Friday, October 20, 2006

Pumpkins, Pew-Sitters & Paganism

It's late October again and you know what that means....more preachers bashing halloween!:) I was driving home last night, listening to good ole' Christian radio and hearing the ever-so-familiar "pagan roots of Halloween" talk. According to this radio personality, the celebration of halloween should be avoided at all costs due to it's evil connection to pagan roots. Don't send your kids "trick or treating", send them to the "harvest festival" instead!:) (You can laugh there!):)

Now, I am in no way defending the demonic symbolisms, etc. that are attached to halloween. I just think that the whole thing is a bit paradoxical. After all, pagan traditions are pretty common throughout the institutional church system. Much of what we have come to expect from our Sunday services actually finds it's roots in pagan culture and ritual. Everything from the Aristotelian three-point sermon to the elegant chairs on the stage demonstrates the willingness of the traditional church to embrace pagan traditions and ideas.

Many believers go from service to service without ever stopping to think about what they are doing. While being scared to question or simply failing to do so, many believers simply partake of whatever the system serves up. Eventually, someone stops to ask why. Oftentimes, this person is neither popular nor welcome.

One such person was Martin Luther. It just happens that on October 31st (of all days), Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of the church at Wittenberg, thus declaring his distaste for and disagreement with the "system" of his time, the Roman Catholic Church. At the time, Martin Luther confronted a machine that had been steadily rolling downhill for over one-thousand years. Of course, the cry of the institutional church of his time was "How dare you?", or "This is the way we have always done it!". But, for Luther, tradition was simply not enough. He had tried everything from performing acts of penance to worshipping relics, but nothing seemed to cleanse his conscious. Finally, he discovered that wonderful passage from the book of Romans, "the just shall live by faith", and thus was the formal beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Think of it. The Reformers were willing to stand against long-held traditions and practices that had preceded their own lives by a multitude of years. I feel that in many cases, we should do the same.

What bothers me about many of our current church practices is really not so much that they are steeped in paganism. Rather, it is the inability of believers to distinguish such from biblical teaching. Instead of simply recognizing a tradition for what it is--either a past way in which the church tried to contextualize a biblical teaching or simply a case of getting it wrong--, we use "proof texts" from the Bible in order to read our practice(s) back into the Scripture. The danger in this is apparent; one can no longer distinguish between biblical teaching and someone's continued misapplication thereof.

Which is worse, someone's participation in a purely pagan custom with full acknowledgment of it as such, or the church trying to pass off long-held pagan traditions as sacred? What do you think?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Simple Church...Simply Reactionary?

We have been having a great interaction in the comments section of the recent post, "Our church...God's intention?" My new friend, Tony Sisk, has been asking some very good questions in regard to the concept of what I, and several other commenters on this blog, call "simple church". Instead of responding to these questions in the comments section, I decided to create a post out of my comments. I would love for us all to continue this great discussion. For anyone else who has been reading these posts/comments and has not yet responded, please feel free to do so. Your comments are welcome and would serve to enchance our dialogue!

Previously, Tony said:

As I remarked in my previous comment to ded, from someone on the outside looking in, the house church does look like it has formed in response to obscured ideals or unmet expectations.

I do not doubt that this is true for many people. However, I can only speak out of my own experience. While, of course, I had issues with various things inside the traditional church that I was in (like anyone else), no hurt feelings, etc. led me to "strike out on my own". The main reason that I left was because, after examining the Scriptures and Church history (as well as some great dialogue with other believers), I came to believe that the traditional church model was not God's ideal. As a matter of fact, I have come to believe that there is no right way to "do" church. Rather, I believe that we are called to "be" the Church.

I think that this is the concept that Jesus was introducing to the Samaritan woman in John 4. In Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman, a question arose from her as to where or how true worship was to be performed. Today, we might ask "How are we supposed to 'do' church?". Jesus' answer is revealing. Instead of giving the woman a solid answer of "on this mountain" or "in Jerusalem" as the true place of worship, Jesus instead shows the woman that she is altogether missing the point. Worship is not confined to a place or form. Rather, worship transcends time and space, so that true worship forms from a heart attitude instead of as the result of being in the right place at the right time.

Jesus said,

"Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
John 4:21-24 NIV

If my move to a simpler concept of church is at all reactionary, I believe that it is no more so than the reaction of the Reformers to what they saw as unscriptural practices within the Roman Catholic church. Or, the reaction of the early disciples to the Grecian widows, which led to the formulation of deacons. In both instances, people saw a problem and reacted with what they perceived to be a solution.

Tony, you also said:

If the simpler church concept takes off and you have a large group of people attending your meetings, what then? You wouldn’t cast them away for the sake of preserving intimacy and fellowship, would you? This is where it seems to get problematic to me and even more insular than traditional church, that once you reach a particular number either you must grow out or just simply refuse to let other folks in. This is where, in my mind, someone then must come in to exercise leadership and say we need to split into separate groups and where I see potentially that problems could arise. So it seems a “cap” must be placed to keep the house church from growing past a particular number. That seems troublesome to me.

Very good questions! I would like to attempt to respond to them in the same way that Jesus responded to the Samaritan woman. I think that while your concern is valid Tony, it really misses the point.:) I think that you are trying to superimpose your concept of the traditional church and how it functions on to the simple church paradigm. A question: "How often would you invite more than 20-30 people into your home?" Now granted, you probably know and have friendships with more than this number of people, but how often would all of the people that you currently have a spiritual connection with meet within your home? If you were to invite all of these people into your home at once, would it not limit the amount of interaction you had with each one? While everyone would feel as if they had been included by the initial invitation, would the gathering truly tend toward intimate fellowship? I doubt it. In other words, there does not have to be a specific time or place in which all of us must gather. At times this can be helpful, but I believe that it is to be the exception and not the rule. Just as Jesus only had 12 disciples with whom He was intimately acquainted, yet found time to minister to many, many others, so it is with our concept of simple church. Just as Jesus informally hung out with the twelve without a certain agenda, so it is with us.

I personally experience "church" in homes, in restaurants, at work, etc. Church is not a place. Church does not "happen" only as the result of certain people gathering at certain times. Rather, Church is an identity. Church is who we are. When we begin to try to figure out how to "do" it, it seems that we are in danger of ceasing to simply "be" it.

When institutional churches begin to grow higher, it seems that many struggle to grow deeper. This is usually combated by the emergence of small groups within the larger body. Isn't this simply an institutionalized version of simple church that attempts to foster intimacy while still seeking to maintain control over the group? I think that your question more readily applies to a small group setting within a traditional church.

Thank you Tony for your willingness to question, and to truly think-out subjects that usually get "canned" answers. I look forward to everyone's continued interaction on this and other topics. While we might not come to a concensus, I believe that we still can serve to strenghten each other as we walk in Christ. What do you think......?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Our church...God's Intention?

Lately, I have been having a great discussion with a new friend, Tony Sisk. Tony has exhibited lots of patience and love toward me in our dialogue on the nature of the church and the ministry/ministers thereof. I would like to here continue this discussion in greater length than really can be given in the comments section of another post.

In the comments section of a post I wrote a while back entitled "Who's the Priest", Tony pin-pointed my responses to him by saying, "It seems that you are arguing for the abolition of the traditional church model as we know it." This is a correct assessment. While this may sound harsh and a bit over-the-edge, I would like to ask you to consider the following brief overview of the situation as I see it.

As I see it, God's original intention was to have a people who could and would commune with Him. He created Adam and Eve and it seems He enjoyed walking with them "in the cool of the day". As we know, Adam and Eve (and thus the rest of us) fell and, as a result, broke fellowship and intimate communion with God. Even after all of that, God's intention did not change. As a matter of fact, God's intention has never changed. Even after the Fall, and the emergence of fallen man, God's intention still did not waver. God wanted relationship with the crown of His creation, man! The record of the Bible is the record of God bringing man back into intimate relationship with Himself.

Let's begin in the Old Testament. After the exodus, the Israelites settled into the promised land. At this time, the people denied God the pleasure of intimate relationship and instead opted for a human institution; a king. "We want a king!" was the cry heard throughout the land. While God wanted to be Israel's only king and leader, the people wanted someone else to look to when times got tough. In comforting Samuel, God said that the people had "rejected Him" as their king. Rejected Him...Wow!

