Friday, October 27, 2006


[Sub-titled---A Kind But Personal Rebuttal To A Post On Tents

I'm continuing this little trek of mine down memory lane and trying to show some of my theological changes and why. The "not so sure" part is because, since I've come to see the text of scriptures differently in some areas, the assumption can obviously be made, with some degree of certainty, that I've still a ways to go in correctly understanding some things. The text hasn't changed, just my understanding hopefully led of the Spirit, if not, hopefully He'll correct me. I think I'm in capable hands there.

This post also will address an assumption stated by another blogger as to "being under the Tent" when certain beliefs are/are not held by Baptists. My opinions only. No animosity. Just another person's view of an issue which, in Kingdom stuff, is permissible I would think.

There have always been two extreme views within Christendom about the Church. One has been to view the Church "only" in terms of Universal, or including all true believers everywhere. The other has been to view the church as "only" a local group, and the universal will not be a reality until heaven. This is because to be a church there has to be some structure such as a pastor to preach and lead in the ordinances. Where this structure is not in place, there is no church. I was, for several years in the latter belief system. The "Trail of Blood" was as important to me as my Bible in understanding the church. This period lasted from the late fifties to the mid- sixties. It was not because of what I was taught by my original Pastor and church, it was because of my association with Fundamentalists who seemed to know what they believed and defended it with fervor, if not scripture. But during that same time frame I began to read some of the foundational men of the Reformed category. A problem arose. They were not saying the same thing as my friends about the Church. By the late sixties, as I graduated from Seminary, I had come to a new understanding. Permit me to state it simply.

I now hold to both the "organism" idea, meaning the universal concept of all believers forming the Body of Christ, and a "local" group concept, meaning the forming of an organization that might vary in structure adapting to the context of culture. You can see I do not now believe there is an "absolute" that makes it when you leave one Baptist church to go to "another, you have to find the "other" to be exactly like the one you just left, as, say, would be true of a Roman Catholic or a Landmark Baptist. We're free to adapt our structure of things. Why? Here's where the scriptures began to be my guide instead of books written my men I admired. There is no model in the NT for an institutional local body called the "church". There is, in fact, no incident of any individual being examined and "joining" a local church, much less how that group looks and functions structurally.

Thus, I came to see that there is the Body, indwelt by His Spirit, and the groups in Corinth, Thessalonica, and Rome, but with no descriptive form related to us in scripture. This did not alter my believe as to the importance of the local group. [church] It did, however, show me how that group looks may vary out of practical necessity. The mission field and SBC Missionaries find the reality of this all the time in their work. Which is why for a BOT of the IMB of the Southern Baptist Convention operating in America to tell them how a group in Portugal is to look is odd if not detrimental, it seems to me. [ But that's another post at another time. Back to the point.]

What I'm saying is, I came to recognize that the Body is to live by biblical principles certainly. And He has gifted people with spiritual gifts for the good of the whole Body. But the structure or form of a local body, as to organization and function, is not the sacred thing. The life in us as the Body of Christ AND in us as a local group is the sacred thing.

The Body may see things differently. My agreements theologiclly are more in line with Baptist theology, as evidenced by holding to eternal security, baptism by immersion as a testimony of union with Christ, the ordinances being testimonial by nature, and a myriad of other things and that's why I'm Baptist. There are certainly differences in lesser things among Baptists, but agreement in the essentials, and importantly to me, a sharing of a missions endeavor second to none, is what makes me a Southern Baptist by choice.

I've also moved from a single pastor idea to a multiple pastor idea because of the scriptures using "Elders" in the plural with a rare exception as in say, the Revelation section. I guess the reason Southern Baptist stopped using the "Elder" concept, since we held to it originally, seeing The first President Of the SBC in 1845, Dr. W.B. Johnson, was an Elder with other Elders in his church, was because of the Cambellite controversy where they started using Elders and Southern Baptists started using "Pastor" as the preferable term. This in spite of the fact that the word "Elder" is used multiple times and "pastor only once in scripture. We tend to overreact sometimes don't we.

As to why we as Southern Baptist came to a single pastor idea, I would think it was because of the westward expansion where one Elder would go west, leaving the others behind of course, and wind up in a town, be recogized as the "parson" [person of standing as they thought of it] and serve a small group of people as a church. The rise of the Landmark movement with it's emphasis on structure and a single pastor, who, by the way, was the only one qualified to minister the ordinances, had it's influence also. [We faced several controversies as a convention over this movement, but would not give in.]

