My Dear Winthrop,
Roger William’s wife read your letter to me over the telephone last night and I was so excited I wanted to write to you as soon as possible. I do hope you don’t mind! I must say that I am truly humbled and touched by what you wrote having heard my teaching tape series on Traditions, and just want to be of any encouragement I can.
Whatever you do, don’t feel bad about having been part of a wrong system for so long. Remember, the Lord looks on the heart! The years I spent within the system were because of ignorance, yet I was quite sincere, believing, though incorrectly as I now realize, that it was God’s will. And of course nothing at all is wasted in the Lord’s economy; and likewise with our mutual friend John whilst he was a Pastor in the *”^*’*^”* Church. Although wrong, he was nevertheless sincerely wrong, and once he realized from scripture what the true position was he corrected his situation by resigning that pastorate and leaving that set up, and planted a biblical church instead. And it’s our making the necessary adjustments once we do know the truth that prevents us from becoming hypocritical about it at any point. Being part of an unbiblical establishment church, irrespective of which particular flavor it might have been, would have only become sin to me (“Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4v17) had I not acted on what I discovered from the New Testament to be God’s will concerning church life. The fact that I responded as I did meant that all was well in that regard.
And I know all too well the difficult decisions you now face, and I want you to know you have not only my prayers, but the prayers of the church of which I am a part. Stick closely to Williams. Few people are better equipped than he is to provide support and encouragement in the situation you now find yourself in. The Lord will lead you step by step, and you mustn’t feel under any pressure to make big and far reaching decisions before you have properly sorted them out in your own mind and prayed them through. That the Lord will eventually lead you out of the unbiblical church system you are being paid to advocate there is no doubt, but He will do so in His time and His way. Do nothing in haste, but keep what you know you will have to do eventually before you. Then you will know that you are not only doing the right thing, but that you are doing it in response to His direct leading to you and not merely in response to the opinions of other mere men.
Anyway, I wish you every blessing. The Lord honors those who willingly take the harder road when that is His will for them, and He will truly honor you and your family for so doing. And He will provide! That you have responded to these hard truths the way you have tells me you truly are a man of God, and He will never let you down. Remember, the harder the road we travel, the tougher he makes our shoes!
Do stay in touch and keep me posted as to how things are with you. And thank you for your kind letter! You positively made my day at the end of a particularly difficult one! Do send my regards to your dear family and don’t hesitate to ask if you think I can be of any help to you at all,
My Dear Roger,
Here I am at long last. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I wanted a good period of time over which to carefully and prayerfully mull everything you told me; then a thousand other things landed on me all at once time and totally got in the way of me actually sitting down and committing these thoughts to paper (or hard drive, to be more technically correct). Anyway, here I am! And let me immediately say again how excited I am by what’s happening amongst you guys, and about this conference you’re going to have. Wow! I can’t wait to hear how it all goes!
Your first point about proceeding to become fully biblical regarding church and church practice, but without being exclusive, is vital. Our fellowship with each other as believers is based on precisely that one point, that we are indeed believers. Knowing Jesus is enough in order to have fellowship together as brothers and sisters; and no secondary issues, be they to do with church life and practice or whatever, should come into that frame. Even if fellow believers are in churches which are far from being what the Bible teaches, we are nevertheless having fellowship with them as individuals, not with their corporate churches. For instance, I know believers who are in the Anglican Church. However, my fellowship is with them personally. As far as I am concerned they are simply brothers and sisters, and their Anglicanism is irrelevant to me. We shouldn’t give a monkeys uncle about what church someone is part of. If they are following Jesus then that is enough by far for us to enjoy fellowship with them, quite regardless of secondary issues.
Therefore, in our efforts to bring into being more and more biblical churches, we do so with our arms open wide to other believers in every respect. We welcome them as visitors at any time, and not just to ‘convert’ them to biblical church practice either. We would, of course, be happy to see them leave churches which are not biblical in order to rather be part of ones which are, but if they are happy to remain in unbiblical setups then we bless them accordingly and just concentrate on our personal relationship and fellowship with them. However important it is to get church right, and it is absolutely vital, it nevertheless in no wise constitutes grounds as to whom we do, or do not, have fellowship with. We must be clear, though, that taking the New Testament’s path regarding church practice will place us in the position of having at least some believers make not doing so the condition for their continued fellowship with us. I’m afraid these issues concerning church practice do make some believers very angry, especially when they see other believers leave the existing institutional church set-ups, and we must be prepared to take it on the chin when they vent their spleen on us. We must even, I am sad to say, be prepared to lose friends for the Lord’s sake if need be, yet whilst making it as clear as we possibly can that the door to fellowship remains forever wide open from our side, and that we do not in the slightest consider fellowship together to be in any way conditional on matters such as which church someone is part of. And whereas we would not take a proactive stance in trying to actually persuade someone to leave an unbiblical church, that is, we would not be ‘evangelistic’ about it, neither would we shrink from speaking up for our understanding of God’s Word in these areas in situations of mutual discussion and debate. Indeed, we would even be prepared to run the risk, where appropriate, of causing controversy in so far as other people’s reactions (over which we have no control) are concerned, yet would obviously seek to be as gentle and gracious in our speaking as we could possibly be. In that regard it would be fair to say that we are not, on the one hand, on the offensive, nor, on the other, shrinking violets who would not dare say a controversial word in case it causes ripples or upset.
