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The Anabaptists: The Forgotten Legacy – Part III

The question that I want to sketch in this essay is one that concerns me greatly. One of the greatest threats to Christianity is Christendom. Christendom is an effort of the human race to abolish true Christianity. It does not attempt to do this overtly but under the pretext that it is genuine Christianity....

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Problems and Limitations of the Traditional ‘Sermon’ Concept: Part IV

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 25-06-2012


2. When gathering with other believers, are the saints to be preached at or taught? Should Gospel preaching have a dominant place in our churches? Some have seen justification for “preaching” Gospel sermons in the church because of Paul’s statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:2, “teach and preach these principles.” However, the Greek word “preach” in this text means to exhort, entreat, or urge (cf. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977] p.482). Most translations have, therefore, rendered it this way (e.g., KJV, RSV, NIV, Amplified, Jewish NT).

It would also be difficult to see in 1 Timothy 5:17 any warrant for our practice of monologue Gospel “preaching” within the assembly. New Testament commentator, Homer A. Kent, Jr., writes: “The anarthrous form logoi (“preaching”) has reference to the general function of speech in connection with the elder’s ministry. The term didaskaliai (“teaching”) is more limited and denotes the particular aspect of teaching or instructing, as distinguished from exhorting, admonishing, comforting, and other forms of preaching” (The Pastoral Epistles [Chicago: Moody Press, 1982/Revised] p.175).

The words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:2 (“preach the Word”), likewise, fail to support this notion of Gospel sermons in the church. Paul commands Timothy to herald or “preach” the Word and to be ready at all times to do so – whether it is convenient or not. The “Word” in this passage appears to be the proclamation of the Gospel which may or may not occur within the assembly. However, the fact that Paul later urges Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (v.5) suggests that his heralding was done primarily outside of the Christian gathering when coming into close contact with unbelievers.

Problems and Limitations of the Traditional ‘Sermon’ Concept: Part III

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 19-06-2012


13. By centering our gatherings on one man and his “sermon” (which is what many evangelical churches do, even though they would never admit to it), we are, in practice, reversing the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:14 and suggesting that the body is not many members, but one (namely, the same man who preaches to us week after week). Moreover, by centering our church meetings one man’s ability to speak, we subtly begin to form a personality-cult around one man’s talents. Eventually, he becomes the final authority on spiritual and theological matters and we end up producing our own brand of “Protestant Pope’s.”

14. The focal-point of one man’s sermon tends to cause believers to feel incapable of handling the Word of God because the impression is given (however subtle it might be) that only the eloquent and seminary trained “professionals” can undertake such things as preaching and teaching. The entire aura of preaching a “sermon” is very intimidating and many career preachers are more concerned with how they communicate than with what is communicated. A bad morning for such pulpiteers is not a failure to teach the full-counsel of God, but a slip-up of the tongue or in mispronouncing a word!

15. Directly connected to the traditional sermon concept, is the practice of limiting corporate instruction to one gifted pastor (usually the “senior pastor”). But in contrast to our inherited traditions, the New Testament never limits public teaching to one pastor (regardless of how eloquent he may be) nor is it limited to those who serve as church overseers, but may include gifted teachers who may have no desire to serve in the eldership (Acts 13:1; Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:29; 14:26).

Problems and Limitations of the Traditional ‘Sermon’ Concept: Part II

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 11-06-2012


7. In order to better facilitate learning within our churches, pastors should begin to implement a Q&A period after the sermon on what was just taught. What would be wrong in allowing a stimulating time for questions, comments, or even disagreements?

What better way could there be in helping people to learn and remember what the pastor had so earnestly labored to teach? If we really want to see the saints equipped for ministry (Ephesians 4:12) and to present every person complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28), why would we ignore or even reject such an effective and biblical means of communication? Do we truly believe that the Sunday morning sermon is to be a learning experience?

The important point is that the Bible example indicates the need for two-way communication in those instances when we expect comprehension, acceptance, and commitment to take place. We also know that there is a steady increase of accuracy as feedback is increased. Therefore, for one to establish comprehensive and complete communication, for one to discover and transmit the truths of Scripture and the content of the Christian Gospel, monologue is not enough. A two-way flow of communication is essential (William Barlow, “Communicating the Gospel,” Searching Together [Vol. 21:1-4, 1993] p.57).

