Thursday, January 5, 2012

First Century Christianity: Dismantling The Pulpit

Many people believe they already "have" all the truth; therefore, their way of life becomes a matter of repeating the same "signals" for a lifetime. No growth, no increased understanding; just rinse, then repeat rituals to remain righteous.

A conversation in the book The Count of Monte Cristo between the Count and men working in a lighthouse illustrates this behavior well:

"I have been told," said the Count, "that you do not always yourselves understand the signals you repeat." "That is true, sir, and that is what I like best," said the man, smiling. "Why do you like that best?" asked the Count. "Because then I have no responsibility. I am a machine then, and nothing else, and so long as I work, nothing more is required of me."1

The problem with "having the truth" and repeating signals is that current beliefs are only as valid as the assumptions on which they are based. God commands Christians to mature and that involves challenging our own assumptions being confident that "we cannot do anything against the truth" as we "test everything and hold on to the good" (2 Cor. 13:8; cf. 1 The. 5:21).

Repeating signals can become our way of life because we rely too heavily on others instead of our own ideas from personal investigation. This is what I refer to as the dependency mindset inherent in hierarchical, oligarchical or "positional" cultures. Resistance to God commanded maturity and growth is built into these archical systems based on the myth that chaos would result if they didn't exist.

While there will always be some amount of interdependency among equals in society who freely choose to help one another, in western culture a dependency mindset often results from the culturally accepted hierarchy assumed to be inherent with age, ownership, gender, and/or position.

The way hierarchy/oligarchy works in religion is through the "secular--sacred" dichotomy also mistakenly thought to be inherent in verses of the Bible, and "archy" works, especially, through transferring the assumption of military rank onto Bible passages. These assumptions, however, must be supplied by the reader/interpreter and often are the result of biased translations.

For example, the word hypotasso, or "submit:"

"This word was a Greek military term meaning "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader". In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden."

I have found that for the majority of us who allow ourselves to be subjected to the military view, for the most part, become signal repeaters and not responsible investigators. If you have ever wondered why there is so much sustained division in Christianity, this is, I believe, in large part the reason why. When Christians disagree, it seems the only alternative is to start another group with the same military authority.

In a previous blog post found here, Jeff Reed discusses what I believe is the biggest manifestation as to why we are such "signal repeaters" instead of Bible investigators--the "pulpit" and its assumed authority.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not what the Apostle Paul used.

Reed writes,

"Paul avoided the 'polished rhetoric' style of the professional oratory of his day," and "Paul's teaching had a discussion or dialogue identity both in public situations and in church assemblies. Two passages are of particular importance to note before turning attention directly to the shape of preaching and teaching in the meetings of the early churches: Acts 19:8-10 and Acts 20:7-12:

"He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord."
Reed continues:

"Argued comes from the Greek word dialogomenos (dialogued), used by Greeks for Socratic discussion, examination of the ultimate foundations (TDNT). It carries the sense of dealing with doubts so people get the idea, fundamental principle. 

"Lecture hall comes from the word schole--that in which leisure is employed; especially learned discussion, disputation, lectures (LSJ). Paul employed a style evidently designed to build open discussion around his presentations; dialogue is the main way it is described here."

"The second passage is even more insightful..."
"On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn..."
Reed explains:

"The word for "holding a discussion" (the word dialogue again) is the same as used in the hall of Tyrannus passage. The word for "continued to converse" is homileo (where we get homiletics). It refers to a close conversation and association (LSJ). The point is that Paul's teaching had a discussion or dialogue identity both in public situations and in church assemblies."

I would like to call your attention to this part of Reed's comments:
"Argued comes from the Greek word dialogomenos (dialogued), used by Greeks for Socratic discussion, examination of the ultimate foundations (TDNT). It carries the sense of dealing with doubts so people get the idea, fundamental principle."
Since our auditorium-lecture hall is built on the 'pulpit' and 'gospel preacher' based on our inherited institutional system, and is NOT what we find in the Scriptures above, how can we better understand what was actually occurring in assemblies of Christians in the first century?

The first thing we can do is better understand "Socratic discussion." 


"Socrates (469—399 B.C.) was one of the greatest educators who taught by asking questions and thus drawing out answers from his pupils (ex duco, meaning to 'lead out', which is the root of 'education'). Sadly, he martyred himself by drinking hemlock rather than compromise his principles. Bold, but not a good survival strategy. He lived very frugally and was known for his eccentricity. His pupils include Plato (429—347 B.C) and Aristotle (384—322) who tutored Alexander the Great. Plato wrote up much of what we know about Socrates. Below are five types of questions that Socrates asked his pupils. Probably often to their initial annoyance but more often to their ultimate delight. He was a man of remarkable integrity and his story makes for marvelous reading. The overall purpose is to challenge accuracy and completeness of thinking in a way that acts to move people towards their ultimate goal—truth."2 

1. Conceptual clarification questions

"Get people to think more about what exactly they are asking or thinking about. Make them prove the concepts behind their argument. Basically, 'tell me more' questions that get us to go deeper and increase understanding:"

Why are you saying that? 

