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Dialogue and Community in Gene Edwards’

How To Meet

Presented to the Faculty

Regent University

College of Communication and the Arts

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the

Master of Arts

in Communication


Douglas Floyd

Spring 1994

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 1


How does it feel

To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?
- Bob Dylan

The twentieth century has been a period of unprecedented progress. In less than 100 years,

Americans have shifted from a country of “rough riders” to the major world power. “Progress” has

impacted virtually every element of our lives--from education to transportation to politics. As the country

has developed, many underlying foundations have begun to come apart such as the family, the community,

and the church. Fragmentation and isolation are reflected in our modernist and post-modernist philosophies.

In the sixties, musicians like Bob Dylan captured the “spirit of the age” with songs about alienation and


More recently, M. Scott Peck has echoed the pains of isolated individualism in his narrative about

early childhood. He says:

From the age of five until I left home at twenty-three I lived with my parents in an apartment

building in New York City. There were two apartments to a floor, separated by a small

foyer and elevator. As there were eleven stories above the first, this building was the

compact home for twenty-two families. I knew the last name of the family across the

foyer. I never knew the names of their children. I stepped foot in their apartment once in

those seventeen years. I knew the last names of two other families in the building; I could

not even address the remaining eighteen. I did not address most of the elevatormen and

doormen by their first names; I never knew any of their last names.

More subtly yet devastatingly, the strange geographical isolation and fragmentation of that

building was reflected in a kind of emotional isolation and fragmentation within my own

family. (Different Drummer 27)

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Christian writers have challenged the church to address this fragmentation by discussing ways to

encourage human community within the church. Several of them have called for a change in the present

church structure and a physical restoration in the priesthood of the believer.1 They emphasize the

importance of equipping believers to become ministers of the gospel and developing relationships within

the body of Christ.

Gene Edwards is one of these writers that calls for a new level of relationships and lay ministry

within the body. In How To Meet, he challenges his readers to rethink their whole concept of the church

and church structure by questioning accepted institutions and outlining a new approach to meeting. He

says, “This book thinks the unthinkable and proposes the preposterous: the elimination of Sunday morning

church service. Totally! The end of the present-day practices of the pastoral role--to be replaced by

returning to the first-century practice of the itinerant church planter. The result is a lay-led church” (iii).

Edwards exposes the failure of mechanistic church services and describes an organic church where

each fellowship discovers its own unique way of meeting through the help of a church planter. In the midst

of the process, the believers develop genuine community.

Edwards' ideas are fascinating (or alarming) in light of his conservative background. He is a

retired Southern Baptist minister who was trained at Southwestern Seminary (a conservative stalwart), and

at least one of his previous books has been used as a textbook for seminary students.2 In spite of this

conservative heritage, his latest book challenges many orthodox positions such as the church service, the

pastoral role, and the need for a church building.

Edwards uses a series of narratives to develop his arguments. The majority of the chapters are

short stories about existing churches, his experiences, or New Testament churches united by themes of

community, church life, and church planting. In the final chapters, he outlines his proposals for

rediscovering the organic church meeting.

His narrative approach in argument, his conservative background, and the radical message of this

book all combine to make this an engaging rhetorical artifact for exploration and criticism.

1 Several key writers have been Carl George, Gene Edwards, Ralph Neighbour, and Jim Rutz.
2 A Tale of Three Kings is used in several Regent University courses.

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With the growing challenge for churches to impact a nation which suffers segmentation and

division, does Edwards' book present ideas which could help the church rediscover and experience genuine

community? This study seeks to answer that question by considering his writing in the context of historical

and contemporary restoration movements and evaluating it through the goal of genuine community.

Review of Literature

Edwards addresses the challenge of community formation within the church by suggesting that the

churches return to the informal structures found in early Pauline communities and other nontraditional

churches throughout post-New Testament history. His arguments center on revealing the demise of

community in church recommending a church pattern which encourages community. Significant writings in

both of these areas should be considered prior to a rhetorical examination of his book.

The Demise of Community

The demise of community in the church is reflected in the demise of community in the nation.

American democracy struggles with a constant paradox: individualism versus community. Alexis de

Tocqueville admired American democracy yet feared the potential destructive impact of our

“individualism.” He writes, “Individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it

attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness” (98).

Robert Bellah et al. explore the current implications of de Tocqueville's ideas in Habits of the

Heart. They point out that a free republic can only be sustained through the mores of its people. “Mores

seem to involve not only ideas and opinions but habitual practices with respect to such things as religion,

political participation, and economic life” (37).

de Tocqueville argues that the independent citizen must be bound to the moral life of the

community through inherited values and interlocking public commitments and roles (cited in Bellah 39).

Considering the social landscape today, Bellah et al. explains that the independent citizen's commitment to

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community has fallen to the forces of expressive individualism and utilitarian individualism thus dividing

the public and private life.3

Unrestrained individualism has segmented families, government, religion, workplace, and the

public square. The selfish focus predominates in each of these areas at the expense of a collective voice.

Individuals have lost sight of the whole by turning inward in search of complete self-fulfillment, but no one

is completely independent. As Bellah et al. argue:

We find ourselves not independently of other people and institutions but through them. We never

get to the bottom of our selves on our own. We discover who we are face to face and side

by side with others in work, love, and learning.

. . . Finally, we are not simply ends in ourselves, either as individuals or as a society. We are parts

of a larger whole that we can neither forget nor imagine without paying a high price. (84)

Bellah et al. do not only depict the bleak condition of our society, they also offer hope for a

healthy balance between individuals and society by exploring mechanisms which help reawaken the

individual's consciousness of a greater social responsibility. One key mechanism they discuss is the

“community of memory.” These communities share common stories among their members which “offer

examples of men and women who have embodied and exemplified the meaning of community” (153).

Religious communities can exemplify the “community of memory.” The spiritual disciplines and

moral narratives in religious communities remind the individual that he is a part of the whole. Bellah et al.

believe that religious communities hold the power to help transform our culture on various levels. They say,

“Personal transformation among large numbers is essential, and it must not only be a transformation of

consciousness but must also involve individual action. But individuals need the nurture of groups that carry

a moral tradition reinforcing their own aspirations” (286).

The challenge of community formation is ongoing and must be continually faced. Martin Buber

warns of the danger of neglecting this responsibility by saying, “Man will not persist in existence if he does

3 Bellah defines a utilitarian individualistic society as a “society where each vigorously (pursues)
his own interest, (and) the social good (is expected to) automatically emerge” (33). Expressive
individualism puts “aside the search for wealth in favor of a deeper cultivation of the self” (33). Both forms
seek self-interest above all else.

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not learn anew to persist in it as a genuine We” (Knowledge of Man 19). Buber's monumental work, I and

Thou, lays a basic framework for considering the human challenges and potential of relationship formation.

Maurice Friedman and Ron Arnett have both continued to explore themes of relationship and community

based on Buber's ideas.

Humans need confirmation of their uniqueness. We find and give this confirmation in dialogue

with other people. Honest exchange must take place for dialogue to encourage genuine community.

Friedman explains Buber's concept of dialogue in relation to “being” and “seeming”:

The essential problematic of the sphere of the between, writes Buber, is the duality of being and

seeming. The person dominated by being gives himself to others spontaneously without

thinking about the image of himself awakened in the beholder. The seeming person, in

contrast, is primarily concerned with what the other person thinks of him, and produces a

look calculated to make himself appear “spontaneous,” “sincere,” or whatever he thinks

will win the other's approval. This seeming destroys the authenticity of the life between

one human being and another and thus the authenticity of human existence in general.

(Confirmation of Otherness 7)

The challenge to develop community must be found in the realm of “being.” Peck says that this being is not

limited to “nice” feelings but also has the ability to disagree and fight gracefully (Different Drummer 71).

Ron Arnett explores the implications of Buber's “dialogue” upon community in his work

Communication and Community. He argues that one of the main problems our country is facing for the

“remainder of this century and into the next (is) communication from polarized positions” (15). According

to Arnett, these polarized conditions cannot be overcome by force but must be reached through an

invitation to share in common ground (22).

Thomas Merton echoes this challenge by saying, “To live in communion, in genuine dialogue with

others is absolutely necessary if man is to remain human” (Seeds of Contemplation 55). Humans can only

find wholeness as they enter into “genuine dialogue” with other humans.

Merton expresses frustration at the church's lack of true community. He writes that Christ's

physical body suffered and died on the cross, and his spiritual body suffers and is disfigured by division

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among men. He says, “Christ is massacred in His members, torn limb from limb; God is murdered in men”

(Seeds of Contemplation 71).

M. Scott Peck has made two vital observations by saying “In and through community lies the

salvation of the world” (Different Drummer 17), and “Community is currently rare” (25). Peck's own

struggles led him to learn about community formation and seek to promote it in the lives of others. In his

lecture tours throughout the country, Peck has found a “lack of and thirst for community. This lack and

thirst is particularly heartbreaking in those places where one might expect to find community: in churches”


Church Structure

Glistening through this dark picture is a gleam of hope. Ministers are recognizing the absence of

community and are taking active steps to promote it within their church and within their cities. Several

writers have presented constructive criticism to help solve this dilemma.

Jim Rutz offers a positive adaptation to church structure in his book, The Open Church. He

outlines several different options for helping churches become more open to dialogue and interpersonal

community. Rather than calling for a new structure, he discusses ways to bring small group dynamics into

the large group meeting.

Ralph Neighbour outlines a cell church structure in his book, Where Do We Go From Here?. He

lays a foundation for churches based on cells. All cell churches may vary and place emphasis in different

areas, but Neighbour says they share several key elements.

According to Neighbour, the fundamental element in the cell church is the cell (Where Do We Go

From Here? 194). The cell church focuses on small groups that meet weekly within the homes of the

believers and are complimented by a celebration gathering of cells on a weekly or biweekly basis. There is

a growing interest within the various churches to experiment with the cell church structure.4

The cell church concept is an extension of the house churches which traces its roots to New

Testament scriptures and early church history. The writer of Acts depicts the early church meeting daily in

4 Marsha Gallardo, “Church: A Back-To-The-Future Model For Growth?” Ministries Today

(May/June 93) 27-34.

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homes and “breaking bread together” (Acts 2:42-47). Paul also makes reference to house church meetings

(Colossians 4:15) and challenges the believers to use their gifts in ministering to one another whenever they

meet together (Romans 12:6-8; I Corinthians 11; Ephesians 5:19).

According to Graydon Snyder, “Early Christians undoubtedly met in private homes and there is no

evidence that homes were converted into church buildings or that church buildings were erected prior to

Constantine” (67). Colin Brown sees the house churches as a significant contribution “for the spreading of

the gospel. With them the early church took over the natural order of life” (250). “The movement which

conquered the Roman Empire,” according to Tom Sine, “was in reality a movement of small house

churches” (76-77).

Del Birkey traces the influence of house church movements throughout history. He uncovers them

in monastic communities and Reformation radicals. Even Martin Luther saw the value of house churches.5

After the Reformation, the influence of house churches spread into the Anabaptists, the Wesleyans, the

Pietists, the Quakers, and many others.6

C. Kirk Hadaway et al. provide a Southern Baptist perspective on the development and importance

of house churches. They assert that “most modern denominations had their origins in home meetings” (50).

The Southern Baptist Home Mission Board has experimented with the feasibility of house churches since

the Jesus Movement of the late sixties and early seventies. Hadaway et al. explain that the board has sought

to reach unchurched members of society. As a result of the board experiments, they contend that most

house churches will eventually institutionalize as members grow tired of the unstable identity of a house


5 While Martin Luther believed that house churches could be an important part of worship he
never acted on his conviction (Birkey 67-68).
6 Thomas Oden maintains that Carl Roger's Encounter Group movement is a secularized pattern of
the Pietism in the 17th and 18th century among Jews and Christians. While he does not claim that Rogers
actually studied the Pietists, he does believe that they are affected by a stream of historical influence. Oden
examines the practicality and need for the encounter movement leaders and religious community leaders to
dialogue and explore how they each might contribute to one another's work.
7 Hadaway 218-222. This is a subjective experience on their part and does not seem to hold true of
all house churches. It is possible that their tight structure in the house churches plays a role in this process

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Lois Barrett presents a manual for beginning a house church in her work Building A House

Church. She says “The house church is an intentional church.” It is intentional because the members are

“intentional about who they are and what is the basis for their being together” (29). A covenant often

defines the intent of the members and helps establish continuity over time.

Barrett claims that another essential element in house churches is conflict. She says, “Conflict is a

sign that we are involved with each other, that we have taken the time to know each other with all our

differences” (29). This idea seems to reflect the dialogue in community mentioned by Buber, Merton, and


Many of the writers above discuss house churches on the basis of history, experience, and theory.

Using Pauline writings as his text, Robert Banks outlines a theology of house churches. He discusses

several ideas that are applicable to this study: the purpose of the church, Paul's' metaphors for church as

community, the focus of the Christian community, and the absence of formal organization in Paul's


Banks presents an interesting perspective on the purpose of the church on the earth by saying:

In fact, neither mission nor development of gifts is the ultimate purpose of a home church. Its

chief end is to nurture a genuine community life as a “signpost” to the coming kingdom

of God, a visible “bridge” between the present and the future. It is to create an alternative

society in the midst of different beliefs, values and standards of our prevailing culture. It

is to show what life is all about and what human relationships can really be like in this

world of ours. (Church Comes Home 213)

He divides the purpose of the church and the mission of the saints. Every believer has a mission to touch

this world with God's love, and they can do this most effectively when operating from a true community of


According to Banks, the two primary Pauline metaphors for the church as community are the

family and the body of Christ. He contends that the “family” must be regarded as the most significant

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metaphor of all.8 Paul speaks of God as “our Father,” Christ as “the Son,” and fellow saints as “brothers”

and “sisters” in Christ. Believers are members of a spiritual family and should live as though their fellow

saints were relatives. He continues to argue that the metaphor is given in the context of the home church

gatherings and in the language of relationship (Paul's Idea of Community 60).

The second key church community metaphor is the body of Christ. Banks believes the body of

Christ is fully represented by each local gathering. He explains:

Secondly, the community at Corinth is not said to be part of a wider body nor as a “body of

Christ” alongside numerous others. It is “the body of Christ” in that place. This suggests

that wherever Christians are in relationship there is the body of Christ in its entirety, for

Christ is truly and wholly present there through His Spirit. This is a momentous truth. We

find here further confirmation of the high estimate Paul had of the local Christian

community. (63)

Banks argues that the “body” metaphor is given to describe the relationship between the saints and

Christ and not the function of the church toward the world. He says:

Though today the metaphor is frequently applied in this direction, Paul does not think of the

“body” as a world-oriented entity, nor of Christ as dependent upon it for his visible

expression in the world. The local ekklesia in particular has no “face” to the world as

such. The world sees only Christians and sees them when they are not, as a matter of fact,

in church. (67)

Throughout his study, Banks compares Paul's idea of community with the other communities of

his day. Banks points out that in Paul's era communities were either centered around a “code” as embodied

in a sacred text (i.e., the Torah and the Pharisees) or around a “cult, with dramatic rituals and processions,

as well as mystical overtones” (111). He says Paul distinguishes the Christian community by centering

around a set of relationships where God communicates himself to the church primarily through fellow

8 Banks argues that this metaphor is often considered secondary to the “body of Christ” but that its
significance lies in Paul's ongoing use of “family language” and its implication for the church (53).

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believers (111). As the church moved away from the community, it returned to the cult (Catholic) and code

(Protestant) focus.

One of Bank's most controversial ideas is his argument about the absence of formal leadership in

Pauline communities. The word Paul often uses to indicate leadership is a common word not associated

with dignity or position but function (135). Banks argues that the community jointly shared responsibilities

and that Paul did not rely on formal means to maintain the conduct of the churches (189).


This work will consider the ways How To Meet encourages or fails to encourage community

development within the church through its ideas and rhetoric. In the midst of the process, I hope to discover

ideas and strategies which may be helpful for churches seeking to develop genuine community in their

local body.

In order to develop a foundation for studying Edwards' work, chapter two explores the historical

and contemporary church restoration movements. The various themes emerging from these movements will

help enlighten the examination of his work.

Chapter three will consider Edwards' personal background by highlighting key experiences in his

life and his restoration works.

Chapter four will examine and evaluate the rhetorical strategies found in How To Meet.

The study will conclude in chapter five by considering the implications of Edwards' ideas upon the

current emphasis on church as community. This study provides insight for a future deeper study on the

historical and contemporary rhetoric of the house/cell church movement and potential impact upon church

as community.

Key Terms

Church Structure - The overall organization pattern of a church and its implications upon decision-

making, assemblies, and the function (purpose) of the church.

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Community - An organic group of persons who have chosen and learned to become

interdependent, and who are committed to honest dialogue, sharing of life resources, and cultivating a

vision beyond the group resulting in the betterment of society.

Dialogue - The freedom and responsibility of individuals to communicate honestly, find common

ground, and walk the “narrow ridge” between conviction and compromise.

House Church - A small group of believers seeking to live in community by meeting regularly for

prayer and fellowship and developing relationships which extend beyond the meeting. Some groups are

autonomous while others develop formal and informal networks with occasional/regular celebration


Metaphor - The combining of one image with another image or concept to reveal a certain nuance.

Narrative - A story which exemplifies a concept or clarifies an idea.

Rhetoric - The use of metaphors, narratives, and other devices to create a shared meaning with

another and lead them to a new level of understanding and action.

Traditional Church - A group of believers who assemble for structured formal meetings and submit

to a hierarchical form of leadership.

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Christian tradition, unlike all others, is a living and perpetual revolution.
- Thomas Merton


Gene Edwards teaches that our whole understanding of what the church is and how the church

functions must be changed if we are to truly experience church as God intended it. He says the church is in

desperate need of revolution, and How to Meet “is about that revolution” (xi).

Before exploring the specific arguments in How To Meet, we must first consider the historic

context and contemporary context of Edwards' rhetoric. Since the birth of the church there have been

people and movements calling for change within the organized church or establishing movements

independent of the organized church. While some moved away from the gospel and formed heretical sects,

many sought to return to the apostolic or Divine intent of the early church. This latter group might be

considered in two separate categories: reformers and revolutionaries.

Reform means “to make or become better by removal or abandonment of imperfections or faults”

(Ehrlich 566). Therefore, church reform refers to rhetoric which recognizes certain imperfections in the

current church form and seeks to replace the negative elements with positive or essential elements.

Throughout church history, many movements have been reform movements. The leaders recognized certain

problems in the existing church organization and sought to reform the current church or establish separate

churches which implemented the reform measures but maintained aspects of the church pattern.

Revolution means “substitution of a new system of government” (Ehrlich 581). Church revolution

rhetoric sees the church pattern as the main source of the problem and seeks to develop a new pattern.

Many movements throughout church history have rejected the structure of the organized church and have

established new forms of church government.

There are elements in both reformation and revolution rhetoric that seek to restore the church to

the apostolic or divine intent of the early church. These rhetorics might be classified jointly as restoration

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rhetoric. What follows explores restoration rhetoric starting with the early church era and culminating in the

present. This treatment is not intended as a thorough historical examination but rather as a survey of key

ideas driving each movement. The intent of this chapter is to provide a historical context for contemporary

restoration rhetoric, and secondary sources have been utilized for summaries of each movement.

A Historical Survey of Restoration Rhetoric

Seeds of Reform in the Early Church

Restoration rhetoric appears at the very outset of the early church. In fact, it might be argued that

the church was a restoration movement from the synagogues and temples. Peter was one of the first

Apostles to challenge the new church's understanding of its mission and calling. He took the gospel beyond

the church's self-imposed limits of seeking Jewish conversions by sharing the gospel with a gentile (See

Acts 10). Paul moved beyond Peter's action by declaring that gentiles do not have to be circumcised and

observe Jewish customs in order to be saved and enter the church (See Acts 15).

These early accounts reveal a church that was struggling to define itself. At the beginning of the

church, God did not give one man a clear pattern but rather let people work together and discover His

divine intent for the church. And it is clear that they did not always agree. Paul wrote a letter to the

Galatians to confront the teachings of the “Judaizers” who believed that gentiles must submit to Jewish

traditions before they can obtain salvation.

After the apostles died and a new generation of believers began to lead, the church continued to

struggle with definitions and divine intent. Gradually, Paul's letters and other key writings became

references for the believers who sought to understand the divine intent of the church. The emphasis placed

on these writings, the authority of the church leaders, and the place of divine revelation would become key

sources for conflict and restoration movements in the years to come.

In the second century some believers in the West felt that “the Spirit's working . . . was being

replaced by dependence upon organization and ritual” (Kennedy 82). E.H. Broadbent explains the mood of

believers as hungry for a fuller experience of the Holy Spirit. He says:

In view of the increasing worldliness in the church, and the way in which among the

leaders learning was taking the place of spiritual power, many believers were deeply

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impressed with the desire for a fuller experience of the indwelling and power of the Holy

Spirit, and were looking for spiritual revival and return to apostolic teaching and practice.


In 154 A.D., Montanus responded to the heart cry of many believers and began to teach on the

importance of the Holy Spirit. The Montanists were not classified as heretics because they were orthodox in

the basic church doctrines. They just emphasized the movement of the Holy Spirit and were somewhat

extreme in their ecstatic expressions. As a result, some historians have portrayed them in a negative light,

but this is not completely accurate. The respected church father, Tertullian, cut off his ties with the Catholic

church and joined their movement. Kennedy points out, “It is hardly creditable that a man of Tertullian's

calibre and experience would be deceived by the frothy superficiality which is sometimes pictured as

Montanism” (85).

Little is known about restoration movements during the next thousand year period. Different

groups would surface from time to time calling for reform or forming their own sect in defiance of the

organized church. Groups like the Priscillians, Paulicans, and Bogomils rejected the central authority of the

church. For centuries they were labeled as dualistic heretics, but today some scholars have questioned those

labels. Broadbent believes they were maligned by historians who supported the traditional story against

these groups. In The Pilgrim Church, he describes these sects as responding to the lack of spirituality in

their rhetoric. While each group differs on particulars, Broadbent characterizes all three as submitting to the

authority of the Scriptures over the authority of Rome (37-65).

Pre-Reformation - Paving the Way for Change

During the years that preceded the Reformation, several important restoration movements

surfaced. Peter Valdes, John Wycliffe, John Huss, and Peter Chelcicky are four key figures who emerged

during this period. By challenging Romish authority and focusing upon the scripture, they helped prepare

the way for Martin Luther.

Peter Valdes (circa 1170). Valdes was a wealthy merchant who lived during the twelfth century.

After a dramatic conversion, he renounced his wealth, helped the poor, and preached the gospel. The

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Roman church rejected his teaching as heresy, and he became an itinerant preacher spreading the gospel

through Lyons. Some scholars trace the origins of the Waldenses to Valdo.9

The Waldenses were isolated groups of believers who were eventually found in the “France, Italy,

Switzerland, and Bohemia” (Estep 17). They rejected many beliefs and practices of the church such as

prayer to the saints and purgatory. Cameron says they “patterned their life after the apostles” (11-12) and

had parts of the Bible translated into their vernacular (13). Due to their emphasis on the Bible, faith, and

preaching, Estep says, “They became the most evangelical of medieval dissenters” (17).

Unlike many other reform movements, Cameron says, “They were not trying to get people out of

the Catholic church” (75), but they were committed to living out their faith in a simple lifestyle depending

on the Bible and itinerant ministers for teaching. Broadbent provides an excellent overview of their beliefs

when he says:

Apart from the Holy Scriptures they had no special confession of faith or religion, nor

any rules, and no authority of any man, however eminent was allowed to set aside the

authority of Scripture. Yet, throughout the centuries, and in all countries, they confessed

the same truths and had the same practices.

. . . They considered that in all times and in all forms of churches there were enlightened

men of God. They therefore made use of the writings of Ambrose, Augustine,

Chrysostom, Bernard of Clairvaux and others, not accepting, however, all they wrote, but

only that which corresponded with the older, purer teaching of Scripture. (99)

In addition, they valued education, and many of their leaders were educated in the Universities.

Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic church began to persecute them in the 14th century and

eventually killed or took captive many believers. In spite of the attacks, Broadbent says there are records of

them interacting with Reformers as late as the 16th century (219).

John Wycliffe (1328-1384). Wycliffe, a Roman Catholic priest, was committed to studying the

Scriptures and making it available to other saints. He completed an English translation of the Bible from

the Latin Vulgate during the latter part of the fourteenth century. He taught that the Scriptures had exclusive

9 See Euan Cameron, Jeremy Jackson, William Estep, and R. Tudor Jones.

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authority in the life of the believer. According to Wycliff, “Interpretation of Scripture is not the sole

prerogative of any man or organization; the meaning of Scripture is made clear by the Holy Spirit to those

who are enlightened of Christ and approach God's Word in a spirit of humility and teachableness” (in

Kennedy 125). Estep points out that he was “forerunner of the Reformation whose ideas may have been too

radical for his times” (61). In addition to his emphasis upon the scripture, he rejected the doctrine of

transubsatiation, called for reform in the lives of priests, and rejected the church's claim to temporal power.

John Huss (1373-1415). John Huss followed in the footsteps of Wycliffe and rebuked the abuses

of Roman clergy. He was excommunicated from the church and accused of being a heretic. On the promise

of safe passage, Huss agreed to meet with church leaders. When he arrived, they broke their word, locked

him in a dungeon, tried him as a heretic, and eventually burned him to death.

After the death of Huss, the believers who followed Hussite teachings were divided into three

groups. Some took up arms and fought against the church, some compromised with the church (the

Ultraquists), and some held to the simplicity of Hussite teaching and suffered.

Peter Chelcicky (1380-1460). Among the believers who chose to stand firm in the faith was a man

named Peter Chelcicky. He wrote The Net of Faith, a book which captures the ideas and beliefs of these

people. Estep says that he has been “described as Bohemia's most original thinker” and credits him with

“synthesizing the diverse strains of Hussite teachings with Waldensian concepts” to become the main body

of theology for United Brethren (77). In his teaching, he rejects Popish authority and calls for a return to an

apostolic pattern of believers gathering on the basis of their relationship with Christ Jesus.

The Reformation - The End of Romish Domination

Martin Luther (1483-1546). The sixteenth century became a revolutionary period in the history of

the church. After several centuries of believers breaking ties with the church and suffering persecution,

there arose a group of saints who successfully separated from the Catholic church and opened the door for a

new realm of freedom and reform in the church. Unfortunately, many of these movements were

characterized by intolerance. Several maintained direct links with the government and persecuted those

who disagreed with them.

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In spite of their downfalls, they opened a door of reformation which could never be closed. From

the sixteenth century onward, the number of restoration movements exploded eventually forming thousands

of different denominations and non-denominations throughout the world. One man who is often recognized

as the figurehead of this pivotal time is Martin Luther.

In the early sixteenth century, Luther confronted the Catholic church and demanded radical

reform. He rejected the sale of indulgences in place of true repentance and instead, taught the importance of

justification by faith. Luther also emphasized the importance of scriptures and the priesthood of all

believers. After leaving the Catholic church, he was protected by Frederick the Wise and established a new

church order. Luther was responsible for building a new church model. Under his new model, the sermon

became the focus of the church meeting. As Estep says, “The worship of the medieval church had

previously always centered on the sacrament of the altar, the mass; preaching was an occasional exercise

and by no means central. . . But from the time of Luther onward the sacrament became secondary and the

'sacrament' of preaching became primary” (155).

Unfortunately, his system also reflected hierarchical church structure and several questionable

teachings of the Catholic church. While Luther taught the priesthood of all believers, he was afraid to give

true believers too much authority and implemented a system which reinforced the separation between

clergy and laity.

While Luther focused primarily upon Germany, leaders began emerging calling for reform in

various other countries. Several of the key figures were William Tyndale, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and

the Anabaptists.

William Tyndale (1494-1536). According to Estepp, “One of the most significant convert(s) in the

initial stages of the English Reformation was William Tyndale” (250). Tyndale was a peer of Erasmus,

studied at the same school, and even read Erasmus' Greek translation of the Scripture. The ignorance of

Scriptures among Christians led him to develop an English translation of the New Testament. In 1536, he

was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into the common tongue.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531). In Switzerland, Zwingli was expounding upon the meaning of

Scriptures. He taught that Scripture was the basis for all life and rejected any extra-biblical practices.

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According to R. Tudor Jones, “Zwingli always maintained that he had discovered his evangelical principles

before he had heard of Luther” (50). He advocated a church system where the government had ultimate

authority over the church. Unfortunately, this opened the door for persecution of those who disagreed with

the church. In the end, Zwingli fell to the forces of a Catholic army and was decapitated and burned.

John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin was so moved by the power and revelation of God's Word he

experienced in a small bible study with other believers, he sought to write out a theology of the

reformation. He attempted to demonstrate that reformation teaching was not new or heretical, “but simply a

return to the beliefs and practices of the early church” (Kennedy, 148). According to Calvin, a believer is

not saved by works but by faith, but he is saved to works. Calvin's theology endeavored to emphasize the

importance of change in character which was not emphasized in Lutheranism.

Unfortunately, Calvin also left a connection between the civil government and the church.

Gradually, the church in Geneva became associated with intolerance, and those who differed with Calvin or

church leaders were subject to persecution and even death.

Radical Reformers. As Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin built new patterns for church worship, some believers

felt the movement had stopped short of genuine reformation and were calling a new reformation. These

independent groups of believers started in different places and at different times, but, due to their

unyielding convictions, many suffered and died at the hands of other reformers.

They usually referred to themselves simply as Christians and did not practice infant baptism but

taught that baptism was only practiced after one made a commitment to Christ. Because of this belief, they

were often referred to as Anabaptists.

