Monday, 28 January 2008

The Worship Leader: Some Issues

As soon as you hear 
the sound of the horn, flute, 
zither, lyre, harp, pipes 
and all kinds of music, 
you must fall down and 
worship the image … 
(Daniel 3:5)

Some questions to ponder
One brother recently shared a revelation he had concerning the above Scripture passage in Daniel 3:5. He believes that worship in the modern institutional church has become like that of King Nebuchadnezzar's command that, when the music begins to play, everyone must fall down in worship of the idol. Is that what we've done in our churches today? When the music begins, is our worship so controlled by the "Worship Leaders" that we must then and there fall down and begin worshiping? If we choose not to, are we then cast off by the institutional leaders into a spiritual blazing furnace, as it were, for not "playing" by the rules set out in the "order of service" by those in leadership?

Can one person or group of people really lead a congregation of people in corporate worship? I know this perhaps sounds a little radical, but can there really be such a thing as a “Worship Leader” or a “Worship team?” What I mean is that, if “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), then can there really be an individual or group of people who lead others in this worship experience? Where does the Bible give examples of “Worship Leaders” or “Worship Teams” in the New Testament church? While I’ve been looking for such an example, I have yet to find it.

Certainly when we read the Bible we see that there are times when the people are united in their singing and worship. I get the impression, however, that in such times of “corporate worship,” the singing just breaks out; first by one person, and then later by someone else, and in both cases, with everyone else just joining in. I suppose it could be argued that the person through whom the singing breaks out is the “Worship Leader.” However, I cannot help but think that the “Worship Leader” is a man-made institution, and if so, then I would argue that it’s important to re-think why we continue in it.

The “Leader” Problem
The problem with any sort of “Leader” in the church is that we have created a two-tier form of Christianity. An “us” and “them” mentality is indirectly implied. This is especially evident when we use platforms, or stages, in order to separate the two “classes” of Christians. We have those who “lead” and we have those who “follow.” We have the “upper crust” Christians “up” on the stage and the “lower crust” Christians “down” on the floor. The implication is that some of us are better than the rest of us.

The only “Leader” for the church is Jesus Christ. He alone is the Head. He alone is entitled to be “up” on stage above us. We, regardless if we are the janitor or the pastor, are all equally to be found on the floor. In other words, the rest of us are all on the same level. We are all equally a part of the “body” (see 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31). We are gifted by God differently, but we are all of equal value and on the same level. One part of the body does not rank higher than another part of the body. Most of us would probably agree with me on this. At the same time, most would probably say that the reason we “elevate” the leaders is to make them more visible by the rest of the congregation, not to elevate them in rank over the rest of the congregation. Unfortunately, visually speaking, they have been physically elevated and in so doing, they’ve been elevated mentally by most people as well. Then, if we want the “Leaders” more visible to the rest of the congregation, we are saying that what we want is a “spectator gallery” for the “lower crust Christians” to better view the performance on stage by the “upper crust Christians.” This leads to another whole sub-topic, namely the idea of a performance-based worship service, but I have already addressed some of those questions in another article entitled, “Has Hollywood Invaded the Church Service?

Worship “in spirit”
Having a “Worship Leader” also supposes that it is possible for everyone to be in the same state of worship at the same time. But is that really possible? Can every person in the gathering be in the same state of worship at the same time? Can we all really have a “mountain-top” experience with God at the same time? The worship leader tells us to “please stand” and to “please be seated” and to do this and to do that as if to say that, by doing so, you and I might better come to God. Are all these things not simply religious acts? If I’m worshiping “in spirit” (John 4:24) how is it possible that anyone else lead me in what’s happening in my spirit?

How many countless times have I been in a “Worship Service” and I’ve been told to stand and sing some song and I’m really not in the frame of mind to sing anything. I may not even be in a worshipful mood at all, or if I am, I may be more inclined to want to kneel or even to lie prostrate on the floor before God. In the same way, how many countless times have I been standing there singing to the Lord and some “Worship Leader” asks me (and the whole congregation) to sit down? I didn’t want to sit down. I often just wanted to continue standing, sometimes with my hands stretched toward Heaven, sometimes not, but I’m not allowed to. It’s almost as if I’m being told, “OK, that’s enough worship time for you; time to get back to reality.” Heaven forbid if we messed with the sacred “order of service.”

Worship “in truth”
Is God pleased with our worship? What would He say about it? Are we right on track, or is there maybe some room for improvement? If there is room for improvement, then in what areas can we improve?

The “truth” about worship can be summed up in James 1:27 which says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Two things can be observed here. First, our worship and faith as a whole, is proved not so much by what we say or sing, but by how we take care of others. We can say we love God all we want through our worship songs, but if our actions towards other people don’t speak louder than those songs, we’re liars (1 John 4:20). Secondly, we need to stop letting the world pollute us individually, and the church as a whole. Most of us would agree that worldly and carnal methodologies have no place in the church, and yet, many such things have long since already crept into the church to the point where we now think of them as normal and Christian. In 1 John 2: 15 we are warned, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Like wise Paul says, “ offer your bodies as living sacrifices, wholly and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12: 1-2). One day the Lord Jesus will come and take the church out of the world. Don’t you think that in expectation of that day, we start by taking the world out of the church?

Spontaneous Singing
True worship is primarily relational. It’s all about love and relationships. It’s all about loving God and loving each other (Matthew 22: 36-40). At the same time, worship is also about singing, both individually and corporately. Some of the most meaningful and beautiful singing I’ve ever experienced has always been very spontaneous and un-planned. There is no “order of service” to distract, it just happens out of the love for God in our hearts. There’s no need to plan it because it will happen all on it’s own out of a right relationship with our Lord.

In an institutional church setting, this is difficult. There is very little freedom, and for those who try and exercise their freedom, there is often only oppression. One of the wonderful things I’ve discovered since leaving the institutional church system is the freedom and spontaneity of worship. There are no “Worship Leaders” and no “Worship Teams.” There are simply brothers and sisters in Christ, who together in love and relationship, worship God through sharing their lives in the Word, in Song, and most of all, in Action. There is no one greater and no one lesser, for all are on the same level. Worldly and carnal ways of “doing” church have been cast away, and if some carnal way is still discovered, it is prayerfully addressed and promptly dealt with.

Truly, “they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Tithing: Is It Christian?

Is there any place in Christianity for “Tithing?” 

Certainly it’s still preached from many a pulpit, resulting in many people being “guilted” into tithing, but the question is, “is tithing Christian?” Is there any support in the New Testament for the practice of tithing? What is the New Testament example of giving? Why is tithing still taught in Christian circles?