Simply stated, the rest of the Old Testament is the record of the failure of a system that was set up because of man's rejection of God as her Friend and King! This system was based, not on personal, intimate fellowship with God, but instead on the mediatoral role of mere men.

Enter Jesus.

The first words out of Jesus' mouth at the onset of His public ministry were "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." What did Jesus mean by this statement...repent, and you can go to heaven when you die? I don't think so. Instead, Jesus was saying "There is a new order emerging in which God is the only King. Change your minds and trust Him as your Friend and Lord." While seemingly receptive to this idea, many people view the Kingdom of God as something that is to be, instead of something that now is. However, Jesus said that the "kingdom of God is among (within) you."

What does all of this have to do with the way we do church? Well, I believe that the current model of church (mostly unknowingly) downplays the real Lordship of Jesus and instead reduces Him to a figurehead. For all intents and purposes, the modern church has become a constitutional oligarchy. Much as the Queen is the figurehead of England yet lacking real power, Jesus is praised and spoken of as Lord, but in reality, the "head" of the local church is the "pastor" or "ministry team". While we give lip-service to the Headship of Jesus, the truth is Jesus would not even need to "show up" for most church services to function. Two fast songs, two slow songs, take up the offering, sermon, invitation, prayer...and out the door!

My friend Tony asked a good question to which I would here like to reply.

"Do you discount the qualification passages for leadership in the Pastoral Epistles? If there are no positions of leadership in the church, then what is their purpose?"

No, I do not discount the qualification passages for leadership found in the New Testament. These are valuable exhortations that, by the grace of God, we should all aspire to. However, I do not believe that there are "positions" or "offices" of leadership within the Church. Here is where I believe we have diverged from the biblical model. Instead of interpreting the passages on leadership in light of other Scripture, I believe that we have received a watered-down version of what that same leadership is supposed to be.

Jesus, in contrasting the Kingdom of God's method of operation with the contemporary religious system said:

"you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
Matthew 23:8-12 NIV

I believe that here, Jesus is establishing the rule for the Kingdom of God. That is, God is King and you are all brothers (equals). Therefore, bringing instruction into another believer's life does not necessitate one ascending to the position of "teacher". Just because God uses you at one point in time to show the Father's love to another brother does not necessitate you being their "spiritual father". This idea is echoed by John when he says:

"As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit-just as it has taught you, remain in him."
1 John 2:27 NIV

Does this mean that no one will ever instruct us in the way of the Lord. I don't believe so. Instead, I think that the point of John's encouragement is that we need to learn to trust the Lord as our Teacher as opposed to relying only on our fellow brothers/sisters.

In the current model of the local church, the pastor is seen as "bringing the Word of God" to the people. Much like Moses, the pastor is supposed to seek God as to what He wants to say through the pastor to the people. The people are expected to attend at least one service each week in which they are "taught the Word" or "fed". The pastor is expected to act as the "spiritual father" to anywhere from 10-20,000 people. It is as if the temple veil was not completely torn in two. Instead of viewing pastoral ministry as one gift among many, most of the church sees it as an office that one holds; a position of spiritual authority.

This is why I think it is so critical to examine Scripture in light of other Scripture. Ephesians 4 is used many times to show the "need" for the ministry of the local church pastor. The gift of "pastor" is referred to in the same breath as "apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher". I have heard this passage used over and over again as a proof for the existence of the five-fold ministry. Yet, when we look at 1 Corinthians 12:28-31, we are given a different, yet seeminly equal list of ministry gifts. Apostolic and prophetic ministry are mentioned, but only in the same sentence as "workers of miracles", "gifts of healings", "gifts of administration", "those able to help others", and "different kinds of tongues". Guess what's missing...the gift of pastoral ministry. The emphasis in Ephesians 4 is not the individual gifts, but instead, that everyone is gifted by God! He wants to use the whole Body!

In 1 Corinthians 14, speaking of what a typical meeting of believers should look like, Paul states that when we come together:

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
1 Corinthians 14:26 NIV

In other words, everyone has something to give! A gathering of the church should never be a one-man show!

I believe that Tony hit it on the head when he said

"The Greek makes clear that elders are those who are “out front” leading by teaching and manner of life (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-5). Their role is to enable the congregation to make decisions that are necessary to help the body grow into maturity (Eph. 4:11-12). Jesus Christ is the only Head of the church. Leaders are “foot-washers” and servants, not only of Christ but of others. Each and every member of Christ’s body is equally important since each has been given a gift and a strategic place of ministry (1 Cor. 12-14). All competition for rank is therefore eliminated! As Jesus put it, we are all brothers, and becoming “great” means becoming a servant of all, with Christ as our example (Matt. 23)."

Leaders are not those who instruct others to do God's will. Instead, I believe that leaders are those who are caught doing God's will, and whose contagious joy in doing such causes others to do the same.

God's intention is to have a family. In this family there is only one Father (God), and only one Head (Jesus). To set up a system that tries to send one man into the Holy of Holies to bring out the word of God for the people is to deny the truth that there is only

"one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus"
1 Timothy 2:5 NIV

What do you think?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Camp Orthodoxy

My friend Steve has been hosting a good conversation lately on his blog "Theological Musings". The topic: orthodoxy. I don't want to repeat what has already been said there, but I do encourage you to read the posts and comments from "Why Such A Short List", "But What About Those Mormons?", "Orthodoxy: Starting A New Thread", and "Thoughts On Sound Doctrine". (Wow! That sure is alot of "required reading" for my post huh?...but well worth it!) What I would like to do here is expand on/respond to the previously mentioned posts in a little more depth than I can go into in the comments section of "Theological Musings".

There seems to be a reoccurring theme that runs throughout the history of God's people. That theme? Camping! Now what do I mean by camping? What I am referring to is the process of receiving something from God as revelation and then camping on or stopping at that revelation. As far back as the time of Moses, we find God's people receiving His provision and then desiring to stay in that moment where they "met God". The children of Israel were led by God in the desert for some time before Moses sent spies into the promised land to see how they would go in and possess it. Notice that Moses did not send the spies to see if they would possess it, but how. The result of this expedition? The children of Israel determined that what God was calling them to do was too hard, and they became satisfied to just remain in the place that they believed to be "safe".

The Pharisees are another example of a group of people who were caught holding on to stale bread that had once been "manna from heaven". (Rabbit trail: Isn't it interesting that God instructed the Israelites that they were to only use the manna for one day before it rotted? Was God setting a precedent here that yesterday's sufficiency can become today's corruption?) The Pharisees were quick to point out the Law of Moses (which was at that time the "word of God") to Jesus in order to correct Him or condemn Him of sin. Jesus, contrary to the ideas of many an evangelical, actually superceded the "word of God" though by, for all intents and purposes, saying that some things that Moses said no longer applied. One such case was that of divorce. The Pharisees used a quote from the Torah to prove to Jesus that it was acceptable to divorce as long as one followed the Mosaic command of providing a certificate thereof. Jesus, however, superceded the Law of Moses by saying, "Moses gave you this command because of the hardness of your heart, but from the beginning it has not been so." In other words, "There was a time when this was true, but a new day has dawned, and now there is a higher standard; the standard of love."

