Gene Edward's Plea

A Plea for Church Life

  by Gene Edwards

  Where Did Church Buildings Come From?
  Most of what we do today as Christians comes out of two periods of church
  history. The origin of many of our present-day practices is clustered around
  the year AD. 324. The other large segment of our present "New Testament
  practices" came to us on October 31, 1517, and in the fifty years that
  Constantine became Caesar of the Roman Empire in 313, a turning point in
  church history; a turning downward, I might add. And on October 31, 1517, a
  date symbolically denoting the beginning of the Reformation, Luther nailed
  ninety-five subjects he would like to debate (all written in Latin) onto a
  church door. Those two periods of time are like two mountains around which
  most of the practice of present-day Christianity (not its theology, but its
  practice) originated.
  A few of our present practices were introduced in the Middle Ages (such as the
  education of the clergy), and a few things evolved in the last hundred years
  or so; some have even begun in the last forty years. But in the greater scheme
  of things, there have been two gigantic peaks from which we have received our
  present-day practices of the Christian faith, with a few hills scattered along
  the way.
  Let us look first at (1) the pre-Constantine age, 100-313, and then (2) the
  age of Constantine, including the years immediately thereafter.
  Not long before Constantine's time, the Christian church experienced, under
  the emperor Diocletian, the period of its worst persecution. In modern times
  the persecution of the Christian church during the first three centuries has
  been glamorized and exaggerated, but the period just before Constantine was
  truly a terrible time for the church.
  The severest part of Diocletian's persecution was that it crippled the
  church's leadership. This left the church wide open to the tragedy that befell
  it when Constantine came along and befriended the beleaguered church leaders
  while professing to be a Christian. The church, withered by persecution, was
  caught with her guard down, and her leadership weak. One of the great
  mysteries is why no prophet arose in that hour to denounce what took place
  under Constantine.
  Constantine was the first "medieval" believer. He had the mind of a Caesar (an
  emperor). He had absolute authority in everything, and that definitely
  included the Department of Religion. Secondly, he had the mind of a pagan -
  which is a world that sees darkness, spookiness, weirdness, ghosts,
  apparitions, worship of idols: in a word, superstition. In another word,
  paganism! However, in fairness to Catholicism, he was reported and defended as
  having a sudden and miraculous conversion upon beholding a cross appearing in
  the heavens that bore the inscription "By this thou shalt conquer."
  Nonetheless this tradition is very doubtful and the fact is that he had very
  little Christian thinking which informed his predominantly paganistic values.
  Blend all that together, and you have the basic ingredients of the mind of a
  medieval "Christian." Eventually this happened on a grand scale. The Christian
  faith, paganism and the mind of the Roman Empire flowed together to produce
  the Christian outlook of post-AD. 500. That outlook began to change again,
  arguably, not long before Martin Luther nailed those ninety-five theses on the
  door of the Wittenburg church.
  Let us look now at a very special date in church history, the year 324. In
  fact, we picked up more traditions, made more blunders, and changed the course
  more radically from 323 to 327 than any other period in history. Look what
  happened during this time. The city of Constantinople was founded in 323. The
  first Council of Nicaea occurred in 325. The first church buildings ever
  erected on this planet were planned and begun in 323. In 326 Constantine's
  mother made a trip to the Holy Land (becoming the first Christian tourist), to
  seek out the place of Christ's birth and crucifixion. Finally in 327
  Constantine left Rome and bequeathed his place to Syelrest, the senior
  minister of the church in Rome.
  Let us look at Constantine's founding of the city of Constantinople
  (Istanbul). He planned a gigantic capital which he called New Rome. This city
  sat, literally, half in the Orient and half in the Occident.
  He built a new and uninhabited city from the ground up. In it he commissioned
  the building of pagan temples, and something he designated as buildings for
  Christians to meet in. A pagan temple of that time was a small, round
  building, with stairs leading up to an altar in the middle. Usually the people
  gathered around the temple and worshipped while standing outside. Across the
  street from some of these pagan temples Constantine commissioned Christian
  meeting places. These buildings were not shaped like pagan temples, but like
  the government civic auditoriums. (Christians had always met inside. But it
  was inside of homes!). Here, for the first time, stood officially designated
  places for Christians to meet. This was a wonder which no Christian had ever
  seen before. Put another way, it was in 324, almost three hundred years after
  the birth of the church, that Christians first met in something we now call a
  "church building." For all three hundred years before that the church met in
  living rooms!
  Constantine built these assembly buildings for Christians not only in
  Constantinople, but also in Rome, Jerusalem, and in many parts of Italy, all
  in AD. 324. This triggered a massive "church building" fad in large cities all
  over the Empire.
  Out of his pagan mentality, Constantine ordered each building to be named
  after one of the Christians in the New Testament, because pagan temples had
  always been named after gods. So the builders put a word like "Joseph" on the
  front of each building, or "Mary" or "Peter" or "Paul." The die is beginning
  to be cast. We are headed straight for a totally different kind of Christian
  worship, in a totally different atmosphere, than the first century believer
  had ever dreamed of (had nightmares about?).
  Constantinople was finally completed, and people moved there in droves from
  Rome. Imagine a typical Christian walking into one of these strange looking
  "Christian buildings." He had never seen anything like this! I suppose he
  walked into the building and sat down on the cold stone floor (Constantine had
  forgotten to invent the pew). This definitely was no comfortable living room.
  But trying to figure out whether to sit on the cold floor of a building or
  stand throughout the whole meeting (as the pagans did across the street) -
  caused one of the marked differences between the Eastern church and the
  Western church. The Italians dragged in benches and got comfortable. The
  Greeks stood up. (The Western church grew, the Eastern church did not).
  By now people were coming into the church en masse out of paganism, following
  the example of their emperor, Constantine. The church was changing to
  accommodate them, introducing ritual in the meetings, with chanting and
  pageantry - all things familiar to these ex-pagans. The clergy (a word used
  originally to designate a pagan priest) began to wear strange clothing
  (costumes, if you please) to set themselves apart from the laity. Church
  buildings sprouted up everywhere on the crest of state tax money pouring into
  the church's coffers all over the Roman Empire. Soon the living room meetings
  were but a memory, and even that memory seems to have been stamped out.
