Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ

Reimagining Church: The Church Meeting

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In this second chapter of Reimagining Church, Frank Viola starts to talk about what the organic church’s meetings would look like. He seems to come to a similar understanding as the one that I wrote about in Tertullian’s Worship Service. To Viola, the early Christians had open, participatory meetings where all of the members function under the headship of Christ. This is clearly true because people like Tertullian wrote about it in a historically reliable way. Frank Viola does not (as many do) believe that these meetings were a product of the culture, but a product of a better understanding of Christian theology. While Viola seems to believe that Protestants are largely correct in their theology, he does not believe that they have correctly applied this theology to the practices of the church meetings (getting most of the practices from tradition). I agreed with this point when I reviewed “Pagan Christianity” and see no reason to disagree with it now. The institutional church did borrow its practices from non-Christian sources and these practices are in conflict with Christian theology on many points.

Viola starts the chapter by listing 4 types of meetings held by the early church. Apostolic, evangelistic, decision-making, and church meetings. An apostolic meeting is where an outside teacher comes to start or equip a church to live under the headship of Christ. An evangelistic meeting is for the purpose of starting a church or growing it by preaching the Gospel to unbelievers. A decision-making meeting is a meeting of the church to make a decision on something. The church meeting is the regular open participatory meeting of the church like that described in 1 Corinthians 14. The only meeting that would be considered regular would be the church meeting while the others would be based on the needs of the church. The only addition that I would make is that I think it would be appropriate to also have a prayer meeting (like the early church had when Peter was in prison). I don’t think that Frank would oppose that idea though.

Next, Frank Viola talks about how the purpose of the church meeting is for mutual edification. I have wrote about this idea quite a bit and Frank and I are totally in agreement on this point. We should not meet so that one person talks at us for an hour and then we go home. It is our role to edify and to be edified. I would agree with this book in that the church meetings today have lost mutual edification.

Frank goes on to talk about Christ being the director of the church gathering. Until I started reading Viola (and this was back when his books were self-published and had different titles), I had never really considered that Christ was supposed to lead the meeting. I really had thought that it was right for us to have people lead the meeting. I think many get confused when people say that the Holy Spirit is supposed to work in the meeting because then they think that I am talking about faith healing and tongue speaking which I am not. I don’t believe that the Spirit chooses to do those things like He did in the 1st Century (although I don’t believe He is in any way prevented from doing them) but that doesn’t mean that He cannot direct the church meeting. The Spirit still indwells the Christian and can work in our hearts to offer praises to God and edify the church. There is no reason that we have to take over the Christan assembly because the Spirit is unwilling to lead it. Frank also makes the point that Spirit could leave an institutional meeting and that nobody would notice because it would go on unchanged. That is an important point that shows that humans are the divisors of the institutional church meeting and not Christ.

The chapter goes on to talk about the priesthood of all believers. Many Christians believe this doctrine but very few put it into practice and this is what Viola would like to correct. The weakness of the church today is largely caused by the fact that only the “clergy” have experience doing anything of importance. The institutional church doesn’t really need you to do anything except pay. They have professionals for everything else. I really believe that an organic church is essential for the growth of Christianity in todays world and that the institutional model has proven itself as insufficient for making disciples of Christ.

Many people (mainly church professionals) make objections when they hear about organic church. They are basically two: 1. The church will fall into heresy without professional clergy 2. We’ve tried it and it didn’t work. Frank Viola answers both of these objections well. On the first, he shows how the Apostles trusted the churches with the Gospel and that they didn’t fall into heresy. Actually, most heresies that happened were caused by human leadership. These humans devised their own doctrines and then bound them on people. These people then started institutions to protect these doctrines and this caused them to spread across the globe. In organic churches (like Viola’s) heresy would be contained to only 15-30 people and would not be allowed to spread through a charismatic leader. At most, a few houses might teach this heresy but it wouldn’t become as big of a thing as it does in the institutional church and after a short time it would probably vanish. If you ask me, organic churches are more heresy-proof than institutional. On the second point, Viola blames the failure rate of organic movements on the members being ill-equipped to operate under Christ’s headship. Being in a new house church during its first two years, I know that this is probably the truth. Having been in an institutional church our whole lives (nobody had ever done house church before) we were not really conditioned to participate in organic meetings. I can see the wisdom in Viola’s suggestion of apostolic meetings to help these new churches be organic (but you might want to read my An Issue With “Pagan Christianity” for more details).

This chapter ends with a description of a meeting that is under the headship of Christ. This is not a blueprint (because there isn’t one) but shows the kind of things that happen when Christ is the head of the meeting. I have been in similar meetings and could really resonate with the power that Frank saw in this meeting. When there is not clergy or liturgy, the gifts of the saints can really shine and be very edifying.

While I still question the necessity of having meetings, I really can see the beauty of Frank Viola’s vision of what the church can be. I look forward to reading the next part of the book and would like to thank Present Testimony Ministry for giving it to me.

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