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This work is review of
the book "Radical Restoration, A Call To Pure And Simple
Christianity" by F. LaGard Smith, copyright 2001. The intent is to examine only the teaching
presented therein with comparison to what is revealed in scripture. Where the teaching is assessed to conform or
not conform with scripture, it will be noted alike. This is not a rebuttal but a review. Moreover, no character assumptions or
judgments of the motives of brother Smith are intended, but comments are
offered in all respectfulness. From here
on, the author is referred to simply as "Smith," not for disrespect
but for brevity.
The Church Of Christ
local church is not merely the collective group of Christians living in a city
as Smith would denote (pg 24, P 4). Saul
was a Christian living in Jerusalem but was not part of that body until he was
accepted among them. In a reverse
scenario, the fornicating Christian was put out from among the church at
Corinth, though he was still a Christian living in Corinth. Churches are comprised also of elders and
deacons. This leadership structure
indicates that a local church is more than a mere collectivity of people.
Smith objects to the phrase "Jerusalem
church of Christ" but accepts "the church of God at Corinth" (pg
24). The difference is mere
semantics. There were no denominations
in the first century from which a distinction needed to be made, however, the
need for terms of distinction exist today.
Though some who are weak in knowledge today may think of the church in a
sectarian way, we simply need to teach about it. We don't need to radically alter anything in
In chapter two starting at page 29, Smith
expertly draws our attention to corruption in the church: immorality, divorce,
and materialism (pg 32). His call is to
cut quickly and deeply at the root of the shallow spirituality problem. However, when he first touches on things that
need to change, instead of targeting a lack of authority, evil speaking, or
favoritism in the church, he suggests we "throw away the clock" (pg
37, P 1). His zeal is as misdirected as
those against whom he argues. He is naive
to think that disposing a "worship-begins-at-7:30-PM" mentality will
actually draw people to greater moral devotion. His idea
of spirituality is based not on instruction in the word (1 Cor 2:12-16) but on
informality and spontaneity (pg 37, P 2).
At page 37, Smith's
argumentation on the term "institution" is a play on semantics to
make well-structured and orderly worship seem like an overbearing spouse. He describes it as "a body whose
doctrinal and organizational superstructure has overshadowed the more sublime
purposes for which it was established" (P 3). Apparently, he thinks that doctrine is not a
keynote for the church's purpose, however, the scripture which best
incapsulates the purpose of the church says it is the "pillar and ground
of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15).
"Truth" is that system of facts to be believed, orders to be
obeyed, and promises to be enjoyed: rules and rituals, as he puts it. (Incidentally, baptism and the Lord's Supper
are rituals by definition). That is
doctrine. Doctrine is the thing which
Smith commends Josiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah for defending (pg 31, P 3). We will see that Smith places doctrine at a
lower priority in favor of spontaneity and emotionalism.
At page 37, Smith also
disparages rules and rituals as if they are evil or worthless. He likens the healthy church to an
"organism" not an "organization." Scripture is using this metaphor long before
Smith. Paul calls the church a body,
like our own, with eyes, ears, feet, and hands.
All living organisms follow natural rules. For examples, fish must not breathe air;
mammals must not breathe water.
Attempting to violate these rules is fatal. Organisms are not free from rules, structure,
and organization. Furthermore, rituals
and routine are not necessarily bad, except when they become perfunctory. Daniel routinely prayed three times
daily. Routines and rituals can help us
put order and structure in our lives.
Smith's descriptions are designed to encourage those in perfunctory
activities to throw off doctrine, rules, and orderliness rather than to simply
put meaning back into their actions.
Smith maintains that we
should not think of the church as an "it" (a corporate, functioning,
structured body) but a "we" (a collective group of sanctified people)
(Pg 38, P 2-4). He declares that to
refer to the church as "it is" instead of "we are" is
perverted, institutional thinking.
However, this is exactly the language of scripture. In Ephesians 1:22, 23, Paul says, "the
church which is his body…," not "who are his body." In 1 Timothy 3:15, he says, "…the
household of God, which is the church…," not, "who are the
church." Of the church, Jesus said,
"The gates of Hades will not overpower it" (not "them");
Paul said, "I… tried to destroy it" (not "them"), and
"it may assist those who are widows indeed" (not "they may
assist"). Yet, Smith would consider
it a "great advance" to think of the church in ways other than the
way Jesus and Paul express it.
Though some would claim that
the church is not an organization, a corporation, an establishment, an
institution, or an association, scripture most assuredly indicates that it
is. An organization is simply a body
organized. The church has a head: Jesus
Christ (Eph 1:22); a local body is structured with elders, deacons, and
teachers (Phil 1:1). A corporation is,
by definition, a body legally formed to act as a single entity with various
rights and duties (Eph 4:16). An
establishment is a thing which has been established, as if by a ratified
covenant (Heb 10:9). An institution is
simply an established organization or corporation. An association is a society of persons having
a common interest (Eph 3:9, 10). The
church is indisputably all these things.
Some ulterior motive must be involved to insist otherwise.
Smith makes issues from
the comparative terminology of becoming a "church member" and
becoming a "Christian" (pg 38, P 3).
However, scripture will show that one is the same as the other. In Acts 12:1 Christians are referred to by
Luke as "some who belonged to the church." If you are a Christian, God has added you to
the church; if you are a member of the church, you are a Christian. Smith also scoffs at the notion of one
identifying himself with a local body, but it is a completely scriptural
concept (Rom 16:1).
Smith de-emphasizes our
need to obey while focusing on Christ's atoning sanctification (pg 3, P
4). When we speak of someone as being
baptized, it is by metonymy: a part-for-the-whole figure. We actually mean the whole
submission-by-faith process. Smith
declares we ought not be thinking of people as "baptized" or as
"members" but as only "sanctified Christians." Smith again fails to consult scripture about
this. Concerning Lydia, Luke describes
her status as having been baptized, not "having become a sanctified
Christian" (Acts 16:15). Also, Paul
says we are members of his body, which is the church. Smith would have us think
that Paul's and Luke's language betrays how denominational they had become.
Smith suggests that
minimally devoted church-goers today are a product of the denominational
thinking which he insists has pervaded the church (pg 38, P 4). To the contrary, it is Smith's own
propositions that will lead to lukewarmness.
When rules, regulations, and structure are portrayed as cumbersome and
stifling, many Christians will seek to perform only the minimum
requirement. For example, if not
attending a midweek Bible study assembly is declared not to send a soul to
hell, since it is only an artifact of the institutional structure, we should
not be surprised when it is altogether canceled due to a lack of interest.
Perceptively, the issue
here is mainly semantics. Smith is
willing to think of the church as a collective body but not as a
membership. He would call baptized
believers "sanctified" but not call those sanctified "baptized
believers." Now as Smith
emphatically states that this is not semantics (pg 39, P 2), then it can only
mean he has an agenda against sound doctrine and orderliness.
brethren have never objected to institutions, human or divine, but only that
the divine institution has no authority to financially support a human
institution (pg 38, P 3). But of course,
it is the de-emphasizing of doctrine which Smith is promoting.
Smith makes very
truthful observations on the spiritually sick and half-dead churches (pg 39, P
4). This writer has seen churches
vibrant with group leaders, visitation programs, gospel meetings, vacation
Bible school, and door-to-door campaigns, but where immorality, lying, false
teaching, and favoritism lies beneath the surface.
Smith makes worthwhile
remarks how those who grow up in the church might not be as keenly sensitive to
ungodliness in their lives as one coming out of the world, participating in all
manner of debauchery (pg 40). Though
some adolescents may obey the gospel simply to imitate the outward action of
their peers, some most certainly do so recognizing their sin, having perhaps
lied to their parents or repeated a vulgar joke. Simply because some do not have the proper
attitude does not mean churches per the norm have sliced Acts 2:38 in
half. The idea of calling this verse
"our corporate logo" and disparaging the "five steps"
explanation of obedience has a condescending tone.
Again, the idea is set
forth that the church is only a collection of sanctified believers, not a
structured organization with elders, teachers, and members (pg 43, P 2). From here, Smith indicates how wrong it is to
measure loyalty to God by loyalty to His church. He likewise fails to consult scripture for
this statement. Scripture makes clear
that loyalty to God is manifested by devotion to his church. Jesus instructs us to seek first the kingdom
of God (Matt 6:33). Any son who honors
his father will honor the things of his father.
This writer has seen the fruit of this idea in the church. On this basis, one who persistently neglected
assembling for worship to encourage his brethren was declared to be a very
spiritually-minded person, and his absence was excused. There is no edification in this; this does
not restore anything.
Beginning at page 45,
Smith calls Christians today "heirs" of Martin Luther's religious
revolution. After developing Luther's
history and the emergence of Calvin and the Presbyterians, Smith declares,
"We can hardly deny our religious roots or escape the family tree"
(pg 54, P 2). Conservative Christians
today will flatly deny Smith's teaching on this. True, the Roman Catholic Church had its
conception in the one true church of Jesus Christ, but it stopped being that
church when it stopped teaching and practicing the things ordained by Christ
for that church. When local bodies fell
into the apostasy which had been foretold and they refused to repent, Christ would
have removed their candlestick (Rev 2:5).
They then would have been no more His church than those in Judaism or
paganism, no matter by what name they called themselves. They are not the heritage of Christians
today. Even if at that time there was not
a single sound church in existence, the church still existed in seed form in
the word. Planting the word would
produce simply Christians: members of Christ's church. This today is the true Christian's true
heritage, not Martin Luther.
Smith warns against a
bombastic style of debate marked by misquoting, deceit, sarcasm, and character
attacks (pg 57, P 3). He readily puts
Jesus in a different class. Though
harsh, He was never untruthful, conniving, or deceitful. This writer will make certain that any criticism
offered to Smith will come from pure motives, free from wrangling and with
Smith's illustration of
a patient screaming louder when the doctor touches more closely to the ailing
body part is spot on (pg 58, P 2). This
writer has witnessed gospel preachers who misconstrue, attack another's
character, and spew biting sarcasm when faced with their own inability to
defend their traditionalistic doctrines with scripture. These men apparently think that the need to
change the heart applies to everyone except themselves.
Smith will now list
examples of things he claims we inherit from our so-called Lutheran
legacy. The first is a clergy-laity
distinction (pg 60, P 2). Though every
church will deny it exists, it often truly does. This becomes painfully clear when a
"regular church member" charges a "regular gospel preacher"
with false teaching. Unable to defend
his doctrine with scripture, the heretic preacher will remind his opponent how
many more years he has studied and how many other "regular gospel
preachers" agree with him, as if that is how we establish authority. Additionally, others who also are convinced
that his teaching is false will tolerate him, because of his position as
"the regular preacher."
