Finding Church (Part 2):Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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49 Responses

  1. UnCCed says:

    So my same question remains from last week – how does one (and if there’s a common throughout church history) explain the huge variance in the church between then and now with respect to your points.
    Next, how does one (and if there’s a common throughout church history) explain the wide variety of problems existing in the early church as outlined by Acts, Paul, and Jesus (7 letters).
    Finally, please offer your implications on both, if any.

  2. Jean says:

    Hi Duane,

    This is a very strong article. I have a question:

    Is the organization of the Gospels into pericopes common for historical biographies of the time, or have scholars been able to conclude with any degree of confidence that the Gospels were organized to be read publicly out loud as part of a daily or weekly lectionary?

    Also, do we have any evidence that the earliest church organized its lectionary reading and teaching around a “church year.”

    Thanks.

  3. Duane Arnold says:

    UnCCed

    There have always been local adaptations and developments within the Church, but for almost 1600 years, the Eucharist (in one form or another) was at the heart of Christian worship. While one might say that they don’t think that this should be the case, one cannot change the historical record.

    As to the problems existing in the New Testament era, yes, there were problems, issues, false teachers, etc., just as there have been in every era of Church history. If we are looking for the “perfect church”, we will not find it… not in history, not in our local community. Yet as often as problems are described in the New Testament writings, solutions are also provided. As I said, “…the New Testament not only instructs the Church but also reflects the Church that had come into being.”

    The implications in my mind are practical. Be a part of a Eucharistically centered community. Don’t expect it to be perfect. Recognize that church is much more about the presence of Christ and our devotion to him, than it is about “great teachers”, “great worship leaders” and all the rest.

  4. Duane Arnold says:

    Jean,

    We really don’t have a sense of the Church Year until the fourth century. As to the Gospels, scholars have long believed that there were shorter manuscripts of “The Sayings of Jesus” circulating in the apostolic and post-apostolic period. We know a harmony of the Gospels was produced by Tatian, the Diatessaron, about c. 160.

    Owing to the matter of literacy, the public reading of the Gospels was quite likely the way that most learned of the life and work of Christ…

  5. Xenia says:

    Good morning, unCCed,

    Even among Christ’s 12 Apostles there was a stinker. Even in the early Church in Jerusalem, not long after the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), there were stinkers, as in the case of the married couple that lied about their profits. Even in my family which was raised in a strict Christian home there are abstainers. Good order doesn’t guarantee perfect Christians, but it’s the standard. Without a standard, there’s anarchy where every man or woman does what they think is right in their own eyes.

    This is a TERRIFIC article, Duane! I wonder how many people will believe what you have written and I wonder how many will wave it off in the name of progressive revelation. “That was then; we know so much better now.” If you believe this, take a look at the churches around you that did what they thought was right in their own eyes, saying God has a new plan for His people (“new wine in new wine skins” was the buzzword at my old CC) and see the corruption that is discussed here on the PhxP blog weekly. The bad guys have no authority over them to offer binding correction. But this is how we like things here in America, where our battle cry is “Ain’t nobody gonna tell ME what to do.”

    The Catholics went off the rails with their doctrine of papal supremacy. If a church is led by one all-powerful man, if he goes bad (as I think we are seeing now and have certainly seen throughout the ages) the whole Church will suffer the consequences. There doesn’t need to be ONE supreme authority figure which is a recipe for disaster, IMO. Much better to have each region overseen by bishops who are in communion with each other and can, by means of conciliarity, kick out a heretic bishop.

  6. Duane Arnold says:

    Xenia

    It’s funny how we change through the years. 25 years ago, if you had talked to me about “Church”, the conversation would have been about church politics, arcane points of liturgy, scholarship, etc. These days I usually ask if they belong to a parish church, do they say their prayers morning and evening, do they have the opportunity to help “the least of these”… We make it so complex when it is really so simple.

  7. Michael says:

    The comments and questions have been outstanding today…so glad to see these kinds of discussions…

  8. Owen says:

    Duane, this is excellent….

