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Response to Bob Jennings Critique of Ekklesia, by Steve Atkerson

with 18 comments

Recently, I was briefly involved in a discussion on house churches.   A brother who I know and respect had a blog post in which he was coming against the “house church only” movement, but in reality the post was really his coming against what he perceived to be certain shortfalls and practices that he saw in house churches (even if the people didn’t believe in “house church only”).  To make his point he posted an article by Bob Jennings in which Jennings was coming against the book Ekklesia, by Steve Atkerson.  Some of you may be familiar with the article.  I wanted to post it here for you to read but when I go to the link it says:  “This article has been temporarily deleted as it is going to be updated to be more general and broad in nature.”  The article made some really good points, points that I agree with, but also seemed to build it’s case on several straw man arguments that people seem to have when it comes to house churches.  Just recently Steve Atkerson responded to Jennings critique and addressed his concerns.  I’m posting a link to the article at the bottom of my post because I think a discussion on this issue can be very beneficial.

What I’ve noticed in this discussion is that it seems as if people get into polar extremes on the issues.  Some people outright reject institutional churches and some people reject house churches.  The real issue on the matter is, what does the scriptures say?  What pattern do we see, what practices can we observe?  What are the commands of the Lord?  And then, once those questions are answered it opens one up to other questions.  Like, what is the Lord’s purpose in instructing things a certain way?  Why does God command certain practices?   Were these practices commanded for the first century church only, or was and is it God’s wisdom for His church for all ages?  Ultimately these questions matter.

By reading through both of these men’s responses on the matter, I think one can see just how important the church, and it’s practices, are to the Lord.  What I appreciated about the Atkerson article was his admission that in his original writing he did not use the best of terms to describe what he was trying to say.  Words have meanings, and it’s imperative in a discussion like this to “mean what we say and say what we mean”.  Hopefully what Atkerson corrected in this response was his original intent when he wrote Ekklesia.  What I specifically liked about Atkerson’s response was that he seemed to capture the “Spirit”, if you will, of New Testament fellowship.  This isn’t to say that if a fellowship is lacking certain practices, that they are not of the Lord.  It’s just good to know what individual fellowships should be pursuing as they seek the Lord together as a body.

Here are some quotes from the article:

NTRF:  Our main point was that New Testament church meetings were participatory.  Such participatory meetings were in stark contrast to modern one hour worship services that are dominated by thirty minutes of music (all chosen in advance without opportunity for congregational input) followed by thirty minutes of preaching by one person.

NTRF:  It is obvious by its actions that the church of history has had little regard for the traditions of church practice set forth by the apostles.  The modern church has not merely added to early church practice, the exact opposite has been done at almost every point.  Instead of house churches we have church houses.  Rather than participatory meetings we have worship services.  The Lord’s Supper as an actual meal has been substituted for a token ritual.  Church government by elder-led consensus has been replaced with government by command (elder rule).  The traditions of the apostles have been made obsolete in favor of the traditions of history.

(by the way, I’m not in favor of “House Church Only”.  In fact, I’ve never met a believer who believes that, and I don’t believe Atkerson is espousing it either.  While house churches seem to have been the accepted, and working, pattern for several hundred years, it is clear that “what” happens is more important that “where” it happens.  Obviously there is more to discuss on this issue but I just wanted to make that point)

NTRF:  Having elders in every church is clearly a New Testament pattern.  We have an entire chapter in the book on the importance of the ministry of elders.  In that chapter, we wrote that elders “provide direction, teachings, help the church to achieve consensus and to grow into maturity” (p. 115).   We further stated that “leaders are to guard and protect against false teachers, train other leaders in apostolic tradition, lead by example, guard the truth, beat off wolves, help the church achieve consensus, etc.  In sum, church leaders are men of mature character who oversee, teach, protect, equip and encourage the church.  Every now and then they will need to call on the church to ‘submit’ (Heb 13:17) to their leadership” (p. 115).   We further stated that “it is clear that it is proper for elders, in exercising leadership, to authoritatively reprove, speak, teach, and guide.  Elders are to ‘rule well’ and ‘oversee’ the churches, taking the initiative in prompting and guarding” (p. 116).  One final example: “Elders deserve honor due to the position God has placed them in . . . to not listen to the wisdom on an elder was tantamount to calling yourself a fool and a rebel” (p. 116).  Our writings absolutely do not denigrate leadership.