Tithing is Old Testament Law
First of all it is important to note that there is no New Testament teaching in support of “tithing.” Yes, Hebrews tells us that Abraham gave a tenth to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7: 1-10), but that certainly is not a teaching in support of tithing. What Abraham gave was a voluntary gift, not sanctioned by the Law, for the Law of Moses had not yet been given. Besides, though Abraham tithed once, there is nothing in the Scriptures that suggests that he ever did so again. It is likely that “tithing” for Abraham was only a one-time event.

Tithing is an Old Testament concept (Law). It ranks in the same category as the other Old Testament Laws, such as circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, eating pork and a host of others. The truth of the matter is, we either teach and practice ALL the Laws, or NONE of the Laws. To use the above examples, if we’re going to teach and practice “tithing,” then we had better also teach and practice “circumcision.” If we’re going to teach and practice “tithing,” the none of us had better go to a store or restaurant on the “Sabbath,” because in so doing we’re sinning and we’re causing others who wait on us to sin because they have to work on that day. If we’re going to teach and practice “tithing,” then none of us had better eat any pork product again either. If I’m being legalistic in telling someone that they must not eat pork, then I’m also being legalistic if I tell someone that they must tithe.

If we still insist on “tithing,” then how are we to do so? Is tithing the putting of $100 of every $1000 I earn into an offering plate on Sunday morning? Certainly that’s what most institutional churches would have us to believe. No, that’s not it. If we’re going to practice the Old Testament law of “tithing,” then it’s probably best we look at the Old Testament teaching first.

One particular teaching on the subject of tithing that has caught my attention a time or two is Deuteronomy 14: 22 –29 which makes it clear that the tithe was to be “eaten.” The Israelites were to bring the tithe on a regular basis to the temple. If, however, they lived too far away, they could convert their tithe (grain, livestock, etc) to silver (money). When they got to Jerusalem, they could then again convert their tithe to “silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink …and you shall EAT there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice” (Deut. 14: 26). Notice that the tithe was not cash put in an offering plate, but rather it was something that was EATEN while rejoicing in the presence of God. If we read further, the meal (tithe) was to be shared with the Levites.

It’s an amazing parallel between the Old Testament tithe and our New Testament Lord’s Supper (the full meal, not the wafer and thimble of juice it’s become). The tithe was EATEN and it was SHARED with LOVE and with REJOICING and in the PRESENCE of God. If, when we speak of tithing today, we were talking about that kind of tithing, I would have less of an issue with it. In reality, it’s probably not too unlike our modern potluck dinners. Unfortunately that’s not what is meant when we hear of tithing from the pulpits. When we hear of tithing from the pulpit, it is usually some other strange (and maybe even anti-Christ) thing that is being talked about. To that topic I now turn.

Today Tithing is Taught to Support the Institution
Pastors who teach tithing will have you to believe that when you tithe, you’re giving your money to God. As a former pastor myself, I can attest to the fact that I used to preach that sort of thing. God forgive me. Those same pastors would have you to believe that putting ten percent of your income into the institutional church’s coffers is the same as God’s call of Malachi 3:10 to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The "storehouse" of Malachi is NOT to be understood as being the same as a modern institutional church offering plate.

The New Testament makes it very clear that if we want to give to God, the way to do that is through giving, caring, and loving His people. There are many, many Scriptures to support that. I don’t believe that God is primarily interested in my money; He is interested in my heart as I relate to other people. He is interested in what I do about the hungry, the strangers, the naked (or homeless), the sick and imprisoned (see Matthew 25: 34-46). Here’s a thought: If I have “money” that I want to give to God, I think God would have me to lovingly and cheerfully use that money, not under compulsion, to help care for those kinds of people whose paths cross mine.

Institutional churches will have us to believe that with the money we give, they do care for people like that. Unfortunately, they have far too high overhead costs that they look after first out of that money. The mortgage on the church building has to be paid first. The utilities and office supplies have to be paid first. All the fancy electronic equipment and instruments have to be paid for first. The pastor(s) and other staff have to be paid for first. What’s left? Not much. Modern institutional churches depend on their version of tithing, and they will continue to teach that man-made version. Their very survival depends on it. Without that regular influx of money into their coffers, they will cease to exist in the same manner as any other business, without a regular cash flow, will also cease to exist. An institutional church is more alike a man-made business than many may realize in that they both require cash to survive.

New Testament is Loving and Alms-Giving Grace
In 1 Corinthians 9:20, to paraphrase Paul, the faith of a Christian means that he/she is no longer under the requirements of the Law. As a matter of fact, Paul also says that “the entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’”(Galatians 5:14). Paul says further that “there is no law” (Galatians 5:22) if we are living by the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). In Romans 13:10 we also read, “love is the fulfilment of the law.”

Did New Testament Christians give money? Certainly they did, but not to an institutional system. They shared everything and there were no needy people among them (Acts 4: 32-37). They gave to meet the needs of the poor in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16: 1-4). They gave as much as they were able (and more) and out of overflowing joy (2 Corinthians 8: 1-7). The widow’s mite comes to mind (Mark 12: 41-44). Did that woman give a “tithe” (or only 10%)? No she gave everything she had (100%). The point is, do we think that the Lord is content with only 10 percent of us? Shouldn’t we rather focus on how to give God our “all,” as in 100 percent?

The End of the Matter (for me)
So much more could be said about “tithing.” So much more has been said about “tithing.” The thoughts above are only my humble musings. Though I’ve grown to dislike the institutional church system, as God enables me, I continue to strive to love the people within that system. I guess like everyone else, this is a life-long journey and I doubt we will fully get there this side of Glory.

That's the way I see it anyway. Peace.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Whose Gospel Are We Following?

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" --Galatians 1: 6-9 (NIV)

Why do some people leave the truth of the Gospel? It’s amazing that such a thing is even possible. Certainly Paul seems surprised by it when he says that he is “astonished” that some people were doing just that. We sometimes like to call such people “backsliders.” But is that what they really are? The term “backslider” seems rather to imply someone who slides back into something that they were before.

Here rather, it appears to be a case of believers turning away from the true Gospel to a “different gospel” which Paul says “is really no gospel at all.” It was a completely different kind of teaching that some people were introducing that apparently totally confused some people to the point where they were converted, as it were, to some other religion. As early as the first century, there arose a movement known as “Gnosticism” which essentially taught that there was a sort of special higher truth that God revealed to certain more enlightened individuals. It also taught such things as matter being evil and even denied the humanity of Jesus. Was Paul referring to an early form of Gnosticism in writing this? Perhaps. More likely, however, what Paul had in mind was the “Judaizers” who tried to convince the people that they still had to follow Jewish customs (the Law) in their walks with Christ.