Let’s move on now to your idea of possible ‘associations’ of churches which are biblically based; and this gets to the real meat of my own personal deliberations over some twenty-five years concerning getting back to scriptural practice regarding church life. I am going to walk a real tightrope of biblical balance here, so do bear with me, even if what I say seems a little contradictory at first. I would suggest that any idea of ‘associations’ of churches is actually part of the baggage of the errors of the Early Church Fathers from which we are trying to help people escape. And what I mean by this is that the very term itself carries connotations, at least as far as the understanding of the average beliver is concerned, of the unbiblical organizational and corporate structuring and management which lie at the very heart of denominationalism, regardless of which particular denomination it might be. And of course the key point here is that we find absolutely nothing of that sort anywhere in the New Testament. Indeed, the very idea of organizational structures only came about as the off-shoot of, and logical corollary to, the false teachings and church practices brought in by the Early Church Fathers after the apostles of Jesus were dead.
What, then, would we alternatively have by way of a mechanism by which multiple churches might be able to relate and function together, whilst at the same time avoiding the error of having any kind of hierarchy and institutionalism? After all, neither do we see in the New Testament individual churches which never related wider than themselves, or which considered themselves unrelated to the wider body of Christ and therefore to other churches. So there does indeed need to be some kind of mechanism for a wider relating together of multiple churches, and you actually answered this question yourself when you raised the issue of the ministries Paul outlines in chapter four of his letter to the Ephesians. And what we find there is the simple fact that Jesus gives to His churches not the gift of ‘associations’ or official ‘networks’, or anything like that, but He rather gives gifts of men with differing ministries who can straddle the churches in an area, equip them and keep them moving together in the sense of enabling common vision and goals and the like, but without in any way becoming an hierarchy over them. Apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors/teachers (I see a fourfold rather than fivefold ministry here) will all play a part in being the organic ‘link’ between different churches. Each of these men will be just one of the guys at a church back home, but will be shared out around other churches as they are invited in and called upon to help. They will underline and teach from scripture that each church is self-governing, and practice the leadership and influence of facilitation and enabling as opposed to any kind of authoritative diktat or positional rule. Rather than seeing themselves as in authority over any church they are called in to help out, they will rather consider themselves accountable to it as if it were the assembly of which they were a part back home. Such links are therefore forged on the basis of a mutual recognition between churches of a leading together by the Holy Spirit through inter-church relationships, cemented, in part, by the aforementioned trans-local ministries, all of which emerges over a period of time. However, each church remains autonomous before the Lord and responsible for its own affairs, and we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus wants to be the Head not just of the Church Universal, but of each individual church as well. He alone is the senior elder in each church, and the only hierarchy pertaining to authority in the churches. This being the case, there is therefore not the slightest need for such things as official headquarters, official names of some movement, official letter headed paper. In fact, there is no need of official anything at all. All you then have is churches of believers which are different parts of a larger and more widespread body, moving both independently from each other, yet together as well when needed, sharing a common way of doing things (biblical church practice/ecclesiology) and recognizing the work of men who serve multiple churches and who are therefore trans-local. And in answer to your point about geography, how wide an area such men might span, I say that in an age of Planes, Trains and Automobiles (one of my favorite films, incidentally), that area could be extremely large. After all, just look at the ground covered by Paul the apostle and the geographical spread of the churches he brought into being, and which received help, encouragement and teaching from him. And he did it all on a donkey. I myself cover two continents and am therefore extremely grateful for the aforementioned planes, trains and automobiles (and especially trains. I do like trains!)
So I would urge you to keep well away from any idea of ‘networks, and ‘associations’ and the like. However, if what you mean by your terminology is what I have said about trans-local ministries and the mutual recognition between churches of the leading of the Holy Spirit, then fair enough. But for myself I still prefer to keep any talk of ‘associations’ and ‘networks’ out of it precisely because of the connotations such have for so many believers. Two people can mean two quite different things by the same word, and in this regard wisdom would suggest to me that we jettison the jargon of the unbiblical church system we are leaving behind us. Given too that the New Testament itself doesn’t use that type of language (and it could have), I am sure we are best to just avoid it completely so as to not even run the risk of causing misunderstanding as to what we mean when we talk about this.
