Thursday, April 10, 2008

Giving up regrets

I'm almost finished reading Pagan Christianity and I'm amazed at how much of what is done in the institutional church is rooted in pagan traditions. While reading, my emotions have gone from anger over what the church has now become to sadness over what the church could have been. The description the authors give of the New Testament church is electrifying.

"The New Testament church had no fixed order of worship. The early Christians gathered in open-participatory meetings where all believers shared their experience of Christ, exercised their gifts, and sought to edify one another. No one was a spectator. All were given the privilege and the responsibility to participate. The purpose of these church meetings were twofold. It was the mutual edification of the body. The early church meetings were not religious "services." They were informal gatherings that were permeated with an atmosphere of freedom, spontaneity, and joy. The meetings belonged to Jesus Christ and to the church; they did not serve as a platform for any particular ministry or gifted person."

When I read that I got excited and began to envision how wonderful it would be to be part of a gathering like that. As I continued to dream, I remembered that I had been involved in a group like that at one time. A number of years ago, after I left the abusive group that I had been part of for 3 years, several of us began gathering in a home. Even though we had all suffered in an abusive situation, we didn't gather licking our wounds. We ate together, took the Lord's supper together without a pastor and a few of us came ready to share what Father had given us while we were apart. There was no program and nothing was planned. There was total freedom.

Looking back on it now, I remember it fondly. However, at that point in my life, I was frustrated because of the lack of structure. I wanted structure. I wanted a set lesson . . . maybe with me as one of the teachers. I wanted the meeting planned so that it would move along smoothly. As my frustration increased, I finally stopped going. So, did a lot of other people so the group finally disbanded.

I've often wondered what would have happened if I had stayed and encouraged others to stay. Maybe, in time, it would have grown and someone might have gotten the idea to start another church. Or maybe, just maybe, we would have continued on as a group of New Testament believers who gathered in freedom. Perhaps our meetings today would truly picture what the scriptures describe as the life of the church.

Well, those are things that I'll never know since the past is gone and I can't change it. Apparently, I wasn't ready at that time but now I've grown to a place where that type of gathering seems very appealing. It wasn't perfect but looking back it had a lot of life in comparison to the static routine church services I've since experienced. At times, I wonder if I'll ever experience anything like that again. At this point, it doesn't seem likely but Father has a way of changing things in a most unexpected way.

Kent Burgess, a dear brother in the Lord, has helped me to learn the difference between living with expectations and living in expectancy. Giving up my expectations that Father has to work in my life the way I want him to has been very difficult but I'm now learning to live in expectancy knowing that he is working and whatever he does will turn out for my good.

I don't know if I'll ever be involved in another group like that but I do know that Jesus is building his church and, in the end, it will be a church without spot or wrinkle or blemish.


Joel Brueseke said...

Aida... I've got some of the same kind of "regrets" but like you I've also learned to not live in the "what if's," and rather to enjoy what God is presently doing, and living in joyful expectation as I wait to see what He will do in the future.

My wife and I were part of a wonderful church a decade ago. There was some of the usual "structure" but there was also a lot of freedom as well. Our pastor preached a solid hour-long grace message every week and we had a great Wednesday evening get-together as well.

At the time, I thought the "order" was simply how things were done, and I thought we had the extra special benefit of having such a solid grace message in the teaching as well as in the music.

So on the one hand, I won't complain of the way things were done, but on the other hand... When the pastor and his wife decided in 1999 that they wanted to move on to do some other things, and no longer "pastor" the church, the remaining people simply went separate ways.

My "what if" is... "IF" I had known then what I know now, I imagine I would have tried to encourage everyone to keep meeting together, without having to have a pastor to lead us. "IF" I could do it over again, I think we as a body could have really had a great time encouraging and edifying one another.

But it just didn't work out that way. I'm sad about it, but yet I think it's obvious that our Father had other plans and I think some of us who had grown in grace were able to take the message with us and share it with others in ways that we never would have done otherwise.

So yeah... no need for regrets! We follow the Lord where we're at, and we leave it up to Him to work in and through us. It can't get any more exciting than what HE leads us in!

rob horton said...


here is one to consider: how much of what the first generation of professed jesus-followers did was incorporated from "pagan" sources? it is possible the viola over-valuings the first manifestation of jesus-following. just thinking.

grace and peace,

Joel Brueseke said...


I've sometimes thought things like that, such as "what if even the early church had it wrong?" I guess, however, I would think the writers might have pointed it out if what the early believers were doing was wrong. Dunno.

I think the larger point with Pagan Christianity, at least for me, is that much of what the church does these days, and seems to require of its "members," doesn't seem to be rooted in Christ's leading, but rather is rooted in man's ideas of how things should work. And you can see from the book how man's ideas (such as an hierarchy in the church, and an "order of service," etc, etc), are rooted more in man wanting to control the outcome rather than following Christ, the Head.

When Christ is "allowed" to be the Head, I suppose there is an endless variety in how gatherings of the saints might turn out... not limited at all to the examples of the gatherings of the early church.

rob horton said...

joel: i don't think i am wondering if the earliest professed jesus-followers go it wrong. i think i am wondering if they got right for all times and in all places. their incarnation of the good-news might have been totally apropos for their time and their location. we might see the incarnation of the good-news appear in variety of forms in other times and locations and they too may be apropos.

i am with you that some of what is done contemporarily doesn't appear to be congruent with the leading of jesus.

i enjoyed reading your thoughts.


Aida said...

Wow! These are great comments!

Joel, I'm learning to trust Jesus with my mistakes and seeing that he really is bigger than they are. He knew every decision I would make and he's worked that into his plan. Like you shared, this has been an exciting journey.

We'll never know how it could have turned out but it was a wonderful growing time for the two of us that helped to shape and prepare us for this amazing journey that we're on.

Thanks for sharing your story. It's encouraging to know that I'm not alone in this experience.


Aida said...

Rob, I agree with your line of thinking. As I read the book, I felt as though the authors were too rigid in their beliefs that when the church gathers, the "meetings" should occur in a certain way.

From my study of the NT, I find a description of the gatherings of only two churches - the Jerusalem church and the Corinthian church. I don't find a description of any other church gatherings so I don't think we can really make any assumption that there is only one set way that took place as the authors seem to do. I find it quite possible and highly probable that the gatherings of other churches looked somewhat different as determined by location and culture.

I agree with Joel's comment that there are endless varieties of Spirit-led gatherings that are not limited to the one strongly suggested by the authors. In my opinion, these other styles are just as acceptable as long has they have certain characteristics.

I believe every participant should be able to freely share the unique expression of Christ that is in them. Also, mutual encouragement should take place. Last, I believe it's important that Christ be allowed to freely lead his people without man stepping in to control. These are the only attributes that I think are essential and the other aspects of the gathering could and should vary.

Thanks for bringing this up, Rob. You made some great points.


rob horton said...

thanks aida. i read the orginal frank viola "pagan christianity" about two years ago. i ordered our library a copy of his new one with barna, but thus far i have not been inspired to give it a read.


Aida said...

Hi Rob,

That's okay. I know you read a lot and Father has you reading some other things right now. I'm still learning not to jump on the bandwagon because others say a book is good. I'm easily distracted at times but I'm learning to stay focused on where Father has me going right now.

I think you've already learned that and that's good. Maybe you'll read it some day and maybe not. Either way is okay.

I think having my local library order a copy is a good idea. Maybe I'll do that this week.