A Message to the Organic Church Movement from One on the Outside

Organic church 1

If you happen to be one of the few who follow my blog you might be wondering, “where in the world is this cat coming from?”  One day I’m writing about anarcho-communism and radicial unionism, the next I’m putting down my thoughts about Jesus Christ and Christianity.  Well, if you’re wondering whether there is a connection between these two subjects check out my article, “The Anarchy of Christianity” http://seekingcommunity.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/the-anarchy-of-christianity/ .  However, on a personal note I come from a Christian background.  I’ve had experience in Christianity since the age of 15 and about 5 years ago I found myself moving into, “the organic church” stream.

I had become disillusioned with organized religion and the glaring chasm between its practice and the teachings of Jesus.  Personally, I found that I could not live up to the standards that others, and myself, put on me.  Spiritually, I could no longer ignore the contradiction between what was preached and what was practiced.  I realized that Jesus was “outside of the camp” and I was willing to follow him outside of it.  I have always been fond of Jesus of Nazareth.  Even to this day I would say that he has influenced me more than any other person.  So, into the organic church movement I went.  My experience in it was similar to my experience in organized Christianity.  It was a mix of good and bad (as all things will be to one degree or another).  But at the end of the day it did not satisfy the deep longing in my heart for prefigurative, relevant community.

In this article I will quickly share a few critiques of the “organic church” movement that might be of some value to those who are still in it.  I think the biggest hole in the organic church movement is on the political level.  What do I mean by this?  Well, in the book of Revelation there are two Beasts who stand in opposition to the Messianic Community.  The first beast comes out of the sea and represents “the State”.  The second beast comes out of the land and represents “the Religious System.”  The organic church movement made bold strides in rejecting the second beast, the beast of organized religion.  But I soon found that the first beast,the worship of the state,  was either ignored or openly accepted.  Let me explain.

It was a badge of pride to say, “I hate organized Christianity.  I have thrown off the yoke of religion.”  Yet, many in the organic church movement still hold on fiercely to patriotism, militarism, and state sanctioned murder in the form of capital punishment.  That ancient boldness and clarity of vision that caused multitudes of believers to reject the worship of Caesar and Rome has not been recovered in the modern organic church movement.  Some openly support patriotism, while many others simply ignore the issue.  There is a common mantra that says, “Jesus is all that matters.”  Well, obviously there has to be something deeper than mere allegiance to such a statement.  Many in organized churches would subscribe to that statement, but obviously those in the organic church are looking for something other than what can be found in the denominations.  If the organic church movement uses such a statement to remain blind to the destructive presence of the first beast they are more than welcome to.  But the movement will remain in obscurity and irrelevance.  Or, worse it will just be another impotent, popular movement of Christendom.

Secondly, the organic church movement has not rejected the economic system of Babylon.  Many speak of the religious aspect of Babylon as recorded in Revelation 17- the Great Harlot.  But she has a political and economic aspect recorded in Revelation 18.  She buys and sells and becomes rich through the buying and selling of “human beings”.  It is an exploitative market economy.  This aspect is closely tied to the first Beast.  It is no suprise that those who refuse to reject the first Beast, the revered state, also refuse to reject its economic system of human exploitation.  But if the organic church movement is going to regain the pristine power of the first century church they speak so much of, then they must reject the First Beast and the Babylonian system of economics.  The Book of Acts and the writings of Paul clearly contrast the economics of the Kingdom with the economics of Babylon.  In the first Church the believers had “all things in common.”  For those who point out that no other churches practiced that, then let me suggest Paul’s economics, “you should supply their lack, so that when you are in lack they may supply you with their abundance.  As it is written, he that gathered little lacked nothing, and he that gathered much had nothing left over.”

