Tag Archives: church purity

A Fellowship of Differents — McKnight (Review)

McKnight, Scot. A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2014). 265 pp. Publisher’s description. (Amazon new price: $15.92 hardcover, $7.99 Kindle, cheaper used.) A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God's Design for Life Together

This idea, that Paul’s mission was a mixed assembly of differents, lies at the core of my beliefs about how the whole Bible works… Are we willing to embrace the diversity of the church as the very thing God most wants? (pp. 89, 91, italics in original, bold added)

The need for the the Church to become more unified is, thankfully, receiving some long-overdue attention. This book is NT scholar Scot McKnight’s contribution to the topic.

A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God's Design for Life Together

McKnight is widely-known in at least three ways: As a blogger, as an author of biblical commentaries, and as an author of popular-level books on the Christian life, the atonement, and Bible interpretation. This book falls into the third category: books written for the church rather than the academy. Prior to this book, I had only read McKnight via his other two categories: his blog and his commentaries.

My impression of McKnight prior to this book was mixed, and so is my impression of this book. (I have enjoyed McKnights’s emphasis on the kingdom of God, some of his challenges to Calvinist thinking, and his emphasis on the social and ethical aspects of Christian transformation. I am less than happy with things like his adoption of gender role egalitarianism or his promotion of evolutionary creationism.)

So, what do I think about A Fellowship of Differents?

Some things I like:

  • The emphasis that church life shapes our understanding of the the Christian life. Examples: Highly emotional revival meetings that call people to pray the Sinner’s Prayer might teach us to think of salvation as only a one-time event. Congregations where everyone looks the same (class, ethnicity) might lead us to overlook what the NT says about the radical social composition of Jesus’ Church. What I experience in church shapes what I think Christianity is all about.
  • The challenge to consider who is invisible both in the Church and in our congregations. McKnight mentions the Hampton Ministers’ Conference, “the longest running pastors’ conference in the USA, attended by seven thousand” (p. 18). I’d never heard of it. Neither had McKnight until recently. Why? Certainly, in part (there are also theological reasons), because McKnight and I are white while this 101-year-old conference focuses on the needs of the African-American church. Closer to home: Who might be invisible in my own congregation? Widows and widowers? Children? Races? Women? The poor? Urban? Suburban? Rural? (Win!) Those with higher education? Those with less? Those battling sexual temptation or confusion? Introverts? The abused? The depressed?
  • The challenge to get our of our just-like-me comfort zones. McKnight quotes a confession from Christena Cleveland from her recent book Disunity in Christ (which is also on my wish list): “I chose to build community with people with whom I could pretty much agree on everything” (p. 32). Ouch. Or this: “Genuine friendships, which are two-way, are always transformative. One reason, then, we don’t love those unlike us in the church is because we don’t want their presence rubbing off on us” (p. 59).
  • Helpful insights on the Lord’s Supper. I enjoyed the extended quotation of Justin Martyr’s record of a second-century Christian gathering. First came the Word, then came the Table, and then came Offerings. Woven through the whole account are clauses displaying Christian unity: “We always keep together… All who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place… We all rise together and pray… There is a distribution to each… and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons… we all hold our common assembly” (pp. 102-103). “The Eucharist—as an action, as symbols, as an event—gospels to all those who observe and to all those who participate” (p. 101). The gospel binds us together, and the Supper is to be eaten together (1 Cor. 11:33).
  • Some good exegesis and pastoral advice about same-sex attraction. McKnight includes a whole chapter on sexual matters, much of it devoted to the sub-topic of same-sex matters. I didn’t think the chapter was perfect, but it does reflect a clear stance both that same-sex acts are sinful and that the Church must grow in loving and supporting repentant same-sex Christians. I am glad to see McKnight speak clearly on this topic.
  • A powerful story from Greg Boyd about transformation by grace. The words “there is now no condemnation for them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1) were the key that led to Boyd’s gradual freedom from pornography (pp. 152-53).
  • A reminder that “the best way to be political is to be the church” (p. 187). Both “kingdom” and “church” were political terms, after all.
  • Some good quoteables. Such as: “Joy… is a church-shaped disposition. Only folks in the church can experience what Paul means by joy” (p. 234).