  Until that time tax money had been channeled exclusively to the pagan
  religions. By AD. 400 it flowed exclusively to the church. Pagan priests were
  becoming Christian priests to keep up with the whereabouts of their money.
  Government officials were becoming Christian priests because it was lucrative
  to do so.
  Now you know where such (Biblical?) things as church buildings, pews, and
  preachers dressed in suits came from. By the way, the pagan temple's choir was
  also transplanted over into the Christian buildings in the mid-400's.
  This is a call, dear reader, for the believers of our age to make a clean
  break with Constantine and Constantinople! For some, the time has arrived to
  go back to where the church of the Lord Jesus Christ met for the first three
  hundred years of her history - in living rooms, ritual-less, choir-less,
  pew-less, pulpit-less and clergy-less.
  Where Did our "Order of Worship" Come From?
  Around 500 AD. a gentleman whom history has given the name Gregory the Great
  was serving as bishop of Rome. At that time Rome
  was not much more than a cow pasture, the city long in ruins; yet despite this
  the power of the bishop of Rome was growing. Gregory invented and decreed one
  order of worship for all churches in Christendom. And he got it! Furthermore
  that "order of worship" has not changed for Catholics in fifteen hundred
  years. It may be about as dead and boring as anything man has ever created,
  but it is repeated every Sunday in literally millions of places. Before you,
  the Protestants, go "tut-tut" at such unimaginative, hidebound ritualism, you
  should know that Martin Luther invented the Protestant way of worship on
  Sunday morning, and it has not changed in over four hundred years!
  Furthermore, it is just as unimaginative, ossified, hidebound, ridiculous,
  unchanging, boring and dead as what Gregory invented!
  It is a funny thing about religion; once "deified", certain elements never
  change. A total revolution is needed in the way Christians gather. Rejoice,
  poor, bored soul, for church life brings with it an infinite number of ways to
  gather and to worship.
  Let us look at one last man of this era. He and his contribution are often
  overlooked. I refer to John Chrysostom. What he left us (unlike the other
  traditions we have viewed so far) might appear at first glance to be very
  scriptural. There is a fine line between the oratorical skills Chrysostom gave
  to the Christian tradition and the speaking of called men as it existed in the
  first century. Nonetheless, that fine line is really a vast gorge.
  John Chrysostom - for better or for worse - left us with pulpiteerism. Trust
  me, that is not quite the New Testament business of prophetic utterance. The
  modern sermon, sermonics, homiletics, hermeneutics, forensics, rhetoric,
  oratory, or whatever you may call it, finds its origins not in the first
  century prophet, but in the Graeco-Roman tradition of rhetoric. Then, it was
  the rhetorical gift. Today, it is pulpiteerism!
  As a pagan, Chrysostom was a student of rhetoric. You might call him the son
  of Demosthenes (the fellow who taught himself to make speeches with pebbles in
  his mouth). He was the most promising young orator in the Empire. His name,
  Chrysostom, means Golden Mouth. Then he got saved and ended up as a
  spellbinding bishop of the church in Antioch. History has judged him to be
  both courageous, foolhardy, and an egomaniac. He and two or three other
  orators turned-Christian pulpiteers caused the Greek oratorical skills to
  replace the Judaeo-Christian practice of the prophet. As a result, today we
  have an awful lot of pulpiteers, while the free-wheeling prophet has become an
  endangered species.
  What we hear on Sunday morning is in the tradition of Greek orators, and not
  in the lineage of the church planters such as Peter, or Paul of Tarsus and his
  fierce, bold (and sporadic) proclamation of the gospel in marketplaces and
  open homes.
  Now, take a look at the central practices of the evangelical Christian faith.
  Remove these and you remove most of what Christians do and practice. Remove
  these and you lose your concept of what Christianity is. Yet none of them has
  any root in Scripture. Every one of them can be traced back to its historical
  beginnings. All come after Constantine: church buildings, pews, sermons,
  choirs, church at 11 a.m., rituals in church worship, a costumed clergy,
  dressing up to "go to church", funerals, pastors-I repeat, these practices all
  grew up in the post-apostolic period. Furthermore, every one of them stands as
  a barrier to the restoration of a living experience of church life. They have
  been doing just that for the last seventeen hundred years.
  Church Life, Archeology & Some Surprises
  What was church life like from AD. 100 to AD. 324? Can we know? Whatever
  descriptions may have been put to writing have either failed to survive, or
  have not as yet been found. As it is,, we have almost nothing in the way of
  literature from this period that can give us even a tiny insight into what
  church life was all about. We know very little about the experiences of
  everyday Christians living at that time, nor about their local church
  There is, however, considerable material dating from AD. 330 to AD. 440. A
  study of such findings can provide a mistaken impression of what church life
  was like. These writings were mostly penned by pagan philosophers turned
  Christian. They took it upon themselves to write philosophical and theological
  treatises on just about everything imaginable. They tell us very little that
  is reliable about church life. But they can petrify your brain! Their
  pseudo-pagan, neo-Christian philosophical ascent into nothingism is
  mind-boggling. Unfortunately, when you read these volumes (and because almost
  nothing else has survived), you come away with the impression that this is
  what all Christians were caught up in at that time. Christianity at that time,
  it would appear, was primarily an incoherent, philosophical, theological,
  intellectual study in abstract tedium.
  That is not so. If today all Christian writings on this earth burned in an
  atomic holocaust except for one library full of theological nitpicking, then a
  thousand years from now people would get the distinct impression that today's
  church life consisted of theologians sitting around philosophizing about the
  dots over the "i" and the slash on top of the "t."
  It looked like we would forever have to live with the distorted perspective
  that emerged during AD. 100-324, that Christianity of the early centuries was
  made up of erudite theologians, and that we should therefore all follow in
  their path.
  Make no mistake, those men's writings are held in highest esteem, despite the
  fact that every one of them wrote of the Christian faith from a
  Socratic-Platonic-Aristotelian mind-set.
