It’s Time to Fly

For centuries, the desire to fly has interested humanity.  Despite this interest, the attempts at flying were frustrating endeavors resulting in failure that sometimes came at a great cost, as people died while attempting to fly [1].

You might recall seeing pictures of people harnessing themselves in bird-like wings.  They believed that by emulating the wings of birds that they might successfully fly as birds do.  The assumption was that reduplication of the reptilian form was the only way in which humanity would achieve the same function of flight.  Of course, this was wrong.  More importantly though, on December 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright brothers became the first humans to succeed in flying and they did so not by emulating the reptilian form but by pioneering a new innovative approach to aviation.

Similarly, in metaphorical terms, churches long to fly as well [2]. That is, most churches I know want to be a community whose faith is thriving through great worship, fellowship, and mission that includes both evangelistic and service oriented ministries.  

For many churches within the restoration heritage, the attempt to fly has been to try and reduplicate the pattern of the first-century church.  This assumed first that one single pattern existed and that such pattern could be mined from the New Testament.  That assumption reduced the New Testament to a flat text which was read like a set of by-laws on church polity rather than a dynamic collection of Christian writings which both reveal and shape true living faith in Christ.   Secondly it assumed that by such reduplication — restoring churches to that assumed single pattern within the New Testament — that contemporary churches would function as the conduits of God’s mission as they are called to be.

Rarely has anyone considered that, as followers of Jesus, God is asking his people to pursue an innovative vision that only God can bring about among the church.  I believe it is time for an innovative dream to be pursued!

It’s Time to Fly!

In scripture, we hear the call from Jesus, the invitation to follow him (cf. Matt 4:19; Mk 1:17; Lk 5:10-11; Jn 1:35-51).  So I begin with the assumption that pursuing an innovative dream for the future of our church must oblige us towards growth as followers of Jesus.  Such an obligation happens as we take the information we have in scripture so that we can imitate Jesus as his followers and eventually innovate his way of life in our own cultural context just as the early Christians did in Jewish and Gentile contexts [3].

The vision, in short, is to live as a kingdom community within the larger community and culture.  It’s living as participants in God’s mission of restoring creation; living as a people who offer good news to the weak, the poor, and the blind; living as a church that is attractive to those longing for hope yet so committed to Jesus that it is impossible to confuse the church’s identity.

What must change among church for this vision to become reality?  That is a question worth asking!

——————–

  1. I wrote a similar yet different article of the same title that was published in Connecting, 28 (January 9, 2013), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.
  2. The relating of the Wright brothers successful flight as an illustration for churches comes from Tim Woodroof, A Church That Flies: A New Call to Restoration in the Churches of Christ (Orange, CA: New Leaf Books, 2000), 5-7.
  3. The triadic language of information, imitation, and innovation comes from Mike Breen and Steve Cockram, Building a Discipling Culture, 2nd ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: 3 Dimension Ministries, 2011), 48-51.
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8 responses to “It’s Time to Fly

  1. Was having this same conversation with Dean this weekend. It was a great conversation on how we can go about sharing with the world around us what has happened in and through the coming of our Lord in new and fresh ways. I recently read (forget where) that on the Sermon of the Mount Jesus was not only saying that the poor in spirit and the humble will be blessed but that it is through the broken, the suffering that His Kingdom will be brought forth. With that understanding it helps to stay focused on ways we can participate in His mission. Anyway, I am writing to ask a question. For those who try to reduplicate the pattern of the early church many times they will say they do so because this is the only way God has authorized us to do things. Anything else is added by humans and would be false worship. (Instruments come to mind.) How do we step through this mindset? Pretty sure this is a deep question with a long explanation. Maybe you can recommend something already written or could write something about what God has authorized. Anyways, Rex, I pray that you continue to take flight! Amy

    • Any,

      You ask a very good question that deserves a much better answer I can offer here. The assumption that the New Testament is to be read as legal manual prescribing a fixed pattern for church is rooted in the way Churches of Christ were historically taught to read the Bible (= hermeneutics). A book that will be well worth your purchase and reading is Hearing God’s Voice: My Life with Scripture in the Churches of Christ by Tom Olbricht (Professor Emeritus of Religion at Pepperdine University). The book is easy to read, filled with historical and humorous anecdotes from the twentieth century Churches of Christ, and yet in story fashion it will show the problems with the traditional way of reading scripture and offer a better approach (which is just a beginning point).

      The other thing is just trying to help people who are stuck in that way of reading scripture to see a better way. Unfortunately, this first involves a bit of deconstructionism which can be difficult for both teacher and student(s). For example, despite the claim to following the pattern of the early church, there are many features in the New Testament on early Christianity that have been ignored, such as greeting one another with a holy kiss and foot-washing. The question is by what criterion does a church decide that observance of the Lord’s Supper on every first day of the week is essential but greeting one another with a holy kiss is not? Why does the silence of scripture (another assumption – and a faulty one IMHO) prohibit instrumental worship but not church buildings? Such questions, if we’re honest, exposes the inconsistency and fallacy of such an approach to reading scripture. But to help people see this requires wisdom and patience. Don’t press enough and they won’t see the problem but press too much and they’ll feel attacked, thus shutting down any chance of actually considering something different.

      One thing I like to remind people of is that in scripture, we are only taught to follow Jesus. The old way of reading the Bible made the early church through the lens of scripture the object of the command to follow. That is, scripture was read to follow the earliest church. But that violates what scripture itself says about following Jesus, so there is a problem.

      Where I am at now is that I want Jesus to be the object of my faith, whom I follow (though I’m not always good at that). Since I regard both the Old and New Testament as useful for shaping the way we understand and follow Jesus, I am learning to read both Testaments similarly – not as a legislative document (thought there are still commands/instructions in both Testaments to be obeyed) but as a way that forms how I reduplicate, as a follower of Jesus, the intentions and purposes of what they teach. That really needs a lot more explanation (perhaps several blog posts) but I hope that helps.

      Well, that is a bigger answer than I intended to give. But thanks for the thoughtful comment and question.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  2. I will be discussing this at The Tulsa Workshop in March. God has blessed us with amazing growth this past year and I believe a big key to that growth is that we fight to keep that old way of thinking at bay while still celebrating the good parts of our tradition and not being ashamed of them.

    • That sounds like a great class. I do think it is both possible and right of us to honor the good of the past and not be ashamed of them while letting go of those aspects of the past that we now believe hinder our participation in the mission of God. It’s probably not so apparent in the post but I was careful not to sound as if nothing good has ever been accomplished by God through the Churches of Christ and larger Restoration Movement because such a claim would just be flat out wrong. The good that God has accomplished (which every person who became a Christian among a CoC is a living example of) should be honored.

      Any ways, I doubt I can make it to Tulsa but blessings on your class.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  3. Rex I saw nothing in your original post as negative, I agree very much with your thoughts, mine was just a response to what I/we are doing here about the topic. God bless. I will see you at Pepperdine?

  4. Thanks for addressing this issue. I find it problematic that Christians today believe that the only way to grow is to copy the NT Church exactly when it’s impossible to copy the very thing that made it successful: It’s leaders were eye-witnesses to the resurrection!

  5. Pingback: this went thru my mind |

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