Today I am going to take a little step back from real practical observations and talk a little theory.
The theme of the last few posts has been that:
1. We are to look like the "story" of the book of Acts and Peter in specific in our evangelistic courage and our prayerful expectations of God to act.
2. Our prayer life should likewise look like the Reformed preachers of the past with its experience filled sense of God's reality and "assurance".
The point in these is to be able to "describe" our spiritual life to others in order to teach. My desire is to help us get a picture of what good looks like. Acts tells us and so does the history of effective leaders of revival. This emphasis on what it looks like is very intentional on my part because our Christian life is not what we can talk about and discuss, our ideas, but how our spiritual experience with Jesus effects our daily journey. For example, we would say, "I am going through a hard time, but I am at peace because I had a beautiful time of prayer this morning. I am assured that God is with me." The result is, though I should be stressed and kick the dog, I am still patient and kind even though I am suffering some injustice. Here it is our knowledge of God in our prayer life that is empowering morally beautiful behavior.
So too with evangelism, we sense God's power and presence, and we become bold. We pray and our expectations rise. We become enthusiastic and hopeful and persevere for success in accomplishing the mission as an individual and as a team. In discipleship relationships, we need to have enough experience of the effect of the state of our heart on our behavior to be able to "describe" this process to the person we are attempting to teach. This daily cycle of daily prayer effecting daily life effecting daily prayer ..., is the stuff of our relationship with the Lord.
Also, as we study History and biography, we become more encouraged and our sights are set higher as we read the relationship between prayer and success in the life of the men and women who were so successful on the stage of history. Again and again, we learn by seeing "what good looks like", first in the Bible, then in our life and also in stories from church history. We see "the life" described in story, and so we learn to look to story and not idea.
Well, I said I was going to go deep on theory on this one. So here goes. What follows is a bit of a look at why I believe the church tends toward ideas and not story. So often our faith is about what we think and not what good looks like. I believe this problem has historical roots. And here is root of "How We Got Here".
How Did We Get Here?
If we have become lost, certainly one of the best ways to find our way is to re-trace our steps until we find a place that we are familiar with. Then, having found a familiar place, we start the journey over again, and, hopefully this time, we have learned a lesson. We must admit we are far more hopelessly lost if we cannot re-trace our steps. For example, if our tracks are covered by falling snow this makes getting “un-lost” far more difficult. Even worse than this hopelessly lost condition would be to have no idea where we are, have no ability to re-trace our steps, and, then on top of it all, to be too proud to even admit we are lost. Such a hopelessly lost and hopelessly proud condition will lead us to keep journeying further and further down the same, wrong path. Such I feel is the state of many churches today.
Thankfully by God’s grace not all churches are in this dying state of being both hopelessly lost and dangerously proud. What I do find is that many bright young men and women are keenly aware that their churches are lost, and they are attempting to re-trace the historical roots of how the church arrived in this lost place. But beware, we can get lost, and even dangerously more lost, when we are attempting to re-trace our steps. Therefore, I would like to add some clarity to the question of historical theology and answer the question “How did we get here?”
Where we are?
Here are the facts which I believe we all agree upon:
1. The church is not reaching the next generation very effectively in America. We are said to be about 25 years behind Europe as we journey down the slope into secularism.
2. The central problem of the current church is that the church doesn’t disciple well. Say this anyway you want, but this is the glaring problem. The current way we do church doesn’t lead people to look much like the Christians of the first century or much like Jesus. This obvious and glaring problem has led many passionate men and women of God to ask the most central questions of Christian life, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” and “What does it mean to do church or be the church or be the people of God?” The new generation of ministry initiators is not trying to think outside the box. The new generation is looking to get rid of the box all together. In other words, we, the new generation of ministry initiators, are so deeply questioning the church that we are willing to start the whole experiment over from scratch. We are willing not just to think outside the box, but we are willing to get rid of the box altogether. Why? Because we realize in the current system, “you can’t get there from here!”, and the “there” we want to get to is the free and morally beautiful community that will win the next generation.
3. The church lacks the moral beauty that is necessary to empower our witness.
4. All observers are in agreement with respect to facts 1,2, and 3 all. This unity is actually a really important fact. All observers of the church agree with these basic facts, and they agree on where we need to go to become effective, namely to a winsome witness of what I call moral beauty. We all agree on these facts, and this agreement is a quite extraordinary and encouraging fact. In fact, this agreement on these issues makes this observer believe that God is up to something great.
Nonetheless, the question of concern is “How did we get here?” If we can uncover this question accurately, we have a far better chance of getting back on track.
I. Problem Definition:
The big problem is the church system, as it is today, does not disciple well. The result of our current discipleship method is that we are losing the battle for the next generation and that we are not morally beautiful. In other words, problems 1 and 3 above are caused by problem number 2. Therefore, as we ask why is the church so anemic in witness, we must conclude that the unacceptable results both in kingdom expansion and kingdom aesthetic are a result of our discipleship methods.
