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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


Examining the Models Conclusions
and Study Expectations


Introduction & 3 Models of Church Gatherings and Leadership
Examining the Models
Examining the Models Conclusions and Study Expectations
Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels
The First Supper, Jesus' Specific Instructions, Conclusions
Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings
Apostolic and Eldership Functions in Acts and the Epistles
1 Corinthians 1-10 & Introduction to 1 Corinthians 11-14
1 Corinthians 11-13
1 Corinthians 14
1 Timothy 2:12, Conclusions on Women in Church Gatherings
Conclusions: 1 Corinthians 14, Church Gatherings & Leadership




Conclusions about Viola’s Insights into Scriptural Analysis and the Bible as a Guide

 

Our examination of Viola’s arguments was not to assess his conclusions. We will do that as we study the New Testament ourselves. What we have seen is that Viola has on several occasions now enlisted scriptural truths to support his model of church gatherings and leadership, but those scriptures do not actually support his view (the Trinity, the priesthood of all believers, and “one-another” passages.) And Viola has twice misidentified the reason why other models of church gathering and leadership differ from his own. By examining these arguments from Viola we have learned a great deal about how Viola himself may have arrived at the model he offers to the rest of us in his books. Unfortunately, these events undermine the potential trust we might place in Viola’s expertise and bring into question any possible confidence that we might place in Viola’s competency at critically assessing and accurately articulating the fundamental issues and texts involved in the subject at hand.

 

Despite these failings, Viola does provide some good advice for how to study the scripture.

 

Proof-texting, then, became the common way that we contemporary Christians approach the Bible. As a result, we Christians rarely, if ever, get to see the New Testament as a whole. Rather, we are served up a dish of fragmented thoughts that are drawn together by means of fallen human logic. The fruit of this approach is that we have strayed far afield from the practice of the New Testament church. Yet we still believe we are being biblical. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 11, Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle, page 223

 

What is needed today is a theology built, not on the present canon and its misarrangement, but on the chronological narrative of the early church. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 11, Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle, page 227

 

We have been taught to approach the Bible like a jigsaw puzzle. Most of us never have been told the entire story that lies behind the letters that Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude wrote. We have been taught chapters and verse, not the historical context. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 11, Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle, page 231

 

You could call our method of studying the New Testament the “clipboard approach.” If you are familiar with computers, you are aware of the clipboard component. If you happen to be in a word processor, you may cut and paste a piece of text via the clipboard. The clipboard allows you to cut a sentence from one document and paste it into another. Pastors, seminarians, and laymen alike have been conditioned by the clipboard approach when studying the Bible. This is how we justify our man-made, encased traditions and pass them off as biblical. It is why we routinely miss what the early church was like whenever we open up our New Testaments. We see verses. We do not see the whole picture. This approach is still alive and well today, not only in institutional churches but in house churches as well. Let me use another illustration to show how easily anyone can fall into it – and the harmful effects it can have. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 11, Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle, page 232

 

Topical studies can easily lead one astray if the particular texts that are part of the “topic” are not understood in their historical contexts. For that reason, it is best to begin with the narrative of Scripture, seeing the whole fluid story in its historical context. Once that foundation is laid, topical studies can prove quite meaningful. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 11, Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle, page 240

 

In the above quotes Frank Viola suggests studying topics within the context of the larger New Testament narrative. Having read his books and a few of his articles online, one can only wonder why he doesn’t take this approach himself but instead chooses to force his readers to accept positions based largely on proof-texting.

 

As we examine the New Testament in this study, we will do what Viola himself unfortunately does not do in support of his own views. Specifically, we will look at the larger historical narrative of the New Testament church in order to understand the appropriate biblical model for church gatherings and leadership. As we go we will continue to quote and address Viola’s positions on the various scriptural passages that we encounter.

 

 

 

Expectations of the Three Models for our New Testament Survey

 

As we begin our survey of the New Testament in order to understand the appropriate model for church gatherings and leadership, let us remember some important points where we agree with Viola.

 

In several quotes, which we have already looked at, Frank Viola has stated his agreement that:

 

1. The New Testament provides numerous practices of the early church that are normative for us today.

2. Normative apostolic commands and practices are binding on the contemporary church and have prescriptive force.

3. The Book of Acts and the Epistles are awash with references to apostolic traditions that are normative for the early church and the church of today.

4. The New Testament confirms that the apostles taught the same things in all churches everywhere.

5. The traditions that the apostles delivered to the New Testament church and that the New Testament church learned, received, and saw in the apostles should be held firmly and should be considered as a guide for our church life.

