New Wineskins - Dominant Clergy - Cell Groups and Circles - Review Frank Viola

Rethinking the Wineskin by Frank A. Viola: a brief look at PROFESSIONAL CLERGY and CELL GROUPS as extensions of the para-church organization in today's New yet Old Wineskin churches.

"Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break, and aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil." Gospel of Thomas.

As adults we are not called upon to agree with everyone and everything. Therefore, we do not endorse any movement as we look at Frank Viola's call for a new wineskin. This new wineskin should look like the one in which Jesus packaged the church - if we are permited to do violence to the wineskin parable. He identifies the old wineskin in terms exactly like the new winskin paradigm. That "new" paradigm is the wholesale lifting of ancient Jewish and Babylonian beliefs about God and the way He wants people to serve Him. Take what you want and leave the rest.

The Wineskin Paradigm meant that you don't put the New, sterilized "fruit of the vine" or Gospel of Christ into an old wineskin. The reason was that the old wineskin contained old leaven. This would cause the pure, sterialized and sealed juice to ferment, fill with empty bubbles (songs and dances), burst the church and spoil the Gospel. Not even a fool would put new, fermenting juice into even a new wineskin because it would blow old "Billy Goat" into oblivion. The warning was not to mix the pure, spiritual gospel where worship is in Spirit (in Mind) with the old Jewish/Pagan forms now sold as "watered wine" by the professional salesmen of Seeker forms of worship.

This is why Jesus put the Water of the Word into Ceremonially Pure Vessels of Clay and sealed the gospel for all times so that the contaminants of paganism could not get in.

The same child or fool of the time of Jesus would understand that if you use pagan (seeker) forms to call seekers into a pagan-worship system, the pagans will take control and turn you out when you still try to sell your outmoded songs and dance when you are old and can't move to the newest steps.

Nothing is clearer in history than
the adoption by successful rebels of
the methods they were
accustomed to condemn
in the forces they deposed.
--Will and Ariel Durant

We don't buy the wineskin paradigm as having any positive revelance to the gospel or kingdom. That is, the message is not that we should invent a bubbly, exhilarating form of worship "in the mode of drunk on new wine." Rather, it is a warning that pure juice or even pure water will spoil if you try to put it into pagan forms of worship rituals. However, if we permit the "wine" to be the gospel and the "wineskin" to be the church, we can still learn from the following notes:


In the Forward to Viola's book, Hal Miller notes that:

"The institutional church often knows, at least vaguely, that the New Testament church was a very different kind of beast, yet it goes on its way in blithe disregard of the way the early believers were church.

It may even claim that the Bible is its sole authority in "faith and practice" and still virtually ignore its practical authority with respect to the practice of the church.

"Relational churches, like those in the New Testament, are different. They are not trains, but groups of people out for a walk. These groups move much more slowly than trains--only several miles per hour at the fastest, but they can turn at a moment's notice. More importantly, they can be genuinely attentive to their world, to their Lord, and to each other

"Like trains, institutional churches are easy to find. The smoke and noise are unmistakable. Relational churches are a bit more subtle. Because they don't announce their presence with flashing lights at every intersection, some believe that churches like those in the New Testament died out long ago. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Relational churches are everywhere. I personally have been meeting with one for more than twenty years. Still, groups like ours are quietly walking together, not bothering to call undue attention to ourselves, because we are simply pilgrims together.

Hal Miller
Salem, Massachusetts

Reviewing some of Viola's views:

Viola isn't using "institutional churches" in the old (anti-anti) sense but notes that: "I could have just as easily called them "establishment churches," "basilica churches," "traditional churches," "organized churches," "clergy-dominated churches," "contemporary churches," "program-based churches," and so on. Despite the fact that this phrase is an inadequate linguistic tool, it seems to best capture the essence of most modern assemblies today.

"Namely, I am referring to those churches that operate primarily as institutions that exist above, beyond, and independent of their individual members;

are organizationally centered on professional pastors and staff;

are constructed through programs more than relationships; and are unified on the basis of special doctrines or practices.