We find Jesus doing this kind of thing alot. He really seems to like the phrase, "you have heard it said...but, I say unto you." I believe that Jesus is trying to show us something very important. "And what would that be", you ask? Maybe that revelation is more dynamic and less static. Maybe that our theology should be less about the head, and more about the heart. Maybe that God just doesn't like the box that we have built for Him? Sound dangerous? It just might be:)

I think that the author of Hebrews give us some interesting insight into the nature of God's revelation:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV

Notice the progression. At one time, God, in a limited way, revealed Himself through the words and writings of people. But now, God has chosen a living Person by which to reveal Himself. Hmmmm. In other words, simply a record of good rules and regulations was not enough. In order for God to completely reveal Himself, He had to transcend doctrinal statements, prophets and spokespersons, and even the writings of the Old Testament, and instead, simply live among us as the revelation. Now, this idea by itself is awesome! So, understandibly, once again, this is where many people decide to set up camp. "Brother, we have the Bible to show us how God revealed Himself in Jesus. That's all we need." Contrary to popular belief though, this is still not enough! It's not just about how God revealed Himself in Jesus, but how He is now revealing Christ in us! Paul said:

it pleased reveal His Son in me
Galatians 1:15-16 NKJV

Written revelation is wonderful, but it has it's limits. Words can only go so far in explaining who God is. Words can only go so far in grasping the riches of His grace. It seems to me that our theology must be impacted by living fellowship with the Son, and not only by a book. I love the Bible. I thank God for the Bible, but the Bible is only the record of the Word of God, not the Word itself. That title belongs to Jesus alone. The Bible was simply meant to point us to the Word of God, which is Jesus. Our understanding of God must come from our encounter with the Living Word, not only from the record thereof.

Now, how does this tie into the question of orthodoxy? I think that when it comes to the idea of orthodoxy, we need to take care not to put God "in a box". If God has now chosen to reveal Himself in Jesus and continues to do so through us, then we must be careful that we don't try to convey the idea that creedal or doctrinal statements can contain this revelation. If the record of the Bible itself is not sufficient to completely grasp the revelation of God, what makes us think that a confession or creed can? I do understand that there are certain essential beliefs that one must embrace in order to consider themselves a member of the Body of Christ, but I believe that sound doctrine cannot be contained simply in the mind. Following Jesus, at the heart, is not about knowing the right doctrinal verbage or having a polished theology as much as it is about daily living in Christ, and allowing God to reveal the Son to me and in me. My question is this; by nailing down our entire belief system in something such as a creed, are we becoming static and stagnant, and therefore, in the name of truth, closing ourselves off from any further revelation that God might want to give us? Are we drawing a line in the sand that even God Himself cannot cross? I sure hope not. Hmmmmm?!?!?!? Maybe we need to stop camping on the "truth", and instead start walking with the One who is the Truth. What do you think?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Quantifiable Christianity

It seems that the modernistic world we live in is in love with measurements. Of course we all have measuring cups in our kitchens for measuring ingredients, measuring tapes in our toolboxes for measuring walls and spaces, and odometers on our vehicles for measuring the miles that we travel. But, it just can't stop there can it? No, it seems that our rational minds just have to dominate every area of our lives. We have IQ tests to measure how "smart" we are, travel services to measure (in stars) how comfortable a particular hotel is, and even letter and number grades to measure the cleanliness of our restaurants. But, once again, it just can't stop there. We need Food Network competitions to decide whose dessert is the "best", just as we need Randy, Paula, and Simon to tell us whose voice is the most pleasing to the ear. Can everything be so neatly compared and tightly packaged?

My wife and I just got back from our 10th anniversary vacation in which we went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. While there, we purchased a little book called "Best Easy Day Hikes--Rocky Mountain National Park" by Kent & Donna Dannen that that gave us some tips on good places to hike within the park. In the front of the book was a section that we both found humorous entitled "About the Cranky Authors". Here is an excerpt:

"For a quarter century, guidebooks by Kent and Donna Dannen have been the standard reference for the trails of Rocky Mountain National Park. Therfore, many reviewers of their trail guides have accused the Dannens of being "experts". This accusation offends the Dannens, who maintain that experts should never write guidebooks. For example, experts write user guides for VCRs, fax machines, and computers. Experts lack ignorance and, therefore, lack the perspective of the ignorant, which is essential to explain anything. Because experts really do know all the answers, they have no clue about the questions. Guides written by experts are understood only by other experts, who rarely read them because they do not need to."

Wow! I could hardly have said it better. This reminds me of conversations that I have had with computer techies in which I was led to feel pretty stupid. In this age of experts, of professionals measuring and quantifying everything for the rest of us, little creedance is given to someone actually experiencing something for themselves. Instead, we prefer to have someone else pre-process any kind of abstract knowledge for us and then deliver it back to us in chunks of steadfast, absolute, and pre-measured answers.

While I believe that these prepackaged measurements can sometimes be detrimental when measuring things like music and food, I think that they can be downright dangerous when used in reference to our relationship with God. I, for one, am growing tired of things like systematic theologies and creedal statements being used to determine who's "in" and who's "out". Many times I have had a good conversation with someone about the things of the Spirit interrupted by the question "And where do you go to church?", or "What do you think about ________?". As a matter of fact, this very thing happened to me twice today. As many of you know, I work at a Christian bookstore. Just today, I was helping a customer find a Bible. He was wanting some information on various translations, so I began to tell him about some of the differences and tried to help him find one that would be beneficial to him. About half-way through our conversation, he just had to ask, "What denomination are you?"...Why??????...What does it matter???? Well, best I can tell, this was the measuring rod to determine whether or not it was "safe" to continue listening to what I had to say.

One area that I have struggled with myself, is the way in which we, as believers in Jesus, seem to measure our spirituality or the validity of our walk with God. The daily "quiet time" is a perfect example. A "good" Christian reads the Bible at least once every day and spends time everyday in "prayer". What this has boiled down to for me is feeling okay about myself on days in which I read one chapter of the Bible and prayed through certain mental checklists, and feeling that I was displeasing to God on days when I failed to do so. This is a Scripture that I have not been able to shake for a long time though:

"When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again. Don't be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!"
Matthew 6:7-8 New Living Translation

That sure doesn't sound like the ritual that I have become oh so familiar with. What is prayer anyway? Is it a time or times throughout the day when I stop to talk to God, or is it the very atmosphere I live in as I continually walk (even into the bathroom) with God?

It seems like the reason we like formulas and rituals is because they are so easy to measure. It's more quantifiable to "spend time with God" than it is to embrace Christ as your very life. It's easier to measure your time in the written word than it is to measure your life as influenced and impacted by the Living Word (Jesus). It's more appealing to the flesh to go to the "house of God" than to actually be the house in which He dwells.

I think that the main reason we seek to measure our spirituality is because of a lack of security in our idenitity in Christ. If Christ really is my identity, then I don't need to rely on religious rituals to make me feel "safe". I know that I am safe because of His finished work as well as knowing that I am in Christ, and Christ is in me.

I, myself, used to feel like I had all of the answers. Now I feel like I have many more questions than answers. I am beginning to embrace "the perspective of the ignorant" which truly does seem "essential to explain anything." It seems that only when we know what the questions are can we begin to uncover an answer. What do you think?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

It's in the game!

Well, you may or may not have been wondering where I have been lately. Have I been preparing for a really deep post? No. Have I been too busy commenting on the blogs of others to write a post of my own? Not exactly. So where have I been? :)Playing the new John Madden football of course! :)

What time is it? It's almost football season, and I can't wait. I can smell it in the air....oooooooo......ahhhhhhhh. This is by far my favorite time of the year. The leaves are falling, the air is cooling, and grown men are getting paid to knock the stuff out of each other! Can it get much better than that?

As for my favorite team, the Carolina Panthers, everyone is picking us to make it to the Superbowl, and to win it! Wow! What an exacting season must lie ahead. But, until then, I continue to make the presence of my Panthers felt in the world of XBOX Live, as the intimidating "Newman Ray"!(Okay, maybe a 7-14 record is not exactly intimidating, but I have only begun to fight!)

I hope you enjoy the fall season, and may the best team (the Carolina Panthers:)) win!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fearful Faith?

We need have no fear of someone who loves us perfectly; his perfect love for us eliminates all dread of what he might do to us. If we are afraid, it is for fear of what he might do to us and shows that we are not fully convinced that he really loves us. So you see, our love for him comes as a result of his loving us first.
1 John 4:18-19 The Living Bible

I wonder how much of our belief systems are actually built on fear masquerading under the guise of "faith". It seems to me that much of our actions within the Church are motivated not by a loving response to the Father's love, but instead as a result of fear.

