A review of: Ekklesia...to the roots of Biblical church life. Steve Atkerson, editor. Atlanta, GA: New Testament Reformation Fellowship, 2003, 190 pp. $9.00 paperback. It may be ordered online from NTRF [Note: the book now available is a newer edition. According to the web site, it is now entitled Ekklesia: to the Roots of Biblical House Church Life.]
The bulk of material in this book is written by Steve Atkerson, elder, teacher, and president of the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, though contributions are made by numerous authors, including Beresford Job, Jonathan Lindvall, Dan Trotter, and Jon Zens (whom I believe among the most gifted Christian writers of today). All contributors and their writings seem firmly founded on the conviction that apostolic practice is normative. Foundational to understanding this book is knowing that its authors believe there is a need to "return to the way the original apostles did things" and that God "has shown us some areas of church practice that we believe have been neglected."
The answer ("We believe He did") to the question "Did God leave us instructions on how to do church" will resonate with landmarkers, primitivists, restorationists and others wishing to imitate New Testament church life. The authors' plea that we consistently go all the way back to the New Testament may unnerve some of us concerning some of our own church traditions!
Ekklesia addresses numerous issues that concern (or at least should concern) churches today. While many "organized institutional churches" may dismiss such concerns, a number of seekers are looking for more than the "traditions of the fathers" on the one hand, or the "it doesn't matter" on the other hand. This material is gathered under three main headings -- Church Meetings, Church Ministries and Church Matters -- with 19 chapters (some of them short) under these headings. Subjects include both the theological and practical aspects of "doing church" -- from interactive meetings to the Lord's supper as a full meal to living-room sized churches to the plurality of elders (but nothing on washing the saints' feet).
Do you wonder how they might answer some of these questions? Here's a sampling:
How do we know proper church practice? "...the Bible commands adherence to the traditions of the apostles...The real question thus is not, 'Do we have to do things the way they were done in the New Testament?' Rather, the question is: 'Why would we want to do things any other way?!'"
Where should we meet? "When churches came together they met in houses." "'As for me and my house', I find compelling the scriptural arguments favoring churches meeting exclusively in private homes. Paul's insistence (in 1Co 4:16-17; 11:1-2, 16; 14:33; Ep 2:20; Php 3:17; 4:9; 2Th 2:15; 3:6-9; 1Ti 1:16; 1Ti 3:14-15; 2Ti 1:13) that the churches follow the apostolic pattern (and his own example) are persuasive arguments..."
How often should we partake the Lord's supper? "Early believers ate the Lord's Supper weekly, and it was the main purpose for their coming together each Lord's Day."
Should pastors be salaried? "There is a general command in Acts 20 for elders to follow Paul's example of supplying their own needs so as to be in a position of giving silver and gold and clothing to the church, rather than receiving from it."
Why does any of this matter? "Given the propensity of human traditions to multiply and block the truth, it is important for believers to be sure that their practice of church is built on the correct foundation...The utterly amazing fact is that, even with all their problems, Paul assumes that the assembly [at Corinth] has the spiritual resources to overcome their waywardness."
Editor Atkerson is quite bold in wrestling fairly with the issue of women's silence in the church. In chapter 9 he gives his own views in favor of that silence, followed by Jon Zens' "rebuttal", which views I Cor. 14:34,35 in quite a different fashion.
Ekklesia is written on a practical and down-to-earth level. The book appears to be compiled from articles written at various times and from various sources, but it flows very well. It is an easy read, but yet very deep in its considerations. It will require the serious reader to spend time studying the Scriptures and ideas presented. My chief complaint is that the book contains quite a few typographical errors (hopefully corrected in the more recent edition). But these are nuisances that the reader should not allow to detract from the wealth of Scriptural teaching collected here. I highly recommend it.
Many of the articles that appear in Ekklesia (or at least versions of them) may be found in the articles page on the ntrf.org website (or click here for a pdf sample chapter).