Furthermore, if any "regular member" would be marked as a
false teacher by the "regular preacher," the whole congregation will
withdraw simply at the preacher's instruction, not even fully understanding
why. This writer has seen all this kind
of partiality play out in a so-called conservative church. This is not to say that having a regular
preacher is a bad thing; he simply ought not be held above others. Perhaps this occurs from denominational influences,
but it is not our heritage, and it will not be a part of any sound church. We will deal with more of what Smith has to
say about local preachers later in our review.
Smith's second example
is a claim that organizational and administrative features are inherited from
our so-called legacy (pg 60, P 3).
Again, in his attempt to disparage structure and orderliness, he
emphasizes the role of the elders as shepherds, guarding and feeding a flock,
while conveniently ignoring the scriptural terms suggesting elders are more
than this alone. The original word
sometimes translated "bishop" means "overseer." The idea is not passive observation but
managing and presiding over a group. The
terms "supervisor" and "president" are fitting in our
vernacular. Scripture calls them
"rulers" and requires that we submit to them. If it were not that elders make decisions on
matters of judgment and that we comply, then they would have no rule. Elders do not get to make decisions on
doctrinal matters. It is not because the
elders say so that we baptize for the remission of sins. If they would claim otherwise, we must
rebel. This is not rule. However, if the elders state that they want
an assembly dismissed with prayer and not a scripture reading, it is within
their right to demand such, and we should obey.
Call it administration if you will, but it is a God-ordained role of
elders. The truth to Smith's statement
is that there are elders today who, incapable of defending truth with
scripture, do nothing more than administer their rules. Though this may occur in fact by
denominational influence, it is not our legacy, nor ought it be tolerated in
any church today.
Smith's third example is
the Lord's Supper, and his remarks are preposterous. We absolutely do not have Luther to thank for
being able to partake of both the bread and the wine (pg 61, P 1). This is ridiculous. We have Jesus to thank for that: "Drink
of it, all of you" (Mat 26:27).
Again, disparaging anything resembling ritual, Smith uses the word
"meal" to describe our communion without the first scriptural
reference. We use the word
"meal" to describe eating the quantity of food to satiate physical
hunger. Nowhere does the Bible ever
refer to the Lord's Supper as a "feast" or a "meal." The significance of the Lord's Supper has
nothing to do with physical hunger (1 Cor 11) or satisfying the flesh by the
quantity eaten. If eating a small
portion seems too ritualistic to us, our heart is in the wrong place. Incidentally, there is nothing in the context
of Jude 12 to indicate that the "love feast" mentioned is the Lord's
Supper. More about this will come later.
Smith's fourth example
is another attack on anything resembling structure, format, observance,
tradition, or management (pg 61, P 2).
Contrary to Smith's suppositions, worship does not need to divest itself
of these attributes to be "mutually participatory" (the scriptural
term is "fellowship") or "intimate" (the scriptural concept
is self-examination). Moreover, for his
claim that first century worship was spontaneous, he offers no scriptural
basis. Spontaneity carries the idea of
doing whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it. However, scripture requires worship to be
orderly (1 Cor 14:40). The original word
is from TAXIS, which Thayer defines as, "1) an arranging, arrangement 2)
order 2a) a fixed succession observing a fixed time 3) due or right order,
orderly condition 4) the post, rank, or position which one holds in civic or
other affairs 4a) since this position generally depends on one's talents,
experience, resources 4a1) character, fashion, quality, style." The opposite of orderly (that is,
disorderly), ATAKTOS, was used as a military term for a soldier "out of
ranks," (Thayer). TAXIS is the
doing of the proper thing at the appointed time. As a case in point, Paul even instructs one
sitting by quietly who is given something to say by the Holy Spirit's direct
operation to wait until the first one speaking becomes quiet, so that each may
take his turn speaking one at a time (1 Cor 14:30, 31). He is not to spontaneously blurt out
something and interrupt another but must keep his spirit under control (vs
32). Spontaneity is truly incompatible
with scriptural worship. However, once
we de-emphasize orderliness and structure and strip the elders of their rule,
we can have people doing whatever they want whenever they want to do it. In fact, this writer has seen this influence
toward spontaneity make a worship assembly look more like an open house with
people coming and going at all times and doing or eating whatever they want
whenever they want with the attitude that no elder has the right to ask them to
try to get to church on time or please do not eat an apple during Bible
class. Spontaneity is the seed of chaos
Smith is a master at
spinning words and clever metaphors, but "let's be honest," just
because there are similar or borrowed expediencies with denominationalism, it
is no reason to claim that the church today is any kind of hybrid (pg 61,
P3). God's word is the pure seed, and
Smith is sowing none of it to make any of his claims.
Smith once again speaks
disparagingly of doctrine in favor of spiritism. "It is we who continue to worry more
about whether we are doctrinally restored than about whether we are spiritually
restored" (pg 73, P 2). By
"spiritually" he no doubt means emotionally charged spontaneity, and
by "doctrinally" he no doubt means stifled in rote traditionalism, as
is evident by his previous chapters. A
proper understanding of doctrine and spirituality in scripture reveals that the
two are on equal footing. "Worship
Him in spirit and in truth " (Jn 4:24); "I will sing with the spirit
and I will sing with the understanding also" (1 Cor 14:15). In contrast, Smith's propositions emphasize
the spirit over the doctrine, which is just as wrong as emphasizing the
doctrine over the spirit.
A Model Of Perfection
In chapter five, Smith
makes some excellent applications from the "model of perfection,"
giving scriptural support for all his statements (pg 97, P 3). However, the correct application of scripture
ceases at age 97. In paragraph 2, he
states that the early church practiced hospitality. Nowhere in scripture do we see the church as
a body practicing hospitality. He makes
the age-old mistake of confusing individual action and corporate action. In fact, Smith has laid much groundwork to
disparage all aspects of corporate structure, organization, and
orderliness. The church as a
functioning, institutional body is odious to him. Consequently, he misapplies Acts 2:46. Eating meals together in our homes is not a
church function; it is individual function.
As a case in point, the social withdrawing Paul enjoins is to be
executed on an individual basis, not a corporate basis (1 Cor 5:11). Also, eating together is not the only thing,
but any socially "mixing it up" together: golfing, fishing, and all
recreation and entertainment. All such
activities are not church functions.
Now that Smith assumes
socially eating together is a church function, his connecting it to the love
feasts (Jude 12) and the Lord's Supper is his resultant misapplication of
scripture. Jude's language is completely
figurative. If "hidden reefs"
and "clouds without water" are metaphors, so must be the love feast. It's what we call a mixed metaphor. Jude is not talking about a literal physical
meal for satisfying fleshly hunger any more than he is talking about an actual
sand bar beneath the water's surface.
Instead, figuratively, it is a filling ourselves with the Spirit (Eph
5:18), with the "unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor
5:8); it is gorging ourselves on the love of God (Eph 3:15). To claim that the love feast is a physical
food fellowship meal or the Lord's Supper is to misunderstand. The kingdom of God is not about such carnal
eating and drinking. The Lord's Supper
is not connected to a common meal: "If anyone is hungry let him eat at
home" (1 Cor 11:34). Consider this:
if the Lord's Supper is connected to a common meal and we are not to eat such
with a persistently disorderly, unrepented Christian, then if such a person
gathers with us to worship, we must not permit him to partake of the Lord's
Supper. If he reaches for the bread, we
must pull it away. It will have to be
somebody's task to make sure he is not served.
This is absurd.
At page 97, paragraph 5
to the end of the chapter, Smith's discussion on relationships, persecution,
the supernatural, and urgency are commendable.
Here, Smith boldly presents truthful statements well established in
correctly applied scripture. The Bible
student is well rewarded to join this look back into the minds and attitudes of
first century Christians. Notably,
nothing here requires changes in worship or church orderliness as it appears
today. It is a simple call to spirituality
and away from carnality in the lives of Christians in everyday life.
The Work OF The Holy
Smith describes the Holy
Spirit as "mystically" dwelling within us (pg 117, P 2). No scripture is offered for this
statement. Mysticism carries the idea of
things hidden. To the contrary, the
apostles' work in the Spirit was all about revelation: removing the mysticism
of Old Testament prophecy and symbolism (Col 1:26, 27). Incidentally, Paul's point in 1 Corinthians
3:16 is that we, individually, ("you, yourselves") are each a temple
of God, as is the meaning in 6:19. The church
as a collective body is truly a temple (Eph 2:21), but this verse is not
teaching us that. We just need to be
careful to get the messages from passages of scripture that are actually
revealed and intended.
Smith discusses the
first century miraculous works of the Holy Spirit (pg 118-120). In the end, he doubtfully concludes,
admittedly by conjecture, that miraculous gifts have passed with the passing of
the apostles. He calls it his
"untidy conclusion." In this
section, all of his reasoning from the scriptures ignores "…whether there be tongues, they shall
cease…; when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away" (1 Cor
13:8-10). Smith faithfully acknowledges
that no modern-day revelation could go beyond first century teachings, (and our
measure on that matter is the scriptures themselves). Therefore, if we need nothing more than the
scriptures, then they are perfect.
However, first century Christians did not yet have all the New Testament
scriptures. They had to rely in part on
the gifts -- all given for confirming the new revelations. Since we now have the perfect, we know the
partial has gone away. Nevertheless,
Smith likes to paint this picture of mysticism -- that we can't know these
matters with certainty. In so doing, he
robs the scriptures of their glory and power.
Smith further proposes
that the Holy Spirit works in our lives today in tangible ways outside the
scriptures. He claims that, as we have
swung the pendulum away from miraculous works through men today and modern-day
revelations, we have unjustifiably banished the Holy Spirit to dwell only
between the covers of the Bible, not actually within us (pg 121, P 2). Before we completely buy into this
proposition, we should examine what the Holy Spirit actually has to say about
the scriptures directly. They come from
the very breath of God (2 Tim 3:16) and are alive, active, (Heb 4:12),
powerful, and able to change the hearts and lives of men (Rom 1:16, 17). Smith's illustration is only reasonable if
the covers of the book remain in the closed position. When we open the book and begin living it and
teaching it, scripture becomes the Holy Spirit's direct medium. Paul rhetorically asks the Galatians,
"…did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with
faith?" (Gal 3:2). Follow this
logic: If Christ indwells us though faith (Eph 3:17) and faith comes by hearing
the word of God (Rom 10:17), then Christ indwells us through His word. The same is true of the Father and the Holy
Spirit. Scripture further reveals that
not only does the Spirit abide with us, we also abide with Him (Rom 8:9). How does this happen? The same way: through the written word which
we have heard (1 John 2:24-27), observing His commandments (1 John 3:24) and
keeping His doctrine (2 John 9).
We do not have to cut
Acts 2:38 out of our Bibles, as Smith proposes (pg 121, P 3), to accept that
the Holy Spirit enters our heart through our ears by His word (Act 2:37, 40,
41). Smith continues, "If we've been
immersed, we've been as filled on the inside as we've been washed on the
outside." This statement indicates
a misunderstanding. Baptism has
absolutely nothing to do with an outward washing (1 Pet 3:21), so it's hard to
derive something meaningful from the statement.