I now come to the really big issue, the one which I suspect is the toughest for you all to get straight in your minds: and it’s the question as to whether or not you can, at one and the same time, be biblical in so far as church practice is concerned, yet remain in some way within the ambit and fold of the *”^**”*^**”* Church. And I do have to tell you that I am convinced there is no way for you all to do this whilst, at the same time, remaining true to the Word of God. Let me explain! The very reason that any of us are even addressing these issues is because we have come to see that most churches, whether Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian or whatever, are based not on the Bible at all, but rather on false teachings and practices introduced by men who came on the scene after the canon of scripture was closed. What all these churches (and the myriad others which are just like them) have in common is that they all go completely against what the Bible teaches regarding what churches actually are, and how they should be set up and function. And the *”^**”*^**”* set up of which you are all part is as unbiblical as any of those other churches I have just mentioned. We are therefore confronted with a simple exercise in logic; and it goes like this:
Churches (and the trans-local ‘Ephesians chapter four ministries’ that serve them) can either be based on the Bible, or on something else. If they are based on the Bible then there is no question of them being part of, or organizationally associated with, anything that actually goes against the teaching of the Bible. (Indeed, the churches in the New Testament weren’t actually associated organizationally with anything other than themselves anyway, let alone structures and bodies based on teachings that contradicted the apostles’ teachings.) Therefore, what we have is this: Any idea of a *”^**”*^**”* House Church (and I am assuming that by house church we mean biblical church; there are plenty of house churches based in every other way on the false teachings of the Early Church Fathers) is actually a complete contradiction. I believe the trendy word for this nowadays is oxymoron. It is a complete an utter oxymoron. You can no more have a biblical *”^**”*^**”* Church (whether a small one meeting in house or not) than you can have a square that is round, or a triangle which has four sides. The very phrase *”^**”*^**”* Church exists only because of false and unbiblical teaching in the first place, and of course the very words ‘biblical church’ suggest a church whose corporate life and practice is based solely on the teaching of the Bible and not, therefore, on anything else at all, the Early Church Fathers included. The words in the title simply cancel one another out and leave zero. Such an entity cannot logically exist. Remember, in order for a *”^**”*^**”* Church to become biblical, and this would equally be the case for the Anglican Church, Pentecostal Churches, Methodist Churches, Baptist Churches et al, it would have to renounce absolutely everything about itself which, either historically or currently, makes it a *”^**”*^**”* Church. Can you see the absurdity we are up against there?
I know this is tough stuff, but I am sure it is best to just cut the chords completely, become ex-*”^**”*^**”* Church-church planters and then just get on with it. (I don’t, of course, mean for you to cut actual fellowship with believers in that set up.) You no longer have any need of the *”^**”*^**”* Church and have everything necessary (the Lord is with you, after all) to go one hundred per cent with planting churches that are purely biblical, and to use whatever influence you have with the churches you have all already planted, but which aren’t fully biblical yet, to encourage them to become properly biblical as well. I know there are complications with salaries and stuff from the *”^**”*^**”* Church Mission Board (or whatever it’s called), but I know the Lord will nevertheless provide for you all and that He will show you the way forward individually.
Perhaps we can think of it like this: Jesus made no compromise with the old ‘wineskin’ of a Judaism and a Mosaic Covenant that was destined to pass away in order to make way for the new ‘wineskin’ that was needed in order to contain the new wine of the New Covenant. And in this instance the old wineskin was actually of the Lord, and absolutely right and proper in its appropriate time and place. Yet when the question of mixing the Old and New Covenants came up in Acts chapter fifteen, the apostles and the churches saw quite clearly that they could have no truck with any idea of mixing the two up. They just went with the new wineskin one hundred per cent. The axe, as Jesus said, had been laid to the root of the tree.
And of course if that was how they were led by the Holy Spirit to handle an issue concerning something that was actually once right and proper (the Old Covenant), yet whose time had now come to an end, how much more definite should we be in our total rejection of an unbiblical church system that should never have existed in the first place, and which never was ‘of the Lord’ to begin with? It’s not just that an old, but once correct, way of doing church should now give way to some new methodology the Lord is now introducing, it’s rather that the system we have in place was never actually biblical in any way at all. How ridiculous, therefore, to mix it up with that which, by way of contrast, is the only biblically revealed way to do church. We are talking here about simply returning to the only way there ever should have been of doing church, and we are doing so against the background of the simple historical fact that the biblical way has long since been replaced by a system and ecclesiology that contradicts just about everything in the New Testament that pertains to church life and practice. Paul told the Corinthians, and in no uncertain terms either, that if anyone came up with ways of doing church other than the traditions and practices outlined by him, then such a person was not to be recognized. That is to say, if someone was ignoring the Lord’s commands for church life and practice, then regarding that subject they were to be ignored by the other believers in the church. (“If any one thinks he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” 1 Corinthians 14v37-38)
I am going to dare to be a bit dogmatic now, though only because I trust you all as men mature enough in the Lord not to accept anything just because I am saying it. (You just wouldn’t believe my potential for being wrong!) The biggest danger before you is to end up pandering to the wrong church system you have all been part of for so long. Thank the Lord for all his goodness to you through it, and crawl over broken glass, if need be, to maintain fellowship with the dear and faithful brothers and sisters still within it. Indeed, in so far as it depends on you, remain at peace with other churches; but you must nevertheless come out of that which is wrong. Be biblical in every respect. Stick to scripture in both your church lives and your church planting; and trust the Lord to lead you forward.
