by Al Maxey

Issue #651 ------- March 12, 2015
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Mission or Model?
Destiny Determining Decision

Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), who was born into a Jewish family in England, founded and served as president of the American Federation of Labor, and "it is to him, as much as to anyone else, that the American labor movement owes its structure and characteristic strategies," according to a statement by the AFL-CIO. During a time in society when employees were largely at the mercy of large corporations, and were not infrequently shown little consideration, Gompers championed their cause, challenging corporate executives to embrace a nobler vision than "profit over people." Yes, seek to be successful as a business, but not at the expense of your workers. Thus, he rallied the workers into a force to be reckoned with: a movement of workers who shared a vision of a better way to conduct business; where the rights of the individual were at least as important as the rights of the institution, and where both should work together for the good of the other. I'm certainly no fan of or advocate for Communism, but Karl Marx (1818-1883) did make a legitimate point in his Manifesto when he observed: "The workers have nothing to lose but their chains." There are times when men must be rallied and called to freedom, or at the very least be able to live and work with dignity. Sadly, over the course of time, as too often happens, a noble movement begins to devolve into an ignoble institution, losing sight of the individual in its quest to perpetuate itself. Thus, Gompers, in a major speech delivered to these laborers, sought to remind them of the lofty principles they were called to embrace and set in motion, saying, "The attainment of these is the glorious mission of the trade unions." In essence, he was calling them to refocus upon, and to recapture, "the glorious mission" to which they were initially called as a united body of workers. Frankly, this same challenge could easily be issued to the church today!

As I contemplate the original vision Jesus had for His church, I can't help but think of the words of William Wordsworth (quoted above) when he asked, "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?" Jesus called us into a renewed relationship with the Father, one made possible by His own sacrifice on our behalf. He didn't call us to form a new religion, or to establish religious institutions, or to build lavish cathedrals wherein we would assemble to perform worshipful acts strictly according to "the pattern" we had deduced largely from the silence of Scripture. Over the past two thousand years, the church has alarmingly and demonstrably moved away from people practicing their faith visibly in their daily lives to people practicing their religion in highly regulated rituals within the four walls of their secluded sanctuaries. We "go to church," rather than being the church and going into the world around us and influencing people for Christ Jesus. Our goal has shifted from bringing people to the Lord so they may learn to look like Him, to bringing people to our buildings so that they may look like us! We have allowed tradition to trump truth, and in so doing we invalidate the Word of our God, the very thing Jesus condemned the rigid religionists of His day for doing (Matt. 15:1-9).

It is time for God's people (the church) to refocus; to recapture the vision of the Lord for His church, and to embrace anew our mission. The mission may be found, in part, in the Great Commission: as we are going about our daily lives, we are to be witnesses to the grace, love and mercy of our Father as demonstrated in the life, teaching, and example of His Son, who paid the ultimate price to forever deal with the sin that had separated men from their Maker. We were not called to hide our light under the bushel basket of our buildings, but to mingle with the masses, meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs as representatives of our Redeemer. The mission of the church is not to establish religious institutions and highly regulated religious rituals, all of which are to be performed precisely "according the pattern" (assumed and deduced from what the Scriptures never state), and to castigate and cast off all who dare to differ with our established and cherished traditions. The mission of the church, rather, is to simply show forth our faith and devotion to the Lord in our daily lives, touching the lives of others who need to hear and experience this incredibly Good News that we have found. Sadly, too many have lost sight of His vision and mission for the church, and have bowed before the religious and sectarian models and methodologies of man's own making, and then fussing, feuding and fragmenting into warring factions over every little perceived deviation from our tradition. We have placed model and method over mission, and we are now, in far too many congregations of His One Body, experiencing the effects of this lack of discernment.

Let me share with you the following statement that was made in the body of a scholarly study I recently read by a number of researchers into church attendance patterns, with particular emphasis upon some educated predictions for the future of church assemblies. They wrote: "Churches that love their model more than the mission will die. Many individual congregations and some entire denominations won't make it. The difference will be between those who cling to the mission and those who cling to the model. When the car was invented, it quickly took over from the horse and buggy. Horse and buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly, average people could travel at a level they never could before. The mission is travel. The model is a buggy, or car, or motorcycle, or jet. Look at the changes in the publishing, music and even photography industries in the last few years. See a trend? The mission is reading. It is music. It is photography. The model always shifts: moving from things like 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs to MP3s, and now streaming audio and video. Companies that show innovation around the mission will always beat companies that remain devoted to the methods and models of the past. Churches need to stay focused on the mission (leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus), and yet at the same time be exceptionally innovative in their models/methods."

Over the past 2000 years, the people of God in Christ (the church) have increasingly left the marketplace to huddle within the walls of a meeting place. In so doing we lost sight of the vision of our Lord, and deal a severe blow to the mission He called us to embrace and put into effect. Instead of being the church, we began going to church. We institutionalized the Body of Christ, and transformed our "service of worship" (Rom. 12:1) into a "worship service." We elevated our symbols to sacraments, and we proclaimed our many traditions as divine truth. While the world about us died in their sins, we argued with one another over our dogmas in our sanctuaries. And Satan rejoiced! You see, when our religious models and methods become sacred to us, ultimate Truth and our divine mission become secondary (if even that). We become inflexible, and in time we become irrelevant. Truth is constant, it is not subject to change; traditions, however, can (and must) change so as to better address the concerns and needs of those around us who are seeking a relationship with the Lord.