Unfortunately, many pastors will not allow it because they are threatened or intimidated by any form of return dialogue within a public setting. At least five reasons can account for this: (1) Return dialogue is offensive to the man who sees himself and his opinions as above the right of anyone to question, particularly when coming from mere “laymen”; (2) Return dialogue may expose the speaker to the possibility of embarrassing questions that he may not be able to answer. It may reveal that his studies and preparation were shallow.

Problems and Limitations of the Traditional ‘Sermon’ Concept: Part I

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 06-06-2012


To question the “sermon” concept should not be equated with the mistaken notion that we do not need teaching or teachers within our churches. There are, however, some inherent problems and limitations with the traditional “sermon” idea. The following is a brief examination of some of those problems.

1. There exists a plethora of books on preaching and homiletics written by evangelicals, but the overwhelming majority of them merely assume and perpetuate the sermon concept. Rarely, if ever, is there any real analysis or investigation as to its legitimacy.

2. The very notion of a formal and professionalized “sermon” comes not from the New Testament, but from Greek culture. With the rise of the Constantinian mass church (4th century A.D.), all sorts of paganistic and Greek ideas entered into Christian thought and practice. One of those practices brought into the church was that of Greek rhetoric. With the conversion of such men as Chrysostom, Ambrose, Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, Lactantius, and Augustine – all of whom were trained in rhetoric and were quite popular as orators within the Greco-Roman culture of their day prior to their conversion – a new style or form of communication began to occur within Christian assemblies (it is interesting to note that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:17,22 and 2:1-5, refused to allow the communication patterns of his pagan contemporaries to dictate the form or manner of his delivery).

This new form of speech was marked by polished rhetoric, sophisticated grammar, and an undue emphasis on eloquence. Corporate teaching, within many congregations, was no longer delivered in normal or raw language, but began to take on an artistic form of expression. In some instances, the content of the teacher’s message was less influenced by biblical truth and more by abstract Greek philosophy.

George Barna and Frank Viola Discuss their Bombshell Book “Pagan Christianity” After Four Years

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 05-06-2012


Pagan Christianity

Before we get to your current life, can you tell us, what has been the most enduring and positive legacy of your book, “Pagan Christianity?”  

George Barna: The book has helped many people to open their minds to the fact that the organized, localized, congregational form of ministry commonly known in the west as “the church” is a human construct that was neither dictated by God nor described or found in the Bible. In that sense I think the greatest legacy of the book, based primarily on Frank’s extensive research, is giving people an awareness of the truth about the history of the modern local church body and the tremendous possibilities for more meaningful ministry experiences and expressions.

Frank Viola: One of the most enduring qualities (and effects) of the book is that it has given millions of Christians permission – biblical and historical permission – to question cherished church practices and traditions in the light of God’s written Word. It has effectively driven many believers – including pastors – to reexamine the way they practice church in view of New Testament principles and church history.

Since I have a very high view of Scripture, I count that as a positive thing. It’s also given many Christians a new appreciation for those believers in the past (like the Anabaptists) who dared to challenge the religious establishment of their day on the basis of Scripture. In this regard, the Reformation has never ended, including the Radical Reformation of the Anabaptists.

As John Stott famously said, “The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions, but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform.” I believe the local church is highly important to God and His purpose. Our book merely demonstrates that the local church has (in many cases) been redefined and reinvented outside of scriptural lines. Thus restoration is needed.

Read the complete interview

Pagan Christianity

Stanley Hauerwas Interview on Theological Reflection

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 31-05-2012


Stanley Hauerwas Full-Length Interview

The Rise of the One-Bishop Rule in the Early Church: Part III

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 30-05-2012



Need for Church Unity

As great as the influences of the Jewish and Gentile environments were, they were eclipsed in impor­tance by the pressures exerted on the young church by questions of doctrine and discipline.  Both is­sues threatened to sunder the church.  The remedy for both prob­lems was sought in the establish­ment of a doctrine of church unity, the key to this unity being the au­thority of the bishop.