Conrad Grabel and Felix Manz were two early Anabaptist ministers to come into prominence

during the sixteenth century.10 They opposed the concept of a state church and infant baptism and preached

about the importance of studying the Scripture. In Zurich, their beliefs came into conflict with Zwingli's

movement and caused a public debate on the topic of infant baptism. The government responded by passing

10 Heinold Fast points out that while these two men have often been referred to as the founders of
Anabaptism, they were two of several key figures who emerged around the same time (in Goertz 118-119).

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a law requiring infant baptism. They refused to submit and became outlaws. Grabel died of the plague, but

Manz was eventually arrested and drowned for his teachings and practices.

Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528) was another important Anabaptist to emerge during this time. He

met with believers in his home and taught the Scriptures. Hubmaier opposed infant baptism and the

interdependence of church and government. “At one point, in Zurich, Hubmaier was discovered by

Zwingli's party and cast into prison. There, under torture, he retracted some of what he had taught, only to

bitterly repent later and seek the Lord's forgiveness and restoration” (Kennedy 155). According to Christof

Windhurst, “Hubmaier stressed more than ever that believers are 'Christians of the Cross,' and that, in

suffering, they take the surest path to salvation” (in Goertz 153). Eventually, he was arrested by the Roman

Catholic church and burned to death.

In 1523, John Denck was appointed to teach in Nuremburg, a growing Lutheran stronghold.

Denck confronted the Lutheran followers for their lack of Godly character. The City Council responded by

declaring his teachings dangerous and forced him to leave the city with the threat of imprisonment. As a

result, Denck spent most of his life wandering from town to town and proclaiming the Word of God.

Denck emphasized man's need for enlightenment by the Holy Spirit as he studies the Scriptures.

He also pointed to reliance on the Holy Spirit and submission to Christ as means to grow spiritually and

live holy.

Because the Anabaptist movement represented a diverse group of Christian believers there was not

a specific Anabaptist doctrine. In 1527, one group of Anabaptists led by Michael Sattler and others held a

conference in Baden and listed what they considered to be essential for the faith. Kennedy lists their seven

points of faith as follows:

1. Only those should be baptized who have experienced the regenerating work of Christ.

2. The local expression of the church is a company of such regenerate people whose daily

lives are lived in accordance with the faith they profess. Their fellowship is symbolized

in their participation together of the Lord's supper, through which they remember the

redeeming work of Christ.

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3. Discipline must be exercised within the churches, and the final discipline is


4. The Lord's people should live a life of separation from the sin of the world and from

subservience to the flesh or anything that would compromise their faith. (This included a

separation from the rites of the Roman, Lutheran and Zwinglian parties.)

5. The officers of a local church should be set apart by the church, and it is their duty to

edify the believers through the teaching and preaching of the Word.

6. Believers should not resort to force, either in defense of themselves, or by participation

in warfare at the command of the State.

7. Believers should not take any oath, nor should they go to the law. (158)

Sattler and many other Anabaptist leaders were eventually tortured and executed for their beliefs. There

were many other important Anabaptist leaders but space does not permit an extensive exploration of this

movement. They represent an important move of restoration which stressed faith in Christ, a godly life,

local autonomous churches, and the separation of Church and State. Many other restoration movements

were influenced by these “free” churches.

Post Reformation - Pressing Onward With Reform

Puritans. Throughout the sixteenth century, England rocked between Protestantism and

Catholicism. Each monarch passionately defended one while trying to eliminate the other. At the end of the

century, the nation was divided as to the nature of the national church. According to Edwin Gaustad, “Some

passionately sought to make the Protestant Reformation a redeeming reality in all of English life and

culture, thus purifying it. They came to be called Puritans” (9).

Under the reign of James I, some churches separated from the national church but began suffering

persecution. As a result, Smyth and Robinson led their church to emigrate to Holland and later to Leyden.

In 1620, a group of these believers decided to travel to the New World aboard the Mayflower. As they

departed, Robinson charged them with a commission that revealed a key idea in restoration rhetoric. He


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I charge you before God and His blessed angels, that you follow me no further than you

have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ. If God reveals anything to you by any other

instrument of His, be ready to receive it as you were to receive it by my ministry, for I am

verily persuaded that the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Word.

(Kennedy, 175-176)

Robinson recognized that he did not contain all the truth and opened the door for others to come after him

with a clearer understanding of God's plan. This was a radical observation that few reformers have ever


George Fox (1624-1691). In the mid-seventeenth century, George Fox emerged in opposition to

the empty formalism found in the Church of England. He taught on the importance of developing an

intimate relationship with the Lord and listening to the Spirit's voice. Fox taught against professional

ministers, the outward observance of sacraments, taking oaths, and violence.

Gordon Wakefield points out that “For Fox, the whole of church history was to be condemned as

'the Apostasy since the Apostle's days'“ (in Cheslyn Jones 447). Unlike some reformers, Fox was not

content with a return to the scripture. “He preached immediacy and realism in Christian experience” (447).

His followers referred to themselves simply as “Friends,” but many others referred to them as the


The Friends rejected the conventional church buildings as “holy ground” and considered the

individual believer as the temple of God. They were open to the Scriptures and trusted in the Spirit to lead

them into all truth. Their meetings were characterized by a freedom in the Spirit to move through any and

all believers present.

The Friends openly criticized the organized church, and even disrupted church services. They were

beaten and persecuted but persisted in their faith, and many emigrated to the United States through the help

of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania.

Jean De Labadie. A contemporary of George Fox, Labadie, was born in Bordeaux, France in 1610.

He was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic church and studied the teachings of the mystics.

Eventually, he became concerned with the lack of spirituality in the church and sought to reform it.

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With the consent of the archbishop, Labadie began to teach in Paris and then in Amiens. He

“taught that the Gospel is the only rule of faith and piety, and that the manner of life of the primitive

Christians is the pattern for all times” (Broadbent 256). Labadie began meeting in homes with true

believers for mediation and Bible study.

Labadie suffered ongoing persecution from the Jesuits throughout his ministry. Eventually, he left

the Roman Catholic church and joined the Reformed church. He taught that true reform is birthed in man's

inward relationship to God and emphasized the importance of prayer and mediation. Opportunities arose

for him to teach at various reformed churches, and he traveled around teaching about the importance of

developing an intimate relationship with the Lord.

He liked the informal network of independent churches as opposed to the governing bodies of

reformed churches. This response was reflected in his emphasis upon all members of the body being led by

the Spirit of Christ. The Reformed Synod at Leyden eventually forbade Labadie to teach in the fear that his

teachings undermined the professional clergy and the rationalistic views of the church.

At age 60, Labadie left the Reformed church and sought to establish a work based upon the

Apostolic examples. After persecution from the Reformed churches, he and his followers moved several

times and eventfully stayed in Amsterdam and formed a household church. The believers lived and held all

their possessions in common. Their fellowship experienced an outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit as in

Apostolic days. Unfortunately, this fellowship became exclusive and cut off from the outside world. Only

those who were serious about perfection were allowed in the fellowship. After Labadie's death the

household church continued for a period of time but eventually dispersed.

Pietists. One man who had been influenced by the teaching of Labadie was Philip Jakob Spener.

As a minister in the Lutheran church, Spener sought to reform the church by developing a church within the

church. He began meeting with believers in his home for prayer and Bible study. All the believers present

were encouraged to participate and follow the I Corinthians pattern of meeting where all believers build

one another up in the Lord.11

11 All believers refers to men only. The women were allowed to attend but had to sit separately
and could not participate. See Broadbent 271.

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He did not have mystical experiences himself but did not deny the validity of those experiences in

other believers. The groups simply emphasized Scripture, prayer, and fellowship of the believers.

August Herman Franke was trained under Pietist teaching and became Spener's successor in the

movement. He started an educational center at Halle and an orphanage. While in Halle, he fed the poor and

set up a hospital, a library, and other ministries. Count Zinzendorf was a student in Franke's school and

grew under the Pietistic influence.

Early in the eighteenth century, Zinzendorf invited persecuted Moravian believers to form a

village community on his property called Herrnhut. Zinzendorf eventually became impassioned for mission

work and Herrnhut became an important center of world outreach.

John Wesley. Wesley was influenced by Morovian missionaries who taught him about immediate

justification by faith. Wesley was an Anglican minister at the time but was struggling over his conversion.

After this contact, he found assurance on the work of mercy and grace.

Wesley did not want to leave the Anglican church, but he did want to address the spiritual vacuum

of the times. He set up societies where people initially gathered out of concern for their own salvation and

eventually for spiritual growth and fellowship. Wesley focused on the free gift of salvation through faith in

Christ's blood. He sent out ministers to spread the good news of the gospel. Due to the lack of ordained

ministers, Wesley sent out unordained ministers to preach the gospel. Eventually, he requested the Anglican

church to ordain them so they might administer the sacraments, but the church refused. Wesley ordained the

ministers himself and thus started a separate denomination which would become known as Methodism.

Robert and James Haldane. In the late eighteenth century two brothers, Robert and James Haldane,

were converted to Christ. After studying the Scriptures, they began to travel around and teach the Word.

They were unordained ministers who taught God's word as a basis for everyday living. They rejected infant

baptism and did not even consider adult baptism essential to salvation. Eventually, they left the organized

church and formed independent churches. Robert traveled to Geneva and had the opportunity to informally

teach God's word to students there.

Brethren. As the effects of the Reformation spread throughout the world many believers became

split on certain doctrinal issues and established their own churches. Sectarianism became a major problem

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between the many different churches. In the midst of these events, some believers refused to participate in

sectarianism and fellowshipped with all believers in the body of Christ.

In Dublin, Ireland, Edward Cronin, A. N. Groves, E. W. Hutchinson, and others began to meet and

fellowship around the Scriptures. Eventually, they combined with another group of believers in Dublin who

were also tired of sectarianism and sought true Christian fellowship.

Groups such as these sprung up in Plymouth, Bristol, and other places. The assembly in Plymouth

developed many influential teachers of the Word and soon became known in the outside world as the

“Plymouth Brethren.”

In Bristol, George Muller and Henry Craik started a similar fellowship. Muller had been converted

at Halle through the Pietist Bible studies. Muller and Craik started a work in Bristol which “met without

any organization in simple dependence upon the Lord to lead them since they were one in Him” (Kennedy

211). They taught that elders could not be voted upon and appointed by man but were set apart by the Lord.

This calling was reflected in God's anointing flowing through their ministry. They believed that all

believers had gifts to contribute to the church for the edification of the body.

Muller followed the pattern of Franke of Halle and established Orphan Homes in Bristol. In

simple faith, he became a source of balance for the brethren meeting in Bristol.

These simple churches formed informal ties with believers in various cities. They shared teaching

gifts and developed true spiritual bonds. Unfortunately, sectarianism eventually crept into some of these

churches through the ministry of J. N. Darby.

Darby started out as an Anglican curate who left the church and joined the fellowship in Dublin.

His teaching gifts led him to minister in various fellowships throughout the world, and he eventually

became an important teacher at Plymouth. At Plymouth, Darby fell into dispute with another teacher at

Plymouth named B. W. Newton. Consequently, Darby left the fellowship and tried to inhibit the teaching

ministry of Newton. He accused Newton of heresy and called for all brethren churches to cut off fellowship

with him and the members of Plymouth. The believers in Bristol refused and soon Darby

“excommunicated” them from fellowship.

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Not all Brethren churches followed the sectarian path of Darby, and many maintained strong

loving fellowships. Muller is a perfect example of one leader who maintained faith and balance in the

ministry. Another important believer was A. N. Groves from the Dublin fellowship.

Groves went to Baghdad as a missionary. While in Baghdad, Groves lost his wife to plague, and

his youngest child was taken away. In spite of the trials he experienced, Groves remained firm in his faith

in God's infinite love. Groves rejected denominationalism but worked with and supported various

denominational mission groups throughout the country. He considered his mission in India twofold: one, he

felt called to break down the exclusive barriers between various Christian groups; and two, he sought to

release each believer in the gifts and callings God had placed in their hearts.

The works of Groves, Muller, and other simple Brethren touched lives and imparted life-changing

impacts long after they departed from this earth.

Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism

In the nineteenth century, many churches began responding to the rhetoric of rational thinking.

The effects of the Enlightenment period were felt in the churches and some theologians began moving

away from faith to a higher criticism which eventually denied the presuppositions of a Christian worldview.

In the midst of this monumental shift, a group of Christians began to emerge who sought

restoration and revival in the church. Both Pentecostalism and Fundamentalism can trace their roots to

these revivalists and holiness movements. This section draws from two key works, In the Latter Days by

Vinson Synan and The Fundamentalist Phenomenon by Jerry Falwell, Ed Dobson, and Ed Hindson. These

books trace the respective birth and growth of each movement.

In some ways both movements started as the same movement. Neither movement had a clear

starting point and birth included a diverse group of Christians committed to seeing restoration and revival

in the church. During the nineteenth century, various Christian groups responded to the growing influence

of modern ideas by calling for renewed faith and a renewed commitment to the Scriptures.

As reason became “god” and the French Revolution imposed a “reign of terror,” many Christian

scholars began sensing that the end of time was imminent (Synan 30). The Plymouth Brethren and other

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Christian movements began looking for signs of the end times and expected a great outpouring of the Spirit

to respond to the encroaching darkness upon the world.

In 1825, Johann Adam Moehler “depicted the church as a charismatic body constituted and

enlivened by the Holy Spirit,” and in the 1870's and 1880's Matthias Scheebeen stressed the work of the

Holy Spirit “in the formation of the Christian life” (Synan 41). These German theologians impacted both

Protestant and Catholic churches.

Some ministers began emphasizing a coming move of God's Spirit, and there were random

manifestations of spiritual gifts in various churches throughout the world. In 1831, Edward Irving

experienced the manifestation of glossolalia by one of his congregation. He was sure that the outpouring of

the spirit was imminent. The public rejected this manifestation, and Irving was branded a heretic and forced

to resign.

“In 1839, Asa Mahan, President of Oberlin College, published a book entitled the Scripture

Doctrine of Christian Perfection” (Synan 37). The book offered a defense for the importance of the “second

blessing” in the life of the believer. Charles Finney and Mahan both eventually described this experience as

the baptism of the Holy Spirit and believed it was a necessary part of sanctification and power.

By the late nineteenth century holiness movements were spreading in different parts of the world

and were characterized by an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit and a commitment to holiness in the

life of believers. Conferences and revival meetings were held to teach about the second blessing and to seek

God's presence. Charles Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, A. B. Simpson, and Andrew Murray were

just a few of the believers openly committed to this movement.

While this renewed commitment to the work of the Holy Spirit was surfacing in the Protestant

churches, there was a similar trend developing in the Catholic church. Elena Guaerra wrote Pope Leo XIII

and suggested the need for a churchwide novena to the Holy Spirit.12 He responded in 1897 by sending out

an encyclical letter called, On the Holy Spirit, which called for the novena and a renewed commitment to

the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit (Synan 41-42).

12 A novena is a special nine day cycle of prayer. See Synan 41.

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As the various Christian leaders began to call for a renewed commitment to the Holy Spirit, two

distinct groups emerged. Some emphasized the regenerating, empowering work of the Spirit, and in

addition, others emphasized the manifestation of spiritual gifts including the gift of tongues. Apart from

random appearances, there were no clear manifestations of the gift of tongues.

In the winter of 1900, Charles Parham led a group of students in the study of the Holy Spirit.

During the course of a weekend assignment on the work of the Holy Spirit, one of his students, Agnes

Ozman, “asked her teacher and fellow students to lay hands upon her and pray for her to be baptized in the

Holy Spirit, expecting to speak in tongues” (Synan 47). Ozman received an outpouring of the Spirit, and for

three days she was unable to speak or write in English.

Eventually, Parham and many of his other students experienced a similar encounter. He began to

travel and teach others about the Holy Spirit. Parham refused association with denominations and refused

to establish any ecclesiastical structure. Although he had an impact in various cities, there was no

nationwide response.

In 1905, Parham taught a young black Methodist minister named William Seymour. Seymour

accepted the teaching but did not experience the manifestation. In 1906, Seymour responded to an

opportunity to preach in Los Angeles. In the midst of the meetings, there was a dramatic outpouring of the

Holy Spirit and many people began to speak in tongues, sing in the Spirit, and exhibit other spiritual gifts.

The meetings became known as the Azusa Street revival, and they opened the door for a worldwide

manifestation of spiritual gifts.13

At this point the two holiness movements separated and took different paths. R. A. Torrey rejected

the Azusa street revival as genuine and called Seymour a “sodomite.” G. Campbell Morgan called it the

13 According to Synan, ministers traveled from all over the world to experience the effects of
Azusa street. When they returned home, the same manifestations spread throughout their churches. See
Synan 50 - 54.

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“vomit of Satan.”14 These two strains of holiness movements were committed to standing against the effects

of modern criticism in the church. But after their separation they took vastly separate routes.

Many believers from the group which rejected the Azusa revival moved toward a rational attack

against modernism. In 1909, R. A. Torrey called a group of conservative Christian scholars together to

respond to the higher criticism and evolutionary theology found in the church. The men agreed upon five

essential fundamentals of the faith. “These five tenets were the infallibility of the Bible, Christ's virgin

birth, His substitutionary death, His resurrection, and His second coming” (Falwell 80).

The tenets were published in a series of booklets called The Fundamentals. They were distributed

to churches, pastors, missionaries, and to many other people and places throughout the world. The booklets

were characterized a “calm well-reasoned and well-balanced (testimonies) to the Christian truth” (Falwell

80). The fundamentalists felt they were in battle with modernists for truth in the church. Their efforts were

designed to preserve the true foundation of the church.

Over the years, they concentrated their attacks through schools, conferences, debates, and

eventually politics. Education was an important front to them, and they established many conservative

Bible schools throughout America. Eventually, they became a separatist movement and sought to separate

from both culture and any other churches who openly compromised or associated with those who

compromised. They became bitter opponents of Pentecostalism and have written many books against that


In the last 20 years, fundamentalism experienced an upsurge with a renewed commitment to

conservative values through political change. They have emphasized moral issues and the need for revival.

14 Looking back on Seymour's accomplishment today, Walter Hollenweger comments, “What was
so extraordinary about W. J. Seymour? It is his spirituality that enabled him to prevent his heart from
becoming bitter in spite of constant humiliation, both from Christians, non-Christians and later from white
fellow-pentecostals. He affirmed his black heritage by introducing negro spirituals into his liturgy at a time
when this music was considered inferior and unfit for Christian worship. At the same time he steadfastly
lived out his understanding of Pentecost. For him Pentecost meant more than speaking in tongues. It meant
love in the face of hate, to overcome the hatred of a whole nation by demonstrating that Pentecost is
something very different from the American way of life. . . . In the revival in Los Angeles white bishops
and black workers, men and women, Asians and Mexicans, white professors and black laundry women
were equals (1906!)” (in Cheslyn Jones 550).

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Some of the recent fundamentalists have been less seperationist-oriented and have been willing to work

alongside Pentecostals to effect political change.

After the Azusa revival, Pentecostalism began to grow all over the world. Pentecostalists

emphasized the manifestations of the gifts, a personal experience with the Lord, and holiness in character.

While the Fundamentalists battled the Modernist forces primarily in a rational way, the Pentecostals took

the battle to the emotional front.

The Pentecostals suffered criticism from the church, the press, the theologians, and the social

scientists. Some Pentecostals were threatened, attacked, and even jailed for their practices. They also

experienced their share of moral failures, internal strife, and even sectarianism. Yet, in spite of their

obstacles, the Pentecostals have survived and continued to grow through second and third “waves of the


In the sixties, there was a Charismatic renewal in the Catholic church, and the Jesus movement

among hippies was predominantly a charismatic move. In the late seventies and early eighties, there was

another move, and many churches in mainline denominations became a part of the Charismatic renewal.

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement continues to spread today. “According to projections made by the

World Council of Churches in the early 1970s, by the year 2000 A.D. over 50 percent of all Christians in

the world will be: 1) non-white; 2) from the Southern Hemisphere; and 3) of the Pentecostals or

Charismatic variety” (Synan 144). In 1979, the Gallup Poll conducted a religious affiliation survey, and 19

percent of all Americans considered themselves Charismatic or Pentecostals (Synan 18).

It is interesting to note, that the two most powerful movements of the twentieth century started

from the same restoration movements. Both movements are committed to change in the church and in

society, but each movement has taken different approaches-- Fundamentalism has taken a predominantly

rational approach, and the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement has taken a predominantly emotional

approach. But in recent years there seems to be a shift. While not accepting all the tenets of Pentecostalism,

the fundamentalists have recognized they can learn from this movement.15 Pentecostals have responded

15 They recognize the need to cultivate a dynamic relationship with God as demonstrated in many
Pentecostals. See Falwell 137.

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with the need for reason by producing Christian thinkers such as J. Rodman Williams, Vinson Synan, and


Summary of Past Movements

During each generation of the first 1900 years of the church, various saints would arise and call

upon the church to reform or would leave the organized church to follow their convictions. While the above

outline provides a brief review of many key movements, it does not cover the lives or ideas of the

contemplative writers. These saints also recognized problems in the church. But unlike the reformers, they

often remained in the church and focused on inner transformation over outward structures.

Many restoration movements would often draw from the ideas of previous movements, and add

their own unique emphasis. There is not one single idea that appears in every group, but there are several

ideas that regularly appear in restoration rhetorics. The most common focuses were the importance of

Scriptures in the life of the believers, the centrality of Christ in the church, and the need for a personal

experience of salvation. After these ideas, there are a variety of concepts which received emphasis in these

movements. The following list highlights most of these views: autonomous local fellowships, baptism,

removal of distinction between clergy and laity, separation of church government from civil government,

alliance with government officials, education, anti-intellectualism, elders, leaderless, faith, fellowship, anti-

formalism, gifts of the Spirit, holiness/sanctification, Holy Spirit, rejection of idolatry (image worship,

virgin Mary worship, indulgences), meetings in homes, no organization in meetings, rejection of oaths,

outreach, power, return of Christ, revelation/inspiration, sacraments, sermon, simplicity, tolerance for other

forms of worship, intolerance/exclusivity, unique expressions of church, unity, division, and violence. In

their efforts to restore New Testament principles, many groups would separate from those who disagreed

with them. As a result of the many divisions, restoration movements helped birth thousands of modern


Contemporary Ideas in Restoration Rhetoric

Over the last 30 years, a variety of Christian leaders have called for reform in the church. These

leaders have challenged the church to move beyond their denominational barriers and begin impacting the

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surrounding culture. Even the Roman Catholic church addressed the need for relevance and reformation in

the Second Vatican Council. There are a variety of voices calling for change and action in the church.

For the purpose of this study, restoration movements which focus on reform in the definition and

structure of churches have been considered. There are four key areas that are undergoing analysis and

change; they are the concept of the laity, the concept of the clergy, the definition of the church, and the

structure of church meetings. This section will provide a short review of the many key ideas being

discussed and debated in restoration rhetorics.

The Concept of the Laity

Many leaders are questioning the separation of clergy and laity in the church. They are trying to

define and articulate the calling of all believers in the body of Christ. Greg Ogden says that “Christianity is

essentially a lay movement” (21). He believes that the terms “clergy” and “laity” are misleading because

they imply that one group ministers and the other group observes (or is ministered to). He emphasizes the

function rather than the title of each role and concludes that the church should consider the pastor as a

“player-coach” where all believers are working together on a team (73).

Howard Snyder follows this pattern by calling upon all Christians to realize their gifts and calling

to minister. Neighbour says that the saints are members of the body of Christ and are uniquely gifted to

build up one another (41). He believes that all saints are called to live in community with God and one

another (98-100). This does not mean all saints live communally but rather that they fellowship together,

minister to each other, and “look past the warts and pimples to see the potential within one another” (100).

Robert Banks follows a similar pattern when he discusses the importance of community in the

spiritual experience of the believer. He says, “For the Spirit was primarily a shared, not individual

experience” (Paul's Idea of Community 33). In the community, believers can experience the Holy Spirit in a

unique way. Banks also touches on Ogden's ideas on the laity. He says that Paul makes no distinctions

between clergy and laity. In fact, he points out that Paul uses the language of “priesthood” when

referencing all the saints and not just a special caste. He says, “In Paul, official priesthood, which exists to

mediate between God and man, is shared by the whole community and never by any one member as

distinct from others” (133).

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 32

Paul Stevens also points out that Paul's references to “kleros” are used universally applying to all

saints. He also points out that the term “laos” is also used of all saints. He explains, “The Greek word for

the people, laos, is never used to describe the people apart from their pastor and their leaders, but it's all the

people of God. So in I Peter 2:9-11 it says, 'Once we were not a laity. Once we were not a people. We had

no identity. But now we are the laity of God, the people of God'“ (in Opening Day 196).16 Stevens brings all

believers onto equal footing and believes that all believers are equally responsible to minister.

While all believers are called to minister, they are not all called to the same ministry. Jim Rutz

points out that believers have unique gifts and callings and should have the opportunity to release them in

and through the body of Christ (33-37). Dale Galloway agrees and believes that the church should free the

people into their specific God-given ministries (See Bradshaw 57).

A common theme runs through these and many other restoration thinkers: all believers are called

to minister in and through the body of Christ. This changes their role from spectator/student to


The Concept of the Clergy

Just as the concept of the laity is being reevaluated, so the concept of clergy is being questioned

and redefined. While restoration ministers often agree on the function and calling of the laity, there is a

great diversity in their approach to the clergy.

Equipping. Some, like Ogden and others, have redefined the role of the pastor as equipper. Ogden

explains that the fivefold functions mentioned in Ephesians four refer to gifts that equip the saints of God

for ministry (62). He divides “equipping” into three functions: mend/restore, establish/lay foundations, and

prepare/train (100-101). He believes the fivefold ministers release these functions into the body to prepare

saints for ministry. In Ogden's model, preaching remains an essential feature in equipping the saints. This

idea of equipper/minister shows up in the thoughts of Jim Peterson, Dudley Hall, Ralph Neighbour, Paul

Stevens, and others.

16 This volume includes the transcripts of 65 interviews conducted with leaders in various current
restoration movements. This resource has been a key reference work in exploring the most current thoughts
in restoration rhetoric.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 33

Facilitating. In churches with small group meetings, leaders are often seen as facilitators. Steve

Sjorgren explains that they must not do all the talking in a meeting. They are there to “identify what God is

doing in meeting” and to facilitate the sharing in a meeting (See Bradshaw 177). Tom Mohn compares the

leader to a “traffic cop” who keeps “the flow running smoothly” in the meeting (See Bradshaw 118). Ralph

Neighbour calls his cell group leaders “shepherds.” He says that shepherds do not have to be good teachers,

but they must be facilitators. The shepherd helps lead the group in a pattern of sharing and ministering to

one another (210).

Training. Because many churches place a leader in every small group, they must emphasize

leadership to raise up and prepare new small group leaders. Carl George, Ralph Neighbour, Dale Galloway,

and others emphasize the importance of leadership development through apprenticeship. In their church

models, apprentices function at every level of leadership. They work with the leader for a set amount of

time (usually at least six months). Gradually, they begin sharing more responsibilities with the leader. At

the end of the training period, they are released in leadership at that level, and they begin training an

apprentice.17 In Neighbour's paradigm, all believers are in training. Ideally, each believer is being sponsored

by an older believer and is sponsoring a newer believer.

Women. Many contemporary movements believe women have a place in leadership. Chris Smith,

in Opening Day, says, “What it comes down to is that everyone in the Church has gifts, and it does not

matter whether that person is male or female” (180). Joanne Krupp says that when Church leaders use the

Scripture to silence women in ministry they are misinterpreting scriptures (See Opening Day 108-112). She

points out that Scripture translators have often taken liberties against women in ministry. She says:

For instance, just as an example, let's take Phoebe. In describing Phoebe, she's described

as a servant. Where men, be it Apollos or Paul or some of those strong male leaders,

where that same word is used describing their ministry, it is translated as “ministry.” The

NAS and NIV in one or two cases use the word “servant.” But the word in Greek really

means servant. I don't have any problem with that. If they want to describe Phoebe as a

17 See Carl George 119-149. Ralph Neighbour, Where Do We Go From Here? 359-377. Dale
Galloway 59.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 34

servant that's fine. But then let's describe men as servants, too, because that's really what

God is after, for all of us to be servants in the Kingdom. (110)

In spite of her strong feelings on the subject, Krupp distinguishes herself from the feminist movement. She

believes the movement has been a satanic counterfeit keeping the church from God's pure plan. She insists

that the truth of women in ministry must be lived out with “extreme humility” (112).

Lynn Reddick also believes that the church must realize the importance of women in ministry. He

says, “Most churches that try to keep women in their places are dying today” (Opening Day 97). He cites

Paul Cho's ministry as an example of a church which empowers women (two-thirds of the associate pastors

are women) and is thriving. Many cell or meta church leaders, such as Galloway and George, believe in

releasing women into leadership in the church.18 In Paul's Idea of Community, Banks believes that Paul's

attitude toward women is often misunderstood. He explains that Paul used several women as house church

leaders such as Phoebe, Nympha, Priscilla, and others (122-130).

