Links for April 17, 2007

A freakin great quote.

And yet the early church grew and grew and grew, even without intentional evangelistic strategy or ministry. How? By being the most attractive community in the Roman Empire.

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This is why I love Family Guy.
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This comic is funny and true, and sometimes i get frustrated having to re-explain something to someone close to me that I’ve already explained on my blog, I could have a problem. (ht)
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Stephen Colbert is now Google Bombing and wants to be number one hit on Google when you type in greatest living american. That is hilarious. Here is his latest interview. I enjoyed when Colbert asked him to tell him one thing that the Conservatives are wrong about religiously, man he stuttered his way to an answer.

10 Comments

  • “And yet the early church grew and grew and grew, even without intentional evangelistic strategy or ministry. How? By being the most attractive community in the Roman Empire.”

    So that’s it, eh? Yeah, the NT is full of examples of the Apostles going from town to town preaching about community.

  • I wouldn’t say that’s it.
    but we always hear about the preaching, we don’t hear to much of that, so its cool to see it was about that also.

  • OK, I ought to explain my beef with that statement, and statements like it. Implicit in it is a devaluation of the Gospel, albeit unintended. The Apostles really didn’t go about telling people that they could be part of a “community” however good it may have looked from the outside (And I doubt it looked all that good. Very cult-like.) Also conspicuously missing from the NT is a single example of anyone coming to faith so that they could join, or be identified with the church. Even now there are better communities to be a part of.

  • i think the key in your statement is that you said inside the NT, i don’t think we are talking about that here at all. I think that this quote is referring to a cultural context not understanding anything biblical really rather than a few verses here and there

  • Well, I find that I’m a bit uncomfortable with the quotation provided, when it is taken out of context. However, the context makes it clear that the attractiveness of Christianity is found in a communal embrace of cruciform love, and so my initial discomfort was considerably allayed. Comments about the “attraction” of early Christianity are often employed to remove the cross from contemporary discipleship but, it seems to me, this passage avoids that error.

    Tom,

    I would suggest that it is your position that actually “devalues” the gospel, as it seems to suggest that the gospel can be proclaimed without being embodied communally. Isn’t it time we all got beyond this “enlightened” corruption of the gospel? In fact, I suspect that you are, in general, operate with a deficient definition of “the gospel,” but you would have to explain more about what you mean by that term before I can be sure. Suffice to say that the passage under discussion certainly reminds us that there is much more to the gospel than the assertion that “if we repent and believe in Jesus we will be saved” (that, by the way, is but one of the implications of the gospel, it is not the gospel itself).

    As for this:

    Yeah, the NT is full of examples of the Apostles going from town to town preaching about community.

    Need I remind you that all of the NT documents are written with particular communities in mind? Further, need I remind you that a good number of the “books” collected in the NT are letters written by, yep, you guessed it, apostles that were traveling from to town, founding, sustaining, and encouraging new communities — the ekklesia of those in Christ. Nathan concedes too much in his last response to you. I suggest that you take another look at the NT. It seems to me that you are operate with a false dichotomy — i.e. the apostles either preached “the gospel” or they preach “community.” In reality the two always belong together.

    Grace and peace.

  • Dan,

    The Gospel was embodied in community and still is, albeit somewhat differently. This isn’t my issue. My issue is the fact that the author of the quote seems to think that being a part of that community is what drew people to the Christian Faith, and I disagree. Before there was a church there was the Gospel. Where the Gospel was preached and people believed there was the church. So I’m not so much talking about a Gospel without a church (such would be impossible) so much as the Gospel proceeding the Church if you understand the semantics.

    Yes, the Gospel was taught within the church. However members of the church were never taught to elevate the church to the level of object of faith. It is for this reason the earliest versions of the Apostles’ Creed read “I believe a holy, catholic church” not “I believe IN a holy, catholic church.”

    Inasfar as the Gospel being preached apart from community, I would maintain (much to your chagrin I suppose) that the Gospel may be preached apart from community in view of the fact that it was preached apart from community. When Paul went to Athens, Rome, etc. there was no community to speak of. He preached the Gospel (no mention of being a community) and then there was the church.

    Concerning how I would define the Gospel; I would limit any definition to what the Apostle mentions in 1 Cor. 15.