Ignatius: The Person of the Bishop

In his letters to the seven church­es, Ignatius is primarily concerned with combating doctrinal error, since Judiazers as well as Docetists were stirring up the churches and threatening schism.  The canon of N.T. Scripture had not been estab­lished, so Ignatius sets forth the person of the bishop as the measure of sound doctrine.  He warns the Smyrnaeans against the Docetists: “All of you are to follow the bishop as Apostles …Apart from the bishop no one is to do anything per­taining to the church” (Grant, Ignatius, p.120).  A Christian could be assured of his faithful obedience to God if he was obeying the bishop and preserving the unity of the local church. “For as many as belong to God and Jesus Christ, these are with the Bishop” (Grant, Ignatius, p.99).  Unlike Cyprian, Ignatius does not try to prove the authority of the bishops by succession (or through the Scriptures), but he merely posits it, with some refer­ence to Christian tradition prior to himself (Grant, “Introduction,” p. 169).

The Rise of the One-Bishop Rule in the Early Church: Part II

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 28-05-2012


The Cyprian Model

Thus,  by the time of Cyprian’s rule as bishop of  Carthage in the middle of the third century, the distinction of function has   hardened into a separation and gradation of office: to move from one office to another is viewed as an advance or the result of the increased merit of the individual (Davies, p.133).

Cyprian’s response to the inheri­tance of the one-bishop-rule form of church government was to strengthen it by developing the authority of the bishop.  To support both con­cepts he defends the idea of an un­broken succession of bishops from Peter to the legitimate bishop in every Catholic church.  Furthermore, it is Cyprian who first formulates the unity of bishops into an organ­ization which represents the whole church:

And this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who pre­side in the church, that we may also prove  the  episcopate itself to be one and undivided . . . the episcopate is one, each part  of which is held by each one for the whole (quoted by Earl D. Radmacher in The Nature of the Church [Portland:  Western Bap­tist Press, 1972], p.32).

Having traced the growth of one-bishop-rule as seen in Ignatius and Cyprian, let us now turn to a brief analysis of the factors which may have stimulated this development.

The Rise of the One-Bishop Rule in the Early Church: Part I

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 24-05-2012


A Study in the Writings of Ignatius and Cyprian


Even a cursory reading of the post-apostolic fathers reveals how faintly influenced they were by the doctrine which had earlier so con­sumed the apostle Paul’s thought: justification by faith. This early literature reflects much more in­terest in matters of discipline, church polity and sacramental forms. In fact, as one modern his­torian puts it:

The pre-Augustinian church never heartily accepted St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. Sometimes it was wholly ignored; at other times even when the formula was respected it was in­terpreted in a way which would have been expressed more natu­rally by saying that men are saved by repentance (Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, 2 Vol. ed. [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941], p.132).

While the doctrine of justification by faith suffered at the hands of many different dogmas, the church’s adoption of mono-episcopacy (one-bishop-rule) played a pivotal role in keeping this central doctrine always on the periphery of the church’s attention.  The hasty abandonment by the second century church of the New Testament form of plural oversight for its own form of one-bishop-rule is important for at least two reasons.

First, one-bishop-rule appeared in a church largely ignorant of the im­plications of justification by faith. The spiritual hierarchy resulting from the one-bishop-rule witnesses to the lack of comprehension of the spiritual equality possessed by all believers because of Christ’s right­eousness imputed to them.

Timeless Words by John Wesley

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 16-05-2012


“I will not quarrel with you about my opinions; only see that your heart is right toward God, that you know and love the Lord Jesus Christ; that you love your neighbor, and walk as your Master walked, and I desire no more. I am sick of opinions; am weary to bear them; my soul loathes this frosty food. Give me solid and substantial religion; give me a humble, gentle lover of God and man; a man full of mercy and good faith, without partiality and without hypocrisy; a man laying himself out in the work of faith, the patience of hope, the labor of love. Let my soul be with these Christians wheresoever they are, and whatsoever opinion they are of.”

John Wesley