In spite of the strong support for female leadership in the cell and house church movements, not

all leaders agree. Eric Swendson and Steve Atkerson teach that women are forbidden to teach or have any

authority over men (Opening Day 211). They allow women to share in the meetings but not to teach or


Ordination. Another debated topic is the area of ordination. While many leaders, like Ogden,

recognize ordination as “the body's formal acknowledgement of authority already exercised and a setting

apart of that person to serve among and for the people” (147), others argue that it is a tradition rooted

outside of Scripture. Leonard Verduin, an elder church historian, says: “If you ask me what I think about

ordination, my answer is that I can't find it in the New Testament. Jesus was not ordained. The twelve

apostles were not. Paul was not. Nobody was. I think that the ordination that came on the picture was the

direct result of “the Constantine blunder.” (Opening Day 221)

Paid Ministers. With the increased emphasis upon empowering the body and raising up more

leaders from within the body, there is a question of the need for paid professionals. Some are against all

forms of paid ministry, while others contend that the majority of ministers are unpaid but as the ministry

18 According to Reddick, 60 to 70 percent of Galloway's cells are led by women (97).

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 35

demands more time, the church should provide an income for the minister. Smith says that each church

must decide whether they want to “pay their teachers,” but as they grasp the implications of body ministry,

“the clergyman may be out looking for a job” (179). Neighbour develops a model where some leaders work

full-time and others are supported by the ministry depending upon the type and amount of responsibilities

they share.

Decision Making. As the body begins sharing more of the responsibilities, who makes the

decisions? Many leaders, like Charles Simpson, advocate a strong leader, but there is a growing support for

the consensual model. Leaders like Smith, Rowell, Richards, and Banks believe that consensus is clearly

the biblical pattern.19 Banks argues that Paul addresses most of his letters to the body and not to one leader

or a group of elders. He says, “Rather than being the task of one man (or a select group) with the remainder

obeying their decisions, leadership is a corporate affair devolving in some measure upon all who participate

in the community's gatherings” (141).

Over the past several years, the whole concept of a “minister” has shifted from a paid professional

to all believers in the church. This new definition has challenged leaders to rethink many presuppositions

concerning the characteristics of leadership. While all restoration leaders have challenged the believer to

become more active in the church, they differ on the scope of participation open to the laity.

The Definition of the Church

Defining the church's purpose and characteristics has been a central element in restoration

rhetorics throughout history. A person's definition of the church will be invariably reflected in the model

they establish as the ideal. For example, when reformers believe the church is the people of God, then their

focus will not be primarily upon a building but upon the people. This struggle of defining the church has

resurfaced in contemporary restoration rhetorics, and there is a diverse response among the current leaders.

The two basic issues in defining the purpose of the church are inward and outward. One looks

inward to the purpose in the lives of the believers, and the other looks outward to the purpose in the

surrounding environment. Most leaders incorporate both concepts into their models but give emphasis in

different proportions. Both inward and outward focuses have spiritual and natural implications. So

19 See Opening Door 149, 156, 179, 207. Also see Paul's Idea of Community 139.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 36

ministers are considering at least four elements when developing a model: inward spiritual, inward natural,

outward spiritual, and outward natural.

Many leaders try to incorporate all facets of the church into their idealogy. Snyder looks for a

model that joins the “mystical experience with practical actions” (189). He sees the church as the

“community of God's people” and the “instrument of God's reconciliation upon the earth” (152, 157).

Neighbour emphasizes the importance of community within the church but also sees the church's function

as evangelism. In fact, his whole journey toward cell churches began when he was struggling with the

ineffectiveness of organized religion reaching non-churched people (See The Seven Last Words of the

Church). Thus, he developed a model which utilizes small communities (or cells) to reach unbelievers and

train Christians for ministry.

Peterson defines the church as “people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who is transforming

their character and giving them gifts they are to use for service. Every believer is to use whatever he or she

has to serve one another--and his or her neighbors” (171). He clearly emphasizes the functional aspect of

the church over the relational. As a result, his model sees the local church as “God's primary means for

accomplishing the Great Commission” (168).

Francis Frangipane, C. Pete Wagner, and others follow this model and have focused on ways to

help the church fulfill her mission. They have considered spiritual applications such as warfare and natural

applications such as church planting (as a form of evangelism). Sjorgen has responded to the church's call

to change the environment in a unique way. His church has implemented “servant evangelism” whereby

they reach out to their city with acts of kindness such as free car washes (no donations accepted), paying

parking meters, free wrapping service at the local mall (no donations), and many other unique projects

(174, 175). These actions often open the door for his congregation to share their faith with other members

in the community.

Tom Houston defines the church as “the small community, living out the Life, gathered around the

text, communicating to and with each other the truth that God wants to infect the whole society” (Opening

Day 84). His model clearly emphasizes a change that grows from within the community to impact the

outward environment.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 37

There are other leaders who believe that the church will impact the society, but they focus

primarily upon the inward work of the community. Banks articulates the distinction between the church

community and the mission of the believers. He says:

Paul insists that the chief end of the church is neither mission nor worship, as we

understand these terms, but the building up of one another into the likeness of God in

Christ--through fellowship with God and one another.

Where does this leave us in respect to mission? We need to keep clear in our minds two

different kinds of structure: the “church” gathering, whose main purpose is to have

fellowship with God and one another and to build ourselves up into Christ, and the

organization for “mission” whose primary task is to take the message and compassion of

God to those outside the church.

. . . The more we build one another up in church, the more effective we are in mission.

The more we engage in mission we broaden the vision and deepen the fellowship of those

in church. The moment we begin to confuse these two divinely ordered structures,

turning church--as we have defined it--into a mission or a mission into the church, we

start to lose both. The twins concepts of mission and church can co-exist but only in a

community, . (The Church Comes Home 214-215)

In the community, the saints fellowship with the Lord and one another, and out of the community,

the saints enter into mission for the lost world. In Bank's model, community is the central defining

characteristic of the church. Jim Spillman follows this paradigm when he explains that the church is for the

believers--not for the world. He explains that believers come to the church for fellowship, prayer, and

communion in the Lord. Then believers take Christ out to the world Monday through Saturday (Opening

Day 195).

Jurgen Moltmann and Francis Shaeffer anticipated this renewed emphasis upon community in

their writings. Moltmann says, “The church with its structures, organizations, and powers exists exclusively

for the sake of the congregation. There is in the church nothing higher than the congregation” (115). He

looks to the congregation as the place where believers learn to love God and one another. “God as love can

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 38

be experienced and represented only in the comprehensible congregation in which one sees and recognizes

the other, and accepts the other as he or she is accepted in Christ” (115).

Shaeffer teaches that community is central to the experience of the church. He says, “The first

thing the Christian community should do is to stand as a community in a living, existential, moment-by-

moment relationship to God” (70). While he recognizes this importance of an individual confession of

Christ, Schaeffer believes “God's people are called together in community” (74). Out of this community,

the believers learn to reveal God's love to the world. He says, “I am convinced that, in the twentieth

century, people all over the world will simply not listen if, though we have the right doctrine and right

polity, we are failing to exhibit community” (90). Schaeffer's concept of community is rooted in

expressions of love which go beyond spiritual or emotional to physical manifestations. “There is no use

talking about love if it does not relate to the stuff of life in the area of material possessions and needs” (90).

Ogden refers to this community as a “living organism” (19). He calls Christians a “sacramental

people” who reveal Christ to one another and the world (31). This concept of Christ revealing Himself in

His people is another pivotal focus of restoration rhetoric. The Roman Church looks to the communion

supper as the focal sacrament. The Protestant church looks to the sermon as the focal sacrament. Many

restoration leaders look to God's people as the focal sacrament. Christ reveals Himself in and through the

relationships of the saints. Ogden reflects this idea by saying, “The church is the whole people of God in

whom Christ dwells” (56).20

Each of these models reflects a tangible expression of the church. The idealogy behind the model

will unquestionably lead to the nature of the structure and expression found in the church. In spite of their

varying emphases, most of these models are centered in relationships among the saints. This dynamic leads

to important ramifications in the pattern they follow for meetings.

20 In each generation, there have been saints who saw the church as the body of Christ. Men like
Devern Fromke, who long for the revelation Jesus upon the earth in the body of His church. Fromke looks
to the revelation of Christ church as God's divine intention. He says, “Man has produced nothing which
could not be improved. Only God is able to bring forth that which is perfect. Here is His masterpiece--even
in His perfect workmanship it has no equal. We can hardly fathom the glory it will bring forth from the lips
of all who behold. It will express God's life through the Body, His light through the Temple, and His love as
never known among men through the members of His family. As the divine masterpiece of the ages is
unveiled, we behold in clear view the Ultimate Goal to which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been
waiting to bring us (164).

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 39

The Structure of the Meeting

Most restoration leaders have structured their meetings around developing relationships among the

saints. Some restoration leaders have also focused on relationships with unbelievers. There are at least six

characteristics of the meeting worth considering: size, setting, leadership, participation, and spirituality.

Size. Small groups play a predominant role in most of the ideologies. Ogden says the focus in

meetings has shifted from pastor-focused meetings to people-focused small groups (19). He says the small

group is the “basic building block” of the structure (124). Neighbour uses similar terminology when he

says, “The cell is the Basic Christian Community” (194). George, Swendson, Smith, Reddick, Jarrad, Fitts,

Cho, and many others consider the small group as the central focus of the church.

In the small groups believers have the opportunity to interact, develop relationships, hold one

another accountable, use their gifts, and experience the presence of the Lord. The small groups provide a

place where believers can discover and live out their unique gifts and callings. Rick Joyner says, “I don't

believe we can see the believers equipped, the Saints equipped without the cell groups” (Opening Day


Banks, who advocates House Churches, says that the small groups must avoid the danger of

becoming isolated from other saints or the larger city church. He says that “it becomes important to

establish contact with others who are meeting in the same way” (The Church Comes Home 142). Ern

Baxter encourages house churches to fellowship with other house churches regularly. He says, “By

common agreement they can come together in some large rented facility and celebrate and declare the glory

of God” (Opening Day 3). Smith's house churches meet weekly and gather for a celebration service on a

triweekly basis.

Cell churches are based in the concept that the small groups assemble together on a weekly or

biweekly basis. Beckham describes the church as two-winged--one wing is the small group meetings and

the other wing is the large group meetings (Opening Day 10). He says that both wings must be present if

the church is to soar to the heights where God has called it. Both wings also maintain balance in the church.

Neighbour describes a model consisting of three sizes of meetings (194-208). The individual cells

meet weekly and consist of 7 to 15 people. Then there is the congregation which consists of approximately

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 40

25 cells and meet weekly or biweekly for worship and evangelism events. Thirdly, there is the celebration

where all cells gather on a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly basis for a citywide meeting of worship,

teaching, and public witness.

Setting. As many leaders have redefined the primary meeting as a small group, the focal setting of

the church has changed. In the past, churches predominantly gathered in a building. Even after the

Reformation, the building was the central setting for most Protestant churches. This is now being called

into question, and some leaders are looking to the early church and the underground church as examples of

movements without buildings.

Graydon Snyder says, “Early Christians undoubtedly met in private homes and there is no

evidence that homes were converted into church buildings or that church buildings were erected prior to

Constantine” (67). Verduin says, “The underground church in the Middle Ages referred to cathedrals as 'a

bunch of stones'“ (218). He believes they were right to encourage their followers to avoid such places.

Taking the lead from these historical examples, some leaders are against the practice of building

church buildings today. Baxter, Smith, Krupp, Spillman, and others question the need for church buildings

and the implications of stewardship. Smith says, “Just think of what we could do for the kingdom of God

with billions of dollars, the money tied up in buildings!” (181). Krupp says that “our money is going into

bricks, instead of getting the gospel out. The majority of our money goes into our buildings” (108).

Although many of these leaders are against building new buildings, they are willing to accept their presence

if they become functional and open all week.

Leadership. Most contemporary leaders believe that small and large group meetings need some

type of leadership. They view the leader as facilitator, but a few advocate leaderless meetings. Most

churches in the cell group movement appoint leaders over each cell, but the leader does not control every

aspect of the meeting. The leader merely facilitates the flow of the meeting. Sjorgen explains, “The

facilitator is to identify what God is doing in the meeting” (177). Neighbour calls the meeting leader a

“shepherd” and says that the shepherds must love the people. “A good shepherd is a revealer, not a teacher.

Shepherds must be enablers, facilitators” (210). He does not picture the shepherd talking all throughout the

meeting, but the shepherd (and apprentice) does lead the group through four stages in the meeting: ice

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 41

breaker, worship, edification, sharing the vision. During each stage, the group's members have

opportunities to contribute. The shepherd is merely coordinating the “flow.”

Krupp presents an alternative approach to meetings. He says, “I know in many house church

gatherings, like the group we are part of here in the state of Oregon, when we gather on Sunday mornings

in one of our homes, I know there is no agenda. There is no human leader” (107). Mohn has very low-

keyed leadership in meetings to the point that it is functionally leaderless (118). This concept of leaderless

meetings is not the norm. Most restoration leaders advocate some type of leader overseeing or coordinating

the meeting.

Participation. While most restoration movements are in favor of leaders actively involved in the

meeting, they are not opposed to active participation by the other believers. In fact, they encourage it as an

essential element in the process.

Rutz says that everyone should have the opportunity to contribute to the small and large group

meetings. This participation is not limited to congregational readings but personal interjection. He says,

“We absolutely must let each believer take full part in the heart of congregational life by speaking words of

his own” (33). He offers several suggestions like allowing different believers to give five-minute

sermonettes before the main sermon or having open services on Sunday nights (34-37). Mohn, Jarrad,

Reddick, and many others emphasize some type of open sharing during their meetings. John Zens meets all

day long with the saints, and the meetings alternate between teaching, eating, opening sharing, ministry,

and fellowship (Opening Day 245-249).

The level and frequency of open sharing varies between each group, but all of these leaders

encourage a degree of participation by all believers.

Spirituality. While scriptural education still remains prominent in many meetings, there is a

renewed emphasis upon the spiritual experience of Christ in the meetings. Rick Joyner, Francis Frangipane,

Dudley Hall, Don Nori, and many others emphasize the importance of experiencing the presence of the

Lord in the meeting. Hall says, “'Church-Life' today is to be no less exciting nor less supernatural than the

life that Jesus expressed through His physical body when He was on the earth” (178). Joyner challenges the

church to seek the manifest presence of God. He says:

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 42

Every Restoration move until now has been reduced to emphasizing doctrine and form.

The apostolic faith will emphasize Life, Himself. Until now we have been content to have

the Lord revealed to us, but a day is coming when He will be revealed in us. We only

need new wineskins if we have new wine. It is a devastating delusion for us to think that

merely having a new wineskin can produce the new wine. (64)

Closing Thoughts

After the first generation of apostles, the church has sought to maintain the life of God in spite of

an increasing reliance on form that threatened to extinguish it. Paul warns against “falling from grace” by

relying on form over faith (Galatians 5:4). Likewise, John sees the danger of losing that life when he writes

to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3). Each subsequent generation of believers has struggled to keep the

life of God alive in the church. When the church becomes institutionalized, a group of saints arises and

challenges it to be reform through their lives and message.

Thomas Merton addresses this concept in New Seeds of Contemplation. He says:

The biggest paradox about the Church is that she is at the same time essentially

traditional and essentially revolutionary. But that is not as much of a paradox as it seems,

because Christian tradition, unlike all others, is a living and perpetual revolution.

Human traditions all tend toward stagnation and decay. They try to perpetuate

things that cannot be perpetuated. They cling to objects and values which time destroys

without mercy. They are bound up with a contingent and material order of things--

customs, fashions, styles and attitudes--which inevitably change and give way to

something else.

. . . The whole truth of Christianity has been fully revealed: it has not been fully

understood or fully lived. The life of the Church is the Truth of God Himself, breathed

out into the Church by His Spirit, and there cannot be any other truth to supersede and

replace it.

…The only thing that can replace such intense life is a lesser life, a kind of death.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 43

. . . The only influence that can really upset the injustice and iniquity of men is the power

that breathes in the Christian tradition, renewing our participation in the Life that is the

Light of men.

. . . Each individual Christian and each new age of the church has to make this

rediscovery, this return to the source of Christian life. (142-144)

The issues surrounding this rediscovery have changed but the drive for experiencing God's life has

remained constant. By responding to the coldness of the institution, each successive move has often

concentrated on different areas than the previous generation. For instance, the Roman Catholic tradition

experiences the revelation of Christ primarily in the Eucharist. The Protestant tradition experiences the

revelation of Christ primarily in the revealed Word of God. The Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition

experiences the revelation of God in the worship service. Each of these traditions did not exclude the other

elements, they just focused on one principal element and often related the others to it.

Today the focus is shifting again. While the communion meal, the revealed Word of God, and the

worship service remain important elements for experiencing Christ, many church leaders are looking to the

people for the revelation of Christ. As Ogden says, “The church is a sacramental people” (31). Many

leaders are looking for the revelation of God in the body of Christ. This focus has resulted in a renewed

emphasis upon small groups and active participation of all saints. The various models, definitions, and

patterns that have sprung up contain similar elements and unique features, but they all sense a change is

happening. Ogden, Neighbour, and others are calling this the New Reformation, the completed

Reformation, or the second Reformation.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 44

I wanted to see and experience a higher expression of church life. I also wanted a far deeper walk with
Jesus Christ. Putting these two together, I hoped to find a deeper experience of Christ within a higher
experience of the expression of the church. Finally, I dreamed of seeing both these elements among a
gathering of believers who knew and practiced no barriers. No sectarianism. No “talk one way, practice
- Gene Edwards


During the last 20 years, Gene Edwards has written more than 15 books on various aspects of the

Christian walk. Seven of his books are primarily novels with commentary by the narrator and the rest are

teaching books. Many of his teaching books also rely heavily on narrative for argument development.

While his books have enjoyed popularity among a certain following of people, they have remained

relatively unknown in the larger Christian marketplace. Two of his novels have received some attention (A

Tale of Three Kings and Divine Romance), but for the most part, his writings have quietly impacted a

limited audience. Over the last couple of years, however, Edwards has begun losing his status as an obscure

Christian writer and begun enjoying more attention.

In 1993, he wrote several chapters in a book by Jim Rutz called The Open Church. This book

received high acclaim by many pastors, reached #6 on the Christian best seller list, and was even utilized in

some seminary courses on church ministry.

Tyndale House has also been actively promoting many of his novels, and the Christian Book

Distributors catalog even allocated a section on Edwards' writings. A Tale of Three Kings has been

incorporated into several seminary courses. With this increased exposure, many of Edwards' ideas are

beginning to circulate in churches and seminaries throughout the country.

In order to consider Edwards' 1993 release, How To Meet, in the context of his life and thought,

this chapter will provide a brief summary of his life and then explore the main concepts in several of his

books relating to church structure.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 45

Considering Key Life Experiences of Gene Edwards

Gene Edwards was born in the 1930's to J. C. and Gladys Edwards.21 J.C. Edwards worked in the

oil fields and was known to his family as “Blackie.” By virtue of his occupation, the family was forced to

move around in Texas several times during Gene's childhood.

J. C. was illiterate but possessed a natural brilliance that made an unforgettable impression upon

his son. Edwards says of his father, “Though wholly without any formal schooling, he was an organic

genius and the most brilliant leader of men I have ever known, as well as the most awesome man it has ever

been my experience to encounter” (Highest Life v). His father's influence probably played an important

role in Edwards' writings. For example, in some of his writings, he confronts the twentieth century notion

that one must be literate to grow in the Christian life. His childhood may have given him a perspective that

few evangelical leaders experienced.22

Edwards grew up in the Southern Baptist church. He was a third generation Southern Baptist.

When he converted to Christ, at age 17, he had already been through three church splits. Some of them

were filled with physical violence between members of the churches. These and other splits made a

profound impact upon him. Later in his life, he wrote two books on church splits (both will be reviewed in

the next section).

While in college, he felt called to the ministry and entered Southwestern Seminary upon

graduation. Just a few days after entering seminary, his pastor invited him to preach one Sunday evening.

21 This biographical sketch has been developed by consulting Edwards' autobiographical

references in several of his books. He rarely provides exact dates for the events mentioned so the dates
listed are only estimates. See In the Face of A Church Split What is ...? Our Mission ii - ix. Preventing A
Church Split 1-8, 22. Living By the Highest Life v.
22 Edwards says that twentieth century Christianity has exalted “Bible study” as the key toward
growth in Christ. While not opposed to Bible study, he believes it should never be exalted over the
centrality of Christ. He points out that over three-fifths of the people on this planet are illiterate and that
many of the early apostles were illiterate. Edwards says, “There is way for the illiterate to be equal to the
literate in knowing Christ. He need only be introduced to a few essentials about his salvation, the first of
these being that he has an indwelling Lord! He need only learn to locate the place of residence of the Lord
who lives in him and begin fellowshipping with that Lord. If the key to living the Christian life is not an
indwelling Lord, then whatever else is picked as being that key is drastically limiting the number of people
who can enter in. Evangelists of this age are very close to elitism, snobbishness, and the allocation of the
Christian life to educated people, as they insist that Christians must have an almost total mastery of the
contents of the New Testament. To talk to God's people in such a way is to demonstrate a monumental
ignorance of history, as well as a blind refusal to look at historical facts” (The Secret to the Christian Life

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 46

His pastor failed to mention that he was resigning from the church that Sunday morning and Edwards

would be entering a hornet's nest. He describes that first opportunity to minister like this:

The service commenced with singing and then a prayer. The time arrived for the

evening message. Just as I was about to walk to the pulpit, someone in the audience stood

and said, “I make a motion that we go into a church business meeting.” Instantly came,

“Second the motion.”

. . . What happened next lived as a nightmare in the minds of hundreds of

believers for years to come. For over two hours, a clash of tongues and wills continued. It

was brutal. Even now my pen shakes as I recall that horrifying evening. It was brother

against brother, sister against sister. Finally a vote was taken; the “outs” got back in. The

instant the vote was counted dozens of people began filing out the door. Their task was


What did I do that night? I walked to the pulpit, opened the Bible and read these

words--”Except you repent you shall perish”--and dismissed the meeting.

You might say that was my introduction to the Christian ministry. (Preventing a

Church Split 5-6)

While in seminary, Edwards spent a year in Ruschlikon, Switzerland studying church history

under John Allen Moore. During that time, he developed a lasting friendship with Moore and a passion for

church history.

After graduation, Edwards spent five years as a pastor and then five years as a Southern Baptist

evangelist. Unlike his childhood experiences of church, his time as a pastor was fairly smooth, and during

Edwards' five years as an evangelist, he says he lived a “charmed life.”

But he witnessed a disturbing phenomenon. Churches all across America and in other countries

suffered from intense fighting and divisions. He says:

Here are a few things I learned as a young evangelist whose ministry went almost

everywhere: (1) Churches in general are as dead as a one-hundred-year-old coffin. (2)

Most churches are either about to go into a fight, or they are in one, or they are just

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 47

coming out of one. (3) The practice of the pastoral concept is just about the most nerve-

wracking, unnatural, unfair, scripturally unjustifiable invention ever palmed off on the

human race. (Preventing A Church Split 8-9)

In the early 1960s, Edwards was a “featured speaker at the convention of the National Association

of Evangelicals” (How To Meet 7) in Buffalo, New York. While there, he received an invitation from David

Wilkerson to spend a week with him in Brooklyn, New York. Edwards accepted. At the end of the week, he

visited a local church. As he witnessed the contrast between the hurt in the real world and the sanitized

environment of that church, he was stunned. This experience became a culminating event from years of

service in the organized church. Edwards describes the experience:

After that ghastly week, set in the reality of the darkest dark of mankind, I “went to

church on Sunday morning” at the Calvary Baptist Church in downtown New York the

last day I was in town. The contrast between the world I had been in and that neat, clean

Sunday morning church ritual was devastating: the mad hell of the streets of New York

and the totally irrelevant church service (not just there, mind you, but all over this planet).

It was one of the major turning points in my life. I waited until the auditorium was empty.

I stood, looked up to heaven, and declared that I would never “go to church” again as

long as I lived. (How To Meet 7)

This quote may imply Edwards is against church, but in fact, his writings indicate that he believes

the church is the center of God's plan in creation. On that day, Edwards rejected the formal concept of

church organization and began looking for the informal experience of church.

In Our Mission, he describes this decision as the result of three main factors (vi-vii). First, he was

not comfortable with the barriers between denominations and wanted to remove all walls between him and

other Christians. Second, he was frustrated by the disparity between the expression of the early church and

the expression of the twentieth century church. Third, he felt a longing to know Christ more intimately and

felt there was “no place within (his) own heritage to assuage this inner thirst” (vii).

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 48

Edwards began dreaming of a church experience which combined the deeper walk of the mystics

within a community of believers. In the midst of this, he envisioned a work without sectarian attitudes and

walls. He responded to this vision by leaving the ministry and pursuing a deeper walk with Christ.

Shortly thereafter, Edwards contracted an illness which left him bedridden for four years.23 He was

not sure he would live to see his vision fulfilled. At the end of four years, Edwards regained enough

strength to function, but he never fully recovered from this physical malady.

At this time, the Jesus movement was in full swing and informal groups of Christians were

springing up all over the nation. A group of college-age believers in Isla Vista asked Edwards to visit and

minister to their group. When he accepted, he did not realize that they were struggling to understand what

and how the “body of Christ” was supposed to function.

Edwards agreed to help them. He told them:

I will come to visit you from time to time for one year. I will do all I can to point you to

Christ . . . to know Him, to experience Him, and to know His cross. I will endeavor to

continue to show you the church and how to experience church life as a living reality in

your daily lives.

But at the end of one year I will leave. And having departed, I will stay away for at least

one full year. (Our Mission x)

He was trying to follow Paul's example of planting churches and believed that an essential part of planting

churches was to teach churches dependence upon Christ alone and not on any individual. He spent about

100 days of the next year ministering among this one group. As revival was sweeping through the country,

he challenged them to get rooted in Christ. He says he told them the following:

Let's sit out this revival. It is a great opportunity to grow large and spread, etc.

But I believe we should sit out not only this revival but the whole next decade! Let's just

hide. And grow up together. Then, maybe, we will have the wisdom and experience to

23 Edwards never mentions what the illness was. He merely says, “I contracted a very deadly,
very destructive disease. I spent the next year in bed, not sure at all I'd see my next birthday, much less the
restoration of church life. . . . Do not underestimate the ways of God. Eventually I regained a semblance of
health. But the point was not wasted in me that my desire to know Him better had led me to four years of
bed rest and a body forever shorn of strength” (Our Mission viii).

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 49

well care for the 1990's! Surely, by then, you will have something of Christ to impart.

(Our Mission xiii)

After one year, Edwards was true to his word and left the little group of believers. When he left,

they were facing the potential problem of “wolves” destroying the body. He left them alone in God's hands.

At the end of one year, he resumed contact with them. During this time, they confronted problems

but learned how to work through them in Christ. Edwards and this community spent 10 years together and

then dissolved. Why would they dissolve? Dissolution was considered part of an ongoing process. Edwards

does not fully explain the reasons, but he does give some ideas:

We lived and vanished, a tiny group of no more than 100, leaving no

monuments, no buildings, no string of churches. We have nothing to show for that decade

together. That is, nothing visible. Nothing in realms seen. We parted still loving one

another, still hoping, still believing. Today we are scattered to the four winds.

But why did we dissolve?

Oh that is another story--but I will tell you one of the reasons.

I have never wanted followers. I have wanted equals--and “betters.” I never

desired to work with a people who thought like me . . . but rather men who had the mind

of Christ. Nor could I be comfortable working with men who stood side by side with me

who were only there because--perhaps--they were programmed to be there. My heart in

this respect was once summed up in this little saying:

If you love something

Set it free!

If it returns,

it is yours.

If it does not,

it never was.

So in our dissolution all were set free. Time will tell how that little saying will

apply. (Our Mission ix-x)

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 50

During the 1980s Edwards spent time meeting with believers in homes throughout the country,

hosting deeper life conferences, and writing books. Many of these books may have been an outgrowth of

the 10 years set aside with the other believers.

Edwards continues to spend time writing books and visiting informal fellowships throughout the

country. He is also planting churches in Albania and Romania. He has avoided the spotlight for more than

30 years, and now many of his ideas are beginning to surface in different places throughout the world.

Reviewing Key Themes in Edwards' Restoration Books

His writing draws from the mystic or contemplative tradition in the church, but unlike the

individualistic tendencies of Western mysticism, he focuses upon the importance of community as an

essential ingredient in spiritual fellowship. Six of his works seem particularly relevant to his book How to

Meet. These works include Revolution, Our Mission, Preventing a Church Split, The Highest Life, The

Secret to the Christian Life, and The Open Church (where he contributes several key chapters). The books

will be reviewed in their chronological order of release.


In 1974, Edwards released his radical narrative of church life in the book Revolution. This book

proposes to characterize the first 17 years of the early church. Edwards says, “The purpose of this book is

to create a working model of the entire first century church” (5). Revolution is the early church model for

the process Edwards' describes in How To Meet.

The book is built around several narratives of church life, each one sprinkled with personal

commentary on the purpose of church. Four of the main church characteristics presented are the centrality

of Christ, the two types of meetings, apostleship and church life, and the absence of a pattern.

Centrality of Christ. Edwards points out that the message and experience of Christ was at the

center of the early church. When presenting this idea, he sets a rhetorical pattern followed in many other

works. He poses a question, discusses what is not the answer, and finally answers the question. Along the

way, Edwards uses a bit of narrative license and humor to drive home his point.

He describes “A Day in the Life of the Church” by considering the topic of conversation and

preaching among the early Apostles and asking, “If you had been sitting there in Solomon's porch with the

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 51

3,000, what would you have heard from the lips of those twelve men?” (45). He then answers the question

by describing what they did not do:

They did not get up and deliver sermonettes on being kind to people, or not sinning, or

being good. That is obvious.

But you can also bet your favorite doctrine they didn't get up and teach creeds either.

