Monday, November 21, 2005

Jesus & Paul: Kingdom Community, Not Church Planting

Once in a while it's good to realize that I'm not alone in my thinking. I don't need to be vindicated, but it is comforting to know that I haven't completely lost my theological marbles.

About a month ago I was on staff part time as an associate pastor in a church plant here in Utah. I was asked to preach a few times, and I like using such opportunities (including this blog) to push the envelope by being provocative in the hopes of stimulating fresh thinking among evangelicals and others. During one of my sermons I stated that in my view Paul was not a church planter. Despite what we often hear in the received wisdom, I said that Paul was primarily an ambassador announcing the Kingdom, and that a byproduct (if you will) of this herald and embodiment of the Kingdom was the formation of the church, but that Paul was not intentionally planting churches per se. (Incidentally, this and other perspectives were not well received by the pastor and I made the decision to pursue my theological and missiological deconstruction and reconstruction apart from being a part of this church's staff.)

Before you throw up your hands and say to yourself, "Morehead has definitely lost it," consider the fact that much the same perspective has been offered by others that the reader may be more willing to consider than my own. For example, I am currently enjoying the book Emerging Churches (Baker Academic, 2005) by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, and in the book I was pleased to read the following:.

"Jesus was not a church planter. He created communities that embodied the Torah, that reflected the kingdom of God in their entire way of life. He asked his followers to do the same. Emerging churches seek first the kingdom. They do not seek to start churches per se but to foster communities that embody the kingdom....Jesus created an alternative social order, one built on servanthood and forgiveness, through the activities he performed as a leader of a counter-temple movement. Paul continued this model as well. 'If we stated the agenda of Paul's mission in modern terms, it seems clear that he was building an international, anti-imperial, alternative society embodied in local communities.'...missional communities differ greatly from current forms of church planting." (pp. 59-60)
I agree, and their sentiments echo my own feelings on the issue. This assessment by a professor of church growth and a missiologist is worth considering. I hope that others will reassess other facets of theology, missiology, and ecclesiology with the challenges posed by the emerging cultures. The shifts in culture may provide us with an opportunity to recapture a more biblical understanding and approach.

3 comments:

Aaron said...

Though I have not read this quote in its context it seems that the author and possible you, are making too much of a dichotomy between the church and the kingdom. If I have misunderstood then what follows may be unnecessary. Jesus announced that the kingdom was at hand when he was on Earth (Matt. 3:2; 10:7) at the very door, that the kingdom was present (Matt. 12:28 and was to come (Matt 16:28.) There is an already and not yet aspect of the kingdom. It was inaugurated by Jesus and will be consummated at His second coming. The church is the community of Christ's kingdom on earth. The apostles were given the keys of the kingdom and the gates of Hades would not overcome it (Matt. 16:18.) Not even the power of Hell will be able to stop the spread of God's kingdom on earth, the Church. This Kingdom grows through the preaching of the Gospel as more people are added to the church. For even this Gospel is called the "Gospel of the Kingdom" (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14.) You said "Paul was primarily an ambassador announcing the Kingdom, and that a byproduct (if you will) of this herald and embodiment of the Kingdom was the formation of the church, but that Paul was not intentionally planting churches per se." This is true, for the preaching of the "Gospel of the Kingdom" brings new people into the Kingdom and that Kingdom here on Earth is the Church. Christ reigns from Heaven through His Church, which is His Kingdom, and will be fully realized at His second coming.

John W. Morehead said...

Aaron, thank you for your comments on this important topic. Properly understood and defined, I disagree that the authors of Emerging Chuch and I are making an unnecessary dichotomy between the Kingdom and the church. The authors are concerned about church within the crumbling modernist Christendom context, where the church is a place or an institution, rather than a movement and community. The authors contention, and one with which I agree, is that neither Jesus nor Paul was a church planter in the sense of creating institutions with a primary purpose of gather in a sacred space out of a secular world in which to worship and participate in programs while awaiting deliverance at the Second Coming.

In addition, while the church is the expression and embodiment of the Kingdom, it is not limited to the church. The Kingdom of God is the rule of God that began with the announcement of Jesus and the early church, as you note, and as such it encompasses all of God's creation that includes but is not limited to the church.

This line of thinking is influenced by recent scholarship on Jesus and Paul by N. T. Wright that necessitates a reassesment of our theology and missiology. For further background on this I recommend a read of Gibbs and Bolger's book.

Michael Reyes said...

So basically Jesus made disciples who would obey everything He taught them and them told them to make disciples (not institutions or mere converts) and to teach those disciples to obey everything Jesus taught them, including the command to make disciples.

What happened in Acts and the rest of the NT are the results of His disciples obeying His command to make disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. NOTHING short of obeying this command will produce the type of Christians we see in the NT. Christians who "walked just as Jesus walked."