And last of all, there was a quote by the missionary Jim Elliot.  I think Jim Elliot’s quote highlights what the “spirit” and goal of what the outcome of this discussion should be:

NTRF:  We close with a word from missionary martyr Jim Elliott:  

“The pivot point hangs on whether or not God has revealed a universal pattern for the church in the New Testament.   If He has not, then anything will do so long as it works.  But I am convinced that nothing so dear to the heart of Christ as His Bride should be left without explicit instructions as to her corporate conduct.  I am further convinced that the 20th century has in no way simulated this pattern in its method of ‘churching’ a community . . . it is incumbent upon me, if God has a pattern for the church, to find and establish that pattern, at all costs.” 

For those interested in reading the response, you can do so at:

http://www.ntrf.org/articles/article_detail.php?PRKey=84

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Written by Sean Scott

September 16, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

18 Responses

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  1. Any such dialogue that sparks Christians to really THINK about how the NT defines the Church, is good.

    I recently entered back into the IC after 20 years of house church. One of my first realizations is that people in the IC are not inclined toward critical thinking. They just assume everything is the way God intended.

    Even their critical faculties and ability to think orderly and logically has been dulled by years of being a passive spectator.

    Steve Atkerson (in his book) suggests, for the LORD’s supper, that you leave the bread and wine near the door and people can take it as they leave. Amazingly superficial.

    ian vincent

    September 17, 2011 at 1:53 am

    • Hi Ian. Steve Atkerson here. I object! : ) We never have advocated leaving the bread and wine near the door for people to take as they leave. That would be superficial indeed! I wonder what you read on our book that made you conclude that we did such a crazy thing? We advocate the Lord’s Supper as a true fellowship meal centered around the bread and wine (an integral part of the meal).

      Steve Atkerson

      September 19, 2011 at 2:20 am

      • Hi Steve, My friend has all your books and i was sure i had read that in one of your books when i was over at his place. Next time i’m there i will check.

        In the meanwhile, do you have your books available for free download? If so, would you give me the link?

        ian

        ian vincent

        September 20, 2011 at 12:07 am

      • I hope to see this brother on the weekend and dig out his books, couldn’t arrange it sooner, and then i will either offer the quote or an apology to Steve if i was wrong.

        ian vincent

        September 22, 2011 at 2:45 am

      • To Steve,

        My sincerest apologies! I got hold of your book Ekklesia today and i was mistaken. Now i remember that the quote i was thinking of is from one of Mike Peter’s books.

        But one reason i got my wires crossed is that i had made a mental note concerning something i read in Ekklesia some time back:

        quote

        “One Cup and Loaf

        Some have found that taking the cup and loaf prior to the meal separates it from the meal too much as a separate act. It is as if the Lord’s Supper is the cup and loaf, and everything else is just lunch. To overcome this false dichotomy, try placing the cup and loaf on the table with the rest of the food of the Lord’s Supper. The cup and loaf can be pointed out in advance of the meeting and mentioned in the prayer prior to the meal, but then placed on the buffet table with everything else. This way, believers can partake of it as they pass through the serving line.”

        Page 38-39 Ekklesia

        unquote
        .
        .
        .

        I remember reading this and thinking it takes the Lord’s Supper too casually. ( We also believe that the NT states it is a full meal ). If believers can get sick and die for not discerning the body of Christ, for partaking unworthily, then, while it is a meal, it should be distinctly more reflective than any ordinary social meal together.The subject of the conversation must be His death on the Cross and all that He accomplished on the Cross, and the never-ending benefits, blessing and application of His death in our lives. It would be inappropriate for social banter and chat while partaking of the Lord’s Table (yes, a joyous time if Jesus is the source of our joy).

