Unbounded Church-Teaching ‘Babies and Bathwater’

Unbounded Church is an idea, the idea that the church needs to be set free from the rigid, cumbersome and  change-averse ‘Christendom’ influenced forms and structures in order to be –

           ‘A church as we haven’t known it for a society as we haven’t known it’

This is an idea based on the belief that something Albert Einstein once said is highly relevant to our current predicament-

          “the significant problems we face can’t be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

The freeing of the church from its Christendom, pastoral-maintenance shackles needs to be theologically driven and shaped by the New Testament-voiced principles for Christian community. However, I have observed that, both in missional movements in Australia and overseas, there seems to be a widespread discounting of this principle in the many, and growing missional new church movements and networks now emerging. I would describe it as a throwing out of the theological, or teaching ‘baby’ with the Christendom church ‘bathwater’. Amongst these missional movements there seems to be a significant rejection of the need for teaching and theology. The consequences will be dire.

Sometimes this antipathy to theology and teachers takes the form of setting up the straw men of personal experiences of bad teaching and anachronistic church models and shooting them down. For example a recent article which was a tirade against ‘sermons’ which should be replaced by “listening to each other”. The whole premise of Unbounded Church is indeed that new models are needed. Yes it may well be that traditional teaching through sermons now has limited value in the missional context. However we still need the exercise of the Ephesians 4 teaching gift and function, yet the article referred to contained no suggestion of a replacement teaching function, this despite the New Testament evidence of the need for teaching oversight of the new house churches.

The Apostle Paul set up numerous such churches around the Mediterranean and moved on from most of them after a very short time. We can see that many of these churches went astray with false doctrines, often serious, this is in fact the reason most of the New Testament letters were written. What was Paul’s response to the theological problems that arose in his churches, just to let them sort it out themselves  by sitting around and reading the bible together? No, he visited them himself, sent teachers such as Timothy or Titus, wrote letters to deal with the false teaching or in the widespread problems that appear to have occurred in the Ephesian church network stationed an ‘overseer’ there in the person of Timothy.

Another recent example of the ‘baby and bathwater’ attitude to teachers occurred at a recent conference of alternative church missional networks. One participant commented that “Congregations, sermons and theological training all took something of a bashing”. Ironically the teachers at the conference were ‘teaching’ us about the evils of the traditional church being dominated by teachers!

This seems to be a common theme at various gathering about missional, new church forms conferences I have attended over the last few years. However, throwing the theological (teaching) ‘baby’ out with the old-church form ‘bathwater’ I think is a very dangerous trend. God didn’t put teachers in the church (Ephesians 4) so they could be dispensed with. The teaching ministry well exercised is essential to the health of any Christian fellowship.

The whole concept of Unbounded Church is to free the church from its Christendom form to encourage alternative missional networks that create movements. However, it is simply naïve to believe that the same problems that developed in in the New Testament churches will not occur in contemporary missional network groups and cells. For this reason, however it is done, some form of teaching function, even if remote as in Paul’s case, is essential.

I am committed to new network forms of church where most of the bible learning takes place in an inductive study style, however situations occur where the exercise of a God-given teaching gift is required. Change how it is exercised no doubt we need to do, but for the sake of healthy missional networks we must not throw the teaching ‘baby’ out with the ‘old church’ paradigm ‘bathwater’.

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