See the Purpose Driven Cult, Max Lucado, etal

Viola speaks of "the church that is organic in its construction, relational in its functioning, Scriptural in its form, Christ-centered in its operation, and Body-oriented in its unification." The neo-pagan seeker forms of worship does just the opposite: it sees the professonial performers (preachers, song leaders, singers, dancers) as performing the worship for the audience.

He then calls for a new wineskin but it is new in that it is the same one Jesus established as the framework for His church, His body. He notes that:

"The theme of "church renewal" sits lavishly upon the tongues of countless Christians today. You can't go very far in the Christian world without hearing an exhortation on the necessity for greater unity in the Body of Christ, the importance of the priesthood of all believers, the urgent need for destroying all man-made barriers, the increasing demand for fuller spiritual power, and the radical call to world-wide evangelism. While none of these themes is new or original, they are now capturing the attention of many modern Christians.

While he acknowledges good in many of these movements He notes that the True Spirit is from "The ordinary Christians whom God is using to summon His church back to the simplicity and vitality of New Testament practices.

The "new" wineskin wine is "routinely repackaged into old wineskins." The old wineskin was Judaism. Surprisingly, those who promote a NEW wineskin pick for their paradigm ancient Judaism whose under-law worship was, by God's permission, taken whole cloth from Babylon's Tower of Babel filtered through Egyptian religion and Canaanite Baalism:

"By the old wineskin, I mean those traditional church structures that are patterned after the old Judaic religious system--

a system which: separated God's people into two separate classes,
required the presence of
human mediators, erected sacred buildings, and laid stress on outward forms.

"The facets of the old (Jewish) wineskin are many: the clergy/laity distinction, the spectator-performer styled church meeting, the single pastor system, the program-driven worship service, the passive priesthood, the edifice complex, etc. All of these facets represent Old Covenant forms in New Testament garb.

"Accordingly, the present cry of the Spirit for genuine renewal will never become a reality to those who ignore His concurrent voice regarding the call for a new wineskin--one that represents

the fresh wineskin that was fashioned and formed by those who had been directly entrusted by the Lord Jesus with the new wine of His Spirit.

"This is not to suggest that the New Testament supplies us with an ironclad, meticulous blueprint for church practice. In fact, it is a gross mistake to try and tease out of the apostolic letters an inflexible written code of rules for church order that is as unalterable as the law of the Medes and Persians (such a written code belongs to the other side of the cross).

On the other hand, the New Testament does provide us with a number of clearly defined principles and practices that are to govern God's spiritual house. And it is these principles and practices that comprise the "Divine pattern" for the ekklesia (church).

In chapter 11 Viola outlines some of the things we should not do in order to allow the Biblical model to shine through: Russell Lipton writes,

"What we must guard against (and this applies with heaviest force to readers who do agree with this material) is mere mental assent to the church as an 'issue.' We live in a day of issues. Paul referred to issue-followers as those with tingling ears. He did not treat them gently. This church, this Bride for whom Christ as a heavenly suitor bore the cross, is no mere 'issue.' Around her completion revolves issues of life, death, reward, shame, heaven, hell (Does the Church Matter?).

Echoing the old theme of Alexander and Thomas Campbell Viola notes that:

"To be quite candid, unless the extra-biblical clergy / sectarian system is dismantled in a particular church, efforts to reach God's highest desire will be forcefully challenged. The following disheartening results are commonplace whenever an attempt at Biblical renewal is made within a typical institutional church:

the pastor feels threatened; the congregants resist the disruption of the status quo; the staff is thrown into a panic for fear of division; and the masses misconstrue what is taking place. Before we discuss the Lord's answer to the problem of the contemporary church, let us take a brief look at some modern movements that have sought to renew it.