It is only clever language designed to discount the idea that the Spirit
indwells us through His word.
Smith goes yet further:
"What good is it, then, for us to have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us
if nothing actually happens as a result?"
To the contrary, if life changing happenings are evidence of his
indwelling, then the word is truly the medium.
Anyone who can hear the words, "While we were yet sinners, Christ
died for the ungodly" and it actually have no effect on him is someone
refusing to let the Holy Spirit in.
cannot say the Holy Spirit in other ways no longer works for us today -
definitely in our prayers (Rom 8:26) and perhaps providentially. These intangible truths may present an
element of mystery, but there's nothing mysterious about His operation through
the word. However, we downgrade the
power of the scriptures if we suppose that the Holy Spirit today instills in us
knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment, discernment, understanding, insight, faith, and
love apart from his word (pg 122, P4 - pg 123, P3). One who would think otherwise should read
Psalm 119 in its entirety.
In radically restoring
us today, we must accept that we cannot go back to exactly as it was at the
apostle's time. In fact, God would not
want us too, even if we could, anymore than a parent wants his child to remain
a baby forever. Paul calls the spiritual
gifts child's play -- things for which a mature man has no use (1 Cor
13:9-12). A mature man uses the word; it
is his guide. Churches today lose their
spiritual power when they de-emphasize the word and emphasize emotionalism,
mysticism, and spontaneity, supposing them to be evidences of the Holy Spirit's
work (pg 124; P 2, 3).
The Lord's Supper
Smith tells a story of
his visit with a church which held the tradition that the one presiding over
the Lord's Supper must break the loaf into two pieces before serving it. His description is laced with irony, sarcasm,
and rhetoric, designed to make that body of believers appear as unenlightened
buffoons. If Smith tried to teach them
that "break bread" is simply an idiom by metonymy for eating it and
not an actual ritual element, it would be nice to think he did so with more
gentleness and grace than his words here portray. The sister about whom he wrote disparagingly
would no doubt feel embarrassed and insulted to read Smith's words here. The Holy Spirit through the writings of Paul
teaches us that love ought not behave this way (Rom 14, 1 Cor 8; 13:1-7). Besides, such bread breaking is a matter of
opinion. The sister did not sin when she
broke the bread in the manner Smith describes.
Smith now begins to
propose what is required to radically restore the Lord's Supper to primitive
church practices. Having already
rejected orderliness and structure in the local church, disregarded the
distinction of the church universal and local, and blurred the distinction
between individual and corporate activity, he surmises "from all
appearances" that the Lord's Supper was observed in the church as a part
of a "fellowship meal" -- a normal meal with food variety for
satisfying physical hunger (pg 128, P 5).
To validate this, Smith
asserts that the inaugural Lord's Supper was part of an ordinary meal
"without question" (pg 129, P 2).
In a study of authority, it is crucial to understand what elements in a
recorded example are germane to the activity (and thus binding) and what
elements are incidental. What part of
that Passover scene was germane to the communion observance? Jesus took only the bread and the cup (the
fruit of the vine or wine) and made it something special and unique. Nothing else.
Paul said, "As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you
proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."
The meat was not part of this.
The sop dish was not part of this.
The Lord's Supper was not part of the meal nor vice versa any more than
was eating it in an upper room (Mark 14:15) or in a room with many lights (Act
20:7, 8) or the foot washings (Jn 13).
These are incidentals.
When Paul explains the
Lord's Supper to the Corinthians, he says, "I delivered to you that which
the Lord delivered to me," and he goes on talking only about the bread and
the cup and the spiritual significance.
This was not a carnal thing. This
had nothing to do with renewing physical nutrition and strength, as Smith
supposes. In fact, Paul charges them to
eat those kinds of meals at home. Smith
supposes here that Paul is only charging them not to over-eat (pg 131, P 4). If Paul had meant to tell them simply not to
over-eat in what Smith proclaims is an ordinary fellowship meal, that's what he
would have said. Instead, Paul said
one's own house is the place to eat such.
All such carnality is what Paul deems "not the Lord's Supper."
Smith also cites the
love feast of Jude 12 as validation for his doctrine (pg 137, P 1). We have already briefly discussed this. Jude's language is intensely figurative. He begins in verse 4 metaphorically describing
some false teachers as animals (vs 10), hidden reefs in their love feasts (vs
12), rainless clouds blown by the wind (vs 10), dead fruitless trees, ocean
waves full of foam, and wandering stars (vs 13). They were not literally any of those things,
but only figuratively. In the midst of
this deep symbolism, Smith is ready boldly declare that the love feast here mentioned
is not a figure of speech -- a spiritual feasting on God's word -- but a
literal food meal. Smith's reasoning
does not fit. Even if we concede that it
was a literal food meal for the purpose of gaining physical nutrition, there is
absolutely nothing in the text that would necessitate it was the action of the
assembled church as a body nor that it had anything to do with the Lord's
Supper. Any such conclusion is derived
from one's own imagination.
If we look to the
totality of rightly applied scripture for anything that would support Smith's
"fellowship meal" -- a common physical meal for the flesh taken as an
observance in a worship assembly of the church as a body -- we find
nothing. To the contrary, we see that
Christians individually shared common meals in their homes and that the church
is not carnal but spiritual. Men have
for decades tried to find in Jude 12 and 1 Corinthians 11 justification for
social church dinners, but it's just not there.
All such carnal thinking is wrong-mindedness, and it is disgraceful to
propose the same perversion of the Lord's Supper of which the Corinthians were
On this basis alone,
Smith affirms that the Lord's Supper was a "memorial in a meal," a
"combined table fellowship and memorial" (pg 128, P5), "an
integral part of a real meal"
(pg 129, P5). All such connections of
the Lord's Supper to a common meal are scripturally unfounded.
Smith maintains that the
supposed fellowship meal was a hearty meal of robust quantity (pg 281, P
4). He writes, "That ordinary table
wine was being consumed in large quantities…underscores…that…gathering around
the Lord's table was not the token ritual with which we are familiar but an
actual food-and-drink meal" (pg 132, P 2) for the included "special
purpose of strengthening…their physical bodies" (pg 128, P 5). Remarkably, Smith fails to notice that in the
verses before and after 1 Corinthians 11:21 where their abundant drinking is
mentioned, Paul is rebuking them for doing it.
Authority in religion can come from examples for sure, but only those
apostolically approved. This is not the
pattern we should follow.
All such connection of
the Lord's Supper to the physical quantity eaten and satisfying the needs of
the flesh is wrong-mindedness. Consider
the words of Jesus in John 6. (No
connection of eating and drinking Christ's body and blood with the Lord's
Supper is intended but only a distinction between carnal thinking and spiritual
thinking). He says, "You seek
me…because you ate the loaves and were filled" (vs 26). Jesus explains that he is true meat and true
drink that gives life. The crowd did not
understand because they were thinking carnally (vs 60), but, to his disciples,
He explains, "It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits
nothing. The words I speak to you are
spirit and they are life" (vs 63).
The writer of Hebrews also weighs in on this: "Do not be carried
away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be
strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied
were not benefited" (Heb 13:9). The
Lord's Supper has nothing to do with the flesh.
It is completely carnal mindedness to think that the significance of the
Lord's Supper is found in the quantity eaten or in the amount of time it takes
to do it.
Smith seems to get
tangled in his own argument. To explain
Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 11:22, Smith suggests Paul is saying that
"if the reason you are participating in the fellowship meal is to feed
your stomach, then you'd better stay home." However, satisfying the needs of the flesh is
exactly what Smith sets forth for this "fellowship meal" elsewhere in
his writing (pg 128 p 5).
The possible abuse that
Smith recognizes in blurring the distinction between the auditorium and the
fellowship hall betrays him (pg 135, P 2).
Churches denouncing the "social gospel" doctrine (which came
along with church-supported human institutions in the middle of the last
century) have made the plea for decades to get common meals out of church
functions. Smith's teaching on this is
the very source of the problem.
Smith makes a fundamental error on the idea of fellowship,
which the mainstream, liberal, institutional, social-gospel churches (all terms
used accommodatively) have done for over half a century now. In Acts 2:42, the word "fellowship"
(Gr. KOINONIA) is used in connection with teaching, prayer, and breaking
bread. Teaching and prayer are both
spiritual things, clearly. It stands to
reason that this bread-breaking would also be spiritual (the Lord's Supper),
not carnal (a common, social meal). This
is further validated by the fact that the early Jerusalem Christians were using
the temple for a gathering place, but not for common meals. This they did in their individual homes,
specifically (Acts 2:46). Add to this
that Paul tells us that Lord's Supper time is not common meal time -- eat the
common meals at home (1 Cor 11:22, 34).
Further noting that the kingdom is spiritual, not carnal, the evidence
is overwhelming that Acts 2:42 does not refer to a common meal in a worship
service of which the Lord's Supper is a part.
Note particularly that Luke does not use the word "fellowship"
to describe their meals at home.
Throughout the New Testament scriptures, the word "fellowship"
is never used of carnal things, such as pot-luck dinners and recreational
activities -- always spiritual.
Nevertheless, Smith has managed to coin the phrase "fellowship
meal," though there is no scriptural validity for it. Liberal brethren immediately think of
fellowship carnally; conservatives immediately think of the spiritual. If Smith would radically restore the church,
he would stop thinking carnally and work to remove all social and recreational
functions from mainstream churches. His
own language reveals his carnal mind set (pg 142, P 5): "The
question…[is]…whether we should be meeting…for combined fellowship and worship
as the early Christians did." He
further states, "Look at our own balancing act between the auditorium and
the fellowship hall" (pg 135, P 2).
In rebuttal, to the conservative, spiritually-minded Christian, worship is our fellowship: singing, praying, communing,
giving, and learning together; the auditorium is
our "fellowship hall," where we share in all these things.
Smith writes, "The
primitive church met in homes" (pg 143, P 1). That is true (Col 4:15), but that is not the
only place they met. They also met in
temple quarters (Acts 2:46) or in furnished upper-story rooms (20:8). Smith makes the mistake of failing to
understand when New Testament examples are binding. The rule of uniformity indicates that meeting
in homes is not binding. Moreover, we
have the recorded, generic command to assemble (Heb 10:24), so any recorded
example is merely exemplary, not a mandate.
Any other meeting place is only an expediency. More will come later about churches meeting
Smith has already
planted the false seed that all ritual is inherently evil. Therefore, his remedy for a lifeless,
perfunctory Lord's Supper observance is to turn it into part of a carnal
feast. You do not have to do that to add
meaning to the action. He calls what we
traditionally do "miniaturized" and "stylized" (pg 143, P
3). He needs to understand that the
amount of food eaten or the amount of time doing it compared to other activities
has nothing to do with its meaning.
Calling the Lord's Supper "the centerpiece of New Testament
Christian worship" is Smith's words (pg 143, P 4), not our Lord's. No such idea is presented in scripture. In Acts 20, it was the preaching that lasted
until midnight, not the Lord's Supper.
