(My co-pastor Terry Austin has just written a marvelous reflection of the theology behind Bread, our new faith community here in Fort Worth. The book is called "Church Without Fences" and will be out soon. My dear friend and spiritual teacher, Glenn Hinson, graciously wrote this foreword:)
Alfred Loisy, a great Roman Catholic New Testament scholar, once said, “Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, and the Church was the result.” He meant that Jesus didn’t envision a vast hierarchical structure spread throughout the world. None of us can say what he intended with reference to church. From his disciples to our own day we who believe have tried to figure out how best to bring to expression in our times and circumstances what he, still living among us, wants. Bread Fellowship, founded in Fort Worth, Texas, by Charlie Johnson and Terry Austin is one of the most remarkable creative efforts to do what Jesus wanted that I have seen or studied in church history.
Bread Fellowship is clearly an alternative way of being church. They have no aspirations to become a mega-church or even what sociologist Wade Clark Roof has called meta-church, a church with traditional structures. Rather, they center everything on Jesus and decline to delineate a circumference. They are a church without walls, inclusive rather than exclusive. Such an approach, of course, suggests that they, like the Apostle Paul, have confidence that God, the Living Christ, will do something we humans can’t do, namely, transform lives. Although both Johnson and Austin have experienced successful ministries in large traditional congregations, they here serve in modest ways as facilitators of this fellowship, whose center is Jesus Christ.
“Bread” reminds me of the meals Jesus met with his disciples to eat. The “last” supper was not the only meal they ate together. Breaking bread together facilitated fellowship. Notice in the Gospels how often Jesus ate with people; that bonded him to them. And I think that must happen in Bread Fellowship, where they meet on Sunday evenings and, as a rule, observe the Lord’s Supper together. It happens that this kind of approach is reaching a group of people somewhat turned off by churches that define themselves in terms of circumference rather than by the center, Jesus.
A very important element in the modus operandi of Bread Fellowship is hospitality. Like Jesus himself, it is non-judgmental. Censoriousness all too easily creeps into church life, just as it pervades our whole culture. The consequence is partisanship and bitter battles, both
public and private. But here is a church in which the keynote is: “You are accepted.” Bread Fellowship sounds amazingly like early Christian communities before very much organization took over and people started clamoring to run things according to their rules.
What about the future of a creative community like this? It won’t supplant mega-churches, meta-churches, and a vast array of other church organizations and institutions in America any more than early Christian “house churches” displaced the state cultus or the oriental religions in the Roman Empire. All of them continued for centuries. But Bread Fellowship is discharging a mission in Fort Worth the other churches aren’t and can’t do. It functions much like those early Christian communities that met in homes or wherever they could find a place, even in the catacombs under the city. So long as they keep Christ at the center and fellowship with him and with one another as the focus, they will have something to offer the world, the world doesn’t already have more of than it needs.
By the way, this is an engaging and readable book. You will find not only a good picture of Bread Fellowship but also an open and honest introduction to Terry Austin. I have not met Terry personally, but I feel after reading his book that I know him. I have known Charlie Johnson from many years ago, when he took classes and came often to talk in my office at Southern Seminary. I vouch for anything he undertakes in ministry.
E. Glenn Hinson, Louisville, KY