Traveling light. The very phrase conjures images of camel-laden nomads crossing the Sahara, an Alpinist scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro, or (slightly less romantic), a homeless man walking down Main Street.
Jesus traveled light. For at least part of his life, Jesus was homeless. ”Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt 8:20) When Jesus sent out the 70 disciples, he instructed them to carry nothing: no money, no bag, no spare clothes, no extra shoes, not even a walking stick. Now that’s traveling light! (Matt 10:9-10)
I love camping and have spent many nights outdoors: in a tent, under a tarp, in boats, and simply lying under the stars. One lesson I’ve oft relearned whilst backpacking, canoeing, sailing, exploring, and even car camping is the value of traveling light.
For example… one time my Dad, Brothers, and I traveled to Minnesota and canoed on the Boundary Waters. I decided since the canoes were carrying my luggage (rather than my back), I could afford some extra luxuries, right? Wrong, because I didn’t take into account lengthy portages! Baggage became a literal burden on that trip.
The question I’ve been wondering is: what would traveling light for the church look like? What is the minimum in regards to practices of gathering together? I imagine the answer may surprise us and the minimum be far less than commonly supposed.
Starting broad: how necessary are the rotating multi-colored lights during praise and worship? I’ve seen those in more than one church gathering.
How about massive Easter programs? There’s one assembly I’m familiar with where a major focus of the church is their Easter program. I believe they work on it all year round. I’m not saying lights and programs are bad, only trying to identify the minimum required for a “church meeting.”
Could we do without musical niceties such as offertories, special numbers, and five member bands?
How about resource hungry programs like Youth Groups, AWANA, and Sunday School? Would it still be church?
How about denominationalism? No more identification as Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Lutheran… even Catholic?
On this last point I can hear, “Isn’t ecumenicalism the sanctioning of doctrinal impurity?” Maybe, but we’re talking minimum here. Traveling light. Replacing dogma, obstinacy, and creed with grace, love, and humility.
How about church buildings? Are they necessary, or ancillary? I’ve already hashed this subject on earlier posts, but will share another quote I recently ran across – this from John Havlik:
- “The church is never a place, but always a people; never a fold but always a flock; never a sacred building but always a believing assembly. The church is you who pray, not where you pray. A structure of brick or marble can no more be a church than your clothes of serge or satin can be you.” (From People-centered evangelism)
Have we reached minimum yet? Afraid not. Hierarchy and structure are next.
It’s an unfortunate fact very few churches (at least in my experience) model their leadership structure off the Elder model found in the New Testament.
For starters, a more Biblical model would include:
- a plurality of joint leadership (vs a one-man show)
- who are raised up and appointed from within the local assembly (vs hired from out-of-state)
- and who have been evaluated in light of qualifications of character (vs theological degrees)
At the very least, full time positions such as Youth Pastor, Worship Leader, and Sunday School superintendent are clearly supplementary and therefore dispensable, if seeking minimum.
How about the New Testament? Now hear me out! I’m not saying God’s Word is dispensable, it isn’t. But I would like to point out that if we’re going down to the minimum, early churches did not have a complete copy of the New Testament. Remember, the Gospel was initially shared verbally. Jesus himself did not write anything down, nor did he instruct others to do so.
It was only later – when it became apparent the Second Coming could be a long ways off – that people began writing biographies of Jesus. And the epistles were necessitated by the Apostles being stretched thin over large geographical areas. It wasn’t until several hundred years later the canon we accept today as the New Testament was finalized.
In his book, When the Church Was Young, Loosley writes,
“When the church was very young it had no New Testament. The church is older than the New Testament.”
I do not believe Loosley is trying to minimize the importance of the New Testament at all. He goes on to say:
“In such a supremely important matter as the record for future generations of the revelation given in Christ, the hand of God was unquestionably at work. But it was also God’s hand that caused a church to come alive and grow, multiply and shake two continents… without a New Testament!”
As I wrap up this lengthy post, I realize it begs the questions, “If all these things you’ve listed are extra, what then is essential? What elements define a church meeting?”
I’ll try covering these questions in a future post.