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“Where has the western church gone wrong and when did it occur?”

February 27, 2008 1 comment

ignatius-of-antioch-1.jpgRecently I received the following question in an e-mail:

“Where has the western church gone wrong and when did it occur (in your opinion)?”

I thought I would put my answer here for others to discuss. How would YOU answer this question? Yours for the least in the Kingdom, Jeff

Dear Mark, Great Question. I wish more people would ask it.

My opinion is that “early on” things went wrong. It was really inescapable. The question is: Do we have to live today under the ramifications of those failings?

Start with Paul.

In Ephesus, Paul prophesied that from within their own ranks (ie. elders) men would distort the truth to draw away their own followers. (Acts 20). He also said “All in Asia left me…” towards the end of his life. Maybe this was hyperbole, but he said it nevertheless…

John had his own troubles with different leaders. Take Diotrephes, who “loved to be first and would have nothing to do with us”. He also cast his negative influences upon other churches.

Death of the Apostles

I think after this, the first major problems sprang up after the death of the first real apostles, the ones chosen by Jesus either directly or like Paul and Timothy, Silas, Luke, etc.

Someone, somewhere along the way started to declare himself a type of “senior elder” which would later become “senior bishop”, which later became the Pope.

In a heroic effort to fight heresy and the unravelling of the church, Ignatius declared that the Bishop was equal to God! “I exhort you to be careful to do all things in the unity of God, since the Bishop sits in the place of God…” (St. Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians 6:1). Ignatius coined the famous expression: “Where the Bishop is, there is the Church”. He himself should know, I guess, being the Bishop of Antioch!

The Influence of Greek Ideas

The second major problem was as the gospel spread to the Greek world it took on more and more of an “intellectual” religion, with creeds and “I believe…” statements rather than a group of followers in a Risen Christ. I found the book The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity by Edwin Hatch excellent in bring up these issues.

“They were a nation of talkers. They were almost the slaves of cultivated expression…. Like children playing at ‘make-believe’…It was impossible for Greeks, educated as they were with an education which penetrated their whole nature, to receive or to retain Christianity in its primitive simplicity. It necessarily gave to Christianity something of its own form.” (Hatch)

Constantine the Great?

The third major problem sprang up with Constantine the Great, as he consolidated his empire by piggy-backing on the newly freed Christians. Lots of skeletons in his closets!! He really brought us church as we know it today: a special meeting in a holy place on a holy day brought to us by a holy man for a holy price, etc. He made Sunday the official holiday of his kingdom and overnight demanded that the temples be full. “Conversions” by the sword were common.

Unfortunately, most people start with Constantine but I think that is short sided. He merely exasperated an already festering problem.

A couple of links to other stuff I wrote re. this question.

The Influences of Greek Ideas on Christianity

How Things Started to Unravel in the Early Church

Many Blessings.

Jeff G

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From Hierarchies to Networking

February 20, 2008 2 comments

A few years ago I was in a used bookstore and was struck by the cover of an old book Megatrends (John Naisbitt). I was curious to see if the book had accurately predicted the future. Turning to Chapter 8, I read the title From Hierarchies to Networking and knew I would have to get this book. I was sure that God was wanting to use this book to speak to me about something I was already experiencing in my real world: the shift away from top-down, “select few in charge” leadership to a flat, “every member is important” structure of relating to people and our church life. For Maria and I a result of this journey landed us in the house church movement.

The message Naisbitt shares in Megatrends, written over 25 years ago, has such profound insights for the church today and especially the house church movement that I thought I would select different passage for you right out of the book. Tony Dale, H2H Ministries, has said that the world is often more prophetic than the church. I think you will see that this book is very prophetic. It needs little further explanation.

Yours for the Kingdom,
Jeff Gilbertson

Smashing the Pyramid

For centuries, the pyramid structure was the way we organized and managed ourselves. From the Roman army to the Catholic Church to the organization charts of General Motors and IBM, power and communication have flowed in an orderly manner from the pyramid’s top, down to its base… The pyramid structure has been praised and blamed, but its detractors have never come up with a better or more successful framework for organizations, although many have tried.