Looking at the Current Discipleship Methods
So why do we disciple so poorly? We must ask ourselves, “What is the primary method we use to disciple?” Again I will list some salient facts which will help us better define the current problem:
We disseminate information. Now I am not going to say here that we should not preach the Word. I am fundamentally a pulpit preacher, but I am going to say that this is not a very good discipleship method. The dissemination of information is a very small part of the discipleship method and certainly is not the primary method of Jesus. In fact, on this point all critical observers of the church agree. So I will simply accept consensus on this point. We somehow developed as the primary method of discipleship the dissemination of information as opposed to the learning method of Jesus, which at first glance appears to be more learning by doing.
We historically have defined the distinctive aspects of one’s form of Christianity along the lines of ones system of ideas. Therefore, to create “disciples” under our particular distinctive form of Christianity, we center our training around the articulation of ideas and their systematic relationships of these ideas to each other. Therefore, for our purposes the problem can further be defined by saying that the teaching of a system of ideas does not disciple well.
This discipleship based in the teaching of a system of ideas and there relationships to each other in a system is a method of learning which the church inherited from the “west”. This faulty way of learning is based on a “western” epistemology or understanding of how we come to know something. I am not being anti-western in some trendy or cliché kind of way, but it is important to accept that as the church moved North and West, the church’s discipleship methods changed. These new discipleship methods came from somewhere and they did not come from the Hebrews. In fact, these new methods of discipleship are distinctly “non-Jewish” and distinctly ineffective. Such facts are self-evident, and, again, all observers agree.
The Problem Defined: The method of teaching a system of ideas does not disciple well. This faulty discipleship method is founded in an ineffective concept of learning and has historical roots.
Here we have our problem definition, and I am convinced that no honest observer of the church disagrees with this definition of the problem. We may state the problem slightly differently, but we all agree that this problem defines the fundamental issue that has led the church to lose its way. As a result of this problem, the church finds itself very far from the compelling testimony of the New Testament community. Because of our adoption of poor discipleship methods, our salt has lost its saltiness.
II. What are the historical roots of this problem?
Having defined our problem, we begin to look to the historical roots of this problem or “how did we get here?”. Again, I think we all can agree on one basic point: This problem started a long time ago.
Church history can be seen as having three really big eras: 1) The early church, 2) The dark or middle ages, and 3) the Reformation and Post Reformation Church. These three big, macro eras had the following qualities.
1) The early church was morally beautiful and alive.
2) The church of the middle ages went from bad to worse and ended in total moral repugnance.
3) The church of the reformation reclaimed the doctrinal purity of the early church and the ideas of the early church, but the reformation never fully recovered the moral beauty and lifestyle of the early church.
Looking at this basic, and I mean basic overview, we see that the moral purity of the church that we, the new generation of church leaders, are attempting to recover was lost very early in church history. As soon as the primary leaders of the church were non-Hebrews, the moral beauty of the church was waning.
Therefore, it must be understood that the loss of the discipleship methods of Jesus occurred actually prior to Constantine. In other words, the core epistemological problem in the church finds its historical roots in the epistemology of the early Greek-minded leaders of the church. The evidence of this position is that the dark ages lost the moral beauty and agape lifestyle of the early church. The church of the middle-ages would be unrecognizable to the early Hebrew church leaders and their disciples. This argument must be accepted:
1. We are trying to recover the Beauty of the early church.
2. The Beauty of the Early church was lost prior to 1000AD.
3. Therefore, the root cause of the problem of moral compromise ion the church must be found prior to 1000AD.
4. Therefore the problem MUST be in the discipleship methods which entered the church prior to 1000AD. This conclusion is inescapable. We have never recovered the moral beauty of the church because we have never clearly corrected the root cause of the problem, and, therefore, having never changed the problem in the discipleship process, we have never recovered the discipleship methods of Jesus.
The church hasn’t discipled well for a really long time. We as church leaders are looking to recover the moral beauty of the early church and its “agape” lifestyle. This age-old foundation of the church has been crumbling since before the middle ages. Therefore, the change of trajectory which brought us to this lost state began very early. The root cause of this decline was the Greek epistemology of the church fathers. I believe this fact is actually self-evident.
I would like to make a plea for unity at this point. I highly respect the work of the Lord in our generation, specifically the courage many spirit-led leaders are showing in attempting to re-discover a biblical expression of Christianity which is also culturally relevant to the 21st century seeker. I, too, am absolutely seeking the same end. As stated above, all of us are all too aware that “we can’t get there from here”, and, therefore, we are looking to re-evaluate what it means to live as followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st century. Such is my passion as well. The passion of this book is to help us as ministry initiators come to a place of unified labor as we make the journey from knowing to doing. Nonetheless, I am convinced that there is a particular way of learning which brings dignity to our whole person. Therefore, I ask the reader to pray at this point. It is quite likely that your understanding of how to approach your spiritual life and maintain true worship is co-mingled with a perspective that has not yet been delivered from the long, but often misguided, journey of our heroes. I love the church with all my heart, but we are failing. The time for a significant re-evaluation of our approach to Christianity has come. A great amount of our thoughts and actions are in need of change. All of us must move forward in humility as we seek to find our way back home.