I know that I have beat this drum before, but it seems that there is an innate problem with the way in which we "do" church. One of the popular ideas in Christendom right now is that of the pastor/church as "covering". The idea goes that if a believer in Jesus is to be kept "safe" from the devil, he/she must be submitted to a pastor or church. To come out from under this "covering" is to make oneself vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. So out of fear, Christians run to churches, submitting to pastors, because to do otherwise seems to be a dangerous proposition. I have even heard of people staying in churches and under pastors that they felt were totally wrong, simply because they thought that as long as they submitted, they were "safe". Ughh. Where did this idea come from? Well, I think that there have been many contributing factors, but I think that one of the biggest is an insecure/fearful pastor, and insecure/fearful believers. Who is the Head that we should submit to, a human pastor, or the Head of the Body of Christ, Jesus? Who is our covering and protection, a human shepherd or hierarchy, or is it Jesus?

Lately, another thing that has struck me as a fearful, knee-jerk reaction is the response that has been given to Christians that are exploring "unorthodox" streams within the faith. Many times when believers begin to actually sit down and assess their faith, asking questions about long-held beliefs, they are scolded and "put in their place" by Christian watch-dog groups and people who fly the banner of "orthodoxy". What is orthodoxy? Well, some would say that it is "right" belief. I, along with others, personally wonder if it's not just another word for "long-held, majority-ruled belief". It seems that Christians many times are just not honest. I believe that many of us have questions about what we are told is "the truth", but are afraid to ask them. We are afraid to ask because of a false view of God that says that to question is to stand in danger of judgement, and because of the reaction we fear from our fellow believers. Are we so scared of God that we are afraid to ask questions? Do we think of God as so insecure that He would zapp us simply for thinking outside of the box? If something can't hold up to scrutiny, shouldn't we let it go? After all, isn't all truth God's truth? Jesus made an interesting statement that I believe is apporpriate:
Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." John 9:40-41 NIV

The problem is not having an imperfect theology. Instead, it's an unwillingness to confess that you do. After all, didn't Paul say that now we "see through a glass darkly"?

I believe our methods of evangelism many times suffer from a motivation of fear. First of all, believers in Jesus fear God's displeasure and anger if they don't "witness" to people. Secondly, fear is used by these same believers as a tool to "win souls" into the Kingdom. Romans 2:4 says that it is the "goodness of God" that leads us to repentance. Many believe that the most effective tool in an evangelists arsenal is fiery evangelism that warns of the flames of hell. I beg to differ. According to the opening Scripture, fear and love cannot coexist. It is impossible to experience God's love for you when you are afraid of Him. In the same way that we avoid people when we know that they are angry with us, most people are not drawn to God when they are afraid of Him. If perfect love casts out fear, then experiencing God's love means that we see Him not as an angry judge, but instead, as a loving Father. According to the Bible, the message that we preach is not a message of doom and gloom, but instead of reconciliation. God is not mad at us, He loves us!
God...reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV

If we are to have faith in God, we must first lose our fear of Him. I am not talking here about a loss of respect for God, but intead a lack of fear in God. I respect my earthly father, but I do not fear him. The reason that I do not fear him is because I know that he loves me. Therefore, I know that his intentions for me are good, and that he would never do anything to hurt me. If only we believed as much about our heavenly Father.
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:11 NKJV

May we move beyond a fear-based faith, and into the freedom of the children of God! What do you think?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Kingdom of God Part 1

Wow! It's been a long time since I posted something. I have just been going some different directions, but I have had alot of things that I have wanted to blog about. Something that I have been giving alot of thought to lately is the idea of the Kingdom of God. I have been trying to understand what it is and how it is different from the kingdoms of this world.

First of all, I would like to say that I have come to the conclusion that the Kingdom of God is not a far-off place that believers in Jesus will go to when they die. This is the idea that I had for many years, but it just doesn't seem to hold water for me anymore. Why would Jesus say things like "the Kingdom of God is near" and "the Kingdom of God is within you" if He was speaking of a "land far far away"? Jesus had some interesting things to say about the Kingdom of God such as:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."
Luke 17:20-21 NIV

Wow! It sure doesn't sound like the Kingdom of God is a "place" so to speak. This would mean that the Kingdom is not confined by time and space barriers. The Kingdom of God can be "near" for one person, and at the same time "within" another. As heirs of the Enlightenment, we like to confine things to spatial dimensions that can be experienced through the five senses. That is why it is so easy to speak of the Kingdom of God as "heaven"--a "place" believers in Jesus go when they die. Could it be that heaven is not far from any one of us? Could it be that heaven is not a far-off place, but rather a dimension that is separate from and yet simultaeneously intersecting our world? Hmm.

At this point, let me go off on a bit of a tangent. Could it be that because we have looked at the Kingdom of God as a "place" to endeavor to go and not a present reality to be experienced, we have tried to squeeze the operation of the Kingdom of God into conformity with the kingdoms of this world? For example, since the kingdoms of the world advance through force, have we tried to advance God's Kingdom in the same way? Sure the Crusades are one horrific example, but could it be that they are merely one among many examples?

It seems to me that many times believers in Jesus try to advance God's Kingdom using the tactics of the world. Oh, we might not put a sword to someone's throat as coercion to conversion, but we will gladly slice and dice them up using the latest findings from Christian apologists. It seems that we will gladly make unbelievers look and feel stupid in order to "win" them to the Lord. Maybe we are winning the argument, but are we in the process losing the person? Hmm.

Another way in which we imitate the kingdoms of this world is in our power structures.

25 Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves".
Luke 22:25-26 NIV

Jesus here says that His Kingdom is not going to be like the kingdoms of this world. "The kings of the Gentiles" used there power to keep their people under control, but in their minds, it was for the people's own good (thus the title "Benefactors"). They set the rules, and the people had to follow. Doesn't this sound alot like your average pastor? While calling him/herself a "Benefactor" (ie. "I'm doing this for your good") they set themselves up as a "covering" for the sheep. A member is told that he/she is only safe under the covering of the local church which includes the headship of the pastor. This seems a far cry from what Jesus had in mind--"But you are not to be like that". While trying to imitate corporate America, has the Church become too efficient? It seems that we are more interested in growth than in people. Oh sure, we know the right things to say "We want to reach the lost", "Let's bring God's love to our community", but at the end of the day, are we really concerned about individual people? If so, why don't we invest more in the people that God has brought across our paths instead of looking for "more". Whose kingdom are we really expanding?

A final way that I believe we try in error to advance the Kingdom of God is through politics. It seems to me that Christians have at many times tried to impose "God's will" on others through the ballot box and through political parties. I believe that we have been guilty many times of expecting unbelievers to act like believers. One "hot potato" right now is the possible legalization of gay marriage. Many Christians are fighting legalized gay marriage tooth and nail. Many ministers have said that the idea of gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage itself. Really? Who instituted marriage; God or the state? Is my marriage only valid because I have a document from the state of North Carolina? Would my marriage somehow be in jeopardy if my state legalized gay marriage? I think not. Could it be that while many gay couples are holding out for the legalization of gay marriage, if allowed to marry, many would find that it did not bring about the fulfillment that they thought it would? Could it then be the beginning of the disillusionment of many a gay couple and thus result in a more genuine openness to the Source of true fulfillment, Jesus Christ? Hmm.

I don't know all of the answers. In all honesty, I'm not completely satisfied even with this post. But, I do know that "love never fails". While my arguments for the resurrection of Christ may prove weighty and yet I see someone turn away from Jesus, "love never fails". While I can run "my" church like a well-oiled machine and still be dissatisfied and see "my" people be dissatisfied, "love never fails". I can legislate the morality of the entire world while watching unbelievers grow more embittered against the Body of Christ, but "love never fails". Could it be that we have overestimated the power of fleshly ideas to change the hearts of people, while underestimating the power of God's love shown through believers corporately, and individually to accomplish the same purpose? What do you think?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Presuppositions: "Pre"-"Suppositions"

There have been some very interesting topics going around the blog world lately. In interacting with others, I have noticed that we all come from different perspectives colored by our life experiences, educational backgrounds and individual stations in life. We each come to the blogosphere with our own presuppositions. I would like us to take a little time to think about our individual presuppositions, and how they affect our interactions in the world of blogging, and our day-to-day encounters with people who share our perspectives as well as those who do not.