Today we see an equally disturbing “different gospel” in Mormonism (and others as well). It too is “really no gospel at all” and it also “throws people into confusion” and “perverts the gospel of Christ.” Mormons use a lot of the same language as evangelical Christianity, but they often have very different meanings behind the words. This confuses many. They even call themselves “Christians” today. One Mormon told me once that they were Christians because "they had the name of Jesus Christ on their church buildings." But having the name of Christ on a building doesn’t make those inside Christians any more than does swearing by using the Lord’s name in vain turns the non-Christian into a Christian.

Even within evangelical Christianity a “different gospel” is sometimes preached which is not at all what Jesus taught. Oh, there are many similarities, to be sure. But there are also many differences. Our form of institutional Christianity today is in many ways a “different gospel” than we read of in the book of Acts. As a matter of fact, much of the early church’s form of Christianity in Acts is completely foreign to what we do today. In some ways we today are like the Gnostics of old in that we tend to subtly preach that God blesses some with higher levels of enlightenment, or anointing, than he does others. Certainly this is often implied, if not said in specifically those words. This is also especially evident when we look at how we have “factioned” the body of Christ through our denominationalism and constant church splitting. What ever happened to unity in the body through love and relationships? What ever happened to Jesus’ prayer for complete unity in the body (John 17:23)? Alas, haven’t we too turned to “a different gospel” than the one Jesus had in mind with respects to Christian unity? Sadly, I think that we have.

In other ways we are like the Judaizers in that we still like to blend the Law with living by the Spirit, such as preaching tithing (Old Testament) law, instead of alms-giving (New Testament) grace. Nowhere does the New Testament teach tithing because tithing was a part of the Old Testament law. Throughout the New Testament (for example in Galatians) we see that we are now no longer under the law. I believe that often tithing is taught today simply because without it the institutional church would cease to exist. In other words, we need it to support our buildings, utilities, and pastoral salaries.

In his book “The Frog in the Kettle,” George Barna says,
The average church allocates about 5 percent of its budget for reaching others with the Gospel, but 30 percent for buildings and maintenance. At a time when the poor and aged are pleading for help, churches in America are spending approximately 3 billion dollars a year on new construction.
Now it no longer matters that the “true Gospel” doesn’t teach tithing, they need it for self-preservation and so, like the Judaizers of old, they teach “a different gospel which is really no gospel at all,” and that gospel is called “tithing.” To be sure there are many other examples as well.

Why don’t people see this? Often it’s because they really don’t know what they believe in the first place. Too many in Christian circles today are too casual in studying their Bibles. Too many today are too content to simply sit back in an institutional church pew and listen to someone else tell them what to believe instead of letting their own personal anointing (1 John 2: 26,27) teach them. Too many Christians today are, whether they realize it or not, involved in some strange form of idolatry (?) of putting too many other things in life ahead of their relationship with God. When suddenly someone comes along with a slightly different variant of the gospel, “which is really no gospel at all,” suddenly they turn “renegade” (in the Amplified) and “traitor” (in the Message). As someone once said,
when you’re in the barn long enough, you soon no longer smell the manure.”
There’s an illustration that comes from the government printing of money. Apparently, when the government wants to train its agents to discern real money from counterfeit money, the first thing they do is to get them to spend time handling the real thing. Soon they become so accustomed to the real bills, that when they are presented with a counterfeit bill they are able to spot it easily. So too it is with the Gospel. If Christians today would only spend more time becoming acquainted with and handling the real Gospel, they would soon also be able to spot the counterfeit gospel, “which is really no gospel at all,” and be less likely to fall for it.

To paraphrase what Paul said about such teachers, he essentially says, “I wish they would all go to hell!”
As we said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel different or contrary to that which you received [from us], let him be accursed (anathema, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment)!” (Galatians 1:9; Amplified).
It doesn’t matter who it is who is doing the preaching, “regardless of reputation or credentials” (The Message), if someone tampers with the truth of the Gospel, they’re in serious trouble.
We who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)
That's the way I see it anyway. Peace.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Monday, 21 January 2008

Denominationalism, Local Church Membership, or Simply Dissensions and Factions?

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious 
… dissensions,  factions …
those who live like this will not 
inherit the kingdom of God.
(Galatians 5:20-21)

Rome had its legions;
Christians have their divisions
From time to time over the years a non-Christian has stopped me with a question that I’ve never been able to answer properly. This question has disturbed me, partly because I’ve never been able to give a decent answer to those who’ve asked. Why? Probably because I don’t have a decent answer. Probably it’s because I’ve often asked the same question myself. To be sure, those to whom I’ve asked this question, or those books I’ve read that have attempted to give an answer to it, have never provided satisfactory answers because they so often seem to contradict several passages of New Testament Scripture. Likewise, the answers I did get were often “pat” answers that seemed to attempt to justify what the Bible clearly calls a carnal and sinful situation that has no place in the kingdom of God.

What is the question? The question is, “what’s with all those names and types of churches?” The question always arose in reference to denominational names on church signs. Why do we have Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, Mennonite churches, Alliance churches, United churches, etc., etc., etc.? Good question! Why do we have so many different groups under the umbrella of evangelical Christianity, never mind those sects and cults that have sprung up, such as Mormonism, which also like to use the name “Christian”? I don’t have a good answer other than to say that it all springs from our “me-and-you-infested” nature that the Bible calls carnality.

This begs another question; if we recognize our carnality, or worldliness, as existing in our Christian disunity, then why aren’t we taking serious steps to repent of this and clean up our acts? To be fair, some have attempted to correct this problem, partly at least, under the umbrella of ecumenism. Before we attempt to deal with this question any further, it’s important to look at some verses of Scripture that deal with this topic.

Jesus’ prayer and Paul’s appeal
After praying for His disciples, Jesus prays for all believers that,
“... they may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe … may they be brought to complete unity ...” (John 17:21-23)
Are we united as God the Father and God the Son are united? Hardly! Does disunity lead to the world’s coming to know Jesus Christ? Not very well, I’m afraid! How much more would they believe if we really stood united? I wonder!
I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’. Is Christ divided?" (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
Who is it that we are following? Are we following this pastor or that pastor? Are some of us following the Baptists; are some of us following the Pentecostals; are others of us following the Mennonites; or are we following Christ? How sad that there are those of us who seem to identify with a denominational handle before we identify with Christ.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)
Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27)
What really bothers me is that unity in Christ is not just some once-occurring and obscure passage that can easily be dismissed. The theme of Christian unity was serious enough to warrant Jesus praying about it and Paul appealing to the church to “make every effort” to make sure that it happens. What have we done instead? It’s as if we shrugged our shoulders and said, “what ever!” Isn’t it amazing that we seem to know better than Jesus did, and that we are so much more in-the-know than Paul was, when it comes to unity in the body of Christ? Surely Jesus must have been mistaken! Paul obviously never dealt with that same bunch of morons that we did over at _____ Church! How obtuse we are! One friend of mine likes to say, “there’s no opening in the Trinity!” Funny, the way we act you’d think we were next in line for that position! Do we really know better than the Lord Jesus in regards to the urgency of keeping the church united?