But my journey and change have been presented. Local body important? you bet. How it is to look set in stone, ie, a pastor, deacons, only the pastor can baptize, only the authorities can administer the ordinances? no way. The structure is not given in scripture.

Now, here's the rub. I've held this view for the past thirty-five years, long before the resurgence, and there has been no problem with me being a Southern Baptist. I've had the privilage [and with due respect to some, there is no arrogance intended here at all, but the Lord will be my judge on that] of preaching in Adrian Rogers deacons retreat where I taught the "Tabernacle in the Wilderness" to them as a favor to Adrian whom I greatly appreciated. I've pastored Jack Taylor, Bill Gillham, Rick Warren. I was pastor to people like Oscar and Carolyn Thompson, TW and Lavern Hunt, John and Virginia Seelig, all of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and my stated views on the Church as Body/local church body have never been a problem...UNTIL NOW.

It appears I can no longer hold to the views I have of the relationship of the whole Body and operate in a local group with flexability in forms and be truly SBC if...what was recently said in a post by a blogger is, in fact, true. This is a new thing for me after 35 years and I find it very uncomfortable. One can see why I am thinking something has changed in the SBC beyond the battle for the Bible for inerrancy. My freedom to interrupt the scriptures in regards to the Body/Local fellowship and remain a Southern Baptist is now being challenged if what was said in that post is true.

For those of you unfamiliar to the post, permit me to give a brief explanation.

Someone [our son Wade, but this is not personal with me] was challenged because he holds to the same views I've stated here. [With, I'm sure, some variations.] This comment was made in a blog post, and I quote, "Frankly, I believe that the problem is not that the tent is not big enough, [SBC is the tent] but that Wade has discovered that, on these issues of controversy, [The church as I've been describing] he is NOT UNDER THE TENT at all, and he wishes to be."

This statement, if accurate as to it's assessement of the SBC in regards to this issue, says I'm no longer a Southern Baptist. Well, my history with the SBC has been one where it's tent was able to handle the views that I've presented in this post, which views I and others hold...I hope it never will not.

More later...

Paul Burleson

A Saturday morning update...

I've had an exchange of comments with the author of the blog refered to in my post. The "tent" as he called it, that I took to mean the SBC, he now says was intended to refer to the "Baptist Faith and Message." In other words, the BF@M is what Wade is "outside of", in the opinion of the author, because the BF@M refers to closed communion NOT open communion.. I then ask him how the phrase "AND WISHES TO BE" made any sense. Does he mean Wade wishes he really could be a closed communion believer? The author said that statement in his article WENT TOO FAR.

I have read/do read the author regularly and believe him to be a stand-up guy. He has evidenced that here, in my opinion. I thank him for the dialogue.

My bottomline principle presented in my post stands for me personally.

Paul B.

Monday, October 23, 2006


I'm not sure of the blogging ethics that are in play with this new genre but I'm going to risk taking it as an opportunity to write a note to friends. If this violates something, someone enlighten me please.

I've always been accused of giving TMI [too much info] from the pulpit and it was in the context of being too free with personal information, whether it be of struggle or emotions or doubt or whatever, but I'm afraid that's the way I am. [Some people like a pastor on a pedestal and I've always refused that lofty position.] So, having given that disclaimer, here's a kind of personal note to a bunch of friends, albeit on a blogg.

I really enjoyed reading your responses to the article by Jon Zens entitled "Four Tragic Shifts Of The Church" posted on Saturday, October 7th. His web-site is It is a web page that presents material from a magazine "Searching Together" that is the publication of a fellowship of believers at Word of Life Church in Taylor Falls Minnesota. Jon Zens is the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine which, by the way, I've read for years.

Now, it is not Southern Baptist, and I don't know all the writers, but I'm very familiar with the theological insights of Jon Zens and have been blessed beyond measure by them. No one believes everything another believer holds to I would hope. But his writings are biblical sound and challenging to the extreme. I like that.

You do too evidently. The e-mails have FAR outnumbered the comments on the post. I've received e-mails literally from several nations including Japan and others. The response was very positive although many saw, as I knew you would, the challenge to "traditional" thinking and chose to ask questions and make comments to me only, thus the e-mails. I consider those private and personal on your part and will keep them that way.