We should keep in mind that Viola speaks of a return to the New Testament order as the "radical renewal" and the only "new/old winskin" which counts. Next, Viola speaks to the Seeker forms of commercial religion (See Revelation 18)

"The superstore megachurch trend is just one example of a failed attempt at fully renewing the church. These event-driven, shopping mall churches have created specialized boutiques for every sociological slice in America today--from single parents, twelve step recoverers, homebuilders, premarital couples, parents-of-adolescents, Generation Xers to working mothers, businessmen, actors, and dancers. Advertised by extraordinarily gifted marketeers and driven by a formidable "growth-industry" mentality, megachurches attract thousands every Sunday into their enormous amphitheaters.

"Using the latest church growth strategies, organizational methods, and marketing techniques,

"churches of this ilk are quite successful in swelling (ferment from the old "wineskin" ks) their ranks. They provide flawless multimedia worship, pep-rally like religious services, high-tech visual effects,

tightly scripted gospel orations
mingled with a heavy dose of comic relief,

seamless choreographed drama presentations, frequent visits from featured celebrities (Note: "The Idolatry of out of town Talent") whose clothes are always color-coordinated, and a zillion splinter interest groups designed to meet every consumer need. To top it off, megachurches offer these mass-market religious resources to the public in exchange for minimal commitment, low visibility, and little cost. Stated simply, the megachurch movement is built on a corporate business paradigm that utilizes a market-driven approach to building the kingdom of God.

"Unfortunately, those believers who are attracted to these large, flashy, organized Wal-Marts of the American religious world can hardly find a place in their hearts for a simple, unextravagant meeting centered around the person of Christ alone. For them, choosing between a lavish supermall church and a "house church" is like choosing between the flamboyant supercenter mall and the corner grocery store.

"The weakness endemic to the superstore church is that it so emphasizes the "church scattered" dimension of the Body of Christ that the "church gathered" dimension suffers great loss. By focusing all attention on being "sensitive" to the comfort zones of "seeking" unbelievers, most megachurches have failed to adequately disciple their new converts into radical abandonment to Christ and nurture close-knit communal relationships with other disciples.

What is more, the business machinery that drives these mammoth institutions obscures the spiritually authentic and organic nature of the local assembly

Viola notes that the "methods used are often just as carnal as the system from which it is supposed to deliver people. In this way, the gospel has become trivialized, commercialized, and emptied of its power, being viewed as just another "product" in our consumer-obsessed culture." The result, if history counts, is that the new Seekees inculcate their neo-pagan worship practices into the old group and take control.

You, then, must subscribe to the new Seeker form in order to extablished your lapsed membership even if you did pay for the church building.

Pagan methods to attract pagans, therefore, produces a pagan church. Not too surprising, is it??

"In a word, the megamall church of modern pop-Christian culture bears little similarity to the simple, Spirit-dependent, Christ-centered, spiritually dynamic, mutually-ministering churches of the first century that turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Restoration Movement Pulled Under a Wave

There have always been genuine restoration movements. The Campbell's, along with many others, movement was infiltrated by an old Third Wave of the so-called Second Great American Awakening. Barton W. Stone was an honest Seeker but he believed that restoration meant a revival of charismatic proofs that one had been saved. It is not surprising that charismatic influences always try to infiltrate and cut short genunie restoration movements of getting back to the original "wineskin" or still better - "ceremonially pure earthen vessels" in which Jesus packaged the Water of the Word.

Viola uses the term "restoration movement" as the clergy-dominated system of charismatic power:

"In addition to the superstore church, the recent "third-wave movement," and its cousin, "the restoration movement," have been two highly influential players in the renewal game. These corollary movements, populated mostly by charismatics and Pentecostals, stress the restoration of apostolic power, apostolic miracles, and apostolic ministry. For brevity sake, I will call these related movements third-wave-restoration.

"The dangers of beginning with the Spirit rather than with the cross are numerous. For one thing,

"it can easily lead a person into an unwholesome quest for power without character--mystical experience without godliness--unrestrained soulish excitement without sound discernment--and demonic counterfeits without spiritual reality.

