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Caytie's Trees

Submission – The Church needs to be Submitted first to Christ’s headship.  One of my main concerns – with conventional and unconventional congregations (including many house churches) is that they are not Submitted to the biblical instructions for the church.  Many of those instructions are dependent on the Holy Spirit, and I believe that He is not being Submitted to, either, in a typical gathering.  Finally, the way they exercise their Submission – if at all – to God-appointed elders is rather loose.  A well-functioning church honors the elders among them.

Substitution – The thing about conventional churches that most of us don’t even notice is how they have Substituted a whole bunch of things for the way God created His Church to be and function.  Tradition replaces the Submission they ought to be practicing.  It isn’t that they aren’t gathering; they’re gathering a different way than prescribed.  It isn’t that they don’t do the Lord’s Supper; it’s that they have made it this ceremony of confession and contemplation rather than the communal feast in remembrance of our One Savior.  Things that appeal to and originate from the secular world have been brought in.  There are programs where instead there ought to be exercising of spiritual gifts on a personal level, and real shepherding where a leader gets to know the condition of the spirit of each member of his flock, guiding them into functioning as a whole according to the ways God is leading and equipping the parts.  And when problems are identified, so often man’s wisdom is consulted for solutions, replacing getting on their faces before God to repent and grieve and cry out for the only effectual help there is.

Supplement – A lot of churches believe that they can relegate the biblical types of gathering to extra-curricular activities.  They make the primary meeting about preaching and singing; that’s what the paid staff is preparing for during the week; that’s where congregational announcements are made; that’s the first thing a visitor will come to in most cases.  And then some churches make available (with differing levels of assertiveness) the small groups that more closely resemble the body-gatherings described in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Ephesians 4.  It’s already so easy to think of God as something we add on to the things we do ourselves: I try and then pray; I fill my day with activities and then have my ‘time with God’ in the evening.  What God wants His people to be busy with should not take second place to the things we’ve Substituted.

Suppression – By having a service centered on one man preaching, two things are suppressed: the headship of Christ and the participation of every member according to the movement of the Holy Spirit.  Another thing often hindered by the way church is done is holiness.  When the focus of a gathering is on evangelism – with a seeker-sensitive message or an altar call – it’s hard to enforce a standard of behavior.  While we ought to welcome unbelievers into our gatherings, it ought to be plain that they are outsiders: challenged by the work of God in building up and sanctifying His people, invited by the way we love one another.

Success – First of all, the leaders of those churches tend to be obsessed with “Success.”  These men feel that the outcome rests on them, and so reflects on their performance (often leaving them discouraged and desperate).  The way most conventional churches define success is not biblical.  They track church attendance, converts, baptisms, friendliness, amount of square footage in the church complex, health and wealth, popularity of the youth group or children’s ministry, retainment of staff or members, energy of singing or ‘amens’ during the service, the sales or audience of any TV/radio/books put out by their church and its programs and pastors.  All this, compared to the Bible’s characteristics of a healthy church: love, unity, righteousness, obedience, holiness, maturity, zeal, faith, generosity…

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Made by a young pair of brothers, Divided the movie is the film version of the Family Integrated Church propaganda.  Careful oversight was given by Scott Brown, of the NCFIC, and he was also interviewed extensively in the documentary.  The film follows the research of Philip  Leclerc into the fruits, philosophies, and history of the youth ministry church model.

Divided consists mostly of interviews.  It begins by talking to the authors of Already Gone, Britt Beamer and Ken Ham, who discuss the statistics about youth leaving the Church and at what age they stopped believing orthodox Christianity.  One problem they identify with modern youth ministry is the lack of substance being presented in lessons and sermons at events.  This leads to man on the street shots of students after a Christian concert, and surveys of various youth leaders and conference directors for youth pastors, showing the pervading philosophies of being relevant and giving the students an emotional experience – intentionally not dealing with points of Christian doctrine beyond Jesus’ love and sacrificial death.

Some former pastors and youth leaders are interviewed about why they left the youth ministry model (much as the filmmaker’s parents had chosen to do).  An enlightening testimony suggested that teaching the “right things,” worldviews and Christian theology, still resulted in a majority of students leaving the faith by the end of high school.  This presents a contrast to the first segment, where the flawed worldview of average youth ministry was uncovered.  One church planter stated that if you just read the Bible, you would not think of doing church the way we do it today; his church is trying to function more biblically, and one aspect of that is to eliminate youth ministry.

Next is what I see as the strong point, the most useful part of the documentary, dealing with the history of age-segregated church, beginning with the origins of Sunday school classes for children.  The rest of the movie seems unlikely to enlighten or persuade anyone, as the philosophies of each side (pro-youth ministry and pro-family-based discipleship) are not tested against a biblical standard.

