So what is the church?  How did it get this way?  Where is it going?

In this post, I’m not going to hit the “marks of a true church” or discuss whether or not children should receive the mark of baptism.  I’ll be discussing differing understandings of what the church is, how it is to go about gaining converts, and what is to happen on Sunday.

I believe that there are two models of what the church is.  One model is prevalent, yet not entirely Biblical.  The other model is rarer, but Biblical.  The first model is the church as Temple, the other is the church as Tabernacle

Church as Temple Model (Attractional)

The attractional church model is such that the church building is emphasized.  Its mode of operation is such that Sunday morning is when ministry happens.  The members of the church come in order to worship God.  They come in order to serve and to tithe.  Sunday is the day of worship and Christian service.

The mission of this type of church is to gain converts to Christianity.  It does so by encouraging the people in the pews to invite their family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and even strangers to come to church.  The people are then missionaries whose message is “Come and see for yourself!”  This method gives the missionaries an easy and alluring message of “come and experience”.

Within this style of doing church, the mission that the people of the church is on is simply one of bringing people in.  Then, the pastor of the church preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ in an engaging way.  The people brought in then have the opportunity to respond en masse.  Numbers are tallied, baptisms are performed.  There is tangible results as the church grows.

[unbelievers]—–>->->Church<-<-<—– [unbelievers]

In order to facilitate this process further, with greater effectiveness, the attractional church fashions its culture after the culture that it is trying to reach.  This cultural accommodation is done with wisdom in prudence (of course, not in all cases) with the purpose of communicating the gospel in such a way that unbelievers who have been brought in respond.

In essence, the attractional church model is characterized as the church building being the place where all ministry happens, including evangelism.

Church as Tabernacle Model (Missional)

The missional church model is such that the church building is not emphasized.  The church is understood to be the gathering of believers for corporate worship through singing, the giving of tithes and offerings, and the exposition of the Word.  Sunday is the day in which believers gather together.

The mission of this church is also to gain converts to Christianity, yet it does so in a drastically different way.  Rather than the people of the pews bringing forth the message of “come and see”, they themselves are evangelists, bringing the message of the gospel and calling for repentance and faith to their family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors.

[unbelievers]<-<-<—-Church—->->->[unbelievers]

In order to facilitate this with greater effectiveness, the members of the church seek to understand the culture of their audience and tell the gospel message in such a way that it is clear to the audience.  Yet the culture of the church does not follow that of the outside culture.  In fact, the culture of the church as it gathers together would stand distinct among the culture around it.

In essence, the missional church model is characterized as the church building being the place where evangelists gather together to worship God and minister to each other.

Biblical Warrant

Church as Temple model

Proponents of this model do not lack Biblical reasoning behind their methodology.  As its title suggests, proponents of this view cite the passages in the Old Testament regarding the Temple as indicative for how ministry should be done.  The clearest of which for this purpose is 1 Kings 8:41-43.

[41] “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake [42] (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, [43] hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.

 The Temple then was understood as being a place where the foreigner was compelled to come, and upon coming, would be able to call upon the LORD.  Thus, foreigners coming to the Temple, such as the Queen of Sheba, are seen as paradigmatic for the church operating today.  The church should be drawing foreigners (unbelievers) in where they can respond to the call of the gospel.

Yet this would not give warrant for cultural accommodation in the church, as the Temple and its rituals stood in stark contrast to the Canaanite temples surrounding it.  As such, this model of doing church finds Biblical grounding in the New Testament, specifically in the Mars Hill discourse found in the book of Acts.  Indeed, there are churches which exemplify this tactic who have named their church “Mars Hill”.  They see Paul’s accommodation of the gospel message in terms that his pagan audience would understand as paradigmatic of how a church can reach the outside world.  The church accommodates to the culture around it in order to effectively communicate the gospel to it.

Church as Tabernacle Model

 This model has stronger Biblical foundations.

Firstly, it must be said that the Temple in the Old Testament never functioned properly as an evangelistic tool.  Without much delay, the Temple was defiled by wicked kings leading up to the exile.  While some did “come and see”, it was Israel rather than the nations that was converted.  Israel at this time began taking up the cultural practices, beliefs, and rituals of their pagan neighbors.  Therefore, even without the people of Israel accommodating to gain an audience, Israel became identical to their audience.

Secondly, it must be said that the proper understanding of the Mars Hill discourse is one that rightly identifies it as taking place in the marketplace and not within the synagogue or house-church.  There is no evidence whatsoever that Paul ever preached a message of “come and see” or that he taught of Christ in the house-churches the way in which he did at the Areopagus.

