Let's step back and analyze Joe's story. Joe has grossly mishandled the New Testament. Is his motive pure? Yes. Does he have a heart for God? Yes. Did this keep him from misapplying Scripture? No.
Joe has come to the New Testament as many of us were taught to do—with scissors and glue, ready to cut, paste, and create a basis for our favorite doctrines and practices.
The net effect of the clipboard approach is tragic. It has produced a raft of present-day churches that have no scriptural basis upon which to exist. (We speak of the institutional church as we know it today.) But more, it has generated scores of mechanical pro forma "house churches" that are lifeless, colorless, and sterile.
Recall the vision that Ezekiel had of the valley of dry bones (see Ezekiel 37). The Lord took Ezekiel to a valley of bones, and
* Kenneth S. Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961).
the living, breathing Word of God came forth to resurrect those bones. The Scripture says that bone was put upon bone. The bones were clothed with sinew and flesh. And when the breath of God came into them like a rushing wind, those dead bones became a mighty army.
Many contemporary house church "planters" can be described as men who have come to the valley of dry bones with glue, needle, thread, and New Testament verses in hand. They have taken the bones and glued them together. They have put thread through the sinew and stitched flesh upon it. Then they have stood back and said, "Look, a New Testament church built on the New Testament. We have elders, we meet in a house, we do not have a hired clergy, we take up a collection every Sunday, and we preach the gospel."
But there is no rushing mighty wind!
The church ofJesus Christ cannot be started. It cannot be welded together. There is no blueprint or model that we can tease out of the New Testament by extracting verses and trying to imitate them mechanically. The church ofJesus Christ is a biological, living entity! It is organic; therefore, it must be born.
We do well to pay attention to the way that churches were raised up in the first century. I believe that Scripture holds for us enduring principles on this score. If you count all the churches mentioned in the New Testament, you'll find about thirty-five. Every one of them was either planted or aided by a traveling church planter who preached only Christ. There are no exceptions. The church was raised up as a result of the apostolic presentation of Jesus Christ.
There are more verses to back this principle up than there are for meeting in homes. There are more verses to back that up than there are for open, participatory meetings. There are more verses to back that up than there are for taking a collection on Sunday morning. The book of Acts is a record of churches being planted by extra-local workers in Judaea, South Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, Asia Minor, and Rome. The epistles are letters written by apostolic workers to churches in crises, to individuals, and to those they were training for spiritual ministry. The principle of the extra-local church planter dominates the New Testament."
And as we have seen, there is much more Scripture to support this practice than there is for all the unscriptural things we do in the contemporary church—including hiring a pastor. The pattern of extralocal workers planting and helping a church pervades the entire New Testament. And it is one that is deeply rooted in divine principle."
What, then, is the antidote to the clipboard approach to the New Testament? What is the remedy that will bring you into a living expression of the body of Christ, first-century style? The antidote begins with understanding our New Testament.
We have been conditioned to come to the New Testament with a microscope and extract verses to find out what the early Christians did. We need to abandon that whole mentality, step back, and take a fresh look at the Scriptures. We must become familiar with the whole sweeping drama from beginning to end. We need to learn to view the New Testament panoramically, not microscopically.
F. F. Bruce, one of the greatest scholars of our time, once made a riveting statement. He said reading the letters of Paul is like listening to one end of a phone conversation." Thanks to recent biblical scholarship, we can now reconstruct the entire saga of the early church. In other words, we can hear the other side of the conversation! Frank's book The Untold StoTy of the New Testament Church reconstructs both sides of the conversation, creating one fluid narrative of the early church.
To learn the story of the early church is to be forever cured of the cut-and-paste, clipboard approach to the New Testament. Learning
To see this principle emerge in Scripture chronologically, see Viola, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church.
See Viola, So You Want to Start a House Church? which is a detailed discussion on the four ways that churches were planted in the first century and the spiritual principles that governed them.
F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 93.
the story will lay bare the spiritual principles that are in God Himself and that are consistent throughout all of the New Testament. We consistently miss these principles because of the way we approach the Bible and because Paul's letters are not arranged chronologically.
When we learn the story, our verses must bow and bend to it. No longer are we able to take a verse out of context and say, "Look, we are supposed to do this." Many of the verses that we Christians routinely pull out of the Bible will simply not yield. More significantly, approaching the Bible in this way enables us to see the passion and unity with which the first Christians lived as they sought to faithfully follow and represent their Lord Jesus. And what was that passion? That is the question we turn to in the final chapter.
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