Afterward, Philip Leclerc interviews a series of leaders in the FamilyIntegratedChurchmovement, who point out that the Bible’s prescription for discipling children is that their parents train them up, and that youth ministry – separate from the main meetings and activities of the church – is never mentioned in the Bible.  Questions are brought forward, like the argument that since parents are not taking responsibility for training their own children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, if the Church doesn’t, the youth will fall through the cracks.

I found a few things lacking in Divided.  At the end of the movie, I felt that the criticism against youth ministry was directed at its fruit: people who abandon belief in God and the Bible.  But the alternative put forward is not judged by the same measure.  I remain curious how successful family-centered discipleship and family-integrated churches are at retaining the next generation.  The filmmaker’s mentors are full of ideals which they claim are biblically based.  If the fruit is different from what statistics show for youth in the past several decades, this gives us hope.  If the fruit is the same, perhaps more is going on than negligent parenting and segregated churches.

The movie relies on the worldview of its audience to refute the postmodernism of most youth ministries which is put on display in the first half of the film.  Though presented as the unwanted results of age-segregated ministry, we are left to judge what is wrong with the youth interviewed based on our own notions – whether we would judge them for their style of music or dress, for their poor communication skills, for holding to false doctrines about creation, for caring about authenticity and relationship, for lacking discernment, for laziness, for postmodern relativism.  And if we only notice a couple of these, perhaps we are absorbing the rest of their subtle messages as true – or maybe we are judging everything they say as wrong because of the other things they are packaged with.

This highlights the next difficulty I had with the movie: some of the youth and youth leaders made really good points about what is valuable to people, what they expect – even need – to find at church.  When a student says he is looking for people who will tell him the truth and be real with him, and that he values a mentor for being involved in his life, surely the Church could learn from those needs.  A woman who leads training for youth pastors points out that they need to be relevant to the everyday lives of kids.  True – who has more relevance to the ins and outs of a young person’s life than the family he lives with?  Who is more real to him than his own parents?  But this point was not made, this challenge not extended to parents who are choosing to take up the biblical mandate to be spiritual leaders to their children.  Also, those concerns recognized by the representatives of youth ministry are really universal needs, not applicable just to teenagers, but also to adults.

Throughout the movie, the experts skirt the issue that the way we do church is fundamentally unbiblical.  We have not sought God’s design for our gatherings and Christian life.  The Church that was intended to be a community has become an institution full of programs, and people fill slots and categories and statistics instead of being directed by needs and gifts in the Body.  Perhaps parents are abdicating their spiritual roles because the Church isn’t allowing discipleship to happen among its members, leaving parents ill-equipped to train their children – but also leaving pastors ill-equipped, unsupported by the edification they are supposed to receive from the rest of the Church.

Finally, there is the question of whether people who are middle school, high school, and college age ought to be considered adults, invited and expected to contribute their spiritual gifts (if they are believers*) to the unity and edification of the whole church just as the rest of adults ought to be (but often are not).   I say “the rest of” because until the last hundred years, people in their mid-teens and beyond were counted adults.  In the very least they were not considered children.  And on the assumption that youth ministries are dealing with children rests the crux of the argument made by the Family Integrated Church proponents.  They argue that parents own the responsibility for the spiritual growth of their kids.  But if they’re not kids, in the biblical sense to which the commands would apply…

And even if they are children, if they are saved*, they are members of the body of Christ and the instructions about Church should apply to them.  They ought to receive instruction and admonition from any believer who is so gifted and led.  Parents are responsible, and not to shirk their duties towards the children God has entrusted to them, but they are not alone, and do not own exclusive rights to their child’s discipleship.  Perhaps they ought to do “catechizing” and “worldview training” at home instead of expecting it to be done at church.

I appreciate the call Divided puts out to parents to fulfill their God-given roles in the family.  The documentary shows the variety of people who believe in family integration, and the different reasons people practice it.  Exhorting the Church to be unified by ending age segregation is a great start.  When asked about children whose parents are not believers (the original target of Sunday schools), Family Integration proponent Scott Brown suggested an intense, personal solution: sound families should bring those children into their home during the week to witness to them and disciple them (sending them back to their own families with deference to the parents’ authority), and have those children sit with their family during church meetings.  The family is upheld as an important player in education and morality.  Ultimately, Divided exalts God for designing well, however dismal the results of man’s corruptions of church and family.

*If a child is not yet a professing follower of Christ, should he be required to attend Church gatherings with his parents?  Should he be allowed to participate if he is there?

