February 15, 2012

The Trellis & The Vine

I'm currently reading the Trellis and the Vine, and admittedly, I'm not finished with it yet, but I have recently finished chapter 8, "Why Sunday Sermons Are Necessary, But Not Sufficient". Of course, being the high-churchman that I am, I was not very impressed. So while a full review of the book may be forthcoming, I present the below my disagreements and arguments with the current chapter.

The Trellis And The Vine, Chapter 8

pg 94 - "However, there are also very real (and obvious) disadvantages with this approach.  For a start, the ministry that takes place in the congregation will be limited to the gifts and capacity of the pastor:  how effectively he preaches, and how many people he can personally know and counsel.  In this model, it becomes very difficult for the congregation to grow past a given ceiling (usually between 100 and 150 regular members)."

This paragraph is based on a presupposition first and foremost.  How do they KNOW the ministry will be limited to the gifts and capacity of the pastor?  I think the most glaring objection to this paragraph comes from scripture.  "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."  God is the one who has appointed pastors to serve the congregation.  God is the one who has given these men the gifts they need.  Even if the man is not an effective preacher, or does not get to know everyone on a deeply personal level. isn't it God who uses weakness to show his strength?  It seems as if the authors are taking the holy spirit entirely out of the equation when talking about ministry being limited to the gifts and capacity of the pastor.  The church did quite well with a man named Paul whom God appointed despite not being effective in preaching in person, and who didn't know everyone in the churches he planted.  The second objection I have to this paragraph is the assumption that the congregation (in their mind) cannot grow past a certain number is labeled as a "disadvantage".  In this way of thinking, the authors are putting the standard of effective ministry on numbers of regular members, which goes against the very theme of their entire book.

pg. 95 - "Perhaps the most striking disadvantage of this way of thinking about ministry is that it feeds upon and encourages the culture of 'consumerism' that is already rife in our culture.  It perfectly fits the spirit of our age whereby we pay trained professionals to do everything for us rather that do it ourselves.  The tendency is for Christian life and fellowship to be reduced to an hour and a quarter on Sunday morning, with little or no relationship, and very little actual ministry taking place by the congregation themselves.  in this sort of church culture, it becomes very easy for the congregation to think of church almost entirely in terms of 'what I get out of it,' and thus to slip easily into criticism and complaint when things aren't to their liking."

Another paragraph based on assumptions and presuppositions.  There is no proof that it feeds upon and encourages the culture of consumerism in our culture.  What the authors are doing are perfecting a terrible injustice - taking the spirit of the age and saying it fits this model of ministry, rather than saying that the spirit of the age has crept into the church as a whole and is trying to change the ministry much in the same way the authors are speaking against it.  There is a reason not all are pastors or teachers.  Called them trained professionals if that makes it easier to fit the chapter, but in a world where everyone is a shepherd, then all you have are sheep with no leader.  The fact that people have made Christian life about an hour and a quarter on Sunday morning has about as much to do with the model of ministry as "There was a man from the land of Uz whose name was Job", has with the Calvinism/Arminianism debate.

pg. 95 - "For all its historic strengths, the professional pastor-as-clergyman approach speaks loud and clear to church members that they are there to receive rather than to give.  As a model, it tends to produce spiritual consumers rather than active disciples of Christ, and very easily gets stuck in maintenance mode.  Outreach or evangelism, both for individual congregation members and the church as a whole, is down the list."

It seems that the desire of the authors to downplay tradition as something as evil has left them vulnerable to not recognize the history of the "classic Reformed-evangelical model" that they think produces so many disadvantages.  The fact of the matter is, looking historically at the corporate worship service - (going back a lot farther than the reformation, back to when Israel gathered at Mount Sinai) we find that members ARE there to receive!  To receive the law, to receive the gospel... to receive Christ!  If that makes someone a spiritual consumer, then that's exactly what we would want to strive for isn't it?  To have people so enthralled with the word and with Christ that they want to "taste and see that the Lord is good" - that is BIBLICAL spiritual consumerism.  In addition, it's tiring that the authors want to make every statement an all inclusive, or all exclusive statement.  For instance, if church members are there to receive, why does that automatically exclude the idea they are there to give as well?  Those things can co-exist and are not mutually exclusive.  As far as the last sentence about outreach and evangelism being "down" on the list, - that is simply an untrue statement that is based more on the imagination of the authors rather than facts of history.  In this "classic Reformed-evangelical model", some of the very first protestant missionaries came from Calvin's geneva.  Luther himself housed students and refugees for years and told them the gospel while taking care of their physical needs.  It was the "Classic Reformed-evangelical model" that ignited the fire in the hearts of thousands which led to some of the greatest "evangelical" preachers the world has ever known.  It seems that the very title of this chapter should be very concerning.  When they say that the sunday sermon is necessary but not sufficient, they are claiming that the preached word is necessary but not sufficient.  That is a dangerous biblical proposition.