Now, the greatest Biblical precedent for the Missional model of doing church is found in the Great Commission.  Christ commanded that the disciples go and make disciples, baptizing them and  teaching them to obey all that he had commanded them.  [ Quick note as an aside–Many have argued that the word “go” translated in English should be understood as meaning “as you are going” on account of it being a participle and not a verb in the imperative mood like “make disciples”.  However, this is a faulty understanding of the Greek participle and specifically how it is used here.  It is an attendant circumstance participle meaning that it carries the mood the main verb that it attends, which would make it…imperative.]  And it is evident that the command to go was not just for the 12, as Stephen and Philip are highlighted in the ensuing narrative as being on this same mission, not to mention Paul.

Jesus did not give the other disciples a distinct mission of bringing people to hear the words of Peter or any of the 12.  All followers of Christ have the same marching orders.  There is no “professional” to bring unbelievers to in order that they may hear the gospel.  By Christ command, we are all such “professionals” and to disregard our commission is a serious thing indeed.

This model of Church likewise sees precedent in the way in which Paul preached Christ at Mars Hill.  But instead of shaping the culture of the church to mimic that of Paul’s evangelistic speech in one setting, the members of the church see how they too should seek to understand the culture that they as individuals (just as Paul) can preach Christ into an alien culture.

Paul tells the Corinthians that we, not a building, are the Temple of God.  Therefore, the Temple of God is mobile again, just as the Tabernacle was.  So God is not confined to one space.  Ministry is not confined to one space.  Evangelism is not confined to one space.

So What?

I believe that the first model of doing church is systemic in the North American context.  I believe that truly missional churches are exceptionally rare.  Sure, the first thing that pops into ones mind when discussing the Temple model of doing church is mega-churches.  Sure, the vast majority of churches sure aren’t attracting many people, but that does not mean that they don’t think in this way.  The mega-churches are not mega-sized because they do church in this way.  Its just that they are mega-sized because they do church that way well.  They are effective in their methodology.  But that does not necessitate that their methodology is correct or even unique.  Most small churches think in like manner with mega-churches, yet are wholly ineffective in doing it.  Truly missional churches are rare indeed.

So how did we get here?  Why do so many churches think this way?  I’m sure that there are a multitude of factors at play in this mindset.  I will only pinpoint what I think are the major ones and most recent ones (there are many factors that go much further back in history, but I need to wrap this thing up).

Discipleship had taken a back-seat for far too long.  The church was not equipping the people for ministry and as such, the people felt wholly inadequate to tell anybody anything of Jesus other than that they rather liked him.

Billy Graham.  Billy Graham led tent-meeting evangelistic revivals.  He was the first major evangelist that North America had seen since the Great Awakening.  Entire towns flocked to hear him speak.  People invited unbelievers to come and hear the “professional”.  Pleas were given for people to bring their friends soon because who knows, they just might die tomorrow in a car accident.  Evangelism became an event even more than it had during the Great Awakening.  Furthermore, Billy Graham gave evangelistic messages and then left town, leaving the people to join churches as they saw fit.  Surely ministers in said towns enjoyed the bump in attendance and sought to be like Billy Graham in order to drive up numbers or (more piously) reach more for Christ.  Reports of individual conversions were dwarfed by news of hundreds and even thousands praying a prayer all at the same time.  It seemed more effective to bring them to the professional.

Passivity is due to sin.  The people in the pew give up their call to take part in the mission of the church because it is much easier to be passive.  Inviting someone to come to a building is much easier to do than inviting someone to die to self, pick up his cross, repent of all his sin, and follow Jesus in a world that hates Him and His followers.  Naturally, when a pastor tells people that simply inviting someone to sit in a chair in a specific building in town for an hour to an hour and a half, constitutes their part in evangelism, the people breathe a sigh of relief and agree.  The duty of evangelism has been taken away from the members of the church and the members acquiesce.

In the small city where I live, there is mega-church.  I often run across people that delight in telling me what their church is doing, how many prayed that prayer along with the pastor (you know, the one where everyone is supposed to bow your heads and close your eyes).  They often say, “It is just so awesome being a part of a church that is really making a difference.  We are really making an impact in this city for the Lord.”  Sometimes when I hear this, I confess that I get a bit jealous of their success.  Sometimes I get defensive as they try to get me to leave my church and come to theirs.  Other times, I chuckle.  I chuckle because very often, these are people that do absolutely nothing in that mega-church.  Their involvement in it is the same as a fan of a football team sitting in the stands.  Fans of football teams often say “we” when they mean “the team that I root for but am not a part of in any other way, let alone play for”.  It seems as though a similar mindset has sprung up in churches.  If you are a devotee of a football team, you are not involved except emotionally.  Passive members of attractional churches are often merely devotees of a specific pastor, they are not involved except emotionally.  And this observation does not rest solely with mega-churches.

