutionary from Nazareth . . . the radical Messiah' who lays His axe to the root . . . you must eventually ask a specific question. It is the same question that was asked of our Lord's disciples while He walked this earth. That question is: "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?" (Matthew 15:2).

The word radical is derived from the Latin radio, which means "root." A radical, therefore, is someone that goes to the root or origin of something. Jesus Christ was both a radical and a revolutionary. See John A. T. Robinson's definition for both terms in the epigraph that begins this chapter.

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