What are presuppositions? First, lets ask what a supposition is. According to, a supposition is "something supposed; an assumption." A presupposition is defined as "to believe or suppose in advance". When used as a noun, it means "the act of presupposing; a supposition made prior to having knowledge (as for the purpose of argument)". Therefore, I think it would be fair to define a presupposition as "an assumed understanding of a thing decided upon before acquiring a complete knowledge of the subject."

Is it bad to have presuppositions? I don't believe it is. As a matter of fact, I think that it is impossible not to do so. Because of factors within and beyond our control, we all enter into and experience an idea with certain core beliefs which act as a lens through which view the subject at hand. Presuppositions are not within themselves harmful, but they can quickly become so when we fail to recognize them for what they are; assumptions made without complete knowledge of a subject.

As I see it, the danger is in our confusing our own presuppositions with absolute truth. When these two become enmeshed, it is hard to separate our own opinions from the facts. This becomes especially true when dealing with theological and doctrinal issues. If we are not cautious, we quickly confuse what the Bible actually says with our own interpretation thereof. This can lead us to be uncompromising in the name of defending "biblical truth". The danger is two-fold. First, we can easily mislead ourselves and others with ideas that we superimpose upon the text. Second, we are hardly teachable because instead of being open to whatever the truth may be, we believe that we have already found it.

It is sobering to realize that the lens we look through is sometimes "a dark glass". (1 Corinthians 13:12) Many times I have staunchly defended an idea that, upon later examination, I found wanting. Many times, I have read my own ideas into the Bible, instead of letting the Bible formulate God's ideas within me. Most of the time, I have never even noticed that this was happening.

Jesus made a sobering statement:

Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. John 9:39-41 NIV

Notice that Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for not knowing everything about the Kingdom. Instead, He pronounced them guilty of sin because, while being ignorant, they claimed to have it all figured out. I get weary of conversing with people who seem to have all of their "doctrinal duckies" in a row. Some people package their systematic theology so air-tight, that it seems they leave little room for the Holy Spirit to bring enlightenment and correction into their lives. Instead of approaching every subject with a level of humility, we sometimes go into a discussion with a view to "winning", or changing the other person's mind. What happens is that we remain in the same level of maturity that we entered the discussion with. Instead of growth, we experience stagnation.

Why do we insist on our own viewpoints? Well, there are probably more complex reasons than I can address here, but I think that one reason I have seen in my own life is a level of personal insecurity. When my identity is based solely on how "correct" my belief system is, then my life becomes like a stack of dominoes. If I allow you to push one over, then my entire world-view and identity might come crashing down. This is very threatening to one's sense of spiritual and mental equilibrium. After all, if I am wrong about this, then I might be wrong about that, which means I might be wrong in this area....etc., etc. So, instead of looking at each conversation, each discussion as an opportunity for growth, we pull out our doctrinal armor, and begin to do battle.

This takes me back to my previous post on "Truth...Proposition or Person?". Am I called to embrace a highly-nuanced set of propositions, or a living relationship with a living Person? If it is the former, then I will fight tooth and nail to defend the "truth". If it is the latter, then I can become pliable, ready for my own ideas to be challenged, and if need be, found wanting, because I realize that my identity is in Jesus, not in how "right" I can be. After all, if my interpretations and opinions will not hold water, why should I be afraid to discard them?

So, what should we do? Well, I think that the answer is not to abandon all of our presuppositions and thus be "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching". (Ephesians 4:14 NIV) Instead, I think that the answer lies in our recognizing what our presuppositions are: supposed ideas that are "pre"sumed, and are therefore derived prior to having a complete understanding of a subject. My presupposition is that this will help each of us to enter every conversation with humility, discerning biblical truth from our own "assumed understanding" of such. What do you think?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Truth...Proposition or Person?

Well, it's been a couple of weeks since my last post and I have been thinking about many different things, but something I would like to talk about is truth. What is truth? Or maybe better said, Who is truth? Is truth always absolute, or is truth something that adapts to the society or culture in which it finds itself?

My Christian experience has been within the confines of "fundamental" or "conservative" Christianity. In these circles, a believer is taught that truth consists of a set of absolute propositions that every "true believer" must subscribe to in order to be "in". These propositions are made up of creeds and doctrinal statements, sometimes subscribed to by a particular denomination and other times adopted by a larger group of believers. A participant is told that they must subscribe to a list of "essentials" in order to be a part in the fellowship of these believers. Questioning the "essentials" is frowned upon and considered to be a step on the "slippery slope" toward liberalism. This causes many believers to never question their faith, and leads other would-be-believers to abandon the Christian faith altogether.

Propositional truth is not altogether a bad thing. There is a clear need for propositional truth in the Body of Christ. There are definite convictions that we must embrace if we are to call ourselves by the Name of Christ. The problem occurs however, when propositions are absolutized that are either beyond the biblical revelation, or stem from one of several interpretations of a not-so-clear biblical reference. One such example is the hard-line stance of some young-earth creationists.

Many young-earth creationists are convinced that unless one believes in a literal, six, twenty-four hour day, creation week, he/she is deceived and does not believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Books have been written vehemently attacking old-earth creationists for "compromising" the integrity of God's Word. The conclusion is made that unless one believes creation as spelled out by these young-earth creationists, one does not truly believe the Word of God and therefore is in danger of misunderstanding other areas of revelation, such as salvation, etc.
Really? How can we jump to the conclusion that one's very relationship with God is in danger as a result of not acknowledging a 6000 to 10000 year age for our planet? This is just one example of how much is made of little in the world of propostional truth. In a situation such as this, should we not continue to embrace each other as members of the Body of Christ while agreeing to disagree?

This brings me back to the opening question. Is truth always absolute, or is truth sometimes pliable? What about Jesus? How did He see truth? Well, in John 8:3 we find the story of Jesus' dealings with the woman caught in adultery.

John 8:3-6
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
Here we find the #1 proponents of absolute truth...the Pharisees. They present Jesus with an "absolute" statement from the Word of God that says that this woman should be stoned for her actions. But, instead of simply conceding to the biblical revelation, Jesus supercedes it (in the midst of fulfilling it?!?) by saying:
John 8:7-11
"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.................neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
How did Jesus get around the clear command of Scripture to stone adulterers? The truth was that this woman should have been stoned...or was it? Was truth the command that was written in the Law, or was truth the One Who refused to condemn this woman? Is truth simply propositional, or is truth actually best described as personal?

The Exaltation of Reason
Let's go back in time a little, shall we? Martin Luther, at the Diet of Worms, when asked to recant his beliefs that led to the Protestant Reformation, retorted with the famous words:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen
Notice that in this speech, Luther elevates "plain reasoning" to a place of equality with Scripture. Here we have encapsulated for us a direct result of the Age of Enlightenment. We have come, through our modernistic thinking, to believe that truth can be reduced to a mental excercise in which everything can be "figured out". We have created an image of a "logical" God that, if studied intensely enough, can be contained in our doctrinal statements. Now don't get me wrong. Do I believe that God is totally illogical and past finding out? No. But, I would say that many things about God are alogical, and therefore, beyond our understanding and our ability to reason out. As in the case of Jesus' dealings with the woman caught in adultery, mercy is something that just seems to go against the grain of a "logical" Jesus. As a matter of fact, doesn't Jesus seem to break an absolute command of Scripture by dealing with this woman so gently?

What did Jesus say about truth. In speaking of truth Jesus said:
John 14:6
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. NIV
I believe that Jesus was here saying that truth is something that cannot be known simply through human logic or reasoning, but instead must be experienced and fleshed out through a relationship with a living person. (See also 1 Corinthians 1:7-21) As such, truth would seem to be very adaptable and somewhat "taylor-made" to the person who is pursuing reality. Does this mean that absolutes change (and therefore are not absolutes at all)? No, but it might mean that our list of absolutes needs to be more abridged. It also might mean that you would not see Jesus give out a copy of the "Four Spiritual Laws". After all, when looking at His life, it seems that Jesus dealt with each person as an individual with unique needs and desires. Jesus only told one man that he must be "born-again", and He only offered "living water" to one woman. Yet, we take some of these same terminologies and absolutize them for mass consumption, with the understanding that unless one prays in a certain way, or uses very specific words, he/she is not an authentic believer. I would say that many of us are guilty of having a more in-depth relationship with our systematic theology book than with Jesus. Many times, I believe that we have exchanged a heart relationship with the One Who is the truth, for an intellectual relationship with "pure doctrine". After all, what good is a proposition that says that "God is love", if you never feel loved by God? What good is it to believe in the doctrine of imputed righteousness, if you never feel acceptable to the Father?