"In this regard, not a few Christians desperately seeking individual renewal are routinely packing their bags and flocking to the various "Christian Meccas" of revivalism sponsored by third-wave-restoration churches.

The Commercial Change Agent movement is one such "spirit" moved effort. Their theme, articulated by Lynn Anderson is in Navigating the Winds of Change. Lynn will use these methods under the theme of Lifting up the Name of the Lord at Jubilee 99. His methods are borrowed from the commercial world and are implimented using mind control techniques of streams of unconsciousness created by rapid-fire music which leaves no time for the mind to kick in.

This is part of the employment of commercial Musical Worship Facilitators to help "lead the worshippers into the presence of God." Because the songs are self-composed by people believing that they are inspired; and because they believe that the loud music has spiritual power, we have to define them as neo-pagans.

Viola notes that:

"Because of their desperation to be touched by God, many of them have become open targets for every new wind of doctrine or experience that blows through the doors of the church, regardless of whether or not it has any Biblical merit (Eph. 4:14). In this connection, many in the third-wave have developed an unhealthy dependence upon phenomenological experience--a dependence that, like that of an addict, drives them to travel far and wide to acquire the next spiritual fix. Such a dependence not only obscures the role of Scripture as the main source of individual spiritual sustenance, discernment, and communion with the living Christ, but it equally fosters an unhealthy (and sometimes pathological) spiritual instability.

Many of those feeding efforts such as Jubilee 99 actually claim that God sends you to the bookstore to buy their latest commercial wares. They even claim for their book what God claims for the Bible! Some, I am told, believe that they are apostles or prophets. After noting some good, Viola notes that those who claim to be "new wineskiny" don't really mean it if the new freedom interferes with the dominant pastor:

"Quite frankly, the pastor is king in the typical third-wave-restoration church.

"Consequently, congregants who have been truly renewed with the new wine of the Spirit find very little freedom to fully function in their gifts during a typical church service. While third-wave-restoration churches may boast about possessing "the new wine," they have confined it to an old, leaking wineskin--one that inhibits mutual ministry, relatedness, freedom, and vibrancy.

"The old wineskin that is employed merely reinforces the "sit-and-soak" mentality that plagues the Body of Christ today.

Along with the new freedom is the lust for ecumenical meeting with others and a superstitious understanding of "sectarianism" to define those, like Jesus, who will not dance to our tune.

"Christian guruism" is also epidemic in third-wave-restoration churches. High-powered teachers, prophets, and apostles are copious in the movement and are revered as spiritual icons, basking in the limelight of fan-club followings.

"A typical renewal crusade is not dissimilar to a rock concert whereby the featured celebrity gives an encore performance and takes his bow in the Christian limelight. It is not uncommon, for example, for church members to arrive hours early to secure a prime seat to hear the latest circuit teacher who has come to town.

"Ironically, the very experience that multitudes in this movement are seeking to achieve can only be found in the New Testament church. When one tastes "Body life" as God has ordained it, they will be cured of the unbridled urge to travel "to and fro" to attend the latest "hot spot" of renewal. Instead, they will discover true and long-lasting refreshment and stability within the church of their locale.

"To spin the metaphor, in seeking to ride the latest spiritual wave, many third-wave-restorationists

have been caught in the undertow of a clergy-dominated ecclesiastical structure.

What is more, some have been bitten by the sharks of counterfeit spiritual experience and are now drowning in the murky waters of Christian mysticism and charismatic clericalism.

Imprisoned in a Cell

While Viola is in favor of small churches without Babylonian appendages, he warns against cell groups as just longer tentacles for the dominant clergy or pastor to expand his power and to flaunt it:

"Another attempt at renewal in recent years, more promising than the former two, has been the emergence of the "cell church" model. Cell churches are based on a two-winged approach to doing church.

They provide a weekly "cell group" meeting (set in a home) and a Sunday "celebration" meeting (set in a building).