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What if the Bible isn’t enough?  What if God desires us to have more of a relationship with Him than a hermeneutical understanding of morality and doctrine?  And isn’t that what the Bible teaches: walk in the Spirit, walk by faith, the Spirit will guide us into all truth, despise not prophesying?
If you’re anything like me, first you rejected these speculations. Then you couldn’t stop thinking about them, and started reading the Bible in a new light, considering the possibilities.  And now that you’re seriously tempted to believe in continuing revelation, you’re scared.  I’m not very good at explaining this fear.  I think about how I have relied on the Bible so much.  How do I appeal to fellow believers about their belief and practice except on a universally accepted standard?  How do I witness to nonbelievers except by demonstrating the inerrancy (internal consistency and outward truth) of the Bible?  Can I claim that internal consistency proves anything when that was a test for which books made it into the Canon or not?  Supposing God does speak to me, how will I know it’s Him? What if He speaks to someone else?  Why should I submit to what He speaks through them?  How will believers be on the same page, with each one (or at least each congregation) receiving his own revelation?
Maybe I’m scared because I never dreamed I would be here, believing these things.  And where else will it lead?  Maybe if I need to hear from God today, or in the future, I have to trust that He will speak; I can’t just sit comfortably holding in my hand all He was ever going to say.  I have to believe in a God who is able to communicate not just to me, but to people around me.  I have to believe in a God whose mercy is so great that even when I’m sinfully not listening, He’ll cushion me from making mistakes too terrible.  But I need His mercy every time, because whenever I’m not listening to Him, I’m doing my own thing.  So maybe I don’t like this belief because it puts me out of control.  I can’t force revelation from God by being smarter or studying longer or even by asking the right teacher.
On the other hand, I like it.  The God of the universe is speaking to real live people today.  He has designed a community for His people that is interdependent.  We get to be a part of His ministry both to those who have believed and to those who have not.  God has not left us alone to make up our own decisions.

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Did God speak outside of Scripture?  Does He still?  Can we speak His (new) words?

 

Speaking is a big focus of the New Testament, though I think we have overlooked it.  Many of the spiritual gifts have to do with verbal communication.  Are those gifts supernatural (spiritual) or not?  Can speaking gifts come from God, but not the words?  What about this verse from Peter?  “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…”  Have you ever thought about Paul’s admonition to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”?  Did you know that Paul follows with a request that his friends pray that “utterance may be given unto [him]”?

 

Maybe you’re like me, fascinated by how casually the Old Testament refers to God speaking to men.  God spoke to Cain.  God told Noah.  God visited Abraham.  He interrogated Job.  Was it like in the movies, where light streamed from heaven and men heard a voice?  How often did men have experiences like Abraham, who entertained God and a couple of angels in his tent?  Was the voice audible or not?  Did God come in dreams like He did for Joseph, instructing him to go ahead with his marriage to Mary?  Why doesn’t the Bible go into more detail about these fantastic communications?  Why do the authors seem to think we know what they mean when they simply say, “God spoke”?  Did they expect us to have similar experiences?  Does God still speak?

 

Did you know that the Bible never says anything about the end of the writing of Scripture?  Did you know there is no biblical instruction for determining a Canon?

 

Catholics ascribe authority to the words of the Pope (when he is speaking as Pope).  That way they have one universal authority to which all members of the church must submit.  Protestants rejected the Pope because they observed the fruit of his edicts, in the sixteenth century and before, that they were worldly.  Perhaps they also claim that the New Testament does not teach apostolic succession or the spiritual authority of popes.

 

But Protestants claim similar things about the Bible.  We use it as the universal and exclusive authority over the Church.  Now, the Bible does mention authority.  It says that men will live by the words of God, and I am fairly certain that the writings of the Bible fit into that category.  All Scripture, Paul wrote, is profitable for doctrine and rebuke and instruction in righteousness.  I’m willing to at least suggest that he had the Old Testament in mind.

 

The problem is that the Bible itself also teaches about the Church, and who has authority over it.  What it says is that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.  He is its authority, to which every member must submit.

 

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Today I read an extra chapter from Frank Viola’s From Eternity to Here.  This is the chapter I bought the book for.  In The Anatomy of the Church, the author lists and describes 14 biblical images of the Church, from the familiar: Bride, Body to the obscure: Field, Loaf.  Each one includes references.

 

“Compare the bouquet of roses to a rose bush. In a rose bush, the roses are one organic whole. Each rose possess its own individuality, but none are individualistic. They grow together for they share the same root. The bush passes through seasons of death and resurrection together. They are one organism. The church that the New Testament envisions is a rose bush, not a bouquet of roses.”

 

Frank emphasizes the communal (non-individualistic) nature of the Church and the headship of Jesus Christ, brought forward in every image.  Jesus redeems individuals in order to make for himself a special people. And He takes us and baptizes us into one body.