Am I here advocating the abandonment of absolute truth, or of propositions of any kind? Absolutely not:) What I am calling for is a balance between propositional statements of truth and an understanding of the adaptibility of those propositions in a given situation. After all, what are we worshipping, a doctrinal statement, or a Person? What do you think?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Onward Christian Soldiers...Marching Just For More?

The metaphors that are used to describe the Church are many and varied. The Bible describes the company of believers as God's family, a holy nation, a royal priesthood and the Body of Christ. These all help us to understand the way in which God views us. While some metaphors can be helpful, I believe that one, in particular, has damaged the Church. That metaphor is the Church as an army.

Many have taken a few verses of Scripture, and built an entire paradigm which states that the Church of Jesus Christ is like an army, marching as soldiers with one goal and one purpose. That goal is world evangelism. That purpose is, as one well-known evangelist says, to "plunder hell to populate heaven". Sounds like a noble and lofty goal, doesn't it? After all, isn't the mission of the Church the "Great Commission"?

This mind-set, while well-meaning and, at times even somewhat fruitful, leads to an enchantment with numbers at the expense of the individual. The Church, while embracing this model, has become just like the local US Army recruiter. In the first meetings with a potential soldier, the local Army recruiter extols the individual benefits and rewards of being a member of the US Army. The young proselyte is told of the GI bill, free college tuition and a salary that far surpasses what an average 18 year-old could find elsewhere. After thinking about these benefits, the young man/woman signs the dotted-line, looking forward to all that the Army has promised. All is well, until the recruit is stripped of their individual identity by being assigned a serial number, given a uniform, having their head shaved and handed a military-issue M-16, just like everyone else. Suddenly, these recruits learn that the Army is concerned with their personal well-being, only in so much as it will contribute to the accomplishment of the greater goal of the US Army. Sound familiar?

Many people are wooed into the Kingdom by believers who express a personal interest in their lives. Potential converts are told of the unconditional love that God has for them, of the free gifts of peace and joy that can be theirs in Christ, and of the promise of eternal life forever and abundant life today. Acting upon this Good News, the unbeliever places their faith in Christ and, for a time, experiences many of the benefits promised. Before basic training is even over though, another well-meaning believer comes along and shares with the new disciple how they can "really" please God, and what God "really" expects of them. They are now expected to sacrifice many of the benefits previously promised in route to accomlishing the "mission". Peace and joy are now to come second to witnessing and serving. Now, the believer's value is no longer intrinsic, but rather, proportionate to the amount of "service" he/she can provide to the Kingdom of God. The new believer is sent to the front-lines, M-16 in hand.

Instead of focusing on true discipleship, the paradigm of the Church as an army has caused us to seek more converts. As we seek to win nations instead of persons, we become a mile wide and an inch deep. Relationships within the Church become an accessory that takes a back-seat to the attainment of "the goal". As we seek more and more numbers, we don't have time for "non-productive" and "unfruitful" relationships. We can only relate to people in so much as they are useful to fulfilling the "mission". If we are not discipling or mentoring someone, then they become a luxury, a distraction that keeps us from fulfilling our "true purpose". While trying to reach more people, we lose focus of the goal... PEOPLE! Instead of having 10 intimate relationships, we seek to "share our lives" with 100; but is this really possible? Should we each invest a little in the many, or alot in a few? Could it be that while we tell multitudes of the transforming power of Jesus, we are left with no time to actually show anyone the love of Jesus? Is God more interested in faceless masses or in individuals?

Am I suggesting here that God does not want everyone to be reached with the Gospel? Absolutely not! I am simply saying that we must be careful not to lose sight of individual lives and needs in our search for more "souls". Did Jesus die for names or for numbers? Should we woo them with love and caring, only to throw them into the "heat of battle"? Do we truly care about the people for whom Jesus died, or are they just a number to add to the roll? What do you think?

Friday, May 19, 2006

A "Burnt-Out" Offering?

Lately, we have been talking about distinctions that believers have a tendency to make in their personal and communal lives. In the last post, "Who's the Priest", I talked about how our current models of ministry have actually become a roadblock to an intimate relationship with God for what we call the "laity". A good friend, Christy, said the following,

"The 'laity' are satisfied for the most part to allow a man to speak God's word to them and for them because that takes the responsibility off their shoulders."

This is a great point that I would like to talk a little more about.

While on the one hand, the current institutional model of a "one man show" can cause the "clergy" to hinder the growth of other believers, on the other hand, the "clergy" themselves suffer under the weight of their supposed "responsibilities". The hindrances of our current ministry models are most assuredly a two-way street!

Ministers are taught that within the church, they are to bear the burdens of administration, counseling, funerals, weddings, hospital visitation, evangelism and then prepare anywhere from 1-3 (or more) powerful sermons to keep the local body "fed". Kind of sounds like Superman, huh? Pastoral "burnout" has become commonplace while ministers try to juggle their spouses, children and the ever-increasing demands of the local body. I have heard that one of the professions with the highest number of divorces is the "clergy". It is even a common understanding that "PK's", or "Preacher's Kids", often rebel and/or backslide, never to darken the door of the church again. Something is terribly wrong!

Does God really call "clergymen" to sacrifice their families for the sake of the "flock"? Are pastors called to be a "burnt-out" offering for the Lord? While trying to impart the fruit of the Spirit to others, should ministers lack peace and joy themselves? I think not. But, instead of questioning the current paradigm of what it means to be a "minister", and instead of asking if this really is God's intention, we find new ways to put the proverbial "band-aid" on a gaping wound.

Are ministers really called to shepherd 50, 100 or 1000 people? Is it even possible to do so? Could it be that the "clergy" has been biting off more than it could chew? If the current church paradigm of "bigger is better" really is true, why did Jesus exchange the crowds for only 12 disciples? It seems that by today's standards, Jesus would be considered a ministry failure! Instead of the "mega-church", we find Jesus in a boat with a few dirty fishermen, sharing the secrets of the Kingdom of God. Could it be that, while seeminly more insignificant, ministering with smaller numbers of people could prove to be more effective?

One of my closest friends, Steve Sensenig, in a recent post entitled "Multiplication Ministry and Maturity", discussed how, while seemingly more productive, the current model of ministry actually slows down the progress and number of disciples. In the post, he shows how our current paradigm is based on addition, rather than multiplication. Churches are considered more successful when the number of people attending grows, thereby, making that particular church larger. But, does this cause the Body of Christ at large to become stronger? I think that, many times, it does not. The local church has become like the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has no outlet, and therefore, becomes a resting place for all the minerals therein. In the same way, instead of believers being "equipped for the work of the ministry", ministers take the work of the ministry upon themselves, leaving them feeling "burnt-out" and the "pew-sitter" feeling unimportant or unnecessary. Instead of increasing the number in a given church, should we not seek to increase the number of churches? Instead of increasing the responsibility of a few, should we not increase the number of responsible persons, thereby making the burden lighter for everyone? It seems that this would mean less stress for a few, and more growth for many. Synergy is a powerful thing you know:) Any healthy organism eventually must stop growing, and instead start reproducing. This, I believe, would have a more profound effect on the Body of Christ both numerically, and spiritually. Could this lead to a greater fulfillment of the Great Commission, by birthing more "disciples" instead of more "converts"?

I believe it is a shame that many men and women, who once were so enthusiastic about living for God, have had their fire extinguished because someone told them that "bigger is better". This belief has led to many of God's precious people feeling condemned for not having a "larger" impact, and drained the life out of others who actually "arrived" according to the current model. Maybe we have to grow smaller in order to grow larger. What do you think?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Who's the priest? (A Divided Life? Part 3)

As you may already know, I have been blogging lately on distinctions that are made in the Body of Christ. I talked the first go around about how it seems that the Graeco-Roman mindset has affected Christianity in causing believers to divide their lives into "secular" and "sacred" distinctions. This carries over into many areas of our lives. One such distinction that I feel has had a huge impact on believers is the division between what is known as the "clergy" and the "laity".