        Further down the page i read:

        quote

        “Unbelievers

        Should unbelievers be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper? The Lord’s Supper, as a sacred, covenant meal, has significance only to believers. To nonbelievers, it is merely food for the belly. It is implied from 1 Cor 14:23-25 that unbelievers will ocassionally attend church meetings. Unbelievers get hungry just like believers do, so invite them to eat too. Love them to Jesus! The danger in taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner applies only to believers (1 Cor 11:27-32).”

        Page 39 Ekklesia

        unquote
        .
        .
        .

        i strongly disagree with this. On the occasion we want unbelievers to eat with us we should not take the Lord’s Supper. As a Church, to explain to unbelievers why they can’t partake of the supper is actually a powerful witness to them as to the meaning of being a Christian.

        This highlights the fact that believers having a meal together doesn’t, of itself, constitute the Lord’s Table ( and i know that Steve is not suggesting that it does). What makes an ordinary socializing meal among Christians to differ from the Lord’s Table is that the latter is purposely and consciously done in remembrance of Jesus, discerning His body and blood.

        ian vincent

        September 24, 2011 at 11:49 am

  2. I agree. That’s pretty superficial Ian.

    I’ve actually never read the book Ekklesia by Steve Atkerson. If some of the things Bob Jennings said about the book were correct, then I would agree with Jennings on some issues. However, I did appreciate some of the content in Akersons response. He did claifiy things that I believe Jennings was not correct on. I especially liked the Jim Elliot quote at the end. Wish everyone had that same attitude towards Gods word.

    Sean Scott

    September 17, 2011 at 2:25 am

  3. I omitted to say that i believe most of what Steve Atkerson teaches is good. The sin of omission. : )

    ian vincent

    September 17, 2011 at 7:08 am

  4. […] here. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  5. It is always best for any christian from any part of the world to test, examine and discern the pattern of the local church that bible prescribe. I agree with Steve when he quotes Jim Elliot. I was a man hunting for the correct (though not 100 % perfect) pattern for a local church and am glad that Lord has raised many like-minded brethren all over the world to come ‘back to the Scripture’ regarding Ecclesiology which is next to the Soteriology. In fact I am translating this book into my mother tongue Tamil. Brother Steve is a man of God with humility for open discussion with real Christian spirit. I know him personally well, he never claimed infallibility nor ruthlessly condemned other God’s elect in IC. He always sticks to the scripture and explain what he belives. He never tells that you MUST gather in the house only. What he believes is that church should be in a size where NT practices could be observed and implemented. That’s all! He is a gracious person willing to learn from others even from this sinner. I had long discussion with him in person of various complicated issues when I was with him in GA in his house. I had been to his house church. Seeing is believing. You shall know them by their fruit. In fact thesis for my M.Div. course was “Which method Lord?” concerning church planting and practice. Since we all believe in “Sola Scriptura” we ALL must strive to do all things according to the scripture including church practice and conduct. More close to the Bile more we are safe. It is good to discuss things in love with amicable and amiable spirit that pleases the Lord of this church for the glory of God. – Muralee, a fellow-servant of God, from Sri Lanka

    K.Muraleetharan

    September 18, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    • Since we all believe in “Sola Scriptura” we ALL must strive to do all things according to the scripture including church practice and conduct. More close to the Bile more we are safe. It is good to discuss things in love with amicable and amiable spirit that pleases the Lord of this church for the glory of God.

      Amen.

      Sean Scott

      September 19, 2011 at 3:58 pm

  6. When i meant a casual approach to the Table of the Lord, i meant that, while eating, they engage in normal social chatter, the way they would usually chatter if it were just a normal potluck lunch, or whatever.

    What makes the Table of the Lord to differ from a social meal? Is the only difference that bread and wine is served, and a quick prayer is prayed to acknowledge His body and blood, but then the manner and attitude, and conversation is not much different to any other social meal? That should not be.

