We’ve had a few discussions about the state of the church today and that is a subject covered in a book I just finished (Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard) and I would like to share some of the comments to see what you think. One section is as follows (and begins with a quote by Leith Anderson):
While the New Testament speaks often about churches, it is surprizingly silent about many matters that we associate with church structure and life. There is no mention of archetexture, pulpits, lengths of sermons, rules for having a Sunday school. Little is said about style of music, order of worship, or times of church gatherings. There were no Bibles, denominations, camps, pastor’s conferences, or board meetings minutes. Those who strive to be New Testament churches must seek to live its principles and absolutes, not reproduce the details.
Dallas goes on to say: “Those details simply aren’t given. Now you might ask yourself. Why does the New Testament say nothing about all those matters to which the usual congegation today devotes almost all its thought and effort? Answer: Because those matters are not primary and will take care of themselves with little attention whenever the primary is appropriately cared for. To fail to put the focus on the principles and absolutes is to wander off into a state of distraction, which is where most local congregations actually are. They wind up majoring on the minors and allowing the majors, from the New Testament point of view, to disappear.”
“Of course we do not think we are distracted. The things we are investing our efforts in seem absolutely primary. But the people on location have actually mistaken the vessel for the treasure.” Dallas goes on to give a distinction based on Paul’s words in 2 cor 4:6-7 which essentially says our bodies are the vessel and what’s inside is the treasure. And he compares the church with the individual and how they often speak of their “treasures.” Examples would be their rich and long-standing traditions, the heritage of the church (organization), their beautiful and often historical building and even perhaps the long succession of fine pastors.
He goes to say “I am not saying that such things are of no importance, though for some of them it is a close call. I am saying two things: One is that they are not the starting points or the essential and foundational matters. And second, if you make them out to be essential or even very important, the local congegation will make little or no progress in terms of the spiritual formation of those in regular attendance. These “vessels” do not bring anyone into Christlikeness.
Certainly we can’t avoid having vessels. And we must be tender to them, for that is a part of what it is to be human and finite. But we can avoid making the vessel a treasure. We can identify the treasure without reference to any vessel, though the treasure will always have a vessel. Even Jesus had a vessel. It was Jewish one, and that became the first vessel trap the early congregations of diciples faces. The Book of Acts and the New Testament letters are a record of how it was transcended.”