The pros and cons of the ecumenical movement
Sometimes it seems to me that we must believe that God has prepared a special Heaven for us based upon our denominational (and carnal) tendencies and traditions. While we might think that preposterous, and even laugh at such a notion, we often act and carry on like we believed exactly that.

There’s an old story of someone getting a tour of Heaven by Saint Peter. In the tour the visitor was shown one area where the Baptists all gathered. In another area he saw the Pentecostals gathered together for worship. In another area were the Anglicans, and in still another were the Catholics. It was all very cliquish, as people from one denomination after another were grouped off in their own little piece of Heaven. As Peter showed the visitor another section of Heaven, he talked in a whisper. The visitor asked Saint Peter about the whispering and he replied, “This is the Mennonite section, and they think they’re the only ones up here.”

I don’t mean to pick on the Mennonites, for in truth we could insert almost any denomination into that part of the story. None of us, I’m sure, really believe that Heaven will be like that. It’s ironic, isn't it, that we act here on earth like it will be factioned and segregated in Heaven too? Surely God will have to do a mighty miracle in glory to get us to all be united there since we seem to be having such a hard time of it here.

According to the “Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology,” ecumenical movement is defined as, “A modern-day movement, which has attempted to bring about the unity of believers. It began in 1910 as a result of international missionary conferences.” Likewise, the same dictionary defines ecumenism as, “The attempt to bring about unity among believers. It may take the form of either cooperation between separate groups or actual merger into one organism.” So what’s wrong with that? At the outset, it sure sounds Christian enough. After all, we are in fact after the promotion of Christian unity.

The problem is at least two-fold. First, there’s the question of reconciling issues that deal with what we perceive to be “truth.” If I hold something as true and non-negotiable, whereas you hold something different as true and non-negotiable, where and how do we meet in the middle? Secondly, what’s usually sought after is a unity of organization rather than unity of Spirit.

So what are we to do about all those dearly held doctrines that we perceive to be “truth?” Do we give up on them for the sake of unity? Do we water them down so that we might stand more united with those who think differently than we do? Is a watered down Gospel for the sake of unity still the Gospel? On the other hand, if someone thinks differently than we do on what we hold as a key doctrine, can we even go so far as to call him or her a brother or sister in the Lord? With such people, should we even bother to seek unity, or would a continued apartness be a more favourable option? Is unity really worth the cost? Evangelicals have long since wrestled with many questions such as these.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9)
You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)
Part of the problem is that we don’t know what to do with “Christians” who think and act and worship differently than we do. We don’t know what to do with those who value different doctrines than we do. Who is right? Who is wrong? We like to think that we are the ones who are always right and it’s the other guys who are wrong. The problem is that everyone believes that they themselves have a correct interpretation of biblical teaching, whereas the next guy does not.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face."
(1 Corinthians 13:12)
If all that any of us can hope for is a poor reflection, does that mean then that correct doctrine is subjective? Certainly that cannot be true, can it?

The second issue concerns the typical ecumenical agenda of developing a unity of organization rather than being preoccupied in developing a unity of Spirit. I don’t believe that God is interested in us being ecumenical if all we mean by that is that we join ourselves together into a common organization. No matter what else we may call it, any organization, including Christian ones, are still man-made and not God-made. So long as all we’re interested in is a commonality of organization, we will always have divisions and factions. Man’s interests will always win out because he is the one who orchestrated the whole thing in the first place. There is no getting away from it.

No matter how many meetings and conferences we hold in an effort to get a united mind in the development of a common organization, we will still fail. Why? The answer is, because it is still man-made. The whole thing is little more than man’s church; it’s not Christ’s church. It is just like the “United Church of Canada.” They may have had admirable ecumenical intentions when they were formed in 1925 by the union of the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists. Where are they today? For the most part they are a liberal organization under the Christian umbrella that even ordains openly gay ministers. If it’s sound doctrine that we are after, then what are we to do with Scripture such as 1 Corinthians 6:9 which says that the wicked, including the “homosexual offender” will not inherit the kingdom of God (ouch!). Having now stirred up that hornet's nest, what are we to do with that? Obviously that's an issue for some but not for others.

So if we are not after a unity of organization, then we must be after a unity of Spirit. How are we to do that? It may be that the answer lies in finding a new place for our doctrines and re-visiting what Jesus called the “Greatest Commandment.”

When Doctrines No Longer Divide
Are doctrines important? Certainly they have their place. Maybe my doctrines, those things that I believe about God and His will for me (and others), is better kept between Him and me. Maybe I need to be more careful about when and where I share my doctrinal views, because, “Doctrines Divide,” as suggested by the title of a book by Erwin Lutzer, “The Doctrines that Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines that Separate Christians.”

Maybe instead of focusing so much on putting forth my doctrinal views, maybe what we each need to do is to re-visit what Jesus said was “The Greatest Commandment.”
All the Law and all the Prophets hang on these commandments.” (Matthew 22: 36-40)
What commandments was He referring to? He was referring first to loving God and secondly, to loving each other. Now if all the Law and all the Prophets hang on that, then we could rightly say that all our doctrines also hang on our love for God and our love for others. If this is true, and I think that it is, then the priority for us is to first of all be concerned with real and un-pretentious love. If we really learned to do that, it seems to me that the issue of doctrines would automatically work themselves out as well.
When Christians divide and faction themselves off into various groups and denominations, they do so primarily because they still haven’t learned to really love each other.
Furthermore, if we haven’t learned to love each other, then we also haven’t learned to love God either. As a matter of fact, 1 John 4:20 goes so far as to say that if we claim to love God but don’t first love one another, then we’ve just lied in saying that we love God. I like to think that I love God, but where is the proof of that love? The proof is in my genuine and loving relationships with others. If we truly realize that goal, then we will also realize a time when doctrines will no longer divide either.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious … dissensions, factions …those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5: 20-21)
Notice those words, “dissensions and factions,” in other words, anything that in any way promotes the dividing of the body of Christ, does not lead to our inheriting the kingdom of God. Anything at all, including things like denominationalism and local church membership, is in reality cultish at best, and probably better said, actually anti-christ. Maybe it is high time that we start to re-think exactly we are saying when we speak of a local church membership. What are we really saying?
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3: 1-4)
When we promote one denomination over another, or membership in one local church over that of another, we’re saying that we are “mere infants in Christ.” We are saying that we “are still worldly.” Isn’t it time that we grew up in our faith? Isn’t it time that we start to recognize denominationalism and local church membership as being the cults and factions that they really are?

