Wednesday, November 12

Reimagining Church: "The Best Of Frank Viola"

Reimagining Church: Pursuing The Dream Of Organic Christianity is without a doubt Frank Viola's magnum opus of his numerous writings on the ekklesia. In this book, church is realigned with all the "strange" descriptions and practices that we read in the pages of our New Testament. It is church as we dream about it being, a going back to her 1st century roots as intended by her Founder.

To better understand my great appreciation for this book, allow me to share a bit about my own story of reimagining church...

My own pilgrimage with the house/simple/organic return to New Testament church began sometime around 1997 when the International Mission Board (the S. Baptist missions sending agency that we are a part of) instigated "New Directions." The assumption was that if we continued to do evangelism and church planting as we had always done it, we would never reach the nations for Christ. As this realization began to settle in our missionary hearts, we were faced with the huge question, "what, then, should we do?"

The IMB set out a few broad guidelines, things like:
  • focus on church planting; not church buildings
  • turn over institutional church work to national entities (seminaries, camps, schools, established churches)
  • church planting movements: churches that plant churches that plant churches
  • plant POUCH churches (Participative study/worship gatherings, Obedience to God's word as the measure of growth/maturity, Unpaid bi-vocational church leaders, Cell/house churches of 15 or less, Homes as meeting places)
  • missionary roles as mentors-trainers, rather than actual church planters
All these, and quite a bit more, were great, but none of us had a real grasp on how to implement these concepts. There was little help on the "how to" part. None of us had ever seen or experienced church any other way than it had "always been done." What was this thing supposed to look like that we were being asked to do?

In hindsight this bewilderment was a very good thing. Because it drove us straight back to the New Testament where we began a long verse by verse reexamination of the who, what, when, where, and how of the 1st Century Church. We quickly began discovering quite a few discrepancies between what we were reading and how we were actually practicing church.

Fast forward to early 2000 just as the new millennium dawned. In my role as team leader, I joined an online house church discussion group called House Church Connection which, BTW, continues today (for those who dare!) The purpose of the group, at that time, was to serve as a bridge for those journeying from institutional Christianity to 1st-Century NT house/simple church life. It was an extremely radical bunch for me at the time, but I was fascinated. I met and dialoged through dozens of long emails with "unknown saints" who had incredible insights on the very areas I was supposed to be an expert on. Where did they learn this stuff? I was baffled. As I struggled with the ideas and concepts shared, I received a lot of "hand-holding" and honest Biblical challenges to my questions and assumptions from new friends like Tracey Amino and Rick Carr and so many others whose names I have long forgotten. Even though sometimes ultra-extreme to my own views, I was drawn to the freedom this bunch of people had to follow Christ without all the baggage that accompanies the established institutional churches I had known all my life.

One day, out of the blue, one of the participants on the list mailed me an unsolicited copy of Frank Viola's "Rethinking the Wineskin." As I fearfully read the first few pages of this "heretical" book, I knew in my heart that I too could never return to the idea of "church" as I had always known it. A seed had been planted.

After being part of dozens of these organic/simple church plants in Ecuador, we have learned a lot from all our experiences. I don't necessarily agree with all that Frank writes, but there is little doubt his writings have been used of the Lord over the past eight years of church planting to help shape much of my thinking about the New Testament Church.

Reimagining Church is in my estimation a constructive summation of "The Best of Frank Viola." In these pages we find a more mature, polished, and cleaner compilation of reworked earlier material found in, "Rethinking the Wineskin" and "Who Is Your Covering?". His original "Pagan Christianity" was intended as the third book in this trilogy of early church practice.

The newly released, revised, and widely read (and debated!) Pagan Christianity co-authored with George Barna, was intended to historically demonstrate how far the contemporary church has strayed from its original roots. Reimagining Church is the natural sequel where Viola paints a compelling picture "where the body of Christ is an organic, living, breathing organism."

Even though I believe I have read most of the published writings of Frank, a lot of his earlier writings often have the feel of a radical zealot--a modern John the Baptist "crying out in the wilderness"--preaching repentance from a church gone far astray from its 1st century roots. Reimagining Church has come a long way to bringing the same challenging ideas expressed in these earlier ground-breaking works, for mainstream evangelical consideration and dialog. If I had a $1000 (and the book was in Spanish--hint, hint, Frank!) I would buy every pastor, servant leader, house church worker/planter, and missionary I know a copy. It is that good.

A good idea of what is between the pages can be seen in The Table of Contents:

Introduction: Toward a New Kind of Church

Part ONE: Community and Gatherings

1. Reimagining the Church as an Organism
2. Reimagining the Church Meeting
3. Reimagining the Lord’s Supper
4. Reimagining the Gathering Place
5. Reimagining the Family of God
6. Reimagining Church Unity
7. Church Practice and God’s Eternal Purpose

Part Two: Leadership and Accountability

8. Reimagining Leadership
9. Reimagining Oversight
10. Reimagining Decision-Making
11. Reimagining Spiritual Covering
12. Reimagining Authority and Submission
13. Reimagining Denominational Covering
14. Reimagining the Apostolic Tradition
15. Where Do We Go from Here?

Appendix: Objections & Responses about Leadership

If still not convinced, or want to investigate a bit more before taking the "plunge" try clicking on some of these links:

Read a sample chapter of Reimagining Church

Audio interview with Frank Viola and George Barna.

Frank's website Present Testimony Ministry

His blog Reimagining Church

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