They didn't dish out doctrinal statements on every subject in the Hebrew scrolls. In fact,

there would be no serious effort at systematizing or categorizing the teaching and

doctrines of these men until over 100 years after Pentecost.

. . . You can also be sure that the favorite topics of today's Christianity were never heard

in Solomon's Porch: that is, how to pray, how to witness, how to be victorious over sin,

how to study scrolls, etc. (45-47)

After spending several pages discussing what the Apostles did not talk about, Edwards finally answers the

questions. He says, “The twelve Apostles talked about Jesus Christ! Night and day. That's all you got out of

them: Jesus Christ. . . . They couldn't have thought of anything else to talk about if they had tried” (48).

The experience of an indwelling Lord in the person of Jesus Christ is one of the central arguments

of this work. Edwards says, “This deep fellowship of His presence was the mainstay of the early church”

(107). After establishing the importance of experiencing Christ in the early church, Edwards describes the

types of meetings the believers shared.

Types of Meetings. He says there were two essential elements in the early church gatherings: a

large corporate gathering at Solomon's porch and a smaller intimate gathering in the homes of the believers.

Both meetings were essential in the development of the believers. He is quick to point out that these were

tendencies of the early church and not doctrines. “There is nothing about the early church that was

dogmatic. It defied neat categories and rules; it only has tendencies” (40)

The daily corporate meeting place for all the saints was at Solomon's Porch behind the temple.

Each day the Apostles led these meetings and believers came and went according to their job situation.

Edwards describes these meetings as super-charged and filled with variety. He says that “No two meetings

were alike and all of them were glorious” (42). He continues to point out that the meetings followed no

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 52

specific format or schedule. These meetings equipped believers “to live as a corporate body and, at the

same time find their individual ways of expressing their own experiences of Christ” (44-45).

These meetings were a spontaneous overflow of the power-packed corporate gatherings. He says

that the unique aspects of these meetings is the fact that no one led them. They were a completely “informal

gathering . . . under the direct leadership of Jesus Christ” (41). At this point, many of the saints lived in

common so their “home meetings” were a part of their daily experiences. He describes these meetings in

the following way:

Everyone begins talking at once. Testimonies are exchanged, intermingled with shouts

and praises. Everybody is trying to tell everyone else what they have heard, seen, and


. . . Supper is prepared to the accompaniment of uproarious singing, chattering, and

laughter. After the meal is prepared, everyone sits down somewhere on the floor to eat

and they continue to share. The air is filled with bursts of overflowing life. They testify,

praise, and sing. All the experiences of the day, mingled with the joy of the present

moment, fill the room. The whole place is saturated with the Lord's presence. Finally the

meal comes to an end. Someone spontaneously brings out some bread and some wine.

The bread is broken, the wine is passed. Once more praising, joy, and more singing

ascend. (49)

He compares these meetings to the fellowship of the disciples with the Lord.

Behold! the church had learned from the twelve how to meet the way the twelve had

“met” when they were with the Lord. They met with Him, yet were not even conscious it

was a meeting! That embryonic “body life” the twelve knew with Christ was now known

by all! Those “meetings (which really weren't meetings at all) which twelve men had

while living with Christ, had now become the way the whole church met! The home

meetings were to the church what sitting around Christ had been to the twelve. (50)

Edwards considers these leaderless home meetings as essential for the life and growth of the church.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 53

Apostleship and Church Life. Revolution introduces Edwards' concept of church life for the first

time. It is ultimately the natural outgrowth of the meetings described above. Church life is presented as an

essential element in the development of a believer. “The life of a believer was never meant to be lived

alone. You were meant to know Christ in a corporate situation. Being a following of Jesus Christ just does

not work without church life” (37).

In spite of all his admonitions of church life, Edwards says that it is hard to define and must be

experienced. He likens it to the explosive life of celebration experienced by believers living in community.

After developing a picture of church life, Edwards explains that “Apostleship precedes church

life” (73). He says that churches which just begin spontaneously usually last until the fires of testing and

then fall away. Apostles must lay the necessary foundation for churches to survive, and Apostles are not

produced overnight. He says that the first 12 Apostles spent over 20,000 hours in the presence of Christ and

that is what prepared them to become Apostles (104).

He goes on to say that it took eight years of church life and a long-term experience of the Lord to

produce Stephen the first minister from within the new church. He says:

Does eight years seem like a long time to you? It was not at all in that day. In fact, by first

century standards Stephen set a speed record. He was one the very few men in all history

whose preparation period was less than ten years! So we are all forced to admit that

something is amiss here somewhere! Either the early church or present day Christianity is

way off course! Which? (88)

He believes that the church of today must have leaders who have dwelt in the presence of the Lord to

provide the essential foundation for church life. Only with the apostolic leaders or church planters can the

church truly experience church life as God intended it.

The Absence of a Pattern. Later in the book, Edwards builds the case that what is observed in the

Jerusalem church is not necessarily the pattern for all churches. He explains that the Jerusalem church fit

Jerusalem. “The church fits the environment. The church matches the people and the nation in which it

grows” (137).

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 54

The saints who left Jerusalem to plant churches in Judea, raised up Judean churches unique from

Jerusalem. He points out that in the beginning, Judea did not have any Apostles present. The Judean church

was raised up by saints who had developed during eight years of church life. In the beginning it was a

leaderless work. He says:

A body of people who have previously experienced church life can survive, flourish and

advance for a pretty good length of time with absolutely no help. They need no offices,

no gifts and no leaders. They can be, should be, just ordinary people who have had a long

period of previous church experience. The foundation that has been laid in them will hold

without any structure whatsoever!

Every church needs a period when it has no leaders. It is always one of her most beautiful

times. The corporateness, oneness, and love during such a period is a fragrance to God

and man. In fact, it is this period of time, while the church is giftless and leaderless,

which God uses to begin to raise up gifted men. But it must have a strong foundation in

order to survive this period. (136-137)

Revolution lays the early framework for some of Edwards' ideas which will be developed

throughout his other works. This initial work provides a picture of what he envisions as a properly

functioning church. The centrality of Christ remains essential in all his writings. In fact, Edwards describes

this as the most important element in the church and the believer.

He also establishes the importance of organic home meetings which are not centered in “Bible

study” but in fellowship with Christ and other believers (although, Bible study may play a role in the

fellowship). In most of his writings, Edwards devotes more attention to the organic home meetings than to

the corporate gathering.

Apostleship is an important element in Edwards' concept of church, and he believes that Apostles

lay the foundation for a true experience of church life. While he never defines church life, he does describe

it. He says that it is found in true Christian community and that true spiritual growth can only happen in the

community environment. This concept distinguishes Edwards from many contemplative writers who

focused completely upon the individual journey. This idea surfaces again and again in his writings.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 55

Lastly, Edwards explains that there is not a specific pattern for the church. He opens the door for

cultural expressions of church and the process of discovery which is developed in How To Meet.

Our Mission

In the early 1970s, Edwards began meeting with a group of believers in Isla Vista. As mentioned

above, he stayed with them a year and then gave them a year alone to struggle and discover God's grace on

their own. When he departed, he realized that “wolves” were entering the flock who would try to destroy it.

Over the course of the next year, several embittered believers from a defunct movement entered

this body. Edwards describes this migration of believers into this small group:

Things went smoothly for the first part of that year I was away. But as more and more of

these Christians arrived, there was a definite shift in attitude. Some of them were highly

gifted and nationally known leaders. Many were strong willed. All were hurt. Some were

incredibly bitter. And it was still that divisive nature, that bent toward controversy, that

boast in past doings . . . and still, under the surface- a predilection to violence, moral

license, and in some, an incredibly vulgar language.

Nor, later it turned out, had they lost the gift of sowing discord and creating division in

the body of Christ. In the beginning, some had arrived there for the purpose of being

healed. Some came out of curiosity. Others came to defy. Most of those people, having

moved in while I was gone, had never met me nor even heard of me. Nor I, them. I was a

name only. To them that name stood for some sort of leadership, be it ever so benign.

Gradually, I began getting a message, just a trickle, then loud and clear: “We don't know

who you are, but whoever you are, you are not welcome to come back here.” (Our

Mission xv)

Edwards saw this invasion as a test of his work. Rather then interfere with the process, he left it to

the fire to see what it was built out of. He says, “To always protect a work, to ever be launching a crusade

against dissenters, is never to know of what composition is your building material” (xvi).

After one year, Edwards returned to lead a retreat with 40 of the men from the body. He realized a

split might be immanent and delivered a series of messages challenging them to cling to the cross and not

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 56

stand up for self. He thought these messages might be his last address to that group. Eventually, the split

began to occur. He left them alone again. He says:

They faced that horrible hour with no earthly aid nor counsel and with no past experience

by which to plot their course. And they survived by the grace of God. They made into

reality the messages which you are about to read.

And they survived!

Perhaps I should share this small story that you might get a glimpse of how a group of

Christian young men and women handled an extremely volatile situation . . .

spontaneously and instinctively. And alone! (xviii)

The messages he delivered at that retreat were compiled in pamphlets and eventually published in

a book 14 years later. These messages form the content of Our Mission. In some ways, Our Mission

provides the philosophy behind How To Meet. It provides Edwards' most comprehensive arguments on the

church and the church system, and it is an essential background volume to How To Meet.

It should be clarified that this book was directed to people outside the organized church system. In

1987, Edwards released a sister volume, Preventing a Church Split, directed to both people in organized

church systems and outside of organized church systems. He is one of the few Christian writers to focus on

the problem and challenge of church splits with two separate books.

This present study will review the main ideas from Our Mission and then follow up with the main

ideas from Preventing a Church Split.

Metaphor of The Mountain. Towards the beginning of Our Mission, Edwards presents a metaphor

which helps illuminate his conviction of the churches' mission in God's plan at this time. He describes a

mountain with a summit that has been reached only one time. The mountain is the history of the church and

the summit is the highest expression of church on earth. He would clearly define this point as being reached

in the earliest days of the church. Since that time each generation of believers has tried to reach that

summit. He says:

And in every age the summit comes closer within our grasp. And now! Now you are one

of those who have been called on to assault its heights. As you stand in the foothills and

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 57

look up, you must realize that you don't really start here. Others before you have made it

possible to go directly to some high outpost . . . a place where other men in the recent

past came. There they pioneered. Now they have laid down their climbing gear; the camp

is still. The angels wait for another group of men to take up the task. You can go directly

to the campsite. It shan't take long, if you know the way! If you know what has been done

before. Others pioneered a way up the mountain for you. . . . Be sure that any people who

try to start all over again are never going to get anywhere! You must go on the experience

of those who have already assaulted these heights.

. . . Be careful. If you decide to press forward you may be buying for yourself nothing but

bitter disappointment. Look back again. See all those who have come before. Remember

their suffering. And they fell short of the summit. There are no guarantees in this

business. Did they mind? Would they do it again, knowing they would not make the


. . . Be certain of this--the men who came before you suffered. If you seize that tattered,

bloodstained banner you will suffer.

. . . Now comes the sad part. The dark side of this wonderful saga. Let's look at it. When

this “new territory” is reached by a group of people, without exception, someone among

them cries out, “We are it! Look at us, we are it! We are God's work upon the earth today!

We have seen, we have experienced, what no one else in our age has seen. We know a

fuller restoring of God's mystery than any other people who have come before us.”

That moment is followed by another cry. A fatal moment it is. “We are going to be those

who complete the restoration. We are it.” (6-11)

This extended metaphor becomes a vehicle for Edwards to express his convictions about the

condition of the church. He believes that after the early church each generation of believers have been

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 58

moving forward to recapture or restore God's calling for the church.24 Edwards realizes at least five key

ideas in his metaphor:

1. The Restoration of the Church - As mentioned above, he believes that each generation

of believers moves closer and closer to a restoration of God's divine intention for the


2. The Calling of this Generation - He emphasizes that saints in this generation are called

to build on the work of previous generations.

3. The Call to Move Higher - He says that this generation is called to carry the banner

higher and closer to the summit than previous generations.

4. The Call to Suffering - He teaches that each generation of saints who have pressed

forward with “the banner” has endured tremendous suffering.

5. The Danger in the Call - There is a danger in believing the church has already reached

that summit.

He emphasizes the importance of studying church history and learning from the movements before

us. As a preface to this metaphor, he discusses church history in light of three streams: Roman Catholicism,

Protestantism, and those who stood outside organized religion. He is particularly fascinated by those in the

third stream and calls them a “restoring people.”

Edwards claims this third line as his heritage. He encourages studying these groups and learning

from their successes and failures. He says:

We need to know all they learned. We will never get anywhere unless we know ahead of

time what they have already discovered! We are not to begin at zero. We must begin,

rather, where they left off. We must be students of church history. We must know what

God has already done. Find out what God has already restored! (5-6)

24 This is not an unusual teaching. There are many teachers in the church today (particularly in
Pentecostal/Charismatic churches) who talk about Restoration Theology. They believe that since the
Reformation God has gradually been restoring various gifts and callings to the church, and that the last
expression of the church before the return of Christ will shine more gloriously than all previous
generations. In the Latter Days by Vinson Synan and many other books approach this topic.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 59

Edwards not only warns the reader of how past movements have become exclusive and considered

themselves complete, but he recognizes the danger for present groups who are seeking God to fall into the

same trap.

As far as I know, everyone who has traveled this way before--for at least a millennium--

has fallen into this pit. Frankly, we don't know a cure for this disease. But there is one

thing we can do! Today! Here! At this retreat! We can look this awful temptation straight

in the face. We have recognized the danger. We have stated it, out loud. We have brought

this ugly villain out into the light and made him stand there. We have calculated the

danger. We have warned ourselves. (11)

Characteristics of Reform Movements. Edwards notes that most reform movements were

characterized by simplicity, spirituality, informal meetings, love, emphasis on scripture yet no deep

theology, often hidden, and a sense of calling or belonging. Many of these groups felt they just had to exist.

He says, “They gladly were tortured and killed because they would not give up the matter of their simply

feeling they needed to exist on the earth” (16-17).

He also points out one unfortunate negative feature in many reform movements: division. Many of

these independent groups suffered fragmentation and bitter internal conflicts. Edwards says that they were

willing to die for the faith but not for one another.

I am amazed at how many saints in history have been willing to die for Jesus Christ--the

ultimate sacrifice. And yet, I am just as amazed that those same dear brothers and sisters

who are perfectly willing to die for the Lord, are not willing to stop getting their feelings

hurt. Not willing, not able, to get past being upset at little things. That seems so

insignificant. Yet the fact is, this issue has consistently proven to be more crucial than all

doctrinal debates of Church history combined! (22-23)

Edwards calls the current church to a new form of suffering. He says, “Let's suffer one another”

(21). He challenges believers to move beyond pettiness and division and learn to lay down their lives for

one another.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 60

What is needed is a people, and especially workers, who will not divide, who will not

split, who will not attack one another, who will not subject the body of Christ to such

suffering; men who refuse to divide the body of Christ for any reason. (21)

This challenge is not easy. It is agonizing, and saints who choose to walk this path will suffer. He says,

“God is looking for a people who will suffer attacks; and even more, a people who will suffer the long

agonizing consequences of not having returned an attack” (24).

At this point, Edwards discusses how many saints have exalted their teachings or revelations over

the call of the cross and willingly crucified their opponents before laying down their own life. He says,

“Beware of the man who has had a vision from the Lord. He will gladly crucify you if you do not happen to

go along with his vision” (27).

Edwards challenges his listeners to be willing to die for their faith, even when that means dying to

self and not defending themselves in front of other saints. In one sense, Edwards has taken the mystical

concept of suffering and darkness and applied it to relationships.

He sees the cross as central to our relationships with others. There must be a willingness to die to

our reputations, our convictions.

I've witnessed many crises and I have noticed that both sides (and they're nearly always

diametrically opposed to one another) claim to know exactly what the “clear teaching of

the Word of God” is. How will you know which side has the correct interpretation of the

“clear Word of God?” As I pointed out, every man on earth has a different set of ultimate

convictions. Which man's convictions should we follow? You see, that which sets one

man off on a tirade doesn't even upset another, whereas the second man feels a blow to all

that is holy when yet some other subject is touched. Each one among us has a different

length fuse. Each man's threshold of anger is different.

I ask you what is the paramount issue?

Was there a greater time in history when men should have spoken out than on

the day Jesus Christ was (utterly outside of justice) crucified? yet, on that day of days, I

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 61

can name two who did not speak out. God did not. Jesus Christ did not. I ask again what

is the paramount issue? (34)

Men have used the Word of God as a weapon to destroy one another and evade the cross. Edwards

confronts this notion above, but the wording he uses may seem to imply a questioning of absolute truths.

Because he has a tendency to use extreme examples, Edwards can sometimes be misunderstood or taken

out of context. Later in the chapter, he addresses this question. He says, “There must be a standard

somewhere. What is it? At just what point do you take a stand?” (36). He answers that question by pointing

back to the centrality of Christ. Jesus Christ must become more important than our doctrines.

If we are to complete the work that has begun, it will not be us who completes this work.

The work will be completed by Christ Himself. The work will be completed in Christ.

The work will be finished because of Christ. In other words, Jesus Christ will be central.


Edwards seems to be arguing that Scriptures have held the place where Jesus Christ should be. He

does not seem to question the Bible as God's Word, but rather questions man's multitude of interpretations

taking precedence over a personal relationship with Christ. In the end, he is reestablishing the preeminence

of Jesus Christ as the foundation of our faith and our church. This idea sounds like an echo from Ephesians

where Paul says, “We will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the

whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as

each part does its work” (4:15-16).

Edwards provides an extensive treatment on religious systems versus the divine intention for man.

He says that “the church has suffered from only one enemy in all her history: the world system” (90). This

short review cannot do justice to his unique argument of the world system. As stated earlier, it is difficult to

pull Edwards' ideas out of context because they could be easily misinterpreted, but his argument against the

world system is an underlying force in How To Meet, so the main ideas should at least be considered.

Edwards traces systematization to the angelic order. They were created to function in a

hierarchical structure. He says that man was created in God's image, and God never intended man to

function in a hierarchical structure. He traces this structure to Lucifer and claims that he sought to use

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 62

“civilization” or structure to control mankind. Lucifer introduced civilization on the earth through Nimrod.

Nimrod founded Babel. Using quotes from secular historians D. C. Trueman and Will Durant, he traces the

development and exportation of civilization from Assyria to Babylon to Persia to Rome and eventually to

the church (81-106).

Edwards notes one characteristic found in all world systems: persecution of those who refuse to

submit to the system. He says the church was never meant to be systematized but organic.

The church was, and is, anti-world system. The church is not an organization. She does

not operate by chain-of command. The church is the one thing Lucifer doesn't head. Jesus

Christ is direct Head of His church, His Body. No organization is she, but a Woman! She

is alive. A woman. The fiancee of Jesus Christ! (90)

He goes on to consider the church as a family. He refers to God not as the CEO of an organization but the

Father of a family.

He is Father. He is Head. But He is Head of each of us individually. He is totally opposite

to chain-of-command. Look at your own family. It is not organized. Every person reports

to the head. Your family is a living entity. (91)

This metaphor of the family implies order but not structure. That is the chief difference between the church

and the world system. The church is ordered through relationship; the world is controlled through structure.

Ultimately, Edwards argues that fallen man tends to replace relationships with structures. The

church must continually be on guard against this tendency. How do we know when this is happening? He

says that he does not know, but there are tendencies to look for.

When we leave Christ as the center of our message. When the Bible, or

evangelism, or morality or “the church” becomes our center. When we cease

experiencing the Lord, and only talk about experiencing Him. When we stop being

seekers. When we become sectarian. When we fight one another. When we take a list like

this and stuff it down one another's throats with half a dozen possible interpretations of its

meaning. I don't have any idea if those are signs or not that the Lord has moved away.


The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 63

In the end, Edwards teaches that the believer is faced with two challenges: (1) to remain separate

from all world systems (including religious systems) and (2) to remain in fellowship with all believers. He

admonishes the believer to reject the world system and never let it pull him/her away from the centrality of

Christ, but at the same time, the believer must never build a wall between them and other believers who

may be trapped in systems.

Edwards' unique interpretation may seem unconventional, but his conclusions on system versus

relationship have important implications for the church. The simple picture of the church as family over the

church as organization may be the most profound and powerful argument in the chapter.

Our Mission provides a background to Edwards' frustration with organized/formal religion and his

insistence upon organic experiences. A short summary cannot sufficiently summarize this lengthy book, but

it does furnish an insight into his approach to the church and his values. Edwards clearly values

relationships as preeminent. He calls the church to die for one another instead of dividing over self-centered

issues. Edwards contends that even issues which seem spiritual are usually rooted in self-preservation.

He also calls the saints to a new understanding of the church as a family whose center is Jesus

Christ. The centrality of Christ and emphasis upon experience reflect his mystic or contemplative leaning.

This emphasis on family pulls that mysticism out of the desert and into the living room.

Preventing A Church Split

In 1987, Edwards released this sister volume to Our Mission. Preventing A Church Split had a

wider audience as he speaks to those inside and outside of organized churches. There are at least three key

ideas worth considering from this book: the characteristics of a church split, steps toward preventing a

church split, and when to leave a church.

In some ways, this book provides a balanced response to his previous volume. He does not

develop a lengthy argument on church systems or the history of churches outside the systems, but he

focuses totally upon the epidemic of church splits and tries to help all saints avoid the disastrous effects of

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 64

one. Both this work and Our Mission reflect Edwards' understanding of mass movements in general. He

makes similar observations to Eric Hoffer when considering the dangerous element in mass movements.25

Characteristics of Church Split. Edwards begins the book by providing a background on his

experience in church splits. He had been through three church splits by the time he was 17. He witnessed

the ravages brought upon believers and churches alike and developed a great compassion for those

wounded in church splits. He not only shares his experience but relates stories from saints who have written

to him about their struggles. The first and foremost point he tries to get across is that church splits damage


Edwards says that “Splits and divisions are the heartbreak of God's people everywhere across this

land and across this planet; yet it appears that Christendom has refused even to admit it” (9). Minister and

saints alike are depicted as bleeding and dying from the wounds experienced in the battles of church splits.

He believes that church splits have been the most destructive elements in driving Christians from

the Lord. He says that even saints who can endure one or two church splits usually begin to falter by their

third or fourth split. Not only do people suffer spiritually but their relationships (including marriages)

sometimes are destroyed in the process.

According to Edwards, violence often accompanies church splits and divisions. In Luther's and

Zwingli's era, people often lost their lives in the process. Today, people have entered into physical fights

during church divisions. Edwards discusses the sociological factors leading to mob violence and then

demonstrates how these factors can often be present in a church.

For instance, in every group of any one hundred individuals there are ten people

who are actually hostile to authority; there are also, on the average, five people in that

group of one hundred people who become highly emotional under pressure; in this same

group there are about four people who, when aroused to hate, become psychologically

unsound. It is these four people who may become physically violent if their stress level,

or their emotional level, reaches a certain threshold.

25 See True Believer 85-93. The whole book deals with mass movements, but the above section
demonstrates the nature of hatred in a mass movement.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 65

. . . Let a preacher stand in front of a people and consistently attack a man, or a group, or

a teaching. Out there in the audience is someone who is internalizing all this on a level

most of us do not understand. Give that person a steady diet of hate--hate of anything--

and he will begin fantasizing about the “enemy.” He cracks. (18)

Edwards demonstrates his point with several horror stories in both “orthodox” and “non-orthodox”

churches. Here is one example:

The leaders of a denomination, the soul of orthodoxy, launch a hate campaign

against one lone church. The fires of rage are fanned so hard, so long, that the atmosphere

of unmitigated hate destabilizes one member. He makes three attempts to kill the leader

of the “enemy” church. (20)

Not all the church problems he discusses escalate to the point of attempted murder but many end

in physical and verbal fights. Edwards makes the point that these events are not limited to a specific

denomination but have occurred in all types of organized and non-organized churches.

Edwards believes that dispositions and not doctrines are the main cause behind church splits. He

says that doctrines often surface after the split to justify the split or to wedge the people further apart.

He maintains that every human being has a unique disposition and therefore will value certain

aspects of the church higher than others. Inevitably, people develop “lists” of what they believe the ideal

church should contain. Here are a few of the subjects he lists: teachings on the last days, miracles, love,

authority, shepherding, freedom, no authority, counseling, missions, the deeper life, doing good, helping the

needy, visiting the sick, singing, less singing, living in common, not living in common, prophesy, and on

and on (52-55).

As these issues take precedence over the centrality of Christ, people begin to fight for their own

agenda and, in the process, they are willing to destroy whoever gets in the way. Churches often exist

without divisions and people participate in the areas they choose. But Edwards says every so often someone

arises who feels his list is not being heeded, and he builds a following that demands change in the church.26

26 In A Tale of Three Kings, Edwards calls this person Absalom and warns all believers about the
dangers of falling into his trap.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 66

Dispositions are not the only reasons churches split, but Edwards feels that they are one of the

most important. He says that believers who feel their “lists” are not being heeded have only three choices:

(1) split the church; (2) quietly leave the church; (3) take their list to the cross.

Where does God stand in the midst of splits? Edwards says that He stands back and watches His

sheep. Edwards says:

The fight, supposedly, is over theology and, of course, your side is right. But

here is a non-theological God watching. I do not think He is all that impressed with the

theology of any Christian, especially when that theology destroys other Christians. Nor is

He impressed with our views. Nor our claims. Nor who is right. Nor even who is wrong!

. . . I think He stands back. Way back. And watches. Hoping that somewhere in all this

carnage there will be one heart that will survive the holocaust and be able to come back

and fully, freely fervently love Him again. (126)

Steps Toward Preventing A Split. Edwards says there are right ways and wrong ways to prevent

church splits. The wrong ways manipulate the people and avoid the cross. The right ways cling to the cross

and avoid building walls.

There are several manipulative tools churches can use to try and avoid splits. He explains that

leaders can limit the circle of friendships in the church where virtually no one has friends with the outside

world. Customs, clothing, exclusive doctrines and various other means are used to build walls between the

congregation and the outside world.

In Our Mission, Edwards lists another important tool for maintaining unity: creating a common

enemy. He says, “It is not Christ that unifies most groups. It is often a common enemy” (Our Mission, 60).

Christ must be central to the church. If the church is threatened by a split the believers must seek

the Lord's mercy and grace. Edwards lists several practical ideas that can help keep peripheral issues from

taking precedence over Christ.

First, he says that most churches are filled with wounded Christians who continue wounding

others. As a result, he believes that churches should have a highly skilled Christian counselor to help these


The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 67

Then, he says that the church should not be controlling and should respect the individuality of

each believer. If some believers decide to leave the church, they should be sent off with a blessing and not a

curse. Here is a list of several other suggestions he has:

Everything the church does should come about in such a way that it leads to

wholeness in the body of Christ.

There should be a moderated view of all things--except Christ Himself.

The atmosphere of the church should contribute to a healthy mental and

emotional state in all our lives.

Sectarianism and exclusivism stand at the door of every church, very near to

getting in. They are there right now. Addressing that fact with a view of preventing

exclusivism and elitism is a sign of security and wholeness.

Religious nuttiness, fanaticism and screwballism have no place in the house of


Everything we emphasize should be seasonal. Go to seed on nothing.

Nothing should be emphasized out of proportion to other parts of the Christian

faith; nothing should be emphasized for long periods of time.

We need to emphasize the “we” (“our little church,” or “our movement,” or “our

denomination”) are not God's gift to mankind, nor the best and final work of God, nor are

we the final and sole repository of all truth. There are almost certainly some other people

out there, people whom we have never heard of, who are better at doing anything and

everything we do! (118-119)

Edwards says that his fellowship has a group of older saints who watch for these “danger signs” in the body

and try to respond before there is a problem.

When to Leave a Church. Toward the end of the book, Edwards says that there are times believers

should leave churches. They should never seek to divide or destroy these fellowships, but there are clear

warning signs when a believer should walk away and sometimes run away.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 68

Before a person decides to leave a church, he encourages them to ask themselves, Is this an

ongoing pattern? They need to make sure they are not just leaving because their feelings are hurt. He

encourages all believers contemplating leaving a church to talk to a Christian counselor--outside the

church--one that has nothing to do with the church. He says that sometimes they can help believers

distinguish if their frustration is due to the church or personal problems which need help.

He says many reasons given for leaving and splitting churches (in the process) are unsound, but

there are times when a believer may endanger their spiritual lives to stay. He says that if a church begins

making claims of exclusivity the believer should beware. Then if the leader makes threats about those who

do leave the work the believer should “Run! Repeat: Do not walk. Run!” (108).

When a person does leave a work, he says their outward actions are being watched by God and the

angels. He says:

So guard your words, and rein in your conduct. Take no sides. Keep your mouth

closed. Do nothing, say nothing. Wait until the whole episode is over. Wait. And then

what? Then do more of the same! If you feel you must leave, do so. And wait on your


One day you will be pleasantly surprised to see your Lord again. He will appear

just about where you last saw Him, and you will notice that His general direction is still

forward. (109)

As a whole, Preventing A Church Split comes across as a balanced challenge to believers in all

different types of churches to avoid splits, walls, divisions, and sectarianism at all cost, keep Christ central

in their lives and conduct, and avoid churches which generate elitism and manipulation.

This work, Our Mission, and Revolution are the central books to preface How To Meet. The next

three books will be more briefly summarized as they contain fewer ideas that are relevant to an analysis of

How To Meet than Preventing A Church Split, Our Mission, and Revolution.

Highest Life

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 69

Highest Life reveals the mystical, experiential element of Edwards' thoughts and in some ways,

presents his epistemological framework. He focuses upon the dichotomy between the life God has called

man to live and the life man experiences.