The small cell meetings are designed for fellowship, ministry, prayer, and evangelism, while the large group meetings are designed for preaching and worship. While there is much that can be commended in the cell church movement--especially its emphasis on close-knit connectedness, one-anothering, and Body ministry--its greatest weakness lies in its leadership model.

"Although the cell church has sought to renew the institutional church by providing a context for corporate relatedness and mutual functioning,

it has left the unscriptural clergy system untouched! Endemic to cell churches is a top-heavy, hierarchical leadership structure that works against the community.

Thus, "the longer leash" is an apt metaphor to describe the cell church model.

"That is to say, the congregation is given a measure of church life as they meet together weekly at someone's home.

Yet through a highly organized hierarchy, the pastor controls the gatherings and steers them according to his own wishes.

While those professionals making merchandise out of selling church growth schemes -- as if Christ the Spirit needed modern apostles -- Viola shows that the "preacher count" is sold as a joke but it is just a lie. That is why one new program after another is hatched from viper's eggs to keep from correcting the real problem:

"That the cell church model looks impressive on paper is beyond dispute (cell church manuals are replete with elaborate flow charts and catchy organizational graphs). However, it is found wanting in real life experience. It deserves our applause for its denunciation of "program-based" churches that find themselves mired in bureaucratic structures. But it warrants our disapproval for its blithe espousal of a rigid, multi-layered, hierarchical leadership structure.

Not only does this structure undermine Biblical principle, but it makes each cell an extension of the pastor's vision and burden, thus burying the believing priesthood under layers of human hierarchy.

"Accordingly, the cell church model violates the very principle it claims to uphold, i.e. that the church is an organism made up of individual "spiritual cells." In stark contrast, each "cell group" is nothing more than a facsimile of the same Body part (the single pastor), rather than a true representation of the diversified unity that marks the Body of Christ. Stated simply, the mere addition of home meetings (cells) to the clergy-dominated church structure fails to go far enough in providing a concrete expression of the full ministry of every believer and the functional Headship of Christ.

Isn't it interesting that those who charged you a thousand dollars a sermon to create the problems want a raise to help you solve them? Viola is aware of this when he notes:

The Symptom Masquerading as the Cause

"In order for genuine church renewal to occur, we must distinguish between the symptom and the root of the problem. Along this line, Elton Trueblood has rightly said, "The basic trouble [with the institutional church] is that the proposed cure has such a striking similarity to the disease" (The Company of the Committed). Conferences for burned-out clergy, cross-denominational unity gatherings, support groups for pastors who suffer from "sheep bite," and workshops presenting the latest church growth strategies are vivid examples of Trueblood's penetrating observation.

"All of these supposed "cures" merely coddle the system that is responsible for the church's maladies. They simply treat the symptom while ignoring the real culprit, and hence, the same drama continues to play out on a different stage.

It is the clergy/sectarian system that inhibits the rediscovery of face-to-face community,

supplants the functional Headship of Christ,

and stifles the full ministry of every believer.

Thus, all attempts at renewal will be short-sighted until the clergy structure and denominational system are dismantled in a local assembly.

At best, such attempts will bring limited change.
At worse, they will invite open hostility.

Noting that you cannot tear down a dangerous tower by beginning at the bottom: "The only way to dismantle a tower is to proceed from the top down. And this requires that the dismantling process begin from the top.

In like manner, local assemblies will never reach God's end if the clergy / denominational structure is not abandoned.

Renewal movements that merely transplant Biblical principles into institutional soil will never succeed in realizing the full purpose of God.

The Call to Leave the Clergy-Dominated Profession

Jesus told the Christians that He would send them a sign so that they could "get out of Jerusalem." When the Romans surrounded Jerusalem the Christians knew that this was a sign but how to get out from under both the Jewish clergy and the Pagan invaders.

With God's supervision, the Romans then momentarily "retreated" and like a poodle chasing a tiger,

the Jewish leaders sought to follow and attack.

