I’ve been reading about different ways of doing church that try to adhere to how the first Christians met. One model is the “dinner church” model, which tries to recapture the fact that the early Christians met to eat meals together. For example:
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart (Acts 2:46; cf. Acts 2:42; 20:11; Jude 1:12a; 1 Cor 11:20-22).
In Welcome to Dinner, Church, Verlon Fosner explains how his dying Seattle church was revived after they pioneered a “dinner church” model. Instead of meeting on Sunday mornings for a traditional Protestant liturgy, they decided to meet during the week, for a full meal, in different locations around the city, accompanied with lots of conversation, prayer, worship, and a succinct sermon about Jesus. Suddenly, they were ministering to hundreds of people around Seattle.
There is a lot of good food for thought in that book—things that have challenged me. But there are problems, too, and I think Free Grace theology can constructively challenge the dinner church movement in return. Specifically, in chap. 7, “The Path to Salvation,” Fosner exhibits some confusion about salvation, and some good insights, too.
For example, Fosner implies there are two paths of salvation—a “law gospel” for Jews (p. 71), and a “grace gospel” for Gentiles. He says that since the Gentiles were “the forefathers of democracy” and “barely believed” in Israel’s God, they were not ready to “immediately line their lives up to a moral code of God’s choosing.” In other words, they were not ready to be saved by the “law gospel.” So, according to Fosner, Paul changed the salvation message (!): “Paul obviously believed that the gospel would be immediately rejected before it had the chance to prove its worth because of their egalitarian culture. So, in Galatians he started explaining the gospel as faith-to faith, which was similar to the apostle John’s explanation of grace-to-grace” (p. 72). Paul “ignored the law gospel in favor of the grace gospel when it came to the Gentiles” (p. 74). Hence, Fosner recommends we should do the same thing to reach “seculars” whom he calls “the New Gentiles.” Like the old Gentiles, the New Gentiles “are not ready to grant authoritarian status to God and align every area of their behaviors to a moral code as the entry price into Christianity” (p. 73). So Fosner recommends not “imposing an immediate moral code upon unprepared people” (pp. 73-74). “Without challenging their sin, we take them to Jesus; without insisting that they follow the pattern of confession of sins before Jesus saves them, we take them to Jesus; without forcing them to pray the Sinner’s Prayer, which has only been around for 150 years, we just take them to Jesus” (p. 75).
I think Fosner is grasping at important truths here, but he’s made some serious errors along the way—errors that Free Grace theology can help correct.
First, the errors. Fosner is wrong to say there were two ways of salvation: a law gospel for Jews and a grace gospel for Gentiles. In fact, there is only one way of salvation for both Jew and Gentiles—to simply believe in the Messiah, who is Jesus, for eternal life (John 3:16). Even Abraham, the father of the Jews, was justified by faith apart from works (Rom 4:3). And no one, neither Jew nor Gentiles, can be saved by the law (Gal 2:16). The law was not a way of salvation, so much as a test to show that you are a sinner (as Jesus said, “No one is good but God,” Mark 10:18) whose only hope of salvation is to be justified apart from your works (Gal 2:16). Paul did not pragmatically change the way of salvation to suit the Gentiles—that would be sheer relativism. Instead, Paul preached salvation by faith apart from works because that’s what Jesus preached (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-26), and that’s the only way anyone has ever been saved.
Second, the truth. Fosner is right about several things—things that are very close to what Free Grace people have been saying. First, he is right to imply that the modern church has made “law,” “moral codes,” “aligning behavior,” “confession,” and “sinner’s prayers,” conditions of salvation. In other words, modern churches generally teach salvation by faith plus works. Second, Fosner is right to imply that requiring behavior change for salvation is somehow wrong. Third, he is right to say we should simply “bring people to Jesus” without making their sins the issue in evangelism. Fourth, he is right to say we should deal with a person’s sins slowly, over time, in a “grace-to-grace” way, after they have been brought to Jesus.
I agree with those basic premises. But why isn’t sin the issue? And how do you bring someone to Jesus? Here’s where Free Grace theology can help clarify things.
According to the Free Grace understanding of Scripture, Jesus has taken away the sin of the world (John 1:29). That means God reconciled the world to Himself and does not impute sins to the world (2 Cor 5:19). In short, sin is not the issue in salvation, and the people coming to dinner church do not have to get their lives in order before they can be eternally saved. On the contrary, the one and only issue in salvation is to believe in Jesus for the free gift of eternal life (Rom 6:23; Eph 2:8-9). So how do you bring someone to Jesus? By sharing with that person Jesus’ promise of eternal life. And unlike high pressured, institutionalized evangelism, Free Grace understands that Jesus evangelized in a very low pressure, conversational, matter-of-fact way (see here and here and here). Basically, Jesus talked about Himself and told people if they believed in Him, they would have eternal life. Simple, right? There’s no confession. No sinner’s prayers. No raising a hand. No walking an aisle. No signing a commitment card. No mourner’s bench. Not even much of an invitation. Just a conversation about Jesus and eternal life.
I think that is the model of evangelism that Fosner and others in the dinner church movement are looking for, perhaps without realizing the strong Biblical basis for it.
If there’s a dinner church in your city, why not have a conversation with them about it?