Monday, August 27, 2007

Back to Front Church?

I am currently reading "Building a Better Body: The Good Church Guide" by Simon Jones, which was sent to me by Stuart as he knows that we are currently thinking long and hard about the nature, meaning and purpose of the church.

In the first couple of chapters Jones makes a startling claim. He says that we have traditionally viewed our Christian gatherings like this:

In contrast he draws on the work of I. Howard Marshall, the long time professor of New Testament at Aberdeen, who caused controversy in 1985 with an article entitled, "How Far Did the Early Christians Worship God?" in which he says that the overwhelming New Testament pattern for Christian meetings is not the traditional one (above) but this one instead.

If Marshall is right, then it has huge implications for the priorities we have for our churches, and how we go about our times together. I am not sure he is completely right, Stott for example would argue in "The Living Church" that the early Christians would have continued to conduct formal worship within the Temple system. At the very least however Marshall's exegesis suggests a distortion in our conception of church. If genuine worship is living for Christ in the world, not drawing away from the world in order to be "lost in wonder love and praise" (as the hymn writer would put it); then it sends the cat amongst the pigeons of much of our assumed ecclesiology.

I have more thinking to do here, and I am trying to get hold of Marshall's original article. Thanks again to Stuart for the book!


Anonymous said...

ah, good to see the hideous man is back

Endlessly restless said...

I'm naturally inclined towards Marshall's view - although I think it needs modified. I've made some comments in my blog today following up my thoughts on 'too much church'. Constructive dissent welcomed!

Steg said...

Well I went onto your blog looking for holiday photos and got to this post. Gosh. Welcome back anyway.

As an agnostic backslider or whatever the term is, I have a question. Can't you just do both approaches? They don't seem terribly contradictory. Go to Church, meet up, sing songs, do the prayers, have planning meeting every so often and then toddle off and do good works? I realise I'm sounding more flippant than intended, but it seems to me that Christianity's stregth is the tradition of:

1) supportive community in a church.
2) Some decent music though admittedly some truly dreadful music too, but that's life I suppose.
3)Christian Aid, CAFOD etc who see doing good works as a part of faith. Same goes for Sally Army with their blankets and brass bands.

Or have I missed something?

That Hideous Man said...

Hello Steg - I agree, I don't think the two models are contadictory, it's more a question of emphasis - and the church seeking to continually reflect upon its inherited traditions to see if it is being faithful to its calling or not.

As for the holiday snaps - I've been working on them, getting a few ready to stick up, they're ccoming soon. I got as far as the weird-tree-that-looks-like-a-horse one last week, and then got distracted!

Steg said...

Fair enough. There's probably a sliding scale of churches between the two views. And another sliding scale of people within the churches...Your point about reflecting upon inherited traditions is interesting, because churches tend to reflect current society to a large extent, albeit in slightly modified form.

That Hideous Man said...

The so-called, "Christ and Culture Question" is a fascinating one about which I might post at some point.

Suffice to say that Christians (and their churches) should be a modified form of their own culture, if they are doing their theology incarnationaly and contextually; critiquing both their culture and traditions.

The church's theological roots of this are based on the idea that Christ, who is our ideal, was truly, fully and completely a first century Palestinian Jew. He certainly radically critqued his culture - but from the inside, whilst inhabiting it.

- so much to explore here, another time perhaps!