In all references of
churches meeting in homes (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:9; Col 4:15; Phm 1:2), there is
no indication that physical meals for the flesh were enjoined as part of
worship when the saints gathered there.
Smith has already gone to great lengths to remove order, structure, and
purpose from occasions when the saints came together "as a church" (1
Cor 11:18). When saints come together
for a common, social meal or for playing games, it is not "as a
church." Scripture makes a clear
distinction of when saints met together for secular purposes and when they met
for worship. During a worship service in
one of the saint's homes was not the time to bring out meat, potatoes, and
This is a similar kind
of misunderstanding the Corinthians were having. They were carnal-minded (1 Cor 3:1-4). In what was supposed to have been the Lord's
Supper (1 Cor 11:20), the brethren who got there first consumed all the bread
and wine (vs 21) while others arriving later had nothing of which to partake
(vs 33). It is not a stretch to suppose
that, in being carnally minded, they could have thought that if eating a little
honors Christ, eating more honors more, creating the want for the ones arriving
later. Paul takes great care to explain
that the meaning of the Lord's Supper resides in the heart (vs 23-30) and is
spiritual. There may well be some
speculation here, but it certainly fits.
Most assuredly, we cannot derive from this anything about a so-called
Smith expounds on the
amount of time typically devoted to the Lord's Supper: "When is the last
time you heard comments being invited from among the brethren as the Lord's
Supper was being observed?" (pg 153, P 2).
"In terms sheerly of time, perhaps the only part of our worship
receiving less attention than the Lord's Supper is prayer…. Even announcements can come close to edging
out the scant few minutes devoted to the supper" (pg 141, P 2).
Some churches today,
influenced by Smith's ideas, are trying to enlarge the Lord's Supper, that is,
spend more of the assembly time doing it.
First of all, we need to understand that the Lord's Supper is only the
eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup discerningly with prayerful
thanksgiving: nothing else (1 Cor 11). A
song sung after or before is not part of the Lord's Supper; it is singing. An invited comment offered by a brother or a
reading or an admonition "to prepare our minds," as we often say, is
edifying, but it is not actually part of the Lord's Supper; it is time devoted
to exhortation. Aside from a many-worded
blessing (Matt 6:7), the only way to actually enlarge the Lord's Supper is to
eat and drink larger portions. Some
churches today have replaced the tiny traditional communion cups with "Dixie"
cups, perhaps suitable for a small breakfast portion. They also provide more or larger loaves so
that worshipers can break off a hefty helping, which may take them each several
minutes to finish eating. Conversely,
our tradition of taking a tiny pinch of bread and sip of juice more likely
originates from recognizing that the significance of the memorial lies in the
spirituality of the observance, not in the portions consumed or the time
devoted to perform it. You may enlarge
the portions if you wish, but do not deceive yourself into thinking this
pretense elevates the experience to a higher spiritual plane. God, in His wisdom, uses the simple and
meager things to put to shame the high-minded and worldly (1 Cor 1:25 - 2:5).
On a side note, Smith
calls the Lord's Supper an "observance" (pg 153, P 2), but he
criticizes calling our assemblies a "worship service" because of the
implication of spectatorship (pg 154, P4, 5).
However, nothing suggests spectatorship more than
"observance," but we know that this is not what Smith intends to
imply. Neither should he assume others
mean spectatorship when they say "worship service." This is nothing but haggling over words, which
Smith ought not be engaging.
Consistent with his
doctrine of spontaneity, Smith writes, "There was no particular 'order of
worship'" (pg 140, P 5). To the
contrary, when Paul commands all things to be done decently and orderly, he is
precisely talking about doing things in the appropriate way at their appointed
time; it is the meaning of his words.
When Smith expresses his concerns about the feasibility and propriety of
the "fellowship meal," he says, "The good news… is that there
could never again be a kind of 'three-songs-and-a-prayer' mentality" (pg
142, P 3). Know this: there is absolutely
nothing wrong with having three songs and a prayer at every assembly. It is decent and orderly. If someone needs to have the order of
services jumbled around at every gathering, he is thinking carnally -- needing
to have his physical senses stimulated to be edified. Such a man needs to change his focus and
begin thinking spiritually, and a "fellowship meal" with a
"please-pass-the-gravy" mentality is exactly the opposite of what he
needs to accomplish this.
Anything further Smith
writes about the "memorial fellowship meal" is to be categorically
rejected. His premise for it has no
Presuming that the
examples of churches meeting for worship and the assumed memorial meals in
their homes indicates the specific pattern we are to emulate, Smith coins
another new phrase unknown to scripture: "house churches" (pg 146, P
1). Building upon this, he postulates
that the pattern would suggest "relatively small groups" (pg 146, P
3). He disregards the fact that the church
in Jerusalem was originally in the thousands (Acts 2:41) and that the numbers
of the Antioch church were said to be "many" (15:35). From here, Smith uses pure speculation and
supposition. "I wonder," he
says, proposing that Saul's house to house persecution "might have"
been at house church assemblies. He
makes the same argument about Paul teaching both publicly and house to house
(Acts 20:20). Smith admits this could
possibly infer "times of private study with individual families in their
own homes" (pg 146, P 4). However,
the sound Bible student will need to see that the inference is necessary in
order to reach an unavoidable conclusion and establish authority for a binding
pattern. Smith makes these conclusions
from only possible inferences. All
Smith's references to churches meeting in homes as revealed in scripture prove
nothing. For every mention of a church
meeting in a home there is another mention of a church meeting with the
specific place not mentioned. We can
just as easily speculate that the gatherings mentioned in Acts 11:26; 14:27;
15:25; 20:8; Hebrews 10:25; James 2:2; 1 Corinthians 5:4; 11:18; and 14:23 were
not necessarily in a home but could have been in some public meeting hall or
rented quarters. The fact that Paul
tells the Corinthians to eat their carnal meals at their homes suggests that
not all gatherings for worship was at their homes (1 Cor 11:34). There is nothing in scripture that requires
us to conclude that the examples of churches meeting in homes is binding on churches
today or that God's will is that all churches be "relatively small
Smith notes that Paul's
language in Romans 16 indicates that not all Christians in Rome worshiped
together (pg 147, P 3). That still does
not prove that they all met exclusively in small groups and in homes. Not all Christians in Atlanta, Georgia today
worship together either, but that does not necessitate that they meet in small
"house churches." Smith
despises institutionalizing the church (pg 24, P 3), but the concept of a
"house church" as much as anything directly relates the body to its
gathering place, just as the denominations do.
Smith also notes that
scripture states no example of a church building (pg 149, P 2). A study of authority will show that we do not
need an example for everything we do.
There is not the first example of churches using song books, but they
are authorized as an expediency to carry out the generic command to sing
psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
However, it is not mandatory that we sing with song books, either; we
can sing with them or without them. The
same holds true for our assemblies. We
can worship in someone's home or someplace else as an expediency for gathering. Whatever the place, the proposed "table
fellowship meal" has no scriptural support. Meet in homes if you will, but such carnality
ought have no portion there.
Smith has no tangible
evidence that forces his conclusion. He
asks whether the house church "was a divinely intended arrangement or
merely a historical happenstance owing to economic necessity" (pg 149, P
3). Rhetorically, he asks, "Is it
possible that what God intended was a revolutionary kind of worship?" Though he argues in its favor from every
possible angle, nothing but questionable possibilities are presented. Here is his language: "It would not be
surprising if…" (pg 148, P 1), "There seems to be…" (P 2), "Perhaps… perhaps… might have… might
have…" (P 3).
Smith's reasoning makes
sense only if we buy into the "table fellowship" doctrine. He writes, "even the first century
synagogue was more focused on teaching and preaching than on… table fellowship
practiced by early Christians" (pg 150, P 2). This writer begs to differ, if you please. To the spiritually minded -- those rejecting
the "table fellowship" doctrine -- this statement is utter
nonsense. Just like the assemblies of
the Jewish synagogues, the churches met for exactly the same purpose -- not for
filling their stomachs -- but for teaching and preaching (Acts 13:1; 15:12, 35;
Rom 12:5-8; 1 Cor 4:17; 12:28; 14:19-26; Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:15).
Smith's final attempt to
validate this is to suggest that in a home is a better setting for teaching
rather than in a cold, impersonal church building. Personal evangelism in homes may well be more
effective than evangelism done in large assemblies in auditoriums, but this
does not mean that the latter is out of line to the divine pattern. Paul utilizes the auditorium teaching method
with considerable success (Acts 13:14-49; 17:1-4, 34; 19:8-10). The point is this: small meetings in homes is
a good way to teach, but it is not the only way -- it is not the "divinely
intended arrangement." Sound,
active churches will utilize all available teaching methods.
Smith has already laid
his groundwork by earlier renouncing all indications from scripture and that
the first century church was a structured organization. He has blurred the distinction between the
church as a body and the individual Christian and has stripped the eldership of
any kind of rule. With carnal
mindedness, he has converted the Lord's Supper into a potluck dinner and
banished congregations to the obscurity of scattered gatherings in small
numbers. He has also categorically
declared all ritual and routine to be evil (pg 151, P 4). Having done this, he turns again to the idea
of spontaneity and informality in worship.
Smith writes, "The
primitive church had an intimacy, informality, and degree of mutual
participation largely foreign to our own experience" (pg 151, P 5). These are conclusions he derives solely from
his house church and fellowship meal suppositions, which have no scriptural
support -- no scripture is otherwise offered.
We have already noted that spontaneity stands in direct opposition to
decency and orderliness as prescribed in scripture.
With the assumed intimacy generated by what would
necessarily be a relatively small gathering in someone's home for a common
meal, Smith now further develops assumptions about mutual participation in
worship. He describes typical assemblies
today as "spectator oriented" with minimal participation in only
singing and the Lord's Supper: "We are a listening
audience… to announcements, prayers, sermons,… actively participating in
thought, but mostly our role is passive.
By contrast we hear, 'When you come together, every one has a hymn or a
word…' (1 Cor 14:26)" (pg 152, P 3).
To put intimacy,
spontaneity, and informality into practice, Smith suggests that someone might
pray aloud the moment he feels moved to do so or that someone might begin to
sing aloud at that moment (pg 153, P 2); "no official song leader is
needed" (pg 160, P 2).
This writer has
first-hand experience meeting with a small group of Christians largely
influenced by this thinking. Worship
services had frequent moments of awkward silence. At one such point, a brother spontaneously
asked, "Does anyone have a song?"
Though Smith maintains that no song leader is needed, this brother
effectively became one out of the need of the moment. He was surely following Paul's cue in 1
Corinthians 14:26. Some of us were
looking forward to singing, but when no one spoke up after more awkward
silence, the brother finally said, "Okay, it appears no one wants to sing;
we don't have to sing." Similar
awkward moments came with prayer. As
much attempt as there was among us to break traditions, we still liked to end
our assemblies with prayer -- an act Smith would surely brand as "ritual,
liturgy, and sacrosanct tradition" (pg 151, P 4). Nevertheless, there were frequently moments
of awkward silence where we all wondered what was going to happen next and who
was going to make it happen. A
self-appointed "worship leader" would eventually pipe up and
similarly ask, "Does anyone want to pray?"
