While I havent exactly been a fan of Frank Viola this is a good article

The Postchurch Perspective

Is “where two or more are gathered” a church?
by Frank Viola

There is a growing phenomenon in the body of Christ today. Alongside of the missional church movement, the emerging church movement, and the house church movement, there is a mode of thinking that I call “postchurch Christianity.”

The postchurch brand of Christianity is built on the premise that institutional forms of church are ineffective, unbiblical, unworkable, and in some cases, dangerous. Institutionalization is not compatible with ekklesia. So say postchurch advocates.

But the postchurch view goes further saying, “any semblance of organization whatsoever … any semblance of leadership … is wrong and oppressive. Church is simply when two or three believers gather together in any format. Whenever this happens, church occurs.”

Here are some examples of what you might hear a postchurch advocate say:

  • “Sally and I had coffee at Starbucks last week. That was church.”
  • “I get together with two other men once a month at Sonny’s BBQ. That’s church for us.””I travel a great deal and whenever I visit Christians in other cities, we’re having church together.”
  • “I live in Dallas, TX. Last week, I talked to my friend on the phone for an hour. He lives in Miami, FL. The week before I talked with a friend who lives in Portland, OR. We were having church on the phone. I belong to the same church that they do.”
  • “I don’t attend any Christian meetings. I have church on the Internet. I belong to several Christian discussion groups and social networks, and that’s church for me.”
  • “I don’t understand how people can talk about church planting? How can a church be planted when we are already the church? I’m the church. You’re the church. So just be the church.”

To my mind, all of the above reflects a redefinition of ekklesia as it is found, used, and understood in the New Testament. No first-century Christian would have used “church” in this way. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with fellowshipping with Christians at Starbucks, on the phone, or through the Internet, the biblical meaning of ekklesia is something quite different.

The biblical text that postchurch advocates hang a great deal of their doctrine on is Matthew 18: 20:”For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

But it’s important to read this verse in context:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:15-20)

Here, Jesus is speaking of a local ekklesia, a community of Christ-followers who live in the same locale. The people in this ekklesia know one another. And what this passage has in view is an excommunication meeting. Therefore, it’s a horrifying text—a text that no Christian should ever want to use. It has to do with a person who is acting in a wayward manner and refuses to stop.

When this happens, the injured person must go to the offending person in private. If the offending person refuses to reconcile, two or three others from the local ekklesia must talk to him. If the offending person still refuses to stop his wayward conduct, he must be dis-fellowshipped from the ekklesia.

Note that Jesus says that the two or three should “tell it to the church” if the offending person doesn’t repent. Now think: If the two or three people are the church, then this text becomes incoherent. Consequently, the two or three cannot be the church. They are simply a part of it. The implication is that the two or three who went to the unrepentant person should be praying for him. And the Lord will be with them in a special way as they do. He will stand with them.

This context indicates that the ekklesia is an organic entity where a group of committed believers in a locality “bind and loose,” using the keys of the kingdom that Jesus has given to them. Consequently, Matthew 18 is not a text in which Jesus is trying to define the church for us. Rather it’s a text describing the awful process of excommunication.

Because this is the primary passage the postchurch viewpoint is founded on, I’m of the opinion that the position cannot stand up against the light of the New Testament.

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August 3, 2009

Frank Viola on Postchurch: Part 2

The postchurch perspective fails six tests of legitimacy.

by Frank Viola

In my first post, I argued that the primary text used to support the postchurch viewpoint is not about the nature of the church at all. Instead, it’s about the process of excommunication. Now I have more evidence against the postchurch viewpoint. In my mind, it fails to pass six important tests.

The Original Language Test

New Testament scholarship agrees that the word ekklesia (translated “church”) meant a local community of people who assemble together regularly. The word was used for the Greek assembly whereby those in a city were “called forth” from their homes to meet (assemble) in the town forum to make decisions for the city. The Christian ekklesia is a community of people who gather together and possess a shared life in Christ.