Before we get started, let me give you a little of my own personal history/journey. I have ascribed to the traditional model of church since childhood; the model that says that there is a specialized "clergy" that is to lead the "laity" into the things of God. As an adult, I decided to go into pastoral ministry. So, I went to Bible college and studied to be a pastor in the church as I knew it. I became an associate pastor/worship leader in a church, where I was in leadership for a little more than 2 years. I have just recently stepped down to pursue a more simple concept of church. Coming to grips with the distinction between "clergy" and "laity" is one thing that led me to this decision.

In the modern church, the clergy is the leading influence among the believers. The clergy is responsible for everything from preaching to counseling to administrating to recruiting volunteers to evangelism...and the list goes on. The clergy has become the professional caste in Christendom that performs all of the duties that simple laymen and women are not "qualified" to perform. In many circles, the clergy or pastor is considered to be the "head" of a local church; a distinction which the Bible ascribes to Jesus alone. It seems that the Church has adopted the hierarchial model passed on by governments and corporations. We have a "CEO" (the pastor), a board of directors (the elders/deacons), blue collar workers (the "committed" laity) and consumers (unbelievers and "apathetic" believers).

Jesus talked to His disciples several times about order within the Kingdom of God. In speaking of this He said:

"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.
Luke 22:25-26 (NASU) Be sure to check out the references on this one too!

Jesus does not here condemn the oppressive domination of fellow believers. Instead, He shows His displeasure for any form of authoritarianism. Even when this would seem to benefit others, taking authority over brethren in the Body is denounced. Jesus says that we are not to excercise authority even as "Benefactors"--ones who excercise authority for the good of the ones under his/her control. How much authority does the "youngest" have? How much authority does a "servant" have? You get the picture:)

Typically, in a normal gathering of believers, a "professional" clergyman (or team thereof) leads the way and sets the tone. A worship "leader" decides what songs will be sung by all, only to be followed by a pastor or other single member of the clergy who gives a 30 minute to 1 hour "sermon" wherein he/she shares with us "God's Word" for the day/week. Contrast the current model of church to Paul's description in 1 Corinthians 14:

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.
1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV)

According to this verse, when we come together as believers, everyone has something to contribute and should be allowed to do so. Biblically, no place seems to be given to monolithic discourses in meetings with other believers. Every member functioning is not the exception but the rule. It has even been proven scientifically that a person only remembers about 20 percent of what they hear, while they remember 70 percent of what they say themselves and 90 percent of what they do themselves.

One of the pivotal truths that came out of the Reformation was that of the "priesthood of all believers". This came to the forefront in doctrine, but rarely changed the churches practices. While claiming that all believers have an equal standing before God, we have elevated the "clergy" to a place of preeminence in ministry. Instead of the functioning priesthood of all believers, we go to a building and listen to the same person week after week share with us the "word" that God has given them for us! While the Reformation put the Bible back into the commoners hand, the lay person is left to rely on the pastor or clergyman to interpret it for them. If there really only is "one Mediator between God and man" .........then why do I need to trust in a person to hear the voice of God for me? Didn't Jesus say that His sheep would hear His voice? I take it that "all" is the implied description of participants in that verse; that is, ALL of His sheep will hear His voice. If the Holy Spirit really is my "Counselor", as Jesus said that He was, why should I seek to have a "professional" work through my problems with me? Is He not up to the challenge? Do we really believe that the veil in the Temple was torn in two after all? Are we trying to live under a renovated version of the Levitical priesthood? Am I under the New Covenant, or the Old Covenant?

It seems to me that the role of a professional minister impedes the growth of the rest of the Body and contributes to many believers remaining in an infantile state of Christianity. Instead of letting God flow through me to others (and vice-versa), I pay someone to "do the work of the ministry" in my place.

As long as the caste system of "clergy" and "laity" remains the norm, it will be difficult for most of the Body to learn to function in the gifts that God has empowered them with. If this system remains in place we will probably see a continuance of ministry "burn-out", stagnation among "regular" believers and fewer disciples being released for Kingdom ministry. Until we truly look at all of the Body as "a kingdom of priests", we will remain but a limited expression of what God intended the Church to be. All of the Church must rise up and be the part of the Body that God has called us to be. Only together can we manifest the will of God in the earth. That's what I think:) What do you think?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sacred Spaces? (A Divided Life? Part 2)

I am continuing to think about distinctions that we as believers (and myself personally) have often made. We talked last time about the distinction that has commonly been made between "time with God" and the rest of our day. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that God is more interested in us being aware of His presence all of the time than in us focusing on Him for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or for 1 hour of our day.

The next distinction that I would like us to talk about is the idea of "holy places" or "sacred spaces" (I love to rhyme!). In the body of Christ we have "church sanctuaries", "Christian retreat centers" and something we even call "the holy land". I know that during my childhood, I was always commanded not to run in the "sanctuary". During my time as an associate pastor, I have myself said "Isn't it great to be in the house of God today?". For a good part of my life, I thought that God was like the grouchy old neighbor in some movies I have seen; you better make sure not to mess up His flowers or track mud on His carpet or else! God's "house" sure was not a very enjoyable place to visit!

I would be willing to venture that many children who grew up in this type of atmosphere are now adults who have separated themselves from the experience we call "church". Was this simply because they were rebellious, and not willing to conform to "God's truth"? For many,I think not. Maybe, just maybe, it never really was "God's house" or "God's flowers" that we were protecting. Maybe God doesn't really care that much about owning a house or having the perfect landscape.?!

It seems that this line of reasoning led to the persecution (and ultimate death) of some of the first believers. Steven, the first Christian martyr, said something about the idea of a "house for God" that helped lead to his death:

"However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: "'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?'"
Acts 7:48-50 (NIV)

The Jewish people and leaders were so upset about these and other comments that Steven made, that they ultimately ended up stoning him to death! My, my, aren't religious people touchy?:) A young man by the name of Saul (we know him better as Paul) consented to Steven's death. Yet, we find him later saying essentially the same thing:

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands."
Acts 17:24-25 (NIV)

Paul went from worshipping in a "holy place" to declaring that there is no such thing as a man-made "house for God"! So, if God doesn't live in our buildings, where does He live? Well, I think you know where I'm going:) Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:16

"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" (NIV)

The reason that the veil in the temple was torn in two was so that God could move inside of us (boy, when God checks out, He sure does it with a bang!)! We are the temple! We are the "holy place"! God doesn't live in wood, brick and mortar...He lives inside of us!!! I was talking to a friend about this last week and he told me a funny story. He said that a pastor heard a member of the church correct some kids for chewing gum in the sanctuary. He corrected the member by saying "Don't you mean that the sanctuaries are chewing gum?"

It seems to me that the idea that a building can be "God's house" is very stifling to a believer's growth in Christ. Instead of recognizing the fact that we are the temple God longs to dwell in, we endeavor to get out of bed to meet in a cold, uninviting building that doesn't say a whole lot of good things about the Father's character. For many, these times are not enjoyable, but rather, non-optional, weekly pilgrimages that will somehow earn us brownie points with God. Sometimes we act as if Jesus never came. It's as if we are still trudging along under the Old Covenant. We go to the "holy place", listen to the "holy man" and give our "holy sacrifices" (tithes, etc).

One of the things that seems to have set the early church apart from every other religion and belief system is that they didn't have a temple, they didn't have a priesthood and they didn't offer sacrifices. They were not trying to keep their God happy; instead, they were basking in His joyful love for them! Instead of meeting in grand cathedrals that spoke of the "majesty of God", they met in simple homes that spoke of the intimacy of a loving family with a loving Father. If what the Father really wants is a family, wouldn't a regular old home be a good place for His kids to get together? I don't know of many families that get to know each other in a theater:) Maybe instead of building "holy places" for God, we should build up God's holy places (which just happens to be us)!:) What do you think?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Divided Life? (Maybe Part 1?)

