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?