While both Romans and the Jewish Clergy-dominated system (priesthood bought as highest bidder) was "absent without leave" from Jerusalem all of the Christians fled and not a one died.

However, the Jews had to retreat back to Jerusalem where with supernatural help, the Romans burned down the old structures and a million Jews died even after fighting over and devouring their own children. There is still time to get out!

"In this connection, we thank God for the thousands of Christians who have left their clerical professions, laid down their high-powered hierarchical positions, and abandoned their sects to become simple brethren in the Lord's house.

It is among such that the Lord has found a clear basis for His own building.

"As would be expected, those who have left their salaried, clergy positions have paid a tremendous cost. Such a thought strikes a sensitive chord in the heart of the average paid, religious professional.

"For this reason many will resist such a notion, reacting in a way not dissimilar to the silversmiths of Ephesus who withstood Paul's message because it "endangered their craft" (Acts 19:24-27).

"Therefore, unless those in clerical positions are ready to openly examine and obey the New Testament teaching that bears upon the issue, any discussion on the matter will remain for them a highly flammable topic that can easily turn torrid.

"It is critical to stress at this point that clerical leaders need not be despots in order to hinder mutual ministry. Without doubt, clergy are typically well-intentioned and gifted Christians who sincerely believe that God has "called" them to their profession.

"Some are highly stylized and regulated benevolent dictators. Others are spiritual tyrants with a Machiavellian quest for power who imprison and freeze the life of their assemblies."

The Machiavelli FAX of Life Resisting Change
---Machiavelli Prince Ch3-Ch6-Ch7
---Mein Kampf Vol 2, Ch5, Ch8, Ch11

"The point is that clergy need not use vicious forms of pedagogy and authority to be injurious to Body life. The mere presence of the one-up/one-down hierarchical model of leadership suppresses mutual ministry, no matter how nonauthoritarian in temperament the cleric may be.

The mere presence of clergy has the deadening effect of conditioning the congregation to be passive and perpetually dependent upon its leadership.

"Christian Smith makes the point lucidly:

"The problem is that, regardless of what our theologies tell us about the purpose of clergy, the actual effect of the clergy profession is to make the Body of Christ lame. This happens not because clergy intend it (they usually intend the opposite) but because the objective nature of the profession inevitably turns the laity into passive receivers.

"The role of clergy is essentially the centralization and professionalization of the gifts of the whole Body into one person.

"In this way, the clergy represents Christianity's capitulation to modern society's tendency toward specialization;

clergy are spiritual specialists, church specialists. [Pulpit minister, associate minister, involvement minister, musical worship minister, youth minister, singles minister, marrieds minister, seniors minister, divorced minister and....]

Everyone else in the church are merely 'ordinary' believers who hold 'secular' jobs where they specialize in 'non-spiritual' activities such as plumbing, teaching, or marketing.

"So, in effect, what ought to be accomplished in an ordinary, decentralized, non-professional manner by all church members together is instead accomplished by a single, full-time professional--The Pastor.

"Since the pastor is paid to be the specialist in church operations and management, it is only logical and natural that the laity begin to assume a passive role in church.

"Rather than contributing their part to edify the church, they go to church as passive receivers to be edified. Rather than actively spending the time and energy to exercise their gift for the good of the Body, they sit back and let the pastor run the show ("Church Without Clergy," Voices in the Wilderness, Nov/Dec '88)

[Even heard "preaching" is an act of worship]

"The average believer is probably unaware that his notion of leadership has been shaped by centuries of ecclesiastical and bureaucratic history (about 1700 years worth!). The clergy concept is so embedded in the thinking of most modern Christians that any attempt to deviate from it will meet fierce opposition. For this reason most modern believers are just as resistant to the idea of dismantling the clergy as are the clergy themselves. The words of Jeremiah have pertinent application: "The prophets prophesy falsely and the priests rule by their means; and my people love to have it so" (Jer. 5:31). Thus, "clergy" and "non-clergy" are both responsible for the ailments of the church.

