Welcome to the Naturalchurch blog!
My name is Tobie van der Westhuizen and I am married to an extraordinary woman called Revien. We live in Bloemfontein, South Africa, are parents to nine kids and two Staffies, and belong to a group of wonderful believers who have been meeting regularly in our house (and all kinds of other places) for almost ten years.
I left formal pastoral ministry in 2007 to pursue an inkling that I have had for a long time, namely that the Christianity of today is not the same as the primitive Christianity of the early church.
Whilst this may sound like an insane generalization, I believe it to be true. I am also convinced that contemporary efforts to “restore us” to the so-called golden age of first century Christianity are regularly misguided and mostly undermined by three factors:
- Romanticism – The early church was far from homogenous and even further from perfect.
- Historic revisionism – The belief that the early church was all about those things that are dear to me and the Christians I fellowship with, such as “signs and wonders,” being radically “missional,” or whatever (Paul was a Calvinist, you know.)
- Ecclesiastical amnesia – Two thousand years of church tradition have not only left many of us confused as to which church or denomination is the “correct” one, but have also obscured the heart of New Testament Christianity, namely the way in which the New Testament churches understood salvation, the Kingdom of God and, most importantly, the person of Jesus Christ. These, in my mind, are the central issues.
On this last point: Over the years I became increasingly convinced that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for people to fully rediscover the early Christians’ understanding of salvation as long they remain clustered in tribe-like denominations, shaped around the personas of extraordinary individuals (historic or contemporary, it really does not matter), whom they have elected to interpret God and the Bible on their behalf.
It is this conviction that prompted me to step out of the world of institutionalised Christianity. At the time I was in the process of completing a PhD in Theology, a dream that I had been nurturing for more than two decades. But a rethinking of Jesus’ words at the Feast of Booths interfered with my aspirations:
“The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.(John 7:15-18)
These words convinced me that the path to true spiritual discernment is not to be found in academic studies, but in a simple moment-by-moment desire to know and do God’s will. They also convinced me that the secret to becoming a true teacher of the word was to discard the need for any public ministerial recognition whatsoever, and to divert all attention and accolades to God – to become invisible and to make God exceedingly great. And so I gave up my academic ambitions and discontinued my studies.
I still function as a Bible teacher, but I have made it my aim to distinguish between servant-teaching that seeks to impart the life of God, enabling people to know God independently and without human mediation, and top-down teaching that seeks to connect the hearers to the teacher’s insights and so make them dependent on his/her continual influence in their lives for understanding the things of God.
I am still learning, on a daily basis.
With the above in mind, I spent the last eight years of my life writing and illustrating a commentary on the book of Romans – praying and hoping that it will not merely impart information, but bring the reader face to face with the actual call of Jesus Christ and the meaning of true Christianity as I believe it was understood and practiced by the early churches of the New Testament. It is, God willing, due for public release end 2017.
You can see the first fruits of Romans: The Big Picture here.