As such, the ekklesia as used in New Testament literature is visible, touchable, locatable, and tangible. You can visit it. You can observe it. And you can live in it. Biblically speaking, you could not call anything an ekklesia unless it assembled regularly together.

The Epistle Test

Most of the New Testament’s twenty-one epistles were written to local churches–ekklesias–in various cities. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth, for instance. There was an actual, physical, locatable, visit-able body of believers that met together in the home of Gaius. He did the same for the church in Thessalonica, Colosae, Philippi, Laodicea, etc. (Col. 4:16).

Those who belong to a postchurch “church” should ask themselves, Can a person write a letter to my church? Can it be received by the church and read together by all of its members at the same time?

The Visitation Test

If you were living in the first century, you could literally visit any of the churches.

You could visit the church in Jerusalem in A.D. 35 and meet Peter, James, John and Mary, the mother of Jesus. You could visit the church in Corinth and sit in a living room in Gaius’ home and talk with Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. The house of Chloe could visit the church in Corinth and attend its meetings (1 Cor. 1:11). And on and on.

Question: If someone comes to your town, can they locate and visit your church? Can they meet the members and stay in their home for a week?

The Consistency Test

Three common critiques that postchurch advocates level against the institutional form of church are:

  1. It breeds low commitment.
  2. It feeds the consumerist, individualistic Christianity that plagues the Western church today.
  3. It produces little transformation in the lives of the people who are part of it.

Ironically, these same three critiques can be appropriately leveled at the postchurch “church.”

The postchurch breeds low commitment because there are no regular gatherings, nor any consistent community life. Talking to Christians on the Internent is virtual.

The postchurch view also reflects the consumerist, individualism that reflects our culture. There’s no devotion or commitment to a regular community of believers. It’s church on your own terms. Whenever you feel like it. The truth is, the postchurch “church” is actually more convenient and easier on the flesh than virtually every other form of church.

The “One Another” Test

Throughout the New Testament epistles, there are nearly sixty “one another” exhortations given to churches. All of them imply close-knit community. Here are a few:

  • live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 1 Peter 3:8)
  • care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
  • bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)
  • submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
  • forgive one another (Col. 3:13)
  • teach one another (Col. 3:16)

These “one another” imperatives assume ever-deepening relationships and community.

The Purpose of God Test
The New Testament makes abundantly clear that the eternal purpose of God is intensely corporate. God isn’t after a group of individual living stones; He wants those stones to be “built together” to form a house for His full-dwelling and expression.

You are not the church. And neither am I. The church is the corporate expression of Christ that is expressed visibly in a locality, where human beings can see, touch, hear, and know one another and live a shared life together in the Lord.

Consider the analogy of a father who has seven children. One Christmas day, he gives each one a different instrument, which they eagerly learn to play. The years pass, and each loves playing their individual instruments. It’s a joy to them.

Years pass by and one day the father sits down with all of his children and says, “I am so happy you have mastered your instruments. Each instrument was given to you as a free gift. But I didn’t give you these instruments to enjoy by yourselves. I’m creating an orchestra that will produce music that this world has never heard. And I’ve invited you to be part of it. That is why I gave you these gifts.”

So it is with our Lord. The gift of eternal life is not for ourselves. God wants an orchestra in every city. He wants a spiritual building, not a collection of individual living stones. He wants a corporate expression through which to reveal His glorious Son. And this requires the loss of our individualism and independence.

In my personal judgment, the postchurch view fails all six tests. The postchurch paradigm is rooted in the attempt to practice Christianity without belonging to an identifiable community that regularly meets for worship, prayer, fellowship, mutual edification, and mutual care.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with fellowshipping with Christians on the Internet, over the phone, or meeting with friends at Starbucks. I personally love doing these things. But calling these activities “church” or substituting them for ekklesia is misguided.

So it seems to me anyway.

—Frank Viola is the author of numerous books on the deeper Christian life and church reform, including From Eternity to Here. For more, visit www.FrankViola.com.