 

Viola’s agreement to these five truths will be extremely relevant as we examine exactly what the New Testament says about church gatherings and leadership. Here again are the quotes in which Viola expresses his agreement to these truths.

 

The truth is that there are numerous practices of the early church that are normative for us today. These practices are not culturally conditioned. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 14, Reimagining the Apostolic Tradition, page 248

 

Point: Normative apostolic commands are binding on the contemporary church. But normative apostolic practices are as well. By normative, I mean those practices that contain a spiritual subtext and are the outworking of the organic nature of the body of Christ. Such practices are not purely narrative. They carry prescriptive force. This means that they reflect the unchanging nature of God Himself. And they naturally emerge whenever God’s people live by divine life together – irrespective of culture or time. In that connection the Book of Acts and the Epistles are awash with references to the apostolic tradition. In 1 Corinthians 4:17, Paul declares how he taught his ways “everywhere in every church.” To Paul’s mind, doctrine and duty – belief and behavior, life and practice – are inseparable. In short, that which is included in the apostolic tradition is normative for all churches yesterday and today. The exhortations of Paul to “hold firmly to the traditions just as I delivered them to you” and to practice what “you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” are the considerations that should guide our church life. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 14, Reimagining the Apostolic Tradition, pages 247-248

 

As we study the New Testament we can agree with Frank Viola that what we find in the New Testament church will provide a guide of binding commands and prescriptive practices for our church life, for church gatherings, and for church leadership today. All we need to do now is find out what the New Testament has to say about church gatherings and leadership.

 

But before we get to that scriptural investigation, it is important to have some idea of the expectations that are created by each model. By first identifying what each model predicts from the New Testament record, we will be better prepared to identify which model the scripture is portraying as we encounter information from the New Testament on church gatherings and leadership.  

 

The first model that we listed in the beginning of this study was the Pseudo-traditional model for church gatherings and leadership. Below are the defining features for the Pseudo-traditional model.

 

1. The concept of church leadership is chiefly limited to a single individual.

2. The church gathering is formatted so that speaking and teaching are exclusively reserved for the pastor while participation by anyone else is entirely restricted.

 

Similarly, the key features of the Viola model for church gatherings and leadership were as follows:

 

1. One, two, or three people should not dominate the leading or teaching at church meetings or take up the majority of the speaking.

2. Church meetings are not defined or dominated by leading and teaching from elders/pastors/bishops/overseers.

3. There are no long teaching components during a church gathering.

4. Every member, whether man or woman, has the right and the responsibility to share and speak at the church gathering by singing a song, reading a poem, acting out a skit, giving a short bible commentary on a passage they read that week, saying some encouraging words, giving a testimony of something good God has done, or praying.

 

And lastly, the defining elements of the Elder-Leadership model for church gatherings and leadership were:

 

1. A group of capable teachers dominates the church gathering through the teaching of the Word. These men could correctly be referred to biblically as elders, pastors, overseers, or bishops. They share the leadership with one another rather than having a single person over the entire church community. One of their goals is to train up other men in the congregation to join them in this important role.

2. Speaking at the church gathering is not limited to the teaching of the elder(s), instead the men (but not women) who are present can interrupt with questions, comments, clarifications, or even counterpoints. Dialogue is permitted and encouraged as useful.

 

Using the specific features of each of these three models we can construct a chart of expectations for what each model predicts we will find as we examine the New Testament. The following chart is a slight refinement and adaptation of the above features. It is categorized for the purposes of head-to-head comparison on specific issues. Additional components dealing with the communion meal and church leadership have been added. As such, the chart is designed so that models may be retained or rejected as we encounter information in the New Testament that either fits with or contradicts their distinguishing features.

 

 

 

Church Gathering and Leadership Models and New Testament Expectations Chart:

 

Category A: Church Leadership.

1. The Pseudo-traditional Model – New Testament church communities will be lead by a single individual head pastor. New Testament church communities will not involve shared leadership distributed to a group of elders or overseers who together share the leadership of the church community.

2. The Viola Model – New Testament church communities will be lead by a group of individuals called elders or overseers who together share the leadership of the church community. New Testament church communities will not be lead by a single individual head pastor.

3. The Elder-Leadership Model – New Testament church communities will be lead by a group of individuals called elders or overseers who together share the leadership of the church community. New Testament church communities will not be lead by a single individual head pastor.

 

Category B: The Communion Meal.

1. The Pseudo-traditional Model – New Testament communion meals will consist of only a small portion of bread and a small portion of wine. New Testament communion meals will not consist of a full meal.

