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The following is an excerpt of my upcoming book Charismactivism, due to be published later this year by Ettelloc Publishing.
The Protestants of the 16th century were far from the first who protested against Catholic errors and heresies, but this movement was the first one to escape being totally quenched by inquisitors and grow to a big, substantial size so that it was clear once and for all that Catholics and Orthodoxs didn’t have monopoly on the name of Jesus. This was primarily because unlike most previous Christian rebels, Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) did not question the state-church system — on the contrary they endorsed it! Thus, many Protestants weren’t persecuted; they persecuted others. Furthermore, while prophetic, charismactivist movements demanded believers to take discipleship seriously and actively seek holiness, Luther’s hostility towards works made it quite easy to be a Christian in his church.
Reformers like John Wycliffe (1331-1384) in England and Jan Hus (1369-1415) in Bohemia (which is now the Czech Republic) had already protested against Biblical ignorance, papal fundamentalism, ecclesial luxury, and indulgences. The latter refers to golden tickets to Heaven that you had to buy in order to decrease time in your or your loved one’s painful purgatory chamber, the existence of which was questioned by Wycliffe since it isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, and Hus translated some of Wycliffe’s writings. The Catholics burned Wycliffe’s books, and Hus’ living body. The pope initiated not less than five crusades against Hus’ followers in Bohemia, which they violently countered in the so-called Hussite wars.
In the midst of this destructive conflict, a Bohemian reformer called Petr Chelčický (1390-1460) stepped up and preached the message of the Sermon on the Mount: nonviolence, enemy love and good deeds. Instead of just reforming the church to a slightly better state, he wanted to restore the Biblical, apostolic church completely. He believed in the free will of the individual believer, criticized the marriage between church and state, and promoted economic redistribution and communalism (not to be confused with extremist revolution and communism). (more…)
A denomination could simply be defined as a Christian organization with one specified leadership. It isn’t necessarily about theology. Two Christian movements with exactly the same theology would still be two denominations if they had different leaderships. This is important to remember. When we talk about being one as Jesus prayed that we would be (John 17), also known as ecumenicalism, this could be understood in several different ways: either that we should find unity in faith, love and practice, or that we should unite under the same leadership, forming one denomination. Ulf Ekman, the Swedish Pentecostal pastor who converted to the Catholic Church, seems to have the latter understanding of ecumenicalism since he often explain his decision by saying that he wanted to obey Jesus’ wish that all His disciples should be one.
For the same reason, many Christians are a bit fed up with new denominations, getting horrified when hearing that there are over 30 000 of them (which is an exaggeration), and at least here in Sweden we have had a trend the last 25 years where local churches as well as whole denominations unite and form the same organization under the same leadership.
In such a context it would perhaps sound weird – even dangerous – to promote a formation of a new denomination. Don’t we have too many already? It may be so that the Holy Spirit is doing something new and fresh to revive the body of Christ, but that should be channeled within the existing churches rather than becoming new ones. A church split is viewed as something intrinsically bad, always. Even Martin Luther wanted to reform the Catholic church rather than starting a new church, didn’t he?
Today is the 490’s birthday of Anabaptism, the radical, biblical, pacifist and restorationist Christian movement that consists of millions of Jesus believers around the globe, including me. You may have heard my little song about what Anabaptism is already but it won’t hurt to listen to it again, eh?
So here’s the story about how Anabaptists came to be. The 16th century Protestants were far from the first who rebelled against the Catholic church and its unbiblical teaching, but they weren’t as radical as the Hussites or Waldensians had been. In fact, neither Luther nor Calvin wanted to restore the Biblical church completely but rather, they argued that Biblical practices they didn’t like had “ceased” (I talked about this two posts ago).
They had no problem with unbiblical practices like the state church system, though. Luther and Calvin are called magisterial reformers because they didn’t want to separate the church from the state but, on the contrary, relied on the secular state powers to liberate themselves from Rome.
In this third and final part of “extreme church makeover”, we will look at how a mainline, conventional church that doesn’t practice community of goods like the church of the apostles (Acts 2:43-44), can be transformed into a church that does practice community of goods like the church of the apostles. Because of my trip to the Jesus Army in the UK – that practices community of goods – in August I have already written a lot recently about sharing everything and explained why it isn’t impossible and why the example of the apostolic church in Jerusalem should be followed rather than ignored. Hence, I won’t go into that in this blog post.
Let us instead discuss the practical part – how can we deliver mainline churches from the claws of mammon so that they practice economic equality instead of inequality? In my previous posts, where I’ve talked about how to make a mainline church evangelize on the streets and how to transform a mainline church into an organic house church, the practical applications have come in the form of bullet points in the end, which honestly is because I felt it necessary to explain why these reforms are needed so that in the end, I didn’t have too much time discussing the practice (I usually don’t want to spend more than one hour on blogging per day).