He begins by considering the source of God's life and explains that God has eternal life within

Him. According to Edwards, humans were created to live in God's life and in the “bios” life found in the

natural realm, but in the fall, the human's spirit died to God, and Adam and Eve were forced to live only in

the natural. Edwards divides the human into body, soul, and spirit.

After the fall, he says that the soul enlarged and began trying to compensate for the spirit. The

human's body and soul have warred for power ever since. Edwards defines the soul as the mind, will and

emotions of the person. He says that each of these areas tries to compensate for the lost spiritual element.

Seeking (but never reaching) those dimensions which are reserved for the spirit

only, emotion joins the will and mind to create a pale substitute for walking in the spirit's

domain. These trilateral ingredients brewed together now bring forth just about the

greatest curse man will ever know. This trinity that composes the damaged soul makes

man religious. Then the soul informs man of one of the greatest of all deceptions. The

soul tells man that his religious nature is actually his spiritual nature.

. . . Within the Christian faith, you will always find three sub-religions.” To recast that

sentence: There are really only three denominations in Christendom. The mind

denomination, the emotion denomination and the will denomination. (Sometimes a

combination of two, but never three!) Each of these denominations sees itself as the one

that is spiritual. And, of course, it denominates against the other two!

The fallen soul, it appears, is very sectarian. (137)

Whenever humans depend only upon the mind, will, and emotions for spiritual satisfaction they

are left frustrated. Edwards proceeds to call humans to a higher life--the divine life of God. He says that

Christ came to demonstrate how a man can live the highest life and to make a way for all humans to

experience this life.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 70

Finally, Edwards says the basis of this “highest life” is fellowship with Christ. Fellowship with an

indwelling Lord distinguishes Christianity from all religious systems in the world.

According to Edwards, this fellowship can only be learned and fully experienced in community.

On this point, he differs with many past mystical writers because he insists that human relationships are

essential for entering into fellowship with God.

You learn this internal fellowship with Him, not alone, but with others, with

members of your species. With the weak, those not strong in self-discipline. With the

morally-damaged, those not inclined to be spiritual. With the non-special people, not just

highly gifted believers. With others like you! (124)

Edwards ends this work with an admonishment to seek out fellowship with other believers and learn to

fellowship around Christ.

The Secret to the Christian Life

This book is a follow-up to the Highest Life and develops many of the ideas started there.

Edwards begins with a review of the source of the Christian life, and in some ways, this book repeats the

ideas of the previous volume with different examples, but then Edwards takes matters a step farther and

introduces some exercises for experiencing Christ in community.

As he introduces the exercises, he points out his hesitation at presenting a way for Christian

fellowship and is quick to point out that this is not the “only way to enter into fellowship with your Lord. It

is simply a way” (97). He continues by saying, “What is found in this book should eventually fade, and in

its place should arise a hallmark of fellowship with Christ that is unique to you” (97).

Edwards presents three exercise to be completed over a three month period. The exercises involve

combining mediation on Scripture with prayer and other people. He says that he is trying to teach the

believer to learn to hear their own spirit while fellowshipping with the Lord, and then to learn to fellowship

with the Lord with other believers.

The Secret of The Christian Life is the first book where Edwards actually provides any

“instruction” on church life experience. He is quick to point out that this is not the only way and that it only

is a starting point designed to help believers who are struggling to learn how to experience church life.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 71

The Open Church

The Open Church was written primarily by Jim Rutz, but Edwards had the privilege of

contributing “The Emperor's New Church,” “Luther Quit Too Soon,” and “The Fast Track: The Best Way to

Change” to the book. The first two of the chapters involve church history and the other chapter covers how

to have open meetings in a church.

The two history chapters have received some attack because they are simplified arguments

concerning the subject. Edwards actually only highlights certain aspects of church history to develop his

argument that the church has replaced the life and joy of the early church with a system. Edwards certainly

develops a more extended argument against church systems in Our Mission, but he does not normally favor

extensive arguments to make his point. Edwards typically uses short narratives that illustrate his idea, and

he does not always answer all the questions of the reader. He may not intend to. His writing is not aimed at

scholars or at the rational mind. His writing is aimed at the imagination, but Edwards is clearly not anti-

intellectual.27 His chief premise is that Christ must be central over all else. The rational mind, theology, and

anything else cannot usurp the rightful place of Jesus Christ. It is possible that his strategy is to raise

questions that believers must resolve between themselves and God.

The main source of interest for The Open Church is Edwards' chapter on having open meetings in

a church. In Our Mission, he clearly expresses his feelings against the religious system, but he also

emphasizes his commitment to all believers. This commitment may be reflected in this chapter.

Edwards refrains from expressing his opinion on the church system, but merely offers advice on

how pastors can make their services more accessible to the average saint. Remember, this chapter is written

27 While Edwards believes that all Christians have equal access to knowing an indwelling Lord,
he does not reject the place of theologians or Christian thinkers. He just does not rank this as the highest
expression of our faith. His respect for Christian thinkers is reflected in the Acknowledgements of Divine
Romance, his novel on Christ and the church. He acknowledges the help of the former head of the
Department of Theology at Southwestern Seminary, Ray Summers; the president of Christianity Today,
Harold Myra; a seminary professor on church history; Allen Moore; the former head of the Department of
Evangelism at Southwestern Seminary, Roy Fish; a literary professor at Calvin College, John Timmerman;
and another literary professor Steve Cook. He submitted the manuscript of Divine Romance for their
review and approval before ever publishing the book. Edwards is not against the rational mind, but he is
against anything that takes precedence over Jesus Christ.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 72

by a man who has been separate from the organized church system for more than 30 years, but he does not

use this space to proclaim his idealogy against systems. He offers help to people where they need it.

In the chapter, he emphasizes the importance of home meetings as preparatory to have an open

meeting for the whole body. He says people must learn to function in an open meeting. He also

recommends that these home meetings be leaderless and that they be centered around a meal with no

specific agenda afterwards.

He encourages the pastor to prepare the people for home meetings by talking about them from the

pulpit. He also says the home meetings should last for at least four weeks before the first church wide open


Before the first meeting he tells the groups to have at least one member who is planning to share

during the meeting (this is only for the initial open meeting). At the outset of the first meeting, he

encourages the leaders of the church to leave. Initially, with the absence of formal leadership, he believes

the people will have more freedom to share.

Edwards even offers suggestions for setting up the meeting rooms (if the seating areas can be

moved) for optimum sharing. He also gives ideas about singing, potential problems, and future meetings. In

the context of Edwards' other books, these instructions are surely considered a starting place and not a



In each of these books Edwards is looking toward restoring church life among the saints. Together

they constitute an important preface to How To Meet.

Revolution provides a picture of what church life originally looked like. Our Mission and

Preventing A Church Split provide the philosophical base on which Edwards builds his ideas on church

experience outside of the organized system. Highest Life and The Secret to The Christian Life reveal

Edwards' epistemology and his commitment to fellowshipping with Christ in the community. Finally, The

Open Church reveals Edwards' commitment to touch Christians within the organized church system.

Listed below are several key ideas which surface from these books which relate to Edwards' more

recent work, How To Meet: (1) Centrality of Christ - Christ is considered supreme to all doctrines and

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 73

human patterns; (2) Church Life - Community is an essential factor in fellowshipping with Christ; (3)

World System - The organized church is patterned after the world system and believers should remain

separate from this system; (4) Unity of Faith - Even though believers reject world systems, they must never

reject other believers. Sectarianism is fatal; (5) Home Meetings - In church life, leaderless home meetings

are an important factor in developing relationships; (6) Apostleship/Church Planters - Churches cannot start

spontaneously but must receive a proper foundation in Christ; (7) Suffering - God is calling this generation

of believers to suffer for one another, and lay down their lives without defending themselves, or dividing

the body of Christ; (8) Patterns - There are no specific patterns for church. There is a danger in patterns

becoming more important than Christ; (9) Restoration - Each generation of believers moves closer to

fulfilling God's original calling upon the church; and (10) Balance - Churches must avoid extremes and

avoid narrow adherence to certain ideals while neglecting others.

These ideas set the stage for How To Meet. After giving a picture of the early church model and

developing an ideology of church meetings and experiential faith, Edwards presents his version of a

modern day model of church in How To Meet.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 74

All real living is meeting.
- Martin Buber


In 1993, after spending more than 20 years of his life ministering in informal Christian meetings,

Gene Edwards released a book that proposes to show believers how to meet under the Lordship of Christ.

Unlike any of his other works, this book was not sold in Christian bookstores. It was made available only

through mail-order from his own publishing company.

In his book catalog, there is a quote by Gene Edwards about How To Meet. He says:

This is the strongest book I have ever written, eclipsing the book Revolution.

Don't underestimate this book by its title. The contents are explosive. It is the first book I

have ever written I am asking everyone to read. It defines my ministry, who I am, what I

stand for and what I hope to see accomplished.

I hope to see this book translated into every language in Eastern Europe and

anywhere else where courageous hearts lie. The book is about how the church ought to

be. I am asking you to read How To Meet (under the headship of Christ). But it will jolt

every bone in your body. You have been warned. (SeedSowers Fall Catalog, 1993, 5)

This quote may partially be the marketing hype surrounding any new book, but taken at face

value, the quote indicates that Edwards feels this is one of his most important books ever written. But if that

is the case, why is the book not available in bookstores? With his increasing popularity and his two separate

publishers (SeedSowers and Tyndale House), why would he choose to make his most important work

available only through the mail?

Probably only he can answer that question, but there is at least one possibility that could be

considered. As stated above, Edwards says that this is his “strongest” book ever written. Certainly, his

writing and arguments are more aggressive in How To Meet than in previous books. In his previous works,

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 75

Edwards has consistently emphasized the centrality of Christ and the importance of avoiding sectarianism.

He has also stressed balance and love for all believers regardless of their affiliation.

Edwards may want to insure that people appraise his ideas in context of previous volumes. In How

To Meet, he says some things that he may have avoided saying in the past, but How To Meet does not seem

to be a shift in his thoughts rather a fulfillment of many ideas he has discussed before. By making his work

available to those who receive the Seedsowers catalog, it is highly probable that those who purchase How

To Meet will already have some familiarity with him and his ideas. It is also highly probable that Edwards

has not released How To Meet to promote church splits or division but to offer hope for a different pattern

of worship and gathering.

This chapter will review How To Meet through Edwards' chief arguments, consider the strengths

and weaknesses of his arguments and rhetorical style, and compare his key ideas with other contemporary

rhetorics. Hopefully, the process will shed some light upon the relevance of community in the church today.

Looking at the Key Arguments

The title How To Meet suggests that Edwards' chief purpose in writing this work is to show people

how to have Christians meetings. Actually, Edwards' intention is not so much to provide step-by-step

instructions as it is to stress the problems of current meeting forms, the reasons for those problems, and the

steps toward changes.

He divides the work into four parts and an addendum. The first three parts of the book provide the

basis for his arguments. Part one introduces his arguments, part two illustrates his ideas through picture

narratives of the early church, and part three discusses implementing those ideas. These sections are the key

focuses of the book and deserve primary attention. Part four is primarily a personal attack upon John Calvin

and the Addendum provides closing thoughts. This review will follow his organization style by considering

the four sections in sequential order.

Ideas in Part One

In the first part of How To Meet, Edwards sets the tone of the entire book. On the first page after

the title page he says:

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 76

This book thinks the unthinkable and proposes the preposterous: the elimination of

Sunday morning church services. Totally! The end of the present-day practices of the

pastoral role--to be replaced by returning to the first century practice of the itinerant

church planter. The result is a lay-led church. (iii)

He begins on an aggressive foot and maintains that posture throughout the book. Part one introduces the

two main arguments: the failure of present church meetings and the proposal for a new kind of meeting.

This section will consider his description of each meeting and their characteristics.

Description of Present Meeting. In past works, Edwards has clearly established the fact that he

ministers primarily outside traditional organized churches, but apart from Our Mission, where he provides a

framework and basis for his opposition to church systems, Edwards has not presented any comprehensive

attack against present traditional church forms. From the very beginning, How To Meet departs from this

precedent and launches an aggressive attack against present church forms.

Unlike Our Mission, Edwards does not focus upon the system but on the meeting style. He says

that how we meet is the “greatest single destructive force now operating in our faith” (x). His attack is

primarily upon the Sunday morning service, but indirectly includes most other meetings. Before exploring

why he is against the present meetings, it will be interesting to examine the words he uses to describe this

meeting. Here is a sample of some of his attacks launched against the present church meeting:

Nothing undermines and destroys the Christian faith as does the Sunday

morning meeting (x).

Nothing we do-nothing-is going to counteract or overcome the destruction

wreaked by the present way we meet. Nothing can be cured. . . no problems solved,

nothing improved, nothing advanced. . . until we totally walk away from this pernicious

Sunday ritual. Do anything in Christianity you wish. Try anything. Let us, for instance,

experience the greatest revival in Christian history. The Sunday church service will kill it

in sight of three years! (xi).

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Nothing under heaven we are doing in the kingdom of God is worth doing

because it is a waste of time and energy and money . . . until the body of Christ gives up

the present Protestant church service and starts gathering in a totally different way (xiii).

The following list of descriptive words have been taken only from Part One. Each word or phrase

is used to describe the present way churches meet: “Failure,” “contrived,” “disaster,” “curse,”

“functionless,” “sterile,” “destructive force,” “ritual,” “dead,” “abominable,” “abysmal,” “death-evoking

ritual,” “sacred cow,” “ghost,” “accident,” “agony,” “routine,” “disease,” “artificial,” “man-made

invention,” “more entrenched than the Bible,” and “tragedy.”

Edwards goes on to describe participants in this type of meeting with the following words: “pillars

of salt,” in a “catatonic stupor,” “puppets,” “mannequin[s],” and “frozen.”

In both cases, many of the descriptives he uses imply an absence of life: “ghost,” “dead,”

“artificial,” “puppets,” and “mannequin[s].” Some of these terms signify the object once had life, whereas

others signify the object never had life. He also uses words that suggest the object is dying: “disease,”

“death-evoking ritual,” “curse,” and “agony.” “Sterile” indicates something that cannot reproduce life.

“Failure,” “disaster,” “destructive force,” “functionless,” “accident,” and “tragedy” all indicate something

that is not working or fulfilling its purpose. “Man-made invention,” “artificial,” and “contrived” emphasize

the human presence over the divine. “Pillars of salt” alludes to Lot's wife looking back at what God has

already judged. Lastly, “sacred cow” and “more entrenched than the Bible” indicate a practice that is

defended with utmost zeal.

These words establish images of death, dying, or the absence of life in the minds of the reader.

Through these words, Edwards describes the present practice of church meetings as something that is

dying, has already died, or never had life. In addition, the participants are seen as controlled, prevented

from functioning, and yet defending the destructive practice. The meeting seems to be sucking out every

last bit of life from the participants.

Edwards has taken a step farther than many of his contemporary church “reformers.” Neighbors,

Rutz, Wagner, and others have called for more participation by the laity, the need for community, and the

importance of small groups, but Edwards is saying that the root of many problems will not be addressed by

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 78

adding another element to the church, but by removing the focal point of most churches: the Sunday

morning service.

Many other contemporary critics have agreed to remove the focal point from the Sunday morning

service to small groups, community, or other elements, but Edwards wants to eliminate that service

altogether. Based on his rhetorical patterns above, he believes that the church service drains the life out of

the church, and no additional programs or focuses will counter-balance the destructive effects of this

service pattern.

Characteristics of Present Meetings. Why does Edwards believe that the way churches meet is so

destructive? In Our Mission, he focuses on church systems and attacks the hierarchical structures of most

churches, but now he does not even mention structures or systems. He focuses completely upon the


Edwards does not provide a systematic explanation for his reasoning, but in the midst of his

discussions, he does suggest several fundamental problems he believes are inherent with the present

meeting structure.

Edwards says that the present meeting is a “man-made invention that reflects no one's culture”

(ix). He proceeds to trace the development of Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Brethren

meetings. He does not provide a clear historical development of the church meetings but rather incorporates

aspects of their beginnings into his arguments. For example, here is part of his account of the Protestant


Sunday church is a foreign import! Dumped on us by the foreigners! And now

we dump it on foreigners! Where did the British get this abominable ritual? From

Geneva, Switzerland. John Calvin did it!!

This thing is man-made. Man-contrived. A ritual which man concocted. An

accident of church history. But today it is--you might say-- more entrenched than the

Bible. Maybe more entrenched in our lives than God. (You think not? Some so-called

churches don't believe the Bible, but they follow this ritual. And I've even heard of

Christian atheists! Even they don't question this ritual.)

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 79

The way we Protestants meet started somewhere between 1538 and 1542,

making it over 400 years old! It has remained unchanged for all those 400 years. It was

boring when introduced. It is boring now. It will remain boring forever. (9-10)

Edwards is not trying to give a history lesson. He is incorporating pieces of historical information

as illustrations of his point. He is not unique in this method. Many Christian and non-Christian scholars and

non-scholars alike often use their version of history to prove a point.

He continues his case by explaining that these meetings were created by the clergy, and the

community of believers were denied a part in their development. He says:

A clergy at the top imposed these kinds of meetings on us. The way to meet did

not come from the Lord's people . . . from the grass roots. You had a method imposed on

you. You did not get to discover, in your culture, your social context, your matrix . . . how

to meet! (20)

He takes his argument a step farther by saying that the meetings are designed to revolve around

the clergy. He says, “That ritual, please note, is clergy centered! They were doing the same thing all clerics

do; they were drawing their significance from their position over God's people” (3). In the Protestant

meetings, the sermon or teaching is the focus, and consequently the minister becomes the focal point. In

Catholic traditions, the Eucharist is the focus, but the priest administers the sacraments, and so the priest

still remains the focal point.

As a result of the meetings being centered upon the clergy, Edwards contends that the body of

Christ has ceased to function in the meetings. He says, “For over 400 years we have 'gotten the hint.' The

400-year-old message: Pew-ers do not function” (6).

Edwards begins the book by relating his first contact with a new Albanian church. He had hoped

to be a part of a fresh cultural expression of the body of Christ in Albania. Instead, he witnessed a replica of

Protestant meetings all over the world.

It was afternoon. The place, a home somewhere in central Albania. We were all

sitting on the front porch.

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Twenty-five adult Albanian believers were present. About twenty-three of them

had been believers less than a month. Keep that in mind . . . less than a month. This was

their fourth time ever to meet as a body of believers. It was on Sunday.

Think about it. This is a land which--a few months ago--had no word in its

vocabulary for God. Innocence was never more innocent. Here was a porch full of

believers, one month old in Christ, in a land closed to all religions for two generations.

No religious traditions existed. And no one present knew any religious traditions nor had

ever seen any.

What happened next that afternoon provoked this book.

We had been having a noon meal together on the porch. Everything was utterly

informal. Then came the time for the “meeting” to begin. I was mortified at what

happened. I had thought this would be an uncorrupted Albania-style meeting. Everything

had been so informal, natural, fun, living and normal.

Suddenly the people leading these believers put the benches in neat rows . . . just

like “church.”

Rows! As in a church building. Only this was a porch on someone's house!

All sat down, all faces front.

The meeting began.

In my lifetime, I have been in thousands of meetings exactly like this one.

Identical. All over the world. No difference whatsoever. None! We could have been in the

United States, England, Thailand, Germany, Egypt, Africa. The meeting was the same as

it is all over this planet!

. . . In Albania, in America, everything gives way to the all-enveloping Sunday ritual.

This death-evoking ritual is--and for the 450 years has been--the sacred cow of Protestant


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There it was again! Making its entrance into Albania. One person announced all

the songs. We sat. We sang on cue. We did as we were told. We did not function--we

followed! (2)

The meeting reinforces the idea that there are two classes of Christians. Some function, most observe.

The above conditions combine to produce what Edwards calls an inorganic meeting: a meeting

void of life; a meeting where saints observe; a meeting centered on a sermon, the Eucharist, and/or a

minister but not centered on Christ. As a result, the meeting produces death instead of life.

Inorganic meetings are boring, and Edwards says that our meetings send a message to the world

that Christianity is boring. Even if the preacher is charismatic and exciting, the meetings are still inorganic.

The meeting is not an outflow of the community of saints and their relationship with God. It is an outflow

of the agenda and the clergy's energy.

Edwards contends that there is a better way to meet, but the church must give up its present

structure to discover it. Why cannot the church adapt its current meeting to a better form? Why must the

current meeting be eliminated and a new one replace it? Edwards says, “Beginnings are all important, but

never so much as here. You absolutely must begin in virgin soil! To break the lifelong tradition of meeting

the wrong way is impossible” (30). Recall that one of the terms he uses for the current meeting is “disease.”

This metaphor implies that the current system has “sickness” and “death” ingrained in its very fiber. To

transplant a new style into this form will only contaminate the new style.

Description of Proposed Meeting. Edwards contrasts his negative descriptives of the present

church meetings with positive descriptive terms of the proposed meetings. The following words reflect his

vision of the proposed meeting: “organic,” “community,” “ecclesia,” “cultural,” “drama,” “fluid,”

“discover,” “flexible,” “unique,” “attractive,” “radical,” “explore,” “adventure,” “exciting,” and


Many of these words emphasize life and movement, such as “organic,” “drama,” “fluid,” and

“flexible.” These words raise the image of a meeting that is not static and possibly always in a state of

change. He reinforces this non-static idea with dynamically charged words such as “discover,” “explore,”

“adventure,” “revolutionary,” and “radical.” All these words seem to indicate that the participants are not

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observing a meeting but are actively involved in building a new form of meetings. Edwards also uses two

words that indicate there is not a set pattern for all meetings--unique and cultural.

Based solely on the words used, Edwards is painting a picture of meetings where the participants

are involved in a unique living changing process. Each meeting is distinct from other previous meetings.

The words seem to emphasize an I-Thou meeting as opposed to an I-It experience.

Characteristics of the Proposed Meeting. As stated above, Edwards challenges those wanting

to experience this new style of meeting to give up several things before planting anything new. He declares

that Christians will have to give up their present way of meeting, the centrality of the sermon, most uses for

their church building, and the present-day practice of employing a pastor.

If Christians give up the central aspects of their meetings, what will the new meetings look like?

Edwards lists at least four key characteristics: (1) meetings will be started by a church planter, (2) meetings

will be Christ-centered, (3) each meeting will be unique, and (4) the way to meet will be discovered.

This new type of meeting must start with a church planter. In Revolution, Edwards refers to the

church planter as an apostle. This person is an itinerant minister who travels from town to town building up

churches in Christ. He states that Apostles are raised up after spending years (at least 10 years) in church

life. Not attending a church building, they are in church life. They are rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ.

The apostle “lives only for the church” (Revolution, 206). Apostles help churches becomes founded upon

the Lord Jesus Christ, and they teach believers to function in the meetings, and then they leave.

The focus of the meeting will not be upon a sermon or the Eucharist but upon Jesus Christ. All

else is secondary. The apostle's prime function is to bring the people into complete dependence upon Jesus


Believers gather to fellowship with one another and with Jesus Christ. The meetings provide a

place for believers to learn how to commune with Christ. This concept of learning to commune with Christ

in the community is a key idea in Revolution, The Highest Life, and The Secret to the Christian Life.

Not only are believers learning to fellowship with Christ, but Christ must remain preeminent over

all else that happens within the meeting. Edwards says that most past moves of the Holy Spirit ceased when

the people replaced the centrality of Christ with doctrines, scriptures, structure, etc.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 83

Edwards says that no two meetings in the world should be alike. The meetings are not static but

organic. Organic meetings are unique to the members present. He goes on to say that every culture should

have a unique way to meet. “There is a different way to meet for every race, every nation, every culture and

every tongue” (35).

After the church planter establishes a foundation of Jesus Christ as central to the body, he (or she,

Edwards never mentions the gender of the church planter) leaves. The people are left to discover how to

meet. He says, “You discover--as you see the entire panorama of their drama--that each and every ecclesia

is discovering . . . for itself . . . how to meet” (20).

This is perhaps the unique aspect of Edwards' approach to meetings. He sees that the main

problem with almost all forms of church meeting is that they are imposed upon the people. The believers

have no active part in the discovery.

In Edwards' concept of meetings, the believers explore together and learn how to meet around

Jesus Christ. The meeting is not a planned agenda but a meeting. The believers do not gather around a plan,

a structure, a sermon, but a meeting--a meeting with Christ and with one another. He says, “How to meet is

found, not imposed. That adventure is high in drama and froth with dangers!” (35).

This discovery process points back to the church planter because Edwards believes that one key

function of the church planter is to prepare God's people to release their own gifts and their own unique

relation with the Lord when discovering how to meet. He says:

It is the responsibility of the church planter to so order his life and his work, and

to so lead God's people, that they--not he--make the discovery of how to meet. Not only

how to meet, but how to behave, function, express themselves, and most of all . . . how

they care for and love one another. This will be done, and after these helps and directions

are shared, the church planter walks out on them . . . leaving them leaderless! (36)

This bold statement sets the stage for Part Two--Edwards' consideration of the early churches. In

the next section, Edwards will build on these initial ideas of the church planter, the centrality of Christ, the

uniqueness of meetings, and the discovery process of meeting to bring his concept of how to meet into


The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 84

Ideas in Part Two

Edwards explores the beginnings of the early church through picture narratives and commentary.

The term “picture narrative” is used to reflect his style of narrative exposition. Edwards does not tell long

stories. He tells short stories.28

Rather than providing a detailed account of the early church history, Edwards merely provides

glimpses. He invites the reader to envision these picture narratives alongside today's practice of church

meetings. Sometimes he juxtaposes the two practices to illustrate the differences in the meetings.

Edwards' picture narratives utilize what little information is known about the early churches (such

as Paul's missionary journeys), the letters Paul writes to these churches, and the cultural environment

surrounding these churches to create a glimpse into the life of these early Christian communities. It must be

remembered that Edwards' narratives are only his interpretation of what these meetings may have been like.

Jesus and the Twelve

Edwards begins by looking back to the time Jesus spent with the 12 apostles when he walked on

the earth. He says that the fellowship that Christ enjoyed with those 12 men was the “embryo of the

Ecclesia” (42). During their four years of fellowship with Christ, the disciples “discovered what the

ecclesia was!” (42).

What happened in those meetings? Edwards ironically answers that question by juxtaposing

today's church practices with the 12 apostles. He says:

And what did those meetings look like?

The answer is simple. The disciples all carried with them a hymn book and a

prayer book. Come time to meet, they got dressed up, sat in neat little rows, all faces

forward, with an aisle down the middle. Then Jesus put on His best clothes, making sure

He always had a collar to put on that was turned around backwards. They all sang three

songs, repeated the Apostles' Creed, sang another song, passed the offering plate, sang

another song, or heard a special from a quartet made up of Thomas, Mary Magdalene,

28 Walter Fisher explores the rhetorical use of narrative in his seminal work Human
Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action.

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John and Judas (not Iscariot). Then Jesus stood up in front of them (they carried around a

portable pulpit for Him) and brought a twenty-nine-and-a-half-minute sermon.

Do you really believe that? What?! You don't?! Then let me ask you the most

imponderable question of all human history: Then why do you meet that way? And! Why

choose to continue to suffer through the agonizing misery of the kind of meeting you

attend? (42)

Throughout this section, Edwards uses comparison to show the foolishness of applying our standards for

meeting to the early church to show how far off course we have gotten.

He calls the reader to imagine what those meetings were really like. He points out that informality

characterized the meetings. Then he calls upon the reader to picture a meeting with Jesus and then try to

apply it to current church practices. A few paragraphs later, Edwards asks the reader to consider these

meetings again and then to consider what it was like meeting with Jesus for three or fours years.

Repeatedly, Edwards asks the reader to participate in the imaginative process of envisioning those early

meetings. Sometimes he provides examples, and other times he just sets the stage and invites the reader to

fill it with players.


After establishing the informality of those early meetings, Edwards explains that the experience of

fellowshipping with Jesus prepared the 12 Apostles to plant churches where the believers fellowshipped

around Jesus.

Edwards summarizes his explanation of the Jerusalem church in Revolution by emphasizing

several key ideas. The Corporate meeting is depicted as centered on Jesus and full of glory. He highlights

the Corporate meetings and then turns his main focus to the home meetings.

In discussing the home meetings, Edwards contrasts several elements associated with many

churches today: clergy, a church building, special costumes (robes for the clergy and choir), vocabulary

(Christianese). He says, “Rugged, poor, tired people were the clergy, the living room was their temple,

worn out clothes their costumes. And Jesus Christ was their vocabulary” (46).

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The terms “poor,” “rugged,” “tired,” and “worn out clothes” bring the church out of the heavenlies

and into the lives of real people. His description “humanizes” the church meeting by removing the formal

sterility of many organized services and placing church in the context of everyday people. Edwards says

that this informality is essential if believers are to experience genuine community.

Once again, rather than providing a detailed narration, Edwards asks the reader to envision these

meetings. He says:

If we could all go back to one evening in those Jerusalem living rooms and see

what those brothers and sisters did and said, it would revolutionize the present-day

practice of our faith and lead to a return to the excitement of being a Christian. A love for

one another that is nothing less than supernatural would eventually blossom among

Christians again. (48)

He maintains that true Christian love can only grow in an intense interactive community of believers where

Christ is central to their experience.


After providing a few highlights of the Jerusalem experience, Edwards moves on to the first

church plant. As the believers scattered from Jerusalem, and some fled into Judea, new churches were

planted. Once again, Edwards uses juxtaposition to describe these new churches:

You know what happened out there in those smaller towns: The fleeing

Christians settled into these towns and built buildings with steeples on top; they called

pastors, salaried them, showed up on Sunday morning at 11 a.m., lined up benches in neat

rows, and sat in silence for the next one hundred years while someone overloaded them

with sermons.