That's the way I see it anyway. Peace.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Pastor, Who Are You?

“It was he who gave 
some to be … 
(Ephesians 4:11)

The God-given gifts to the church
Probably one of the most common and at the same time most misunderstood positions in the institutional church is that of “pastor.” In Ephesians 4:11 Paul says, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” What do we see here? Here Paul seems to be listing five “gifts” (gifts, not offices) of the church. These are, (1) apostles, (2) prophets, (3) evangelists, (4) pastors, and (5) teachers.

I did a little research in the “NIV Exhaustive Concordance” which is for the NIV translation of the Bible what “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance” is for the KJV translation of the Bible. It’s interesting that the word “Apostle” appears 21 times and “Apostles” appears another 57 times for a total of 78 times in the New Testament. The word “Prophet” appears 238 times (65 in the NT) and “Prophets” another 245 times (89 in the NT) for a total of 483 times (154 in the NT alone). The word “Evangelist” and “Evangelists” appear only 3 times in the entire Bible. The word “Pastor” doesn’t appear at all, while the word “Pastors” appears only once, and that is in the above text of Ephesians 4:11. The word “Teacher” appears 68 times and the word “Teachers” appears 73 times for a total of 141 times.

What did I learn from this little exercise? I learned that the word “Pastors” only appears once as a noun in the entire Bible and we’ve created an entire doctrine of the role of “Pastor” from one little and almost obscure verse. Isn’t that a little ironic? I think so. The truth of the matter is, there are more references to “snake handling” in the New Testament (snake: 5 times; snakes: 6 times; NIV) than there are to “pastors.” The truth of the matter is, there is more biblical justification for snake handling than there is for the office of pastor.

What does a pastor do? Well, he preaches, teaches, baptizes, marries, buries, conducts the Lord’s Supper, administers, visits, evangelizes, acts as a community liaison, and is an ex-officio member on all church boards. There are probably a host of other duties as well that are often thrown into the mix. However, given the single occurrence of the word “pastor,” how did we come to create this massive doctrine of the role?

It’s probably much easier to define the role of “prophet” given its 483 appearances in the Bible. Even from a New Testament perspective, the word “prophet” appears 154 times. Are there to be “prophets” in the New Testament church? That fact seems almost undeniable. We can fairly easily come up with a good description of the role of “prophet” given the amount of times the word occurs. What is a “prophet?” It is someone who speaks forth that which God spontaneously brings to his or her mind. In the New Testament sense, the gift/role (not “office”) of the prophet must agree with God’s word as we find it in our Bibles.

The second greatest occurring word from Ephesians 4:11 is the word “Teacher” or its pluralized form. This word shows up 141 times. We have a pretty good grasp of what we mean when we speak of a “Teacher.”

“Apostles” also occurs quite regularly making its debut 78 times in the New Testament. This most often refers only to the original witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, although Paul used the term in reference to himself (1 Cor. 9:2) suggesting that the term also applied to pioneer church planters.

“Evangelists” appears far less than the previous gifts. It is mentioned only three times. Still, we can fairly easily understand what the word means. In the early church they were the ones who first brought the Good News. Today the term is usually used of people who don’t represent one specific faction of the church, but rather whose (“ministry?” – for lack of a better word) transcends any specific local congregation. The term “para-church” comes to mind, as does the name “Billy Graham.”

However, the term “Pastor” is much less clear. What does it mean? Oh, I know what it’s come to mean. It’s come to mean a Christian minister who spiritually nourishes and cares for a local congregation. But is that what God meant by that term? How do we know? If our Bibles are the final authority and guide, then it seems right that if something either isn’t in the Bible or isn’t at all clear from the Bible, then we had better not go developing important doctrines on that subject. Do we have a clear picture of what a pastor is based only upon the Bible? No, we don’t. Then can it really be said that a “pastor” is one who has been given the authority to minister and care for the local congregation?

Creating doctrines from obscure passages
There are plenty of other obscure passages in the Bible that we don’t go making key doctrines out of. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:29 speaks about those being baptized for the dead. Psalm 137:9 makes reference to smashing babies against the rocks. These are the only occurrences of these ideas, but we certainly don’t go making key doctrines out of them. Some cults like the Mormons have justified baptism for the dead based upon that one little verse, but most Christians seem to know better than to do such a thing. In the same way, there are at least 7 incidents of cannibalism in the Bible (Lev.26:29; Dt.28:53; 2Ki.6:28; Jer.19:9; La.2:20; 4:10; Eze.5:10). Does anyone justify eating each other based on those verses? Of course not! While we’ve been wise in using proper hermeneutical practices in these previous three examples, why have we seemingly failed to do so with regard to the office of pastor? I wonder.

Some say that a pastor is a “Shepherd.” In fact the NIV Exhaustive Concordance under “pastor” says simply “(KJV) see Shepherd.” As I looked up the occurrences of the word “shepherd” in the concordance, there seems to be only two ways that the word is used in the Bible. First, it is used in an agricultural context of taking care of sheep. Are we to thereby assume that such passages are all metaphors in that we are all the sheep and our pastors are all our shepherds? Even if such passages were all to be understood metaphorically, and I don’t think that they are, why then confuse people by using titles such as Pastor _____? Why not rather speak of such a person as Shepherd _____? Certainly at least then we could maybe get a little better picture from Scripture of the role implied.

Secondly, it’s used in reference to Jesus Christ. As best as I can tell, it never seems to be used with reference to a local church pastor. Jesus alone is to be our “shepherd” or our “pastor.” Psalm 23:1 says, “The Lord is my shepherd…” To further this thought, given that there is such a discrepancy in teaching among pastors, is it really possible that they are all right? When one pastor says this, and another one says that, and another one says still something else, who are we to listen to? I’m much more comfortable in letting Jesus alone be my “pastor” or my “shepherd.” Still, there can be no denying the fact that “He gave some to be pastors” (Ephesians 4:11). What then does the word pastor mean in context to the local church and what is his role? That remains a biblical mystery to me. All that I know is that I am becoming less and less comfortable with the way the typical role of “pastor” is carried out in most institutional churches today. So if it’s not to be inferred biblically that a pastor ministers to and cares for a local congregation, then whose responsibility, if anyone’s, is that?

The plurality of elders
The word “pastor” and “elder” have also often been taken synonymously. I am a little more comfortable with the word “elder” than “pastor.” The NIV Exhaustive Concordance lists the word “elder” 188 times (59 of which are in the New Testament). Throughout the Gospels the word “elder” seems to be used mostly within Judaism and in the context of the chief priests and teachers of the law.