My purpose in what I'm writing these days is to catch you up on my personal theological journey, which I've started doing in past posts, but I was so impressed by your response to this particular article I needed to address it. I fully understand the significant struggle that will ensue if we ever were to take seriously the message of those shifts that have been destructive and debilitating to the Body of Christ, but because of our commitment to Truth revealed and our Lord's command to make disciples, I believe we must be open and face the challenge.

One other thing. Jon's statement, just before getting into a discussion of the first of the four shifts, where he says, "I believe that it is far more important to capture the spirit of church life as we see it unfolded in the New Testament, than it is to try and woodenly replicate cultural particulars of that first century. We do not live in the first century, but the concepts and principles in the New Testament endure and will come to expression in any culture," is a profound and church-shaking reality. It is that struggle between adapting to cultural methods and staying true to preaching/teaching AND experiencing as a body those concepts and principles, that is our dire need in SBC life IMHO.

I'm going to address church life as I've come to see it in scripture immediately. It will not be in total alignment with any group, including Jon Zens group. He will be the first to see the legitimacy of that. It certainly isn't in agreement with much of Southern Baptist Church life. But that's the beauty of being a baptist. I can disagree, grow, change, and fulfil the heart of baptist life in staying true to my understanding of the text of scripture.

What I share [I need to say this] does not reflect what Wade Burleson, our son and the center of much Southern Baptist controversy today, believes. He has taught me as much as I have taught him, but he speaks for himself [and extremely well I might add] and I do not speak for him. If anyone were to assign to Wade anything I say about my own theological journey and belief system, it would be unfair to him and unchristian of them. It's, of course, not like all that many will read what I say, but you never know. :)

I told you this would be a personal word and I've fulfilled that warning haven't I. It's good to be back and, with some time off now, I hope to put my thoughts into print. My first will be my reflections on the first point of the article by Jon Zens. I've had a partial draft waiting for weeks and it is on that subject. I couldn't get it finished for today but needed to say this anyway. Bless you and thanks for being friends.

Paul Burleson

Friday, October 20, 2006

Home again...Home again

I've just concluded several weeks of ministry and several days of vacation in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine seeing some of the greatest foliage ever and am now getting ready to resume some efforts at putting thoughts on line. I need the rest of this weekend to get it together. Come next Monday I'll be ready to go. It's good to be home.

Paul Burleson

Saturday, October 07, 2006


The following article is to keep the thoughts going while Mary and I are on a foliage trip and will have no computor availability. I've not yet finished my next post on my theological journey as this is my busy time of ministry. When you're a traveling preacher you're glad to have the traveling to do.

I'm interested in your thoughts about the article and will give mine when home.

Grace to all of you,

Paul B.

Four Tragic Shifts In The Visible Church
180-400 A. D.


Most professing Christians do not realize that the central concepts and practices associated with what we call 'church' are not rooted in the New Testament, but in patterns established in the post-apostolic age. While there are a legion of disagreements among serious students of church history concerning various issues and details during the period of 50 A.D. to 325 A.D., they all speak as one voice in affirming the four undeniable shifts that will be examined in this article. Church historians of all theological and ecclesiastical backgrounds observe in their writings the following four shifts:

1. The church portrayed in the New Testament was a dynamic organism, a living body with many parts. The church from around 180 A.D. onwards became an increasingly hardened institution with a fixed and complex hierarchy.

2. The early church was marked by; the manifestation of a polyform ministry by which edification and the meeting of needs were accomplished through the gifts of all the brethren. The post-apostolic church moved more and more toward a uniform conception of church offices which separated ministry from the 'laity' and limited significant ministry to the 'clergy'.

3. The church of the first and most of the second centuries was characterized by cycles of intense difficulty and persecution - it was a suffering body. With the advent of Constantine the church became protected, favored and ultimately sanctioned as the state religion by the Roman state, and thus became an institution at ease.

4. In the New Testament the church, with no small measure of vulnerability, depended on the Holy Spirit to hold the brethren together and to lead them in ministry. Later, the church trusted in itself as a very powerful institution, along with its many rules, rites and offices to secure visible unity among its adherents.