In essence, Christian Community is not simply a few meetings a week consisting of those disgruntled with organized religion.  Nor is it a few meetings a week where believers simply speak high sounding messages to one another about Jesus and who they are in Christ.  Christian Community is a geniune community of people sharing their lives together- United by the Spirit and Message of Jesus Christ.  It should produce all the components of a community- spiritual, economic, political, and social.  When I say political I do not mean entrenchment in a political party or system.  I mean being able to interpret and speak to political issues under the influence of the Spirit of Christ.  To be relevant to the struggles and issues of the outside community.   organic church 3

My final critique of the organic church movement has to do with the leadership.  Personally, most cats I’ve come in contact with are cool.  But for the most part they have not wrought deliverance in the earth.  They have brought forth wind.  Many of them tried, and started out on the right path.  But, hell, who doesn’t want to make a nice living and be recognized for their gifts?  Notwithstanding, those who feel themselves to be leaders in the Messianic Community should be the greatest of servants.

I have found one man (and i’m sure there are more) who is a genuine apostle.  He would probably laugh if he were in the room right now and tell me to delete that statement.  No, I don’t see everything as he does theologically.  But in practice he gives his time, heart, and energy to the churches and to the members who compose it.  He travels hundreds of miles a week in a small car to visit local gatherings of believers.  He puts as much stock in sitting around a dinner table as he does in delivering a message.  He is a true worker.  But you don’t know who he is.  He hasn’t written a book and he doesn’t speak at exciting conferences on the beach.

He doesn’t ask for money or demand a certain amount for his visit.  He doesn’t sweep in for a two day conference to present a “glorious vision of Jesus” only to leave.  He will sleep on a blow up mattress and sip coffee with you into the late hours.  The Organic Church movement needs leaders such as this if they want to be relevant and build genuine healthy groups of believers.  But leaders alone cannot be blamed.  The people themselves must desire this community.  They all must be willing to be leaders in the Ecclesia.  They must long for a life together that transcends one or two weekly meetings, patriotism, and the idol of “the nuclear family.”

Let me hit on the nuclear family quickly.  America has nurtured the ideology of independence and the sacredness of “the nuclear family.”  Now, let me be clear.  Families should have boundaries and people should care for their families.  Don’t misunderstand me.  But the nuclear family should be the training ground for loving others as brothers and sisters.  It should be the source of  a spring that gushes out to others in our community.  It should not be a shut up well that is available only to those who make up or “nuclear family”.  The Christian Community should be our family.  The next phase, or training ground, of practicing love.  And that, in turn, should spill out to the greater community until we are able to truly recognize all people as brothers and sisters and are able to recongize Jesus in the very least in our society.

I will stop there.  My time in the organic church movement ended about a year and a half ago.  It was a good time and opened me up to new ideas and dreams.  But ultimately it turned out to be a lot of talk and very little practice.  And no wonder.  We are busy people who are entrenched in a system highly incompatible and hostile to genuine Christian Community.  But, the need for this community remains.  Perhaps those who talk will be daring enough to practice.  Willing to trust one another instead of some leader above them.  Willing to take the chance of treating one another as family.  And daring enough to take the next step.  Maybe this community is bigger and different than we first considered.  I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

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About andrewwehrheim

Hello Blogging World. My name is Andrew Wehrheim. I am married to my beautiful wife Katie. We have a wonderful son named Andrew Peter, a.k.a "Buzz". We are in the process of moving from Lancaster, OH to Milwaukee, WI. I am a working class man. I have worked in the grocery industry the past four years. I am drawn to a deeper experience of community and long for a world of justice and love. Word out.
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18 Responses to A Message to the Organic Church Movement from One on the Outside

  1. Mary says:

    I thought this post was well written with lots of food for thought. Have you come across http://www.thewartburgwatch.com I think you would like it.Problems in the church are faced head on and wide ranging , respectful dialogue follows. You might like to add your voice to the discussion.

  2. Thanks Mary. I have not heard of the Wartburg watch before. I’ll check it out. Thanks. I hope you and you’re family are doing well.

  3. Hey Andrew…thanks for your honesty in this post. I’m curious as to what your up to right now for community that you describe and long for? Keep up the energy and honesty for the sake of the Kingdom!