  All of this leaves us with one compelling question: What was church life like,
  minus Ambrose, Gregory, Augustine, Tertullian, Jerome, and Origen? Find the
  answer to that question and church history would have to be rewritten. Today's
  post-Reformation Protestantism would be left with not so much as a fig leafs
  protection to justify' its practices. Catholicism would find itself in an even
  less defensible position, if that is possible.
  Until now no one had had even a shred of a clue as to what church life was
  like in the second, third and fourth centuries (AD. 100 to AD. 323). Certainly
  the writings of those pagan philosophers-turned-theologians offered poor soil
  for digging.
  But hold on to your hat. Modern Christian archeology has recently come up with
  some fascinating, if not downright unbelievable, discoveries. To understand
  just how incredible these findings are, and how contrary to all past
  interpretations of this era they are, we need to pitch a tent here and learn a
  little about the history of Christian archeology itself.
  Modern archeology was launched by Roman Catholic scholars in about 1630. They
  arrived there first, and until recently their interpretation of the available
  evidence left to us in literature, documents, and objects has been the
  accepted interpretation. And naturally, their interpretations were filtered
  through the theological minds of Roman Catholic scholars. These men saw
  everything they looked at as reinforcing the Roman Catholic view of the
  Unfortunately (and unbelievably), when Protestant archeology, and even
  evangelical archeology, emerged, it bought these interpretations without
  question - and even taught them. The view of church history (AD. 100 to 280)
  passed on to us was that of a church elaborate in ritual, with a powerful and
  well-defined clergy, and a prescribed liturgy. It was a scenario that made the
  believers of that time look terribly religious, pious, and ascetic. We were
  taught that a distinct, powerful clergy virtually overlorded everything.
  I came face to face with the concepts of the Roman school of archeology just
  after finishing my first year in the seminary at Ruschlikon, Switzerland. I
  spent that summer in Rome, and I was pleased to be able to get a personal
  guided tour of the Catacombs by a priest versed in the history of the
  Catacombs. We took candles and descended into that fantastic labyrinth. Along
  the way he pointed Out the Christian graffiti left on the walls during the
  middle and late 200's (the third century) and the early 300's (the fourth
  century). At one point my companion pointed to a Latin inscription and said,
  "This is early second century." I read the inscription: "Peter and Paul, pray
  for us." Every instinct in me rebelled. I knew the statement scribbled on the
  ceiling of that underground trench was not part of the mind-set of second
  century Christians.

I am happy to report that recent re-dating of this graffiti puts that very
  inscription after the Constantine era.
  What we were being told, essentially, was this: The second, third and fourth
  centuries were as full of ritual, clergy, liturgy, sobriety, austerity, pomp,
  and sacerdotalism as were the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries. That
  interpretation buttressed Roman Catholicism and caused the Protestants,
  blushing with embarrassment at such Catholic one-upmanship, to sadly say,
  "Well, after AD. 100 there was a great falling away of the faith."
  And when Protestants get tied up in pomp, ritual and cleric leanings they even
  point to the practice ascribed to the second and third century church. Alter
  all, it appears that it was full of formality and dominated by an active
  ministry and a silent laity.
  Well, it ain't so. In recent years archeologists have been turning up new and,
  yes, revolutionary findings, which have caused the entire archeological world
  to go back and re-examine past interpretations of known data. What has emerged
  is nothing less than stunning.
  Some of the recent archeologists who have been instrumental in the complete
  re-interpretation of second century Christianity are evangelical, others are
  liberal; but the conclusions are the same. First of all, this new, emerging
  school is far more honest and scientific than was the Roman school. Secondly,
  it is working with far more data, including a great deal of new data. Thirdly,
  these men are not taking their cue from Augustine, Ambrose, etc. As one
  scholar recently wrote in the Chicago Seminary Theological Review: "Trying to
  find out what the early church was like by studying the theologians of the
  second, third and fourth centuries would be the same thing as someone five
  thousand years from now reading nothing but the writings of Barth, Tillich and
  Neibuhr, and drawing from their writings a picture of what twentieth century
  Christianity was like." (There is virtually nothing in these men's writings
  which would offer even a clue to what the church is like today.)
  No Church Buildings
  What has been discovered? Let us begin with Christian architecture - that is,
  church buildings. The Roman school declared that church buildings have been
  with us from the second century on. It further taught that the church
  buildings erected during the Constantinian era were built on the sites of
  previous church structures. This dogma was universally accepted as fact. But
  recently Christian archeology has gone back to re-investigate those sites. The
  findings? Without exception there was no church building or any other kind of
  Christian meeting place to be found buried beneath any Constantinian-era
  church buildings. Archeologists found virgin land, or pagan temples, or
  marketplaces, but no evidence anywhere of any kind of building used for
  Christian gatherings. The implications were staggering.
  Perhaps the most remarkable archeological discovery ever made of this early
  Christian era (100 to 400) was the discovery of a Christian meeting place of
  the pre-Constantine era. This meeting place was not a church building. It was
  a home that had been converted into a meeting place for Christians. The site
  is a town in Syria with the odd name of Duro-Europa.
  Exhaustive studies have been made of this building. The upshot is this: here
  is a home used as a place for Christians to gather, in the mid-200's. One of
  its peculiarities is this: A wall had been torn out between two bedrooms to
  make one large room that would hold about seventy-five people sitting on the
  What is the point? Until Constantine, there was no such thing as a church
  building or "Christian" architecture. A church building had never been dreamed
  of in a dream. That which we know as the Christian faith was a living room
  movement! The Christian faith was the first and only religion ever to exist
  that did not use special temples of worship; it is the only "living room"
  religion in human history.
  Homes Were Used
  Now let us go to yet another archeological find and another mind-blower.
  Imagine, if you will, a group of Christian archeologists plowing their way
  through thousands of deeds and property records of towns and cities in North
  Africa. These deeds, surveys, title changes and tax records all dated from AD.