These four shifts are indisputable. They did not come about in a day. They were the result of many factors working together as time elapsed. There are many implications to ponder in light of these significant changes that occurred. I would like to explore each of these shifts in order to highlight certain key issues that each of us needs to face.

We claim to take Christ's revelation about the church in the New Testament seriously, yet the reality is that too often we are more attached to the 'received order' which is based on human traditions. What does it mean to be faithful to the New Testament's teaching about the church? In what sense are the examples of the church life 'binding' on us?

For instance, some assert that since the early church met primarily in homes, we are obliged to emulate this example. I think the primary theological point of the New Testament in this regard is that under the New Covenant there are no holy places. Contemporary Christianity has almost no grasp of this significant point. Taking the cue from the Old Covenant, people are still led to believe that a church building is 'the house of God'. Believers are free to meet, anywhere in which they can foster, cultivate and attain the goals set before them by Christ. The problem today is that many church structures neither promote nor accomplish Christ's desires for His body. Homes are a natural place for believers to meet, and the early church flourished well into the first and second centuries without erecting any temple-like edifices. In places around the world where persecution reigns, house-church movements have flourished. Someday in America, if our religious infrastructure falls as a result of economic and political turmoil, true believers will be forced to meet outside of traditional church buildings. But the issue still is not what type of place believers gather, but what shape their committed life together takes as they wrestle with the many duties and privileges flowing out of the priesthood of all believers.

I believe that it is far more important to capture the spirit of church life as we see it unfolded in the New Testament, than it is to try and woodenly replicate cultural particulars of the first century. We do not live in the first century, but the concepts and principles in the New Testament endure and will come to expression in any culture. The four tragic shifts about to be examined will give us all plenty to reflect and act upon as we seek to take our discipleship earnestly. Christians must take their stand and devote their precious energies to building up the body of Christ in ways that return to the original patterns of the New Testament.

1 The Shift From the Body of Christ as a Dynamic Organism to a Settled Institution

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes into some detail concerning the implications of the church being a living organism, a body with many parts. In the early chapters of Acts we see a vibrant, caring, sharing and witnessing body of believers created by the power of the Spirit who was poured out by the risen Christ. This corporate 'new man' created by Jesus was not without leadership and organization, but there is no evidence of desire by the leaders to create a tightly-knit religious institution, with an elaborate hierarchy and intricate chain-of-command. The leaders above all were to be servants to feed and build up the flock; the organization that came to expression was for the purpose of meeting people's needs, not to create a religious bureaucracy.

The church Christ purposed to build is always described in terms of 'koinonia', a common sharing of life together in the bonds of Jesus Christ. However, the reality is that as time went on after the apostles' death, the church gravitated increasingly toward finding its essential definition, not in a dynamic organism, but in a visible institution with a hierarchy of officers. The church came to be no longer identified as a body of believers bonded by love as members one of another, but as a religious organization whose officers gave it significance. Ultimately it was asserted that without the officers, there was no church. Organization usurped vital life as the hallmark of the church.

This legacy still remains with us today. The needs of people are subordinated to the maintenance of religious bureaucracy. Patterns of church government often have nothing to do with the ethos of the New Testament. Many define the 'true' church in terms of outward marks such as "the proper preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and practice of discipline". But these characteristics have been outwardly present in dead churches. The New Testament defines the church dynamically in terms of functioning together as a body. If church was defined, for example, in the organic terminology of Acts 2:42-47, how many churches would you find? Why is it that even today when somebody asks "What church do you attend?:, the next query after you tell them is usually, "Who is the pastor there?" We still tend to define church in terms of leadership instead of by loving relationships among the brethren.

2 The Shift From Polyform Ministry to Uniform Ministry

In the early church ministry was conceived of in terms of Ephesians 4:16, "From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ministry was seen as committed to the whole body by Christ its Lord. As Paul put it, "Now the body is not made up of one part but of many ... As it is, there are many parts, but one body" (1 Cor. 12:14,20). To every person in the body of Christ is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the benefit of all (1 Cor. 12:7). Universal giftedness in the church, which is secured by the resurrected Christ leading captivity captive (Eph. 4:7-8), included such important leadership gifts as apostles and administration.

