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Archive for the ‘Commission’ Category

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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Once upon a time I went through and underlined every time “word of God” was used in the book of Acts.  The phrase occurred quite often in passages about evangelism, which of course is a theme of Acts. At the time I was accumulating evidence that if we wanted to be effective at converting the lost, we needed to use actual Scripture instead of our emotional phrases and cute metaphors.   A passage in 2 Timothy inspired me: “And that from Childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures of God, which are able to make you wise for salvation…”

 

Having been raised in the evangelical church, I didn’t at that time ask an obvious question.  When the apostles, Paul, the deacons, and all those famous evangelists spoke “the word of God,” to what did that refer?  Did they stand up in front of masses of Greeks and compile quotations from Exodus, Psalms, and Habakkuk to call men to faith in Jesus?  Obviously they did not yet have the New Testament written.  We do have some examples of the apostles quoting the Old Testament to people while preaching.  And there’s the story of Philip, who found the Ethiopian Eunuch reading Isaiah, so he explained how what we know as chapter 53 was a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus, and led him to salvation from there.

 

I’m skeptical that “the word of God” could have been referring to the Old Testament.  There are words to refer to those writings: Scripture, Prophets, Law, Moses, Isaiah, “as it is written.”  But Acts didn’t use those to describe the apostles’ preaching.

 

Ok, Jesus when He was being tempted quoted to the Devil that man lives by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Jesus Himself was using Scripture, so we usually interpret this as an exemplary double-punch.  I don’t need bread; I need exactly what I’m using now: Scripture.  Except, well, what did the original author mean, the one whom Jesus was quoting?

 

If you go to the Psalms, all over the place you find references to the “word of the LORD.”  David says he delights in “Your word.” Does he mean only that he delights in the Law of Moses?  Why do we think of something different when we read, “The word of the LORD came to…” the prophets?

 

When Jesus reaffirmed that man lives by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” was He including the words God would speak during His earthly ministry?  Did He mean also those words that He heard from the Father and spoke obediently?  What about the New Testament, which we are today taught is God-breathed just like the Old Testament?  Are we to live by any other “words from God?”  I mean, if the apostles were preaching the “word of God” in Acts, and that didn’t just refer to what had been previously expressed in the Scripture or by Jesus, why don’t we have those preached words recorded?  Do we need them?  John supposes that if everything Jesus said and did were recorded there wouldn’t be books enough to contain them; why don’t we need all the words that Jesus spoke?

 

To God be all glory.

 

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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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Church is not about a pastor.  He obviously plays a part.  God never intended for one man to make or break a church.  There are safeguards established by the apostles in the New Testament to prevent that.  In a plurality of elders, for example, they can hold each other accountable.  If one of them is unwilling to listen to the concerns of a congregant, perhaps another will.  This is not to encourage division in the leadership, for the point of multiple shepherds is that no one can do everything all the time.  In the weakness of one, another diversely weak leader can be strong.

The burden we place on pastors is not fair.  Their weaknesses and failings are elevated to a critical point.  A cord of three strands is not easily broken – not only because it is harder to break all three at once, but because all three bear and divide the tension, creating a strength in the individual threads that is harder to break.

When I imagine church, I want the big vision, the ideal of what could and should describe the gathering of Christ’s bride.  A pastor sees the path, turns us in the direction, opens the gate leading us there, the practical next step to which I am so blind.

So many times I have seen pastors and ministry leaders get tired and discouraged.  I recognize the signs, having experienced them myself.  The tension is growing and the responsibilities keep piling up, all without any sign of effectiveness.  Or, we don’t know what signs to seek, or where to turn our eyes.

If my reader has read the Bible only, he will not find an altar call there – not for salvation.  The Bible usually records God’s saving work as meeting people wherever they are, in their chariot, on their knees in a jail, by a riverside doing laundry.  Jesus said, “Come unto Me,” without the help of pulpit or altar or stage.  In our church, custom has it at the end of each sermon to invite any heretofore unrepentant sinners to approach the front, to counsel with the pastors, and if they are willing, to pray receiving God’s free forgiveness.  The frequency of responses is used, even subconsciously, to measure the effectiveness of a sermon, ministry, or leader.

God certainly can save people in and through an altar call.  God can save humans wherever they are, remember.  How desperately the Church needs revival!  How many sit in the rows of chairs in our multi-purpose sanctuary having heard the words about sin and death and resurrection and faith their whole lives, but are drowning in the need to be good, in doubt about the existence of God, in despair over the extent of their rebellion?  Those would not answer an altar call.  They don’t need an altar call, or the words repeated.  They need God’s work in their lives, God’s Word proclaimed to their minds, and God’s instruments, His people, lovingly infiltrating the nitty gritty.  I need that, crave that.

If it is true that we are sometimes called to be weak, all the more reason to have companions in life and in church work.  Prophets are called to be strong.  Ezekiel, whose spiritual fate was much like Jeremiah’s, is named “strengthened by God.”  Paul continually emphasized God’s design for the church as a community of strengths – implying also a community of weaknesses.

Perhaps God allows discouraging circumstances to create a cooperative attitude in congregations.  Leaders in the church are not alone.  They are not called to “singleness” either in ministry or in marital status (is it not one of the requirements for a pastor that he be the husband of one wife?).  Therefore they should be experiencing the bonding lifestyle of serving humbly together in ministry, bearing one another’s burdens and being edified by each other.  May it be so.

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Etymology of glad:

O.E. glæd “bright, shining, joyous,” from P.Gmc. *glathaz (cf. O.N. glaðr “smooth, bright, glad,” O.Fris. gled, Du. glad “slippery,” Ger. glatt “smooth”), from PIE *ghledho- “bright, smooth” (cf. L. glaber “smooth, bald,” O.C.S. gladuku, Lith. glodus “smooth”), from PIE base *ghlei- “to shine, glitter, glow, be warm” (see gleam).

This weekend I’m glad. Gladness has been a theme. Friday night I attended a ladies retreat through my church where we had lessons focusing us on God and preparing our hearts for spending most of the day alone with God on Saturday. On Friday we worshiped. A song came to mind, We Will Dance, by David Ruis. If you click the link and read the lyrics, can’t you just envision the glad Bridegroom, Great King of Kings, dancing at His wedding feast with the thousands of people who make up His bride?

Saturday was spent, then, for me, focusing on the relationship of Christ and the Church as Groom and Bride. I don’t know how much you have thought about this or studied it. Recently I’ve become more aware of the betrothal connotations of the Lord’s Supper, of the promises in John 14:2-3, and of course the direct references like that in Revelation 19.

Picture a man engaged to a woman who is far away. He calls her on the phone and reassures her of his love. He sends her gifts. They share delight in their love. She renews her resolve to be the most deserving bride she can be. They spend time building the relationship. And there is the anticipation of the wedding that makes them almost giddy. Closing her eyes, the bride-to-be can envision her Beloved celebrating at the feast. Ah, the dancing and singing and glad shouts. How she will glow!

So, translating those things spiritually, that’s what I did on Saturday. Scripture testifies mightily of God’s love for us. It challenges us to faithfulness and pure living. Books especially of prophecy provide us with inspiration and hope by painting pictures of the victory and fulfillment and restoration at the End. And then there is praise for the incredible, unspeakably undeserved love God lavishes on us.

Today in church people said I seemed to shine. Moses shone after he’d been with God. Can you really see it?

Be glad. Be with God. Shine.

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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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