  100 to 400, and often stated the uses being made of each building. (Among
  these records are also religious censuses.) Some of these documents tell the
  name of the family that lived in each house, the occupation of those employed,
  and their religion. Some of these records also tell what other activities the
  building was used for besides living quarters ("baking located here"; "pots
  made here," etc.). Lo and behold, from time to time are found notations that
  say, essentially, "The Christian ecclesia sometimes holds meetings in this
  Exciting? Well, on some occasions archeologists have been able to locate these
  very sites and do a dig there. The findings? An ordinary home. No more, no
  less. All scientific evidence of this era rises up to declare to us that the
  Christian faith was utterly informal in its expression, and homes were its
  A formalized Christianity in a ceremonial setting was invented during and
  immediately after the age of Constantine, growing Out of a pseudo-Christian,
  neo-pagan mind.
  Christian Art
  Let us take a look now at early Christian stonework and carvings. The Roman
  school of archeology dated almost all of these artifacts
  quite early. A more enlightened and unprejudiced dating has been able to
  divide these findings into groups: (1) early; (2) just prior to Constantine;
  (3) the Constantinian era; and (4) the post-Constantinian era.
  Generally speaking, here is what emerges. In the pre-Constantinian carvings
  you see depicted happy crowds of people following a joyful, "charismatic and
  itinerant" Lord. In the post-Constantinian era you see a sober, somber, grave,
  unhappy, austere Christ sitting on a throne, garbed in the robes of a Caesar
  with bolts of lightning breaking around Him. Point: men tend to depict in art
  what they "see" in their minds. A radical and terrible change in the minds of
  Christians as to what a Christian should look like and what Christ was like
  had taken place in less than seventy years.
  For me, I will take the happy smiles on the faces of the multitudes following
  a joyful, itinerant Lord.
  One of the most telling proofs of the enormous change that occurred at that
  point in time is found in those art works depicting the Lord's Supper by
  showing the Lord feeding the five thousand. The artist saw the Lord's Supper
  as a time of joy, with the Lord providing for His people. Later you find
  depicted a dismal Christ looking at a cup, with all those around sober-faced
  and sad. Which more reflects the first century mind? Which more depicts our
  present attitude toward the Lord's Supper?
  Letters Written by Saints
  Come now to correspondence - that is, letters written by Christians. There are
  about 3,500,000 pieces of writing still in existence from this era. About
  25,000 pieces have been identified as Christian or "probably Christian." A
  close study of these written documents has resulted in the following
  First, Christians were free of a conventionally religious vocabulary. Not one
  of those pieces of papyrus makes reference to a clergy. There is no mention of
  "minister," "pastor," "priest," or any other kind of designated leadership.
  True, such men existed, but their role was not filling up any space in the
  minds or lives of the believers who wrote letters!
  Now let us see what wonderful "New Testament" practices the Reformation gave
  us a thousand years after the post-Constantinian era and fourteen hundred
  years after the first century church.
  The Reformation
  The Reformation was made possible by one man. Not Luther, not Calvin, not
  Zwingli, but Frederick the Wise, who just happened to command the largest army
  in Europe, and who was angry because he had not been made Pope. There was a
  lot of unrest in northern (non-Latin) Europe over the behavior of the Roman
  Catholic Church. In Saxony, where Frederick ruled, there was this perfectly
  delightful, beer-drinking, German monk who taught Augustinian theology at the
  University of Wittenburg. He was really upset with the church. Luther's
  conduct and writings were reprehensible to the Roman Catholic Church and he
  should have been put on trial as a heretic and burned alive. But Prince
  Frederick, ruler of Saxony, took a shine to Dr. Luther, and decided to give
  protection to this Germanic radical. Essentially what Frederick said was, "Let
  that man say what he has to say, don't anybody touch him." No one else had an
  army big enough to challenge this command.
  If you do not understand Frederick the Wise's army, you do not understand the
  Reformation. The key to the Reformation was not some great spiritual revival,
  but the military might of Frederick the Wise. If it had not been for that
  army, Martin Luther would have been taken out and unceremoniously burned at
  the stake quite early in his career.
  Well, the final outcome of all this was that the land of Saxony removed Roman
  Catholicism as its official state religion (the first nation ever to do so).
  To fill this vacuum Luther was given a free rein to establish a whole new
  state religion, from the ground up!
  How would you like to have the chance of founding a brand new denomination,
  teaching your views, doing everything your way, and receiving government money
  to do so?
  Luther had before him a nation filled with empty church buildings. He sent his
  followers out to man these church buildings and to promulgate to the faithful
  his own teachings. Earlier, many Catholic priests had read Luther's writings
  and had left the Catholic ministry.
  Most got married. And many came to Luther's home seeking teaching and
  direction. (He performed no small number of marriages between ex-priests and
  ex-nuns, and ordained a host of "Lutheran" ministers.)
  During these incredible times Luther produced an entire ecclesiastical
  structure out of bare bones, created a flood of Lutheran literature, and got
  it distributed. He single-handedly created a Protestant catechism for
  children, a Protestant hymn book, and a Protestant Bible which he translated,
  published and distributed.
  While doing all this he taught and trained ex-priests to become Lutheran
  ministers and Bible expositors. Wherever possible he was sending these men out
  to serve as Protestant ministers to those church buildings all over Saxony.
  Those Lutheran ministers were looked upon as a Protestant version of a priest
  Up until that time the "pastoral role," the pastoral practice of the
  Protestant world, did not exist. The modern-day pastoral concept began in
  Wittenburg, Germany. So did a lot of our other "New Testament" practices. Here
  is the story of Wittenburg.
  Altar Replaced with Pulpit
  Luther had the entire altar area ripped out of the front of the church. High
  up on one of the pillars of the church was a little rostrum or pulpit which
  the Catholic priest had climbed up to by means of a circular staircase to read
  dutifully the weekly announcements to the faithful flock below. Luther had one
  of those pulpits placed in the front and center of the building, where the
  altar had been. That was new. Brand new. And so, dear reader, was born the
  Protestant pulpit.
  Why 11 A.M.?