    • Hi Tom. Well, we just moved about a month ago so I am just getting my bearings. Right now my focus is on creating solidarity in my workplace. I am part of a union called the Industrial Workers of the World: iww.org. It is a unionism far different from the big mainstream “business” unions that most are familiar with. If you parouse some of my other articles you will see what I mean. Other than that, not a lot at this time. I’ve considered visiting a few “churches” in the area but haven’t made it out yet. My wife and I both work, and we have a son, so life remains busy. I have made a few connections with people and groups that I would like to pursue in time. Ask me in a year and hopefully I will have more to say. But maybe not. My critique is as much for me as anyone else. What are you up to brother?

      • Thanks for the update Andrew…sounds like a very busy season for your family. My wife and I are in the infant stages of “house church” after a lifetime of being part of various local community churches. It’s evolved from different relationships with people in our lives. I’ll keep you posted.

  4. Tim Day says:

    Well written, Andy. One thing to consider is that your embrace of radical unionism and rejection of patriotism *might* be just as aligned with the “political beast” – if indeed that’s what the beast represents – as someone else’s embrace of free markets and patriotism. I don’t know you – I just imagine a hint of that as I read what you wrote, and it could be me. Paul seem to have had government officials and wealthy merchants among his friends and fellow workers. Jesus had folks from all across the spectrum following him (and I think still does).

    Many believers are patriotic without being nationalistic, or believe that free markets (with varying degrees of community oversight) help more people than government-controlled markets.

    I’m part of a fellowship with a wide variety of political views, I suspect. I don’t have a conversation about politics with everyone (in fact, only when the other person initiates). Regardless of political viewpoint, parents are raising their children in the Lord – with the help of the aunts and uncles who make up the group. That alone will impact the culture of our community and others, as they are sent out.

    This weekend we are spending time with friends who are homeless, providing whatever help we can and in turn being encouraged by them. The children will witness this activity and participate to the extent possible. They will learn a little about what it means to follow Jesus.

    Whether we think the government should guarantee them a minimum income or whether we think helping the poor should be left to the church, or whether we are somewhere along the spectrum in between those views, we agree that Jesus Christ sent us to the poor – so we go. Not as much as we probably should, yet.

    Keep looking – but be encouraged to look everywhere, including places you *might* have overlooked.

    • Greetings Tim. I would like to address some of your questions and concerns. The union I am a part of, and endorse, is affiliated with no political party, gives no money to political parties, and instead practices solidarity among workers and direct action. We reject heirarchical leadership struggles, and have only two paid “officials” who make under 30,000$ a year. Might we be part of the political beast? I don’t think so, but you might disagree. I see radical unionism, along with other forms of alternative community and struggle, as elements outside of “Leviathan” working for a better world. Of course, this may sound too inclusive for most Christians and I am fine with that. After all my article was “from one on the outside.” ;)

      I agree that Jesus had all sorts of friends. I’m good with that. I don’t think its people he attacked, but rather systems and modes of thinking/living. I do not hate capitalists as people. In fact, capitalists are as enslaved as the working class, just in a different way. Both need liberation. Oppressor and oppressed both need healing. However, this fact did not stop him from saying, “woe to the rich”. He did not say, “woe to the prideful rich”. He told his rich young friend to sell all that he had in order to join the band of poor disciples. I think Jesus understood that there is an intrinsic evil in a system and lifestyle where a few can accumulate the majority of wealth that is created by a whole community. Early Christians spoke about this very thing as well. Some considered private property theft, and attributed its original acquisition and continued maintenance to violence.

      I am not in favor of government controlled markets. I am for socialization, not nationalization. I am for workers running their respective industries, the means of production being owned by the community, and the wealth created dispersed justly and fairly to the community by the community. I am not a statist. Capitalism has done an amazing job of creating production power and the technology necessary for different areas and regions to communicate in order to exhange the goods native to itself. However, the fact that the means of production and the wealth they create belong to the the few, and not to the community, bothers me. The collective wisdom and labor of generations has created a wealth of producing power, and for a few to be able to harnass it for their own benefit simply because they have capital is wrong.

      That being said, most of my friends and family are for free markets. I do not hold this a test of fellowship. However, I think that being in a new community should slowly deliver us from old notions. Eventually, Philemon needs to recongize that Onesimus is a brother, not a slave.

