19/05/2007

Church that Works (by David Oliver and James Thwaites)

'Church that Works' is an interesting book, which looks at the church in the broadest sense - ie the Body of Christ worldwide, with individual churches being the body of believers in each town or city, as was the case in New Testament times.

It's written by two authors - James Thwaites and David Oliver - and their styles merge well so that, although each chapter is marked with the name of its writer, the book didn't seem at all disjointed.

Their premise is a fairly significant one: that the church in recent centuries has been more inclined to trust the Greek philosopher Plato than to build on the Hebrew wisdom of the times in which Jesus lived on earth. Thus we think of 'church' and 'work' in two entirely different categories, very often; even those who are supported as missionaries or ministers, or funded by other believers tend to see individual congregations and Sunday services as the central focus of the week.

They're right, yet it's so ingrained in our culture that it's difficult to see how it can be different. Yes, we know that the church worldwide consists of every believers, whatever their doctrinal differences and denominational labels. Yes, we know that God is interested in every part of our lives and that it's important to stand by Christian principles in the workplace, the home, schools, and so on.

But we are still inclined to see something special about a congregation meeting on a Sunday morning. If we talk to work colleagues or neighbours about Jesus, we expect to bring them to a Sunday meeting. We count 'church members' by those who sign a commitment to a particular subset of the church who happen to meet regularly.

Does it make sense? Of course not. But until I read this thought-provoking book it was hard to see why. I had read, and very much enjoyed Jake Colsen's 'So you don't want to go to church anymore?' which is a fictional account of someone in America realising the oddities of some large evangelical churches, and rediscovering for himself the joy of informal meetings, relaxed discussions, barbecues, parties, and other ways to get together with his fellow believers.

It all made sense, it certainly helped me loosen my ties to one particular congregation and spend time with others in the area. But it was still fiction; it didn't really explain in depth why the church is in the sorry state it is now in general, and where we've gone wrong.

This book fills the gap nicely. It's not as unputdownable as Jake Colsen's book; I found it a bit heavy-going in places, and read it over about ten days rather than in one sitting. But it was well worth the struggle to concentrate. There are some encouraging anecdotes, plenty of Scriptural references, and positive suggestions for truly being salt and light in the world.

The authors don't suggest we get rid of Sunday morning services, just that we see them in their place as one of many places where we can get together with our brothers and sisters.

Definitely rec ommended.

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