I have neglected to post for a while about our ongoing summer conversations. Sorry it's been a rather hectic time.
Two weeks ago Chip led a discussion re. Reimagining the Church Meeting in which Viola argues for a more open meetings (as in welcoming interruptions from members during worship times) of the church creating a dialogue with one another that enables and emphasizes the mutual encouragement/edification that the early church experienced as well as mutual expression of gifts.
Last week we discussed the chapter, Reimagining the Lord's Supper. Viola argues that the supper really ought to be true to the practice of the early church, which, he argues, was a full meal or "supper" and not a "cracker crumb" and "shot glass" of juice.
There are certainly things that could be addressed here for both of these chapters. However, since these have already been discussed in group, I sense the urgency to move on to the next chapter for a couple of comments about, Reimagining the Gathering Place.
In spite of his initial comments regarding his desire to be constructive, the tone of Viola's writing continues to disparage the church in its current form and practice.
Viola points to the common practice of home meetings of the early church (Acts 2:46; 20:20; Romans 16:3, 5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; etc). These home-based church meetings are "normative" (p. 94) in Viola's view though he does acknowledge that on "special occasions" they met in the temple and Solomon's porch. However, the Acts 2:46 text which he uses to support this assertion states that the church was meeting daily in the temple as well as in homes.
Viola argues that the home is primarily an informal, nurturing environment in which believers may feel at ease and open to mutual participation and thus edification. The lack of formality that is afforded in the home is seen to enhance the family atmosphere of the church and enable an "unthreatened and uninhibited gathering" where people can be themselves. Conversely, Viola argues that the formal setting of most church buildings is not conducive to mutual participation but rather promotes a clergy centrality and dependence as well as a spectator mentality.
This is certainly possible. The passive nature of many worship times in the contemporary church leads us to believe that being a Christian is about "observing" others do things rather than actively participating. This is a danger. However, it is also just as possible to be in someone's home and not contribute to the time together. It is possible to sit passively and not engage. The particular structure does not determine the atmosphere of the gathering of the church. The people's willingness to welcome and submit to the Spirit and their engagement with one another in community has much more to do with the atmosphere of intimacy and spiritual authenticity than does a building (home included).
It seems to me that the focus of the gathering place, rather than whether it means in someone's house, should be on how to enable God's family to be connected as family during the time they are together.
An important point that Viola does raise is the issue of building debt and upkeep. A closing question to this chapter reads, "Does it bother you at all that Christians spend $9 to $11 billion a year on church buildings, and that many of these buildings aren't owned in the clear, but instead, represent great debt? Explain." Yes, explain indeed. However, rather than an issue of gathering place, this is an issue of stewardship. And that, I'm afraid, is a discussion for another time.
What about you? Do you think that it is necessary for the church to meet in a home? In a church building? Thoughts?