    When i asked these things to a brother here, he replied that the Table of the Lord should be a joyful time. I agreed, but i said that our joy should be Jesus. This brother does have a joyful Table of the Lord, but after a quick prayer, they talk about social things and things of the world as they partake. He was thinking that to contemplate on the meaning of the LORD’s death as you partake would rob the meal of joy and it would beome too somber. In fact, bcos of their casual attitude, they had even lost the ability to contemplate on the LORD for more than a few minutes.

    ian vincent

    October 19, 2011 at 1:12 am

    • I’m a little late to the “table” here, but just found this discussion and thought I’d comment with something I’ve realized in Scriptures while partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a house church setting.

      Jesus said “DO this in my remembrance,” not “SAY such-and-such” in my remembrance. We have no biblical instruction on what to think or say while partaking of the bread and wine of the Lord’s table. If we carefully go only by what the Lord says in His Word, and avoid making rules of our own outside of the Lord’s own words, the remembrance of Jesus is in the act of eating and drinking the bread and wine. Bro. Ian’s criticism is a valid personal opinion, and no doubt comes out of a desire to revere the Lord, but it has no direct biblical basis.

      If the duration of time in which one contemplates the meaning of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return (He did not limit His instruction to remembering only His death) is a primary criteria for preferring a methodology for the Lord’s Supper, I’d prefer this, which I think is both biblical and meets that criteria. Pull a handful-sized piece of bread off the loaf on the table, rather than a tiny piece of bread or cracker that can be consumed in 10 or 15 seconds. The latter does not actually promote a long contemplation of Jesus. The time it takes to “do this in my remembrance”, which reminds us of our salvation and membership in Jesus’ body, is a lot longer with a normal handful of broken bread at a table than any traditional “communion” act in any institutional church I’ve attended. When I have done this, it does not matter what other people talk about around the table; I have been aware in every bite of bread that I enjoy that I am partaking of, and remembering, the Lord. Likewise, a cup of wine could be passed more than once around a table, or, if in separate glasses, can be in a small cup that takes more than one sip to consume. Thus, using bro. Ian’s criteria, I’d still prefer the Lord’s Supper in a house-church fellowship-meal setting than in an institutional setting full of man-made traditions and practices that must fit within a time-constrained “church service.”

      Philip Johnson

      April 26, 2013 at 5:06 am

      • wow brother Phillip! your reply to brother Ian reaches out to me. I really enjoy having fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ at His table on His day. I feel everything we talk about at the Lord’s table is related to remembering and honoring Jesus including talking with each other of our personal triumphs and trials. we come to His table to encourage each other in Jesus. Its all about Him anyway. I can’t imagine how anyone could or even try to control what is said among brethren gathered in the name of Jesus. It’s not even possible to do. In fact it may even be going against God’s intention for the Lord’s table. The table is about fellowship among His gathered people. Did’nt Paul include a social element in his letters? Is that social aspect not a part of the gospel? Thank you all for your love of God. Your brother-Cecilio

        Cecilio Gonzalez

        February 7, 2014 at 5:51 am

  7. PJ is reading into what i said. All i was saying is that while you are partaking of the Lord’s supper in remembrance of Him it would be fitting to talk about Him rather than football or cars. The issue was about when people take the Lords supper no differently than they would any social meal.

    It would be unfortunate if Christians thought that meditating for a short time on the of the Lords death could take all the fun away or make it un-social- able.

    ian vincent

    March 6, 2014 at 2:38 pm

  8. A brother here once was telling me that they try and make the Lord’s Supper (as a whole meal) a happy time of rejoicing, but what he meant was that if you contemplate on the meaning of the death of Christ it will take all the joy away.. When i explained this to him then he realized that even though the death of Christ is an extremely solemn thing to contemplate, it is actually the source of TRUE joy… So the issue was about trying to find a joy which did not have its source from the Cross.