Truly Missional Churches

Truly missional churches are truly about the mission of God.  Each individual takes up his or her responsibility to preach Christ to the world.  Not all are given the gift of evangelism, but all are tasked with the mission of evangelism.  The church is a gathering of missionaries, not a big-tent revival.  The church is distinct from the world.  Missionaries accommodate their message with prudence to meet the culture around them.  They then bring in converts (or even those curious to come and see after hearing the gospel message) to a new culture, one shaped and formed by Christ, and not the unbelieving culture around them.  And to do this, requires a major paradigm shift.  Pastors must give the mission of evangelism back to the people in the pews.  After all, we are to invite people to follow Christ rather than the pastor.

[Note that my statements regarding Attractional churches are, at times, broad generalizations.  I am not saying that Attractional churches do not have any element of being Missional, indeed, some even have the term in their mission statements.  It is just that the bulk of what they do and why they do it is found in the Attractional paradigm.  Also, the church that I currently attend wants to be missional, yet it has not been able to change its way of thinking away from being Attractional.  It is hard work to get there, but it is what must happen for the church to do what it is called to do.]
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So for Christmas (quite a while back now) I received from my folks an Amazon Kindle 3 wi-fi (I do not have the 3G model) which you can get at Amazon or a few brick and mortar stores for $139, $189 for the 3G model.  I’ve not had any experience with the previous generations of the Kindle, so I’m ignorant of how the experience is different on this generation.  I do have a friend who had a Kindle 2 and when he saw my Kindle 3, he marveled at it being a smoother piece: quicker page loads, quieter page turn buttons.

Get Your Greasy Mitts on One

I desired a Kindle not by reading about it, but by handling one.  I was amazed at how light it was in the hand and how easy it was to read.  Prior to that, it wasn’t even on my radar.  I thought that one would be foolish to read on an electronic device when books were not all that expensive and the experience of handling a book was so joyous.  Plus, I like looking at a bookshelf full of books.  I stare at a computer all day at work, and all night in writing papers and studying.  The last thing I want is yet another screen to stare at and strain my eyes.  Then, I saw a Kindle.

The nature of E-Ink

The reading experience is much like that of a book, thanks to the e-Ink technology.  It doesn’t use pixels.  I’m still at a loss for how this works precisely, but the effect is stunning.  The Kindle screen looks like ink on paper.  In fact, when I first saw one, it had the “screen saver” on and I thought it was a printed overlay on the screen much like ones that first come attached to the screen of cell phones.  It looked printed and I was not expecting a screen to look like ink.

The second thing I noticed is that it was not back-lit.  This is a major point that sold me on the Kindle.  I hate back-lit screens.  They cause severe eye strain when used for hours on end.  This looks just like a book–zero eye strain (eye strain is due to looking at the brightness of the screen and then looking away at ambient light; the eye has to adjust each time and we suffer eye strain after prolonged periods of the eye shifting back and forth).  Also, studies have shown that looking at a back-lit screen prohibits the production of melatonin, which aids in falling asleep (read that a while back, google it if you are doubtful of its veracity).  So the Kindle will not keep you up if you like to read at night before bed (as I do).  The obvious downside to this is that you need a book-light if you are reading in the dark (such as when reading in bed and your spouse wants to sleep).  But again, this prohibits eye strain and does not prohibit you from becoming sleepy.

Take your library with you

Another major plus with the Kindle is the portability.  I can take my super light Kindle with me anywhere I go.  I have access to many books that would take many many backpacks to bring.  It is a library in your hands.  It’s also a great conversation starter.  The battery lasts a long time.  With the wi-fi off, mine goes about a month between charges.  Yes, a month.  As in about 12 re-charges a year.  In fact, with the wi-fi off (and 3G off for applicable models) the device uses no power until the screen is changed.  So while reading a page, no power is used until you turn the page or start highlighting.