    I have to confess, this is the first I’ve heard of the Didache (talk about late to the party), so I’ll be researching that. I’d like to track it down and get a look at it. I’d also like to learn more about Justin Matyr…….

    Really looking forward to the next installment…. was rather disappointed when I read “to be continued”… 😉

  9. Duane Arnold says:

    Owen

    Many thanks! If you use the search bar (upper right) and enter “Didache” you can find some more resources right here at PhxP…

  10. Owen says:

    Allrighty then, thanks Duane! 🙂

  11. Owen says:

    Got it Duane, ty…

    Quick question…. article 2:2 in part, “thou shalt not corrupt boys” – are you able to comment as to what that might have meant then?

  12. Duane Arnold says:

    Owen

    A prohibition against pederasty which was somewhat normative among all classes in the Roman empire…

  13. Jim says:

    Enjoying this series.

  14. Duane Arnold says:

    Jim

    Thank you, I appreciate that…

  15. Corby says:

    If I’ve come across as argumentative that’s not been my intention. I’m thankful for this examination and the historical context. Very insightful.

    I believe in the power of deconstruction, it’s how I do most of my job in IT (break something down until you find the broken part), but it has its problems. One can deconstruct to the point there might be nothing left and you aren’t sure what to do with the leftover pieces. That’s largely where I find myself with church. We’ve finally found a non-pretentious group of believers which happens to be Anglican, but we’ve moved 30 minutes away from where they meet. Add to that, the priest also lives 30 minutes from where the church meets, along with some of the leadership. The bulk of the people live 10 minutes or less from where we meet. Even in a group of people like this, its very hard to have a sense of community in a commuter culture. It’s still “going” to church no matter the format. This is what I think I’m stuck on.

    I’ve been aware of the Didache but it fell off my radar long ago. Getting a sense of what the early church came up with is also helpful. This has been a nice revisit.

  16. Duane Arnold says:

    Corby

    Many thanks. I’m beginning to think of “reconstruction” as a model. That is, trying to find those elements that are in some sense essential to the understanding of “Church”. If nothing else, it might help us to recognize it when we see it…

  17. Just Josh says:

    Good stuff, again. My guess is that the pandemic is harder on sacramental fellowships than memorialist, correct? If the gathering is centered on the Eucharist, as it no doubt was early on, how does that survive in times like this? Are there records from previous pandemics that give some guidance?

  18. Duane Arnold says:

    Josh

    Many thanks! Yes, the pandemic is tough on sacramental fellowships. During this time, most of the faithful abstain from participation. This seems to have also been the case with the plague in the 14th century, although at that time, most of the faithful received much less frequently. There is, however, a tradition of “spiritual communion”. This has to do with saying certain set prayers when you know that Holy Communion is being celebrated in your parish church. With all of us, the pandemic has affected pastoral practice – hospital visitations, extreme unction, funerals, etc. It is difficult…

  19. Corby says:

    Just Josh / Duane – that question would never have occurred to me because I come from a memorial background. I understand the sacramental view and I don’t want to start a fight, but let me ask this for the sake of just knowing.

    In the Anglican world, there is a very high view of the materials that make up the elements for the eucharist, something I’m still wrapping my head around. Why do the elements need to be blessed by a priest before they are considered, for lack of a better term, legitimate? Why can’t I, as a non-priest (except in the sense of the priesthood of all believers) take any bread and any wine and administer the eucharist to a group of believers even in the sacremental view?

  20. Duane Arnold says:

    Corby

    In theory one could. The question that arises, however, has to do with church order, that is, where does one receive the authority to preside over the Lord’s Supper. At the very least, a congregation would have to assent to the one presiding. In the Anglican world, the assent of the congregation also requires the assent of the bishop as a representative of the wider Church in order that the one presiding has not just “assumed” his role. It is bipartite – the authority coming from the people, but ratified by the wider Church.

  21. jim vander spek says:

    Excellent series.

    At what point do you think the church moved from a house church model to a congregational model? It seems like the house church model will not work unless the congregational model is forbidden by the authorities. Francis Chan in Letters to the Church calculates that at about half of our current world population. In some places like Iran and China, where there is no choice, house churches thrive.