Some things I didn’t like:

  • Careless or inconsistent editing. Examples: The first line on the back cover is an endorsement that begins, “This is [sic] most important book…” (Missing “the.”) On pages 40 and 72 Bible references are unhelpfully buried in endnotes, though often included elsewhere in the main text. On page 52 McKnight says, “Take Paul at his word. Love is the ‘only thing that counts.'” Paul actually said “faith working through love” is the only thing that counts (Gal. 5:6). On page 70 we read, “Some elements of our covenant love commitment of presence include spending our evenings together…” The wording suggests a list, which never comes. On page 98 a story begins in present tense but switches mid-sentence to past tense. On page 141 we are promised some italicized words in a Bible quote, but none are included. More examples of awkward syntax are found on pages 227 and 228.
  • Exaggeration. Examples: “God has designed the church—and this is the heart of Paul’s mission—to be a fellowship of difference and difference” (p. 16). Was church diversity really the very heart of Paul’s mission? Is “the diversity of the church” really “the very thing God most wants” (see above)? Might we be missing a deeper goal that makes diversity meaningful and necessary? And is inclusion of differents really “the church’s biggest challenge” (p. 25)? Don’t get me wrong, I am fully on board that church diversity is a crucial implication of the core gospel message. But these kinds of overstatements put me on the defensive, making me weigh more carefully everything else the author writes.
  • A bit of self-promotion. McKnight describes a book written by a friend, called The Gospel of Yes. “It’s the best title of a book I’ve ever seen (except for The Blue Parakeet).” Which happens to be McKnight’s book.
  • Casual tone. I’m probably just the wrong reader for this book (on page 38 McKnight says “maybe you’ve not read Paul’s story enough to know the details”), but I confess some of these kind of try-to-make-you-laugh comments fall flat with me. Another example: On page 148 McKnight introduces the “circumcision party,” “which ought to be self-explanatory (#ouch).” After describing the circumcision party, he includes this “(#intimidating).” McKnight seemed concerned not to be too formal, so sometimes this book feels like a series of extended blog posts.
  • Uninformative chapter titles. A chapter called “Teacher with the Big Fancy Hat” turns out to be about suffering. Another called “On a Walk with Kris” turns out to be about joy. This might make you curious, but doesn’t help you trace the book’s big idea, nor review content later.
  • Unclear statements about God’s love. On page 34 McKnight quotes Romans 8:31 (“If God is for us, who can be against us?”). In context, Paul writes this to those who have been justified by faith and are walking in the Spirit. But McKnight’s application sounds more general: “God loves everyone.” On the following page he elaborates (in center-justified, bold text as follows) with words that sound more like Joel Osteen than Paul the apostle:

No matter what you have done,
not because you go to church,
not because you read your Bible,
not because folks think you are spiritual,

and

no matter what sins you have committed,
no matter how vicious or mean or vile they were,
no matter how calloused your heart and soul have become,

God loves you.

Not because you are good,
not because you do good things,
not because you are famous or have served others,
but because you are you.

To you, God has said Yes,
God is saying Yes,
and God will eternally say Yes.

God is for the You that is You.

