CR spoke with author Steve Maltz about the background to his book To Life!

Steve Maltz
Steve Maltz

Are you satisfied with your Christian life or do you get the feeling that something is missing, but you're not sure what it is? Have you ever asked the question, where does the World end and the church begin? Is the 21st Century church truly the best it could possibly be? Are there forgotten places that we should be revisiting? Dare we believe that we could return to the biblical church of the first apostles?

Some say we can't and others have tried and failed. Steve Maltz believes it's worth trying again because it's all a question of mindsets and in his book To Life! he explains why. Rebecca Duffett spoke with him to hear more of his thinking.

Rebecca: How far away from this idea of biblical church is the church today?

Steve: That's a very leading question. In general we seem to have forgotten what it was like at the very beginning. This is at time of Acts when the Holy Spirit came down and we had the first Jewish church with the apostles. If we compare that church in Acts 2 with the church in general as we see it now, there seems to be a little bit of a difference. That's what the book is all about. Understanding that difference and figuring out what we need to be doing.

Rebecca: Would you say that everything that we read in Acts is the ideal that we're aiming for?

Steve: This is an age old question isn't it? Whenever there's been a new church movement, we can go right back to the house church movement in the '70s and '80s, they say let's start again and look at Acts and try to replicate it. I think the biggest problem is that there's been 2000 years between then and now and we have what I would call in the book, a very different mindset, which makes it very difficult to get ourselves into the right biblical frame of mind in order to see the same things that they saw in those days. It's not that we shouldn't try and I'm not saying it's impossible, but I think there's a lot more that we need to do to actually do it properly.

Rebecca: What are the main things we can learn about the church in Acts? What are the good points that we should be focusing on?

Steve: Firstly it's an understanding of what has gone wrong, because straight after that period of time in the first century, lots of ideas came into the church from outside; ideas from ancient Greek; the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. These inferences, very subtle as they were, did infiltrate what we call the pure biblical Hebraic faith of Jesus. Over the last 2000 years those ideas have become so connected and imbedded in our Christianity that most people don't even know that they are there. One brief example would be ways of looking at the Bible; understanding that the way that Jesus would have looked at the Bible and the scriptures of his day would be from a framework of having an education whereby for the first 30 years of his life, he would have been so immersed in the scriptures, with such an understanding coming from the teaching he would have had, that he would have seen things a lot differently than we do now when our knowledge of the scriptures are not so thorough as the Jew would have been in the first century. We miss out on a lot of things and a lot of things in our understanding, in our interpretations, have changed over the years because popular culture has come into the church; rationalism and things from the world have come in. It's harder for us to have the same sort of biblical understanding as they would have done 2000 years ago. That is really the main problem.

Rebecca: Would you say it's all bad though, because some people in the church would say that that's an aim, to try and be more relevant, bringing the world into the church?

Steve: I agree; it's a trade-off isn't it. You've got to be in the world, but not of the world. It's being relevant, but it's also not compromising. Unfortunately a lot of churches particularly in the emerging church movement sacrifice what I would call biblical truth in their desire to become as relevant as possible to our post modern world. Unfortunately the truths of the Bible are timeless and however much culture may change and how much our society changes, the truth of the gospels are the same now as they were 2000 years ago. We have to look at the Bible and look at what we do and decide for ourselves how much of what we do has been added on in order for us to fit in with society and how much are things that we really need to do, but are just not very trendy to do at the moment. This is a massive subject. As I've said before, I'm not saying this is easy, but I think we should try to decide what is from society and what is from the Bible and act accordingly.

Re-discovering A Hebraic Mindset For Church

Rebecca: Do you think there could be much change in the church? Could these things that have crept in, be kicked out?

Steve: It depends what we mean by church. When we look at certain church expressions there's just so much that's been taken on that's extra to the Bible. The use of church architecture; the ideas of hierarchies from the Pope downwards; you've got 30 levels of hierarchies before you get down to the common man. All this stuff came into the church from outside and it's nothing to do with the Bible. We are the priests and the believers; we are all the same. We shouldn't function with a hierarchy, but unfortunately human nature suggests that as soon as we start a new church we end up with a structure, which they didn't have at the beginning. They had structures in as much as they had elders and deacons, but that is as far as it went. Whatever we do, even if it is a house church movement, or emerging church, you still get leaders and people at the top dictating to those further down; again it's from society. That's how corporations work. That's how you have a structure in your normal secular companies, from the CEO at the top down to the bloke in the office. We have to decide what we need to do to get back to a purer form of Christianity as it was 2000 years ago.