The Effect of the Greek Method of Education on the Church
Alfred North Whitehead, the 20th-century British philosopher, said, "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." As a result of this Greek domination in Western thought and the thought of the early theologians of the church especially Augustine, the western church developed a method of education based on, first, Platonic and, later, Aristotelian epistemological methods.
Plato and the Early Church
The Greeks are known for the method of education known as the academy. The academy was the place where promising students debated ideas. The method was based on the basic fact that the most absolute, and therefore knowable, of all disciplines is mathematics. In the Greek tradition, the building blocks of all knowledge are the ideas which we absolutely know in a similar way that we know mathematics. For example, we know that 2 + 2 =4. This proposition is known. There is not a need to observe this fact or prove that the proposition is true. It simply is true. The salient aspect of this truth that 2+2=4 is that this fact is known not with the senses or by experience, but this fact is ascertained by the mind. This “most pure form of knowledge” is ascertained by the mind, and, because the entire equation or the elements of the equation are all abstract, the conclusion is that pure knowledge can be ascertained by the mind alone. Plato called these abstract elements of pure fact that can be ascertained by the mind alone “forms”. The epistemology states that the purist form of knowledge is the ascertaining of “truths” directly by the mind or the mind encountering idea. The mind simply sees the truth. In Christian language, the heart encounters the mind of God and knows. This direct intuitive knowledge is the clearest form of knowledge in the Platonic epistemology. From these absolutes, which we know intuitively, we use the mind to reason and learn secondary truths through discursive knowledge or dialogue. Basically, there are some things which we absolutely know and then other “facts” which we can deduce through further thinking or reason. Finally, after much “education”, we create a robust system of ideas which answers, to our satisfaction, the fundamental questions we have. The method of learning then is the contemplation and debate or dialogue of ideas and the generation of a system of relationships between ideas. The method is essentially the learning method of mathematics. Mathematics is the study of the abstract concept of numbers and the relationship between these abstract ideas and propositions. In mathematics, the student, through years of study, can build a tremendous body of knowledge without ever leaving his or her mind. This Greek theory of how the mind learns is the foundation of the Western form of education – the academy.
This epistemological framework and educational method was brought into the church very early and found its distilled apex in scholasticism. But it cannot be denied that this is still the primary discipleship method of the church. Certainly this method is the means by which we train our ministers. The grave and glaring error is that this "life in the abstract" method of learning has been used in the church as a method of discipleship and sanctification. The root cause of our ineffective discipleship methods is the utilization of a Greek method of education. This method of education has very little, if any, correlation to the learning of virtuous living and has no direct causal link to spiritual growth and sanctification. In short, this discipleship method does not save, and therefore leads to very little evidence of the power of Jesus to save. All the lack of fruit we see today in the western church finds its cause in the reliance in the church on Greek methods of education and discipleship.
The Correlation between this Root Cause and The Current Problem
The Greek model of the relationship between a teacher and his disciple requires no examination of the life of either the teacher or the disciple, for the method of learning is entirely mental. Greek teachers are teaching their students how to think and manipulate abstract ideas. The Greek teacher or disciple-maker is not teaching the student how to live. Therefore, the place of learning is within the four walls of the academy. In contrast, the central method of Hebrew discipleship is the examination of the life of the teacher. The subject of study is the life of the teacher. The lesson to be learned by the student is how to live like the teacher. Therefore, while the Greek’s learn indoors, seated in chairs and talking about ideas, the Hebrews live life together and examine each others behaviors. To pass an examination in the Greek educational system is to articulate a certain system of ideas or to prove that one can manipulate ideas like the teacher. To pass an examination in Hebrew discipleship, the student must show he can do what the teacher does. Jesus examined the disciples by sending them out to do as He does.
Jesus said, “You know a tree by its fruit”. The clear meaning of this saying is that a teaching or educational method is evaluated by the moral beauty it produces. A good discipleship method will always create good character and moral results. Using Jesus’ barometer, we can only conclude that the decline of the church, in terms of transcendent moral beauty, was precipitated by the concurrent introduction of Greek educational methods based on Platonic epistemology. The relationship between the decline of the moral light of the church and the onset and growth of Greek thinking in the church is almost absolute.
My contention is that the early church fathers erroneously codified and institutionalized a method of learning and knowing which is not based on the Hebrew understanding of wisdom and learning. In later chapters, I will discuss how this Greek epistemology also led to the tendency toward dualistic spiritual practices in the church of the middle ages and today undermines more Hebrew-based and tactile methods of learning, i.e. learning by doing. I contend that the Greek epistemology and subsequent discipleship method are ineffective in producing virtue. I further contend that the reformers did not properly rid the church of this method of discipleship, which is based on the articulation of a system of ideas. The result is that the original glory of the early church has never been restored. This is because, though the reformers did recover the doctrine of the early church, the reformers did not recover the discipleship methods of Christ and the apostles.
Therefore, for the sake of clarity and the sake of effective leadership of Christ’s church I find it helpful for the 21st century church leader to learn to discern the difference between ineffectual Greek methods of discipleship and the path to true life revealed in the discipleship methods of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that this clear articulation of the source of our woes will empower the laborer for the Kingdom in our generation to labor effectively as we seek to teach others the ways of Life through living.