Oh dear! I think I have ended up being a little bit more radical than I had intended. I just hope that I am helping and not hindering. Let me just say one more thing and then I’ll leave you in peace. I have suggested to several people that there might be value in having some smaller and more regionalized conferences such as the well established Southern House Church Conference. That conference would remain, but I think that some smaller more regionalized ones would give more opportunity for getting together for teaching, but in maybe a more intimate, interactive and discussion-type setting. People could ask the questions they specifically need answering, and raise the situational problems they are actually having. People like John, James and Franklin, who have been there and done that and got the T shirt, could pass on valuable insight and guidance and encouragement. (I would even happily come myself if asked – hint, hint, nudge, nudge, wink, wink!) It’s just a thought, but something like that might be useful for you guys as well sometime.
Crumbs! I have gone on, haven’t I? Sorry about that! Just pick the cherries from what I’ve said (if you think there are any) and leave the dross! I’ve given you much to think about, I know. I just hope it’s been helpful. Anyway, take care my friend, and do send my regards to the guys who’ll be there when you all meet. I am honored to have played a part with you all thus far.
God bless and take care. I look forward so much to hearing back from you,
(Due to a computer virus what follows is, sadly, the only reply that survived from the church planter concerned.)
I cannot thank you enough for the volume of time you have invested in the response you sent to us. It will be shared, valued and seriously considered.
I indeed thank God for your wisdom and your painfully, penetrating and potent insights. Many around here, after reading such an epistle, would say that they feel as if they have been run over by a freight train.
I wish I could say that you are wrong, but I fear most of that truth cannot be argued, that’s why it is so painful. Especially for us who have lived most of our lives in denominational work guiding churches and loving the people and being loved in return by those who I now realized I led astray. Oh that they could see that they have bought the “traditions” and taken them far beyond anything that I ever taught them. Add to the pain that I have not been a pastor, but a church planter for these many years. Many were new believers and they left Catholicism and felt that they had been duped by false teaching (which was true). They were aware that that would never happen again and they trusted me and followed me and now their churches have birthed churches and some are spiritual “grandparents”. But when I speak to them about matters related to “Biblical churching” they grimmace, look over their glasses and shake their heads. Beresford, I made them what they are. Whether the model was pure or not, I was gifted by God and functioned apostolically and they honored me by giving to me “apostolic” authority with them. I want to take them on to truth, but fear to draw a line in the sand right now and call for a crossing and “back-turning” will alienate me from those I need most to reach and who I alone can most influence. I hope this isn’t compromising thought, but an apostle grieves for his children, those he “travailed” to birth as bodies. If they were all “slightly retarded” I would grieve, but could not alter that. However, the problem is that they are all malnourished, they were never fed correctly and that condition cannot be reversed. So, I struggle.
AS TO “NETWORKS”, I had quite a good time with the Lord last week over this and wrote down a few thought to share in our meeting. I am using the term “Relation-Based Churches” (you would call them “Biblical churches” but to use that in mixed settings has the inevitable side-effect of alienating those who perceive we are saying they are “non-Bibilical” and therefore, they become defensive and insulted and angry even before we can explain ourselves…I know you understand.) Here is my thought:
Relation-Based Churches in an area that have REALTIONSHIPS via their LEADERS and/or by means of their BIRTHING, will very NATURALLY “network” with each other, even without organization. When the number of such churches involved reaches a number not conducive to RELATIONSHIPS, because the number has become too large, then (again without organization) groups will begin to relate to a smaller number of groups within the larger original group based upon either (1) their own geographic proximity or (2) some commonly-held affinity or generational trait.
I think I am agreeing with what you stated about the translocal interaction. It will just happen. With or without us facilitating. I saw this occur with the works we began in the remote area. There was a natural “network” generally because those who began a new church body in a new area came from among an existing one elsewhere and made a relationship with them. Their former group prayed diligently for the “birthing” group, even before they knew the people being reached. They came and visited and helped with teaching and discipling new converts. The normal and natural relationships created a “relationship” between their congregations and that linked them in with others who were likewise linked to their original “parenting” body. When CHURCHES start CHURCHES that’s what happens. When APOSTLES started churches ( i.e. me and a partner alone), we also took people with us from existing neighboring areas and when a church was born, the relationships were already in existence. Each body was completely autonomous but they enjoyed fellowshipping with others on occassion and their relational link was a common tie to the same apostles.
How would you react to this concept and the bold printed statement.? It seems to me that those with whom I have spoken in the house church movement here in the States have almost NO experience with serious church planting or multiplication of bodies and therefore they have never seen this natural Spiritual phenomenon of un-organized “networking” that just evolves. I think this explains the affinity of churches in an Ephesus or a Galatian region, etc.
I do have a couple of questions related to your epistle (and I use that term as a Godly compliment, and to receive such from another apostle is a spiritual delight and feast).