  Every Sunday at dawn Luther preached from the pulpit to the gathering, the
  meeting taking place at exactly the same time Catholic mass had been scheduled
  before the Catholics had been thrown out. However, Luther did not enjoy
  getting up that early on Sunday. What he liked to do was go down to the tavern
  - or sit in his kitchen-and talk and drink beer on Saturday night. So he moved
  the Protestant worship service to the saner hour of 9 AM. But the older he
  got, the longer he talked on Saturday night, and the more beer he drank. He
  moved "church service" to 10 AM. But as he talked still longer and drank still
  more beer, he found even 10 AM. to be uncomfortably early. The last possible
  hour he could set for the morning church service and still call it "morning"
  was 11 AM. That is how it came about that 500,000,000 Protestants today hold
  church services every Sunday at 11 AM.
  Luther also invented the Protestant ritual of worship there at Wittenburg.
  With only the slightest variations, we all follow that same ritual today.
  Regardless of our denomination, across the face of the entire planet. Here it
  is, sacred, sacrosanct, handed down to us on gold plates by angels at 11 AM.,
  mind you:
  Opening song
  Three songs
  Questioning the Pastoral Concept
  Someone wisely said, "It was the Protestant Reformation that gave us the
  formula: 'Information Equals Spirituality."' I would add, we also seem to
  unwittingly believe that information equals piety; information equals
  salvation; information equals being a Christian.
  In other words, the Protestant Reformation was primarily an intellectual
  thing. It was also a time of accumulating traditions which evolved straight
  out of the circumstances of the hour. One of these was the pastoral role.
  Imagine a nation full of empty church buildings. Imagine Wittenburg looking
  something like a refugee camp. Ex-priests and ex-nuns were pouring in
  literally by the ox cart load. From all over Europe men who had read Luther's
  writings were moving to Wittenburg to sit at his feet. Luther, in turn, was
  training and speaking and writing by the volumes, and sending these men out to
  fill those empty church buildings with Protestant ministers just as fast as he
  These converted ex-priests from Wittenburg were (1) followers of Luther's
  teachings, (2) getting married to ex-nuns, (3) taking off their priestly
  robes, (4) setting up new pulpits where the Eucharist once sat, and, (5)
  preaching every Sunday morning at 11 AM.
  In the past, communities were accustomed to having priests in their city who
  were carrying out the seven pastoral duties of a priest. They were used to
  seeing their priest (1) marry the young, (2) bury the dead, (3) hear
  confession, (4) bless community events, (5) baptize their babies, (6) visit
  the sick, and (7) care for and collect money for the poor and for the church.
  Remember these were the pastoral duties of Catholic priests that had come into
  being over a thousand year period of tradition and evolution. (In other words,
  these customs have nothing to do with the Scripture.)
  Now Luther instructed these men to continue the pastoral duties of a priest,
  with slight alterations. This may seem strange to us, but every generation is
  subject to its matrix. Luther simply could not think of a more scriptural
  context in this particular area.
  Luther changed one particular Catholic duty, that of "hearing confessions."
  This gave way to spiritual counsel and preaching the Bible.
  So it was that Luther sent his Protestant ministers out into Saxony to perform
  the seven (slightly altered) pastoral duties a la the Catholic priesthood,
  minus the priestly garb. It was not long before these men were no longer being
  called "priest" or "Father." Instead they came to be called "pastor," because
  they were now the ones who were carrying out the pastoral duties.
  Now you know
  If you are not shocked, you ought to be. From that day forward, men have
  written literally millions of books on every theological issue conceivable to
  the mind of man, yet no one had closely questioned the biblical basis for the
  man called "pastor." He is just there. Like the poor, he has been with us from
  the beginning of the Reformation and he will be there until the crack of doom!
  I repeat, he was not born as a result of profound scriptural, theological
  study. No one even looked to see if he happened to be in the New Testament. He
  just grew up and grew out of the ongoing events surrounding Wittenburg during
  the early and mid-1500's. Before that he never existed, was never dreamed of.
  He materialized around 1525-1540 and has been with us ever since, undebated,
  unquestioned, and wholly unscriptural. In all church history there has not
  been so much as one day of debate or controversy over his scriptural right to
  exist. We practice "him" without question. He lives and exists outside of
  controversy. Yet, there is not one verse of Scripture in the New Testament
  that describes such a creature, and only one verse that even uses the term.
  Nonetheless he is the center of the practice of Protestant Christianity.
  I suggest that the pastor is a tradition born during the Reformation, and that
  in the total story of the first century church (AD. 30 to AD. 100) there is
  nothing like him to be found anywhere. You may figure Out a way to justify his
  existence with one fragment of one verse of Scripture. But he does not exist
  in the overview or the context of the first century saga.
  One of the most fascinating things about the practice of the pastor is that
  ministers seem to know - or sense - that he is non-scriptural. As a pastor,
  later as an evangelist, and until this very hour, I have brought up the
  subject of "the place of the pastor in Scripture" to scores of fellow
  ministers. "Where is the pastoral concept in Scripture? I cannot find it." The
  most reaction I have ever received was either an agreement or a resigned
  Why do we not seem to care enough to even consider the seriousness of this
  matter? Protestantism is built on, rests on, exists on, the concept and
  practice of the pastor. Yet he exists nowhere in New Testament Scripture. But
  ironically, he is the fellow up there in the pulpit calling us all to return
  to faithfulness to the Scripture.
  Oh Consistency, where are thy children? Why do those facts not bother us just
  a wee, tiny bit? There seems to be only one possible answer.
  No Pastor, No Protestantism
  Modern Protestantism, as it is practiced today, simply cannot exist without
  the concept and practice of the modern pastor. Remove him and Protestantism
  will collapse.
  In the face of such a healthy possibility, I propose that we shuck the
  practice of the pastor, on the historical basis that it is not a scriptural
  concept. Let us keep our Protestant doctrines, but chuck the lion's share of
  our traditions and practices, including the pastor! Ah, but is not the idea of
  a pastor a Protestant doctrine? If it is, I cannot find it. It seems to me it
  is only a practice, and has never been a doctrine.
  I invite you, dear reader, to do something I did. I am a graduate of the
  largest Protestant seminary in the world, which has on its campus one of the
  largest theological libraries ever assembled in the history of Christendom.
