Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nature Deficit Disorder

This week I'm taking a week-long module class at Bethany College. It's been OK, but so far the highlight for me has been that the prof lent me a book that I've been wanting to buy for a while now: "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv. This book talks about "Nature-Deficit Disorder." In this book Louv draws connections between our continuing disconnection with nature and the rise of a variety of things like obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

Below I offer you a paragraph from the first chapter:

"For children, nature comes in many forms. A newborn calf; a pet that lives and dies; a worn path through the woods; a fort nestled in stinging nettles; a damp, mysterious edge of a vacant lot -- whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it. Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighbourhood. It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture's fantasies. Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of confusion. Nature can frighten a child, too, and this fright serves a purpose. In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace" (pg. 1).

What do you think?

Friday, September 25, 2009


Hey! Like the new look? I think it's great. Thanks to my lovely wife for doing it all for me:)

I apologize for the lack of post-age this week. It's been a really busy one. And next week I'll be in a class at Bethany for a week-long module, so I'm guessing there won't be a post next week either... but don't worry, I promise to come back. I won't ditch you like last time, I promise!

In the meantime I leave you with a clip from one of my favorite bands: Medeski, Martin, and Wood (or MMW). They are a sweet, crazy, experimental jazz trio. This clip is a trailer for their upcoming DVD.

It's a little weird and eclectic but even if you're not into this kind of stuff make sure to check out the organ solo at 2:10, and the piano vs. screwdriver at 4:40.

Please excuse (or avoid... you've been warned) the very unfortunate expletive at 5:10 :(

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Synagogues and Churches?

As I've been thinking through all of this ekklesia stuff my mind keeps on coming back to the Jewish synagogue. This is because I have heard (I don't remember where) that as the ekklesia spread it modelled itself after the synagogue.

So how did ancient synagogues function?
In what ways is that similar/dissimilar to what we see in the early church?

Synagogues (literally, assemblies... like ekklesia it is a gathering of the people not a building) began during the Babylonian captivity. With the temple destroyed and the people in captivity the Rabbis of the day came up with a way for the people of God to have worship gatherings without the temple. Initially, these gatherings began as meetings in homes and then as they grew and became more established they built their own buildings, appointed elders to lead the gatherings, and hired rabbis to teach them and their children. Eventually, each community had its own synagogue with it's own elders and rabbis. Sound familiar?

These synagogue assemblies centred on the scriptures and prayer. Scriptures were read, a rabbi would explain the text, and debate/discussion would follow. Times of communal prayer also
took place. I have read nothing to indicate that music was a part of these synagogue gatherings but we all know how important the worship arts were to the people of Israel... that's for another

Anyway, I don't know about you, but to me all of this sounds very similar to how the early church operated. [The picture is of the Synagogue in Capernaum]

So, how is this connected to our current discussion? In "Pagan Christianity" Viola makes the argument that the bulk of how we "do church" has its roots in Graeco-Roman paganism rather than in the scriptures. I would agree that much of how we do things is based on tradition and not the scriptures. But I'd say that today's church owes just as much (and I'd argue much more) to the Jewish synagogue than to pagan religions.

You guys are bright, intelligent people. What do you think?
What am I missing?
Do you know of other similarities (or dissimilarities) to synagogue worship?

And for those of you who really don't care about any of this:
Here's the newest trailer for the upcoming "Astro Boy" movie!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

descriptive or prescriptive?

I think it goes without saying that all churches claim to be Biblically rooted, so I always think it's kind of funny when people say things like, "well, we're just trying to get back to the way they did it in the Bible." First of all I think it's funny because it comes across as more than a little pretentious (as if the rest of us aren't "biblical") and secondly... well, that leads me into the bulk of this post:

Whenever we're dealing with hermeneutics (interpretation of the scriptures) there are a number of questions that need to be asked. One very important one is this: is the text we are looking at descriptive or prescriptive? In other words, is the text we are looking at simply describing stuff that took place (with little or no bearing/obligation upon us to respond to it in a given way)
or is the text clearly stating something in such a way that it demands a specific response from us as we read it?

Our discussion on "church" is the perfect example. What we see in the NT is this:
1. Christians gathering at the temple/local synagogue to hear the scriptures read (no Christian would have their own copy of the scriptures).
2. they would then leave these rather large gatherings and meet in necessarily smaller groups in their own houses in order to discuss what they heard from the scriptures, pray, and break bread.

