Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Josh Morgan

Keith Giles, an organic/house church advocate who offers all of his books for free electronically, recently released This is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended. First off, this book is a very easy read. The way Giles separates the chapters makes it feel like you are moving the book quickly and easily.

The book itself is intended to examine a biblical basis for what the institutional church and worldwide Church should look like. Long story short, Giles provides a wonderful, well-thought-out argument for the priesthood of all believers in a way that is accessible to most people (rather than heavy theological language). He notes important implications for what that looks like institutionally, including the lack of hierarchy. One of my deep spiritual/ecclesiastical values is an egalitarian organization, so I really appreciate the many angles Giles approaches this, from the role of pastor to the relevance of a "spiritual covering." There are so many wonderful things he says that I could elaborate on, but that would take forever and probably be redundant with his work. :)

There were a couple of parts that I struggled with. At one point, Giles mentions that he so dislikes it when churches raise so much money to put into creating or buying buildings rather than going to people. His rationale for this is wonderful, and I agree. When I was an elder at The Gathering, we talked about ways to make sure all of our income would go back out, which is what Giles' community succeeds at.

At the same time, I can and have seen the value of larger communities (Giles argues for very small groups) and church campuses. I grew up in small church communities and am currently drawn to the philosophy of house/organic churches. At the same time, I have been a part of some very large congregations lately. Particularly as one has been in the news lately in part because of poor financial planning related to their building, I have seen first-hand how much time, energy, and money goes into buying and maintaining church property. A lot of time, energy, and money that could go into people.

At the same time, my wife and I have come to appreciate the opportunities available with a larger congregation. While a lot of money may flow into administrative and building costs, these communities provide a lot of services to the world around them that smaller groups could not do. While the churches themselves may spend less on administration and building if they were small and without a building, then other organizations and businesses would have to pick up the slack on service. This might not happen at all. When it does, it usually occurs with non-profits, who also will often rely on donations and have the same administrative and building costs as churches. They frequently have more, as churches can often more easily be staffed by volunteers. In the end, more money may reach people if the institutional church does the work and includes the overhead. I get and agree with Giles' philosophy, but practically, biblical times were quite different than modern times when it comes to interpersonal service.

Further, church buildings can be services in themselves. While I hate the waste of space many sanctuaries are, many well-planned buildings can and are used for many activities and offered to the community to use. Further, appropriately thought-out buildings can teach spiritual stories and inspire people to go out and serve more. Yes, it is difficult to watch tens of millions of dollars go into a new building when people are starving. Yet what is the cost if that new building becomes a refuge for people to relax and become rejuvenated to then go out and help those starving neighbors? While I am very much a utilitarian with many things, I have come to value the importance of space that is life-giving. I've been to more utilitarian church buildings and those that are intended to be a sanctuary. I am much more open to people after spending time in the latter.

The other part I struggled with was a section on women leaders. Giles argues for the equality of women in the church with some excellent arguments. But then he ends by stating, "However, the authority to rebuke or confront a believer caught in sin seems to rest on those male elders and overseers who were recognized as having a Fatherly position within the Body" (p. 142). This statement stood out in stark contrast to the rest of this section and his book, which all provided examples and support for his claims. While the complementarian/egalitarian debate was not really the issue here, this statement just seemed unsupported.

While I spent most of my time here on the parts I did not fully agree with, they were actually relatively minor parts of the book. For anyone interested in organic church models and thoughts on hierarchy in ecclesiology, I highly recommend this book.

Josh Morgan
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