Buying from Amazon

Buying books on the Kindle is very easy and you receive them in the time it takes to download.  So, no waiting for shipping or even paying for shipping.  Book sizes are incredibly small and are thus delivered quickly; and I don’t believe that I will suffer from running out of hard drive space.  Also, there are a large amount of free books available.  Indeed I have only paid for 3 books thus far: two for class, and one other.  The majority of free books are public domain and so are classics.  This is a great way to start reading Charles Dickens and the Leatherstocking Tales (of which the Last of the Mohicans is a part) like I’ve always wanted to (don’t be upset that I ended a sentence with a preposition, Strunk and White were full of hot air).   Also, publishers often have promotions in which they offer some books for free for a limited time on the Kindle.  I have a few blogs in my rss that are focused on this so I can always be sure to take advantage of the offers.  Sure, most of the time the books seem to be romance novels, but there are some good books that come out occasionally.  One such book that I thoroughly enjoyed is Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos.  It is one of the funniest books with the most keen insight I have ever read.  Seriously, even if you don’t have a Kindle, get the Kindle app and download this book.  It’s no longer free, but it’s well worth the $8.59 for the electronic copy.  Hard copies are just a bit more expensive.  Right now, Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk by Dale Fincher is available for free and I “purchased” it this morning.  It was on my list of books to buy after seminary and it popped up in my rss as free.  Can’t beat that.

A further bonus is the wonder of downloading a sample of a book before you buy it.  I love this.  With a pretty tight budget, I can’t just go buying books that I think I would like.  That is one downside to not buying a hard copy from a brick and mortar store.  You can’t thumb through the book and check it out first.  But with the Kindle (or Kindle app), you can download a sample; which I believe is the first 10% or so of the book.  Sometimes, this doesn’t quite work out well.  One book sample I downloaded was so full of endorsements and had such a lengthy preface that I only got the first page of the first chapter in the sample.  That sucked.  But others aren’t so bad.  Really large books wind up giving you large amounts as the sample as it is the first 10% and not an allotted amount of pages (or, locations as they are referred to; yes, again with ending with a preposition, get over it).  The sample of the Lord of the Rings gave me the first few chapters of the Fellowship as a sample.  Sarah and I bought it when we got to the end of the sample and with only a 10-15 second pause, picked right back up reading.  We’re currently at the 3rd chapter of the Return of the King.  –As a quick excursus, I must say that the Kindle is very nice to read out loud with someone.  This has been very nice in our marriage.  Instead of watching TV, we read out loud to each other, usually before bed.  I highly recommend it to couples.–

One thing that is interesting and causes worry for some is the fact that Amazon knows what books you own and can actually modify the books that you have.  Some got scared when Amazon took one particular book off of people’s Kindles without their permission.  Sounds like scary big brother doesn’t it?  Well, the fullness of the story is that the book that was sold as a Kindle book was sold by someone who did not own the rights to the book, and was thus making money off of the property of someone else.  Amazon zapped the copies on every Kindle that had it (assuming they were connected again at some point to either WiFi or 3G) and refunded them in full for the cost of the book.  So, owners lost a book that was in essence, stolen, and was refunded their money.  That’s fine by me.  They were protecting the rightful owner of that specific book.  On one occasion however, Kindle did alter a book that I had bought.  They emailed me and asked if I would allow them to alter the book.  The book was Lord of the Rings and the email stated that they were aware of a few omissions and typos in the Kindle version.  They requested I email back with “yes” if I wanted the update, or just ignore it to keep it the way that it was.  I responded “yes” even though Amazon cautioned that I would lose my place, my notes, and my highlights.  I thought that was fine, since I didn’t do any of that with this book anyway, and it’s easy enough to find the chapter you left off on.

Highlighting

Also, the Kindle does allow highlighting, which it saves.  Since the screen is not color, the highlight is dotted underline that leaves no question that it is a highlighted passage.  It also has the option of showing popular highlights, which is quite interesting at times, showing the exact number of people who highlighted that particular passage.  You can also append notes to the text.  This is quite useful in books that are required for class.  Furthermore, there is another feature that I confess I have to use quite often.  It has a built in dictionary.  You move the cursor over a word and it displays a short definition on the bottom of the page, click enter and go to the dictionary itself for the full definition.  This is wonderful for someone who always says, “What does that mean exactly?  I’ll have to go look that up later.”

Layout

As for the way the Kindle is laid out, it feels quite good in the hand.  You have page turn buttons on the left and the right side (so, good for southpaws too).  It lacks a row on the keyboard for numbers.  I’ve heard that this was to decrease the overall size of the Kindle from the previous generation which did have a number row.  I’m very happy with the size so I don’t complain too much about having to enter numbers a different way.  As I said before, the Kindle is very light and thus makes for an immersive experience.  Some of the books I read on the Kindle would be much much heavier in paper format.  The Kindle really does seem to disappear as you read, enabling you to read for hours without complaint.  In fact, the week after I got it, I was reading and realized that I had been reading for 4.5 hours straight. Sure, book-lovers may say that that is no big deal.  But I’ve never been able to do that with a paper book before, and was thus shocked.  I then took a snack break and then continued reading!