Rebecca: One of the things you talk about later on in the book is about this Greek mindset and way of thinking and this Hebraic mindset.

Steve: This is being very simplistic, but people tend to either be Greek or Hebraic in the way that they look at things. The Greek mindset is being very intellectual and analytical; you want to know everything. It's very enquiring; it's thinking and pontificating. The Hebraic mindset is a mindset where rather than thinking, you want to do things; it's action and acting on your knowledge. That is the biblical mindset. We tend to have lost it in general, but not everywhere. It's all about faith and works; basically your faith has to end up with actions. If your faith in Jesus is just an intellectual faith and it's just you understanding the doctrines and you're happy with that and you're happy to explain it to others, but if you don't act accordingly; if those doctrines don't force good works out of you and actions and conduct, then you're staying Greek, you're not being Hebraic. The Hebraic part of you is acting because that's how non-believers are going to be attracted to us, not by what we say but by what we do. Our actions and our words should go together. That's the main difference; acting or thinking. That idea of the Greek mindset was added to Christianity 2000 years ago and there are plenty of Christians now who are very Greek in their outlook; they see Christianity as just another philosophy. They love arguing especially with atheists and trying to get the better of them, but it's what they do that's important. What are they like when they're not arguing? Are they looking after the widows and the orphans? Are they attractive to non-believers? Do they make a non-believer say, 'Oh I want to be like that. That person is acting as well as talking the stuff'. That's the main difference.

I'm not saying Christians are not doing it. There have been some fantastic expressions of pure biblical Hebraic Christianity; look at the Methodists. When you go back 200 years or so when John Wesley was around, they swept the church clean basically. They weren't just coming up with or going back to the proper doctrines of the faith, but they were acting on them; they were being holy; they were praying; they were helping people. It's the two together. It's getting the balance right. It's not just the doctrines, but it's the actions as well. There are plenty of Christians who are doing that. All I'm saying is the way our society has gone has produced too many Christians who have got the theory, but not necessarily the practice. I'm saying that we want to get back to the Hebraic expressions of our faith as it was at the time of Jesus. This is not rocket science I realise that, but in the book it goes through historically and shows you how things have come into the church from outside and how we need to sweep the church clean and get back to how it was.

Rebecca: Do you have any practical advice on how people could start going in that direction?

Steve: There is an interesting bit in the book somewhere near the end; to summarise the ideas in the book I suggested 10 things that a church could do. A little bit tongue in cheek in some ways, just to be more Hebraic. One is, put the worship group behind the congregation. The focus of everything we do must be on God. Unfortunately in many cases the worship group has developed to such a state that it almost becomes a performance. Whether you like it or not, you tend to be looking focusing on that group and what they're doing rather than actually focusing on God. That is not necessarily being Hebraic in the way I've explained it; that is the idea of another strand of Hebraic Christianity in that we tend to be more man centred in the way we do things rather than God centred. This is a way of making sure God is always at the centre of what we do just in the simple way of worshipping him and making sure that we are focusing on him. Another one is how many sermons have you been to where the man at the front just goes on for a half hour or 45 minutes. Straight away it finishes, perhaps there's a prayer and perhaps we all stop to have a drink or whatever. There's no chance to say, ok, but I don't agree with that, can we have a little chat. I think there should be a 10 minute question and answer session after every sermon for people in the congregation to say their bit as well, just to broaden things out. This is going back to the Hebraic model in discussions, which is that two way is more important than one way. Just the clergy speaking to the laity is not how it was meant to be. It should be a case of let us reason together, as it says in Isaiah. We all should be a part of the church and we shouldn't just leave stuff to the men at the front. Again that's something that's happened over the last 2000 years. We need to reclaim our faith and encourage ourselves, ordinary Christians, just to think for ourselves and don't be scared of upsetting the vicar.

Rebecca: Does the church need to start thinking about its Jewish roots more?

Steve: That's it. You thought I was going to talk about that. That's the thing, when people think of Hebraic they think ah it's that Jewish stuff and it really isn't. The word Hebraic is just a convenient title to say, this is the way that the early Jews thought. What I'm not saying is that Christians should now start wearing the head gear and doing a Saturday Sabbath and the festivals and all that. It's a big issue and I think the festivals are a fantastic thing for Christians to do, but not to be yoked to them. The other thing about being Hebraic is there is so much that you can learn from going back to the original Hebrew and the original Greek. It's a massive subject and that's all about being Hebraic as well. It's understanding your Jewish Hebraic roots, but it's not to become Jewish as some people in the Hebraic roots movement have misread it as.

You can buy To Life! for only 9.50 + p&p from Cross Rhythms Direct. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.