When we come to the book of Acts, we see that even Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders in each church” (Acts 14:23) suggesting a plurality of elders. Likewise, 1 Timothy 5:17 speaks about “the elders who direct the affairs of the church,” which again suggests a plurality of elders.

The elders are the spiritual leaders of the church unlike the deacons who simply looked after the physical needs of the people (Acts 6:1-7). One can more easily justify making an office of “elders” for the local church body than one can of “pastor.” At least with regards to “elder” there is biblical support for doing so.

Who then are the elders to be in the church? The first prerequisite is that they be mature in their faith and not new converts. Paul warned Timothy to “not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22). Some cults such as Mormons have in error turned teenage boys into “elders” when they go on their “mission.” How can an 18-20 year old be an elder? They haven’t even begun to live yet and certainly don’t have the wisdom of a mature faith to guide anyone in their own spiritual pilgrimage. Certainly Paul’s warning to Timothy is a wise one.

The responsibility of “pastor” is every believer’s equally
1 Corinthians 14: 26-31, “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. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (emphasis mine).

The responsibility for the ministering, teaching, spiritually nourishing and caring for the church belongs to each member of the body. By this I don’t mean those who have taken out official membership in a local congregation. No, what I mean by member is anyone who has been born again, regardless where they fellowship. No one person, pastor or otherwise, has spiritual authority over another. The only exception is when it comes to individual family units. Who has spiritual authority over children and youth? Not a “Youth Pastor” for the Bible doesn’t even speak of one. No, the only spiritual authority over children and youth is the father and mother of the household (Ephesians 6:1). Who has spiritual authority over the unmarried woman? Not the pastor, but rather her father. Who has spiritual authority over the married woman? Not the pastor but rather her husband (Ephesians 5:23; 1Cor. 14:35). Who has spiritual authority over the man? Not the pastor, but rather Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 5:23b).

I was speaking to a friend and mentor of my daughter's recently. She is significantly older than my daughter and is a former high school teacher of hers. She was discussing her upcoming marriage and shared that she asked a mutual friend of ours to officiate at her wedding. One always thinks of this role as being fulfilled by a “pastor” or judge, but apparently anyone can obtain a license to officiate a specific wedding on a specific date (While this was the case in Alberta, apparently it now no longer is). When I asked her about it, she said in effect that, “He is the most godly man I know.” It’s interesting that our friend is not an “official” pastor and yet she ranked him as being godlier than any “official” pastor that she knew or ever met.

I believe that the lesson here is that all God-given gifts, including that of “pastor” (whatever that really is), are to individual ordinary people who have been born again by the Spirit of God and are not to be taken as “offices” in some institutional church. We are all equal and the only “Pastor” that any of us share is Christ Jesus alone. He alone is the Great Shepherd.

Who really leads and teaches us anyway?
When I was pastoring in one church, I remember one brother who would often say in error that we couldn’t have just anyone teaching because otherwise it would be, in his words, “the blind leading the blind.” But was he correct in that assumption? I don’t believe so. Consider all the heresies that ever plagued Christendom. Where did they come from? From some rogue crackpot preacher standing on a street corner somewhere? No, they came from church leaders inside institutional churches. So much for the argument of the blind leading the blind. Two verses quickly come to mind.

Jesus said, “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you …But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth” (John 14:26, 16:13). Did Jesus say that Pastor _____ would teach you and me all things, and guide you and me in understanding truth? No, He said that the Holy Spirit would be our guide in matters of truth. Who will remind us of the things that Jesus said? Is it the pastor? No, according to Jesus it is the Holy Spirit. If we have in fact been born again, then it is the Holy Spirit who dwells within each of us and it is He alone who is also our guide and teacher.

John said, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing that 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 2:26-27). First of all, there are those who are trying to lead us astray in this whole matter. We would do well to beware of anyone who would want to be a leader over us. Secondly, there is an “anointing” in each genuine believer that remains in each believer (it’s not going anywhere) and as such it is each individual’s personal anointing by the Holy Spirit that teaches each genuinely born again believer. It is not the anointing of the so-called leaders that teach you and me, but rather it is our own personal anointing that teaches us all things. Are there then such things as the “blind leading the blind?” Among non-Christians that may be possible, but not among the genuinely born again! Jesus said, after all, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). If it is the Father who has drawn me to Him, then it is also the Father who will see to my teaching through the Holy Spirit.

What is the role of a “pastor” then? While I once thought I knew, in recent times and up to the time of this writing I am less than sure. After all, as we already mentioned, how can we build an entire doctrine of the role of “pastor” from a single occurrence of the word in Scripture? Yet, there is no disputing that the gift of “pastor” is there. The only question is, what is it really?

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Christianity 101

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
(Matthew 22:36-40)

Loving God and loving others is the most important thing in the Bible. We’ve already said it earlier, but it needs to be restated: love and relationships is the bottom line. It’s more important than anything else that we could ever do. Every Law and every commandment and everything ever uttered by any Old Testament prophet is summed up in “love and relationships.” If we haven’t got that, then it seems to me that Jesus is saying that we’ve missed the boat.

How well have we obeyed Matthew 22:36-40? First, do we really love God above everything else in the world? Do we love Him with “all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind”? Let’s be honest with ourselves, keeping in mind that we may be able to fool one another, but we certainly can’t fool God. Is there anything that stands in the way of my loving God even more than I do? My job? My house? My bank account? My family? My entertainment choices? Supposed God was to clearly and audibly put us to the test and ask us to give up one or more important things in our life in order to “prove” our genuine love for Him? Suppose God called us to the test as He did Abraham and the sacrifice of his son Isaac? Could we do it? Would we do it? Isn’t that what Matthew 22: 37 really means? I think so.

Are our lives so intertwined with God that others clearly see it? In the biography, “Rees Howells: Intercessor,” biographer Norman Grubb says that people would often speak of Mr. Rees Howells as “a modern John the Baptist.” He writes further, “An evidence of the effect he had on the district was seen later when a man who did not know his name simply asked the ticket collector at the station where ‘the man with the Holy Ghost’ lived and was directed to Mr. Howells!” As an aside, it’s interesting that even Rees Howells was called out of the institutional church for over five years!

Do we so love God and are we so filled with the Holy Spirit that strangers, not knowing our names, might be directed our way simply because others KNOW that the Holy Spirit lives in us, not because of some institutional church affiliation, and because others KNOW that this stranger could mean no one else other than us? If a stranger asked my boss if the “man with the Holy Spirit” was at work, would my boss know that it was me that the stranger was referring to? There’s a loaded question! I know that I’m not anywhere near there yet, but in the words of Paul, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12). May God help me to get there one day too.