So what?

The Kindle really has proven to increase my reading vastly.  Sure, you can have access to Kindle books (including the free ones) on various devices like the iPhone and iPad.  But I wouldn’t buy a book unless it read like a book, ink and all.  The Kindle seems to me to be the e-reader for the book lover.  There is even rumblings in the publication business (from blogs of folks that work at publishing houses) to the effect that they may have bundling in the future, as in, buy a paperback, get a electronic copy as well.

Some not so great things

That being said, I do have a few caveats to my enjoyment of the Kindle.  You can’t quickly scan through books with the Kindle.  Although, if you are searching for a word or phrase in the book, you can type it in and call up its every occurrence.  But sometimes, I like to just scan a book quickly and see its overarching flow in thought and structure.  You can’t do this easily on the Kindle.

Also, reference books simply would not work well on the Kindle.  The Kindle is set up to do linear reading.  It’s just not set up to flip back and forth.  For instance, shortly after I got the HCSB and the ESV Bible on my Kindle (both for free) I took my Kindle to church.  Shortly after the sermon began, I turned the Kindle off and looked on with my wife in her Bible.  If only one passage was being exegeted, the Kindle performed fine.  Sure you would turn to the physical page faster than navigating screens, but it would have worked fine.  The problem came when the pastor directed us to look at another passage, and then another.  It was just too clunky to navigate to different passages quickly.  The Kindle wants you to read it cover to cover (although that phrase does not really apply to the Kindle now that I think about it).  You have to go back to the Table of Contents, select a book, then select a chapter, then press the page advance button until you got to the passage you wanted.  So while I have two versions of the Bible on my Kindle, they rarely get used.  This also is a problem in class.  Usually in class, I have my computer though, so I use the Kindle app instead of the Kindle itself in that setting.

Another issue is that of page numbers.  Kindle naturally used a useful to no human system of marking progress called “locations” and a progress bar.  The progress bar made sense, the locations did not.  This has been updated and now many books do have page numbers that correspond to the page numbers in the print versions.  This makes it better for book clubs or citing in papers.  But not all books have page numbers.  Many of the public domain books do not, since there is no direct print version that it comes from.  Also, when Amazon updated my LotR, it no longer has page numbers, but just the stupid locations.  It’s a minor annoyance for personal reading, a larger problem for citing books.  I do believe that Amazon states on the page for each book whether it does have page numbers before you buy it.  I’ve never bothered to look actually.

Other stuff

There are a variety of other useful features on the Kindle such as resizable fonts, the ability to read pdf files, text-to-speech, etc.  But this was really the highlights of my experience with it.  If you have one, what has been your experience?  Any Nook owners want to chime in?  Any questions?

I haven’t blogged in a while, hence the title.  I’ve even had a draft of a post saved for a months.  This isn’t it.  Perhaps that will come in time, perhaps it won’t.  Right now, I’m just going to do a bit of catchup (ketchup).

I’m still in seminary.  Lord willing, I’ll be done in September.  When I’m done, I’ll have been here longer than I was in my undergrad.  That sounds depressing.  My classes this semester are:

  • Westminster Standards
    • This class will be a lot of work.  Should be interesting, but very time consuming.
  • Worship and Preaching II
    • I almost signed up to take this in Augusta to have a different professor; but I just could not justify the gas expense and the long travel time when I can take it in Due West.  But the professor is just so horrible that I almost took the course in Augusta.
  • Intro to World Christianity
    • This is an online class, facilitated by someone other than the one in the videos, as she is no longer at the seminary.  I know a bit about the professor that I will be interacting with and that will be grading my work.  I’m looking forward to this class.  The books look interesting.

Also, I’m filming two classes.  Both of which I’ve already taken.  Both with the same professor.  One is an evening class (6-9pm).  This semester could drag on.

 

Outside of the academic world, life is still dragging on.  It’s difficult to not find myself looking ahead too much to when I will be done with school.  I need to live in the present at times.  It’s getting difficult waiting to be done with school in order to start a family.  My (married) sister is pregnant and so is Brandon and Olivia.  Is it wrong to be jealous of this?

I’m reading a great deal now.  My folks got me an Amazon Kindle (3) for Christmas.  I’ll post info and a review and such in the near future, as well as what I’m reading and have read.