Indulge my thoughts for a second, this may be lengthy but I have to lay a little ground work, if I could sum up my thoughts in a catch-phrase, I want to experience something other-worldly. Now before we divest other-worldly into some sort of neo-platonic, “push this button to escape from this world world-view” let me explain. Jesus and His early community (yes, I used that forbidden word), though riddled with its own problems, is the closest we get to Eden, since the fall. The prophets envisioned mountains dripping with sweet vine, and all Israel drinking from their own vineyards. The wineskins have burst enough it is high time that we put new wines into new wine skins and forsaken the old for good. This calls not only for a new way we commune, but a new way of reading and living scripture, a new way of viewing the world and making sense of it all. I have yet to experience this:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
A great commonality, joy, and fellowship amongst people–God’s people, true humanity. There is a sense of awe, and excitement, every single time I read this text. It’s like stepping into masterfully orchestrated drama, like the veil for a short period of time is lifted from the dreariness of this present age. The most basic and yet most complex needs of humans are met here, fellowship and union with God, eating meals with those you love (on a regular basis), and the soaking in God’s word and life. As I take my seat and the curtains raise, the staged is arrayed with the finest costumes from the most experience tailors, music produced by the virtuoso, acting done by the most talented in the business. A drama of all dramas a beautiful story is unfolding before my very eyes. I use story because that is how the early Christians viewed themselves, as being a part of the story of Israel with a subverting twist, the story of Israel as fulfilled in Jesus. A story where God would eventually right the world of all wrong (righteousness of God) and would bless the world through his seed (Gen 12:3) (that would be us), where man and woman could be other-worldly (or perhaps post resurrection worldly).
I view heaven not as a place in the far yonder, where God resides, not other-worldly in that sense. I see heaven and earth as coterminous, heaven being God’s dwelling place, which is near but also distant (see 2 Kings 6:16-18), a Venn diagram with heaven in one ring with earth in another, which in due course, when God brings a full close to his story will interlock and overlap and merge completely (Rev 21:1-3). Until that point we can, in a partitive sense, experience heaven now, the veil has been removed. Instead of wishing for a pie in the sky, we can have a piece of pie right now. God has made his abode in us through his Spirit (Eph 2:22), the wonderful glories of the heaven realm and the fellowship man has longed for with God is realized in his church (Eph 2:6-7). Paul understood this vision and even as he wrote he could not help but to spontaneous burst into prayer and praise (Eph 3:14-17), as did the early church.
When I read about the early church their worship seems, primitively simple, yet profoundly elegant, ordered but sporadic, Christ centered, driven and focused, with community participation. They met together daily for friendship and devotion, they did not consider things their own, they met together in homes and fasted for their brothers. When their was a genuine need they from the depth of their love contributed as God’s hand or perhaps better yet, Christ’s hands as his body. When they came together to take the Lord’s supper there was table meals and talks (Acts 20:7-11; 1 Cor 11; yes I know certain churches do this). Every member participate in worship: “Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation…an interpretation, let all things be done decently and in order.” Filled with chagrin, Paul gave stipulation, on how they could worship freely, not stifle it with ritual.
But then, suddenly the play undergoes a metamorphosis. The fabric of the set become dirty, worn, and torn. The music a cacophony–a beginner learning violin for the first time. The actors dregs of society. Ashes for beauty. Thunderous applauds replaced with bursting wineskins. Like Nathaniel, sitting under the fig-tree of someone else dreaming of the day when I can plant my own and sit under it. The beauty of simplicity, spontaneity, and community is left behind for something this culture finds all too antiquated. Family get-togethers are replaced with mandatory “worship services” which functions sort of like a punch card that gives heaven points. We “take time to be holy” primarily for three hours a week; Christianity is more like an autobahn with everyone going at different speeds and in different directions. Worship “services” are largely focused around one man, The Minister, with the Lord’s snack tacked on for good measure. No participation necessary really, just sit in your pew and listen and sing.
We have borrowed “worship order” largely from those of the reformation (prayer, song, song, prayer, LS, sermon, song, prayer, giving–just about every church in America has a set up just like that). Sunday in and Sunday out, we do the exact same thing and listen to the exact same person or 30 mins to an hour. The faithful are primarily those who go to these three services, and who believe in a plurality of elders, weekly LS observance, and no IM. No godliness, social justice, mercy and compassion (this is obviously brushing with too broad a brush, but this must be done in order to deal with some of the smaller issues), but tri-weekly attendance and arrogating ones self over denominational error.
Instead of collections (love offerings) taken up for the needy, for the missionary, for the work of the kingdom, the vast majority goes to The Minister and to the building. I am not out to get people who worship in building, nor am I saying it is wrong. However, do feel that they have weakened the imagery of us being temples because the building functions very much like that. The early church was a temple-less movement, now it can be identified with temples on every corner. The world no longer knows us for our love, but for our physical location on some highway or corner. But, O, if we could only get people in the building, if we could only get them to come to church…O if only we could get the church to come to them! How simple it would be if we did meet in homes, no difficult debate over where to locate, no monthly payments for a million dollar “temple,” no advertisement signs outside the building “church of Christ.”
There would probably be a lot less “writing up” most of the brotherhood police would not even know where you are! Christianity is a home based movement. I am not trying to decry buildings and deify homes but there is something that is missed when you sit in a padded pew and look at the back of someones head for two hours. What if people did not have to “come before the church and confess their sins” because we met on a regular basis and actually made ourselves vulnerable, we talk about, bad habits, weaknesses, sexual perversion, ways to temper the tongue, and prayed for each other. O, there is so much more to say and such little time to say it. I think you can get some idea from this monologue (that is if you made it this far–ha).
The New Testament church is supposed to be: otherworldly, a fulfilling drama living out its final days before God writes a period and collapses heaven into earth. Until that time we are renewed daily by his Spirit in our bodies, where heaven and earth meet for the moment. I am planting my fig-tree now, so that I can sit under it in due time. I hope to, in the minds of God people, replace a worldly church with an other-worldly one.