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Archive for the ‘Who? What? When? Where?’ Category

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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“This sounds like chaos.  We just read God doesn’t like confusion.  Well, what if one man brings a lesson from 1 Timothy and another wants to tell us what he’s learning from Isaiah?  What if no one has any ideas for songs?”

“I’m trusting God to lay on our hearts messages and songs that will communicate to us as He wills.  I’m trusting you all to be respectful and to heed God’s leading.  Our schedule is abandoned.  We start at 10, in here.  We may not end until 3.  If you have to leave prior, we’ll understand.  If you want to bring sandwiches, that’s ok too.  Don’t you think they broke bread when the early church gathered?  Two or three may teach.”

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“I, as the pastor, will be the moderator, and I may sometimes have a teaching to share.  Men, I encourage you to be praying during the week whether God wants you to share what He’s been teaching you.  You may want to request a song.  We can have our pianist or a guitarist start us out and play.  That’s the great thing about hymns: they’re in the hymnal in front of you.  But we can sing praise songs, too.  We all know lots of those.  And we can learn…”

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I have some serious concerns about the evangelical Christian Church in America. A year ago I led a Bible study. And it is a symptom of the problems with evangelicalism that I must clarify: that means we took passages of the Bible and studied them. We figured out what the words meant, how the passages were connected with other parts of Scripture, and how to apply them. The topic was spiritual gifts. One of the primary passages on spiritual gifts in the Bible is in 1 Corinthians. Typically a theologian would point you to select verses in chapter 12. However, spiritual gifts are the topic throughout 12, 13, and 14. This information fits because, in context, we saw that spiritual gifts are (this is so obvious) part of Church structure and purpose. Our group ended up discussing and discovering a lot about how the Church was intended to “run.”

from Whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:16

Ephesians 4, also a defining passage for the Church, is another chapter describing spiritual gifts. There are also passages in Romans and 1 Peter. In none of these do we see church buildings. The four-point sermon is not described, nor the “invitation.” Come to think of it, a weekly offering wasn’t part of the instructions. There is no gift for “treasury,” though there is one for “giving.”

To some extent, I am still trying to figure out what the Bible teaches about the design for the Church. What did Paul tell Timothy the Church should look like? How should the assemblies go? Who should assemble; when; where; how often? Is it like a network of small groups that interact and overlap? How do elders fit in? What does an elder do? How many elders did God plan for churches? Do they need to be formally ordained? Does a teacher have to be an elder? Does an elder have to teach? If they do, is it every week?

*Deep breath* I have a lot of questions. And I have some ideas I’m exploring. Some might ask how relevant my search is to real life. Occasionally God reminds me He is more important than a completely worked-out theology. He’ll teach me what I need to know. Mostly I need to know I should trust Him.

So I read up on these things. And I try to have an application-oriented study. But I’m not pragmatic. Truth is more important to me than success. I won’t take a group that “does it right” without believing the right thing. I’d rather not be part of a church that is high on creeds and low on follow-through. For one thing, that is my tendency, and I need influences to counter my laziness.

I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction with the Church. A lot of people my age leave, and I can’t entirely blame them. For one thing, my friends and I want challenged. We want examples. We need interaction across generations that is generally unavailable to us at traditional churches. Some who leave their childhood churches gather with others craving spiritual experiences though they were raised outside of church. An overall term for these gatherings is the “emergent church.”

This church and its leaders tend to have embraced a unique philosophy/theology. It is unitarian, communal, experiential: meaning respectively that there could be many roads to salvation and a relationship with God, evangelism and the Christian life should be more about serving the poor and building real there-for-you relationships, and worship must be a multi-sensory encounter.

One of the most frequent things I hear is an emphasis, almost a demand, for “alternative worship.” There is also “contemplative prayer”. The idea that conversion is a process can be found. In a book I am currently reading, a missionary is encouraging Muslim converts to keep the Koran, keep the the mosques, and be “Messianic Muslims.”

Here’s the thing. Most of these emergent believers and former evangelicals (and some others: family-integrated church members, some house churches, other conservative “fundamentalist” movements) are identifying real problems in the Church. The difference is the source of their solution.

I am searching for a back-to-the-Bible approach such as advocated by the New Testament Restoration Foundation. The other options would be slight reform (as explained in the Purpose Driven Church and other such books) or theological abdication for what works. These alternatives are man-centered, offering either that which appeals and entertains men, or that which men think will work, borrowing “truth” from “wherever it can be found,” including pagan religions, popular psychology, New Age spirituality, Hollywood, and ancient mysticism.