  One day I searched that library for even one book or one chapter, and finally
  in desperation even one paragraph, discussing the pastoral concept from a
  scriptural or theological view. I have never found that book, nor chapter, nor
  page, nor paragraph on the subject. The pastor is just there. As far as I can
  discover no one has ever tried to prove or disprove, question or even discuss
  the pastoral concept and practice, either theologically or scripturally.
  The pastor concept is practiced, yes...everywhere on this planet Discussed,
  taught, defended, questioned? Never. He just is! Like stained-glass windows,
  like pews, like steeples, like the church parking lot, he is a practice and a
  Kind of mind boggling, isn't it?
  Did it ever occur to anyone that maybe, just maybe, a few of those practices
  are getting in the way of an experience of church life?
  The Modern Day Role of Pastor Through the Eyes of a Former One
  Now picture yourself as a country kid called to preach, and all you want to do
  is preach. You know God has called you. You may not be clear what He has
  called you to, and your vocabulary and your concepts may be all wrong, and you
  may know you might end up being a pastor - but you never dream of getting into
  anything like a pastorate. Nevertheless, one day you do. You walk into a
  wonder world that has been sitting there for several hundred years, waiting to
  gobble you alive. You begin to play your role, and it is just that - a role.
  The first thing you discover is that people do not relate to you the way they
  do others; nor can you talk to them the way they talk to one another. You are
  not "normal people." This highlights how lacking in church experience our
  experience is. The people you are dealing with obviously have never known
  church life, or true equity of believers.
  One thing I noticed right away was that we all talked about the priesthood of
  believers, yet all baptizing was done by the pastor, and the Lord's Supper was
  conducted by him. There is nothing in the New Testament to support such
  In all Christian gatherings the pastor plays the role of the big tongue, while
  you play the role of the big ear. That is just about all that happens. He
  talks; you listen. Everyone goes home. We are two distinctive classes of
  Christians: you are an ear, I am a tongue. There is absolutely no scriptural
  foundation for this, either.
  In my homiletics class we had to hand in a sermon each week as an assignment.
  I learned not only to prepare a sermon but to play the whole sermon game.
  (Unless I played the game I did not receive a good grade.)
  It was a seminary student joke that "to have a good sermon, you have to have
  an introduction, a conclusion, three points, a deathbed story, and a poem."
  There is too much truth in that little statement. But my question is, by what
  stretch of the imagination do we find men preparing sermons in the early
  church, then uncorking them every Sunday like Swiss clockwork at 11:29 AM.?
  Some denominations or non-denominational movements are strong on exegesis.
  Most preach largely topical preaching. It is not exegetical. But whether it is
  exegetical, topical, expository, or whatever, it comes out of the Greek
  tradition of rhetoric.
  Do you have any idea how hard it is trying to think up a sermon to deliver to
  a group of people (whom you hardly know even though you have lived with them
  for years)? You do not know where they all are as a believing community.
  One disturbing element of preaching a sermon is to have to finish at five
  minutes before noon. Another is simply trying to preach on Sunday morning.
  You think you had a hard time getting your kids to Sunday school and church?
  Well, this is what preachers' kids are saying just before church: "I don't
  want to go. It's boring."
  "Your daddy's a preacher, you have to go."
  "I don't care what daddy is, I don't want to go. Don't make me."
  The kid has a fight and could come in, sit down and be still. Preachers have
  that fight, have to come in there and preach about Jesus. That is no fun at
  all. And while I preach, you sleep.
  With all my heart I thank God I do not have to subject you or me to such a
  scene any longer.
  "Uncle Ned died this morning. We're going to have his funeral tomorrow
  afternoon." "I'm sorry, I don't want to preach at his funeral Someone in your
  family can do it. One of your neighbors can do it. In fact, I don't even want
  to go to the funeral I never did know Ned very well. For the life of me, I
  couldn't find a kind word to say about him. Besides, I don't particularly like
  funerals; they are a pagan holdover of Western civilization."
  What would happen to that minister if he refused to preach Uncle Ned's
  funeral?" He's O-U-T, Out. He is expected to bury the dead. He has no choice.
  I want you to find one verse in the New Testament that says anyone is supposed
  to preach at a funeral, or even have one. Yet it is an ordained duty of every
  minister. An oratory over a corpse. The very thought is revolting. I am not
  called to that. God does not ask that of me. It is a tradition, and I do not
  plan to take any part in it. If we do need to bury someone, let the brothers
  in the church do it, just as they do the weddings.
  Part of the ministerial role is to perform marriages. Just about all the
  parents of those who have been married in church life think their
  grandchildren are illegitimate, because no ceremony was performed in front of
  them by a minister in a wedding. All it takes to "have a wedding" in any state
  in the country is to get the right papers from the courthouse and have three
  witnesses sign it who are over twenty-one years of age. That is all. The rest
  is ritual A minister does not sanctify your marriage. Your marriage is
  sanctified by three signatures on a sheet of paper provided by the government
  of this state, dropped into a mailbox, and registered in the state files. That
  is what makes your marriage legitimate.
  The first marriage I ever saw in church life happened at six o'clock in the
  morning at a prayer meeting. After the meeting two saints stood up and said,
  "We're getting married this morning. Will three people please sign this
  paper?" Three brothers signed it, everybody gathered around them, loved them,
  hugged them, thanked the Lord for them, and off they went. They were married.
  That was it. And, parents' opinions to the contrary, their kids are
  May I offer one more ritual that needs a revolution? "Ladies and gentlemen
  this evening we are gathered together to see the hockey team from Montreal get
  out here and murder the hockey team from Seattle. They're going to beat one
  another senseless with clubs and sticks, and knock one another over and hit
  each other, and there are going to be riots in the stands. But just before
  that happens we're going to have the pastor of the First Baptist Church come
  and lead us in prayer."
  Have you ever tried to think up a prayer to pray just before two groups of men
  try to kill one another over a hockey puck? That is one of the wildest things
  you will ever attempt to do. You have to invent a prayer like Aunt Nina's
  gown; it has to cover everything and touch nothing.