    Cheers (1 Cor. 2:2)

  • The early church grew prior to Constantine despite the fact that Christians were severely persecuted – not an attractive picture of the church. The church grew after Constantine because by law everyone had to call themselves Christian.

  • Tom,

    Yes, I understand the semantics involved in your desire to ensure that the gospel “precedes” the Church. I have some suspicions about what underlying theology might motivate you to argue that this must be the proper order of things. I do, however, find this scheme unconvincing (and maybe even unnecessary).

    You see, arguments about what should take “precedence” are often highly subjective. I could respond that community actually precedes the gospel because God existed as “community” prior to the coming of the gospel (I think here of the writings of Zizioulas, Volf, Moltmann, von Balthasar, and Grenz — to cite a few examples from Eastern Orthodoxy, “liberal” and “conservative” Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism that hold to this view). However, you might be uncomfortable with such trinitarian musings (which is why I appeal to an ecumenical cloud of witnesses!) and thus, I might be tempted to point to the (surely attractive) human community that existed as the imago dei prior to the expulsion from Eden. Surely, if the Church, empowered by the Spirit, is, once again, a reflection of the imago dei, than that reflection might be attractive in some ways (although it might also be repellent in some other ways!). However, because arguments about “precedence” are, most often (but not always), word-games that are played to support conclusions that we have come to by other means, I suspect that our discussion of these things wouldn’t get too far.

    Indeed, to wonder about whether the gospel “precedes” the church, or whether the church is “equal to” or “precedes” the gospel, may be an altogether unnecessary activity. Of course, if you were talking about the precedence of the Word — that is Jesus Christ — over the Church, then I might find myself in much more agreement with you. Barth offers an important corrective/nuance to many contemporary Reformed Evangelicals in this regard. He never confuses the Word (Jesus) with the word about Jesus (the gospel).

    As for your final point re: the gospel existing apart from community, I will, once again, suggest a rereading of the relevant NT material. When Paul went on his missionary journeys, he went encouraged and sponsored by other communities. Furthermore, from what we can tell, Paul never went alone on these journeys. Thus, Paul was always traveling in community, and as a representative of other communities. Consequently, to say that the Paul preached the gospel apart from community is, IMHO, based an a too quick reading of the texts. Furthermore, I would go on to make similar points if you wanted to appeal beyond Paul to Jesus. Jesus’ gospel was born out of his participation in the community of John’s disciples and was, from the very beginning, a communal event.

    Of course, by arguing these things, I am not suggesting that the gospel has no propositional content. Certainly the written and spoken word is a part of the gospel proclamation, but it is only a part, and it is fundamentally incomplete unless it is, simultaneously, an embodied word (which, by the way, is why Paul continually refers to his own life as proof of the veracity of his gospel).

    Grace and peace.

    (Oh, and would you really limit your definition of “gospel” to 1 Cor 15? Think about what that chapter leaves out!)

  • Jim,

    Granted the early Church was persecuted but there is more to the picture than that. Let me give just one example:

    In the second century when the plague came to town the rich had a tendency to get the heck out of town and leave the poor to fend for themselves. Furthermore, because physicians were generally among the rich, those who were left behind were left without caregivers. However, Christians in the early Church started doing the unthinkable — instead of fleeing town they decided to stay behind and care for the sick and dying (and thus risk becoming sick and dying with them). I think that it is appropriate to suggest that such unthinkable demonstrations of love would be “attractive.”

    Grace and peace.

  • While it’s common to refer to 1 Corinthians 15 when discussing the heart of the gospel, there are other passages in the NT that must be noted. Perhaps most importantly, Paul states in Romans 10 “the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

    The long and short of it is that the gospel, as preached in the NT, is multifaceted. One of its aspects is definitely Christ’s death for our sins, but evidently the resurrection was central, since it’s mentioned in both passages and is central to the entire argument in 1 Corinthians 15.

    If we have another look at Romans 10, we should also note that Paul makes Jesus’ Lordship central to his message. One could also note that, if you examine the NT, there are far more references to Jesus as Lord than to Jesus as Saviour. That message had far more impact in a Roman Empire where the Caesar cult was on the rise because it had political and potentially life-ending implications, depending on where and when you were in the empire.

    How would the Christian community respond to this Lordship? They would act they way they thought their Lord wanted them to. Would that make them attractive to outsiders? Of course, especially if they made an attempt to work out Jesus’ words in John 13. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”