    Another relevant point here is that in western culture people are very sensitive about having others “tell them what to do” (as it is perceived by them). When i seldom visit Australia is strikes me that there is a strong “yuppie” element in the house churches which objects to anyone speaking in an authoritative way, and this is a cultural fallout.

    ian vincent

    March 9, 2014 at 2:07 am

    • [Luk 22:19 KJV] 19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake [it], and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

      Without finger pointing to how anyone is remembering the Lord: it should be a time of reflection on Christ and how we are being Christ like. Especially if we have brothers and sisters that we have something against or they have something against us. Yes, refuse apostasy and have nothing to do with liberality when it begins to accept the things that the world accepts, but we should “Love our neighbours as ourselves”. We can disagree, and strongly disagree by using scripture as our grounding, but it doesn’t take away the need to love others – even our worst enemies. God still keeps showering blessings on the ungodly until the day of judgement – this is His mercy. I think we should reflect on forgiveness at this time.

      Any commandment that the Lord asks of us is first and foremost for us when we read it. I cannot force anyone else to follow what Christ is saying – I can teach it but the conviction only comes from the Holy Spirit. If someone is not convicted to follow the word of God – that which the apostles taught also (Mat 10:40, Lk 10:16) – then that is something that God will take up with them. For me – I want to follow the Lord – and that starts with Love, then joy and then peace and from there it grows.

      That said, we remember our loved ones at a funeral and we remember the good and bad times. How much more should we reflect on the cross of our King for what He did for us and His coming again which, IMHO, is not too long now. Let us watch ourselves and make sure that the Lord finds us in peace – and not as rebellious children – lets face it…how many times have we all been rebellious but now it is time to get serious with the Lord – lets start being peaceable with others and loving others along with being Holy. As I have said in another post – Holiness with love is ugliness and Love without holiness is just vain. Love makes holiness beautiful to the eyes of them who look upon us.

      This is how they will know us – for our love for one another.

      God bless.

      Colin Saxton

      April 15, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      • I meant Holiness without Love is ugliness!?!? Sorry for the typo above 🙂

        Colin Saxton

        April 15, 2014 at 2:11 pm

  9. Sorry for posting so much about this. Just been reading and re-reading. It just amazes me how we can talk about this in such away that we just don’t know how to do this!? Anyone who reads his/her bible will know that its obvious what needs to be done. So many discussions on things that are so black and white in the bible. Its a convicting fact that we are so close to the Lord returning when we get so many of His simple commands wrong.

    Just reading the gospels on the last supper, the teachings in Acts of when they broke bread and the outline given by Paul in 1 cor 11 and others…why is it so hard to just do the word of God!?

    I recently asked a number of pastors about head coverings…one was adamant it wasn’t for today, others didn’t know what to say and went to culture…etc…some didn’t even reply – maybe because they have spoken about it so much. I asked a young girl who recently came to Christ and she just said – “Jesus asks us to do it – so I do it! What is there to argue about?” – she got it, no questions asked. It just goes to show that all the teaching from “top universities and colleges” – is just trash compared to the word of God and a young mind that is willing to be humble before Him.

    [Isa 66:5 KJV] 5 Hear the word of the LORD, all of you that tremble at his word; Your brothers that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, “Let the LORD be glorified”: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.

    Just read and re-read that verse. How many times have you heard people say – “Its all about Jesus, head coverings are legalistic – let the Lord be glorified and stop being a pharisee” – I am paraphrasing but I am trying to drive home the point – If when we read the word of God, we have no fear, then you are not going to read the word of God like it is the word of God. If you don’t fear the word then you will easily start arguing over it. Start fearing it and just do it – that is the safe and right action to take when it comes to the word of God. The teaching of the apostles (ALL OF IT) is for today – they DID NOT contradict Christ Jesus – It was Christ Jesus who taught them from His mouth to their ears. When are we going to HEAR! = Let him who HAS EARS TO HEAR – HEAR and DO!

    FEAR HIM!

    Colin Saxton

    April 16, 2014 at 12:43 am


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