  Let's get rid of the practices of blessing community events. At the Kiwanis
  Club, there are dirty jokes going on, drinking and smoking, and suddenly you
  hear someone announce, "Will Reverend Edwards please lead us in prayer?"
  "The Democratic Party this evening is gathered to hear So-and-so speak, and
  now will Reverend Edwards lead us in prayer?" Maybe Reverend Edwards is a
  Republican, but he still has to pray.
  None of this has anything to do with the Christian faith. In fact the
  Christian faith stood against this kind of thing in the first few centuries.
  Brothers and sisters, you must stop wishing this kind of a life on a man who
  does not really want to live that way. Men called of God do not want to live
  this way, and should not live this way.
  How would you like to have to wear a suit at all times except in the shower or
  in bed? See your wife and kids subjected to constant town-wide scrutiny? Never
  be allowed to be angry, depressed, short-tempered? Be required to talk piously
  all day long and do and say some of the most stupid, idiotic things
  imaginable, all day long?
  For instance? The telephone rang one day, and the voice on the phone said to
  me, "Pastor, my daughter wants to talk to Santa Claus. Be Santa Claus for my
  daughter. Here she is." A little bitty voice asked, "Is this Santa Claus?" And
  for five minutes I played Santa Claus on the telephone. I had to. My salary of
  $55 a week and a parsonage were at stake.
  As a minister I was constantly asked to throw holy water on things. (Of course
  Baptists do not have holy water, but that is essentially what we were doing.)
  There is not an honest man alive today in the ministry that has not wished to
  unload and drop this whole masquerade and be an ordinary human being.
  What is demanded of a pastor's wife is unbelievable. I know of no other
  occupation on earth that treats an employee's wife the way a clergyman's wife
  is treated. You hire one person, and you get the other one free. You work that
  person to death in the community. She, too, plays a role; let her break that
  role, and you will both be out of that church faster that you can blink. Dress
  a certain way, talk a certain way, be a certain way. Smile real big, or you
  are not a good Christian. Never criticize, or have needs, and never be hurt
  when criticized. Always be pleasant, nice, kind, and raise perfect kids.
  This is not just my description of a pastor's wife. It is virtually any
  pastor's wife's own job description of herself on a day when she is being
  honest to herself.
  A pastor walks into a house, visits a minute and starts to leave. "Pastor,
  before you go, lead us in a word of prayer." You better never refuse. You may
  not like that fellow. He may be the biggest four-flushing hypocrite north of
  the South Pole. His kids may be juvenile delinquents and he has caused more
  trouble in the church than anyone in the last forty years...but you are about
  to "lead in a word of prayer" or lose your job.
  Friend, you do not belong to God, nor does your wife. You are owned by the
  whims of people. You doubt? Then go climb up in that pulpit next Sunday and
  say in shirt-sleeve English what you really think. Do not visit the sick and
  pat little old ladies on the hand, and do not "lead in a word of prayer." Do
  not smile when you do not want to, nor talk pious words when you do not feel
  like it, or suit up when you would prefer to go in jeans, or say yes to
  another job for your wife when you do not want to. And remind yourself to look
  up the root meaning of the word "hypocrite."
  If church life is ever to be known on this earth, the whole mentality that
  spawned the pastoral role must go.
  Take a look at the layman's concept of a pastor. It borders on superstition.
  God is represented in that man. To wit: if your pastor likes you, that means
  God likes you. This is a subconscious conclusion of many a layman, and at
  least one or two ministers in the last five hundred years have used that
  superstition to manipulate and control
  Everyone feels good about their home and kids when the pastor comes to visit
  and prays God's blessings over the home. Well, I hate to tell you, but other
  than the fact that he is called of God, he is a human, as ordinary, as anyone
  I am sure you have heard of the symbiotic relationship of a certain bird and
  the water buffalo. The buffalo does not chase the bird away because he eats
  the flies that bother the buffalo, and the bird, riding on the buffalo's back,
  finds a safe place to eat.
  Well, a symbiotic relationship often grows up between the clergy and the
  laity, and especially between the clergy and the rich laity! The telephone
  rings. "Hi, Pastor, this is Benedict. Pastor, my wife and I just want you to
  know that we love you so much."
  "Thanks so much. You're a fine person to say so, Benedict. God love you,
  brother, for so thoughtful a nature."
  "Pastor, we're going on vacation to Switzerland for the next month, and we
  have a country retreat house out on the lake. Lola and I just wanted you to
  know that it's yours every week while we're gone. You can take your family out
  there, and rest and pray and enjoy it."
  "Why, Benedict, that's the most gracious and Christian thing a person can do.
  God bless you, dear brother. My wife and I think so highly of you."
  They both hang up. The religious fellow named Benedict feels all warm inside,
  knowing God must love him because the pastor does. The pastor hangs up knowing
  he has conned another layman out of something with the scepter of religious
  blessing. It feels so good, and the rich need it more than the poor do,
  because they have a guilt complex about being rich.
  This kind of relationship sometimes grows up between pastor and layman to the
  point it almost becomes a science. You the pastor bless me, the layman; that
  means God loves me. I, the layman, bless you (and pay for God's favor) by
  giving you gifts, special attention, special meals - and sometimes a weekend
  retreat house. You become a hypocrite, treating me as someone special, and at
  the same time using your sacred call from God for material gain...and you lose
  a hunk of your life, for you are at my beck and call, and the beck and call of
  all the rich who have given you gifts.
  Symbiotic relationships. These relationships will continue as long as we have
  clergy and laity. In fact, this may be the main reason we have a hired servant
  of God and an endowing laity.
  In the meantime, reality lives in some other part of the world and, methinks,
  hell chuckles with glee.
  Dear reader, you cannot imagine how few people there are on this earth willing
  to give a truly anonymous gift to a Christian worker. I know ministers who
  seem to live under a shower of gifts. Speaking as one who refuses anything but
  the most anonymous of does not shower all the frequently over here
  in this rather unusual place. Laymen, especially the wealthy, have a hard time
  giving a personal gift to a Christian worker without getting stroked a couple
  of times.