When you spoke of the “mixing of Old and New Covenants” in Acts 15, to you it is clearly evident that there was no mixing,. You state that the “axe had been laid to the root”. That is not so evident to me. I see the results of the Acts 15 meeting, but Judaizers continued to come from “headquarters”. Since churches were autonomous and there was no denominational authority, yet they could and did send such out. BUT – my question has deeper subtleties. There is no reason to doubt (in my poor opinion) that the Jerusalem church(es) were any less “Jewish” in their Jewish approch to Christianity after the Acts 15 meeting. Principles for dealing with the Gentiles were set, but Jewish “traditions” still continues among Jewish Christians. Why does Paul himself continue to observe Jewish holidays and make vows, when he of all people, certainly knows better. He could have completely divorced himself from Judaism, but he choose not to. WHY? It apears to me that he wanted to “use” his own heritage and “traditions” as an entree to “win some”. He continued the practice in cities of visiting the synagogues. When warned NOT to go to Jerusalem he pushes to make it for the Pentecost celebration. I have to believe that Paul continuously saw his relationships with the Jews as a way to reach some and congregate them. He never really “put the axe to the roots” and severed his ties with Judaism, he used those ties to advance the Kingdom, don’t you think?
I see us trying to do the same. Paul did not lapse into Jewish legalism and tradition for his own spiritual life, but he undoubtedly used those traditions for Kingdom advance. Paul was a Jew’s “Jew” and he used that. Could I and the church planters with whom I am going to meet not at least try to do likewise concerning our denomination? Yes, there may be little to gain for our house churches from the denomination itself, but the continued fellowship would afford us an opportunity to influence many others that presently are also struggling and disillusioned, but have no idea what to do. The church life of our denomination is certainly NOT to be compared with Judaism. Our church friends have truth, but have wrapped it in faulty “form” thus preventing the experiencing of God’s ideals for church. They certainly have the “wine”, but the “wineskins” often take presedence over the “wine”. Nevertheless, they do indeed have the wine.
Our denomination here, Beresford, has been united by two zeals – evangelism and missions. In truth they are opposite sides of the same coin. One is evangelism at home and the other is in Judea, Samaria or beyond. In the last decade our churches have come to realize that New Testament evangelism was accomplished most effectively by truly Bibilical church planting. They saw that the New Testament model for missions was normatively the evangelizing of someone’s whole household (for instance, Cornelius, Lydia, the jailer, etc.) Occasionally mass evangelism happened, but usually it was when the apostles entered a new territory and the norm for evangelism was planting churches. They saw that it was more efficient to “group and win” than to attempt to “win” and then “group” people unknown to each other. We have returned to this today – evangelism via church planting. The more that become involved , the more there are who see the potent dynamics that occur when people are gathered in a peer’s HOME for worship and study and fellowship informally, and then the more discontented those leaders become over their own institutional churches, and it is among those of us involved in this church planting that there is such openess to the “biblical church” model today. It appears to me that Paul would keep visiting those “synagogues” if he were among us today.
I stand as an example. None of the other church planters who will gather for this meeting had any idea what house churches were until I influenced each of them within the last year. Of those of us who will convene half have already have begun house churches in which we now worship. That would not be the case now had I not spent time with each of them in the context of their denominational ministry as each one shared with me his frustration over church as it is being practiced. (And Lord, I know your sovereignty could certainly have produced it quite well without my help!) Within our denominational “family” I easily found, gathered and influenced these guys – much as Paul did Jews throughout the world frustrated by the emptiness of Judaism. I do believe that John Williams would tell you that he has been virtually shut off and ostracized by this group of many thousands of congregations here in the US because he “left” the denomination. The influence he should be able to have because of his knowledge and experience has been limited by their reaction NOT so much to the new and Biblical “form”, but rather just to the fact that he “left”. We are a strange group.
Our Lord also is an example of one who hated the traditions. He spoke against them but continued to be found in the Temple courtyards and at holiday events. It was there (in the traditional system) that he could find the leaders of heart that would launch the New Covenant movement. It would be hard to conceive, for me, that Peter and James stopped celebrating Sabbath seders with their families in their homes, and quit observing Passover. These traditions imparted no spiritual grace, but reminded them of God’s goodness and they continued to celebrate them as Christian “Jews”. The temptation and tension was to lapse in the traditional. Sure, it was always present, but so was the potential to reach many Jews for Christ. So they continued to be “in” but not a part “of” Judaism.
At this point I want to continue with our house church here (which is quite without any “organization” and accidentally begun through two evangelistic Bible studies in homes that are both progressing well toward becoming churches) and work among those in my denomination as allowed. IF I am unable to fulfill the desires of those over me in the ways they wish, they can ask me to resign and I will do so gladly. But why should I excommunicate myself when the field of influence is so broad and responsive at this moment? Do you see my predicament? This is NOT a theoretical issue or question for me. It involves me as a real person with real relationships which involve many churches that I have either begun or influenced personally via teaching ministry. John Williams can verify what will happen if I just “leave”. There would be MUCH more freedom if I did. (No persons, real or imagined, looking over my shoulder. No fear of saying the wrong thing or being misinterpreted.) But the “tension” and strain seem worth it. Those who are frustrated by what is wrong are presently “seeking” me out, but of course that is only because I am still “IN” the system as far as their thinking goes. If I were not then they would be afraid to inquire. (Right, John?).
