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Church Outside the Walls Paperback – June 17, 2011
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The second thing that might `put you off' is the presentation. It comes across as quite arrogant. No frills, no stories, just the facts. But persist.
The truth is, according to the author, when we call ourselves `followers of Jesus', we are actually followers of the religion called Christianity. The two are not the same. Most of us have heard these complaints about the `church' at various times. We note them as facts, yet continue on as usual. Why?
Many books that address the issues facing the church often end by pulling their punches. The scenario often plays out like this, `yes, the church is not what it ought to be, but never forget all the good it has and is doing'. In other words, we become acquainted with the problems, but are always given a way to escape acting upon those problems. We settle in to the notion, `it is what it is' and won't ever change. Or, the church is changing, it just takes time. Or, I see what you are saying, but so many people over so many years can't be wrong. We've `married' the church `for better or for worse'. But...
Samuel argues his case, chapter by chapter, topic by topic, succinctly and pointedly. The reader is then, rather abruptly, abandoned at the end, left alone to wonder - `what, now, must all this mean for me?' Is my faith in Christianity or in Christ? Can I be a true follower of Christ within the structure of Christianity as it is today? Does my religion compromise my witness? Lots of questions to wrestle with. Samuel does not offer an escape route. He holds our feet to the fire. But persist.
"Great Call for the Church to Reclaim New Testament Culture"
Author Raj Samuel has quite the practical and theological experience. His diverse background in education, and denominational leadership roles both in India and the UK, offers a different perspective to the missional and organic church conversations.
Samuel presents a loving critique of the current Church. Analyzing the way the visible Church expresses Herself with the Scriptural prescription of the New Testament, the author makes a compelling argument for returning to the post Pentecost and Acts church of the first century.
One of the sections I found most interesting was "Chapter 8: The Hellenization of the Early Church". Over the last month or so, I have had several discussions with church leaders on the difference of Hellenistic and Hebraic worldviews. Jesus, a Jew, taught from a Hebraic and holistic worldview. In this sense, Christ did not intend his teachings to come across as "spiritual". Instead, Jesus understood life as spiritual. There is not separation between spiritual and secular. I agree with this distinction between Greek and Hebrew culture and unfortunately this is one of the major areas where the Church has missed the mark in history.
Samuel gives credit to Paul for defending the Gospel form Pharisees embodying an Old Testament perception of law and the Greek and Gnostic influences. The author writes:
"After the Apostolic era, when the church began to grow in Roman soill, it embraced many non-Jewish (pagan) ideas and practices, which were contrary to Scriptures. Most of the early Church fathers, if not all were primarily Greek (Hellenistic and pagan) philosophers before their conversion. Since the lingua franca of the NT is Greek, they interpreted the NT with Greek philosophical and pagan thought forms..." (p. 50).
I believe one of the greatest opportunities for the current Church, is to recapture the Hebraic understanding of life in the spirit, the way Jesus taught.
Other biblical issues Samuel tackles include: the priesthood of believers, Scriptural worship, and the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. The author also writes on money and the Sunday sermon, looking at these topics from a Christ centered and New Testament cultural view.
In "Chapter 17: Ekklesia-Called Out Ones", Samuel writes that "believers are separated to the Lord but not separated from their fellow humans" (p. 97). This is key for understanding Christ's teaching of in but not of the world.
Though a little more straight forward and less narrative than what I was expecting, Raj Samuel has written an excellent introductory to understanding the culture of the New Testament Church and has passionately called the current Church back to a Christ centered focus. He is clear that the church is not a building, but as Jesus and the Apostles, taught, a holy people-God's family and purpose for creation. Perhaps the quote that express this best comes from Chapter 18: on the "Purpose of the Local Church Gathering" no matter how big or small, Samuel notes that the gathering "is NOT an end in itself, but a means to an end" (p.99), presumably, a relationship with Christ in His restored relationship with creation.
I highly recommend Church Outsid the Walls! But caution, it may severely challenge (in a good way) your previous notions of "church".
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR,Part 255.