Recently I was asked by Keith Giles whether I’d be interested in doing a book review of his new book, “This Is My Body: Ekklesia As God Intended.” I told Keith that I would be honored. Then, before I could get to it, life happened to get in the way for me and everything had to be put on the “back-burner” for a while. Sorry for the delay, Keith.
So now that I’ve finally read it, what are my thoughts on Keith’s newest book?
Overall, I enjoyed reading his book. I thought that it started a little slow for me, which led to taking a little longer to get me on board. However, in all fairness to Keith, that’s not a negative, as he was dealing with some important background concepts in order to set the stage. Much of this was in the form of trying to explain how the Old Testament prophecies paved the way for the New Testament church. What made this slow for me was reading the many Scripture references. I know that sounds wrong to say that, but for me it just slowed down the story much like stopping at the end of each page to read the footnotes would slow one down in reading a textbook. Still, those Scriptures were important and needed.
As I read the book, it also occurred to me that I’ve read some of this somewhere before, but at first I wasn't sure where. Then it came to me. It seems that at least some of Keith’s material came from some of his previous blog posts. That too, though, is not to be taken as a negative. In today’s blogosphere, I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more people use their blogs as launch pads for new books. Lord knows I've thought of doing that myself, but I digress; back to the book.
The central message of Keith’s book is now for many of us a familiar one. A few short years ago we would have been hard-pressed to find many books at all on the theme of deinstitutionalizing the church and returning her to a more simple and organic format. Today there are now many, many such books, including this one. Soon there will no doubt be several others.
Early on in his book Keith makes the statement that “the Church in the West is desperately in need of a revival” (p. 11). At first I took a bit of an exception to that statement, because when we often speak of revival, we tend to speak of it in terms of returning to some sort of golden era of yester-year. We usually refer to revival as a return to a time that the church was, in our opinion, better than it is today. However, in reading further, it becomes evident that the “revival” that the author has in mind isn’t a return to the 1950’s church (or some other era), but rather a return to the way that the church functioned way back in the pre-Constantine era.
Keith addresses many of the ways that the early church (before Constantine legalized Christianity) was different from our modern church. One example of this is that strange (and non-biblical) dichotomy between clergy and laity. The author reminds us that, “every baptized believer in Christ was automatically ordained by the Holy Spirit into the ministry of Jesus. There was no separation between clergy and laity” (p. 51). As a matter of fact, both the words “clergy” and “laity” aren’t even biblical concepts. For many of us who have already left the traditional and institutional form of the church, this is nothing new. Still, the message is important for those who still find themselves in these systems and are having issues with some of her forms.
To further paraphrase Keith’s book, the central message is that we in modern Christendom have left the path that the early church before us had trod, and in a very real way, we no longer even look anything like the church of Acts. This I wholeheartedly agree with. If the early church were to look at our typical worship services today, at the very least I’d doubt they would even recognize us as the Christian church at all. More likely, however, I think they might actually even wonder what religion we are a part of. The point Keith makes is that there is a very stark difference between the church today and the church that Jesus founded. The two do not resemble each other at all.
Keith also does a good job of showing us the difference between a business organization and a family organism. The church that Jesus started was definitely of the family organism variety. Unfortunately, Keith says, in many ways we’ve made it into a business organization instead. The early church was much more focused of the communal lives of brothers and sisters than the church of today often appears to be. They would spend significantly more time together, much like normal families do. Contrast that with the business organizational type church that is common today, in which so much is money-based and is run very much like many other secular businesses. Modern churches may speak of being a family, but when we look at the amount of quality time they spend together, theirs is a dysfunctional family at best. The early church knew nothing of this type of church model.
Keith goes so far as to say, “If the world needs anything today, it desperately needs a return of the New Testament form of church and a New Testament brand of Christianity” (p.82). I like that. How can we do that? Keith writes further, “It’s time the church went out of business. Close down the bank account, lay off the pastoral staff, cancel the utilities, sell the building, auction off the sound system and the digital projector, and turn out the lights…the church needs to get out of the business of being in business” (p.91).
To many that may sound harsh and maybe somewhat extreme. Personally I like it, for I’ve said similar things before myself. The point that Keith is trying to communicate is that, if we really want to look more like the church that Jesus built, then we have to begin chopping at the root of that business organization that we’ve turned Jesus’ church into and get back to being the family that God intended. If, on the other hand, we’re content with the status quo, then we need do nothing and everything will continue on pretty much as it has. But then too, we won’t be the “Ekklesia As God Intended.”
I’ve come to appreciate Keith Giles. I follow him on Twitter and regularly explore the links to his various blog posts. Keith is definitely a gifted writer, and a cherished brother in the Lord. It is obvious to me that God is using Keith in some wonderful ways. If you have not yet read Keith Giles’ “This Is My Body: Ekklesia As God Intended,” I would encourage you to do so. You won’t be sorry that you did.