What exactly does this mean? 

How does this relate to what we have been talking about? 

What is the nature/definition of...?

What do we already know about this? 

Can you give me an example?

Are you saying ...or... ?

Can you rephrase that, please?

2. Probing assumptions

"Probing assumptions makes people think about the unquestioned beliefs on which we found arguments."

What else could we assume? 

You seem to be assuming ... 

How did you choose those assumptions?

Please explain why/how ... 

How can we verify or disprove that assumption? 

What would happen if...?

3. Probing reasons and evidence

"When we give a rationale for our arguments, dig into that reasoning rather than assuming it is a given. People often use un-thought-through reasons as supports for arguments."

Can you give us an example of that? 

What do you think causes ... ? 

Would it stand up in court?

How might it be refuted?
What evidence is there to support what you are saying?

On what authority are you basing your argument?

4. Questioning viewpoints

"Most arguments are given from a particular position. So focus on the position. See if there are other, equally valid, viewpoints."

Another way of looking at this is .... Does this seem reasonable?

Why is ... necessary? 

Who benefits from this? 

What is the difference between... and...? 

Why is ... better than ...? 

What are the strengths and weaknesses of...? 

How are ... and ... similar?

What if we compared ... and ... ?

5. Probe consequences

"The argument we give may have logical implications that can be forecast. Do these make sense? Are they desirable? An "If…Then…" approach rather than black/white, right/wrong.

What are the consequences of that assumption? 

How could ... be used to ... ? 

What are the implications of ... ? 

How does ... affect ... ? 

How does ... fit with what we learned before? 

Why is ... important? 

What is the best ... ? Why?
"Finally, we can get reflexive about the whole thing, turning the question in on itself. Respond to questions with a question to increase knowledge (Matt. 21:23ff). Bounce the ball back into their court, etc."
What was the point of asking that question? 

Why do you think I asked this question?

What does this mean for us?3

Usually, traditional Bible and auditorium classes are lecture based or conducted/controlled by "professional" or, at least, oligarchical minded Christians. This present reality causes most to "look down" on anyone questioning the "authority" of the public speaker. 


The Socratic Method is usually not welcomed in these traditional formats, especially if the discussion concerns the clergy/laity or hierarchical/oligarchical system inherent in the western church. This is also where the cultural, military rank mindset of the conditioned majority kicks in and reinforces peoples' natural resistance to repentance. 

Expect a lot of resistance. Especially, from those most vested or who stand to lose the most based on reputation, pedigree, or financially. You may be able to change some minds, but ultimately you will probably get to play the role of scapegoat and will be falsely accused of "splitting the church" and influenced to leave.

We can take heart, however, that the early church did not behave in the institutional way we have come to mistakenly accept as coming out of the first century. 

Michael Green, in his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, summarizes how the role of the home was the place of assembly--not the school-house, city-hall, business institution found in public buildings, into which the church has morphed over the last 2000 years:
One of the most important methods of spreading the gospel in antiquity was by the use of homes. It had positive advantages: the comparatively small numbers involved made real interchange of views and informed discussion among the participants possible; there was no artificial isolation of a preacher from his hearers, there was no temptation for either the speaker or the heckler to "play the gallery" as there was in a public place or open-air meeting. The sheer informality and relaxed atmosphere of the home, not to mention the hospitality which must often have gone with it, all helped to make this form of evangelism successful.4
In part two, we examine why the home is so important to the church--the family of God. It is the same reason that the home is important to individual families: the table of fellowship.

The kingdom of God is built around the Lord's Table, and the more we examine the culture of the first century, the more we learn about the differences, and needless compartmentalization of fellowship meals from our "worship," and how this is based upon dualistic interpretations of passages maintained by the vested, status-quo, and not what Christians in the New Testament actually did. We will continue to see the differences between the real church of the Bible and modern western Christianity.



Come To the Table: Revisioning the Lord's Supper by John Mark Hicks

From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World by Dennis E. Smith

Going to Church in the First Century by Robert Banks

Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna

Paul's Idea of Community by Robert Banks

Radical Restoration: A Call for Pure and Simple Christianity by F. LaGard Smith
The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian J. Walsh & J. Richard Middleton

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