They didn't? Really? Then let me once more ask the most earth-shaking question

ever posed: If they didn't, then why do we? (49)

By using these juxtapositions, Edwards removes the factor of gradual change over time and forces

a sharp contrast between the early model and the finished product. This sharp contrast emphasizes the

massive changes that have occurred as the church has grown and developed throughout history.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 87

As Edwards explains the formation of churches in Judea, he points out that “pastors” were

conspicuously absent. Then, in a footnote, he introduces his secondary argument against the present-day

practice of pastors. He says:

Can you find anyone in the New Testament who was always the speaker, who

delivered funeral orations over the dead, who presided over marriage rituals, who was the

sole person baptizing new converts, who went to a seminary, who presided over a

liturgical service, who was salaried, who patted old ladies on the hand, who was the sole

person responsible for visiting the sick, who was almost always dressed up in a suit, who

prayed in a funny voice, who was hired and fired at the whims of a congregation, and

who stood at the very center stage of all that there is of the Christian faith. IF you can

find a man like that in the New Testament, I'll eat my Stetson hat! (50)

One of Edwards' criticisms of the role of pastor in most present churches is that the pastor has encompassed

many different functions of the body in one person, thus relegating most believers to the sidelines to

observe and cease to function.


After spending a little time in Judea, Edwards moves on to Antioch. He proposes that due to the

large numbers of believers in Antioch, the saints' primary form of meeting was in the homes. He says that

this church raised up several ministers who traveled about the city visiting the house meetings.

Then he focuses on one meeting and describes ironically what it may have looked like:

Well, Barnabas came into the living room wearing this long, bejeweled robe of

white linen and twined gold. He had this pope-like hat on, and in his hand he held a

hooked shepherd's staff. He went around the living room kneeling at certain “stations”

where icons were hanging on the wall. The service itself was an elaborate, highly

ritualistic, two-hour dramatization spoken in an unintelligible language. The people stood

for the entire two hours saying nothing. Just staring. (54)

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 88

Edwards' continual use of irony in the process of comparison, helps the reader begin to question the validity

of many practices labeled “church.”29


Paul and Barnabas leave Antioch on their first missionary journey. Edwards follows them into

Galatia. The description of Galatia is his longest section.

Paul and Barnabas become a picture of the church planter/apostle that he has talked about. They

are itinerant ministers and only stay in Galatia approximately four months.30 Incorporating elements of the

environment, Edwards describes what many believer's lives were like in Galatia:

Look at these new believers. They were so poor it is beyond our comprehension.

People lived, each day, to lay hold of enough grain to get through that day. Maybe they

had one change of garments per year. They were ninety-eight percent illiterate. Their

incomes in a year equal to what you make in a day. But that does not mean they had

money. They didn't. Most never used money. Those people bartered virtually everything!

. . . See them stuffed into a room that has, maybe one window. All sat on the floor. The

sweat of the day caused their clothes to stick to their bodies, Paul and Barnabas included;

for those two men, like everyone else present, came to that meeting after a hard day's

work. Tired, if not exhausted. Dirty, if not smelly, they, too, sat down on the floor.

. . . From the beginning they raised that church up to survive. . . without. Without what?

Without books, pastors, educators, literacy, Bibles, Bible school, buildings . . . without

anything! But mostly without clergy or leaders. Everything those two men did was in

light of the fact they would be there only a few weeks! (59)

29 For an in-depth examination on the use of irony in rhetoric see Wayne Booth's A Rhetoric of
30 Historically, it is not clear if Paul and Barnabas intended to move so often or if they were
merely responding to the attack and persecution. In How To Meet, Edwards does not fail to mention Paul's
persecution experiences, but he does not include the possibility that these attacks probably contributed to
the short visits in each city. If Edwards' argument is accepted, that the churches needed to be left alone so
they could discover “how to meet,” then it is possible that the Lord allowed the persecutions so his servants
would continue moving around.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 89

Once again, Edwards brings the church experience down to very human terms. With words like “sweat,”

“dirty,” “smelly,” etc, he paints a picture of a church in the midst of real life and not church in an artificial

setting. One questionable assumption that Edwards makes, is that the apostles knew from the beginning that

they would only be there a short time. So many times, when God works through his vessels, they do not

even realize what He is doing at the time. It is possible that God was working through the Apostles (with or

without their knowledge) to prepare a body to survive without them.31

Edwards continues his description of the meetings by pointing out that the heathen and ex-

heathens alike had not learned to be quiet in church. He depicts the meetings as noisy, lively, and filled with

laughter and songs. He calls it a “dialogue--no a poly-logue as everyone joins in on the message, with

comments, chatter, banter and laughter!” (60).

He also relates that the meetings are characterized by the love that all the members of the

community share. It is a fellowship of friends similar to Jesus and the disciples sitting around talking:

Paul speaks, and he gets interrupted. When he finishes, there are questions and

discussions. Actually, a buzz is more likely. Later Barnabas and Paul sit around and tell

stories. Everyone laughs and everyone participates. The meetings cannot be more

informal. Songs are started by everyone . . . and anyone. Sharing is spontaneous,

informal, real interrupted, interspersed and unexpected. (61)

After the Apostles leave, these saints are left on their own to discover how to meet. Edwards says

that during this time three important characteristics emerged: functioning, survival, and intensity.

Left alone, without leaders, without elders (not yet, too early), without Paul and Barnabas, they

discovered how to function as a body. Edwards says that the “believers were the meetings” (63). Then he

points out an important distinction of functioning in their meetings. He says: “The meeting was

constituted of Christians reporting their daily walk and experience with Christ. In our age, we come to a

meeting to get our empty buckets refueled. In their day, they came to a meeting to report out of the

31 Edwards does address a similar issue in The Prisoner in the Third Cell. In the book, he
discusses several different biblical figures who were “in the dark” about God's dealings in their lives. Paul
is one of the figures he talks about.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 90

overflow of their lives” (64). The meetings were an outflow of an ongoing walk with Jesus Christ. Jesus

was not only central to the meetings, he was central to the lives of each believer.

The believers also learned how to survive. They survived by functioning like a body--each

member carries the other members and helps meet their needs. He says, “They are the embodied, visible,

living, breathing body of Christ” (64). This crucible of experience formed them into a community of saints.

Edwards explains that this community was known for its intensity. The believers had an intense

love, one for another. This love was (and is) the key way God intended his church to be identified.

The believers learned to function, survive, and love intensely in the midst of the crucibles of life.

They were abandoned by human leadership and had to rely upon the Lord. Edwards says:

Those illiterates in Galatia did not have anything. They received a foundation in

their faith from the apostle/church planter . . . centering on Jesus Christ. They stayed

within the riverbed of Holy Scripture. Understand this: Their supreme goal and daily

experience was knowing Christ, expressed and loved . . . horizontally and vertically. . . in

the daily life of the Ecclesia! (68)

This picture reveals Edwards purpose in writing How To Meet. He says that How To Meet is not a

“how to” book. “The purpose of this book is to aid you in having a revelation of the need of the centrality

of Christ and a vision of the ecclesia” (68). On their own, the Galatians discovered how to meet, how to

function, and how to live in the presence of the Lord. And they survived.

Two years later when Paul and Barnabas returned, they were still functioning. Elders had emerged

by this time, and Paul and Barnabas recognized the elders among them. The work survived the test of time.

Edwards questions how many churches would survive today if the minister spent four months in the

beginning and then left.32

Why did these churches survive? Their gospel was “centered on Him” and not on “it” (75). He

reiterates the centrality of Christ as essential to the success of any work. Then he introduces another test the

churches experienced.

32 This example provides insight into Edwards' actions described in Our Mission. He stayed with
the fellowship for a year and then left them alone for a year. He was submitting his work to the test and at
the same time, allowing the believer to discover how to be the church.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 91

Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, and their churches passed through the test of fire.

Judiazers came into the fellowships in Galatia, questioned Paul's authority, and pointed the believers away

from the centrality of Christ to a works-based gospel. Edwards says that this fire falls on all men's gospels,

and it reveals if their gospel is based on Christ and made of gold or if it is of human origin and made of

flammable materials.

Paul and Silas travel to Galatia after the fire. But instead of staying and ministering for a long

period of time, they take away one of the key ministers in the community. They take away Timothy.

Edwards says:

They stole the only help the four churches had. I suppose Paul was just not into

“what the church needs today is more solid preaching.” By any known standards, these

two church planters were certifiable maniacs! They deserved to be excommunicated!

What unmitigated gall to rob the churches of the one human being who was showing

signs of being able to minister to these desperately needy people.

. . . In our desire for ecclesia life, these two men show us the centrality of the church

planter to the kingdom. Not evangelist, not pastor, nor prophet. The central figure is the

church planter. (78-79)

The importance of the church planter shows up repeatedly in Edwards' writings. He believes that the church

planter is central to the ecclesia.

Edwards draws most of his key ideas from the Galatian church story. In Galatia, he finds a group

of very “human” saints who learn to function without leader and in the midst of fires. These saints become

a community centered in Christ and learn to love and support one another with their lives. Leadership

emerges within the body, but Edwards illustrates that the bodies are not allowed to depend upon leadership

in place of Christ. He shows the church planter as central to the ecclesia because the church planter

establishes a foundation on Christ and then leaves. After his departure, the people must learn to work

together and depend upon Christ for their survival.

After Galatia, he lightly touches Phillipi and provides short descriptions of Corinth and Ephesus.


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Edwards returns to his satirical descriptions of the churches when considering Phillipi. He says:

Having learned from their terrible failures on Galatia--staying in a town for only

four months and then abandoning those new churches in their infancy--Paul, Silas, and

Timothy head out to do it again. (But, be sure, these men have learned their lesson! They

will surely stay longer than four months the next time they raise up a church!) They come

to the city of Phillipi.

They stay three weeks.

Three weeks! Read it and weep! That is not all. This man Paul (known to be a

male chauvinist), leaves the church in the hands of a woman! (Of course, I am sure he

wouldn't let her speak in the meetings!) (83)

How does Paul have the nerve to leave these churches after such a short time? Edwards makes it

sound like Paul did not plan to be there long (which is possible), but many times Paul did not have a choice.

He was forced to leave town. But the question remains, “How could they leave so soon?” Or, “How could

God allow them to leave so soon?”

Trust. Edwards says the church planters trusted God's people to function. He says:

These men really trusted God's people. They trusted laymen. A quaint idea, is it

not . . . trusting in untutored laymen--only a few weeks old in Christ--to be totally and

utterly in charge of a newborn ecclesia hundreds of miles from nowhere! Or was it an

indwelling Lord those men trusted? Or better, was it an indwelling Lord who trusted

those laymen? either way, it is a trust utterly unknown in our age. (84)


This idea of trust shows up again in Corinth. Edwards says that the Corinthians not only

functioned in meetings but they overfunctioned. The meetings had become chaotic and all believers were

trying to talk at once. They were also getting drunk during the Lord's supper. Edwards puts their meeting in

the present context. He says:

What if you received a letter from a church you had raised up where brothers

were getting drunk at the Lord's supper? I think the natural inclination would be to call a

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halt to this freedom in Christ and say “Stop!” thus placing the believers under human

control and locking them into ritual's confines and to ritual's safety. (89)

Paul did not do that. He did not stop their open meetings. Edwards says that he did not even appeal

to elders to control the meetings. He merely wrote a letter and addressed the problems occurring in the

church and asked Titus to review the teachings he had given them in the past. Paul trusted them or the Lord

in them to correct the situation.

When discussing Paul's treatment of the Corinthians and his commitment to let them keep

functioning as the body, Edwards uses the metaphor of a football team. He says:

Let us draw a parallel to today's situation. Imagine a football coach talking to an

audience of athletes . . . forever. Where would football be? We are not statues. We are

living breathing creatures whom Jesus Christ indwells. According to Paul of Tarsus, the

church belongs to Jesus Christ and to all saints. It does not belong to ministers. When

we're set free, it is impossible for you to imagine how glorious and dynamic the church

can be when meeting under the direct headship of Christ. (92)

This comparison certainly brings to light the foolishness of not letting the people of God function,

but the metaphor is unusual for Edwards. He rarely ever leaves his two main comparisons: today's church

and the early church. Through this and other examples Edwards establishes his conviction that believers are

called to function within the context of the meeting as well as the context of their daily lives.


Edwards concludes his review of early church meetings by discussing the training of church

planters in Ephesus. He contrasts Paul's on-the-job training versus contemporary classroom training which

reinforces teaching or sermonizing over functioning.

He emphasizes that Paul's training focused on planting communities and not extended ministry in

the churches or evangelizing the entire area. He says:

Paul picks eight men, the creme de la creme, out of churches and tells them to

meet him in Ephesus. Why? So he could train them and raise up itinerant church planters.

“Wanderers!” Paul's view does not include having a great deal of ministry within

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churches. He is concentrating on raising up itinerant workers who can make short visits

to each of these churches, and on raising up new churches. He knows the churches to

minister to themselves. (95-96)

So, Edwards believes that after Paul raised up churches, he trusted them to minister to

themselves--to function. This functioning also included evangelizing. He sees the “community as first in

the life of the believer, with ministry flowing out of community” (96) and points out that the flow is not

static but changes. Sometimes the Word flows into the body to develop community, and at other times the

ministry flows out of the community to touch the outside world. Unfortunately, according to Edwards, the

present-day practice of church focuses solely upon ministry instead of community.

Edwards compares the two systems again. The one is centered on maintaining a ministry and the

other is focused on developing a community. He explains: “Look how opposite they are. Constant

preaching versus seasonal ministry. A clergy-dominated church that really does not trust the entire church

over to laymen, versus a lay ecclesia. A pastor in charge of all things in the church versus a people in

charge of all things in the ecclesia. Sit and listen versus function and express” (97). He pictures the ministry

model with limited participation from the congregation versus a community model with limited oversight

from the minister.

After reviewing the Ephesus “training school,” Edwards moves towards a plan for implementing

some of these ideas into a church. Before discussing his implementation strategy, it might help to review

the main ideas that have already surfaced.

Review of Key Ideas

Throughout this section, Edwards argues that the early church was an organic community and

today's churches are predominantly static structures. His two key goals are to establish the centrality of

Christ and to create a vision of the ecclesia.

Centrality of Christ. Edwards believes that above all else, Christ must be central to who we are

and all we do. He starts out picturing the Apostles learning about the church by fellowshipping around

Christ. The main function of the apostles/church planters is to raise up communities of people who

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 95

fellowship around Jesus Christ. They impart this because all of their ministry flows out of this intense

relationship with Christ.

The church planter does not remain in one church to prevent believers from looking to them as

central. When they leave, the believers have to find Christ to survive. This process is compared to an

adventure, an exploration, a free-wheeling experience. The believers must learn to keep Christ central to all

they do.

Vision of the Ecclesia. Edwards looks to the ecclesia as a community of believers who fellowship

with one another and learn to abide in Christ. He does not leave this group in some “untouchable, holy

realm,” but he reveals them in their humanity--sweaty, dirty clothes and all.

Their meetings are characterized by informality, simplicity, and lively fellowship. When

describing some of the meetings, he emphasizes the point that they are talking, laughing, interrupting one

another, and functioning. He uses the word “dialogue,” then “poly-logue” to explain what is going on. This

idea of dialogue or poly-logue is a key to understanding his concept of meeting. The believers are not

attending a “meeting,” but they are “meeting” one another in fellowship, in love, and in community.

Each community is unique and “fits” the people who are a part of that fellowship. The nature of

the meeting emerges from the relationships these people have with one another and with Christ. Edwards

points out that this uniqueness is also a cultural reflection of the people in the ecclesia. He believes that

unbelievers who enter meetings within their own culture will, in some ways, find the meeting

“understandable to his culture” (103).

For those who long for the experience of community that Edwards describes, he provides a plan

on how to get started in Part Three.

Ideas in Part Three

After introducing the ideas of the church planter and the organic meeting (ecclesia) in part one and

exemplifying those ideas in part two, Edwards describes how to enjoy this kind of meeting today. In each

section, Edwards has pictured the same ideas using different frames. This frame is the frame of

implementation. Implementing the ideas is viewed through three different lenses: prerequisites to starting

an organic meeting, how to convert a traditional church, and starting an organic meeting from scratch.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 96

Prerequisites for the Meeting

When a group of believers wants to have organic meetings, Edwards says that they must have at

least three things before starting: a church planter, a revelation of Jesus, and a revelation of the ecclesia.

The church planter helps produce a revelation of Jesus and a revelation of the ecclesia.

Church Planter. At this point, most readers should be somewhat familiar with the church planter.

He shows up on almost every page of the book. He is an itinerant minister who travels from town to town

planting churches and ministering to previous church plants. Shortly after planting new churches, he moves

on to another town. He leaves the new churches alone to discover who they are in Christ and to let the fire

remove all that is not rooted or founded in Christ.

Edwards says that the church planter's “whole passion is the ecclesia, his whole message . . . Jesus

Christ” (108). These two foundations are not learned in a school. They are birthed through years of church

life. The church planter is called to his task, and has been prepared by God over time.33

Through church life, the Lord plants a revelation of Jesus and the ecclesia into the spirit of the

church planter. The church planter instills that revelation into the people of God. Edwards explains a little

of the revelation which must be imparted:

The Father is very much in love with His Son. And the Father wants everyone to

see His Son visibly expressed--”seeable”--physically visible, viewed here on this earth.

His Son! That is what the term “body of Christ” means! For Christ to be seen, in the body

and as the body . . . this has always been His will.

Not you or me . . . but a body of people displaying Jesus Christ to the world!

That is why we gather. That is why our meetings must be organic! Those

meetings actually display the Lord Jesus Christ.

The ecclesia shows Him forth when it assembles. (I should say when she

assembles.) The meeting of the ecclesia is what defines Him to a world, and makes Him

visible to the believer and to the world. The meetings of the ecclesia are an actual,

physical exhibit of Jesus Christ.

33 In Revolution, Edwards says the minimum preparation time is usually 10 years, 104.

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You can see what and who He is by seeing the parts of the body assembled in

one place! The body emerges out of the assembled parts, thereby becoming one physical,

visible, living, breathing whole. A body . . . one complete, whole body viewable before

the eyes of men. (110)

At this point, Edwards gives a more human picture of this spiritual body. He says:

The ecclesia is local, made up of real people, with real names . . . who gather.

They gather. And they don't just gather. They gather. And they don't just gather. They

comfort one another. They love one another. They live in one another's lives, they laugh

together, cry together, some marry one another. They know one another and are closer to

one another than anyone else on earth. They raise kids together, grow old together, and

bury one another. (111)

In other words, their whole lives revolve around one another. He says that “She is the strongest force in the

world, both in the presence of invisible powers and in the lives of those who gather together in that

community of believers” (112).

The ecclesia is the only place God ever intended believers to live the Christian life. Edwards says

that most of Paul's letters are written to a body of people--not to individuals. “The Christian life was

unknown to them except in the context of the ecclesia!!” (112).

Edwards says that the church planter “plants” these seeds of revelation into the body, and by the

work of the Holy Spirit, they grow up into Christ without the outside help of any man.

Converting a Traditional Church

Edwards' counsel on converting a traditional church is not a five-year plan, a seven-year plan, or

any type of transitional phase. In one sense, he is asking the pastor and believers to extinguish the life of

this church, and let a new one be born.

He says that the church auditorium must be closed and locked for a minimum of two years. Then

he says all church meetings should stop for at least one month. After the break, the believers begin meeting

again in homes. The minister leaves town for at least one year, and a church planter comes and ministers to

the believers for six months. After six months, the believers are left on their own to discover how to

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become the ecclesia. By that time, the pastor can return, but he will be a layman--for a little while at least.

Or he can begin traveling with a church planter and train to become a church planter. At the end of two

years, the church auditorium is reopened, the pews are removed, and a large living room is placed there for

occasional gatherings of the entire body. The church never meets on Sundays again.

To say these ideas are radical might be an understatement. Edwards calls these ideas revolutionary.

His plan is so dramatic it is virtually assured rejection, and this may be his intention. He may be trying to

point groups to the second option.

Starting an Organic Meeting From Scratch

Up to this point, Edwards' concepts have revolved around three main ideas: the church planter, the

revelation of Christ, and the revelation of the ecclesia. Now he tries to flesh out those ideas with specific

practical steps toward implementation. Edwards is quick to point out that he fears laying down principles

because there is a danger in losing the cross to principles (139).

He recommends a church planter be present at the start of the meetings and then he gives several

practical ideas. First, he says that the group should meet for 8 to 10 weeks to eat together and fellowship

but no singing, ministering, or praying. He points out that all these “religious” trappings can prevent people

from getting to know one another.

It is essential that the believers get to know one another. He says that during this time “you will

discover that half the people you meet with are strange. No, psychotic. Shucks, why lie to you. They are

out-and-out crazy. The second half? The second half makes the first half look normal” (128). This time

allows the believers to recognize the humanity of everyone present. Recognition of the carnal fallen nature

is the first step toward moving beyond it and touching the spiritual.

Once the believers get to know one another, they can begin singing together. He encourages the

group to learn simple songs and sing them together. No one is to lead these song times. The body shares

this responsibility.

After learning to sing together, the group begins to share their testimonies. He says that one to two

people should plan to share each week. When everyone has shared their testimony, the group is ready to

begin preparing for their first meeting.

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Edwards says that the people and the church planter work together for “one common goal: the

birth of a genuine ecclesia” (133). The church planter begins laying a foundation of Christ. He begins

planting those seeds of revelation about Christ and the ecclesia.

About six weeks before the “big meeting,” the believers will begin to prepare spiritually. Believers

will meet in pairs several mornings a week and read a Christ-centered passage and “pray through the

passage” (141). The next week believers will meet in groups of four and follow the same process with the

same passage. “The third week of preparation is the same except eight people are present. On the fourth

week half the body meet together (but no more than twelve). Everyone present will offer to the Lord a

prayer that has come about from the previous times spent with this one passage of Scripture” (141).

Finally, the first fully functioning meeting arrives. Edwards recommends that everyone come to

the meeting prepared to announce one song and prepared to pray. Only the sisters share. He says that the

men need to learn how to “share from the heart” (136). The church planter is not present during this

meeting, and no one leads the meeting. A few days after the first meeting, the believers should get together

and discuss it. At the next meeting all believers will share (men and women). He says that the ecclesia is

now prepared to “discover how to meet over the next year or two” (142). This seems like such a long

process, but Edwards says that it requires a long time to unlearn the habit of not functioning in a meeting

and allowing one person to dominate or lead the meeting.

After the preliminaries are followed and the believers are discovering “how to meet,” Edwards

says that they have only about a 50-50 chance of survival. He says that crises are essential if the believers

are ever to become a body. “Without them, there will never come love. Without them there can never come

oneness in the body of Christ” (145).

In the closing of this section, Edwards announces that he will be holding yearly conferences for

those who want to try church life.

Key Thoughts in Part Three

Edwards begins this section by repeating his fundamental ideas on meetings--the church planter,

the revelation of Christ, and the revelation of the ecclesia. Then he proceeds to show how to convert a

traditional church to a fully functioning ecclesia, but he should probably have titled this the “impossibility”

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of a traditional church converting to a full functioning ecclesia because the model he presents seems

designed to demolish every trace of the former church and plant a new one in its place. Lastly, Edwards

present a model for starting an ecclesia from scratch.

The highlights of the models are worth further consideration. He says the believers must learn to

function together. They begin by learning how to relate to one another as human beings. This model is

based on a long period of formation and development where the believers start out eating together and

gradually begin to introduce spiritual elements into the meetings. It is dependent upon the presence of a

church planter who plants the “seeds of Christ and the ecclesia” into the people. He emphasizes the use of

Scripture for prayer and mediation among subsets of the main groups who eventually converge for a fully

functioning leadership meeting of the body of Christ. Edwards closes with a warning that conflict comes

and destroys half of all small groups, but the groups who survive begin to experience a community rooted

and grounded in love.

Ideas in Part Four

Edwards could have closed the book after part three. He introduces an idea in part one, illustrates

it in part two, and shows how to implement in part three. Part Four and the Addendum are not central to the

book's main arguments and may actually weaken the thrust of the book.

Part Four is an attack on John Calvin for inventing the modern church service. He spends four

pages highlighting the destructive impact of John Calvin's church service, and John Calvin's “government.”

He says that Calvin has been made a hero unjustly and proceeds to attack him. When describing the

government, Edwards says:

Geneva was ruled with an iron fist by twenty men. They were referred to as the

Consistory Committee. (Yep, everybody was supposed to live a life consistent with how

they were told to live.) Five of these men were pastors. Fifteen were church elders. Those

twenty men ruled Geneva. Calvin ruled the twenty.

It was one of the most despotic governments in the history of the Western world.

It was a police state. All the lives of all the people were under rule, scrutiny and

surveillance. Invasion of privacy was the order of the day. (158)

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Edwards proceeds to describe how Calvin executed his own relatives for breaking the moral laws of the

city. He says, “I think Jesus would have been burned alive in Geneva” (160).

This chapter seems totally out of place. It is not consistent with the arguments Edwards has laid

down in many of his previous works. For example, Our Mission and Preventing A Church Split emphasize

the cross in the midst of conflict. In those books, he encouraged saints not to build any sectarian walls

between themselves and other believers. Just on those two points alone, Edwards has overstepped his


There seems to be no hint of the cross in this chapter. Edwards is intent on destroying the heroic

image Calvin has among many saints today. He seems to have forgotten that all humans struggle with the

fallen nature (a point he has just mentioned in the previous chapter.) He isolates an attack on Calvin, but

makes no mention of the multitudes of other saints who were guilty of shedding blood in the name of


Edwards has also built a wall between himself and all believers who look to Calvin as an

important reformer. In some ways, he has erected a wall between himself and many saints.

It is unfortunate that Edwards included this chapter in a work that may contain some important

ideas for the body of Christ. Many believers who might have received from this work will be clearly

repelled by this section. As a result, this chapter seems to be a rhetorical error on Edwards' part.

Summary of Key Thoughts in How To Meet

In How To Meet, Edwards has developed a model for contemporary church meetings that claims

to be based in the style of early church meetings. Most restoration rhetorics have claimed early church

practices as the model for their reform. Unfortunately, there is not a comprehensive account of early church

meetings. The Scriptures provide clues to certain practices and outside historical accounts provide a little

insight, but there is a degree of personal interpretation in all accounts of the early church model.

Edwards' interpretation of that model is the basis for How To Meet. His interpretation of the

apostolic wanderings and church letters of Paul is the basis for his concept of a church planter and the

ecclesia. There is nothing wrong with focusing on only one apostle, but Edwards should say that his

concept is based primarily on Paul's experience in the early church.

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Edwards is presenting a workable model for believers to use when forming an ecclesia. This is not

a static model, but an organic model where believers play an integral role in discovering the process. He

says that his model is based on the centrality of Christ. But it might be more accurate to say that his model

is based on the conviction that the centrality of Christ is found in a functioning meeting of the ecclesia.

Catholics find the centrality of Christ in the Eucharist, and Protestants find that centrality in the sermon.

Edwards refers to the church as the ecclesia because he feels the word “church” is too closely

associated with a system or a building. He pictures meetings of the ecclesia as exciting adventures where

the saints are discovering Christ and learning to be a community. His community does not just revolve

around “religious activity,” but the saints are actively involved in one another's lives--meeting needs, loving

one another, and spending their lives together.

Edwards completely rejects the present style of meetings and offers little hope for those wanting to

change those meetings. His basic advice is to demolish the church and start over. His advice seems to

question the advice he gave churches in The Open Church. There he offered a workable plan to change the

services. Here he tells the pastor to close down the church, leave town, and rely upon a church planter to

transform whoever is left into an ecclesia. Unfortunately, it is not likely that many could take such a bold

move. In Preventing A Church Split, Edwards warns against the devastating effects of church splits, but

here he offers a plan which would likely fragment a church.

His insistence that the Sunday service must die, and that his plan is the way to resurrect the early

church meetings has echoes of exclusivity and sectarianism in it. Even if he has been able to remain in love

with saints in church systems while rejecting their system, his readers might not. They could easily develop

a sectarian attitude against those who continue to meet on Sundays, because Edwards says that those

meetings are one of the most destructive forces in Christianity.

This language also seems to counteract Edwards ideas in A Tale of Three Kings. Though not

reviewed in this chapter, that book provides a glimpse into the lives of Saul, David, and Absalom. In the

book, he explains that David could not raise an accusing finger against Saul or he would become what

Absalom became to him. David has the right to the throne, but he does not take it by force. The persecution

of Saul works the cross into David's life so that the “spirit of Absalom” will be removed from David before

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he takes the throne. This paradigm might apply to How To Meet. Instead of merely presenting a model for

church, Edwards spends part of the book attacking the Sunday service and John Calvin in particular. Has

Edwards laid down the cross?

Before anyone picks up a stone, it should be noted that many reformers before Edwards have

spoken in similar or harsher terms of those whom they considered as part of the “system.” As demonstrated

earlier, church history is filled with reformers who disagreed with one another about how to reform the

church. It is possible that John Calvin has become a symbolic figurehead for Edwards, as the pope was for

Luther. Luther attacked the pope as the Antichrist, but he was focusing more on the position than the

person.34 Edwards is frustrated with the corruption of the simplicity of the gospel, and he clearly believes

that the Sunday morning service has helped reduce the people of God to observers in a meeting where they

should have the opportunity to participate. While his attack is not completely justifiable in terms of his

previous books on division and the cross, it does not discount the possibility of his contributing important

ideas on the meeting of God's children.