    It looks like authorities in the US right now are forcing this on us as well.

    Perhaps it is the Spirit’s doing.

  22. Corby says:

    Duane – thank you, clear enough. The followup question is why? Why does someone need to be given the authority to serve the eucharist? As I think about it now, it seems to me that that should be the most accessible thing and easiest act of service one believer should be able to serve to another. Why is is restricted to those in authority? Is there a historical basis for this? My old evangelical hackers get raised when I see the idea that anyone is required to stand between me and God because that’s what Jesus did.

  23. Jean says:

    Corby,

    “My old evangelical hackers get raised when I see the idea that anyone is required to stand between me and God because that’s what Jesus did.”

    Sometimes old things are discarded, as one increases in knowledge and wisdom.

    It is not because of “what Jesus did,” but what Jesus does. How does He serve His Church?

    Well:

    :Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God HAS APPOINTED in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.”

    “OBEY YOUR LEADERS AND SUBMIT to them, for they are KEEPING WATCH OVER YOUR SOULS, as those who WILL HAVE TO GIVE AN ACCOUNT. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

    Notice how kind Jesus is, that He appoints leaders in the Church and charges them to watch over our souls. There is nothing more solemn, nothing at all, than one called to handle the holy things of God. The individual administering the Sacrament is doing so in the stead and by the command of Christ Himself.

    As in all of God’s orders of creation, yes, there is also a hierarchy in the Church. This is paralleled in the OT where there was a distinction between the Aaronic priesthood and the priesthood of believers (Ex. 19:6)

  24. Duane Arnold says:

    Corby

    Jean covered a few of the many texts that could be cited. Historically, we see an existing ministry starting with the earliest post-apostolic writings – Ignatius, the Didache, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus of Rome, etc. You may disagree with the idea of clergy appointed for certain aspects of ministry, but you cannot ignore the evidence from both the NT record and the early writings that this was the model of the early Church…

  25. Corby says:

    Duane – yup I wouldn’t argue. Where there is leadership there is a hierarchy. And we are given character and lifestyle requirements for certain positions in the church leadership. I do agree that clergy are appointed for certain aspects or responsibilities of ministry in scripture. I myself used the terms leadersheep and membersheep. We are all sheep. We are all equal in value, but some are called to different responsibilities in the church.

    I can see that choices were made. Choices are often made out of a necessity of one kind or another. Maybe the early church decided that the pastor (I still don’t like the titles Priest or Father or Reverend, they seem counter to the removing of obstacles between man and God) should be the one to do it because some parts of the church were being irresponsible with it as Paul records. That’s a supposition. I love the historical accounts, but what is missing for me is the why. Why can’t the laity serve communion with any bread and wine if done with the proper heart? That’s what I’m curious about.

    And if this is derailing the point of the posts I’ll stop. Not my intention.

  26. Everstudy says:

    Corby, if I could add, from my experience in the CRC, where only elders were allowed to administer the sacrament of communion. Like Duane said, by the “authority coming from the people” (the congregation selecting and affirming their elders), the congregation gives “their assent”. Part of that, I was told, was so that it was done properly, and in order. They wanted to maintain the mystery and weight of communion, so it was important that the elders did that job.

    And, by the way, this last week, my family and I spend a few days up in Twin Peaks and visited the old CCBC. We went in to get some coffee and I gave my son the nickle tour around the campus. It’s a lot smaller than I remember it being.

  27. Duane Arnold says:

    Corby

    Not derailing… but there will be more next week…

  28. CM says:

    Duane,

    Since the Lord’s Supper is taken from the Passover Seder (which the first Lord’s Supper was actually), did not the head of the household traditionally lead the Jewish family in the Seder?

    And of course, like Christ elders are to be servant-leader (much like the head of the Jewish household).

  29. CM says:

    Everstudy,

    And to piggyback off of that, Paul gives clear instructions on the Biblical qualifications to be an elder. The problem is that far far too many people are not qualified to be elders per Scriptures (but still are) and those are qualified are not elders or do not wish to be. If this was not the case, the I think much of the scandals and blight would disappear.