"There's much to think about" (pg 153, P 3), but this writer knows
from experience that there is absolutely no convenient way to put Smith's ideas
into practice. Moreover, for someone to
burst into spontaneous prayer or song is disorderly -- plain and simple. Imagine someone spontaneously starting to
sing "How Great Thou Art" from memory -- no songbook used (pg 154, P
3) -- and expecting the congregation to be fully mutually participatory. Now imagine that someone in the assembly does
not know the tune or the words. Without
a song leader asking him to open his song book to the page, this individual is
forced to become a mere listener -- the very problem Smith thinks his ideas
In Smith's proposal, everyone present would have an
opportunity to give instruction, not just the designated leader. He cites 1 Corinthians 14:26, "Everyone has a… word" (emphasis
Smith's). He admits practical problems
exist with member capabilities, which need to be resolved, but no solutions are
suggested. A fundamental flaw here is
the idea that anyone can be a public teacher.
Though anyone can certainly share what he knows, there is a certain
level of knowledge required to teach publicly, especially when challenging
questions and open discussions are encouraged (pg 153, P 2). This writer has personally witnessed problems
within the church previously mentioned.
The practice there was that every male member was expected to take his
turn leading worship and teaching. The
distinction in scripture that some are qualified to be teachers and some are
not was basically ignored (Acts 13:1; 1 Cor 12:28, 29; Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 1:7;
2:7; Heb 5:12; Jam 3:1). As a
consequence, on occasions, men not grounded in doctrine spoke inappropriately. Moreover, having an attitude of informality
and spontaneity, they were often admittedly ill-prepared and incapable of
offering more than only a few minutes of disjointed ideas, which seldom
challenged us to self-examination. These
men needed to sit and listen to a qualified teacher so that they might grow in
knowledge and faith and may one day be qualified to teach also.
Smith's message is well
received that our worship must not follow an outward form without an inward
substance. However, the informality in
worship that Smith is prescribing is accurately termed also as casualness. Casualness will manifest itself in people
taking little interest and showing little concern. With a nonchalant attitude, they will
regularly arrive late for worship and be distracted with cell phones and snack
food. For some people, it will appear
that they can barely squeeze time for worship in between their morning exercise
routine and breakfast. In contrast, when
Paul declares that things are to be done with decency and orderliness, it means
that we are setting the time for worship and keeping it, conducting ourselves
with dignity and propriety in the way we act, dress, and talk. It is a solemn, sobering occasion, not a
picnic, party, or an "open house."
It seems we should all be capable of singularly focusing on spiritual
things for just and hour or two. If not,
we are too busy.
Smith declares that
church-goers today are largely spectators.
This is not the case with whom this writer currently attends, and we
don't follow Smith's prescriptions.
Prayers are participatory. Many
people arriving search for the one preparing the prayer list for worship, and
when prayer is offered, hearty "amens" fill the room. Some folks ask the song leader to lead
certain songs with special meaning to them, and the building resounds. During the sermon, the sound of turning Bible
pages persists until the final word is spoken.
There is nothing passive about that.
Smith's words are deriding, as he scorns the "five items of
worship" as "orchestrated religious spectacle for which we have reserved
seats" (pg 154, P1). His
condescending description continues as "slickly crafted high tech
worship-team services" (pg 154, P 3) with the audience "sitting in
the pews following along in the set-piece ritual" (pg 155, P 1). He likens it to spectators cheering from the
stands at a sports event. No scripture
is offered to suggest a worship assembly should be compared to a football
game. Notwithstanding, if anyone in the
bleachers thought he was qualified to play, there's certainly tryouts available. Imagine the disaster that would result if a
small-framed man spontaneously decided he was qualified to be more actively
participatory and ran out on the field during a play. There is structure and protocol in
football. Smith's analogy fails in so
many ways, and his belittling words are disgraceful.
Smith maintains that
scripture describes assembled worship as informal, spontaneously participatory,
and dynamically interactive (pg 155, P 4).
However, he arrives at this only by a series of possible inferences and
conjecture. First, he erroneously
includes the common meal at the Lord's last supper as an integral part of
worship. From here, he concludes that
their assemblies must have been in relatively small numbers, else there's no
way to expedite the carnal meal. He
further supposes that all worship assemblies were in their homes -- the logical
place for small gatherings for a meal.
Then, he concludes assemblies must have been characterized by
informality and spontaneity, because that is the way people behave in their
homes. All this is a product of assuming
the Lord's Supper is part of a carnal meal.
No scriptures are actually cited that portray anything like the
informality and spontaneity Smith proposes.
With his typical
condescending language, Smith next attacks the extending of a formal invitation
for attendees to respond to the gospel, as is traditionally practiced in
churches today, accompanied by a standing invitation song (pg 156, P 1). He is somehow completely certain that the
Lord's day worship assemblies from house to house of the early church were not
their venues for evangelism. However, he
speculates that their evangelistic efforts were conducted house to house (pg
156, P 2). This is confusing, because he
has gone to great effort to claim that Lord's day edification was house to
house. So edification is house to house,
but conversely, evangelism is house to house.
Very confusing. Now that he has
fabricated from conjecture that worship assemblies were not their venues for
the evangelism, it is easy for him to make the traditional stand-and-sing
invitation look silly. However, remove
his false suppositions, and the invitation looks like an efficient expediency. He offers no scripture for his supposition,
but let's take a look.
"exhortation" in scripture reveals much about the work of
Christians. In 1 Corinthians 14, the
context involves the assembled church (vs 23).
The word "exhortation" in verse 3 is from PARAKLESIS, which
Thayer's definition includes a "summons… supplication, entreaty…
persuasive discourse, stirring address."
The traditional invitation is exactly nothing other than
exhortation. The exercising of the
spiritual gifts certainly edified the gathered church (vs 12), but Paul affirms
that their primary purpose was for the unbelievers that would have been also in
the assembly (vs 22-25). This is
evangelism in a worship assembly of the church.
Smith cries, "This weekly confusion between edification and
evangelism has been a disaster" (pg 157, P 3). Smith actually writes, "There is nothing
to indicate that the memorial meal on the Lord's day was ever intended as an
evangelistic outreach" (pg 156, P 3).
In all due respect, this is absolutely ridiculous. Paul clearly states that the Lord's Supper is
a proclamation of the Lord's death: the crux of the gospel message to a lost
and dying world (1 Cor 11:26). Smith is
the one truly confused about why we gather together.
Smith continues to
deride the traditional invitation, saying it is intended "for mythical
people who aren't there" (pg 157, P 2).
Again, this sounds reasonable only in Smith's distorted view of the
church. Reduce the church to a small,
reclusive, disorganized band, meeting spontaneously in homes of not
pre-disclosed locations, with no visible identity, and you can be certain that
a non-Christian seeking truth will never find his way there. In contrast, this writer currently meets with
a church who owns a meeting house with a sign in front, prominently positioned
on a major road in a large suburb.
Though such a building is odious to Smith (pg 159, P 4), visitors from
the community are a regular occurrence, and they are always exhorted by
hearing, "Come unto me" (Matt 11:28), "Arise and be
baptized" (Acts 22:16), "The spirit and the bride say come" (Rev
22:17). Either have the traditional
invitation for expediency or don't, but there is no reason to suggest that
those who do so are short-sighted ignoramuses.
Continuing with the
presupposed notion that the early congregations were limited to small numbers
meeting in homes for spontaneous informal worship, including meals, he now
addresses the matter of giving. Speaking
of 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, He says, "We hear those words badly paraphrased…
'We have been commanded to give of our means on the Lord's day as we have
prospered'…. The truth is, there is
simply no evidence that the early church ever made weekly contributions as part
of an apostolically mandated worship ritual" (pg 164, P 2, 3).
Let's examine Smith's
charge of the "badly paraphrased mantra." First, consider the word
"commanded." Many reliable
versions translate the word DIATASSO in verse 1 as "orders" or
"directions." Thayer defines
this word as, "to arrange, appoint, ordain, prescribe, give
order." In the KJV, it is
translated "command" seven of the sixteen times it appears. In Acts 18:2, it is used of an edict issued
by the Roman emperor. Moreover, when
Paul states this, he is actually speaking of the command he gave to several
other churches throughout Galatia. What
he taught in one church, he taught in all (1 Cor 4:17). Paul continues, saying, "So do you
also" (NAS). The verb here is in
the imperative mood: something every church "must" do (NKJ). There is absolutely nothing inaccurate about
the phrase, "We have been commanded."
Anyone who would declare this is not by commandment is only working to
day" we simply mean the first day of the week. This phrase is also accurate. However, note that Paul is specific about
this day. No other day is mentioned in
scripture as a day for the church to take up a collection. A study of authority will show that when a
recorded command is specific, it is limiting, restricting, ruling out all
else. Smith suggests, "Maybe that
happens even during the week" (pg 145, P 3). He offers no scripture to indicate a possible
exception to Paul's specific command.
Is "give of our
means" a bad paraphrase? The word
translated "lay" or "put aside" is TITHEMI. This same word is used repeatedly in Acts
4:34-5:4, where the clear indication is the giving of one's own possession to
become the property of another. That's
giving of our means. This contribution
is called a "gift" in verse 3 (NKJ); a gift is by definition the
object one gives. With all due respect,
this writer cannot accept that this is a bad paraphrase. Smith has pre-programmed his reader to be
appalled at "ritual," but the apostle has most certainly ordained
this activity for the church. Moreover,
contrary to Smith's ideas (pg 164, P 2), as this action would ultimately result
in thanksgiving and glory to God, it is rightly termed "worship" (2
Smith maintains that
Paul's instructions were merely a matter of implementation precipitated by a
question that the church had previously asked (pg 164, P 3). This is not true. Paul's instruction was an ordination
delivered to all the churches. Smith
claims that if this were "a 'command' for us today, consistency demands
that we hold our funds until Paul himself comes…" (pg 164, P 4). Smith again fails to understand how we
establish when examples are binding.
Applying the rule of uniformity, we see sometimes Paul delivers the
gifts and sometimes others (2 Cor 11:9).
Besides, Paul makes clear that the delivery method is a matter of
expediency for them to decide (1 Cor 16:3, 4).
No such options are offered in Paul's first day of the week collection
Smith is quick to point
out that Paul says later that the giving is not by "commandment" but
"advice" (2 Cor 8:8, 10) (pg 164, P1). Smith offers no explanation to the apparent
contradiction that Paul states it is an imperative command in 1 Corinthians
16:1 but says "not by commandment" here. This demands an explanation. The answer is that, though it is a command,
God doesn't want us to do it from the sense that it is a requirement bound upon
us against our will but that we do it out of love simply because it is the
right thing to do. Paul explains this
clearly in 2 Corinthians 9:5-11. Paul
utilizes the same appeal to Philemon in his letter to him (Phile 1:14). You don't "obey" advice (vs
21). The fact that we do it willingly
does not negate the fact that it is a command.