Back to the topic of spiritual gifts, one oft-overlooked and even supressed gift is that of discernment. “Discerning of spirits,” can mean telling whether a spirit (message or soul) is from God or not. John MacArthur has compiled an entire book on the subject for contemporary issues, entitled Fool’s Gold. There are websites like Let Us Reason, Apprising Ministries, and the Christian Research Net. I believe this is one of my gifts as well as a topic vital to the Church.

So I feel obligated to warn you about reliance on The Message paraphrase of the Bible, Brennan Manning’s writings, Rick Warren’s writings, anything Emergent Church or “Christian mysticism.” The argument that one must have read a book to denounce it, or have met a person to know that they are false teachers is invalid. The spiritual gift of discernment comes from God, and is primarily a testing of spirits against the pure, absolutely true Word of God. For specifics of why these people, books, movements, and ideas are unbiblical, please consult the links above. I have personally had exposure to each of these, but not immersion. However, the links provided do go into detail, with quotes and point-by-point refutations.

To summarize: the Church has problems. The solution to these problems can be found in the Bible, and the cause in how we have sold out to our culture and human philosophies rather than believing the instructions God gave. Some people who recognize these same problems and are very insightful in how they are related to each other and to statistics coming out about the Church have resorted to unbiblical “solutions,” which will cause more harm than good. Christians must be on their guard against these philosophies and practices. This is done by being solidly grounded in your walk with God (including knowledge of the Bible), and testing every movement against it.

Colossians 2:6-8, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

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Houses are good for church because:

  • Hospitality can be practiced.  Meetings don’t even have to always be at the same house (though communicating location could be difficult)
  • There is no stage, so people can look at each other during the meeting.
  • Sit on floor!  Bow.  Stand.
  • Church size is kept small, facilitating accountability and intimacy.
  • Meeting in homes connects church to real life, and invites real life interaction/community during the week.
  • Relationships are encouraged.  You get to know someone by seeing their home.
  • Service might be encouraged, if other members of the congregation were to volunteer to prepare the home for the gathering (cleaning, cooking, setting up, logistics).
  • Enforcing standards of behavior is more natural.  The process outlined in Matthew 18 makes a lot more sense if the context is a home gathering.  The third step isn’t a sudden leap in escalation.
  • “Out” evangelism is required.  Inviting the unsaved as an excuse for preaching the gospel to them is harder.  The burden is on the Christian individuals to live the gospel and speak the gospel to their friends and neighbors and coworkers.
  • We have no steeple to excuse us from telling people who we are and what we’re doing.
  • The neighbors can witness the voluntary gathering of people who love each other and love being together.  Being in the neighborhood is also being in the world, if not of it.  There is an increased chance of interaction with them, where they would leave us alone doing our own thing in a church.
  • Meetings can go longer, like an “open house,” because the people hosting aren’t eager to lock up and get home.
  • Kids have somewhere to be, typically: floor or laps during meeting, or in another room while parents and adults are talking after the more structured/formal part of the meeting and meal. Family integration is practically required.  Families get comfortable being around each other.  Kids and adults become familiar with interacting with each other.  Youth get to see those older modeling holiness and worship.
  • Food is facilitated better.  Less worry over expensive carpet, kitchen typically closer to or included in the meeting area.
  • Government interference is more difficult to accomplish.
  • The gathering is persecution-ready (except for the parking dilemma).
  • Low maintenance cost, no purchase cost. Money can be used for other things.
  • No fights over décor!
  • No membership rolls are required.  It would be more obvious who comes.
  • Avoids temptation to let numbers define successful ministry.  Also precludes the mega-church mentality.

Houses are bad for church because:

  • Space
  • Parking
  • Uncomfortable to come to someone else’s house.

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(duplicate of the theme page listed at the top and side of ChurchMoot)

I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.
Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of
what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers.  We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church.  He’s the head man.  I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project.  Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers.  My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.

2) Property.  This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex.  Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes.  Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.

3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching.  Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church.  No one was scheduled to speak.  Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons.  I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God.  When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere.  At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by.  So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church.  I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church?  Is it important?  Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority?  How much should we submit?  What shall Christians do for evangelism?  Wouldn’t it be better to team up?  But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them?  Are women to be silent in the church meetings?  If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

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After many adventures on his missionary journey, Paul met with a group of believers at Troas, where they met the first day of the week to break bread and hear Paul teach – until midnight and on to the break of day!  (Acts. 20:7)  Some scholars have used this verse to defend meeting weekly on Sunday.  Given the day-by-day accounts from Luke’s travel journal here, I believe that the day which Paul had available between boat rides to talk to them was the first day of the week, so Luke told us.  Is there significance to this?  There is enough to warrant its inclusion in the Bible.

But interpret it with other Scripture: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days…” (Colossians 2:16) “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.” (John 4:20, 23)

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