  • Missing balance about church boundaries. McKnight says he originally planned to include a chapter on obedience (see here). I think this book would be much more balanced if it included such a chapter, along with a discussion of the role of church discipline when the diverse people who join our churches don’t faithfully follow the words and way of Jesus. I felt there were too many unqualified statements like this: “As long as one was on the journey toward sexual redemption, Paul was encouraging. At the house churches they didn’t put up a sign that said ‘For the Morally Kosher Only'” (p. 129). Or this: “What Jesus and the apostles taught was that you were welcomed because the church welcomed all to the table” (p. 17). In contrast, buried in a footnote are these words about the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) from Justin Martyr: “No one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that  the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined” (p. 252). If only McKnight had included and discussed such things in his main text! To be fair, McKnight clarifies that love does not mean “toleration” (p. 130); it means helping another experience positive change. But I didn’t notice that McKnight anywhere said what to do if a person in the church resists or seems indifferent to any such growth in holiness.
  • Lack of discussion of the universal church. At one point McKnight writes, “I hope you agree with me that the hope for the world is the local church, and that the heart of God’s plan is found in creating a whole new society in a local church” (p. 188). Interestingly, Ben Witherington, a NT scholar and friend of McKnight, pushed back on this point: “At one point in the book, you say that the local church is the hope of the world. For a minute I thought that was a slip up, and you meant to say Christ is. Talk to us a bit about the interface between Christ and his body, between Christology and your vision of ecclesiology. For my part I would prefer to say that the local church at its best is simply the local expression of ‘the one true church apostolic and universal’. In other words I would not want to talk about church with a little c without talking about church with a big C, though I would agree that, like politics, in one sense all churches are local.” In a subsequent online conversation I had with Witherington, he agreed with me that part of the problem is our tendency to read the “membership” and “body of Christ” language in the NT as referring to the local church, when really such language strongly implies the universal church. There is only one Head of the Church, right? And a head can only have one body?
  • Strong (and poorly defended) assertions about gender equality. McKnight seems to feel that any distinction in gender roles is a denial of gender equality in Christ—a position that, barring hermeneutical gymnastics, leaves Paul contradicting himself. The following quote even suggests that God’s creation order falls short of his plan for us in Christ (this despite the fact that Paul repeatedly cites creation as the basis for his statements about gender roles!): “In creation God ‘gendered’ us into male and female, but in the new creation, God makes us one” (p. 90). You’d be hard pressed to find those two ideas connected with a “but” in the Bible, except perhaps by implication in Christ’s discussion of life after death. “Sexual differences” have “been transcended,” writes McKnight (p. 91). But I’m left without help to know how to such statements to what McKnight writes later: “One in Christ does not mean Paul ceases being male, nor does Junia cease being a female” (95). True, identity, gender or otherwise, is not eradicated in Christ. But, for McKnight, unlike Paul, identity apparently has nothing to do with roles. As has often been pointed out, such a re-reading of Paul also means that one has little hermeneutical basis for denying that Paul’s words affirm homosexual role relationships when he says that “there is no male and female” in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). Enough on this for now.
  • Salad-bowl feel. Mcknight rightly wants us to adopt a vision of the church as a salad bowl full of diversity. Unfortunately his book felt like a bit of a salad bowl to me, as if he was pulling together a handful of semi-related topics for publication. (Is this true of McKnights earlier books? Or is this the symptom of a popular author who feels pressured to keep the books coming?) The title of the book suggests the book is about diversity and unity in the church. But the back cover suggests other themes: “McKnight shares his personal experience of church and offers to the church a thorough study of what the Apostle Paul writes about the Christian life… Ultimately, McKnight raises two significant questions: What is the church supposed to be? and If the church is what it is supposed to be, what does the Christian life look like?” Wow. with those questions, you can include about anything you want. I think this book would be more compelling if it focused more narrowly on unity and diversity in the church. For example: More hands-on stories of churches wrestling with diversity would help. I think the survey of Paul’s writings could have been more focused on this topic, as well. And sometimes when wide-ranging topics were included (love, grace, suffering, joy–all main themes of either chapters or whole parts of the book), a stronger and clearer connection should have been made with the theme of church diversity. On page 43, I scribbled in the margin, “What does this powerful story have to do with the book’s thesis?” The book could also be improved by a concluding chapter that ties the disparate themes together.

This book has good sections, but is not great.
I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Have you read this book? Do you want to comment on the book or the ideas in this review? Share your insights here.


Disclosures: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


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Prayers for Conservative Anabaptist Churches

Several discussions lately have reminded me of deep, ongoing needs within our conservative Anabaptist churches. (I’m sure some of these needs are also present in many other churches, but I’m speaking from within my own experience.) I don’t have time to expand on any of these needs at present, so I’ll simply list them here as a series of short prayer requests.

Please join me in prayer as you are able, and also in doing all you can to be living answers to the needs of our churches.