Smith affirms that the collections were not regular
activities but isolated, unique occurrences: "Special collections intended
to meet particular needs…" (pg 164, P 3) "…as they would arise"
(pg 245, P 2). Interestingly, the word
translated "put aside" is in the present tense. According to Dana and Mantey, "The
present tense is the idea of progress. It
is the linear tense" (paragraph
172, emphasis D-M). "It signifies
action in… state of persistence" (para 173(1)), "to denote that which
habitually occurs" (para 173(2)), "…to describe that which recurs at
successive intervals or… periods,… of repeated action" (para 173(3)). Moreover, the word prosper is from EUODOO and
appears also, not only in the present tense, but in the passive voice and
subjunctive mood. The significance of
this is that as a regularly as prosperity might come our way, we ought to be
regularly giving. If prospering is not a
unique occurrence, neither should be our giving. They gave not according to what they had but
according to how they prospered that week.
Smith teaches what has
been termed by others as "needs-based giving" (pg 245, P 2, 3). This ought to become a moot point. There is always work that the church needs to
be doing. For one, wages can be paid to
preachers (2 Cor 11:8; 1 Cor 9:4-14) and to elders who labor hard at teaching
(1 Tim 5:17, 18). Preaching and teaching
often requires supplies: books, papers, or any other teaching expediencies (2
Tim 4:13). Many preachers are living in
substandard conditions today because of lacking funds. For this reason, others cannot devote
themselves full time to ministry (2 Cor 11:9; Acts 18:3-5). Moreover, we always have the poor saints
needing benevolence (2 Cor 8:13-15). If
a church would truly investigate her potential, there would be effectively no
end to the work that could be done with whatever funds were gathered, thus,
never a time when no collection is necessary (pg 245, P 3).
Smith devotes an entire
chapter to considering how a church might put his teaching into practice. Having first-hand experience meeting with a
church among whom many had been influenced by Smith's thinking, this writer
knows that this teaching is completely impractical, even if it had scriptural
validation. First, the approach is taken
that the monetary value to be raised must be established before all else, then
the members of the church begin to give to meet the commitment they have agreed
upon (pg 245, P 3). There is no
scriptural precedence for this. In
scripture, the driving force behind the giving is the degree that we have
prospered (1 Cor 16:2) and how we have purposed in our hearts (2 Cor 9:7). No scripture indicates that they gave in
order to meet a pre-agreed-upon monetary value.
They gave as they purposed and prospered and used whatever they thereby
gathered. The gift was determined by
what was collected, not the other way around.
The practical problem
with this is that, if a church is not diligent to discuss the work it needs to
be doing as a body and establish budgets and goals for each separate matter
individually with weekly regularity, no one gives, as they see no need for it. As a result, little or nothing is laid up
"in store." The original word
for this is THESAURIZO, which was used of a monetary treasury of funds reserved
for future use (Jam 5:3). Then, when a
pressing need does arrive, no funds are available -- the very problem Paul
sought to avoid (1 Cor 16:2).
Smith proposes, "When every
collection is special to meet a specific need
which has come to the attention of the congregation, it can be as simple as
everyone's getting into their pockets and purses and coming up with the
necessary money, which is immediately dispatched to those in need." Personal experience shows that nothing close
to this is actually what happens. In the
aforementioned church with whom this writer formerly met, news came that a
brother in a remote location, a gospel preacher, was in need of assistance with
upcoming surgical expenses. If we would
have had a reasonable treasury in store, at our Sunday morning worship
assembly, we could have agreed upon an amount and had it sent right away. Instead, unable to do so, we decided we would
discuss it at a certain time when we could all meet together for a
consensus. As we were preparing to meet
the next week to discuss the matter, we learned that the $10,000 had been
donated by other churches before we even had the chance to decide what was
going to be our pre-determined monetary value for which we would make a special
collection. This is so backwards from
the biblical pattern. A church can't
really know how much it can do until it first takes up and stores a
collection. As a result, we were not
able to experience the joy of that fellowship.
The efficiency which Smith claims would characterize his
special-collection needs-based giving will not be realized in actual practice.
Smith now discusses how
he would radically restore church eldership.
He begins by noting that their work is to be like shepherds tending
sheep. Many other descriptions are noted
in the Bible for the work of elders, but Smith does not bring them to light. Let's take a look. POIMEN is the word translated
"pastor" in Ephesians 4:11 (KJV).
J. H. Thayer describes this as one, figuratively speaking, who cares for
and controls others in submission. When
used metaphorically, as is the case with elders, Thayer includes, "The
presiding officer, manager, director of any assembly,… of kings and
princes." Though tending sheep is a
vivid metaphor for their work, the word implies also official management by
definition. Smith would limit this work
to "provision and protection" (pg 170, P 2). Though he rejects the idea that the church is
an organization, part of the elders' work is clearly to preside, manage, and
direct: the work of leaders in organizations.
Another word is
EPISKOPOS, translated "bishop" in Philippians 1:1 (KJV). Literally, "overseer." Thayer
defines it as "a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be
done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian, or
superintendent." The word EPISKOPE
in 1 Timothy 3:1 means "overseership" (W. E. Vine) and includes
"investigation, inspection, visitation" to judge another's character
Another word is
HEGEOMAI, a verb translated "rule" in Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24
(KJV). Thayer defines this "to
lead,… to rule, command, to have authority over; a prince, of regal power,
governor, viceroy, chief,… commander."
These words reveal that
the duties of elders are much more than merely pastoral. These matters will come to bear more in our
review as we continue.
Smith's idea of the
"memorial meal" has snow-balled into the further concept of
scattered, small, house churches. Though
the premise is faulty, he now proposes what elderships might have been like,
asking, "Were there elders in each one of the house churches; or only one
set of elders over all the house churches for the entire metropolitan
area?" (pg 171, P 3; pg 172, P 3).
To answer this, he notes how elders were appointed in "cities"
not "churches" (Tit 1:5) (pg 170, P 4) and how elders are referenced
by their city names (Acts 15:2, 4; 16:4; 20:17) (pg 172, P 3). He writes, "We've always assumed that
'the flock of God among you' must surely apply to each congregation. On the other hand, we've never really linked
these intriguing passages to the existence of smaller house churches…. Did a number of different house churches ever
collectively compromise a larger congregation?" (pg 173, P 1).
Smith's ideas here are
pure speculation; no solid reasoning from scripture is applied for
validation. He continues, "No
single model of a eldership responsibility is conclusive…. Perhaps elder oversight may have been
exercised throughout a group of house churches, which collectively compromised
a larger, recognizable 'congregation….'
Elders in individual house churches might also have come together as a
group of city-wide elders to discuss matters…." (pg 178, P 2, 3).
Remove the false premise
that churches in the first century were exclusively small house churches and
Smith's suppositions unravel, not to mention there is no scriptural basis for
anything he is saying here; it is all speculation. As much as he loathes organization and
structure, he actually proposes a whole other level of management -- a whole
other functioning body independent of the church -- the "group of
city-wide elders." This depicts an
ecclesiastical province: a term known only among denominations. This is fully consistent with the
institutionalization of the church he so much detests. Such a body is entirely without scriptural
Reconsider how faulty is
the exclusive, small, house church proposition.
Scripture indicates that some first century churches were indeed large,
so much so that they would have met in furnished facilities or rented halls. Smith further supposes that a
"congregation" is a collection of house churches (no scriptural
validation offered), only because he pre-supposes all churches must have been
small enough to accommodate carnal meals in their individual homes. Let's examine how the word "congregation"
is used in scripture.
The English word
"congregation" is translated from PLETHOS in the original Greek. Thayer defines it as, "1) a multitude
1a) a great number, of men or things 1b) the whole number, the whole multitude,
the assemblage 1b1) the multitude of the people." With reference to the church, the word
PLETHOS is translated as "congregation" in the NAS but as
"multitude" in the ASV, KJV, and NKJ.
Consistent with its definition, in each case that PLETHOS is used of the
church, the context is of the church in its assembled state: a local gathering
of Christians (Acts 4:32; 6:2, 5; 15:12, 30).
Interestingly, the word commonly translated "church" is
EKKLESIA, which the NAS translators interchangeably render as
"church" (Matt 16:18) or "congregation" (Acts 7:38; Heb
2:12). In the church's local, assembled
state, these words effectively indicate the same thing.
Smith is redefining the
word "congregation." The
definition of PLETHOS certainly includes a collection of "things,"
which could include anything, even "a multitude of churches." However, the keynote of PLETHOS is a local
gathering. For the word
"congregation" to be legitimately used in the way Smith is
suggesting, it would have to indicate a local gathering together of numerous
house churches. PLETHOS would then
accurately describe such a congregation as a gathering of nothing more than
people. However, this is not what Smith
intends, because such a local gathering would not be practicable in someone's
home. Some larger, rented or owned
quarters would be necessary, which is completely contrary to his teaching. Smith intends that the individuals are
gathering separately in their own house churches. However, separate gatherings in scattered
places and at different times is not the meaning of PLETHOS. Clearly, New Testament usage of this word
never involves an assemblage of assemblies.
Recognizing that the
word "congregation" (PLETHOS) is simply the gathering of a local
church, it is important to note that the definition would suggest a relatively
large number of individuals. Acts 11:26
reads, "And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the
church and taught considerable numbers…."
From Luke's use of this word, it is fully worthy of acceptance that the
local bodies at Jerusalem and Antioch were no doubt relatively large in number
(Ref. Acts 15:35). If Smith would
abandon his exclusively small house church doctrine, he would not need to
torture word meanings to devise a way for the church to have a recognizable
community presence (pg 178, P 2).
There is an apparent
contradiction which Smith makes no effort to resolve: that elders were
appointed in every city (Tit 1:5) and that they were appointed in every church
(Acts 14:21-23). Which one was it? Assuming that all churches were obscure,
small, house churches dispersed throughout a city, Smith proposes elders were
over cities, which would have made them recognizable. However, this does nothing to explain the
apparent contradiction. Instead,
consider that one church could have embodied all the saints in a particular
city and be identified and distinguished from others by that city's name. Metonymy is a figure of speech where a part
is put for the whole. When Paul says
"cross" in Ephesians 2:16, he means the whole death by crucifixion
process Christ endured. Now consider
that when Paul instructs Titus in Crete to ordain elders in every city, he
means, by metonymy, in the churches of every Cretan city. It is therefore reasonable that "the
elders at Jerusalem" (Acts 15:2) simply means "the elders of the
church at Jerusalem" (vs 22). This
explanation is acceptable, and no alternate word definitions or structuring of
the eldership is required to make it fit.