I have been doing some thinking lately on distinctions within the believers life. For many there is the clergy/laity distinction, the sacred/secular distinction, the Sabbath/regular day distinction, etc. From what I have gathered, many (if not all) of these distinctions have been brought to us through the influence of Graeco/Roman thought. Our society has been so influenced by these ancient cultures that sometimes it is hard to distinguish what is Biblical and what is simply a cultural norm. It seems to me that God desires a more holisitic approach to our lives.

One such distinction that I have been considering is the idea of a "prayer time" or "quiet time". It has been instilled in me since I can remember that there is to be a special time each day that you set aside for "spending time with God". To me, daily Bible reading and prayer have been necessary, non-optional parts of my daily routine. But, lately I have been pondering if this is God's plan or simply the Christian "norm". Does God call us to give Him a "tithe" of our time (as many have said), or does God want us to continually walk with Him? The answer is obvious, but, do we really live like this is true?

I have felt for a long time that my prayer life was a time when I was to bring my thanksgivings, shortcomings and requests to God. There has usually been a certain order to my praying from which I am reluctant to veer. I have felt that there were certain things I was supposed to "cover" everyday in prayer (you know, requests for government officials, unbeliever's salvation, etc.). Well, I am finally asking the question "How's it working for you?", and to be honest, I have not enjoyed it very much!

Does God call us to give Him 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour of our day and then be on our way with the rest of the day's business? Or is prayer to be a continual experience as Paul told the Thessalonian church in 1 Thess. 5:17 "pray without ceasing"(NIV) or "pray all the time"(The Message)? I find it ironic that Paul said in 5:16 to "be joyful always" and then immediately said to "pray without ceasing", for these two experiences were mutually exclusive for me. Let me say honestly, the way I have prayed has not been very joyful! I have (dare I say) actually dreaded my "devotional" time on numerous occasions.

It seems to me that we have tried to separate our lives into "God's time" and "regular stuff time". But, is this really God's will? I personally am coming to the conclusion that God wants to be a part of all of my life. He wants to eat with me (Revelation 3:20), walk with me (2 Corinthians 6:16), and yes, even watch a ballgame with me (no reference for that one!).

I just had lunch with a friend of mine today and he drew an interesting comparison for me. He said that my relationship with God was like my relationship with him. If I always brought an agenda to our times together, our relationship would not go very far. If I felt it necessary to start with compliments of him, then move on to a pre-designated topic of discussion, there would be no time for a true, dynamic friendship to occur. Is this what we do with God many times? Instead of being in-touch all day long, do we reduce our relationship with God to 15 minutes in the morning or 1 hour in the evening of pre-determined prayer lists and "chapter-a-day" Bible reading? Am I throwing out the idea of reading the Bible? No! Am I throwing out the idea of daily-prayer? No! What I am asking for, though, is a re-examination of how we do these things and why we do them. Do we "spend time" with God each day to earn His favor or His blessings? Do we read the Bible each day so that God will smile upon us? If so then maybe we are denying the very finished work of Jesus, and instead seeking to establish our own righteousness (Romans 10:3).

Maybe we need to stop categorizing our lives and stop insisting upon a "daily quiet time", and instead, keep a listening ear to the Spirit all day long. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Your Gospel...Good or Bad?

Don't you think that the Gospel is the best news in the history of the world? As a matter of fact, the original Greek word for Gospel means "good news"! It is good news that Jesus came to save us from our messes! But, for many, the Gospel has been reduced to a series of statements formalized in a creed or doctrine. Maybe this explains why many who call themselves Christians look no happier than those who don't. In Luke 4, Jesus explains several of the reasons for His coming. He says,

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Luke 4:18-19 NIV
What is good news to a poor man? That he doesn't have to be poor anymore! What is good news to a person in bondage? You are now free! But, if it's really true that Jesus came to set us free and to bring us good news, why are not more believers in Jesus enjoying these realities? Maybe it's because we are more concerned with what we believe instead of in Whom we believe!?! Things like systematic theologies, while sometimes helpful, can become a substitute for a true relationship with God. Instead of drawing near to Him, we get caught up in describing Him perfectly and getting our rhetoric right. What is more important, knowing Him or knowing about Him?

Many believers have made doctrines and creedal statements their source of identity and standing before God. Maybe this is why many avoid asking the question of "why" when it comes to their belief systems. My question is this: How's it working for you? Does what you believe about God cause you to want to know Him more, or does it make you feel the need to fix all of your shortcomings so that you can be "good enough" for Him to come around? If what you believe about God doesn't make you feel better about Him and about yourself, then are you truly holding on to reality or is your version of reality limiting your experience of Him? In Romans 14:17 Paul says that the Kingdom of God consists of 3 things: Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Spirit. If what you believe about God's Kingdom does not bring these realities into your life, then are you really believing the right things?

Do we really believe the "good news", or have we been duped by fools gold? Our version of the Gospel might look right and sound right, but in the end, does it really set us free? Do you really have to have all of your creeds and doctrines in perfect form to feel loved by God? When challenged about your beliefs do you feel threatened and insecure? I'm not saying that we need to throw out our intellectual search for truth. Nor am I saying that we need to live only by "warm-fuzzies" and the shifting winds of experience. But, if our doctrinal studies do not lead us to a deeper experience with the Father, haven't we really missed the point? What good is it to "believe" that God is love if you never really feel loved by God? What good is it to believe in the imputed righteousness of Christ if you never feel completely acceptable in God's sight? What do you think?

Let's Get Started!

Well everyone, I finally did it! Here is my first attempt at the world of blog. I am looking forward to having some great discussions on God, the Church and a little bit of Panther Football. While we will not always agree, I do hope that we can love each other anyway and disagree without being disagreeable:) I plan to write on many sensitive issues within the Body of Christ. I understand that this can lead to some heated debate and I welcome such debate so long as the motive is to build others up. I do have some strong views and opinions, but please realize that I do not claim to have all of the answers (OK, so maybe when it comes to Panthers Football I do:)). As a matter of fact, the longer I walk with Christ the more questions I have. This blog is an attempt to teach and be taught, to grow and help stimulate the growth of others. I want this to be a forum where dialogue can be initiated that will cause us all to think and rethink; to contruct, deconstruct and reconstruct our beliefs, views and opinions.

First, let's start out with a few guidelines:
1. Let's all be courteous and respectful of the beliefs, views and opinions of others.
2. No name calling or degrading someone else for ANY reason.
3. Agree to there is not separate sections in heaven for pre-tribers and post-tribers; for Calvinists and Armenians; for Cessationists and Continuationists!
That's it! Within these guidelines feel free to make your comments as brief or exhaustive as you would like.

For those of you who don't know me...are you sure you really want to?:) I am a Orthodox, non-Orthodox, evangelical, post-modern, Christian. I have been in various differing Christian "camps". I have been part of the "laity" and part of the "clergy". I went from having it all figured out to trying to figure it all out. "So what does this guy believe anyway?" you might ask. Well here is my list of absolute certainties...we will probably start tackling the rest on this blog soon:
1. Jesus Christ is the perfect union of God and Man. He is the God-Man and the only way to the Father.
2. God sent Jesus as the Substitute and Sacrifice for the sins of all humanity.
3. Jesus died for our sins and three days later literally rose again from the dead.
4. Eternal life is available to all who will trust in the sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf.
5. Jesus will return someday to set up His Kingdom with those who receive His gift of life.

Wow! That sure was more concise than the systematic theology books I read in Bible school! If you believe these simple, absolute truths then you are my brother or sister. If not, hang around and join the discussion. Your comments are welcomed and your questions encouraged!

I have no idea who will read this blog. If you stumble across it...please drop me a line. I want to hear from you all. Questions, comments, cheezy remarks about my Monday Night Football picture????? Alright. Nuff said. With God's help let's get goin..........................

My 5 Seconds of Fame...14:45 & Counting

This is me at the first Monday Night Football game of the season in 2004. Even Al Michaels commented on my sign! There's one life-goal marked off the list! Many more to go!!!!