So, what exactly is meant by flexibility with respect to one's models or methods? I firmly believe that those we need to be flexible with in regard to our cultures and societies are largely associated with how we express our devotion (worship) and how we go about sharing our faith (evangelism). To forever remain fixated in the forms of our forefathers can rather quickly cause us to become irrelevant to our own day and age. A minister in the state of California phrased it this way: "The church that is selling buggy whips ain't gonna have very many buyers, even if they are the best and truest buggy whips on the market!" Another minister in California stated, "Forms, formats and packaging are all flexible, depending on the culture. The message is what is constant: Jesus!" Yes, the mission, as well as Truth itself, is relevant to any culture or society, and must never be altered, but the forms whereby we show our faith and devotion can, and I believe must, be flexible enough to speak to those whom we seek to bring to a relationship with Jesus. Too often we are converting people to our models and methods (traditions), rather than converting people to the Master (Truth). Brethren, let's realize that Jesus has called us to embrace a mission, not to become fixated upon (and even feud over) some man-made method or model.

Let me speak frankly: too many congregations of God's people are becoming discouraged, and are decreasing in number, because they have for far too long been focused on the wrong thing. They have become keepers of tradition, protecting the patterns of their "worship service," and in so doing have completely failed to perceive that they are called instead to "service of worship," and this is done daily in the marketplace, not just for an hour a week at the meeting place. Let's be honest with ourselves: the vast majority of our squabbles with our spiritual siblings are over what takes place inside our buildings on Sunday with regard to our traditional "acts of worship." We are tearing one another apart over religious rites and rituals never even mentioned in the Bible, while the world about us dies in their sins. Brothers and sisters, I fear some of us are going to have much to answer for one day. My prayer is that we wake up before it's too late. Models and forms and methods don't matter; it's all about the Master's mission. The church is simply disciples of Christ Jesus living their lives looking like Him, and by that example inviting others to do the same. "Church" isn't something you go to; a place where you bow before traditional models. "Church" is something you ARE: a called out body of believers who are commissioned to share Good News with those around you in your daily lives, and to encourage each other and stimulate each other to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24). I really can't help but believe that if we focused more on our mission and less on our models, more on our faith and less on our forms, we would be much happier and fulfilled, and far more at peace with one another.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

How do we know that the four cups of wine were a mandatory part of the Passover tradition at the time of Jesus? I have been debating these subjects with the preacher at the Church of Christ I grew up in, and when I brought this up he claimed that the four cups of wine were added to the Passover meal after the death of Jesus.

From a New Reader in Washington:

Thanks for all your work. It has been great reading your Reflections on your web site (please add me at this time to your mailing list). I have read your articles in which you request the legalistic patternists to provide their list. Have you ever considered generating a list yourself, posting it on your web site and then requesting them to mark the ones they approve? In reading your debate on this topic of patternism (The Maxey-Broking Debate), the lack of consistent logic on Broking's part was very apparent. Thanks again for your work.

From a Reader in Arizona:

I just finished reading Reflections #650 ("Repentance Unto Forgiveness"). Thank you for calling attention to the manuscript evidence regarding the Greek preposition "eis" in Luke 24:47. Some years ago, Edward Fudge pointed out from Acts 5:31 and 11:18 that God gives repentance: first to Israel, then to us Gentiles. Later, in "The Great Rescue," he noted that "God enables what He commands." That statement fits with Philp. 1:6 and other verses. Near the end of your Reflections article you mentioned that repentance is ongoing. That is definitely true, but it was not among the preaching that I heard growing up in the Churches of Christ. Rebecca Pippert was correct when she wrote, "Repentance brought us to Christ in the first place, and repentance will keep on bringing us back."

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

It would be very hard to disagree with you on Reflections #649 ("The Church Building"). The apostle Paul pleads in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." One can only conclude that God requires our service to Him be 24/7. Restricting worship to what happens within the four walls of a church building at given times is unacceptable. A Church of Christ preacher once observed, "The Church of Christ had the opportunity to restore the first century church, but settled on the fourth century church instead."

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, your article "Repentance Unto Forgiveness" is one of the best articles I have ever read about baptism! You explained it in a way that is so easy to understand. I think it is a great article to have on hand for new converts to read. I have believed it this way for many years, but just couldn't express it as well as you did. Thank you!

From a Reader in Kansas:

To me, "Repentance Unto Forgiveness" is one of your most illuminating presentations on the basis of the Christian walk.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I thoroughly enjoy getting your Reflections every week. Thanks for your research and insight as you delve into what is Scriptural and what is traditional. Many blessings to you!

From a Reader in Toronto, Canada:

As you may know, Canadians, it seems, are always saying, "I'm sorry." I heard a friend the other day say that she made a rude comment at work and then told the colleague, "I'm sorry." To which the offended one replied, "And...?" When asked to explain, he replied, "And what?" In other words, what behavior change was she going to make in order to avoid being rude again? Repentance is more than saying, "I'm sorry." It is doing something about it, just as you noted in your article.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, I just got back from a cruise with my wife and read last week's article on "Repentance Unto Forgiveness." It was well done! With your help in my own personal study, I am convinced that nothing having any value whatsoever precedes faith. In fact, the only thing that precedes faith is sin. And, after reading this issue of Reflections, I am still convinced that "eis," as used by Luke throughout his writings, is used more frequently to mean "because of" or "due to" than "for." I don't see anything in this piece that would cause me to think it couldn't likewise be understood to mean "because of" in Luke 24:47 either. The message that we should repent because Jesus has actually saved us from our sin is THE gospel message, in my opinion! But, I know that is not popular in some circles. Blessings to you, my friend.

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