On Frank Viola, Church Structure, and the Thought That Our Way of Doing/Being Church is the Best Way

A friend of mine posted a comment about Frank Vola.

I made the comment:
I still think Viola uses Scripture to argue for a church model that is not clearly defined in Scripture. Without it being clearly defined, we have the liberty to be different.

I once did church thinking I was being church better than everyone else because the structure was "more biblical." I don't want to go there again. Maybe it's my fault, but Viola's teachings (and those of other house church/organic church leaders) lead to that prideful thinking. When I look back, at least from my faulty perspective, God has impacted people through His ministry through me more in a "corporate" setting than in a conversational, mutual ministry setting.

And when it comes down to it, structure doesn't matter. Fruit, especially love, is what it is all about. And Viola always leads people to argue about inessentials.
My friend and his wife - another friend - both then shared replies explaining things.  I do not feel comfortable sharing their replies here.  But I will share my reply back to them.

I appreciate the beauty of your journey and the inspiration Viola has been to you, yet I find his teachings dangerous - not in that good, radical follow Jesus way, but in that divisive, church is better the way I do/be it way. Now, I do think that we all should be doing/being church the way that we feel best. If not, we need to change.  But we don't have to come across that our way is the only way.

I did read the article, 10 Straw-Man Myths About “Pagan Christianity” & “Reimagining Church." Twice. To see if I missed him addressing my main thought about him. And I don't think he did address my complaint.  Maybe he did in a roundabout way but not in a way that satisfied me. Why is church structure an essential? 

We could all be going to churches that are structured correctly. Whatever that means. And that would not matter. The problem with church is not the structure; it's the lives of the people outside of the structure.  I agree that some structures are more conducive to inspiring people, but that structure changes culturally.  For me to be dogmatic about the way I connect with God and expect that to be the structure would cause the church to stagnate once the culture I am ingrained in has passed society by.  This has been one of the greatest problems facing the church.

There are people called to church leadership. There are leadership positions clearly established in Scripture. Everyone wanting to be church leaders or theologians makes an unhealthy church. Not being a leader does not make anyone less important. It actually makes everyone the part of the body they should be. What makes a healthy, vibrant church is everyone living out the faith in their homes, their communities, and their workplaces. We might disagree, but I think mutual leadership is more of an appeal to the Thoreauish individualism of America than to the early church.

I used to be overly cynical about the traditional, sanctuary church and its leaders. But now serving as a pastor, I know I don't want people to just show up, eat up, and leave on Sundays. But I also don't believe in open leadership. I want people to come, be involved in one another's lives, encourage one another, and go out and live the faith in a radical way that makes them shine the light of Jesus in our culture. Open leadership really is irrelevant to that happening.

There is a reason you find people to minister to who are burnt out from institutional church.  That's because we serve a great God who knows who to send people to to minister to them, and you and Eric are great ministers.  But the danger we face in ministering to people who have been turned off from the same things that we have been turned off from is that cynicism can flourish.

I think it is fine and great to do church differently. I am happy Viola invigorates you and others. But I would hope that there would be enough grace to not tear down different expressions of the faith. Just like you don't like the traditional, sanctuary church acting like they are the only game in town, I think nobody should act like they are the only game in town. The kingdom is big and expansive, and once we get dogmatic on structure we lose some of our witness.

I am not so kind to say that I am not trying to convince you. I would love to convince you, Eric, and the whole world that the church can be a megachurch with 50,000 people and it can be a group of three worshiping in a clearing in the woods. It can have top-down leadership; it can have mutual leadership. It can have worship leaders with a planned, rehearsed, and flawless presentation; it can have a lady who brings out her guitar and sings spontaneously. I have seen empty, passionless Christians in churches of all varieties, from organic churches to megachurches. I don't think the structure is the issue.  Total surrender to Jesus is.

As a minister - as every minister I know has been - I am inflicted with tremendous pain by the body of Christ at times.  I understand hurt.  Maybe yours has been more extreme.  But I also see tremendous beauty.  It's amazing.  As Tony Campolo said, "The church is a whore but she's my mother."

I view Facebook as a place of conversation, more of like saying something publicly so that other people respond with their thoughts. If that is not what Eric and you want with it, let me know. Because I still want to be your friends on here, but I don't mean to upset you.  I post on Facebook to hear what others think of what I think or am experiencing. I just assumed others do too.  After Eric's last refusal to comment, I did quit commenting on his posts for a while. But what sort of friendship is it that does not talk about different ideas and disagree at times? Personally, I am not just engaging in mental sparring. Although you are probably not intending this, stating that is my motive is a way to dismiss my thoughts and not consider them. If there was any evil in my comment it was to arrogantly hope that Eric would consider what I wrote initially: "When it comes down to it, structure doesn't matter. Fruit, especially love, is what it is all about. And Viola always leads people to argue about inessentials."

To sum up, I don't think the problem is institutional versus organic versus house or versus some other kind of church.  The problem is bad church versus the kingdom.  The kingdom can manifests in all sorts of believers, no matter how many they are or how they are structured.