You're not going to believe it, but it's true. I recommended Viola to a pastor in town yesterday. I told him not to pay any attention to Viola's analysis of history, but that he would really resonate with the basic ideas.
This pastor was saying things like 1) "Most pastors think their crap doesn't stink" and 2) I'm afraid in 5 years our church plant will become a conventional church and 3) I hate the institutional church and 4) I don't want a church building. I want Hobby Lobby... So I recommended Viola to him. I said I thought his historical analysis was idiotic but that he's scratching your itch.
By the way, this pastor is hoping to take out a billboard later this year that says, "Satan, get the h*ll out of town." Anyone living in Marion, Indiana now knows who I'm talking about, given the infamous "sex" billboard last year. :-)
I suspect today is going to be filled with surprises. Although I believe in ordination and I believe in being called to be an ordained minister, I do agree that there is great freedom within the big tent of Christianity for various levels of empowerment of ministers. And the fact that I am OK with the way Viola does "minister" in and of itself means that I do not think the rules set down by other traditions, including the Methodist tradition of which I am a part, are absolute.
Although I follow my tradition and would enforce my tradition for those within our fellowship, I have significant self-doubt about the idea that only an ordained minister (on some level) can consecrate the elements in communion. I certainly prefer to be in the succession of ministers going back to the early church. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions would not recognize me as being in proper "apostolic succession," but I am glad to say I was ordained by a minister ordained by a minister... who was ordained by someone among the first apostles of believers.
But I cannot defend this preference of mine as a requirement or a necessity. I like the fact that my local church can't just up and ordain me. I like the fact that my denomination hasn't just up and ordained me. It makes me feel that I am a part of something much bigger than some group of 27 people in the mountains of Kentucky. I am connected as a minister across space and time back to the earliest apostles.
But it doesn't necessarily make me one bit better equipped to serve than that person genuinely anointed by the Spirit in Kentucky.
I am all for training of ministers too. I'm sick of the anti-education sentiment that is very much apart of the American anti-intellectual ethos, the only country where being good at math and science makes you someone to laugh at. We're the only country where, if the vast majority of experts on a topic think something, that makes that particular position highly dubious. Yes, I agree, seminaries and churches bear a lion's share of blame for this divide. They have made themselves irrelevant.
Yes, I have that tendency too, to be irrelevant. You'll be happy to know that I have consistently yielded to the practioners in the design of IWU's new MDIV and probably seminary. It will be, I think, the most practical and adult-education friendly MDIV on the market.
But the fact that seminaries are largely irrelevant, the fact that those who most like to teach usually are, by personality, most interested in the least immediately pressing matters, doesn't mean that they are wrong on what they think. Short term irrelevancy is not the same as being incorrect or even irrelevant in the long term. Make fun of them for their conflict management skills, yes. That doesn't mean they understand God less than you do.
It is a horrible and ironic situation. The most "successful" pastors often seem to be those who are the most ignorant of things biblical, theological, philosophical, etc... Meanwhile, those who are most knowledgeable about things biblical, theological, etc. seem least effective in getting the work of the ministry done. How do we get these two very important parts of the body of Christ into real dialog with each other?
Again, we have gone to great strides in IWU's MDIV to balance the importance of practice with the importance of depth of knowledge. I and others are currently going over every assignment in the first main course, Missional Christianity, with a team of practically minded bright minds, trying to find the balance between practice and underpinings.
Well, this post is supposed to be about Viola's sixth chapter, the pastor, so let me get to it.
The previous reviews were:
1. Viola's Preface
2. Barna's Introduction
3. The Church Building
4. The Order of Worship
5. The Sermon
Chapter 6: The Pastor: Obstacle to Every Member Functioning
I agree with Viola that there is sparse support in the New Testament for the idea of a single leader of a local assembly. I personally wonder if, somewhat like the "synagogue rulers," an elder in a local assemby rotated as a kind of director each year, but I can't prove it.