      I hope your time with the homeless is mutually beneficial. I think time with people is one of the best resources that can be given. I hear a lot of people say that helping the poor should be the Church’s job. Well, that’s a good idea I just haven’t really seen it practiced on a wide scale. There is a lot of charity. But there is a difference between solidarity/a new world and charity. We live in a system that makes it incredibly hard for a homeless person, who let’s say has a criminal record from his past, to get back on his feet. That’s why I think foundational systemic issues must be dealt with. In essence, I’m down with the idea of, don’t just give a person a fish. Teach him to fish. Unfortunately, the lake is owned by a capitalist and he won’t hire the former convict so even if he can fish, he can’t get to the lake. The community should own the lake and enable all of its members free access to the lake. One person said, “when I helped the poor they called me a saint. When I asked why people are poor they called me a communist.” That statement resonates with me.

      People are in different places. I understand that. And i am for people who want a new world working together, talking to one another, learning from one another. I’m even down with working with those in “institutional religions”. None of us have arrived and I encourage you and your fellowship in your endeavor to love one another and let the love spill out. It sounds like you guys have a lot of good stuff going in your midst. Thanks for the concern and encouragement. Peace to you and yours.

      • Tim Day says:

        I think we agree on more than we disagree. And I admit I misinterpreted your description of “radical unionism.”

        To your example of the rich young ruler and the admonishment of James I would add that of Aquila and Priscilla, who were more along the lines of capitalists and who clearly retained their own home (in which the church met). Paul’s instructions on giving cheerfully and willingly also indicate many believers had wealth to contribute in such a manner.

        The capitalist who owns the lake may very well invest in fishing training if it were profitable (i.e., a wise investment in the resources with which she is entrusted) or if he was led to give generously, as are many capitalists I know.

        On the other hand a socialist society may (and many have) decide that it isn’t good for the community for substance-addicted people to fish on the community lake.

        Or, the other way around.

        I don’t think the Kingdom of God is either socialist or capitalist. It is perhaps fuedalistic in that the King owns everything, distributes gifts as He wills, and expects only obedience and stewardship. Except He’s gracious and loving unlike any other king.

        How is the union addressing poverty for those outside the union?

    • Well, I don’t look at the union as the end all. I think the union is a part of a greater family of people who feel that the world can be run in a different way, with different priorities. So, of course the unions sphere of influence would be in the work place. Many in our union, such as myself, are in grocery or like my wife, in retail. He are poor despite how many hours a week we work. Our companies make billions in profits and disperse only the smallest amount necessary to those who are creating the wealth. So, our union works to organize workers on the basis of solidarity, common struggle, and common aspiration. Many capitalists give generously. Andrew Carnegie gave money to thousands of communities so they could have a library. But he also made that wealth off the backs of poor laborers who sacrificed life and limb to make him his money. This is the problem with capitalism. Many a capitalist may be a generous person. But they should inspect and consider the way in which they have made their money and decide whether they feel morally comfortable with it.

      I agree that Paul did not make laws to change people’s lives in the Christian Community. Instead, he believed in the power of the word of truth and the influence of the Spirit to transform a group of jews and gentiles, men and women, young and old, into a community where there is no “jew or greek, male or female, slave or free. But Christ is all and in all.” That statement should be constantly transforming the outlook and practice of those who believe it. Not as a forced law, but as a word of truth being worked out by the influence of the Spirit.

      I agree that so called “socialist” states have failed. Also, in my point about the lake and the fisherman, I was not speaking about someone currently under the infuence. In that case the community should make every attempt to rehabilitate that person first. I am speaking about free access to resources and work. That does not exist under capitalism. I can’t tell you how many jobs I recently applied for, only to hear back from one company (Thank God). Sure, there is work to do, but only if capitalists let you onto their lakefront property.

      Also, when I speak of private property, I do not mean that I am against people having their own homes, or plot of land for personal enjoyement. I am not for a community sharing a pair of 36/30 jeans. I am speaking of the resources and means of production. The community (not the state, not the government) owning together their resources and the means of production and deciding how to use them for the good of all. And then communities voluntarily associating with one another to share resources as needed. It’s a far off idea, i know, but I think it’s worth a shot. It’s referred to as “libertarian socialism/communism”.