**SO – – -I am asking for your “read” on this, Beresford? Am I deceiving myself? Has my reasoning become deluded? Have I lost spiritual objectivity? Feel free to come back HARD if you think so – I will esteem your response.
AGAIN, I do dearly appreciate your taking time to write and I will be FORWARDING your letter to the men involved in the upcoming Think Tank. IF you can respond to this present reply, you do not need to expend any great amount of time or energy – just “let fly” with a simple answer.
Sincerely “HIS”…and yours,
I was so glad to hear back from you and was concerned lest I had in any way overdone it in my last email to you. And to make matters worse I inadvertently wrote it whilst on line, so it actually went off to you before I had a chance to give it a final read through and checking over. (Computers and I don’t get along and if there is one feature in Windows that I find tantalizing beyond words it’s the so-called ‘drag and drop’ feature – by which I mean there are times when I just want to drag my computer to the top of a cliff by it’s mouse and drop it off!) But I know you are weighing everything carefully for yourself and laying aside anything merely of me.
Crumbs! My heart goes out both to you, and to those other church planters in your department who are now finding themselves similarly struggling with you in regards to these issues. You all have such hard decisions to make, I know; and none of them are exactly straightforward. It’s difficult, isn’t it?
I think the parallel I drew with the Old and New Covenants can’t have been very well explained. Obviously the Jewish Christians in the New Testament churches remained perfectly Jewish; and of course that was fine. They were, after all, Jews. And Paul was certainly happy to become as ‘under the law’ in order to reach those ‘under the law’. But that is where the parallel I was drawing falls down; because he was doing that as part of evangelism to unbelievers. The point I was trying to make was to show how, though Jewish, they nevertheless refused to impose the ‘old order’ of the Old Covenant Mosaic Law on new converts, or even, in that regard, to give it much credence at all. Indeed, that’s precisely what the Circumcision Party did and it got them roundly condemned throughout the New Testament. So they clearly understood that to mix up the two systems could only result in putting believers under bondage. And remember, Paul mostly only reverted to Jewish practice so as not to hinder unbelieving Jews as to his evangelistic efforts among them. (He also did so here and there to appease believers, such as the example we have in Acts with James, but I think one can demonstrate from scripture that he was nevertheless wrong to do so. It certainly never produced the desired lack of persecution though, that’s for sure.) And the point was that if they didn’t mix the Old and New Covenants together (and the Old Covenant had once been absolutely right), is it not then somewhat suspect for us to try and incorporate a system (i.e. the ecclesiology of the Early Church Fathers) which, unlike the Old Covenant, isn’t biblical in any way at all? (But maybe best to scrub that whole parallel, I’ve probably confused you beyond measure.)
My great concern is that if you pander (though I accept that may be too strong and dishonorable a word) to wrong church practice by way of public relations, and to unbiblical churches with a pragmatic outlook that reckons one can somehow fair better within the system of your denominational setup, even allowing that biblical churches could nevertheless still be planted, you run the risk of contamination affecting everything you do further on down the road. The gamble is this: will your biblical influence affect them more than their unbiblical influence affects those in the churches which you labor amongst?
We must ask too whether or not the benefit of those you currently labor amongst in your denominational setup (whether house churches or not) should be put above the benefit of future converts who will be completely uncontaminated by this problem, and who are the real future of biblical churches becoming more widespread. Do we want future converts to be born again into this whole sorry mess of having to be part of unbiblical churches? So my point is: the approach of ‘staying in’ could prove to be a fatally shortsighted and, though yielding possible fast results and short term advantages (good from a pragmatic point of view, but so what?), might come back to haunt you later on as new converts will still be coming into the general ambit of an unbiblical denomination, however loose the connections might be. And that could prove totally disastrous from a pastoral and discipleship point of view.
These are such hard questions to address, aren’t they? Do you put past converts first; or future ones? And if you put past ones first, might that not cause terrible problems for your future ones? I know, of course, that you love these people with all your heart! But if we are really honest there is yet another point that must be considered, and it’s simply this: If believers in churches you have planted and currently have influence over are likely to reject you simply because you withdraw from your denomination (i.e. reject you for acting in good conscience on what you are convinced scripture teaches), then is that the kind of set up and spiritual atmosphere one wants to run the risk of subjecting new believers to anyhow? Would we even want new believers to become aware that such a situation exists in the first place? How on earth would it affect them? Would not future converts then be under the same institutionalized blackmail – tow the denominational line or leave – that you yourself would still be under? Ought you not rather be free to plant and nurture churches in unbridled accordance with the Bible, or should you have to continue to all the time be considering factors that relate purely to issues that arise through the non-adherence to scriptural practices in the lives of other believers?
This is indeed the terrible dilemma of your situation. Do you risk sacrificing the well being of future spiritual ‘babes in Christ’ by pandering to the factiousness (because that’s what it is) of those who would reject you simply for acting in accordance with scripture? But remember, scripture isn’t their final authority anyway – the whims and traditions of men are! And that will always breed factiousness of the kind Paul sweated blood to persuade believers to get free of. Can we really keep on being responsible for causing new converts to be converted into all that dreadful unbiblical mess rather than just bringing them into the biblically based little extended families that churches are supposed to actually be? By its very nature anything built on the edifice of the church practices of the Early Church Fathers will, by definition, breed factiousness, competitiveness and divisiveness of some kind. Only by doing things fully according to the Bible can we keep safe from it ourselves; and even then we have to guard our hearts from it constantly. After all, just look at Demetrius who John the apostle wrote about in one of his letters.