Then, what about the second command? Do we really “love our neighbor as ourselves”? I’m sure there isn’t a Christian church around that doesn’t claim to love one another. Some have even made that a part of their slogan, as if to say that they have somehow cornered the market on loving people. But how well do they really do that? If we really “loved” one another in the truest sense, one would think that the non-Christian world would be breaking our doors down to get in to where all this “love” was happening. But the last time I looked, they were not. When we look at the description of the early church in Acts, we see something completely foreign to most of our modern churches.

Sadly, I’m sure we’ve all seen cases where strangers came into our institutional church buildings, listened to a Christian message of loving one another, and then left again without anyone even acknowledging them. These kinds of things are not just few and far between; they happen all the time! In the same way, how many times haven’t I seen a street person who smells bad and maybe even reeks of booze come strolling in to our “sanctuaries,” only to have everyone avoid him like the plague? Again, it happens all the time! I’ve even seen such persons (on more than one occasion) escorted out during a church service. Shame on us!

Further that, what is the definition of “sanctuary” anyway? Well, one definition is a “sacred place” or the “part of the church around the altar.” Personally, I prefer to believe that the “sanctuary” is really in the heart of the believer. But there is another definition as well, which is “a refuge or protection.” Do strangers really find refuge and protection in our midst? If not, then why not? Is that not what “loving our neighbor as ourselves” is all about? Who is our neighbor, you might ask? Jesus was asked the same question. In reply He shared the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

We all know that story, don’t we? Allow me to paraphrase it. It’s the story where the member of the Hells Angels bike club was on his way to a big bike rally when suddenly a deer ran out in front of him and he dumped his bike swerving to avoid the animal. He lay there bleeding and was almost dead. Soon Pastor _____ from First Denominational Church of Christ drove by and when he saw the biker, he sped up and hurried on past. A little while later Professor _____ from Joe Christian Bible College also came by, and he too slowed down for a look and, seeing the Hells Angels colors of the biker’s back, also sped up and hurried by. Finally, two little old ladies from Cult Kingdom Community Hall drove by and, seeing the almost dead biker, stopped to give him First Aid. As the one little old lady tended to the biker’s wounds, the other little old lady drove off to get help leaving the first one alone with the big biker. Later at the hospital, since the biker had no insurance, the little old ladies from Cult Kingdom Community Hall took up a collection for the biker’s health care expenses. Then, as if that were not enough, they left their VISA numbers with the hospital and told them to charge any additional costs that may come up onto their credit cards. Jesus then asked, who was the neighbor to the Hells Angel biker? The Christian pastor? The Bible college professor? Or the two little old ladies who weren’t even Christians, but rather cult members?

I obviously took liberties in paraphrasing Jesus’ parable, but the point is, I believe, well made. Who is really our brother? To the Jews of Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were little more than the scum of the earth. Most Christians today likely wouldn’t give the Hells Angels the time of day any more than the Jews would have done for the Samaritans. If that is true, and I believe that it is, then what are we to do with Jesus’ command to “love our neighbor?” How far are we willing to go to show “genuine” Christian love to those outside of our faith communities, not to mention those outside of our comfort zones? It is easy to love those who think like we do, who look and dress like we do, and who believe like we do. Unfortunately, there is nothing uniquely Christian about that. Consider another passage of Scripture in which Jesus deals with our need to love even our enemies.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6: 32-36).
There’s the goal. On a good day I might be 2% there, but I’m not content to just sit passively by in that 2%. I want to walk much more in that direction, if for no other reason, then because that is what my Lord calls me to do. How about you?

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Has Hollywood Invaded the Church Service?

"You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3)

A CAVEAT: I know I will step on some toes with this post, and if some of them are yours, I ask your forgiveness in advance. It is not my intention to paint all pastors, leaders, nor institutional churches with the same brush. What follows is mentioned only to get us to prayerfully think about some of the things that we do in the name of Christianity which I believe are actually quite unbiblical. Peace & Blessings.

Always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth

I was once again appalled by something that I heard from a pulpit while visiting a church recently. There was a visiting missionary from Africa speaking that Sunday. He lost me right off the start when he repeatedly spoke about his "post-doctorate studies." It seemed rather obvious to me that this man was rather high on himself. Was the congregation supposed to be impressed by his education? In all fairness, he may not have meant to convey such a message, but that is exactly the message that I received. After that, unfortunately I became closed to anything else that he had to say. All I could think about was, "always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7).

We see that all the time nowadays, or at least, I'm noticing it. Look at a church bulletin and we see the importance of titles. Why is it that we have to put titles as Reverend or Doctor on our church leaders? I even saw one church leader a while ago who in a publication called himself the "Rev. Dr. _____ _____." Why do we need such prestige? Is such a thing even biblical?

In retrospect, I'm ever so thankful that I didn't fall into that trap of ordination, even though on more than one occasion I was strongly encouraged by church board members to seek ordination. I reasoned, I'm no better or greater than the next person, so why would I want that? Ultimately, isn't that what the priesthood of believers is all about (Revelation 1:6)?

What ever happened to calling forth elders and leaders based only upon the fact that these people were mature in their faith and filled with the Holy Spirit? Is that even the number one priority anymore? Sometimes I doubt it. Instead, what churches seem to look for today is at least a seminary degree to the Master's level. Lately, even that doesn't seem to be good enough as we see more and more pastors who boast Doctorate degrees. Does a piece of paper somehow make them more godly and better able to lead the church? I remember one brother sharing how he knew of a pastor who pastored a church for many years before he himself even became born again! Most today would probably agree that the degree does not make the pastor, yet it's strange how at the same time there is so much emphasis placed upon the pastor to have the right educational degree. Has that become more important than simply being gifted by God to shepherd His people? Hmm, I wonder.

Whose kingdom is really being built?

I remember visiting a church that no longer seemed to feel their beautiful facilities were good enough to meet their perceived needs. They too were planning to build a bigger and better (?) place. The preaching from the pulpit spoke of how God was "calling" them to build a 5000 seat sanctuary! (Incidentally, God must have changed His mind, because that vision was later reduced to a 1000 seat sanctuary). All I could think of was, what a waste of money! Is God really honoured by our North American Hollywood mentality that bigger is better? Is God really honoured by all of our multi-million dollar church buildings, all the while the people around those buildings continue to struggle with hunger and an inability to make it to the end of the month before the money runs out?