The great tragedy is that from about 180 A. D. onwards the increasingly institutionalized church began to assign ministry more and more to the officers (the "clergy"), and less and less to the common people (the "laity"). George W. Forell astutely summarizes the shift from body-ministry to bishop-ministry:

Ethical guidance for people recently converted to Christianity and likely to bring a pervasive pagan attitude to his new life was offered at first by a polyform ministry of grace, reflected in the New Testament. But, as time went by, moral authority was increasingly focused on an ordered ministry of bishops and deacons ...The institution most effective in containing the threats to the unity of the nascent Christian movement was the gradually evolving office of the bishop ...Through the office of the bishop the shape of the Christian life is determined and the masses recently brought into the Christian movement are conformed to Christ.1

No emphasis on one person who occupies the office of bishop (pastor) can be found in the New Testament. While it certainly contemplates a plurality of leaders as part of life in Christ's body, the overwhelming emphasis falls upon exhortations that involve all the members of the body. At least 58 times in the New Testament believers are commanded to fulfill responsibilities relating to "one another". We have turned the tables and viewed ministry as essentially resting upon "the minister", and forgotten that ministry as unfolded in the New Testament is spread around to everyone.

If ministry is not seen as focused in one office in the New Testament, where was precedent for a separate caste found? It was found in the exclusive priesthood under the Old Covenant. William Bausch observes:

Our survey has shown us that no cultic priesthood is to be found in the New Testament. Yet we wound up importing Old Testament Levitical forms and imposing them on Christian ministry.2

The negative implications that arose from the shift from polyform to uniform ministry are myriad. The mutual care so basic to the fabric of early church life was virtually lost. Why? Because mutuality - "you are all brethren" - was buried underneath the superstructure of institutionalized officers. William Bausch crystallizes this point by saying,

Nevertheless in practice there is no denying that there has historically been a gathering into one person and his office what were formerly the gifts of many. ...[This practice] goes astray, of course, when it translates to mean that only ordination gives competence, authority, and the right of professional governance. It goes further astray when eventually all jurisdictional and administrative powers in the church come to be seen as an extension of the sacramental powers conferred at ordination. In short, there is a movement here away from the more pristine collaborative and mutual ministries of the New Testament.3

We must face the fact that the traditions regarding church government and order which we have inherited are cast in very suspicious garb. They are clergy-centered and generally stifle and suppress the "one another" perspectives of the New Testament. Servant leadership should be a natural part of body-life by which the people of God are encouraged toward, facilitated in and equipped for various ministries. Unfortunately, however, the shift from polyform to uniform ministry has created the deplorable situation in which the church forever remains as a dependent, helpless, non-maturing infant for the sake of the officers who watch over the crib. We have inherited traditions in which the tail wags the dog. It is my conviction that because of the deep-seated nature of this awful shift in perspective, the greatest practical need facing the church today is the reincarnation of "a polyform ministry of grace".

3 The Shift from a Suffering Church to an Institution of Ease

The early church grew and prospered incredibly without having church buildings or being protected by the state. In fact, from apostolic times to the ascension of Constantine the church went through cycles of intense persecution spearheaded by the ruling powers. These times of persecution are well documented in such books as Persecution in the Early Church by H. B. Workman and Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church by W. H. C. Friend.5

However, the advent of the emperor Constantine in 312 A.D. brought great changes, most of them for the worse. Money from state funds was used to erect Christian church buildings and support Christian clergy. Ultimately, Christianity was declared to be the state religion. From Constantine onwards the visible church became enmeshed in political intrigue, and the state mingled in the determination of church affairs. As Louis Berkhof notes regarding the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. [which Constantine convened and presided over]:

A settlement forced upon the Church by the strong hand of the emperor could not satisfy and was also of uncertain duration. It made the determination of the Christian faith dependent on imperial caprice and even on court intrigues. ...The sequel clearly probed that, as it was, a change in emperor, and altered mood, or even a bribe, might alter the whole aspect of the controversy. This is exactly what happened repeatedly in subsequent history.6

Constantine set in motion the ideal of a territorial state religion with Christianity at the helm. This ideal was the death knell of all that the Gospel stood for. It signaled the end of believers gathering separately from the pagan culture as a counter-culture where the way of Christ was displayed in simplicity. Now the church was conceived of as all the people in a nation who were born as citizens of the state and constituted as part of the visible church by infant baptism. Church and politics were fused together, creating immense confusion. Ron VanOverloop notes this phenomenon operation from the post-apostolic church to the Reformation:

