For some friends and family who might read this blog from time to time, you might see this title and think, "huh?"
Frank Viola is the author of numerous books (Pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, From Eternity to Here, Finding Organic Church, and others) and a champion for what he calls "Organic Church." Though that phrase is loaded with all kinds of nuance and gets used to mean all sorts of things by all sorts of people, Viola’s use reflects his understanding and effort for more than 17 years to move the Church into a place of discovering, pursuing, maintaining and enjoying a living, vibrant relationship with God. For that to happen, he argues it can only be found in the context of true ekklesia (the biblical Greek word used to describe the followers of Christ who share their lives together as a way of discovering and accurately displaying Christ). This often stands in stark contrast to what is found in most institutional churches (whether they be full-fledged denominational institutions or simple, house gatherings) that all too often become centered on formats, hierarchy, and progorams instead of deep, relational life-sharing. In that, his point is well taken!
I find Viola’s writings to be inspirational, challenging, and sometimes down-right bothersome. There are times when I think his criticisms are right on target and other moments when they are completely over-stated…but they always cause me to think and internally scrutinize. I have traded just a couple of brief emails with him over the past few years as I’ve attempted to process and apply some of what I’ve read. Where I most align with him concerns his hope for the ekklesia. What he describes, as I understand him, predominately resonates with me as well. Real discipleship is not merely about the formation and development of Biblical knowledge and the display of external behaviors. It is about the discovery and incorporation of the life of Jesus in a relational context through which we are transformed from the inside-out. I hope I’ve described Viola’s view accurately.
The above all serves as introduction and context for some thoughts that I want to address to Mr. Viola regarding his blog offering from last summer "Discipleship, Mission, and Church: A Plea to Learn Our History" (July, 2009). It’s a piece of which I’ve just become aware through a link in his writing from today, "What is Organic Church? A Plea for Clarity." I had wanted to leave a simple comment on that blog entry, but found myself waxing long. Instead, I’m offering my interaction below.
Of course, I have no idea if Mr. Viola will respond (and I’m sure he has much else to occupy his time and focus), so feel free to add any of your thoughts to the mix as well!