pg 95-96  "In many respects, this first way of thinking about pastoral ministry reflects the culture and norms of a different world - the world of 16th and 17th century Christianized nations, in which the whole community was in church, and in which the pastor was one of the few with sufficient education to teach.
Once again, the obvious dislike of tradition shown by the authors rears it's ugly head.  It reflects a different world, and because it does, does it mean this world is any better?  Are we to change those things because OUR culture and age are mixed up and entirely subjective?  Why was the whole community in church?  Does that question cross the minds of the authors?  Could it possibly be because God was using His preached word to change entire nations of people?  Was this "different world" such a bore?  Was there ever a time in history next to the very early church in which God's word was going forth as strongly as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries?  The reformation was known as a time that recovered the gospel - and that time has influenced Christianity for the better, because it was an echo of the past, when pastors actually believed the preached word WAS sufficient, that it didn't have to be dressed up or aided, but rather it produced a natural outflow of the very things the authors are wanting to focus on.  The problem is, when you want to focus on the results rather than the source, then eventually the source of those things will become unimportant, and when that happens, it can truly be said that they have "lost their first love".  That's the great thing about the preached word... it transcends all cultures and deals with men as sinners, and Christ as Savior.  That's the mindset behind all the funky bible translations.

pg. 99 - "We have been arguing from the Bible that:  All Christians have the privilege and responsibility to prayerfully speak the word of God to each other and to non-Christians, as the means by which God gives this growth."

I would argue that in this model, the pastor is nothing more than a cheerleader with a divinity degree, only there to cheer on the members of the congregation  in their efforts of evangelism, rather than being an appointed servant in the office of the church to preach the word of God to depraved sinners.

pg. 102 - "The sermon is a rallying call..... To say that sermons are necessary but not sufficient is simply to stand on the theological truth that it is the word of the gospel that is sufficient, rather than any one particular form of its delivery.  "

I could not disagree more.  First, the sermon is NOT a rallying call.  If that is what the authors believe the sermon to be, then it's no wonder the entire chapter is based on false presuppositions.  The sermon, far from being a rallying call, is God's means of slaying sinners with the law, and raising them up in Christ with grace.  The preached word (i.e. sermon) is not the center of a pep rally trying to fire up the emotions of it's hearers.  As far as the idea that it is the word of the gospel that is sufficient, rather than any one particular form of its delivery" goes.... that is refuted by scripture.  It is by the foolishness of PREACHING (the form of the word's delivery) that God intimately links with the power of the word.  When you change the delivery or the means you will without a doubt begin to change the message as well.  That is why there are so many movie clips shown in place of sermons today.  Because people simply don't believe, as do the authors, that the preached word is sufficient.  Yet, the preached word is God's ordained means of regeneration, and it has worked for thousands and thousands of years.  In fact, where would the authors themselves be if this "Classic Reformed-evangelical model", which has so many disadvantages as they say, where would they be right now without it?  Preaching is not just one of many forms of delivering the word, it's the GOD ORDAINED means.  If this was not the case, Paul would have done better to put on plays and tell jokes in the areas of Corinth, Ephesus and Rome.  Instead however, he wrote this:  13 For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?"
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."
It seems as if Paul held preaching in high esteem.  It also seems if it was just one method among many, he would have mentioned the others in this passage.

pg. 103 "Adam (Peter) goes on to define preaching as the "explanation and application of the Word to the congregation of Christ in order to produce corporate preparation for service, unity of faith, maturity, growth and upbuilding."

I would define preaching (as did the reformers) as giving people Christ.  It's ironic that in the same chapter that claims the classic reformed-evangelical model as producing "consumerism", that it would then lend credence to a quote that says preaching's job is to "produce" various things.

All in all, the straw-man that the authors have built, which basically says that this classic reformed-evangelical model has no room for personal ministry, is one they themselves feel they need to fight because it has no basis in scripture or history.  Calvin himself, who held the office of preaching in high regard, and would never say the preached word is not sufficient, built a school to train ministers.  As previously noted, Luther took students and others in in order to train them, and for him there was nothing more important than preaching CHrist to the congregation.  C.H. spurgeon was a great example of the classic reformed-evangelical model of ministry and yet, much to the disbelief of the authors i'm sure, still managed to build 2 orphanages, a pastor's college, a book fund for training clergy, doexens of sunday school classes for school-children, his own hymn book, and catechism, and a church that had 5000 members.  But, according to the authors, as they admit, their view is a stereotype, in which those things - preaching the word, and personal ministry are mutually exclusive in that model.