His model is clearly well thought out and the manifestation of years of practice. He is not just

talking theory. He is writing from experience. He says: “The following pages that deal with the 'how' are

based on my personal experience and that of others. They are passed on to you, tested under just about

every circumstance imaginable. There is not a sentence in this book here that is theory. This book is not

theory. It has grown out of the crucibles of life” (104).

After more than 30 years of ministering outside the organized church and studying church history,

Edwards has developed a model that he feels could help contribute to the development of community in the

church and the revelation of Jesus to the world. Before discrediting his ideas because of certain

weaknesses, it is important to consider them in light of other contemporary restoration rhetorics and in

terms of their potential for community. The next chapter considers the key facets of Edwards' model in

relation to other contemporary models and the potential his model contains for community formation in the

lives of believers.

34 Ronald Bainton says that “Luther held that every pope was Antichrist even though personally
exemplary, because Antichrist is collective: an institution, the papacy, a system which corrupts the truth of
Christ.” See Ronald Bainton, Here I Stand (84).

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Christian community is not a closed circle of people embracing each other, but a forward-moving group of
companions bound together by the same voice asking for their attention.
- Henry Nouwen


Modernity and unrestrained individualism have driven society further into fragmentation and

human beings into isolated cocoons. In the 1960s, Paul Simon captured the spirit of the age when he sang,

“I am a Rock, I am an Island.” He no longer agrees with Donne's assertion that we are all a “piece of the

same continent,” but feels so isolated that he confesses his complete separation from the “main continent.”

Television has become a central symbolic feature of this “great new society,” and it reinforces the isolation

of humanity. As Bellah points out, “Dialogue is reduced to clipped sentences. No one talks long enough to

express anything complex. Depth of feeling, if it exists at all, has to be expressed in a word or a glance”


According to Arnett, one result of this division in society is communication from “polarized

positions” (15). He says, “Polarized positions are fostered by groups and/or individuals looking out for their

own interests with little concern for others” (17). America is becoming a nation of individuals who will do

anything to protect their own rights even if it means denying the rights of others. The courts are overloaded

with individuals demanding protection of their rights. Bellah says, “We have committed what to the

republican founders of our nation was the cardinal sin; we have put our own good as individuals, as groups,

as a nation, above the common good” (285).

In a society that is becoming increasingly environmentally aware, Bellah says that “unless we

repair the damage to our social ecology, we will destroy ourselves long before natural ecological disaster

has time to be realized” (284). The collective restraints of family, church, and social commitment are

crumbling, and the dark night of anarchy and tyranny are creeping forward.

In a recent issue of Christianity Today, Chuck Colson talks about this destructive pattern in our

culture (80). According to Colson, “Our culture has bred a generation without a conscience.” He sights a

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 106

dramatic increase in violent crime as one result of this fragmented society and claims that “If we do not

learn to cultivate conscience--if the truth continues to retreat--then tyranny will surely advance. To end the

war of all against all, the state will unsheathe the power of the sword against every citizen.”

As the storm clouds darken, the church is faced with a challenge of modelling a community where

love is the chief characteristic. As Jesus said, “All men will know you are my disciples if you love one

another” (John 13:15). The church is called to function as the body of Christ upon this earth, but, as Merton

points out, Christ's body is suffering from disfiguration and division (Seeds of Contemplation 71).

Many Christian leaders are responding to this crisis by calling for community within the church

and offering models which could help foster a spirit of community among the saints. How To Meet is one

such model. Edwards has developed a model which takes contemporary restoration rhetoric to the extreme,

and many leaders will not follow his exhortation to replace pastors with a temporary church planter or to do

away with Sunday morning services. In light of his drastic plan, the question might be asked, “Does his

model only offer hope for those who are willing to follow his extreme challenge or can it also offer hope

for the traditional church as well?” This chapter seeks to answer that question by considering the elements

of Edwards' model which promote the development of genuine community.

Community Evaluation

Before Edwards' model can be assessed, the word community must be defined. A good definition

can provide some criteria for determining the potential for community development in his model. For the

purpose of this study, community will be defined as an organic group of persons who have chosen and

learned to become interdependent and who are committed to honest dialogue, sharing of life resources, and

cultivating a vision beyond the group resulting in the betterment of society.35 This definition provides at

35 I developed this definition during the course of study of various ideas on community. It was
designed to be functional when examining community. Bellah et al. defines community as “a group of
people who are socially interdependent, who participate together in discussion and decision making, and
who share certain practices (which see) that both define the community and are nurtured by it” (333).
Neighbour says, “Community takes place when there is a shared life, allowing common goals and
commitments to develop between all of its members” (Where Do We Go From Here? 94). Buber defines
community as “the inner disposition or constitution of a life in common, which knows and embraces in
itself hard 'calculation,' adverse 'chance,' the sudden access of 'anxiety.' It is community of tribulation and
only because of that community of spirit; community of toil and only because of that community of
salvation” (Paths in Utopia 134).

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least five key descriptive terms that can function as criteria in the consideration of Edwards' concept of

community: the necessity of organic life, the value of interdependence, the presence of dialogue in

relationships, the sharing of resources, and to forward moving vision.

Necessity of Organic Life

First and foremost, a community must be an organic group of persons. This is the most important

feature of the definition because of its comprehensive nature. “Organic” refers to a group of organs

functioning together as a whole. It is a living system. It is an organism. Each organic group has life, a body,

growth, and is unique.

Life. Think of the human body. It is alive. All organs in the body are alive and draw life from the

same source. The blood pumps throughout the body bringing oxygen and nutrients to the various organs.

All the organs draw life from a common center. In a true community all persons share a common life-

giving center. Buber says:

The real essence of community is to be found in the fact--manifest or otherwise--that it

has a center. The real beginning of a community is when its members have a common

relation to the center overriding all other relations: the circle is described by the radii, not

by the points of its circumference. And the originality of the center cannot be discerned

unless it is discerned as being transpicous to the light of something divine” (Paths in

Utopia 135).

In Christian community, Jesus Christ stands at the center, and all members are in relation with

Him. Bonhoeffer says this distinguishes Christian community from human community. He says that human

community exalts human love as an end in itself, but spiritual love “comes from Jesus Christ, it serves him

alone” (35). Buber says, “True community does not arise through peoples having feelings for one another

(though indeed it is not without it), but through, first, their taking stand in living mutual relation with a

living Center, and second, their being in living mutual relation with one another” (I and Thou 45).

Out of their love for Jesus Christ, Christians learn to live in community with one another. In

Ephesians, Paul says that Jesus removed the barriers between humans and has opened the door for true

community. As believers yield to the work of grace, they are “built together to become a dwelling in which

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God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). Peck echoes this promise in saying, “The spirit of community is

a manifestation of the Holy Spirit” (75). When explaining his concept of I-Thou, Buber also touches on a

similar concept when he says, “Spirit is not in the I, but between the I and Thou. It is not like the blood that

circulates in you, but like the air that you breathe” (39).

This idea has great implications when applied to the church. Luke records Jesus telling the

disciples to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (24:49). Then “they

stayed continually at the temple praising God” (24:53). On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit “came on”

them and they received God's power (Acts 1:8). The disciples were called to community, then they received

the outpouring of God's Spirit.

Arthur Gish emphasizes the work of grace in community by saying that “Unless God gathers us,

we are not true community” (36). Our ability alone will not produce community. It will fail and fail

miserably. The twentieth century has amply proved man's complete inability to form community apart from

God. The communist nations reflect a utopian ideal of human community reduced to tyranny and

oppression because fallen man cannot “gather himself.”

Henry Nouwen calls the Christian gathering a “calling” and says that the Christian community has

been called “out of the old world and into the new” (154). He emphasizes the importance of all members

looking to Jesus and waiting upon his guidance. “Our eyes should not remain fixed upon one another but be

directed forward to what is dawning on the horizon of our existence” (154). Whenever Christians turn our

focus horizontally, there is the danger of producing an “Ishmael” (man trying to please God in his ability)

or devouring one another for the “sake of God's kingdom.”

So the first characteristic of an organic group is life rooted in a common center. This life is a work

of God's grace and results when God's people obey His calling to community. Edwards' roots his model in a

common relation to Jesus Christ. He says that Jesus “must be the center of everything . . . not in lip service,

but in the dynamic experiential whole” (44). All throughout How To Meet, he reiterates that church life is

based upon the centrality of Jesus Christ (34, 47, 75, 87). Building community begins with a revelation of

Jesus. Edwards says, “The first step of all that this book covers is a revelation. That revelation is a person.

His name is Jesus. You begin with a revelation of Jesus” (109).

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Edwards explains that the early church meetings were “constituted of Christians reporting their

daily walk and experience with Christ. . . . In their day, they came to a meeting to report out of the overflow

of their lives” (63-64). The saints are “in love” with Christ and embody His life (64).

When believers start a church, Edwards says they need a church planter to help them grasp a

revelation of Christ and the ecclesia. One way this revelation comes, is through meditation upon Christ-

centered scriptures. He encourages believers to meditate and pray through the same Christ-centered

scripture for six weeks prior to the first “leaderless” meeting (140). As they move closer to the meeting,

they meet in pairs, then in fours and pray through the scripture together. Finally, the first meeting is an

outflow of those six weeks of meditation on a Christ-centered passage.

He believes that the church's supreme calling is to reveal Jesus Christ on this earth. This will not

happen “until we replace a gospel that discusses things about Him with a gospel that is Christ” (75). As the

saints have a revelation of Jesus Christ, the community becomes an outflow of that revelation. The

community becomes the “body of Christ.” “That is what 'the body of Christ' means! For Christ to be seen,

in the body and as the body . . . this has always been His will” (109).

Body. Peck says that true community “is something more than the sum of its parts, its individual

members” (Community Building 60). An organic group is a body. All the organs function in harmony to

sustain the body. Each organ contributes a vital function for the body. The body can only be sustained

through a diversity of functions. In the human body, if all organs were the heart life could not be sustained.

The body requires diversity of functions to remain alive.

Peck captures the necessity of diversity when he says, “Community does not solve the problem of

plurality by obliterating diversity. Instead it seeks out diversity, welcomes other points of view, embraces

opposites, desires to see the other side of every issue. . . . It integrates us human beings into a functioning

mystical body” (234). The body of Christ must maintain diversity without compromising the divine center.

In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul expounds on this idea when he says, “There are different

kinds of gifts but the same Spirit” (12:4). “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and

though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ” (12:12). Each part is a reflection of

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God's divine plan for expressing Christ. “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as

he wanted them to be” (12:18).

Edwards visualizes the functioning ecclesia as an expression of the body of Christ. He says, “And

when they meet, all of them carry the meeting. All the body, caring for all its parts. They are in love with

Him and with His beautiful fiance. In a word: They are the embodied, visible, living, breathing body of

Christ” (64). He emphasizes a local expression of the body of Christ over a collective expression made up

of all believers, and he places the functioning of the parts within the local meeting. In other words, Edwards

sees a concrete expression of each believer's gift within the context of the meeting.

Many Protestant churches have acknowledged multiple gifts within the body but have limited the

expression of gifts within the meeting to just a few individuals. The majority of believers are encouraged to

observe, learn, and express their giftings in the context of everyday life--not in the meeting. While these

giftings may reveal Jesus in the community at large, they will not necessarily directly benefit the members

of the body.

Edwards is contesting this practice and encouraging open involvement from all members. This

openness could encourage chaos in a larger meeting, but in small group meetings it could foster the

development of community among the members. Throughout the book, Edwards uses the term

“functioning.” He says, “In the meetings of the ecclesia, everyone functions” (111). “Those meetings

provide a way for brothers and sisters to get a running start at functioning in a meeting” (142). “They

functioned in those meetings. They were the meetings” (55). “By the time Paul and Barnabas departed, (1)

they were awash in the knowledge and experience of Jesus Christ, and (2) they functioned” (63).

Edwards clearly places this idea of “functioning” in the context of the meetings. The believers

learn to become an organic group. Each one contributes to the meetings. In the context of a small group,

Edwards' concept of the body of Christ offers potential to help the people become a community.

Growth. Every living organism grows and changes over time. An organic group cannot remain

static if it is to remain alive. It must grow and change over time. Peck says, “Ongoing communities must

continually construct and reconstruct themselves according to the variety of parameters in order to remain

vibrant” (148).

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One reason communities change is that people change. As people interact and function within a

community, they grow and change. Buber says, “For inmost growth of self is not accomplished, as people

like to suppose today, in man's relation to himself, but in the relation between one and the other, between

men” (The Knowledge of Man 71). This growth is a healthy process. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man

sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

As people interact, and grow closer to the Lord and one another, they mature and change. As they

change, the community changes. Buber explains this process as a mixture of “Thou and It” (I and Thou

118). The I-It is the structure that humans use to make sense of the community, but it must be free to return

to the I-Thou--where eternal life is experienced. Buber says, “In belief and in a cult form can harden into an

object; but, in virtue of the essential quality of relation that lives on in it, it continually becomes present

again. God is near His forms so long as man does not remove them from Him” (118). The danger in

community is to experience the dynamic life-changing presence of God and then to create an idol out of

that experience, insisting that God manifest Himself in the same way in the future. “But when the

expanding movement of religion suppresses the movement of turning and removes the form from God, the

countenance of the form is obliterated, its lips are dead, its hands hang down, God knows it no more, and

the universal dwelling-place that is built about its altar, the spiritually apprehended cosmos, tumbles in”


When Edwards refers to the meeting of the ecclesia, he uses terms like “fluid,” “story,” and

“drama.” “How to meet is a way to be found, not imposed. It is an adventure on a sea few have dared to

sail. That adventure is high in drama and froth with dangers!” (35). His words indicate a dynamic living

process that changes, grows, and may be unpredictable. He wants to free the traditional static image of the

church, and allow it to change with the people.

Throughout the book, Edwards discusses the meeting as a process of discovery. “First century

believers explored their way into church life” (31). We do not “meet the way they met. Rather, we discover

in the same way they discovered how to meet” (37). “You discover--as you see the entire panorama of their

drama--that each and every ecclesia is discovering . . . for itself . . . how to meet” (20). By using terms like

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“discovery” and “exploration,” he is reinforcing the fluid process of meetings. There is not one way to

meet. The saints must discover together under the “headship of Jesus Christ” how to meet.

This type of virtually structureless church might create fear in the hearts of leaders. Will the saints

go astray? Will they lose sight of their calling, enter into power struggles, or move into error? All of these

are possible. Edwards says this path is “froth with dangers” (35). The Apostle Paul struggled with groups

moving into one extreme or another. For instance, the Corinthians became “so free in Christ” they got

drunk at communion. Edwards points out that, “With all their problems, he never took away their open

meetings” (89). Rather, Paul laid down guidelines for meeting and encouraged them to follow. But even

these guidelines were not addressed to “elders.” They were addressed to all the saints at Corinth.

While some of Edward's proposals seem extreme, they point to an important element that all

churches can learn from--flexibility. A church structure must remain flexible and open. God must be

allowed to reveal Himself in different ways. As Buber warns, if we take the structure from God and make it

our own, we will be clinging to a lifeless form.

Unique. The concept of growth in an organic group is related to uniqueness. If organic groups

must be free to grow and change with the people, then each organic group will uniquely reflect the persons

in the group. Buber says, “Community should not be made into a principle; it, too, should always satisfy a

situation rather than an abstraction. The realization of community, like the realization of an idea, cannot

occur once and for all time: always it must be the moment's answer to the moment's question, and nothing

more” (Paths in Utopia 134). In a similar way, John Stewart points out that communities are unique

depending upon the individuals in them and upon the particular meeting (15). So, for him, each meeting of

the community is unique.

There is a balance in this uniqueness. Humans learn from their predecessors. Each community

balances their reliance upon tradition with particular expressions. The traditions help integrate them into the

fabric of the community at large; the unique expressions give them an opportunity to explore and

experience God in their present lives. Bellah warns against following “modernity's tendency to obliterate

all previous culture. We need to learn again from the cultural riches of the human species and to

reappropriate and revitalize those riches so they can speak to our condition today” (283).

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Merton calls this “the biggest paradox about the Church” (Seeds of Contemplation 142). He says

that “Christian tradition, unlike all others, is a living and perpetual revolution” (142). He says that the

Christian tradition relies upon the life of God. Without that life our faith becomes a dead shell. “Each

individual Christian and each new age of the Church has to make this rediscovery, this return to the source

of Christian life” (145).

Edwards says that uniqueness is an essential characteristic in Christian community. “It is native to

our species to have an endless variety when we meet” (35). “There must also come a commitment in every

nation on this earth to find out how each of us, in our respective nations, uniquely and organically expresses

the church of Jesus Christ” (15). Rather than viewing the church as a separate culture, he sees each separate

culture as having its own unique expression of church. But this uniqueness goes beyond culture. Every

functioning body of believers should be “unique to this planet and overflowing with variety” (147).

While uniqueness is important in Edwards' model, tradition is virtually discarded. He calls

believers to follow the early church in discovering a unique way to meet, but he does not place any value

on church traditions. He seems to be afraid that these traditions might interfere with the “functioning” in

the meeting. He says that believers can only discover this organic way to meet by starting “all over again”

(29). “You absolutely must begin in virgin soil!! To break that lifelong tradition of meeting the wrong way

is impossible” (30). He encourages saints to begin “with a whole new way of church practices” (30). In

fact, he says that the old and new cannot combine. “Producing a hybrid--part now and part then--is not an

option. It is either all or nothing” (41).

In this instance, Edwards falls prey to the modernist tendency of rejecting all past cultures. This

attitude is dangerous for the development of community. It can encourage communities that are isolated

from other communities. Rather than encouraging working with saints of other communities, this attitude

seems to reject all communities who are tied into traditions of church history. While his emphasis of the

uniqueness of each meeting is a helpful reminder for saints to discover their unique expression in Christ,

his rejection of church traditions should be avoided as an unhealthy practice. Otherwise, Edwards presents

many important ideas which could help believers understand the call to organic community in new ways.

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There are several important factors to remember when contemplating the organic nature of

Christian community. (1) It must be rooted in an experiential relationship with Jesus Christ. If small groups

lose their focus on Jesus Christ, they will be no more than humanistic encounter groups which offer no life

beyond this life. (2) Believers within the church are all part of the body of Christ. They have diverse gifts

and should have opportunities to use those gifts for the benefit of other members of the body. Small group

meetings should allow believers freedom to release their gifts without dominating the meeting and

preventing others from releasing their gifts. (3) Christian communities cannot remain static. There is not a

“set structure” of Christian community. Believers should have opportunity to discover together “how to

meet” under the Lordship of Christ and should remain flexible in their patterns of meeting. (4) Each

Christian community will have a unique expression. But members must learn to balance the continuity of

tradition with the demands of the present moment. Tradition provides stability. The present meeting

provides life. As Buber says, “Without It man cannot live. But he who lives with It alone is not a man” (I

and Thou 34).

Apart from his overemphasis upon uniqueness at the expense of virtually all tradition, Edwards

presents a strong concept of organic life. His model integrates life in Christ, functioning as a body, unique

expression, and the importance of growth as essential factors in the community.

The Value of Interdependence

Several other important characteristics of community spring out from the notion of an organic

group. One is the idea that a group is composed of “persons who have chosen and learned to become

interdependent.” This definition uses the term “person” as opposed to “individual.” The individual finds

meaning within himself/herself. But as Buber explains the person finds meaning in “between” the I and

Thou (I and Thou 63-64).36 The person depends upon love from God and love from other persons for

survival. Likewise, persons are commissioned to love God and to love their neighbour.

Bonhoeffer says, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and

strength to the believer” (19). When believers enter into relation, they have the potential of experiencing

36 Buber points out that “No man is pure person and no man is pure individuality” (65). These are
merely extreme poles on a continuum. All humans function at different points between the two poles.

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God's life. “The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for

the bodily presence of a brother. . . . they receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord in reverence,

humility, and joy” (20). He believes that God has made believers dependent upon one another to hear the

Word of God.

God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to

other men. . . . Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word

to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for

by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother as

bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. (22-23)

Believers need each other. God has designed them to depend upon each other for the fullness of His life.

Edwards projects this idea with certain sentences he uses several times in the book. “They are

holding on to one another for dear life” (61,64). “They are in one another's lives” (65, 111). He describes

the saints as dependent upon one another for survival and on a deeper level for life. They are learning to

live the Christian life together. Edwards says:

The Christian life can be lived as it was intended to be lived only within her walls. . . . Do

you recall the nine letters Paul wrote to churches? . . . These letters were written to a

body of people. Those letters were written to the ecclesia--a body of people, not an

individual--telling them how they could live the Christian life . . . together. (112)

In his model, the saints depend upon one another in the daily walk with the Lord. The community does not

take the place of the Lord. It leads each member into a personal and collective experience of Jesus Christ.

The contemporary church could learn the importance the concept and practice of interdependent

saints. Interdependence integrates the essential element of unique persons with the dependence upon a

community of believers. One extreme or the other could be disastrous for the believer, but a balance can

allow the believer to explore his or her unique calling in the Lord in a spiritually supportive family.

Thus Edwards' description of the saints “holding on to one another for dear life” (65) is an

excellent picture of saints who have realized they need one another, and the church would do well to model

this pattern.

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The Presence of Dialogue in Relationships

Each person within a community must be “committed to honest dialogue.” Dialogue is the life

flow within the community. Honest dialogue has the potential to lead believers into dynamic life-

exchanging relationships. Without dialogue, relationships suffer, church becomes a spectator event, and the

body ceases to function.

What is dialogue? Buber defines three forms of dialogue. He says:

There is genuine dialogue--no matter whether spoken or silent--where each of the

participants really has in mind the other or others in their present and particular being and

turns them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself and

them. There is technical dialogue, which is prompted solely by the need of objective

understanding. And there is monologue disguised as dialogue, in which two or more men,

meeting in space, speak each with himself in strangely tortuous and circuitous ways and

yet imagine they have escaped the torment of being thrown back on their own resources.

(Between Man and Man 19-20)

Genuine dialogue affirms the relationship whereas technical dialogue merely disburses

information and monologue denies relationship. There is the danger for churches to major in technical

dialogue or monologue. One should ask: Does the communication draw people into relationship? Or, is it

primarily used to disburse information (teaching) or give the speaker a chance to glory in his or her

giftings? A. W. Tozer says “We in this dark day have had our seeking done for us by our teachers” (16). He

realizes many teachers proclaim doctrinal truths, and “there are today many millions of people who hold

'right opinions,' probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever

a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb” (9). When communication within the church is

reduced to mere technical dialogue, people learn the right information but they do not experience true

relationship with God or man.

The church also struggles with monologue in place of genuine dialogue. If the communication is

used to build up the speaker while neglecting true relation with the listener, it becomes a monologue where

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no life is imparted.37 Tozer recognizes this danger and warns the church of accepting selfishness in place of

Christ-life. He says:

Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to

excite little interest.

One should suppose that proper instruction in the doctrines of man's depravity

and the necessity for justification through the righteousness of Christ alone would deliver

us from the power of self-sins; but it does not work out that way. Self can live unrebuked

at the very altar. It can watch the bleeding Victim die and not be the least affected by

what it sees. It can fight for the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of

salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell the truth, it seems actually to

feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible Conference than in a tavern. (45-46)

True community struggles to maintain balance within these three forms of dialogue. Monologue

naturally occurs as a result of the fallen nature of humans. All humans struggle with self-centered

communication. Technical dialogue is sometimes necessary for laying foundations, but it can never replace

genuine dialogue. Genuine dialogue must never be neglected in the community of faith.

Buber explains the relationship-centered dialogue as I-Thou communication. He distinguishes it

from I-It communication which is object-centered--both monologue and technical dialogue can be

classified as I-It communication. I-It is not always bad. It is essential for making sense out of this world.

Buber says, “The It is the eternal chrysalis, the Thou is the eternal butterfly-except that situations do not

always follow one another in clear succession, but there is a happening profoundly two fold, confusedly

entangled” (I and Thou 17-18). It experiences life. Thou enters into relationship with life. He says, “The

Thou meets me. But I step into direct relation with it. Hence the relation means being chosen and choosing”

(11). Humans cannot force I-Thou communication, but they can invite it and respond to it.

37 Martin Buber's classic work I and Thou provides an in-depth study on dialogue. Two others
who have followed in his footsteps are Maurice Friedman and Ronald Arnett. Thomas Merton's Love and
Living and Leo Buscaglia's Loving Each Other are two other excellent sources on this topic.

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True community must invite genuine dialogue. It will move between I-It and I-Thou, but it is

content with I-It communication alone. True relation with God and man is essential. “All real living is

meeting” (Buber 11).

When humans enter into dialogue, they must be prepared for conflict. Arnett says that conflict is

vital to a community, and “If no conflict exists, then, in all likelihood, someone is afraid to disagree” (17).

When humans are real with one another, when they become vulnerable, then we will inevitably enter into

conflict. Conflict can be a sign that one values the relationship and can help persons see a different

perspective from their own. It can also be a process of growth. Peck says, “A community is a group that can

fight gracefully” (Different Drummer 71). Arnett points out that conflict in community “necessitates that

one work out problems in relationship with the other, not unilaterally or in solitude” (28).

Another element of dialogue within community is the sharing of stories. Each person in the group

brings their stories to the group. Arnett says, “Time is needed for people to tell their stories and retell them”

(173). As people tell and retell their stories, elements in the memories of all persons become intertwined,

and the group begins to develop a common story. “That story must be one that individuals can relate to, feel

a part of, and affirm” (Arnett 173). Bellah believes these common stories can produce or draw from

traditions which create a pause in the continuous cycle of life and “give a qualitative meaning to the living

of life” (282). He calls these “communities of memory” and recognizes their potential for “opening our

hearts to the wholeness of being” (282).

Genuine dialogue also confirms the “otherness” of persons in the group. It acknowledges their

presence and value as persons created in God's image. Friedman says, “Genuine dialogue is my acceptance

of the 'otherness' of the other person, my willingness to listen to her and respond to her address”

(Confirmation of Otherness 27). This confirmation opens the door for communion. For oneness. For love.

Merton says, “We do not become fully human until we give ourselves to each other in love” (Love and

Living 27). “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone--we find it with

another” (27).

As we enter into this communion with others, as we address the Thou, Buber says that “we are

aware of a breath from the eternal Thou” (I and Thou 6). Genuine dialogue can lead persons into the

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presence of God. The Apostle Peter writes, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very

words of God” (I Peter 4:11). As believers enter into genuine dialogue and release their unique giftings,

God can reveal himself among them.

This revelation is transforming. Buber says, “The man who emerges from the act of pure relation

that so involves his being has now in his being something more that has grown in him” (109). As persons

meet one another in the presence of God, they can be changed by God's grace flowing in and through their


Edwards develops a model where “meeting” is at the center of the church. He contrasts this model

with other church structures which have been imposed upon the people. In his model, the believers play an

integral role in discovering how to meet. Each person in the group is encouraged to share their “story.”

“Later Paul and Barnabas sit around and tell stories. Everyone laughs and everyone participates” (61).

During the initial meetings, he encourages groups to learn how to fellowship. He says, “Meet for a

minimum of eight to ten weeks, doing nothing but eating together! . . . During this time, get to know one

another. Informally, get to know one another. That comes before all else” (128). He encourages group

members to take time and really get to know one another. During this time, believers begin to see the

strengths and weaknesses of one another. This is essential if they want to move beyond a wish-dream of

community and experience community based in God's grace. Then he recommends learning to sing

together and setting aside several meetings for sharing of stories. “Gather every week for one purpose only,

to have one person share his/her testimony. . . . As you gather, and as this person begins to share, you will

be astonished to discover that this person, who you thought you knew, has disclosed to you things about

himself you have never known before” (131).

These initial meetings lay the foundations for genuine dialogue later on. Edwards believes that

many Christians rarely become vulnerable with one another and always want to appear spiritual. This time

of informal gathering and sharing is supposed to begin removing those “walls of self-righteousness.” It

should be noted that these meetings are unstructured, and no one is imposing a way of sharing or meeting.

Believers are discovering together how to meet.

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Edwards does not disregard teaching, but he brings it to the level of dialogue among the members.

He says:

My money says Paul and Barnabas made sure that their messages were interrupted with

question and comments. . . . If you question this, then go to any place on earth where

Calvin's Sunday ritual is not known . . . tell the people nothing about ritual, get up to

speak . . . you'll find yourself not in a monologue but a dialogue--no, a poly-logue as

everyone joins in on the message with comments, chatter, banter and laughter! (60)

He describes a service where all members participate--even during the teaching. “Songs are started by

everyone . . . and anyone. Sharing is spontaneous, informal, real, interrupted, interspersed and unexpected”

(61). Sharing became so erratic in Corinth that two or three people were speaking at the same time.

Edwards points out that Paul does not cancel the meetings, but gives them direction so that everyone will

have an opportunity to share (92).

As the believers begin to have “sharing meetings,” Edwards reminds them that they are learning to

function together, and they are establishing “No permanent patterns” (142). They are learning to share

genuinely and from the heart. He warns against the danger of “philosophizing” and encourages the

believers to seek to find Christ revealed in the scripture and not to “pontificate” the scripture (136). He also

encourages the believers to have other meetings where they review the strengths and weaknesses of their

sharing meetings and prepare for future meetings.38

Eventually, the groups will have a crisis. It may be a power struggle, a disagreement, or any type

of conflict. Edwards says that these conflicts “emerge from out of our depravity” and prepare the group for

genuine community (146). He says:

In the presence of an overwhelming revealing of Christ, a profound message of grace, a

cataclysmic dropping of the law, a cathartic release of control of other people's lives, an

unbelievable lowering of your expectations of the saintliness of the saints and--perhaps

38 Edwards describes at least two unique meetings. One focused on seeking the Lord, and the
other focused more on fellowship of the believers. These fellowship-oriented meetings help believers to
grow together as people, and the sharing-oriented meetings allow believers the opportunity to focus in on
seeking the presence of God. Two types of meetings can help the groups to remain balanced.