  30. CM says:

    Interesting…

    One word in Greek in the NT for elder is episkopos (from epi and skopos).

    Where else in English to we see a similar construction with skopos?

    Microscope
    Telescope
    Periscope

    An episkopos observes upon (or over) something. A watchmen as it were

  31. Duane Arnold says:

    CM

    Yes, the head of a household, but in this case the household is the body of believers and the one who presides in persona Christi…

  32. Corby says:

    Duane – “the one who presides in persona Christi” At the moment, this concept might be at the core of my hangup with fully getting into Anglicanism and the things that stem from it (the Eucharist, absolution, etc). Biblically we don’t need a persona Christi because we already have Christ. We don’t need a person filling in for Christ. For example, I don’t understand the absolution part of the liturgy. I don’t need a person to tell me my sins are forgiven because Christ’s own words already tell me this.

    As a pastor full-time for 10+ years I never, ever considered myself persona Christi. That very idea feels anathema. I felt it my role to point people away from me and toward Christ.” I could not in any figurative sense on any level whatsoever fill his sandals.

    Again, just trying to understand. This site has long been a place where pastoral abuse is called out. Advocating for persona Christi while (rightly, generally) bashing the Moses Model seems inconsistent to me. Yes, I understand the abuses done in the name of the Moses model, no need to rehearse them. But if we can’t trust someone to stand figuratively as Moses, how can we trust someone to stand figuratively as Jesus?

  33. Corby says:

    Everstudy – I’m blanking on who you are “in real life.”

  34. Duane Arnold says:

    Corby

    It come down to a “sacramental” system as being different from a “non-sacramental” system. Beyond baptism and the Eucharist, there are physical elements (as opposed to purely “spiritual” elements). Absolution in the stead of Christ is one of these. In our understanding, the Church is an extension of the Incarnation containing many physical elements. This, BTW, was a major difference between the early Church and the gnostics…

  35. Duane Arnold says:

    Corbin

    The difference in terms of a pastor/priest and the Moses Model is accountability…

  36. CM says:

    A completely different note. Regardless of one’s view of the Lord’s Supper and how often they have it, the following instruction applies EVERY time a Christian participates in it:

    “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.”

    The bottom line is it is better to examine oneself, realize it is better to pass on the Lord’s Supper at that time than to drink it an unworthy manner. I would surmise that God will honor you for that understanding and humility.

  37. CM says:

    Duane,

    Being our resident early-church scholar, are they any specific writings give guidance on this examine himself part and the unworthy manner? Other don’t do what they did in Corinth and show up hungry at the Lord’s Supper like you a starving teenager, that is.

  38. Jean says:

    “I don’t need a person to tell me my sins are forgiven because Christ’s own words already tell me this.”

    Historically, Christianity has not been a religion of self-application. Christ distributes God’s grace through means.

    “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

    “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

    “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

    “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,”

    “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

  39. Duane Arnold says:

    Jean

    “Historically, Christianity has not been a religion of self-application.”

    Nice phrase… I may steal it!😁

  40. CM says:

    Duane and Jean,

    To parlay that into a joke (and give Michael some good-nature ribbing), he will need to update the titles of his books then. 😀

  41. Duane Arnold says:

    CM

    In my tradition, as in others, there are a host of manuals with sections on self-examination before partaking of the Eucharist. I use a little one called “St. Augustine’s Prayer Book”. I believe that Michael does as well, but he may have another favorite…

  42. CM says:

    Makes sense. And you can’t really go wrong with Augustine (especially looking at his life and his conversion).

  43. CM says:

    Duane,

    I suppose Christians back then asked the same questions, “How to do I self-examine (and what do I examine for) in order to be faithful to God and his Word?” So it would make sense that these earlier church leaders and fathers work on answering that.