As was the case in the early church when emperors called the great ecumenical councils together, so was the progress of the Reformation to a great extent determined by the political maneuvering taking place in each country.7

In the early church the disciples banded together in homes and other places as communities "called out" from the world; but Constantinianism erased this distinction and defined "church" as all citizens in a given territory. This had the practical effect of watering down true discipleship and creating a worthless nominal Christianity. Werner Elert contrasts the early days with the rise of Constantinianism:

[In the early church] the strength of their ties with one another is matched by the strength of the boundary they draw to the outside. In business dealings with one another they do not choose an unbeliever to arbitrate; they transact their business "before the saints" and between "brother and brother" (1 Cor. 6:1.5). One is to throw in one's lot with those who fear the Lord, consider their common good, and daily visit the saints face to face ...After Constantine things changed radically with the influx of the masses. This did not prosper the Christian brotherhood. If we can believe only half of what Salvian says, there was not much left of it a hundred years later in many parts of western Christendom.8

The shift from a suffering church to an institution sanctioned and promoted by the state forces us to face a crucial question: Was the Constantinian change the rise or fall of the church? How you answer that question will greatly define your whole view of the church and its mission. In light of New Testament revelation about the church Christ purposed to build, I submit that Constantinianism was a wretched stone thrown into the sea of church history, the ripples of which still lap on our shores today.

We must make a choice. Are we going to cast our lot in with the New Testament vision for the body of Christ [simplicity, suffering, servanthood], or in with the Constantinian model [powerful institution, clergy dominance, rule by political maneuvering]? Are we going to devote the energies of our short life-span to perpetuating the post-apostolic shifts that moved away from the simplicity of Christ, or to restoring the spirit of the New Testament vision?

4 The Shift from a Spirit-Dependent Church to a Letter-Dependent Institution

Twice in his epistles Paul refers to the fact that the church serves Christ "in [the] newness of the Spirit and not in [the] oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:6; 2 Cor. 3:6). The church was a community of the Spirit from the Day of Pentecost. In light of this reality the early church did not trust in fixed forms to maintain and guard her existence. There was an openness of the body to be led by the Spirit in light of Christ's Gospel-word.

This can be seen, for example, in the glimpse of an early church service revealed in 1 Cor. 14. Edification was the goal which was to be reached by the Spirit-led participation of the body. The balance Paul desired can perhaps be summed up like this: no form of order in the service must be allowed to stifle the free expression of edifying gifts in the body; no expression of spontaneity in the body must be allowed to blossom into unprofitable disorder. William Barclay isolates these important points from 1 Cor. 14:

[Paul] is determined that anyone who possesses a gift should receive every chance to exercise that gift, but he is equally determined that the services of the Church should not thereby become a kind of competitive disorder. ...There must be liberty but there must be no disorder. ...There was obviously a freedom and an informality about [this service] which is completely strange to our ideas. ...Clearly the church had no professional ministry. ...It was open to anyone who had a gift to use that gift. ...There was obviously a flexibility about the order of service in the early church which is now totally lacking. There was clearly no settled order at all. Everything was informal enough to allow any man who felt that he had a message give it. ...The really notable thing about an early Church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling that he had both the privilege and the obligation of contribution something to it.9

Unfortunately, as time went on this Spirit-dependence gave way to more and more fixed forms of worship, which phased out body participation and committed ministry only to an ever-growing web of ecclesiastical hierarchy. By 250 A.D. church order was set in concrete with one bishop ruling over various territories. The momentum of this church bureaucracy was accelerated when Constantine and his successors sanctioned the church and contributed moneys and resources to this increasingly powerful institution. What began as a Spirit-led organism ended up as a letter-dependent institution. The leaders no longer trusted in the Spirit to hold the body together; instead they leaned on intricate human contrivances and rules to feign outward unity.

