Review of “Letters to the Church” Chapter 4 – The Gang

We are now in chapter four of “Letters to the church.” This thought hit me pretty hard and I imagine it did some of you as well,

“Any gang member will tell you his homies have his back. They’re there for him. They’re loyal, committed, present. Meanwhile, in many churches, you have about as much of a connection to the people who are supposedly your spiritual family as you would to someone who visited the same movie theater as you.” (p. 72)

Ouch.

Is that a fair statement?

I think it is on one hand – our churches are so large that it is impossible to have a deep connection with everyone. First century churches met in homes so they were much smaller and most likely far better connected. They also had a more hospitable culture than we do today. Moving from home to building comes at a cost.

On the other hand I can point out so many examples of individuals and situations where people have had my back through thick and thin and I know many others would say the same thing. We are a family in many regards or maybe more like an extended family where someone is a second cousin four times removed who you don’t see as often but others really are like your brother or sister.

Thoughts?

Next, he talks about supernatural love and the idea of God binding us together in complete unity. He points to the example of the early church in Acts, something very familiar to those of us in Churches of Christ. He gives a real call to action – to become what we find there.

I believe we, in Churches of Christ, have confused a pattern of worship with restoring New Testament Christianity. Restoring New Testament Christianity would be more than getting Sunday morning “right.” It would require loving as they loved, being on mission as they were on mission, etc.

Finally, he points to Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20 who had disrupted the church with their sin. Paul says he had handed them over to Satan. Here is that verse with some context,

18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” – 1 Tim 1:18-20

Clearly these two had been causing trouble and stirring up doubts in the believers in Ephesus (where Timothy was when Paul wrote him).

The Chan writes this,

“Sadly, there are a lot of people in our churches who aren’t interested in living out loving family like this. I’m going to say something that might be hard to hear: What if we let them leave?…While we design strategies to slowly ease people into Christian commitment and grow attendance at our services, Jesus called people to count the cost from the very start.” (p.82).

What do you think about that?

I think there is a difference between people who are causing trouble and people who aren’t very serious about things. I am also not sure what he means by “let them leave.” These people aren’t asking to leave. They are, by default, lacking action and involvement in the church family. What would you do if a member of your family did that? You would start by asking them to help around the house…to lighten the load on the rest of the family. One might say they were never in the family to begin with but I think that is a dangerous assumption to start with.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this point. Here is who I am more inclined to “let leave” – those who cannot accept a biblical directive for the church. So you cast a biblical expectation and if people threaten to leave over the direction you let them.

Thoughts?

6 Responses to Review of “Letters to the Church” Chapter 4 – The Gang

  1. Paul Castleman says:

    Matt-It seems Chan’s whole schtick is about returning or restoring what has been left behind in our churches. If churches were to return to the way Jesus did things, the way he did things and the works that he did, then we are on the right track. If people don’t like that idea, then they have permission to leave and go to be “comfortable” at another church. The commitment to the call of Christ is costly. “Maybe we’ve been so distracted by our efforts to make our church services exciting that we’ve hardly noticed the people the Spirit wants us to unite with.” (p83)

    In 3DM, one of the first Lifeshapes is called the Invitation and Challenge Matrix. Its more of a concept than a Lifeshape but, It’s fascinating. Jesus does this perfectly. He creates a discipling culture through Access to himself and then challenges the disciples to greater living and disciples lives. The culture of discipling is dependent upon what we are willing to say and do based on access to our lives and challenging each other to live in love and unity. I think this is Chan’s point. And it’s a good one…

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      We have certainly made a misstep by boiling Christianity down to an hour a week. We have also often lacked acknowleding and utilizing people’s gifts due to the business model we have adopted – hire a professional and others sit and watch. We even call the room the “auditorium” – the listening place. It is a spectator sport. That all needs to change and I appreciate the challenges he brings to the table.

      • Dwight says:

        Matt, Amen.
        This is something I sadly hear weekly from our preacher, come to church, receive the Lord. This is something that is part of the coC doctrine, because only through the coC association will one receive truth and thus God. We don’t teach that one connects to God personally and lives a life beyond the church building. We are justified not by living by faith, but by correct service and correct worship in the right church.
        Strangely we complain about other churches creating an atmosphere of worship and then we do the same thing, only ours is more subtle, but the same. They may have a band, but we have our songs on a slideshow, but all in all they are trying to enrich our experience so we are more spiritual. It is as if we are saying the apostles couldn’t possibly have been spiritual with what they had and how they did things and yet they were possibly more so.

      • Dwight says:

        Matt, Amen.
        This is something I sadly hear weekly from our preacher, come to church, receive the Lord. This is something that is part of the coC doctrine, because only through the coC association will one receive truth and thus God.
        We don’t teach that one connects to God personally and lives a life beyond the church building. We are justified not by living by faith, but by correct service and correct worship in the right church, even while reading James 1:27 “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world”.
        It is strange, but one of the goals in the church is to enrich the worship experience so we are more spiritual with this or that. It is as if we are saying the apostles couldn’t possibly have been spiritual with what they had and how they did things and yet they were possibly more so.

  2. Dwight says:

    I think Chan is correct in the gang concept, which in some areas is called, the family. Most prople go to church, but they aren’t the church.
    One thing Chan hits upon is the “one anorher” concept that is grossly overlooked because it undermines our collective narrative, because now we are being called on to act personally towards another person. The Lord’s Supper was “one to another” as they sat eating acrossr from one another, not everyone impersonally facing the alter. Through ceremony we have sterilized the connectivity that is supposed to be present during our time with one another.
    Oddly the connectivity that we are supposed to achieve at church comes after church when we are allowed to act as a church.
    It is hard to understand where Chan is going with his reference to Hymeneaus and Alexander. “real love, unity, and blessings were supposed to be found in the church”, because those in the church were supposed to be found with Christ, but many go to church to get what they should already be bringing with them.

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