Ecclessiology and Parachurch Ministries

Recently, we had a discussion at church with our college group about the relationship between the church and the parachurch, a relationship that has often been awkward and tense.  As with most campuses, parachurch ministries exist at their school and many of the students are involved in one.  The issue was ultimately one of priority:  Where should one primarily put his or her efforts, the local church or the parachurch ministry?  To explore this question, several other questions have to be answered first:  What is the church, anyway?  What is a “parachurch,” and how is it different than a church?  If there is any difference between them, how are they supposed to interact?  Such questions put us smack in the area of ecclessiology, or the study of the church.  As boring as that sounds, it is very important to understand because a proper, biblical understanding will provide the necessary background to make an informed decision on the matter.

Since I intend for these students to read this post, I will try to keep it brief and simple.  Not because they’re stupid (well… not all of them 😉 ) but because they come from the “tl; dr” generation, after all (“too long, didn’t read”), and I’m sure they don’t want to read extra long things when they have their own boring textbooks to pour over.  It still may be too long for some, but I tried.

Meaning to the Terms 

To begin, I’ll give a common and rough definition of a parachurch: A parachurch is a gathering of bored Christian college students looking for intramural sports teams and something to do during the week some specialized, faith-based organization that is geared towards a particular goal and operates beyond or between denominations.  Although such a definition is popular, many people disagree with it and argue that it is improper to differentiate between “the church” and “the parachurch.”  They are both under the umbrella of the universal Church and therefore one does not have priority over the other, as one blogger argues.  As well meaning as this view is, however, it is mistaken and ultimately rooted in a narrow interpretation of Scripture.  Ekklesia in the New Testament can mean either the universal church (all Christians everywhere) or a local body of believers.  Matthew 16:18 clearly refers to the universal church while Matt. 18:17 obviously means a local, or specific, assembly (unless one wants to argue that Jesus prescribed gathering every Christian from all corners of the globe to confront one dude).  Context determines the meaning here, and thus the above treatment of “church” is already misleading.

However, since parachurch ministries obviously have local gatherings, are they not still churches?  Now we have to explore the characteristics of a biblical church, and I’ll unpack Matthew 18:15-20  and some other passages to get an idea of this.  I will not break down the passage in detail, but here are some marks of a church that I believe can be gleaned:

-Authority to govern themselves as a congregation
-Membership is made up of regenerate, or believing, people who are in a covenant relationship
-A church’s authority is backed by the presence of Christ.
-Churches are led by pastors or elders who must meet certain requirements of spiritual maturity and teaching, and deacons serve in them (1 Tim. 3, Titus 1). Continue reading

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Movie Reviews: Fast and Furious Five, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Harry Potter

Well, school starts tomorrow… so why not an important post about random movies I’ve recently watched.

Fast and Furious Five:  Perhaps the best one out of the series, which isn’t saying much because 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift were horrendous and the other two were just okay.  Vin Diesel is visibly old and only his arms look buff now.  The plot was predictably ridiculous and even borrowed elements of the Ocean’s series in it, with all their big planning for making a high stakes robbery and assembling a team of “experts.”  Of course, they never bother to do a stealth robbery and result to attacking a police station head on and dragging away a ten ton vault with two cars.  Yep, you read that right.  I’m not a physics expert, but something about two sports cars pulling a ten ton weight like that with steel cables seems unwieldy and certainly should prevent them from out-driving police vehicles and using such a vault as a weapon in a car chase.  The whole last car chase scene was completely absurd, but you can’t have a Fast and Furious movie without an absurd car scene.

The acting was not very good, obviously.  The Rock gave some entertainment value but Vin Diesel is a robot and Paul Walker is just whatever.  For fans of the movies, they will like that most of the major characters return for this one, including Ludacris and Tyrese.  The good thing is that the past two movies seem to be largely ignoring the events in Tokyo Drift, only bringing back the Korean dude’s character, because that movie was laughably bad.

For God knows what reason, it is obvious they want to do a sixth film for the franchise after hinting that Michelle Rodriguez’s character is still alive in a bonus scene after some credits.  Shrug.  It is cheap entertainment if you want mindless action. Continue reading

Love Wins is Like Cotton Candy: Sugary Sweet with No Substance

As many may know, Rob Bell, the famous pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, created a host of controversy last spring when news came out about his new book, Love Wins.  In fact, the controversy started well before the book was even publicly released, mostly due to his video preview of the content.  In the video (as well as the book), Bell tells of a story in which someone derogatorily responded to a written Ghandhi quote by writing, “Reality check: He’s in Hell,” at one of his church’s art shows.  Bell clearly does not think highly of this maneuver or the theology behind it, and he questions the truth of this statement and suggests a different take on the doctrine of Hell.  From this little story in his video came a firestorm of accusations that Bell is a proponent of Christian universalism/ultimate reconciliation, whatever you want to call it (I prefer the latter).  At least it helped in book sales.  As for me, I bought it on sale at a bookstore going out of business, so I’m not sinning by buying “heretical” books.  Right?  🙂

Before I Begin

Anyway, since there are probably a kazillion blog posts about this book on the Internet by now, I will not pick at every nook and cranny of it and detail every little thing that I disagree with (and there are many).  For those who want a gigantic review of Love Wins, you can try Kevin DeYoung’s extremely long review here.  I do not agree with everything in that review either, but he does a decent job pointing out several errors in Bell’s book.  Instead, I want to focus more on the overall approach of his book, how it was written, and how he framed the entire discussion to begin with.  Furthermore, as always, I tried to read the book in the most objective way possible, giving it a fair hearing even though most conservative evangelicals denounced the book severely.  At the end of the day, the best critiques of a book are those that give it a fair shot to make its arguments, as I pointed out in my review of The Shack where I criticized Mark Driscoll, among others, for a rather useless and lazy take on the book (he was right that The Shack is not good for teaching, but the way he went about arguing that would not convince anyone who actually read the book).  I really did try to give Rob Bell the most charitable reading I could.

Got it?  Good.  On to the actual review.

So… what are you saying, exactly?

Perhaps the most striking thing about the book, and the most annoying and amusing, is that it is hard to find a sustained argument about anything.  It is amusing in the sense that the book has generated so much controversy for adding very little to the discussion on Hell, and it is annoying because if Rob Bell intends to answer questions about serious subjects, he has to do more than what he did in this book.  One of the endorsing quotations on the book itself comes from Greg Boyd, who says, “I don’t know of any writer who expresses the inexpressible love of God as powerfully and as beautifully as Rob Bell!  Many will disagree with some of Rob’s perspectives, but no one who seriously engages this book will put it down unchanged.”  However, although this seems like a powerful endorsement of the book (and Boyd intended it to be), what Boyd says in his online review actually inadvertently slams the book: Continue reading