 

I’m interested to study a few of these images more.  The Loaf and The Army particularly piqued my interest.  Is the Armor of God given to the corporate Church rather than to individuals?  What does that look like?  Where does this Bible teacher get the idea that the “grains” produced by Christ’s death and resurrection must be crushed and fired and turned into one loaf?

 

On the other hand, how beautiful and exciting to meet with a vision for the Church: for God’s love for her, His purpose for her, and His delight in her.  How do we respond to that?

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There’s a lot of cynicism about the Church today.  And while I am stimulated by argument, by addressing something I identify as wrong, I don’t think of myself as a cynic.  Rather, this confrontation with status-quo is inherently hopeful.  I invest energy because I think Church could be better.

Before I left my last church, a few people were leaving slowly.  And my friends who were staying, they wondered why.  “There’s no such thing as a perfect church,” they argued.  “So why search for another kind of bad?”  Which reasoning rather baffled me.  What were they praying for?  Why did they do anything in the Church?  Didn’t they believe our community could be better?  And if we can get better, isn’t it possible that something better already exists?

Now, there may be other arguments for hanging around a church that is not as close to perfect as you hope.  But to say that leaving a church is for people with unrealistic expectations is silly.  Whatever your choice, your reason for staying should be the same as your reason for leaving: hope.  If you stay, be hoping to see God grow your church to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.  If you go, may it be because you hope that God has more designed for the Church than the divided and sterile institution you’re leaving.

I didn’t leave the institutional church in despair.  There was hurt and disappointment over the group of people I had been congregating with.  But there was joy over the release God had given me – not release from fellowship or love or truth, but release from schedules and structures and enduring a view of Church that I no longer believe.  I went out looking for people of God doing life together, praying together, participating together in teaching and worship and celebrating Communion.  My search has been for a high view of our Bridegroom as the Head of His Church, of a supernatural (but orderly) view of the Spirit of our God as He orchestrates lives and relationships and meetings.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.  But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” – Hebrews 11:13-16

I am persuaded that there is something better than what I have experienced.  And I will desire it and pursue it.  The things I write here on ChurchMoot really excite me.  What I read in the Bible about Church excites me.  The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.  Christ is purifying and strengthening His gloriously beautiful Church.  He’s preparing a place for us.  There are visions of unity and purpose and power.  A joy in knowing that we believe in, serve, and wait on an Almighty and Good God.

What’s more, I have hope that the people of God are being awakened to the biblical descriptions of Church.  Now when people realize church is broken, they’re seeking answers from God, and acting on them!  No longer will they betray the Body of Christ by their silence, by their tacit approval, by being accomplices.  They don’t want the world to think that what it calls Church is the ideal Beloved Bride of a Radiant Savior.  He purified for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works!  They want the world to see a light set on a lampstand, not some pitiful ember fading into darkness.

We are not a cult.  We are the Redeemed.  Joyful.  Saying so.  Hopeful.  Believing it is our God who builds His Church.  Waiting for our Messiah to come back – begging Him to come quickly!  We are loving, caring for each other, not afraid to weep or to rejoice.  The God who created the universe, the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead, indwells us.  He speaks through us, comforts us, guides and instructs us.  The same God who rattled the Early Church prayer meetings with mighty rushing wind is among us.  Let that be known.  Let it be proclaimed.  Don’t contain it in schedules and corporate models.  Joy might be practiced, but not rehearsed!  Truth should be so familiar that it can be ad-libbed.  We share in a life that is saturated with God, with no distinction between the times when we are doing ordinary work and when we are worshiping.

God called His people to abundant life, life in Him.  My hope for the Church is that we embrace it.

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In the model of church I read in the New Testament, particularly 1 Corinthians, when the believers gather, a few bring something – not by design of man, but by movement of God: a word, a prophecy (directing the people to a truth they need to hear), an edification, a testimony, a song.  In the New Testament, I believe there were no worship leaders preparing several songs for their congregation to sing.  Our churches today put the pressure on these men to open the door to worship, to lay out the path and charge ahead, teaching us to follow.  At my church there is a stage, and those on it perform – whether performing a duty or a concert, they are not “one of us.”

If a church meeting was participatory, those who brought songs to sing would have reasons.  The song would express not necessarily what we should feel or believe, but what we do believe, or do want to feel.  If a song was less relevant to me, I could sing it because I knew it was relevant to my brother or sister.  The singing would draw us together, and edify each other.

You run into practical problems.  How do people know the lyrics?  What about the tune?  Do we have a pianist?  If it’s a new song, how do we learn?  These aren’t really problems.  For centuries there have been folk songs, these melodies and lyrics rarely written, seldom studied, and almost universally known.  If you don’t know it the first time, maybe you will learn after a few times.  We carry on this custom in the practice of Christmas caroling.  No instrument.  A leader or not.

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