Now, the whole house church movement (backed up by Viola, Barna, the Dales... which started
this set of posts) is centred on #2. They see the descriptions of meeting house to house and say that the truly Biblical model is based on small groups of Christians meeting not in church owned buildings but in homes.

But I don't know if they asked this important hermeneutic question: is what we see in the NT (when it comes to ekklesia) descriptive or prescriptive?

When the NT writers recorded what the ekklesia was doing was it simply a description of how they chose to meet? Ie. there is no obligation for future generations of Christians all around the globe to meet in this precise manner.

Or when the NT writers recorded what the ekklesia was doing was it prescriptive? Ie. how the early Christians met is the way that God requires all of us to be meeting.

Let's have a discussion around this.
What do you think?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What is church anyway?

Coming out of last week's post I think it might be good to do our own re-evaluation of what "church" really is. If we want to "do" church in the way that we believe the Holy Spirit is directing us through the scriptures then it can't hurt to crack the case wide open and take a good look. Please join me as I work through this. I firmly believe in community hermeneutics so I cherish your thoughts.

First of all, let's throw out the word "church"... for now. The history of the word "church" is slightly convoluted and even misleading. It has a whole lot of connotations wrapped up with it and no small amount of baggage. However, once we've rid ourselves of "church" (the word, not the concept) what we are left with is this: ekklesia (also sometimes spelt ecclesia; either way it is a transliteration of the Greek word, εκκλησια).

Ekklesia is the word used in the NT that we usually have translated for us as "church" (Acts 19:32 is the exception; here ekklesia is used in its secular context... see def'n below). However, there is a lot of stuff packed into this one word. From Mounce's Expository Dictionary...:
"church is derived from ekklesia ('to call out'), so the church is the 'called-out ones' of God. In
its secular use ekklesia refers to the gathering of the competent citizens of a city-state in order to decide issues regarding laws, office appointments, and public policy. But the prototype of the NT ekklesia lies not in Greco-Roman history but in the assembly of God's people in the OT (cf. Acts 7:38) which developed into the Jewish synagogue as the gathering of the community of God..." (my emphasis).

In the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint (henceforth abbreviated as LXX - if you are unfamiliar with the LXX it may be worth while checking out one of my previous posts here), the word ekklesia shows up quite often (see, for example, 1 Chron. 28:8, Deut. 31:30, Micah 2:5, Neh. 7:66). In these cases that I found, ekklesia is always translated as assembly; and not just any assembling of a group of people, it is always the assembly of the people of God. In fact, the phrase the church of God comes not from the NT but the OT; from the LXX.

So, the roots of our word for "church" actually come from the OT assemblies ("ekklesias" LXX) when the people of Israel were "called out" for God's purposes. This is the basis for what would become the Jewish synagogue. And the Apostle Paul (who uses the word ekklesia more in his letters than anywhere else in the NT combined) used the basic synagogue structure when planting churches. Also, as a semi-connected tidbit, it was Paul's branch of the pharisees that believed that the LXX was equally inspired and authoritative as the Hebrew scriptures.


First: Contrary to popular belief "Church" is not just a NT thing. It has deep roots in the OT worship/covenant gatherings. When Jesus used the word ekklesia (Matt. 16:18; 18:17) he wasn't coining a new term. The people of Jesus'/Paul's day knew the word and what it meant; namely, the gathering together of God's people for God's purposes.

Second: Ekklesia is primarily a gathering/assembly of like-minded people. Recently I have heard a lot of people and read a number of books that are trying to combat the idea that the church is a building by saying, "you can't go to something that you are." This is partly right... but I want to draw a distinction here. I am not the ekklesia; we are the ekklesia. "Church" cannot, by definition, be attached to anyone or anything singular. I, by myself, am not the "church"; I can't gather/assemble with myself . A Christian standing by himself/herself is just that: a lone Christian. The ekklesia, as Paul describes it, is a body with many parts. A finger severed from the hand is just a finger; when attached to the hand it is part of the body. So, if you have any illusions that you are the "church" get rid of them. You are not the ekklesia; but we are.

I think that's enough for today. I'll be continuing with this exploration over the next few weeks so please add your voice to this discussion.

In your mind what aspects define "church?"
What aspects of today's "church" life do you think are scriptural?
What aspects are cultural (man-made/society imposed)?