The inferences observed by Smith are not necessary, and his conclusions
from them are not forced. Smith is not
following sound hermeneutics.
Smith has no tangible,
scriptural evidence of the small house churches scattered throughout a city as
he proposes. He contrives this only
through a series of false pre-suppositions originating from a carnal
"fellowship meal." If such
house churches existed with city-wide elderships, Luke had the perfect
opportunity to reveal it to us when he penned Acts 15. Note carefully that Luke does not say in Acts
15:4 "They were received of all the house churches and the apostles and
the city-wide elders." Moreover, in
verse 22 he does not say, "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the
city-wide elders, with the whole house churches…." Where God's word is silent, we ought not be
Smith claims that the
scriptures are inconclusive regarding the jurisdiction of church elders (pg
178, P 2). Know this: we do not have to
assume in 1 Peter 5:2 "that 'the flock of God among you' must surely apply
to each congregation" (pg 173, P1).
In Acts 20:17, Paul summons the elders of the church at Ephesus. "Church" is singular. In verse 28 he says, "Take heed… to all
the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers." "Flock" is singular. Moreover, "among" is translated
from EN "denoting (fixed) position (in place, time, or state)" per
the Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament. Thus, elders never had jurisdiction over any
other churches but the one which they were among. It serves no purpose but to generate strife
to suggest anything else.
After developing the
analogy of elders as shepherds, Smith discusses elders as seen in the Old
Testament writings, beginning at page 173.
He notes that these former elders were not God-appointed and apparently
met no list of qualifications; they were simply the older, wiser men of
families, tribes, cities, or regions to whom the people naturally trusted for
their guidance and judgment (pg 175, P 5).
From the examples of Old Testament elders, Smith makes another strong
pitch for his "city-wide elders" proposition saying, "It would
not have been unthinkable for elders in the primitive church to have had a
city-wide responsibility… despite a multiplicity of house churches" (pg
177, P3). Smith is again relying solely
on speculation. There is no necessary
inference forcing us to conclude that features of the Old Testament eldership
apply to the church today.
Smith carries the Old
Testament elder concept on to the matter of the qualifications of New Testament
church elders. He proposes that what we
call "elder 'qualifications,' which we tend to view so technically"
in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are better termed "qualities" that
"merely exemplify the kind of Godly character which has always been
expected of God's shepherds" (pg 180, P2).
Smith further notes that the Jerusalem church elders predate the writing
of the lists in 1 Timothy and Titus. He
obviously fails to understand how the new dispensation was delivered. In the first century, God's will was partly
by spoken word and partly by written word until the written word was complete
(1 Cor 13:9-12). Moreover, that which
was spoken was exactly the same as that which was written (1 John 1:3, 4). Titus knew what were the requirements of
elders before Paul penned them in his epistle to him, because Paul had
commissioned him by word of mouth to ordain them before his departure (Tit
1:5). The point is this: the Jerusalem
elders would have had to meet the same requirements as the Cretan elders. The time of the writing of the lists is
immaterial; God's law on the matter existed in spoken form before it came to be
in written form.
Smith makes a fundamental hermeneutical mistake:
substituting the generic for the specific.
Paul specifically lists numerous attributes an individual must possess to be an elder. Smith proposes the list is merely a way of
generically describing "the kind of qualities which are found so uniquely
in older, wiser, godly men… of a type" (pg 180, P 4; pg 181, P 1). To debate over calling these attributes
"qualities" rather than "qualifications" is nothing but
word play; they must be met with either nomenclature. The inevitable result of Smith's reasoning
will be unlawful elder appointments.
Smith further writes,
"Nor would it seem that these specifically-listed qualities were ever
intended to be exhaustive" (pg 180, P 2).
He again offers no scriptural basis for such a bold statement beyond
what is written (1 Cor 4:6). When
something is specified, we have no right to add to it or subtract from it. The requirement to be "blameless"
quite generically covers a broad range but nothing beyond its necessarily
implied scope. On the other hand, no one
has the right to add specifications on the grounds that the list is not
exhaustive. Smith's proposition could
enable people to enact and enforce exact age limits or perhaps a restriction on
the distance an elder could live from the meeting place of the church. Such mandates might be heard in actual
practice or where Smith abides, but they are unauthorized and abominable.
The Work of Elders
Smith's remarks about
elders also serving as gatekeepers are spot-on (pg 182 - 183). He then moves to discuss their role as
teachers. He makes a crucial observation
about some elders today who, incapable as teachers themselves, hire preachers
to do their teaching for them (pg 184, P 4; pg 185, P 1, 2). Sadly, this writer has seen this very thing
play out in one church as a former member.
In a doctrinal dispute with two elders (one of whom was essentially the
hired preacher), the preacher did all the talking while the other elder sat
silently, his purpose being only to observe and rebuke disorderliness if
required. When this writer asked this
elder to explain his beliefs in the matter, he simply replied, "I agree
with him," pointing to the preacher.
Incidentally, this elder always found a way to avoid private discussions
by inviting the preacher to join. He was
incapable of defending doctrine on his own.
What a shame.
Smith affirms that the primary role of elders is "not
as decision makers but as shepherds" (pg 187, P 3). Notwithstanding, we have already noted that
elder responsibilities exceed teaching alone; they are also to be managers,
directors, and rulers. In what realm
would an elder rule? Smith assigns the
limit of the elders' rule to the teaching of doctrine alone. Regarding Hebrews 13:17, he writes, "We
see the precise source of that authority,… 'remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.' …When shepherds are teaching God's word, they
are also conveying God's authority, and therefore are to be obeyed. (It's not unlike the call for children to
obey their parents in the Lord.)" This is true, but if that is the only way
elders rule, they have no more rule than anyone else. Anyone can teach God's word, and all must
submit to it (2 Tim 4:1-5). When they do
so, they are obeying God, not the teacher.
Likewise, if anyone sees his brother
in sin, he has authority to privately admonish him in the word, take witnesses
if necessary, and eventually take the matter to the church if the brother
rejects them (Matt 18:15-18). Not just
elders have this authority.
Look at Smith's example
of a parent's rule over his child. A
parent has authority over his child in matters other than doctrine. That's not what Paul meant by "in the
Lord" (Eph 6:1). If a father
stipulates to his daughter to be home by 11:30 PM, the obedient child will not
demand he produce book, chapter, and verse for that order. A father has the right to make that judgment
based on what he thinks is best. Smith's
example does not support his doctrine.
Elders' rule is likewise in the realm of judgment in the church, not
doctrine, else they have no rule at all.
Elders do not have the right to declare, "We have decided that
baptism will be for the remission of sins." However, if the elders say, "Please use
the microphone when leading prayer so all may hear," it is not our place
to protest or rebel but to submit to their rule in the matter.
Smith's ideas will lead to anarchy in the church. If every judgment is made by each member
thinking he has an equal voice, even to that of the elders, it will be nearly
impossible to ever accomplish anything. Claiming
to follow the approved example in Acts 15:22, some folks believe that every
decision made in the church should be by unanimity, not just among the elders,
but among all. This is completely
impracticable. Suppose someone in the
body has the idea for the church to post a sign by the street where they meet
for worship. This is a judgment matter;
posting the sign is not sin if you do or sin if you don't. Now if only half the members want it and the
other half doesn't, the claim is that, without unanimity, they won't pass the
decision to post the sign. However,
notice that without unanimity, they
indeed effectively passed the decision not
to post the sign. A study of authority
will show that the example of unanimity of judgment in Acts 15:22 is not
binding. They could have chosen some
other men to deliver the letter or decided upon some entirely different method
of communicating the message. It is nice
that they all agreed, but sometimes we might have to yield and forbear with one
another (or especially with the elders) in matters of judgment and indifference
(Col 3:12, 13). However, in matters of
faith and doctrine, we must never yield (Gal 2:4, 5).
Elders certainly have
the duty to teach, but others can teach also.
There's nothing wrong with elders paying wages to a preacher (1 Cor
9:1-14) and asking others to share in the teaching also. However, as Smith well explains (pg 184,
185), if they are incapable of teaching, they ought not think they can fulfill
this role vicariously.
Smith derives the
familiar and important differentiation between elders' work and deacons' work
from how the widow's needs were handled in Acts 6 (pg 186, P 3). Correspondingly, this writer has
unfortunately seen a church where the elders reversed their roles with the
deacons. A poor elderly couple needed
help with a sanitation problem in their apartment. The elders stepped in and assisted on a
hush-basis, thinking to spare them embarrassment or shame. That was deacon's work. On another occasion, the elders turned over
all planning and management of a children's summer Bible teaching program to a
deacon. Only when the elders learned of
the plan to bring in small farm animals as a show-and-tell "teaching
aid" did the elders step in. The
elders should have been more involved in teaching in the first place. Smith writes, "Never underestimate the
willingness of those in charge to abdicate their responsibility and put it on
some else's shoulders…. Interminable 'elders meetings' to decide matters having
little to do with the spiritual health of the flock are a mockery" (pg
189, P 2, 3). Amen to that.
In chapter 10, Smith discusses
characteristics of some full-time paid preachers today. He challenges the idea of "pulpit
preachers." Agreeably, any
full-time paid gospel preacher doing only two sermons, a public Bible class,
and a bulletin per week along with visiting the sick and elderly of the
congregation should not feel he is fulfilling the work of an evangelist. An evangelist, as the word would imply, is
one who would also take the gospel out into a world of sinners. A balance of efforts inward and outward is
required, as revealed in Paul's instructions to the evangelists Timothy and
Titus. Smith touches on this: "No
law says an evangelist has to constantly be on the move; just continually
moving others to Christ. The question is
not whether the evangelist is 'located,' but whether the one who is 'located'
is an evangelist…. To be sure, Timothy
was both an evangelist to the lost, and in some sense a 'minister' to the
saved" (pg 204, P 2, 5).
While admitting that such balance should exist, Smith tips
the scale in emphasis of the outward effort over the inward: "that
converting people to Christ was the primary purpose…" (pg 197, P 3). Particularly when the direct instructions to
Timothy and Titus are examined, we have no indication that one role is
emphasized over the other; this is only Smith's opinion. He tips the scales so far that he seems to
denounce the idea of a local evangelist altogether -- even one doing
outreach. He writes, "the role of
an evangelist is to be sent… to establish
and to train and then to be sent out all over again" (pg 198, P 2). He contradictively says they do not have to
be constantly moving, but they need to be constantly sent. To this, he further states, "So what is
the role of an evangelist? Call it
'church planting'" (pg 207, P 2).
He quotes the apostle Paul: "I planted, Apollos watered…. I have laid the foundation, and another
builds on it" (1 Cor 3:5-10). Smith
continues: "The role of an evangelist, then is planting and watering; and
laying foundations for others to build on….
It's breaking new ground" (pg
207, P 3).
We should note here
Smith's misapplication of the passage.