What I think is important to note when it comes to all of these three reforms, or restorations rather, is that they are indeed entirely possible. That is, I am fully convinced that we could see thousands – millions even – of churches around the world going back to the apostolic structure of mandatory evangelism, organic simplicity and community of goods. Just look at the charismatic movement. 120 years ago, most Protestant churches believed that miraculous gifts had ceased, and very few included healing, prophecy or speaking in tongues at their meetings. Now, this is the standard in millions of Protestant churches around the globe. When the Holy Spirit spreads revival, the church can change very fast.
In my last blog post I discussed how we can inspire and exhort mainline churches to make evangelism as mandatory and natural as Sunday services, since the apostolic, biblical church evangelized in the streets, synagogues and temple courts probably even more than they met for internal meetings in the homes, based on how church life is described in the gospels and in the book of Acts. Today I want to talk about how we can inspire and exhort mainline churches to become house churches, i.e. to sell their expensive building and form organic, discipleship training communities that gather in houses as well as on the streets.
It’s no secret that the Biblical church was a house church movement, Luke says that they gathered in the homes as well as in public (Acts 2:46), Paul talks about the church that meets in Prisca’s and Aquila’s house (Rom 16:3-5). In fact, there are no evidence of any church buildings at all earlier than the late third century. While some things are a bit ambiguous when it comes to the early church, this is not one of them: the early church was a house church movement.
Now, Christians who belong to building churches* are often quite eager to explain why this does not by any means show that churches should organize themselves in homes rather than in expensive buildings. The most popular theory is that the early church was forced to meet in homes rather than in church buildings because of persecution. And there is defenitely some truth to that. But this argument does not in itself contradict the position that house churches are better than building churches; devotion to Christ and a commitment to follow Him even to death was probably stronger during persecution compared to when persecution ended, but that doesn’t make devotion and commitment less valuable – rather, the contrary is true.
I’m not a reformer, Im a restorer. While several intentions of the reformation were good, the emphasis on reform in itself doesn’t express what we really want the church to look like, and so I know several Lutherans who defend unbiblical teachings and changes with the claim that the church should be constantly reforming itself, which isn’t a very Biblical idea. Restorationist Christians on the other hand, like Anabaptists or Pentecostals, have emphasized that we should restore the Biblical church and thus has a clearly expressed goal with the reforms. Just by looking at the Holy Scriptures, we see how Jesus did church, how the apostles did church and how they thought that we should do church. And they didn’t call it “church”, since that’s obviously an extremely boring word, they called it the Way (Acts 9:2); the Lifestyle, basically.
The charismatic movement, which I am a part of, have used restorationism to resurrect a hunger for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and miraculous gifts. But there are some things that I think still needs to be restored in most charismatic churches: mandatory evangelism, organic simplicity and community of goods. I will explain more about what these three things mean and how they should be practically restored in mainline churches in three blog entries, this being the first.
So what do I mean with “mandatory evangelism”? Well, the apostolic church which was funded and lead by guys who knew Jesus personally had two sorts of meetings, or “services” if you like: “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” (Acts 2:46). They both met in the homes and in the temple courts. The latter was the place where Jesus had His theological debates – it was a place where all the religiously interested came to worship God and discuss with each other. And the early Christians both join the Jews for prayer in the temple (Acts 3:1), and to heal them (3:6-10) and preach the Gospel to them (5:21).
As many of you know, I am glad to be a part of the MennoNerds network, an international blogging community made up by people who are nerdy about Mennonite and Anabaptist theology. The Anabaptists were the central figures in the radical reformation during the 16th century. While Luther and Calvin opposed Catholic teaching they still wanted to kill people and were opposed to freedom of religion. Anabaptists however both criticized Catholic teaching and the Catholic church model when one baptizes entire countries, gather people in cathedrals and kill those who don’t agree with you.
The Anabaptists were of course persecuted and killed both by Catholics and Protestants. However, some survived and can today be found in three main groups: the Amish who dress funny and live environmentally friendly, the Hutterites who dress funny and have everything in common, and the Mennonites who dress boringly and write blogs about Anabaptism.
- Jesus Centered– Jesus stands as the lens by which Anabaptists read the entire Bible, and the exemplary by which we engage all theology.
- Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples – the Anabaptists were opposed to infant baptism partly because it wasn’t Biblical, and partly because it created a society where your nationality, not your faith, defined you church membership, and that was opposed to freedom of religion
- Agents of God’s Shalom – Anabaptists are pacifists committed to non-violence, but not only do we want an absence of war but also a presence of Shalom, justice and harmony.
As some of you know, I am proud to be a part of the awesome MennoNerd blogging network, a bunch of bloggers that identify themselves with anabaptism, the radical reformation in the 16th century that wanted to go back to the Biblical roots in a better and more radical way than Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.
Unlike these mainline protestants, the anabaptists rejected violence and war, they argued that people should choose to follow Christ and not be baptized as infants, they protested against the state-church system and eagerly desired the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in a time where most protestants were cessationists.
Many people are not very familiar about what anabaptism is about, so that’s why me and my fellow MennoNerds are writing a book about it! It’s called A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World, is published by Ettelloc Publishing and will be available this fall. The presentation of the book goes like this: