The Outward Bound
The Outward Bound
by Vernard Eller
Bible selections are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 (NRSV) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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This book can and undoubtedly will be read as an attack upon Christendom. Unfortunately, that title already has been taken. But apart from the incidental consideration that the author of this book is not named Søren Kierkegaard, the difference between the two is that his critique focused upon the claim that there existed a "Christendom," that is, a Christianized polis or society expressing itself in the form of an official state church, whereas my critique questions whether what we call "congregations" qualify as being what the New Testament has in mind.
Because this is our topic, and because this book undoubtedly will be read by congregational leaders, both clerical and lay, it seems incumbent upon me to present my qualifications for the task at hand. In my books, articles, and speaking engagements, I am customarily identified as an author, college professor, and at times even "theologian." Yet it is from another, invisible side of my career that I have written the present book. I am an ordained minister of the Church of the Brethren. I have served (and am serving) in both staff and board positions on the denominational and ecumenical level, and from there have received something of an overview of the congregational life of the churches of Protestantism. I have preached and taught (and still do) in a multitude of congregations which have varied greatly in size and style as well as denominational affiliation. From these experiences, I have at least touched the lives of many members of these groups, and have gained some impressions about what makes these groups tick. I have held membership--and always positions of active participation and leadership--in five different congregations of the Church of the Brethren, ranging from some of the largest and most prestigious to some of the smallest and most humble. I have not only seen these congregations, but I have explored them from the inside. But most important, something more than ten years ago, I became one of the founding fathers and volunteer ministers in the Fellowship Church of the Brethren of La Verne, California. The Fellowship, I guess, would have to be called a "rump" congregation, having been conceived and brought into being entirely by its members-to-be, without the sponsorship, strategy planning, or financial assistance of any denominational office. We are a small group (membership of fewer than one hundred and dwindling), but we have worked hard at implementing many of the ideals found in the pages that follow--at becoming a do-it-yourself, deinstitutionalized, deprofessionalized "people in caravan."
All this is to say that, as an attacker of Christendom, I am at least making the effort to put my money (along with my time, energies, and prayers) where my mouth is. So, know all men by these presents that my intentions are honorable. It is precisely because "beyond my highest joy, I prize her heavenly ways," that I am disturbed when the ways of the church seem so much more worldly than heavenly.