[Ultimately] the failure of hierarchies to solve society’s problems forced people to talk to one another – and that was the beginning of networks. In a sense, we clustered together among the ruins of tumbled-down pyramid to discuss what to do. We began talking to each other outside the hierarchical structure, although much of our previous communication had been channeled inside. That was the birth of the networking structure.

As friends, as individuals, as members of small groups or large organizations, we exchanged resources, contacts, and information with the speed of a telephone call [e-mail] or a jet airplane ride, with the high touch of our own voices set against the din of a world swarming with too much data and too little knowledge. Networking was a powerful tool for social actions. Those who would change the world began doing it locally, in clusters of like-minded people with a single ideological purpose.

What is a network?

Simply stated, networks are people talking to each other, sharing ideas, information, and resources. The point is often made that networking is a verb, not a noun. The important part is not the network, the finished product, but the process of getting there – the communication that creates the linkages between people and clusters of people. Networking… is done by “conferences, phone calls, air travel, books, phantom organizations, papers, pamphleteering, photocopying, lectures, workshops, parties, grapevines, mutual friends, summit meetings, coalitions, tapes, newsletters.” (Marilyn Ferguson)

Networks offer what bureaucracies [hierarchies] can never deliver – the horizontal link. Virginia Hine, late University of Miami anthropologist, describes networks as “a badly knotted fishnet with a multitude of nodes or cells of varying sizes, each linked to all the others either directly on indirectly.” What needs to be added is that networks are infinitely more complex because they are three-dimensional in nature.

Why Now?

Why have networks emerged at this particular time? Is networking so different from the Old Boy Network, the informal way professional men have helped each other for decades? The answer is yes. The “Old Boy Network” is a clubbish, fraternal conspiracy that protects the self-interest of a limited few. It is not widespread and it was not created out of necessity. The new networking is both ubiquitous [ever-present] and essential.

The “Old Boy Network” is elitist; the new network is egalitarian. Within the networking structure, information itself is the great equalizer. Networks are not egalitarian just because every member is a peer. On the contrary, because networks are diagonal and three-dimensional, they involve people from every possible level. What occurs in a network is that members treat one another as peers – because what is important is the information, the great equalizer.

There are three fundamental reasons why networks have emerged as a critical social form now: (1) the death of traditional structures (2) the din of information overload, and (3) the past failures of hierarchies… The failure of hierarchies to solve human problems has forced people to begin talking with one another outside their organizations, and that is the first step to forming a network.

Life Within the Network Model

The vertical to horizontal power shift that networks bring about will be enormously liberating for individuals. Hierarchies promote moving up and getting ahead, producing stress, tension, and anxiety. Networking empowers the individual, and people in networks tend to nurture one another. In the network environment, rewards come by empowering others, not by climbing over them.

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A letter to a friend. “Congratulations on your 25 years in missions!”

February 11, 2008 Leave a comment

The following e-mail was written to a good friend who is celebrating his 25th year in missions. I was stirred to write him this response. I sense this is not just for him but for a larger audience who are asking the question :what is church?” and the logical next question “what is missions?”

As always, we write from what God is saying to us, which is one side of it. Any comments and feedback are very welcome.

Yours for the Least in the Kingdom,

Jeff G

——————————————————————————–

A letter to a friend.

Dear Mike (pseudonym), Congratulations on your 25 years in missions!

Maria and I know very well what an accomplishment that is and how you have “endured hardships as a soldier”! Well done. Fight on in the good fight of the faith. (Actually I am not that far behind you, having done my first missions trip in the summer on 1983 in Guatemala. It’s been a long and wonderful journey. )

You mentioned that “this marks some kind of transition in my responsibilities – not sure what this will mean yet…” That sentence struck me as we can really relate to it.

What started us on our “new season” was the nagging suspicion that “missions-as-we-knew-it” was broken and needed to be fixed. I guess that became most obvious during our 4 years in Kazjikganistan (pseudonym).

Ask yourself the simple question:

”Is the Muslim world any more reached today than it was 25 years ago?”

Is Yemen? Somalia? Or Morocco? Are countries like Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia any more reached today than they were 25 years ago? Is the country you live in? Is the country I live in?

“Is America any more reached today than it was 25 years ago?”

I think most people would – sadly – have to answer no to that last question.