Paul uses metaphors from farming and construction, but the point is
exactly the same from both. One plants;
another waters. One founds; another
builds. In the analogies, Paul the
evangelist is the one planting and founding; Apollos the evangelist is the one
watering and building. However, Smith is
not willing to recognize building as a role of the evangelist but of "others." The "others" implied by Smith would
certainly be the elders (pg 198, P 2).
Metaphorically speaking, "watering" and "feeding"
are the same thing, however, Smith assigns the watering to the evangelist but
the feeding to the elders. He is
needlessly confusing things. Paul's
language presents a clear balance between the in-reaching and the out-reaching
roles of evangelists. Apollos building
up the local body at Corinth, feeding and watering that flock, and refuting
false teachers in public is a perfect biblical example of a full-time local
preacher with a balance of efforts within and without (Acts 18:27, 28).
Smith invites us "to look where
the first century evangelists did most of their preaching…. It was not in the pulpits of comfortable
church buildings before familiar audiences.
It was out and about among the people of misdirected faith" (pg
198, P 3). From the examples in Acts, he
cites where they preached in Jewish synagogues, by a river with those meeting
for prayer, on Mars' Hill among the philosophers, in private homes, in public
places, on dusty roads, and in lecture halls.
Smith's message is well taken that that evangelists today need to carry
the gospel outside the church building.
However, he does not take into account how different the world is
today. For one, in the very early days,
there were no local churches out there anywhere in the first place. Also, there was not the abundance of
denominations already believing in Christ.
(We don't really look that unique to them today). Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine any
modern counterpart to the examples in scripture. If a gospel preacher today visited a Catholic
mass, the priest would not likely give him the floor saying, "If you have
any word of exhortation for the people, say on" (Acts 13:15). A treasurer for royalty would not likely pick
up a hitch-hiking stranger in his limousine (Acts 8:27-31). No one causing a ruckus today would likely be
offered a public lecture venue in a council hearing (Acts 17:18-20). People today do not open their homes to bed
down travelling strangers (Acts 10:32; 16:15); we have cheap motels for
that. With crime and annoyances so
common today, wary people usually offer nothing more than a curt
"hello" in a public place and not even answer the phone or their
front door for a stranger.
In our culture today,
the public meeting house for a church has proven to be an expedient place for
evangelism. A stranger uncomfortable
with you in his home or vise versa will not feel threatened there. Smith ought to be more willing to recognize
the typical church building today as a viable, cultural expediency for
gathering people together for evangelism.
That's not to say we should not be exhausting every other option;
however, such opportunities are much
harder to come by these days.
Conclusively, a church has scriptural authority by New Testament
examples for paid, local, gospel preachers (1 Cor 9:4-14); they simply ought to
be doing more than "keeping house."
Moreover, any gospel preacher whose focus is to make a name for himself
in the brotherhood by publishing books and holding lectures is misdirected.
Beginning at page 209,
Smith discusses the need for every Christian to do evangelism and not just
leave all the work to the paid professionals.
Likewise, he notes that just because one is not appointed an official elder
or deacon doesn't mean he has no responsibility to be watchful for others or be
a servant. (pg 211, P 2). Without such
individual vigilance, we could find ourselves following heretical elders into
their sin and false doctrine. Smith's
remarks have scriptural validation; however, his application of this in
assembled worship does not. He writes,
"Of course, it's what happens when we are assembled for the memorial
meal,… and worship… which most naturally defines our mutual ministry…. The very concept of worship focused around a
pulpit flies in the face of the dynamic, mutually participatory house churches
in the apostolic age. Houses don't have
pulpits!" (pg 211, P 4).
about "memorial meals" and small "house churches" throw him
off track again. Amazingly, after all
his good exhortations for all Christians to be involved in evangelism, he
reiterates his error that the Lord's day worship assembly is not the place for
it. In all this writer's years in the
church, he has never seen one worship service "focused around a
pulpit." Our worship is
Christ-centered (Phil 3:3), but the mind of Christ is revealed only in His word
(Eph 3:1-7). Therefore, Christ-centered
worship is necessarily word-centered, and the pulpit is simply an expediency
for its delivery. When New Testament
examples of assembled worship are examined, we see exactly this propensity for
the word (Acts 4:31; 6:2; 18:11; 20:7).
However, no correctly applied scripture supports Smith's doctrine of the
"memorial meal." Smith's proposition
that the Lord's Supper is the centerpiece of a "memorial meal" (pg
131, P 3) creates not a pulpit-focused worship but a meal-table-focused
worship, and such a focus is carnal-mindedness.
By the end of the
chapter, Smith completely denounces the idea of balanced roles for preachers,
calling for evangelists to be no longer seen in pulpits and for pulpits to be
emptied of evangelists (pg 212, P 2).
There is no scriptural reason for such an idea. This is a calling for change for the sake of
In chapter eleven, Smith
addresses some problems in the church today where special interest programs run
amok. One particular program involved is
the typical "youth ministry," found especially in large churches
supporting human institutions and sponsoring social and recreational
activities. The Bible student is well
rewarded to read Smith's insightful examination in this arena. He deals with the issue soundly, up to the
point where application is made to house churches and meal-table fellowship.
Smith explains that the
heart of the problem is a failure at the level of mature leadership. When mature leaders fail to lead with
soundness, natural behavior dictates that the young and inexperienced will
assume the leadership role, almost like a wolf pack, where the alpha male
looses his influence. (Shakespeare's
story of King Lear is Smith's illustration, pg 214 - 217). When the youth of a church begins to make
demands for programs and activities specially tailored to their modern styles,
weak elders who cater to them might not be aware of some dangers being
introduced. Those who are young and
lacking wisdom and experience are then the ones driving the church (pg 220 -
221). However, it is God's intended
order that those older rule those younger.
Some modernized churches today are turning this upside down.
Smith takes reference
from two events in Israel's history to demonstrate this. His first is the demise of the Northern
Kingdom. He writes, "The most
fascinating thing about the punishment which God promised as a result of the
elders' languid leadership is that,… since the elders failed to lead from the
top of the generational hierarchy, God said… 'I will make boys their officials;
mere children will rule over them' (Isaiah 3:4)" (pg 221, P 3). The other event is when Rehoboam took the
advise of the young, inexperienced counselors with horrific results (pg 222, P
Smith notes that this is
manifesting itself in some churches today in what he calls "the worship
wars," which are centered mainly around the music in worship (pg
223). A kind of "campfire"
style of contemporary music is introduced, and Smith explains, "Not
unexpectantly, young people were instantly drawn to the easy tunes and simple
lyrics with their distinctive emphasis on feelings" (pg 224, P 3). Smith further explains how we then begin to
hear the faint call for adding instruments in worship, and a schism in the
church begins to form over "contemporary" and "traditional"
worship formats (pg 224, P 5).
Smith elaborates, "Without begrudging them their own
space and opportunities for fellowship, the fact remains that there are
consequences to dividing up the congregation for any
purpose. For all their advantages, there
are also inevitable down sides to carving up the family into 'singles
ministries,' 'seniors ministries,' and 'the college group.' Once such categories are created, at some
point the wholeness of the Lord's body begins to get lost in much the same way
that focusing on minorities in society can actually produce more strife than
unity" (pg 225, P 1, 2).
This is not to say that
churches today might not need to designate certain people to be committed to
executing particular tasks to see to the needs of a certain group. This is exactly what happened in Act 6 in the
way the widows' needs were met. However,
in that case, the apostles were not slack in their leadership nor did they
allow the widows to take over the work.
There are wise ways to handle the special needs groups without
fragmenting the church or relinquishing the leadership of elders.
It is actually
surprising and refreshing to this writer that Smith would here issue a
cautionary note about non-traditional worship formats and programs with a focus
on emotionalism and mutual participation for youth or any other special group
in the church.
In chapter 12 Smith begins answering some anticipated
questions that will doubtless arise regarding how his teachings could be put
into practice. This review will not
engage this arena. Before we discuss how we could do a certain thing, we should first
establish whether we should be doing it in
the first place, which Smith has not yet done.
In the remainder of his
book, Smith summarizes his presentation and adds some clarification. He is to be commended for including the
"dissenting remarks" from others; however, nothing presented there
offers any explanation for the hermeneutical errors noted in this review.
We will end where Smith
begins: with a view of Edwin Abbott's "Flatland." Smith implies that those not willing to
consider a new point of view are stymied in traditions and oblivious to the
reality of God's true revelation (pg 22 - 27).
This is a completely scriptural principle. Peter warns concerning the inability to see
anything except what is near (1 Pet 1:9).
In Daniel's prophecies, he explains, "Many will be purged, purified
and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will
understand, but those who have insight will understand" (Dan 12:10).
This review has been conducted
with full open-mindedness. The fresh
view-point has been given a fair shot.
However, in the story of "Flatland," it is understood that the
true reality exists in the three-dimensional world; those content to live in
the two-dimensional world are living in ignorance. They are limiting and restricting where
limits and restrictions are only fictitious.
The story is only used as an illustration, and illustrations can be utilized
to support anything: even heresy. With
an open mind, please consider the result in the story if the true reality
exists only in Flatland -- the two-dimensional world -- and that the
three-dimensional world is actually fictitious.
For this analogy, let the two-dimensional world represent the doctrine
of Christ; anyone venturing into the third dimension is transgressing into
error, devoid of truth (2 John 9).
In this review, Smith is
seen making grievous hermeneutical errors.
Words are wrangled and adjusted in meaning; generic and specific
terminology is exchanged; possible, not necessary, inferences are offered in
argumentation to arrive at conclusions not forced; apostolically disapproved
examples are cited for authority; pure conjecture is put forward void of any
scriptural support; self-contradictions are generated; the whole scriptural
message is not presented; and carnal-mindedness is a keynote. In a similar but completely different
analogy, Smith's view of religion and the church today is like trying to draw a
map of the world on a flat piece of paper.
The only way to do it is to distort the true image. By assumption, Smith pre-determines what he
supposes to be true. As a result, sound
doctrine on the organization, work, purpose, worship, and authority in the
church is distorted to fit the premises.
note that not everything Smith presents is appraised as a departure from sound
doctrine in this review. It is good that
Smith challenges us to ask why we do what we do and to keep our fervent service
from falling into perfunctory formalities.
However, change for the sole sake of change where problems with
lifeless, unspirited worship do not prevail is nothing more than a needless
invitation for strife and suspicion among brethren. This writer has personally witnessed
unnecessary friction hereby created in the church.
The reader is strongly
urged to investigate open-mindedly on his own and determine for himself whether
these teachings of F. LaGard Smith are consistent with sound doctrine as
presented in scripture. Please consider
this review a warning. Follow what you
know is true; reject what is shown to be heresy.
This work is presented
in all respectfulness and love. Joy is
not taken in offering a reproof to a brother; joy is found in the word of the
Lord (Psa 119:77). A search for truth
and self-examination for every man must never end. Should any reader conclude that this review
contains misapplication of scripture, this writer is humbly prepared to accept
constructive criticism in the word.