  We are far afield from the age of that tent maker who refused to spend even a
  night in another Christian's home unless he paid for his food and lodging.
  Hurry for a Christian worker that is bullheaded about a clear conscience.
  Hurry for Paul of Tarsus. May his tribe one day live again!
  If you give, give anonymously. And if you are rich, stop acting rich. And stop
  this symbiotic relationship with anyone. Money has power. Rich men and women
  use this power in the church of the living God, and that is spiritual
  criminality, a corruption of the Christian faith.
  When I was seventeen years old I preached my first message, and nearly blew
  everyone in the room away. It has been that way to a large extent ever since.
  Do not talk to me about getting power or having power. We ought to be talking
  about controlling power, surrendering power, and how to live in such a way
  that the power which is given to us of God does not destroy us. In most cases
  the vessel cannot manage the power given by God, and the vessel is destroyed.
  Personally, I fear power. I wish there were a larger number of messages
  delivered on its destructive force in the lives of those who seek it (and
  receive it) than on the need to have it.
  If God has given you power, remember that it has ultimately wreaked as much
  destruction in men's lives as it has aided the kingdom of God.
  This I know. I am called of God, but of myself I cannot bless you. Being
  ordained to preach did not give me a bottle of holy water. Yet this imaginary
  game is played out on both the side of the layman and the clergy. It has to
  go. We have to live on the same level.
  This thing of not accepting pay is so that I can be part of an ordinary
  relationship. Why do I personally receive no pay in the fellowship where I
  labor? To be ordinary, and normal, and to be treated so.
  We ought to be what we are: ordinary people (1 Cor.1:26-29) partaking of all
  of life's common experiences, a caste-less community caring for one another in
  light of Christ's statement, "you are all brethren."
  Everything I have shared here about the Protestant ministry as it really is
  today, and especially how clergy and laity relate, all this grew out of the
  practices that found their way into the Catholic Church from about AD. 324 to
  400. The technical term for it is sacerdotalism, the specialness of the
  priest. Please remember this always: the first century Christian church was a
  lay movement from top to bottom.
  Let us say you are a preacher. You begin to see something of church life, at
  least in your spirit. You see something of the life of the church, the body of
  Christ, the bride of Christ, the eternal purpose of God. You start thinking:
  How am I going to support my family?
  One preacher said it beautifully: "I majored in Bible in college, I went to
  the seminary and I majored in the only thing they teach there, the
  professional ministry. When I graduated, I realized that I could speak Latin,
  Greek and Hebrew, and the only thing on earth I was qualified for was to be
  Pope, and someone else had that job." There is nothing less skilled on this
  planet than a preacher.
  I admonish you, if you hope to be part of a revolution, lay down the
  professional ministry, let your call rest for a few years. Go get a skill.
  Learn how to earn an honest living, and discover the depths of Jesus Christ in
  the midst of the body of Christ.

  Some Closing Thoughts- By Cliff Bjork
  "A Plea For Church Life" by Gene Edwards will undoubtedly elicit a variety of
  reactions ranging from complete concurrence to total disagreement. The fact
  that we printed the article does not mean that we necessarily share all of the
  views of the author. We do think that the article is worth reading, however,
  and that it will accomplish a worthwhile objective if it only serves as a
  catalyst for fresh thought and action among believers who long for a more
  meaningful and effective church life.
  Before you put down this issue of SEARCHING TOGETHER, let me add a few of my
  own postscripts to the observations and proposals advanced by Mr. Edwards in
  "A Plea For Church Life." I have very little space to do so, so I will he as
  brief and to the point as possible.
  I have no problem with his observation that "church" today (for the most part)
  is something quite different from its early post-pentacostal simplicity. I can
  also agree that contemporary church thought and practice has been influenced
  more by historical events and dominant personalities than by New Testament
  imperatives and examples. And, while the statement "a total revolution is
  needed in the way Christians gather," is a bit too militant sounding for my
  tastes, I would agree that most assemblies would do well to re-examine their
  traditions and practices in view of the historical realities brought to light
  by Mr. Edwards. I can accept, therefore, most of his diagnoses relating to the
  problems faced by today's churches. I have considerable difficulty, however,
  with some of the remedies he prescribes as a means for healing.
  I do not believe that the answer lies in forsaking "church buildings" in favor
  of "living rooms." Nor are sweat shirts and jeans inherently more conducive to
  effective fellowship and ministry than three piece suits and neckties. It
  seems to me that such proposals merely exchange one external "hang-up" for
  another. To prove that there were no "church buildings" in the first few
  decades of the church's existence is to prove nothing. There were also no
  automobiles or telephones or computers or printing presses or...or...or.
  Should we also view these advances as detrimental to church life? Or does the
  real problem actually lie in the way we use these tools? If a church
  "building" is worshipped more than the One in whose name we gather, something
  has certainly gone wrong. If such is the case, selling the building and
  crowding into a living room will do little to solve the problem. What is
  needed is a change of heart and mind, not of location and surroundings.
  Whether an assembly's needs are better served with a separate "church
  building" or in someone's living room should be a matter of liberty decided by
  consensus among the members of that assembly. And what members wear when they
  gather should also he a matter of liberty - subject only to a few New
  Testament standards for decency and propriety. It is just as easy, to spawn
  and perpetuate false teaching, factionism, groundless ritual, and stifling
  traditions in a living room as it is an a "church building." And one can be as
  deliberately ostentatious in ragged jeans and wornout Reeboks as in a well
  pressed suit and polished wingtips.
  Yes, an examination of our traditions and practices is certainly in order. But
  let's begin with the heart and mind, not with buildings, pews and clothing. If
  our hearts are set on "things above," and our minds are properly exercised in
  the knowledge of God's Word, our attitude toward the external accouterments of
  church life will take care of itself. By all means, "chuck" anything that gets
  in the way of genuine fellowship and service to the Lord, but do it as the
  result of a renewed perspective, not as a means thereto. I'm out of space.

Non-commercial use permitted.

Kevin “the NorthWest”

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The Revelation of the Lost Keys