One of the saddest features of this shift to letter-dependence, combined with the church's new collusion with the state, was the employment of coercion both to gain and maintain adherents. Simply trusting in the Spirit would have resulted in a spiritual reality too vulnerable to be controlled by human contrivances; the use of raw power backed by the weapons of the state seemed to promise greater stability. Eric Hoffer makes this tragic observation which church history, unfortunately, verifies:

There is hardly an example of a mass movement achieving vast proportions and a durable organization solely by persuasion ...It was the temporal sword that made Christianity a world religion. Conquest and conversion went hand in hand. ...Where Christianity failed to gain or retain the backing of state power, it achieved neither a wide nor permanent hold. ...It also seems that, where a mass movement can either persuade or coerce, it usually chooses the letter. Persuasion is clumsy and its results uncertain.10

Again we must ask ourselves, "Are we going to be a part of perpetuating this shift to trusting in outward carnal hedges to hold the church together, or are we going to purpose to contribute to a return of child-like trust in the Spirit of Christ to build and sustain His body?'

Concluding Remarks...

We have examined four clear shifts in early church history. These shifts are acknowledged by church historians of all theological persuasions. James D. G. Dunn, one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our time, summarizes the essence of these four shifts like this:

Increasing institutionalism is the clearest mark of early Catholicism - when church becomes increasingly identified with institution, when authority becomes increasingly coterminous with office, when a basic distinction between clergy and laity becomes increasingly self-evident, when grace becomes increasingly narrowed to well-defined ritual acts. We saw above that such features were absent from first generation Christianity, though in the second generation the picture was beginning to change.11

'Such features were absent from first generation Christianity,' that is, they are not found in the New Testament. Does this concern you? Is your heart burdened by the chasm between the original work of the Spirit and the hardened institution that quickly emerged in the post-apostolic days? Does it bother you that most of what we associate with 'church' has little to do with the New Testament, and more to do with patterns that reflect a drift away from it?

Further, and this is the key question, were the shifts we have studied a faithful extension of New Testament ideals, or a tacit denial of all that they stand for? If the answer is the latter, then it is incumbent upon believers to work for the recovery of Christ's ways and to stop contributing to the perpetuation of non-edifying ecclesiastical patterns.

The following articles contain excerpts from various sources relating to early church history. I commend my thoughts on the four shifts and the upcoming collaborating materials to your discerning conscience. May the Lord guide you into appropriate responses as 'the worthy walk' is set before us in the Gospel

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I'm working on the next post about my theological journey, but, there are some things more important. So I'm interrupting that with this...a special word about a special person on a special day. It's personal. I wrote it for our family blog for our kids and their families and a few friends to read, but I don't mind you listening in.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006


People are different aren't they. I don't have a thing for cards of any kind necessarily. Oh don't get me wrong, they're nice. And I certainly appreciate them, especially from the family. I'm just saying they don't do for me what they do for others, say for example, Mary. She loves them. I've seen her face light up when reading one whether it's funny, or simple, or serious, just any kind of card. She loves them. They represent thoughtfulness, love, sincerity and a host of other things to her. Me! Give me a cake, gift, money, whatever, and I'm happy. People are just different.

People are special too. No one is as special to me as Mary. And there is no more special day in the life of a special person than their birthday. This is her birthday.

Then there are special birthdays in the lives of special people. This is her 65th birthday. That's special. You can tell I think there is just something really special about Mary. I'm not talking about her looks. Although she still is being mistaken for my daughter all the time and then tries to comfort me in my devastation, her youthful looks and beauty are not what I'm speaking about.

It is not her energy of which I'm speaking. But, boy is that part of who she is as a special person. To work 8-10 hours a day, to fly to Austin weekly, to oversee 10 ladies at her office here in Norman, and then to go to Mystic Conn. to periodically meet with the author of the material she works so hard to get published, talk about energy. But I haven't spoken of clogging, dancing, motorcycle riding, foliage tours like the one we're taking in New Hampshire next week, and a host of other things that, time permitting, she loves doing. She is special in looks, energy, and how can I name the ways?

That's my point. How can I? Give her a card? You have got to be kidding. Wait. Cards are special to her. Maybe if I could find a card that said some things I mean but don't know how to say. Maybe the fact that cards are special to her, a special girl, a special card would be just the thing. Well, I found one. I gave it to her. She's in Austin today. So I'm posting that card for her to read...again. Because she's special and I love her in ways I can't seem to express, maybe that dumb card can say it her.

Mary, happy's how and why I love you.

"For my wife, my best friend,

You've been there to laugh with me,
to cry with me, to be proud of me,
and to be happy for all the good
things in my life.

You've also shared my disappointments
and listened as I worked out my thoughts
and feelings about so many things that
troubled me.....

You're the most important part of my world,
and you always will be....I love you."