In Acts 20 Paul calls the elders of the churches of Ephesus and then says in verse 28 that God has appointed them overseers of the flock (thus the pastoral image). This passage both seems to support and undermine some of Viola's claims. On the one hand, it supports his claim that there was no single overseer or "pastor" of these assemblies. Yes, they likely were literally old men. The evidence is not strong for them all being men but it is probably a safe assumption in most instances. Yes, "pastor" probably was not a senior leader of the assembly.
1 Peter also writes elders who oversee and shepherd, fairly obviously in imitation of Christ, I think. 1 Timothy does speak of individuals aspiring to be overseers and ministers (diakonoi), but it is not clear that this fact means there was only one of them in a locality. I personally imagine that multiple individuals in a given locality might have aspired to these roles.
But as usual, I think Viola pushes things too far. I had a conversation with a colleague who suggested to me that the house church movement was possibly in decline and that Viola's vigor is really an attempt to keep it going. The problem, my colleague suggested, is that these local church fellowships can't get their people to stop attending established churches. If this is at all true, then I understand Viola's work to be an attempt to get people out of the established churches and into their fellowship alone.
This is of course the place in every chapter where Viola pushes me over the edge. It is not enough for him to justify his house fellowships. I have little against that. I am all for small group accountability and charismatic fellowship.
My problem is that he then wants to burn all the established churches down and villainize them. The reason the later parts of the New Testament move toward institutionalization--indeed why revival movements become more conventional in the second and third generation--is not because of the myth of the dying of the light and the work of Satan in the institutional church. It's because institutions ensure survival of a movement.
If we go back to the chapter where Viola villainized Whitefield as the poster child for Methodism. Whitefield was apparently an amazing preacher. Benjamin Franklin was said to have left his wallet at home when he went to hear him so that he wouldn't be able to contribute money to him... and Franklin wasn't even a Christian!
But where are Whitefield's crowds today? I can tell you where the crowds of the organized, institutionalizing Wesley are. They are the various variety of churches in the Wesleyan tradition. Detach from an institutionalized church and your movement will die after you do, unless the second generation institutionalizes. You can blah, blah, blah about the Holy Spirit all you want. That's just the way it works, and any one who says differently is fighting the entirety of human history.
Mock the Roman Empire all you want. It lasted 1000 years. Mock the Roman Catholic Church... and lets see where the descendants of your house church are in 1500 years.
So back to the Bible. I think we have every reason to think that the role of elder in a local assembly was more or less for life. Clement of Rome was writing in the 90's. And he wrote to Corinth telling them that they did not have the authority to remove from the office of overseer individuals who had been appointed by the apostles.
And at the turn of the century, these overseers seem to have covered an entire city--Onesimus, bishop of Ephesus, for example. Could this be the same Onesimus we read about in Philemon? What a horrible man to depart so dramatically from the teaching of Paul! Or maybe the idea of designated leaders wasn't so out of keeping with Paul after all.
Viola also suggests that church planters like Paul left localities "so the church could function under the headship of Christ" (141). Nah, I think they wanted to spread the gospel throughout the world before Christ returned and needed to get to, oh say, Spain (Rom. 15).
The earliest church, including Paul, did not expect the wait for Christ's return to go quite so long as it did. Regardless of what you think about the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy, it seems pretty obvious to me that this book represents a "battoning down the hatches" for the long haul in the absence of apostles like Paul around to keep the church as a whole on track. I know there are better scholars than me who disagree, but I smell cop-outs on their breath. So Paul passes on to Timothy a "deposit" of teaching to pass along.
It is probably in this area of sacramentalism and ordination that I feel most squeemish in terms of where the great catholic tradition went. I sit loosely to it believing that 1) it is important for there to be sacred things and 2) God meets us in certain basic ways that are fundamental to all human nature, which means we can see the light of God even if dimly in the "pagan" arena, 3) it is important for there to be local experts on Christian belief and practice and 4) so called Spirit-led, undirected expressions are more often than not, not, 5) denominations certainly have a ton of mess in them and solo pastors have their quirks and can be self-defeating, but they ensure the perpetuation of the faith in a way a house church does not (unless it's an underground house church movement where there are no established churches).
Like I said, I am very comfortable with my own denominational structure, especially if we don't take ourselves too seriously.