      Also, I don’t see the Kingdom of God as fuedal. In some places we are called Christ’s servants. But in other places he calls himself our servant. In some places Christ is called King. In other places we are called co-heirs, and kings. The Lord wants us to rule with him, in union with him. The earth is given to him, but he gives it to us. We shall inherit the earth. We shall judge the nations. So, in a sense we serve Christ. But he first served us. He is the firstborn brother, but we are brothers and sisters in the same family. He is King, but so are we.

      I think the church incorporated many different aspects in her practice. The greek believers chose the word ecclesia to describe themselves. In greek Ecclesia denotes the assembly of free citizens gathered to democractically decided the affairs of the community. This speaks of grassroots, participatory democracy. There is more but I wrote an article called, “the Anarchy of Christianity” that you is on this page that you can read if you want.

      I think that’s it. I’m sure we have a lot of common and agree on a lot. And in talking to one another I’m sure we will gain greater clarity, and even more, friendship.

      One last thing- in terms of the union helping the poor. All I would say is that if the working class gained control of industry for the benefit of the whole community it would open labor up to all in the community and would better distribute the wealth to those who need it most. Of course, many Christians would say, “well the workers would screw it up cause they’re sinful too.” Perhaps, but I’m up for giving it a shot. I would rather move towards a system that tends towards justice and equality, rather than using human sinfulness as an excuse to stomach a system that is openly built on exploitation of people and resources. But, that’s my opinion.

      • Tim Day says:

        I fellowship at various times with homeless people, convicted felons, substance-addicted people, working poor, people who work 70 hours per week and barely make their mortgage, middle class, and people who are making six figures. We’re all brothers and sisters. We help each other out, and we help others out, but we don’t distribute all material possessions equally and none of us expect that. It’s not utopia, and it’s not theory – it’s the church. Or, it’s moving toward being the church.

        I say this to attempt to bring myself back to the subject of your post. Organic church life is out there; I just want to encourage you (and I can tell you know this already) that for you it may be among people who are very, very different from you – on the economic scale and otherwise. I’d say God has a sense of humor, but I don’t think He’s joking about church.

  5. Jayne Otterson says:

    This message so affirms me as we too– have come to a place much like you have described. The Church (both Institutional or Organic) has a long way to go. It appears that she is still married to the world/the American dream ….where the poor fall between the cracks. But –we read in the Bible that it is the poor who will HEAR the gospel. Ponder that for a while. However….on a different note…We have found great fellowship/community with those who are new seekers of Christ– who have not been influenced by the religious system. These ppl in our life are a tremendous blessing with hearts that are pure towards Jesus.. He is all they talk about. Wow….what joy it is to be with them!!!! That is why I feel less and less drawn to those who already have a foundation in Christ….it just gets tooo complicated/messy…too many debates and strife. Yikes…like that does ANYTHING beneficial. All that to say…that we are weary in chasing after a mirage that never yields true life in the spirit.

  6. Good to hear from you Jayne. I’m living in Wisconsin now, in Milwaukee. How is it up north?

  7. Jim Wright says:

    Andrew, thanks for your blog. There is lots of good insight in it. As someone who has started many “organic” fellowships within communities considered on the fringe of society, and who is part of a fellowship that includes those who were homeless, destitute, imprisoned, addicted, abusers and abused – but who are now moving forward with their lives being redeemed by the Lord in the context of real community – please permit me to add a few thoughts.

    First, those who come to ekklesia (the Greek word in the New Testament for “church”, but which means far more than “church”) with a pre-determined agenda will never last long. In real community and fellowship, we learn to submit to and prefer others (not some “leaders”, but one another) above ourselves – including each others’ political, social and economic agendas. That does not mean we give up our values or are silent about them. But neither do we have the right to expect others to adopt and submit to “my” mission and “my” views on things that are, at best, ambiguous in scripture and thus matters of individual conscience.

    In true community, there is a rich symphony of many gifts, motivations, callings and views. Your views are vital to the overall health of any fellowship you legitimately are committed to, and you need to contribute your perspective but not expect everyone to submit to it. Rather, you should be equipped and refreshed for the things God called YOU to do, while helping to do the same for others. But you have NO RIGHT to expect any fellowship or individuals to conform to YOUR calling or mission (sorry for the caps – there is no italics option).