Is Great Britain or Spain or France? Sooner or later we have to come to the conclusion that something is not working! This by no means lessens the “shining lights” of countries like China and India and Mozambique and Mongolia. Many awesome people have done, and are doing, a great work in those nations.

But until every country is a “shining light” our job is not done…

Who are we to say its not working?

Probably the most difficult situation we have ever found ourselves in is the current one. We have seen what is not working but have little, to nothing, to show for it! We see a way forward yet it seems too big for us and impossible to reach. We have been encouraged, however, by hearing the same message from men and women who have gone before us.

One of those guides is Sidney Clark (1862 – 1930). Clark was a layman who traveled extensively overseas as the owner of a lucrative British clothing business. He was also a “world Christian” and cared deeply for the mission fields of Asia. In 1905 he remarked: ”

If I conducted my business in the way missionary societies conduct theirs, I would be bankrupt.” What he saw as shortcomings in 1905 were the “lack of systematic planning and coordination of mission agencies, gross inefficiencies and wasted resources.” (Roland Allen: Pioneer, Priest, and Prophet p. 90)

The thought that someone would say that missions was bankrupt 100 years ago is very disturbing because it is so accurate yet we still find ourselves in many ways in the same condition. (BTW, Clark quit his business in 1907 and dedicated the rest of his life to the work of overseas missions.)

For Maria and I the answer was to simply quit.

To get some distance from missions so that God could speak to us about the next step. It has been very difficult and humbling. I would not recommend it to anyone. We used to once call “the world” our home. Now it is my “big-box Mart” job 14 miles from home.

About four months ago I felt the Lord tell me to start a Blog called: Until All Have Heard.

I did that.

We have started a house church in our house with another family.

We feel that the sickness in the church is the root of the problems on the mission field. Unless we can return to a New Testament framework for church, how can missions – the planting of churches where there are none – ever be successful? In reality, “church-as-we-know-it” is built more off an Old Testament model than a New Testament one. A Holy Man in a Holy Place performing a Holy Function on a Holy Day for a mass audience.

”That which has given birth to you is sick! Therefore what comes forth from you is sick. “

I guess I am saying all this to say: Join the cause!

Maybe the transition you are in right now is from the Lord to look at missions differently. You of all people would do it, not with a critical spirit, but with discernment and shrewdness. “Wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Mtt 10:16

I cannot bear the thought that I will tell my children in 25 years that the Muslim world is still not as reached as it was in 2008. Maria and I have dedicated the rest of our lives to make sure this is not the case.

“Here we stand, we can do no other!”

With Much Love,

Jeff and Maria

P.S. If this strikes a chord anywhere with you I have written two blogs covering more of the same ground.

The Emperor has no clothes on. Why I quit the job I loved.

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Apostolic Thinking from our Apostolic Fathers

February 4, 2008 Leave a comment

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“I look upon foreign missions as the scaffolding around a rising building. The sooner it can be dispensed with, the better; or rather, the sooner it can be transferred to other places, to serve the same temporary use, the better.”

Hudson Taylor CIM


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“Why isn’t the church accomplishing more in the area of world missions? It’s because we have not apostolic men, they do not go about their work in apostolic style, they do not have apostolic churches backing them up, and they have not the apostolic influence of the Holy Ghost!”

Charles Spurgeon

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“All that they had was the fellowship; nothing else… It is hard for us to visualize what early Christianity was like. Certainty it was very different from the Christianity known to us today. There were no fine buildings. There was no hierarchy; there were no theological seminaries; there were no Christian colleges; there were no Sunday Schools; there were no choirs. Only small groups of believers… small fellowships.

In the beginning there wasn’t even a New Testament. The New Testament itself was not so much a cause of these fellowships as a result of them. Thus the first books of the New Testament were the letters written to the little fellowships partly because of their difficulties, dangers and temptations. All that they had was the fellowship; nothing else; no standing; no prestige; no honor…. The early Christians were not people of standing but they had a secret power among them, and the secret power resulted from the way in which they were members one of another.”Elton Trueblood


“Much of the church planting in the 20th century has been paternalistic rather than catalytic in its approach and attitude. This view of missions results in two things in the hearts of national Christians: a dependence on those sent by God to establish a new work and a resentment that ownership has not been transferred.”

Bill Beckham The Second Reformation

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