by Terry O’Casey
We simply don’t get it! If we did, more people would get Jesus.
Thomas Campbell wrote his Declaration and Address in 1809 in part because he had witnessed the fractured and frightened denominations destroying a simple faith. Campbell himself was a member of the fractured Old Light, Anti-Burgher, Seceder Presbyterian Church. Ah, nothing like simple biblical names to attract the unchurched!
Repeatedly in his Declaration, Campbell uses a word that transcends 200 years, simple. All he wanted was a simple Christianity that works. Look on as Campbell lifts his ink-dipped quill and scribes the same word time after time. Do you hear the cry of his heart?
• “The desirable rest we utterly despair to find . . . amidst the diversity and rancor of party contentions, (is) . . . in Christ and his simple word.”
• “The Christian Association of Washington (is established) . . . for the sole purpose of promoting simple evangelical Christianity.”
• “To practice that simple original form of Christianity, expressly exhibited upon the sacred page; without attempting to inculcate any thing of human authority, or private opinion or the inventions of men . . .”
• “Unite with us in the common cause of simple evangelical Christianity.”
Simple was one of Campbell’s favorite words. Simple still connects with the spiritual seekers who say “yes” to Jesus but aren’t too excited about a church barnacled in her buildings.
RULES VS. RELATIONSHIPS
Some of our churches fall into one of two traps of complexity.
First, we have Museum Churches that create complex reenactments of the church of the 1940s and ’50s. Each year “officers” are selected according to complex, battle-shaped bylaws. State governments stipulate we must have bylaws, but why must they be so complex? Our bylaws look like court orders between warring parents (leadership) over who gets custody of the kids (the congregation).
In addition, we write into our bylaws that the calendar, not the character of a person, should determine when we choose leaders. Then we select a nominating committee that solicits nominations, and then forwards the names of nominees to the elders, who send the names back to the nominating committee to create a ballot. The ballot is drawn up, posted for two weeks, and then there is a vote.
Next there is a congregational meeting, called to order by a judge’s gavel, and then another vote. Since this is America, majority rules. Whether that’s the biblical pattern or not is irrelevant. Never mind that voting is used only once in the New Testament, and that to kill Christians in Acts 26:10! The next board meeting the chairman of the elders, chairman of the deacons, and chairperson of the board are finally put in place.
Ah, the fresh air of biblical simplicity!
We might argue, “It may not be biblical, but it seems to work!” Does it? Shouldn’t our leadership selection be biblical? Words related to disciple/mentor are used 269 times in the New Testament. We simply should be raising up leaders, not primarily by voting, or bylaws, or politicking, but through relationships as 2 Timothy 2:2 states. Relationships rule, not written human rules.
TRYING TO ATTRACT
Second, while some of our churches are museums, some larger congregations have fallen into “Niches of Itches.” We create an attractional model by finding out where people itch. Sometimes people don’t even know they are itching until we tell them with our promotions and publicity! Then we make a niche ministry; establish programs . . . and more programs . . . and more programs creating burgeoning codependency between “itchers” and pastoral staff.
The result: The senior pastor and the staff become burned-out choreographers of ever-increasing administriva and complexity instead of refreshed holy men and women of God.
NOT UNIFORM OR OLD
Simple in the early church didn’t mean uniform. The churches at Ephesus and Jerusalem were two distinctly different ethnic congregations. One was largely Torah observant; the other fought the influence of Diana. Both were able to keep things simple because . . . they simply had Jesus.
Simple in the early church didn’t mean Paleolithic (i.e., stuck in old ways). The early church was able to travel lightly into the future, switching from cumbersome scrolls to portable books, using marketplace evangelism, and renting schools to offer classes. Cutting edge can be so simple.
Simple in the early church didn’t mean dumbed down. Peter might have been a simple Galilean fisherman who was called “unschooled” and “ordinary” (Acts 4:13) by the seminarians of the Sanhedrin. (The Greek word is idiõtés. Today we’d say “idiot.”) Still, Peter managed to brilliantly beat the rap each time he was arrested. Or consider Paul arguing skillfully with Athenian philosophers. Simple seems to work for those with PhDs and those who got all D’s in school.
LOOKING TO JESUS
Consider the “Simply Jesus” Model:
Complexity: Jesus’ heavenly, pre-earth existence was anything but simple: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The birth of the whole world is traced back to him! “Through him all things were made” (John 1:3). Jesus’ pre-existence was amazingly complex, which makes the next points simply amazing: How Jesus did ministry must be a pattern for today’s church.
Simplicity: Fractal images are simple designs infinitely reproduced while maintaining simplicity. Look at a bracken fern. Can you see the simple pattern reproduced infinitely?
It is the same with Jesus. He was born to a simple Joe and Mary. He was birthed not in a capital, but at a truck stop. His family became migrant workers south of the border, in Egypt. When he returned he settled in a third-world city, Hicksville (aka, Nazareth).
Jesus didn’t work for the Intel of his day. He was a construction worker for 18-plus years! No pale, anemic, wimpy Jesus pictures please.
He hired simple fishermen and local IRS workers. He ate simple meals with simple broken people in borrowed homes. His first major sermon was in the grass, not a crystal cathedral. He never stayed at a Hilton, but often camped in the Garden of Gethsemane. He relied on others to supply his needs, dressed simply, and borrowed a kid’s Happy Meal to replicate enough food to feed an army.
At 12, he could baffle rabbis, but at 33 he could speak to an ordinary woman whose life was a chaotic, mental mess. He would call kids to sit with him, and admitted the first woman to seminary at Bethany . . . at a friend’s house while dinner was cooking. He borrowed a Ford Pinto to ride into Jerusalem for Passover. He shared the cross with common criminals and was buried in another man’s tomb. Finally, his resurrection was discovered not by a CSI forensic team, but a group of women, the first preachers, on the Lord’s Day, Resurrection Sunday!
Perhaps Jesus, the divine Son of God, came to earth to teach us how to live simply, minister simply, and live simply among the broken by entering people’s lives and homes.
A PLEA FOR TODAY
Yep, Campbell got it right, and it still preaches today:
• Christ and his simple Word.
• Simple evangelical Christianity, free from all mixtures of human opinion and inventions of men.
We can still practice that simple original form of Christianity today and invite others to unite with us in that practice.
Simplicity is in our DNA, placed there more than 2,000 years ago by the timelessly relevant Savior and reaffirmed 200 years ago by a very relevant Thomas Campbell in the Declaration and Address. Let’s recapture that simplicity, as we lift up:
• Simply Jesus,
• Simply the Bible, and
• A simpler way of doing and being the church!
Terry O’Casey ministers with High Lakes Christian Church in La Pine, Oregon.