  44. Duane Arnold says:

    CM

    It’s called “St. Augustine’s” but it’s really a small compendium of prayers and devotions from across the centuries. It was first published by some Anglo-Catholics in 1947. The first set of prayers, however, are St. Augustine’s…

  45. CM says:

    Duane,

    Well I was right on at the first part of the book. 😀

  46. Everstudy says:

    Corby,

    Your first semester at CCBC you had a top bunk in the Zealot Zone in the men’s dorm. I had the bottom bunk. You used to let me fiddle with your bass (I think it was yours). I was skinny, long hair, wore flannels most of the time.

  47. Corby says:

    “Historically, Christianity has not been a religion of self-application.” – I see what you’re getting at but it doesn’t really mean anything. Historically, the church has also gone through seasons lasting centuries of being really screwed up.

    It’s isn’t a religion of either communal-application or self-application. it’s a both/and. It applies to the individual and it applies to the community. It’s McKenzie’s balance of “we” and “me.”

    Actually, I think there is a misfire in your statement of self-application. What you are actually saying is that historically is isn’t a religion of active self-application. I would agree with that. But what it is and should be is a religion of passive self-application. I say I’m forgiven (active, incorrect). I claim that Jesus said I’m forgiven (passive). It’s submissive or even cooperative application to individuals as well as the individual as a member of the community.

    Whether one wants to emphasize that the human body is made up of individual cells, or emphasize that individual cells make up the body, they are both true. “If anyone is on Christ He is a new creation.” I am not saved because I am a member of the Church but a member of Christ. The Church is the body of Christ but the church is not Christ. Right now, I would say we are His representatives, not His representation. For me, for now, that is a step too far.

    Maybe all of this is another example of which side of a coin one focuses on (predestination v free will anyone?). Like Duane said, it’s the difference between a sacramental vs non view. What I have a hard time subscribing to is statements along the lines of “the early church believed this so it must be right” and alluding to Gnosticism as a consequence of not agreeIn with with it.

    There are absolutely mystical elements to the church as the body of Christ. I believe we are, for practical purposes, his hands and feet and mouth and ears, etc. on this earth. I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are His breath/life/power in His body on this earth for the purpose of building His kingdom. We are Christ’s, not Christ Himself.

    The reason I’m on about this isn’t because I’m trying to correct anyone (per se). The priest at our church has asked me, based on my previous life in ministry, to consider pursuing ordination in the Anglican Church, largely because he could use the help due to the fact that the two deacons we have are vocational, and he himself is a chaplain in the Air Guard which takes him away from time to time. These are some of the specifics subjects I’m stuck on, and the general subjects I’m interested in as someone who has deconstructed his church experiences of the last 20 years. I don’t believe God is done with me yet in terms of ministry. I’ve been through too much for it to just be put away. Just trying to figure out what’s next. Thanks for your patience.

  48. Duane Arnold says:

    Corby

    A friend of mine who is the head of a seminary says that there are three questions he asks of anyone aspiring to ministry –

    Who is Jesus Christ?
    What is the Church?
    What is a priest?

    He then says to the aspirant, “These are the three questions you should ask yourself morning and evening during the whole time of your preparation…”

    Good advice and good questions.

  49. Jean says:

    Corby,

    In addition to everything I’ve written above, let me add the following:

    “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

    The norm in Scripture is that God’s Word is verbalized from one creature to another. Faith comes by hearing.

    Even Paul, went to the church in Jerusalem to tell them about his ministry to the gentiles to make sure he was not running in vain. (Gal. 2:1-2).

    Human experience confirms the efficacy of this norm. I can sit here and tell myself that my wife loves me, I can reread a birthday card or message where she recently said she loves me, but if when she said to me, “I love you,” my trust in that love is engendered and strengthened in a way that self-application cannot produce.

    The key to Christian freedom and a good conscience before God and man, is faith in the heart. God appears to have created man to be in relationship with other human beings. He sometimes works immediately in the stories of the Bible, but most of the time, God works mediately by one human being to another.

    In addition, when Paul describes his ministry or the ministry of Timothy, he describes a stewardship of which they have been entrusted by Christ. This appears to be a stewardship that is particular to those called to the ministry of the Word.

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