    Ekklesia is not a vehicle for our individual agendas – even if they are 100% God inspired for us and for what God wants and calls us to do with our own lives.

    Going into ekklesia with the expectation that it will cater to or focus on your agenda will never work. NEVER. Agenda driven fellowships never last – seen it, done it, and have the scars to prove it.

    Rather, we must each be faithful to what God has called us to do, and the unique things we have come to perceive and believe as part of our own mission and calling. Add your calling and mission and perspectives it to the tapestry of community. But walk in humility with others who might just have other things and perspectives God has given, called and equipped them to do.

    Prefer them and their different gifts, motivations, perspectives and callings by honoring them even in your differences. Add your perspective, but also receive and be open to other perspectives and individuals as you learn to honor Christ in them and validate them as equal brothers and sisters in the Lord.

    Be equipped and encouraged in your calling, but understand that ekklesia is not about conforming to your calling – or anyone else’s individual calling. It is a place were we find the context, balance, encourage, and equipping to go forth in our calling – while helping to do the same for others in THEIR calling – even where it involves different perspectives on the many non-essentials.

    When we believe our calling and perspectives are “essentials” – and others are falling short of God’s purposes if they don’t conform to our personal but not-clearly-mandated-in-scripture “essentials” – then ekklesia is impossible in our lives.

    Although I disagree with your socio-economic views, and can cite lots of scripture that are contrary to your views, so what? In true fellowship, you can challenge me, and I you (and that should occur), but in the humility that says that we still honor God’s different callings in each other. Be rooted in the wonderful, multifaceted, multi-called and mult-gifted Body of Christ, while also going forth into the arena where God calls you as others go forth to honor Christ into their own arenas – like their business or politics or the military or the local homeless shelter. The Kingdom of God is relevant to ALL spheres of life – not just yours and your views.

    If either of us tries to impose or insist or guilt the fellowship into bending to us and our own agenda on things that are not essentials and, frankly, are NOT clear in scripture, then the fellowship will not survive – nor you in the fellowship. You will have failed to submit “one to another”.

    Anyway, think about it from one who has learned this the hard way, and made all the mistakes, before God finally burned out of me the need for church to be about me and my gifts, calling and motivations.

    Otherwise, I think your blog is spot on in most of what you say – especially on the “leadership” issues. Thanks for adding your voice to the needed, honest, assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the “organic” community. (And I really mean that!)

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  9. chosenrebel says:

    Andrew, I want to thank you for your honesty and the passion of your search. there are some really good points made here to both those inside and outside the organic church movement. I know you have given me some new things to think about. Thank you. At the same time, I wonder if you and others who critique the “organized church” and the “organic church” aren’t looking for something that never has and never will exist (this side of heaven).

    Too often we idolize the early church. The reality is that the early church, though gloriously filled with the Spirit of God and powerfully impacting on the Roman Empire of its day, transformative of the entire world, it too was a messed-up church. It had problems, big ones. Every epistle in the NT is written to address a problem that local assemblies had. A “Corinthinan-like” church today would be 60 MINUTES fodder. The church of Jesus Christ is a bride, being purified but she is not pure. Augustine put it this way, “The Church may be a whore, but she is my mother.” That’s reality.

    Bonhoeffer warned the Church about an overly idealistic view of “fellowship” and “community” in his short treatise LIFE TOGETHER. My copy is in a box right now (I’m moving) but the quote goes something like, “God hates our visionary dreaming.” He goes on to say that it is our idealization of what Christian brother is, our visionary dreaming, that eventually becomes the destroyer of Christian brotherhood. Read the book, or read it again. i think it might help you in your journey.

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  11. Bart Breen says:

    Andrew, I appreciate your comments as well. One of my favorite authors in terms of the challenges to my past thinking has been Jacques Ellul and he ties closely into a lot of what you are saying.

  12. By the way Bart, nice to meet you. I too, am a fan of Jacques Ellul. I think he speaks to the political nature of the Kingdom, as well as the spiritual.

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