Dear Lord of the Church, we implore you to remember the Church which you purchased with your own blood (Acts 20:28) and which you promised to build (Matt. 16:18)! We ask you to…

  • Encourage our leaders who are growing weary with the weight of leading your flock, who have little strength left to feed the sheep.
  • Raise up generous financial supporters to free our over-worked leaders to spend more time in sermon preparation, personal Bible study and growth, and counseling the needy saints.
  • Show us that it is not laziness to prioritize Bible study and training over planting corn, and that sweat expended or money earned are not the ultimate measure of how much real work has been accomplished.
  • Give us a fresh vision for intentionally training the next generation of church leaders to handle Scripture faithfully and shepherd the flock with skill and tenderness.
  • Awaken a vision for intentionally discipling all the saints to do the work of the ministry according to their varied giftings.
  • Give our leaders courage and wisdom to help our churches have honest and open conversations, breaking the silence about the many unanswered questions that are frustrating the saints.
  • Teach us how to talk peaceably to one another about our differences of vision and understanding, rather than carefully avoiding a long list of taboo topics or stooping to personal attacks.
  • Give us a fresh vision for Christ-centered unity without uniformity of culture, personality, or gifting.
  • Provide patience for sincere young visionaries who feel muzzled.
  • Provide new spaces for these young visionaries to live out the insights and passions you are giving to the church through them.
  • Give courage to our elders to release the young leaders whom you are calling–to entrust them with freedom to take up the mantle and lead the next generation, making the kinds of weighty decisions that some of these same elders made in their own youth.
  • Awaken a new vision for evangelism at home—but also, what is more, for becoming churches that are truly ready to incorporate new believers from the non-Anabaptist communities around us.
  • Use new converts and new attendees to shake up our apathy about how we’ve “always done things,” forcing us to shape church policies for the purpose of serving others and not merely for our own personal comfort.
  • Stir us to worship and mission, so that all that we are and do is defined by you and by the mission you have given to us–so that worship and mission defines our identity, our purpose for gathering, our sense of unity, our use of time and money, and all our conversations.
  • Call us to repentance for our indifference to those within our ranks who are hurting from abuse or indifference.
  • Expose hidden sins that are crippling our congregations, so that public repentance and/or church discipline becomes unavoidable.
  • Call us to repentance for all our extra-biblical additions that are hindering us from welcoming those whom you have welcomed, from incorporating new believers, and from being one with other believers as you are one.
  • Call us to repentance for ignoring in preaching or practice those parts of Scripture that make us uncomfortable.
  • Call us to a fresh vision for trusting the Word and Spirit of Christ to guide, equip, and empower us as congregations.
  • Raise up more laborers who are willing to bear the doubly-difficult and doubly-rewarding work of serving as leaders among your flock.
  • Shake up all bench-warmers from our deadly apathy.
  • Shake up all the little earthly kingdoms that are consuming our energies and excitement, until these kingdoms crumble and we are convinced to invest all our “eggs” in your kingdom.
  • Deliver us from fleshly lusts, carnal pride, nationalistic nearsightedness, Facebook folly, fickle fears, and immobilizing ingratitude.
  • Open our eyes to see everything from eternity’s perspective.

Oh Lord of the Church, we are weak and we are foolish! Enlighten us! Shake us up! Show us how sick we really are! Heal us from our many diseases! Keep our hope from dying! Help our unbelief! Give us new faith and hope in our resurrected, living, present, and coming Lord! Stop us from playing church! Call us to pick up our swords and join you in battle! Fill us with love as never before–love for you, love for each other, and love for the world for whom you died!

Sanctify the church, cleanse her by washing her with your word, and present the church to yourself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish! (Eph. 5:26-27)

In the name of Christ we pray.
And all God’s people said “Amen.”


Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:

“Hallelujah!
    For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
    was given her to wear.”

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)  (Rev. 19:6-8)


Thank you for serving Christ’s Church in prayer and in deed. Feel free to add your own prayers or comments below.

For Christ and his Church,
Dwight


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The Schleitheim Confession: Who May Share the Lord’s Supper?

