Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: "God's Forgetful Pilgrims" by Michael C. Griffiths

Griffiths, Michael C. God’s Forgetful Pilgrims. London: Inter-Varsity: 1975.

This book seeks to apply the principles of being an individual Christian corporately; that is, the author shows the characteristics a true Christian congregation. Griffiths laments, “Sadly, many Christians seem to have lost their way corporately and are suffering from this strange amnesia about their congregational goals and purpose” (p. 9).

Griffiths first addresses “Our Mental Concept of the Church,” introducing standing translation problems resulting from the richness of “ekklesia” (the “called out group” where the reality of deliverance, relationship, inheritance and community expand the meaning of the already-difficult word) in various settings (locally, regionally, municipally and personally). Salvation has a distinct corporate quality and is not intended for individuals per se. Once again, the English language does not communicate well (for example, “you” is singular or plural, so who is Paul addressing when he writes to “you?”) and the western Christian particularly must expand his worldview from mere subjectivity (“I attend church”) to objective reality by engaging in God’s community The Church (“I belong”),. Ephesians is a letter on corporate salvation, developing the concept of “the people of God” as introduced in the Old Testament.

God has been and still is building “a new building in which God is to be worshipped, a new and glorious structure” out of living stones, those He has saved individually (p. 37). Construction is not beautiful and carries has its own level of trouble, but just anticipate what the final product will be! “God’s aim to perfect and finish the building is equally clear in scripture” (p. 40). Stephen, Peter, James, and Paul each reflected through inspiration that God dwells in a spiritual house; furthermore, we must “be careful how we build” and be responsible for what is placed on the foundation.

“Salvation Corporate and Co-operative” helps the reader understand the biblical theology of “the body:” its origins (where did Paul get this illustration? It is not in the Old Testament! Could it have come from “the beloved physician” who traveled with Paul?); its application and meaning (a collection, society and organism); and, finally, some lessons for today (unity, diversity, God’s sovereignty over, interdependence of members, and maturity). Biblical theological study continues with “The Goal of Salvation,” where the Church is “pictured in the New Testament as the bride of Christ,” becoming “the beautiful and perfect new society, the new Utopia brought into existence by God himself” (p. 69). Griffiths includes discussions on “the invisible bride,” seeks to answer the question, “is church membership biblical?” and concludes by discussing the moral and doctrinal purity of the Church.

“The Church As A Family Community” develops the concept of belonging, moving from “Spiritual Isolationism” toward “Spiritual Intimacy.” There is a distinct relationship between home and the church (where the church exists when it is not a community) and the necessity of being Spirit-filled. Problems and limitations are considered, such as unrealistic expectations of maturity from the immature or the role of those not unmarried in a “family.” Regardless, the home is the congregation in miniature and leads one to always consider relationships. One “problem area” receives additional attention, that of “The Church And The Student.” This chapter seeks to answer questions beyond, “what is the relationship between the church universal and the church local.” Harder questions like, “What is the relationship of independent Christian societies of all kinds (including College and University Student Unions) to the local church?” and “What . . . are the proper marks of a local church and when does the group which is not a church become a church,” and, “Is any group of Christians ‘the church’?” each demand an answer.

The remainder of the book is concerned with the outward function of the Church, what we “do” when we come together as community (worship, services, meetings) and as we move through the world (missions). What we do when we meet is valuable (worship and fellowship with the Lord), and has a distinct character (individuals united in Christ coming together in one body). What we do when apart is equally valuable and distinct, for missions is building the church while provided the ministry of service.

The final chapter closes the book with an aire of action, for the Church is not a passive organism, but militant. A new community, as beautiful as the bride of Christ is, does not fit in the world. The Church is a “group of improbable people from a variety of impossible backgrounds [who] become a community!” (p. 157). Satan makes war against the saints, attacking shepherds and flock alike. The Church battles corporately as a phalanx, wearing armor described in plural, not singular concepts; that is, individuals are not to gird themselves, but the entire congregation: truth is “essential because we now belong to each other in the one body;” the breastplate of righteousness is the testimony of a group that deals with sin; Christ’s messengers go into the world with God’s peace on their feet; a shield is only one part of a defensive wall—what good is a single shield when the enemy encircles? The helmet ensures that defeat never enters our head; the sword of the spirit is offensive against the enemy, freeing others from the enemy and keeping the church from sin; prayer is the body life, the “blood” of the church.

Griffiths book reminds the reader that the church is not incidental, passive, nor is it meant to serve an individual. The quote provided by Griffiths in Chapter 8, “The Church and Its Services” addresses our misdirected thinking regarding the church and carries the theme of the book: “It is well to remember that neither St. Paul nor any of the apostles ever ‘went to church.’ They never saw and probably never imagined a building built and set apart exclusively for Christian worship.”

The strength of this 176 page book lies in the biblical theological studies, not only providing the results of the study for the purpose of the topic, but also serves as a model for the contributions of doing excellent scholarship.

Any reportable weakness would be technical, editoral (such as inconsistent type-face in this edition). The chapters could be arranged under more general headings, as they are easily grouped: chapter 1 provides its own introduction, apart from the actual introduction; chapters 2-5 could be arranged under “salvation and the church”; chapters 6 introducing chapters 7-10 as “church life.”

This book is strongly recommended for those desiring to move beyond mere expansion of ecclesiological understanding toward forming a philosophy of ministry that impacts the nations with the gospel.

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