I’m sure most of you out there have seen the above image. It appears, by turns, to be of both a young woman looking over her shoulder and an older woman at a three-quarters view. I was reminded of this image when reading and watching various advocates of multisite churches. Why? Well, I’ll get to that, bear with me. First let’s get back to the multisite-advocates:
Many of them have responded to various claims that multisite churches done through video-rebroadcast are not biblical by claiming that there is some kind of biblical warrant for having multiple smaller gatherings as parts of some kind of larger assembly of believers. Perry Noble does so here. But perhaps the best encapsulation of this sort of discussion is a video of Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, and Mark Dever in which Driscoll and MacDonald gang up on Dever to
brow beat convince him about the biblical call for multi-site megachurches:
Aside from the fact that Driscoll and MacDonald come across as
huge jerks perhaps a little too aggressive, it’s interesting how they use the early church as evidence for a multi-site megachurch.
Is that what those passages in Acts about the early movement of Jesus-followers really talking about? If you look at it like the Driscolls and the MacDonalds of the world, then sure, the talk about larger assemblies organized at different sites and so on can look like today’s megachurch.
I recall looking at the organization of the early church in a course I took in university and that’s not what I got there. (Side Note: Christian students looking to round out their electives at university, I cannot recommend a course in early church history strongly enough.) What these verses are setting up is clearly something that looks more like the episcopal model of church government. The differing sites scattered around the cities where the early church first rooted itself along with the larger central gatherings are the basis for the model of dioceses and parishes and so on that one can see in those churches that have a more contiguous link with ancient Christianity (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox).
Going back to the illusion above (see, I told you we’d get there) it does appear that these sorts of passages can be read both ways. But suppose that the illusion above was painted 2000 years ago and all the testimony about it from the early sources insisted that it was a young woman that the artist was intending to paint and the advocates for the old woman had only arrived on the scene in the past 20 years, it’s hard to imagine that the intention was to paint an old woman.
It doesn’t tell anyone that the multi-siters are a priori wrong, but perhaps they should own up to the fact that they are indeed actually bishops and the title “pastor” is a bit of false modesty on their part.