It’s one of the strangest teachings I’ve heard about the church, that it didn’t begin with Jesus and thus we can’t look to his example for what the church should be like, but rather begin with Paul. They think Jesus’ words were only for first-century Jews living under the law and discount his example for us. Here’s how Gary asked the question in a recent email:
I didn’t think I could feel this way about a “Christian” book anymore. Definition without dogma, so difficult to do! I can’t read it in one setting; it’s too far reaching. Spectacular comes to mind. Invigorating.
I had a realization recently in response to one of your thoughts, “Maybe Jesus gave us all we need to know to experience Church as He is building it”. I realized that we were taught a few things that conflict with that: that the “church-age” began when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit and that Paul was more the founder of church-life thru revelation of Jesus Christ than Jesus Himself was. That’s why Paul’s writings have a lot of “intentional-meeting-support-stuff” in them: Do you see this as a conflict?
When you suggested that maybe Jesus lived-out all we have need to see to live as the Church, I had a hmmmm–that’s interesting? And a hmmmm, that changes a lot!
I’ve heard and taught a lot of things fulfilled in the finished work of Jesus Christ but, establishing a picture of “church-life” is not one of them. That idea is a big deal. There’s a big difference between looking predominantly at Paul’s life as founder thru Jesus’ revelation, and Jesus as founder & practitioner of disciple making in His earthly life & ministry.
I’ll be honest. I’ve heard people say that the church did not begin until Pentecost, but I’m unconvinced of the hermeneutic involved. I don’t know why people wish to make that distinction. Jesus brought the kingdom and the church is the fruit of that kingdom. If we focus on Paul’s language about church without the reality of the kingdom we’ll end up with the human-managed institutions we do today. I don’t divorce what Jesus said or did as our example for the life of his church, which is his family and his bride. Why would we?
Of those I know who espouse that view they are looking to negate the influence of Jesus in deference to Paul. That doesn’t make sense to me. Jesus is the Founder, the Cornerstone, the Head. Why wouldn’t he be our chief example, and Paul the one showing us how it fleshed out in the early decades of the church taking shape.?
I don’t think there is “a lot” in Paul of intentional-meeting-support stuff. Maybe more than Jesus talked of it, but there still isn’t much. There is far more about relationship and his example in Acts is about dialog not monolog. Honestly there’s nothing in the Gospels or Acts that commend our mini-concert, mini-lecture institutions that use the tools of conformity to help administrate a transformative based community. There’s the conflict. We can have elders, gatherings, support, and care, without our human-engineered systems if people learn to live in him and respond to the will of the Head.
If anyone can help me see a good reason to skip Jesus and go to Paul for an understanding of the church, I’d be all ears. But as of yet I haven’t heard that case in any way that makes sense to the story of Scripture and the person of Christ. So, yes, I see a lot of conflict if we skip the example of Jesus in deference to Paul. But maybe that’s what we’ve been doing for two thousand years, neglecting the example of Christ and trying to follow our interpretations of Paul’s words instead.