2. The Viola Model – New Testament communion meals will consist of a full meal. New Testament communion meals will not consist of only a small portion of bread and a small portion of wine.

3. The Elder-Leadership Model – New Testament communion meals will consist of a full meal. Testament communion meals will not consist of only a small portion of bread and a small portion of wine.

 

Category C: Format and Common Features of the Meeting (not including Communion.)

1. The Pseudo-traditional Model – New Testament church gatherings will consist of a large segment of musical worship and a large segment devoted to an absolutely uninterruptable teaching from the head pastor. New Testament church gatherings will not involve any participation from anyone besides the main speaker.

2. The Viola Model – New Testament church gatherings will consist of every person participating, functioning, and contributing equally. New Testament meetings will involve various types of activities including: singing a song, reading a poem, performing a skit, giving a short teaching, giving a word of encouragement, providing a testimony, or offering a prayer. New Testament church gatherings will not contain special roles or tasks reserved for certain, distinct individuals including pastors or elders/overseers. New Testament church gatherings will not involve one, two, or three individuals dominating the time and contributions of the meeting while all other attendees contribute and participate to a much lesser extent (primarily in the role of an audience). New Testament meetings will not contain long sections of musical worship or teaching.

3. The Elder-Leadership Model – New Testament church gatherings will consist of a large teaching component lead by one to three male leader(s) called elders and may be interrupted by other men with questions or comments. New Testament church gatherings will also include prayer (and possibly some singing). New Testament church gatherings will not consist of a large segment of musical worship or an absolutely uninterruptable teaching from a head pastor. New Testament church gatherings will not consist of every person participating, functioning, and contributing equally.

 

Category D: Gender Participation.

1. The Pseudo-traditional Model – (Views on the participation of women in leadership and church services will vary depending on the denomination.)

2. The Viola Model – New Testament church gatherings will include the participation of both men and women with no distinctions or limitations based on gender. New Testament church gatherings will not be limited to participation from men only and will not restrict the participation of women.

3. The Elder-Leadership Model – New Testament church gatherings will limit participation to men only. New Testament church gatherings will not include examples of women speaking, teaching, or asking questions.

 

Note that the Elder-Leadership model and the Viola model have the same expectations regarding categories A and B. For this reason it will be important that we keep in mind the differences that distinguish each of these two models from one another. These differences can be found in categories C and D. If we were to find that New Testament church gatherings contained a full communion meal and that church leadership in the New Testament was shared by multiple persons we would not be able to determine, on these points alone, whether the Viola model or the Elder-Leadership model was correct. In that case, we will have to turn to the format/common features of church meetings and gender participation to determine which of these two models is presented in the New Testament.

 

With these models in mind and their expectations clearly outlined, we can now begin our examination of the New Testament teaching on church gatherings and leadership. As we begin our survey, we should be clear that the chief issue for all three of the models is the prescribed biblical structure for church gatherings and leadership without Jesus or the apostles physically present to lead or conduct the gatherings.

 

Because this is the central issue of our study, it might at first seem logical to start with the Book of Acts, which traces the earliest history of the Christian community as it developed from the day of Pentecost. However, though this period of church history is indeed critical to the questions under review, it is also helpful to establish the manner of the gatherings that the apostles themselves had become familiar with during their time with Christ. After determining this we will be better qualified to determine whether the manner, which they had experienced with Christ, was continued, modified, or replaced entirely with new formats and structures. After all, as Frank Viola himself says, the apostles learned their model for church gatherings and leadership from Jesus during the three years they spent with him.

 

Jesus provided the initial model for this “on-the-job” training when He mentored the Twelve. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 12, A Second Glance at the Savior: Jesus, the Revolutionary, page 249

 

So, instead of starting in the Book of Acts, we will begin instead with a survey of the four gospels to determine the nature and manner of the disciples’ gatherings for the three years or so when they were with Christ prior to His death, resurrection, and ascension. We will learn how Jesus’ trained the disciples “on-the-job.” As we proceed we will move through each passage of the gospels so that we can be sure that we are not missing any important events which might inform us of the early experience of the disciples during their gatherings with Jesus. This may seem tedious at first, but it will be eminently helpful in building the foundation of what the disciples had learned about the manner and conduct of gatherings during their time with Christ. In addition, it will also allow us to examine this issue within the context of the whole historical New Testament narrative, rather than “proof-texting” by removing passages from that overall narrative context. So, we will start in Matthew’s Gospel with John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.