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most of all--the uttermost possible release from conformity, as well as being totally

enveloped in Christian freedom . . . all this put together, with the divine stirring of an

indwelling Lord . . . plus a lot of patience, forgiveness, repentance, and apology . . . that

is what causes the birth of a true ecclesia! (146)

For Edwards, conflict helps to remove the high expectation believers hold over one another and can help

shift the group from a “community of affinity”--where community is based upon thinking alike--to a

“community of otherness”--where community is based upon love.

As the group becomes a community, it begins to function as the body of Christ. Edwards says,

“For Christ to be seen, in the body and as the body . . . this has always been His will. . . . Not by you or me

. . . but a body of people displaying Jesus Christ to the world!” (109). Edwards says that the Christian life is

meant to be lived in community--not alone. His ideas, then, are similar to Buber's concept of finding the

Eternal Thou in one another.

Dialogue plays an important role in Edwards' model. He challenges believers to move beyond the

isolation of monologue and mere technical dialogue, and he invites all group members to share in the

meeting. He encourages believers to spend a long time developing relationships before they begin a sharing

meeting. In fact, he prefers they take several weeks to share “their own stories” so that members of the

group can get to know one another. This time of sharing begins to weave a “community of memory” where

members share common memories about one another and about the group. Edwards discourages sharing

that is designed to make the speaker look intelligent or scripturally “illuminated.” Instead, he encourages

members to learn to share “from the heart” and seek the Lord in their words.

By spending a long period of time together before they begin “sharing,” they avoid forcing I-Thou

communication because they establish relationship first, and their sharing flows out of relationship. But

even in relationship he realizes that conflict can and must occur. Edwards sees this conflict as moving

believers into genuine love and not just “words.”

As believers begin to enter community, Edwards offers hope that they can experience Jesus Christ.

The community reveals Christ among them and to the world. Just as Buber relates the “Eternal Thou” in

relationships, Edwards finds Jesus Christ in relationships.

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Unless the contemporary church learns to incorporate genuine dialogue as a vital aspect of the

body, it will never enter true community. Dialogue cannot just be preached from the pulpit. It must be

experienced among the saints. Small groups can provide a place for believers to enter into true

relationships, but if the small groups deny the opportunity for the elements of genuine dialogue--such as

sharing of stories, conflict, confirmation of otherness, then they will also fail in producing community

within the body.


When believers truly love one another, they not only share their love in words but in actions. They

help meet one another's needs. Many scholars talk about the importance of dialogue, community, and love,

but few discuss the importance of sharing resources.

God establishes the pattern for giving out of love as revealed in the gospel of John: “For God so

loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (3:16). God's love resulted in action. He shared His

resources with all humanity. God's love meets needs. In genuine Christian community, believers will share

resources and help meet one another's needs. Gish says, “Since our commitment to God's kingdom and to

each other is not only spiritual but includes all things, it is inconceivable that the love and unity that exists

in the community will not be expressed in material ways. The sharing of who we are is incomplete if we do

not also share what we have” (68). In a society that is self-centered and highly individualistic, such an ethic

seems almost inconceivable--even on the church. The early church recognized giving as an essential part of

community. Luke says, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who

owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it

was distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:34-35). Paul says, “Share with God's people who are in

need” (Romans 12:13). Clearly there is a biblical precedence for physically meeting the needs of believers

in community.

Edwards describes a community where the believers do meet one another's needs. He envisions

them as connected as a body and responding to all the needs of the body. He says, “On their own, these

laymen and laywomen learned how to survive, bring ministry, sing, share, testify, meet needs, care for one

another, and meet under the headship of Jesus Christ” (62). “If one is sick, they are all sick. If one is falling

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away, they all feel the pain. They are a body of believers, moving, breathing, functioning, changing,

adapting. Fluid! Flexible. Forced to be creative . . . each forced to lead out in some specific areas when a

need or crisis arises” (64). They are “people who know one another, who are daily spending their lives

together, helping each other in every way they possibly can” (65). The members of this organic body share

all their lives with one another. They meet one another's needs. This is not a short time experience for

Edwards. He sees it as a lifetime community. He says:

The ecclesia is local, made up of real people, with real names . . . who gather. They

gather. And they don't just gather. They comfort one another. They love one another.

They live in one another's lives, they laugh together, cry together, some marry one

another. They know one another and are closer to one another than anyone else on earth.

They raise their kids together, grow old together, and bury one another. (111)

This community is committed to one another. Even though the above statement sounds idealistic,

Edwards recognizes the darker side of community. As mentioned earlier, he realizes communities will have

serious crisis--conflicts which touch the very root of their lives. Some will learn to love and move to an

even deeper level. While others will disband and move on. At one point, he expresses that “half of all small

groups who gather, eventually have a power struggle sometime during the first year. Most crash and burn

while still on the runway” (145).39

Edwards recognizes that community is a challenge, but he sees true community as the only way

believers will ever fully function as the ecclesia. Sharing of resources, meeting one another's needs, and

living in each other's lives are essential elements in the living community of believers.

While many contemporary churches meet the needs of the believers, the needs are met through the

hierarchy. Believers come to a designated place and request help. This method provides for the physical

needs, but it may deny the deeper need of relationship. When needs are met in the context of a community

relationships are affirmed, and believers are held accountable to the relationships. Those who are in need

39 This is one reason why Edwards strongly advocates church planters to raise up communities--to
root them in a revelation of Jesus and to prepare them for conflicts which eventually will arise. Even with a
church planter, he says the chances of survival are about 50-50 (145).

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because of personal problems may be confronted by other members of the community and find help for the

source of their problems.


Buber discusses a “messianic eschatology” where persons long for the realization of “what should

be” in human community (Paths in Utopia 7-8). He says, “The utopian picture is a picture of what 'should

be,' and the visionary is one who wishes it to be” (7). Not all utopias realize what “should be.” Marx's

utopian ideal manifested as a destructive force instead of genuine community. Unfortunately, many

Christian communities follow a similar path. But by God's grace, some realize a vision of what could be.

The nation of Israel was a utopian ideal, that at different points in her history realized “what could be” and

manifested the essence of God's kingdom on this earth.

The Christian community envisions realizing God's kingdom on this earth. It should also

have vision which reaches beyond itself. Gish recognizes this vision beyond community

and says:

The more deeply we experience community and God's kingdom, the more we long for its

fulfillment in the world, and the more we experience liberation and victory over sin, the

more we will see the need to struggle against the forces of death and evil everywhere.

The more we experience God's love the more eager we will be to reach out and care for

others. Community can make us more sensitive to the needs of others in the world. (316)

But this vision beyond community is not selfishly motivated by a desire to increase the size of the

community. It is a response to God's Spirit moving in the hearts of the people. Gish continues:

Hopefully our concern for witness grows out of the reality of the gospel in our lives

rather than any desire to increase our membership or feeling that we need to be engaged

in some kind of activity. The first question is not action or program, but to be what we

have been called to be. (318)

As members of a Christian community are touched by a revelation of Jesus Christ, they will have a vision

of their own calling in community and in society. As the love of God flows through the community, it will

call persons to meet one another's needs and the needs of those beyond the community in the outside world.

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Bruce Bettleheim recognizes this need and states, “I am convinced community can flourish only if it exists

for an aim outside itself” (41).

Bellah considers the importance of calling being a part of our occupations. He says, “To make a

real difference, such a shift in rewards would have to be a part of reappropriation of the idea of vocation or

calling, a return in a way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means

to one's own advancement” (287-288). While he was referring specifically to work, this idea could apply to

community. This question may be asked, Is the community called to contribute to the good of all or does it

merely exist for the benefit of its members? If a community follows the latter path, it will tend to become

isolationist and self-centered. On the other hand, if the community exists only for the good to society, it

may become so outreach oriented that relationships are neglected within the body. Either extreme carries

the potential for destruction.

Peck recommends, “Community building first, problem-solving second” (104). The believers must

have a vision of their calling as a community and begin to function as a community before they begin

extensive outreach beyond the community. There comes a point when the community must recognize its

calling beyond the group and begin touching the world outside. The balance between in-reach and outreach

should be sought as a goal for long-term stability.

Edwards states that How To Meet was written to aid believers in “having a revelation of the need

of the centrality of Christ and a vision of the ecclesia” (68). A vision of Christ and the church are at the

heart of his work. He writes short narratives describing the disciples and Jesus, the early churches, and

present church meetings. He says that a true expression of the ecclesia is “waiting to shout to the world:

'This is what our faith is. We eagerly, joyfully invite you to see our faith expressed in the way we meet'“


He seems to be calling for a realization of the Christian utopian ideal on the earth as expressed in

the church, and his vision of the church is compelling and could challenge other contemporary churches to

question what is their vision of the church. Believers should ask themselves, do they see the church as an

institution or do they see it as a living organism, a local expression of the body of Christ? How does their

vision manifest itself in the way they function? By observing the way their church functions, what would

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an outsider think their vision is? These questions might help believers realize areas where Christian

community is lacking in the way they meet.

Unfortunately, Edwards' vision does not extend beyond the Christian community. When he says

the true expression of the ecclesia should invite the world “to see our faith expressed in that way we meet”

(11), he never mentions inviting them to join us. When he discusses the relationship with Jesus and the

disciples on the earth, he never mentions Jesus and the masses. He limits his examples to Jesus and the few.

The one time he mentions anything close to outreach he talks about “unbelievers who wander in” our

meetings (46). Not many unbelievers will just wander into a body of believers. At one point he says,

“Evangelism is a tool for church planting and church growth. It has no reason to exist in and of itself” (81).

He is making a point about the danger of separating evangelism from the church, but seems to disregard the

need of sinners for the gospel. When discussing Paul's ministry he says, “It is not an evangelism of winning

people to Christ; it is an evangelism of planting a church, one church in one city” (90). According to his

logic, once the church is planted, evangelism ceases.

There is only one clear instance when Edwards discusses ministry moving beyond the community.

He says: “If you ever encounter a free-wheeling experience of the community of believers, you will see that

community is first in the life of the believer, with ministry flowing out of community. Sometimes you will

see the flow change directions, and community will flow out of the results of the ministry of the Word”

(96). So apparently, he recognizes some type of ministry flowing out of community. It is not clear where

this ministry flows. Does it flow to other believers in the community or in other communities, or does it

flow to the unbelievers? His vague approach to outreach is a serious deficiency in the model.

This vision of community lacks a proper balance between in-reach and outreach. Obviously, in-

reach is all important almost to the exclusion of outreach. If all churches functioned this way, it would only

serve to encourage the fragmentation and division our society is currently suffering from. True Christian

community should offer hope for the saints of God and for the society at large. Jesus was clearly interested

in touching those beyond the confines of church. Philip went ahead of the Apostle and began evangelizing

apart from any initial church planting strategies. Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations”

(Matthew 28:19). He has commissioned the saints to proclaim the gospel. While Edwards recognizes a real

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problem of evangelizing for the sake of numbers while neglecting any true discipleship of the new

believers, his argument against planned evangelism is unwise and not biblically justified.

While his understanding of outreach is poor, Edwards' challenge for developing a Christ-centered

vision of the ecclesia could help believers rediscover the calling to community God has placed upon the


Closing Thoughts

The church is called to reveal Jesus Christ upon the earth. The development of Christian

community is vital for the realization of this calling. Christian community gives believers the opportunity

to develop relationships and learn to love one another with God's love. This love is their sign upon the


Edwards' How To Meet is an important contemporary work that calls the church to develop

genuine community. He specifically calls for an end to Sunday morning services and the present-day

concept of pastor. Other contemporary writers have called for a redefining of the pastor to equipper or

facilitator. Edwards calls for an itinerant church planter to replace the pastoral position. Some believers

may follow his lead and abolish Sunday morning services while planting an informal body where

leadership emerges from within the group but decision-making follows a consensual process. Other groups

may not be so bold and may discount the book on the basis of the chief areas of disagreement.

This chapter has attempted to explore Edwards' rhetoric in hopes of uncovering elements that may

benefit the church as a whole in community development. In light of that goal, several important concepts

have surfaced that may find practical applications in a variety of churches. There are at least nine key ideas

which could benefit contemporary churches seeking a revitalization of community.

1. Revelation of Jesus - Edwards calls the church to a revelation of Jesus as a “dynamic experiential

whole.” Each believer in the community must have a revelation of Jesus Christ as the Savior and Lord.

Their relationship with Christ should result in an outflow of God's life into other members of the body.

Through teaching, small group ministry, and one-on-one fellowship believers should learn about fellowship

with Christ. Many churches preach the importance of communion but provide little practical support for

believers who do not understand communion. Small group meetings and one-on-one fellowship can

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provide believers with the opportunity to gain a practical revelation of Jesus Christ in their life. The church

community should also have a revelation of Jesus in the church and share a sense of calling involving each

person in the body.

2. Revelation of Body - Edwards calls believers to discover the meaning of the ecclesia as the body of

Christ. He explains the body in terms of each member functioning for the benefits of the whole. In the past,

many churches limited “functioning” within the church to an elite trained group of professionals. This

concept must be replaced with a realization that all believers have gifts to contribute to the body--not just

outreach. Many times believers are encouraged to use their gifts in witnessing and visitation, but all

believers are called to outreach. All believers are also called to in-reach. The church should be a place

where believers discover their gifts and have opportunities to use them. A small group setting is almost

essential for believers to take advantage of this opportunity.

3. Discovery/Flexibility - Edwards believes all saints should be able to participate in discovering “how to

meet.” A small group setting provides a place where believers can fellowship together, learn to function,

and discover how to meet. If a church is seeking to build community, it may consider small groups with

limited structure. When small groups are simply miniature church services, the saints have no opportunity

to explore together the calling of God upon that specific group. Churches may want to experiment with

different styles of leadership in the groups as they seek to discover what works best for that body. There

must be a degree of flexibility in this process. What God is doing in another church may not be what God

has called this church to do. The leadership and members should work together to discover community

within the church. The church should also remain flexible enough to change when something is no longer

working and hangs lifeless. The Lord should be given freedom to lead the body into community in different

ways at different times.

4. Unique Expression - Edwards believes that every culture and ultimately every group has a unique way of

meeting. This relates to the idea of God's calling upon a work. The fellowship should seek to understand

God's calling upon their body together. This uniqueness should be balanced with a commitment to tradition.

The church can always learn fresh insights about community and God's life through long-time traditions.

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The saints may seek together to rediscover important traditions and then find their unique application in

their body.

5. Interdependence - Edwards calls the saints to be in one another's lives. There is a divine balance between

the unique calling of each person in the body and the collective calling upon the body. This idea reiterates

the body concept where each believer has gifts for the rest of the body and needs the rest of the body for

spiritual development.

6. Genuine Dialogue - Edwards' emphasis upon dialogue is one of his most important contributions for

understanding community. If all believers are called to community, then they all must enter into dialogue.

This virtually necessitates the need for some type of small group meetings where believers can develop

genuine relationships. He explains the importance of “non-religious” dialogue where believers learn to

fellowship and act human without trying to put on a spiritual show. Part of the process of developing

community relationships is sharing personal stories. These stories help the group to develop common

memories and eventually develop a common story. As believers begin to share their life stories and learn to

fellowship with one another, they become more vulnerable with one another. This vulnerability opens the

door to conflicts--an essential part of community formation. Through crisis and conflicts believers learn to

love by God's grace and beyond human feeling. This love begins transforming them into a community. One

other key idea of dialogue is Edwards' approach to teaching. He places learning spiritual lessons within a

dialogic experience where all group members participate in the process. This participation gives group

members the opportunity to use their gifts and to integrate spiritual truths and experience into their own


7. Involvement - In true community, Edwards believes that the saints are intimately involved in one

another's lives. Resources are exchanged as needs arise. This places giving in the context of love and

relationship as opposed to mere duty. Because of the close relationships they have established believers can

help meet each other's needs and even confront as the need arises. He describes an involvement which is

long term. It is committed to be faithful through the “spiritual mountains” and through the “valleys of

human failure.” This long-term commitment is a picture of heavenly values of earth. This concept should

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cause contemporary churches to learn the importance of faithfulness in friendship and its relationship to


8. Vision - Edwards presents a beautiful vision of the church functioning as the body and yielding to the

Holy Spirit who transforms it into the Bride. His description of the church should challenge church leaders

to consider their own vision of the church in relation to what they see manifest in the body. Unfortunately,

Edwards does not express the importance of having a vision beyond the body. If the church is to become a

genuine community, it must learn to balance a vision for the body and a vision for the world.

Edwards raises important questions that believers should consider in relation to their calling in the

church. He does not provide a structure of community because he recognizes the importance of allowing

God to work with a group of saints in discovering community. While believers who read this book may not

accept all of Edwards' conclusions and may not adapt his virtually structureless model, they should take a

long hard look at their concept of church with the various elements of community in mind. These elements

may open the door for them to respond to God directing their body in ways to become more intimate and

experience a deeper level of community.

Two simple principles underlie the main ideas of community: Relationship with God and

relationship with other humans. As believers contemplate their church practices, they should consider

whether the various elements encourage or discourage relationship.

As the church responds to God's call for a deeper level of community, this fragmented society can

begin to see examples of divine community. Out of the life of community, the church can begin to touch the

world with God's love and Christian community.

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We are the future generation's teachers. We are, therefore, perpetuators of the confusion and alienation we
abhor and which keeps us impotent in finding new alternatives. It is up to us to diligently discover news
solutions and learn new patterns of relating, ways more conducive to growth, peace, hope and loving
- Leo Buscaglia

Our culture has raised a generation of individuals who feel displaced, cut off from their heritage,

and separated from any real community of otherness. Communities of affinity flourish as polarization in the

public and private sphere has driven individuals to subsist with like-minded groups. Unfortunately, these

groups often hinder the development of genuine community, and according to Arnett, they look “out for

their own interests with little concern for others” (17). But as we have seen, various Christian writers are

addressing this social condition and are calling upon the church to respond. They are reevaluating current

church structures and patterns of meeting and developing new models to address contemporary needs.

At different points throughout church history, reformers have appeared questioning certain church

practices and calling for new patterns of meeting. While the focuses of these rhetorics are varied, they

usually revolve around making the practice of faith real in the contemporary setting. In some instances, this

involves reforming the church from within, but at other times the reformers separate from the popular

church to start a new work.

Today, the voices calling for reform vary from adapting traditional churches to rejecting current

practices in favor of new models such as house churches. Even among the house churches there exists a

variety of models--from one person overseeing meetings to leaderless meetings. In spite of these extremes,

many contemporary movements share common themes such as redefining laity and clergy and restructuring

the concept of church and church meetings.

We have already noted that many leaders are removing the distinction between clergy and laity. In

one sense, all saints are considered laity, and all saints are considered clergy. Stevens emphasizes that Paul's

references to “kleros” and “laos” are used universally to apply to all saints (in Bradshaw 196). Ogden,

Banks, Neighbour, Rutz, and many others reflect this shift away from two categories of believers to only

one where saints receive and give ministry. There is only one class of saints, but a diversity of gifts. As

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Neigbour points out, “All Christians have gifts which can be used to build up others in the body” (Where

Do We Go From Here? 143).

With the recognition of all believers as ministers, the pastor takes on a new role as facilitator and

equipper. Ogden teaches that equipping takes place in the form of restoring, establishing foundations, and

training (100-110). In many cases, the pastor's role is replaced with a five fold model where several leaders

work together in equipping the saints to realize and use their gifts (Neighbour, Ogden, Conner).

This shift in leadership is complemented by a shift in the concept of church and church meeting.

The church is not considered a building or an organization, but as Houston says, “The small community,

living out the Life, gathered around the text, communicating to and with each other the truth that God

wants to infect the whole society” (in Bradshaw 84). This idea of community permeates much of the

contemporary church reform rhetoric.

A renewed vision of community is complemented by the emphasis upon small group meetings.

Some churches have begun encouraging participation in small groups, while others have centered the

church around small groups. Both recognize the value of small groups in developing interpersonal

relationships among the church members and the local population.

In the midst of this contemporary shift, Gene Edwards emerges as an extreme voice of “one

calling in the wilderness.” Through How To Meet he takes the precepts of the “new reformation” to the

extreme by calling for the end of Sunday morning services and replacing the local pastor with an itinerant

church planter. According to Edwards, the present church meeting is a man-made, clergy-centered

institution that prevents believers from functioning.

He traces his concepts to the Pauline communities and argues that the church should be started by

an itinerant church planter who eventually leaves and allows the body to discover genuine community on

their own. The church planter roots the believers in a vision of Jesus Christ and a vision of the ecclesia.

After the church planter prepares them, he or she leaves. The body is then forced to discover their unique

meeting style where each member is free to participate and utilize their gifts. Meetings are leaderless and

dialogue is encouraged. Even during occasional teaching, dialogue is encouraged as a part of the discovery


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His plan requires an extensive time for development as group members learn how to be “human”

around each other before they learn how to be Christians around one another. Edwards argues that trying to

act “Christian” encourages believers to play a spiritual role and neglect sharing from their heart. After

months of preparation under a church planter, these groups begin to discover how to function as a group

under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Even after the church planter leaves, groups will discover and

rediscover “how to meet.”

While Edwards' model is somewhat extreme and leaves little hope for traditional churches, he still

presents ideas which could help all churches who are striving to learn about community. His emphasis upon

the revelation of Jesus and the body of Christ could help the church find a proper focal point in seeking to

develop community. All community established apart from the centrality of Christ, faces the impending

threat of failure. He could help churches realize that they have a unique calling and a unique way of

becoming a community. As a body of saints seeks to discover their unique calling, they must be flexible

and willing to discover their specific calling. In a land of unrestrained individualism, Edwards presents a

model where all the saints are involved in one another's lives and are willing to enter into dialogue.

Each of the suggestions above are rooted in the concept of a church where community is not

imposed by leadership, but where community is rooted in the body's drive to discover genuine community

together. While a group may not appropriate all his ideas, they may discover a unique perspective which

could help them in the community forming experience.

Implications of Current Study

As this study has explored certain principles and ideas in Edwards' writing which can help

believers seek out genuine community, it has uncovered several key issues relating to the church and to

Edwards' rhetoric. The following points highlight the key implications developed in this study.

1. The Church is Not Static: The study of historic restoration rhetoric and contemporary reform rhetoric

reveals a church which seeks to redefine and reinvent itself whenever form surpasses substance. An

understanding of the church as a flexible model, may help some believers become more open to

experimentation and change in meeting formats.

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2. Contemporary Paradigm Shift: This study has also revealed a paradigm shift that is currently occurring

in the body. Before the Reformation, believers experienced Jesus primarily in the Eucharist. Then after the

Reformation, the sermon/teaching became the focal point. Currently, this focus is shifting again. Edwards

and other contemporary leaders focus on a functioning community of saints for the primary experience of

Jesus in the church.

This new paradigm does not disregard the sermon or the communion meal, but the focal point of

the church is different. As Neighbour says, “There are no other activities which exist in competition with

the cells. Everything in the church is an extension of them and flows out of their combined strength”

(Where Do We Go From Here? 194).40

3. Key Patterns Found in Edwards' Rhetoric: Edwards uses irony, word pictures, and short narratives as key

argumentative strategies. His use of irony is highlighted in the cases where he describes contemporary

church practices in the context of New Testament stories. These juxtapositions emphasize that many

traditions that the church follows are not rooted in the early church but in later church history. This does not

necessarily make the practices wrong, but by demonstrating their lack of New Testament roots, Edwards

prepares the way to suggest that there are other valid ways to meet.

Edwards also creates word pictures for the present church meeting and his proposed way of

meeting. By using a variety of “death” words when describing the contemporary church meeting, he evokes

images of a meeting which is dying or already dead and is draining out the life from each of its participants.

He contrasts this stark vision with a vibrant description of the proposed meeting where participants are

actively engaged in a living process. These word pictures reinforce his argument against the current church

practices and in favor of his own proposal.

Another rhetorical pattern Edwards implements is the use of short narratives. These narratives are

often no longer than one paragraph and usually describe a key scene in the church story. The scenes revolve

around a key image that is repeated in several narratives throughout the story. His simple narrative style is

40 Neighbour is not devaluing the sermon. He says that “there must be strong Biblical teaching
before the cells meet” (152), but the cell group is the “church life” (112-113).

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conversational and can help the reader feel like Edwards is talking personally with them about community

in the church.

Edwards' playful writing engages the reader to imagine his argument. He seems to appeal

primarily to the senses and emotions. As he says in the introduction, “I hope you will end up experiencing

some of the emotions I have” (xiii).

4. Flaws in Edwards' Model: Edwards' model has two main flaws--he rejects church traditions as valid for

contemporary experience, and he fails to develop a vision beyond the community. By rejecting tradition,

Edwards' model could encourage uniqueness for the sake of being unique as opposed to a uniqueness which

reflects the diversity of group members. This can result in increased polarization among Christian groups

coupled with suspicion and rejection of all groups deemed as traditional.

Secondly, Edwards' failure to develop a place for vision beyond the community encourages

community to become ingrown. Thus the community could follow the path of some contemplatives who

turned inward for renewal in Christ and lost touch with interpersonal relationships. They have a “spiritual

experience,” but they contradict the nature of love by refusing to share it. Merton's appeal to contemplative

could be applied to Edwards' model. He says, “Go into the desert not to escape other men but in order to

find them in God” (Seeds of Contemplation 53).

5. Edwards' Helpful Ideas About Community: While Edwards' model contains certain flaws, he does

present several ideas which could be adapted in various settings. This study examined eight ideas found in

Edwards' rhetoric which could benefit those seeking to develop community in the church. According to

Edwards, genuine community should contain the following: (a) a revelation of Jesus Christ; (b) a revelation

of the body of Christ or the ecclesia; (c) a freedom to discover and a flexibility to change; (d) a unique

expression emerging from the culture and diverse gifts represented in the group; (e) an interdependence

with each member of the group; (f) an invitation to and opportunity for genuine dialogue; (g) a sharing of

life resources with other group members; (h) a vision of the Bride of Christ.

Overall, Edwards' model reminds believers that Jesus Christ must remain at the center of the

community. Instead of providing a static structure, Edwards describes a model which is unique to each

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 136

group. Thus believers are encouraged to take an active role in discovering together the course of the

community and are given opportunity to enter into genuine dialogue with one another.

Implications For Future Study

This study takes a rhetorical/philosophical path for studying discussions about community in the

church. Edwards' rhetoric provides the key artifact for consideration. Following this path, certain ideas

were uncovered that may help church leaders as they seek to encourage the development of community

within the church. These ideas point toward new paths of exploration for future studies. Below are several

suggestions for future research seeking to integrate community development in the church experience.

1. Edwards' Metaphors for the Church: The church is the predominant subject in many of Edwards' works.

A focused study upon the various metaphors he uses when describing the church could have interesting

implications upon community. For example, in Our Mission, Edwards describes church history as a

mountain that each generation scales to new heights (7-9). The summit has only been reached once. As

each generation begins its journey, it takes the flag from the previous generation and climbs a little higher.

In How To Meet, he describes the church as an “Adventure (that) is high in drama and froth with dangers”

(35). Both metaphors incorporate a concept of a mission/journey that is a struggle and carries certain


Considering Edwards' desire to incorporate the mystical experience into the group setting, it is

possible to surmise from these metaphors that he is adapting the mystical journey to the church. Under his

paradigm, the individual does not take the journey alone but, like Chaucer's pilgrims, is accompanied by a

group, and in one sense, is a part of a larger group that involves saints from all of church history.

There are other ideas which could be developed from these two metaphors alone, thus an in-depth

study of Edwards' metaphors could yield some interesting implications about church community.

2. Observing Edwards' Model in a Church Setting: A qualitative study of a specific church community

which is built around Edwards' model could provide interesting results. The study could observe the group

process at different stages in development. Each group member and the group as a whole could be

interviewed. Also, the study could look at relationships the group members have outside the community

and possibly interview those individuals as well.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 137

Based on Edwards' idea that community formation is a slow process, this study should be

conducted over an extended period of time (at least one year) and observations with interviews could take

place three or four times during the course of the year. At the end of the study, some conclusions might be

drawn about the outworking of his model in that specific case. These conclusions could be tested in a

separate quantitative study.

3. Analyzing a Variety of Church Communities - This study could survey several different church groups

such as a traditional churches, cell churches, non-church groups, house churches, and several churches

based specifically upon Edwards' model. The survey could pose a variety of community and group related

questions. The results could then be correlated by group type, age, sex, and other demographic factors. This

study might help uncover general community trends and trends specifically located within certain groups or

demographic boundaries.

Closing Thoughts

There are a variety of approaches to studying and exploring community development in the church

today. This topic is important because, as Bellah and others have indicated, a healthy church community

can affect other societal processes (282). In a time when fragmentation and separation are dividing

individuals into warring factions, the church has the opportunity to respond as a peacemaker and restorer of

the breach. As believers continue to discuss and seek patterns for encouraging community within the

church, there is hope that the church will contribute to the need for community and healing. Hopefully, this

study has examined several ideas, which may be helpful in the discussion and implementation process.

The Implications for Community in Gene Edwards by Doug Floyd, 138


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