"Only the necessary task of rethinking the church in its Scriptural context will enable us to distinguish between the Biblical notion of the church and the institutions today that pose as churches. In this connection, let us briefly isolate some of the differences between the Biblical and the institutional paradigms:

The Institutional Paradigm

Is sustained by a clergy system
to energize the laity
Renders the bulk of its congregants passive-in-their-pews
Associates church with a building or a denomination that one joins
Is rooted in
unifying those who share a special set of customs or doctrines
Thrusts "ordinary" Christians out of the holy of holies and chains them to a pew
Places its priority on religious
programs while keeping its congregants at arms-length, insulating them from one another
Spends most of its resources on
building expenditures and pastor-staff salaries
Operates on the basis that the
pastor/priest is the functional head (while Christ is the nominal head)
Enshrines and protects the
clergy-dominated, program-centered system that serves as the driving machine of the organized church
programs to fuel the church and views people as mere cogs in the machine
Encourages believers to participate
Separates church (ecclesiology) from personal salvation (soteriology), viewing the former as a mere appendage to the latter

The Biblical Paradigm

Knows nothing of a clergy system

Does not recognize a separate class called laity
Makes all members functioning priests

Affirms that people do not go to church nor join the church, but they are the church
Is rooted in an unreserved fellowship with
all Christians that is based upon Christ

Liberates all believers to serve as ministers in the context of a non-clerical, decentralized form of church polity

Places its priority on face-to-face, shared-life relationships, mutual accountability, openness, freedom, mutual service, and spiritual reality--the very elements that were built into the fabric of the New Testament assembly
Spends most of its resources on "
the poor among you" and apostolic workers and missions

Operates on the basis that Christ is the functional Head through the invisible guidance of the Holy Spirit through the believing community

Shows a revulsion for the clergy system, for it quenches the sovereign exercise of the Holy Spirit (yet it lovingly embraces every Christian within that system)

Builds people together to provide the momentum for the assembly
Invites believers to participate relationally

Forges no link between personal salvation and the church; sees the two as inextricably intertwined (hence, Scripture has it that when people were saved, they simultaneously became part of the church and immediately gathered together)

To make the point better by someone else somewhere else, the Biblical paradigm represents

"the winning back to God of things ordinary and the desacralisation of things made sacred (by human hands)." Yet because the traditional paradigm has been so entrenched in the minds of so many Christians, the mere notion of "coloring outside the lines" of this model and constructing a new matrix by which to think about the church can be quite terrifying. The unfortunate result is that those who have not had a paradigm shift regarding the church will either ignore or oppose those churches that fail to fit into the traditional paradigm, even if it is at odds with the New Testament.

"In the eyes of those who see the world through institutional glasses, unless a church meets in the "right" place (a building), has the "proper" leadership (an ordained pastor or priest), and bears the "correct" name (one that indicates a "covering"), it is not recognized as an authentic church. Instead, it is dubbed with innovative terms like "para-church," which subtly suggests that it is something less than an authentic church. So in the minds of those who have not yet grown weary of running on the program-driven treadmill of institutional "churchianity," that which is abnormal is considered normal while that which is normal is regarded as abnormal. This is the unhappy result of not basing our faith and practice upon God's Word. In making this same point, Jon Zens shows a wealth of insight saying,

It seems to me that we have made normative that for which there is no Scriptural warrant (emphasis on one man's ministry), and we have omitted that for which there is ample Scriptural support (emphasis on one another)...we have exalted that for which there is no evidence, and neglected that for which there is abundant evidence ("Building Up the Body: One Man or One Another?," Searching Together, Vol. 10:2).

In like manner, Alexander Hay laments the dilemma of the contemporary church saying,

"Tertullian found it necessary to say, 'Custom without truth is error grown old.' There is not a little in our modern church order and practice that has no Scriptural warrant. Yet because it has long been the custom, it is accepted without question as an essential part of Divine order (New Testament Order for Church and Missionary).


Frank Viola's articles can be found here:

Kenneth Sublett

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