But having said all that, I have another idea. It might be a bit daft and of no practical use to you at all, but here goes anyway. Is it possible to have an arrangement whereby your contract of employment with your denomination could be put on a kind of transitional status? Think of it as a transitional period from one ministry and evangelistic approach to another. And might it be on the basis that after this transitional period of time, one to three years maybe, you will break official ties with the denomination (not fellowship though, obviously) and go fully itinerant and independent in your ministry, no longer being employed under the auspices of anything official at all. If this idea came off it would solve some of the biggest problems you are wrestling with.
Firstly, it gives you more time to have a biblical influence on those churches amongst which you currently labor. As you will still be within the ‘fold’, they will presumably still give you a hearing. Secondly, because they will know you are moving out of the system at a given time in the future, you are then in the position whereby no-one can impugn your integrity and think of you as being either a ‘closet biblical church adherent’, or someone using there position as a *”^**”*^**”* church planter as a ‘cover’ in order to undermine their denominational system from within. Thirdly, because of the pre-determined cut-off point in the future, however long it may be, there will be no risk of contamination through cross-pollination of the new churches you plant in the meantime. Those churches you plant from the time this transitional period commences need never actually be churches of your denomination in any way whatsoever. Fourthly, at the end of the transitional period everyone will know where they stand, and any churches that want to leave the denomination with you can. You will also know by that time that those churches which decide to remain within the denominational system wouldn’t have been influence by you towards becoming fully biblical anyway, no matter how long you might have continued to labor amongst them to that end. Fifthly, even though you will have by then resigned from being a church planter in that particular denominational setup, you might well find that there are still openings for you to be invited in from the outside on an itinerant basis and still continue ministry amongst them all. The fact that a man is himself no part of an unbiblical church setup doesn’t mean he can’t teach and influence from within it if invited and given the opportunity.
Well, it’s just an idea! It might be totally unfeasible! You will best know as to that. I certainly see no biblical reason not to take that approach if you think it might work, and if you felt it was right for you so to do. As long as that all important cut-off point was set and remained non-negotiable, all should be fine.
I personally remain unconvinced by the idea that you could have a ‘biblical church wing’, so to speak, of the *”^**”*^**”* Church. An Association of Biblical *”^**”*^**”* Churches is self-contradictory nonsense to me. After all, if churches are going to be fully biblical, then why would they want to still be in the *”^**”*^**”* Church anyway? (How about setting up a network of Biblical Assemblies of God Pentecostal Churches, or the Association of Biblical Anglican Churches? The whole thing would be a massive and nonsensical self-contradiction. And of course the ‘Assemblies of God’, or ‘Anglican’, bit of the designation would be there for purely pragmatic and ecumenically motivated public relations reasons. So why bother? It would all still have nothing to do with what the Word of God teaches at all.)
Now then, I think the statement you have issued about Relationship Based Churches and how they might be networked together is absolutely fine. (I still don’t like the word ‘network’, though it’s probably just me being pedantic! Words are incredibly powerful nevertheless, so as long as we understand that the use of the word in no way implies hierarchy ‘over’ churches, and that each church is clearly understood to be independent and self-governing, then it shouldn’t be a problem.) It’s based on the thinking that the Lord leads and moves through relationships between churches that He himself brings into being. Brilliant! And it ties in beautifully with the Ephesians 4 ministries to which your flyer for this upcoming get together of your denomination’s church planters refers to.
Regarding your point that, having left the denominational church of which he was a part, John Wiilliams is now completely out in the cold; I am convinced that he had no other choice. Indeed, the very job he was doing of being the ‘Pastor’ was a completely unbiblical one. The Bible knows nothing of ‘pastors’ in the way denominations practice the idea, and so he had no choice but to come straight out. (And I must say that it’s one of the reasons, though there are others, I hold him in such high esteem. He was willing to show integrity and to then pay the price for it!) You are a church planter, however, and your ministry is a perfectly biblical one. The questions you face merely surround under whose auspices you conduct that ministry.
And yet isn’t it interesting that John isn’t actually as out in the cold, influence wise, as perhaps he thought he would be, and as you suggest? After all, you guys are part of the proof of that! If John had just stayed in the denomination and tried to influence things from the inside, do you think for one moment that he would he have had the same impact as he is having now on the outside of the system. I rather think not! The great strength of the position he is now in (outside of his Bible knowledge, teaching ability and the mature Christian life he leads in the Lord) is his very definiteness of having seen something he’d missed in the Bible, and then going out and actually doing it. He now seeks to influence others from that stance of a full personal experience of what he is teaching about. It’s not merely a theory for him; he has actually done it himself and planted a biblical church. He saw in the New Testament what a church should be like, left the one he was part of which was not based on the teaching of scripture, and then went out and got involved with planting ones which were. In so doing he certainly paid the price of a lost reputation as an official ‘Minister’, but so what? I know he would much rather have the Lord smiling at him, even though it sometimes brings the frowns of mere men. You can’t beat personal experience of the Lord’s ways; it’s what all leadership should be based on. To be teaching about biblical church without long personal experience of it would be strange indeed, and those who remain inside the system cannot, by definition, have that crucial experience of what being part of a biblical church is actually like.