Who should be included in the Lord’s Supper? As I’ve been researching today for my promised essay on Mennonites and ordinances, I came across this answer in the Schleitheim Confession (the earliest Anabaptist statement of faith):

Concerning the breaking of bread, we have become one and agree thus: all those who desire to break the one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ and all those who wish to drink of one drink in remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, they must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism. For as Paul indicates, we cannot be partakers at the same time of the table of the Lord and the table of devils. Nor can we at the same time partake and drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. That is: all those who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness have no part in the light. Thus all those who follow the devil and the world, have no part with those who have been called out of the world unto God. All those who lie in evil have no part in the good.

So it shall and must be, that whoever does not share the calling of the one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, to one body together with all the children of God, may not be made one loaf together with them, as must be true if one wishes truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.

I find it interesting how this statement affirms two realities at the same time: (a) Not everyone has a right to take part in breaking bread and (b) there is only “one body of Christ” composed of “all the children of God.”

On the one hand, there is a warning that those who “have fellowship with the dead works of darkness” have no right to the Lord’s Table. It is easy to understand this concern, given how the Roman Catholic mass was extended to all citizens within the Holy Roman Empire, holy and unholy alike. Latter in the Schleitheim Confession this separation from evil is described in very specific language:

…Everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, church attendance, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world. From all this we shall be separated…

The second concern, the concern for unity, may seem less expected. After all, this confession was written by believers that had just broken off from what everyone else thought was the church. But this concern for oneness is also clearly stated: Anyone who does not “share” in “one body together with all the children of God” is not eligible to break bread. Perhaps significantly, no mention is made of sharing a oneness merely with one specific congregation; the vision of these Anabaptists extended to all who belonged to Christ. In this context this meant, at minimum [?], that scattered, rapidly-growing, loosely-connected network of what we now call Anabaptist congregations, which at the time were not formally united into one denomination or church alliance. [Edit: For a more accurate nuance than what I initially wrote here, see Kevin Brendler’s comment below, with my response. You can find the notes Brendler mentions by following the Schleitheim Confession link above.]

The Schleitheim Confession cites Paul as it expresses its warning against the dead works of darkness. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 Paul includes these words:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (v. 21)

The Schleitheim Confession’s concern for oneness springs equally from Paul, borrowing language from Ephesians 4:4-6. Paul also expresses this concern in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, where his primary concern is that the Lord’s Supper is being observed in a way that divides believers from one another. Rich believers are consuming the bread and wine of the church love feast without waiting for their poor, tardy brothers! This  selfish practice is so at odds with the sacrificial, serving nature of Christ’s death that the Corinthians are supposedly remembering that Paul wonders whether they are even discerning the signified presence of the Lord’s body in the bread and wine that they are consuming! How can they keep the bread and wine of the supper to themselves when Jesus did not keep his own body from them–when he shared it freely, even unto death?

The framers of the Schleithheim Confession were right to emphasize both holiness and unity. They were right to say that both walking in darkness and being disunited from the one body of Christ make one ineligible for the Lord’s Supper.

But look again. Perhaps most amazingly, these early Anabaptists did not describe these two prerequisites as conflicting values. Rather, they linked them as inseparable:

…They must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism. For as Paul indicates, we cannot be partakers at the same time of the table of the Lord and the table of devils. (emphasis added)

Note the linking word “for.” We could paraphrase these sentences like this: They must be united to the one Church because they must not be unholy. The implication is clear: You are either part of Christ’s one church, or you are unholy. There is no such thing as a holy Christian who has no concern to be united in “one body together with all the children of God.” And there is no such thing as a member of that one body of Christ who is too unholy to take part in the Lord’s Supper.

Since the Roman Catholic Church had dominated Europe for centuries with its strong emphasis on the singularity of the one true Church, these Anabaptists were very clear about the unity of all true believers. Since they had just left that church to escape its entrenched sins, they were clear on the need for holiness. Both concerns were expressed clearly in their qualifications for sharing in the Lord’s Supper.

What about your church? Is it clear on the unity of all true believers? Is it also clear that all members of Christ’s body will do the deeds of light? Are these truths pitted against each other or seen as inseparable? And are both truths clearly displayed whenever you share the Lord’s Supper?

Thank you for reading! I welcome your insights in the comments below.


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