So Roger, I hope I haven’t confused you and that these ramblings of mine are helpful. After all, even if the Lord leads you to do none of what I’ve suggested, the mere fact that I’ve gone over it has certainly been helpful to me. Nothing is lost in the Lord, and Romans 8v28 reigns supreme. And let me assure you as well that whatever you end up doing (and I know you will plant more and more biblical churches, even if the Lord does it through you in such a way as neither of us have thought of yet), you will nevertheless have my full support and prayers. I just feel privileged to have played a small part in what’s happening with you guys in that church planting missions department.
Do get back to me on what I’ve said, and remember to take your time as to what you take on board or reject. All that matters is what the Lord is saying to you. There is indeed safety in an abundance of counselors, but it doesn’t mean that they are always right – and I may be well off beam here. You will know!
I am excited too about this conference you are all having, and I assure you I will be present with you all in spirit for those two days. Who knows, maybe before too long we could get together when I’m over there in the States on one of my trips. I am a regular visitor to your shores and would love to get to you all in person sometime. It’s so exciting! Thank you Lord!
Look after yourself my friend, and do send my love to your dear wife and to all the other church planters you work with over there.
Take care now and God bless,
May I first of all wish both you and your family a very happy and memorable Thanksgiving. I’m quite sure you all need the break, and I expect the Turkey will go down pretty good too. As requested, here is a little something for you to read out to the gathering of all you church planters at the conference. I hope it is of encouragement:
Greetings and Felicitations from England! (That’s English for, “Hi guys!”). I really do wish you all the very best for this gathering of yours, and remain honored to have played a small part in it. I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to us all eventually meeting, and how much I respect you guys for the stand you are now taking. I know full well that it isn’t easy, and that there are many difficult implications for whatever course of action you decide to take; but I know the Lord will lead you all and I continue to pray that the way forward becomes clear to you all step by step. I will most surely be there with you in spirit as you meet, and the church of which I am a part here in England is very much praying for this conference you are having together.
So what can I say? How can I best encourage you all? Well, I think maybe to just remind us all what this stuff about getting back to biblically set up churches is actually about: and it’s simply what Jesus wants! It isn’t about what works best, whether evangelistically or pastorally speaking (or any other type of speaking for that matter), and neither is it about doing something new and different merely for its own sake. It is about doing what Jesus, our Lord and Master, actually wants! And what He wants is for us to do things His way, as revealed in the pages of scripture. It is very different, though, from how we tend to think and how we go about things. It cuts across our worldly mind sets and the conditioning that the ‘spirit of the age’ has done in us. It calls us to put our trust in Him, and in His Word, rather than in the techniques, pragmatism, theological ‘training’ and ethos of the modern Western ‘consumerism’ that we have baptized and press-ganged into His service. If I could paraphrase a certain Old Testament prophet by the name of Zechariah; “Not by Madison Avenue, nor by church growth models and your latest seminary fads, but by my Spirit, says the Lord”
For nearly two millennia we Christians have been implementing ideas about church life and practice that go completely against what the Lord has revealed in His Word, and we have then introduced all manner of teachings that also go against what the Lord has revealed in His Word in order to keep those unbiblical ideas and practices going strong and in spiritual vogue. And now, like similar minorities of believers throughout the history of the Christian faith, there are an increasing number of us who are saying that we think Jesus’ way of doing things ought to be the only way of doing things. That the issue is not, and never was, or never should have been, what works best, or what we prefer, but merely what He actually wants as revealed to us in scripture.
If I have learned one thing in the thirty odd years I have been following the Lord (and I hope I have learned a few other things as well), it is that He knows best and that I don’t. And I very much need to know that what I’m doing in regards to church life and practice – and everything else for that matter – is actually what He wants. And if it isn’t, then it’s either merely what I want or, equally irrelevantly, what somebody else wants. And I ultimately only know of one way to find out for sure what He wants, and that is through His Word. That and that alone is the reason why I am part of a church based solely on the teaching of scripture and why I am so thrilled to know that I am far from being alone in such a desire, and that you guys share it too.
Over these two days talk together, pray together, debate out His Word together; and do so in the light of all you have recently discovered concerning the false practices that have deceived and ruled Christian churches for so long. I have no doubt that if your aim is to truly find out, and then to do, what He wants (and I believe with all my heart that such is your desire), then you will discover the way forward for each one of you. You have my prayers, and you also have my respect and admiration. Much more than that though, you have the Lord and His Spirit of Truth.
Let me know how it all comes out, and I look forward in the Lord’s time to meeting you all in person. Live long and prosper! (Beam me up Scottie!!!)