In George Barna's book, "The Frog in the Kettle," the author says,
"The average church allocates about 5 percent of its budget for reaching others with the Gospel, but 30 percent for buildings and maintenance. At a time when the poor and aged are pleading for help, churches in America are spending approximately 3 billion dollars a year on new construction."
Excuse me, but am I missing something here? Unfortunately it's not just a North American mentality. A couple years ago I had the privilege to attend a centennial church celebration in South America with my daughter. While there we enjoyed many long walks in an effort to try an capture some of the culture. One thing we noticed was many poor and destitute people. Our hearts broke, when outside the church door we saw a woman and her two young children. She wasn't begging, but simply sat there looking totally forlorn and defeated, as if she didn't know how or when she was going to be able to next put a piece of bread in her children's bellies. Meanwhile, inside that very church, they were unveiling plans for a new church building. We couldn't help but think that there was something terribly wrong with that picture. Whose kingdom is really being built? In retrospect, I almost wish I had the nerve to stand up and speak against those building plans!

Has Hollywood invaded the church service? I believe that in many places it has done just that. The Hollywood mentality has turned the modern institutional church into kingdom building, and I'm not talking about the kingdom of God either. I'm referring to building the individual kingdoms of many pastors and church leaders. In a sense it is nothing more than a competition to see who can build the biggest church. I've gone to a few pastor's conferences from time to time, and sooner or later, the discussion always seems to come back to the question of, "How many people do you have in your church?" To be fair, certainly not all are like that, and I have described the worst in the barrel, but it illustrates what I've seen on a number of occasions. One pastor becomes jealous of the next one, and covets the other pastor's church growth. Whose kingdom is really being built?
"You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere men?" (1 Corinthians 3: 3-4)
Much of things that some (not all) pastors speak about, the competitiveness and the jealousies in their hearts, is nothing more than worldly (and sinful) carnality. From this we find ourselves getting into a whole other realm, namely that of denominationalism and disunity, but that's a topic for another time.

The professionalism virus

Yet another way that Hollywood has invaded many of the institutional church services is through showmanship. They are well tuned and professional in nature. There is often a great deal of rehearsals prior to the Sunday morning "show." Choirs, musicians, and even pastor's themselves, often rehearse their performances. In some churches, even the prayers are written out ahead of time so that it all comes out sounding just right, as if God were somehow impressed with our diction. After all, heaven forbid if the order of service and the clock aren't watched closely. Yes, I am being sarcastic and facetious, but it turns my stomach sour when I think of how professional we have made church services.

This all leads me to a number of questions. Is God impressed by all this professionalism? Is it God that we're doing all this for, or is it rather to better entertain those in the pews? Are the institutions leaders afraid that they will lose people if the whole Sunday morning ritual isn't presented as professional as possible? Is there even room for the spontaneous leading of the Holy Spirit in the way we fine tune everything in advance? I'm all for giving God our best, but haven't we gone just a little overboard with our showmanship? Hmm, I wonder.
"Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widow's houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." (Mark 12: 38-40)
Do you see the Hollywood invasion of the church in that passage? Sometimes I wonder. Who are the modern day teachers of the law? Could they be the pastors and church leaders? Again, to be fair, we certainly cannot paint everyone with the same brush, but think about it. Today they don't necessarily walk around in flowing robes, although some traditions still do. But many, especially in the larger televised services, are dressed up to the hilt in expensive suits. It makes the mind boggle to think of how much some allegedly spend on their silk suits!

And what about the marketplace greetings and the most important seats? How many pastors today receive special discounts on merchandise simply because they are pastors? I confess that when I was a pastor, I did often get special discounts too. God forgive me. Why, many institutional churches even have reserved parking for the pastor right outside the door. We don't want them to have to walk too far, do we?

And then there is the constant begging for money, from pulpit and TV, that does little more than "devour widow's houses." I have sometimes asked myself, "If God were truly in that ministry, would they even have to ask people for anything?" It seems to me, if God were really in that "ministry," they would not have to ask for a nickel. Furthermore, would such institutions really ever have enough? Someone could drop a gift of ten million dollars in the offering plate, and it would be only a matter of time before the fundraising would continue as before.

Finally, there are those lengthy and often showy prayers. We sometimes call them "pastoral prayers," as if to suggest that they are somehow more exalted because they come from the pastor and not dear old Mrs. Smith in the second pew. Someone once developed an acronym to guide us in developing our lengthy and showy prayers. It's called the "A.C.T.S." acronym. The "A" stands for "Adoration." Apparently we have to begin with an element of adoration towards God. The "C" stands for "Confession," because someone says that we have to have a time of confession of sins to God in our pastoral prayers. The "T" stands for "Thanksgiving" since we do not want to forget to say thank you for the blessings that we enjoy. Finally, the "S" stands for "Supplication," and is meant to remind us to not forget to bring the needs of others before God in prayer. Please understand that I do not find fault in any of those segments of prayer per se, but it does make me uncomfortable when it's little more than a law-like and mechanical structure which then turns the whole thing into a lengthy and showy prayer that Jesus cautioned against.

Recently my wife and I went to a local theatre to see a latest Hollywood release. Suddenly there amidst all the previews and pre-film announcements, filling the entire screen, was an advertisement for one of the larger local institutional churches. I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. Hollywood had indeed invaded the church.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

If the Horse Dies ...

“A time is coming 
when you will worship 
the Father 
neither on this mountain 
nor in Jerusalem.” 
(John 4:21)

Hello friend. What you are about to read are some of my musings and wrestlings since leaving the traditional institutional church system a few years ago. You could say that this is my "Inauguration" as a blogger here on "Rethinking Faith and Church."

You'll forgive me if this post is a little long. I guess I still have that preacher tendency of being a little long-winded at times. Going forward I will strive for shorter and more bite-sized posts. I trust that you will also forgive me if at points this seems a little harsh; I mean no offence. Though I am no longer a part of traditional institutional Christianity, I do continue to love God's people who are a part of it. May God bless us as we seek to bless and love one another, regardless if we're in or out of the institutional church system. Welcome to "Rethinking Faith and Church."

Our Religious Experience

What is the church? I think most people in the church would probably agree that the church is not the building, but rather the people. Unfortunately, when we think of “the church,” we often think of the institutional church building and not specifically of the people in it. When we speak of “going to church,” what we mean is that we are going to a building or a place. While there we sing some songs, listen to some announcements, put money into an offering plate, and listen to somebody speak on a subject that may or may not have something to do with his interpretation of the Bible, and which may or may not have the leading or the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon it. Finally, there is an element of socialization with others that is often very superficial and that, in most cases, can hardly be classified as genuine fellowship in that it is often little more than talking about the weather or the previous evening's football game. Then, finally, we all go back to our respective homes and, in most cases, have nothing more to do with “the church” until the following Sunday. This has become our religious experience.

It’s interesting how “religious” this whole experience has really become. I used to cringe when I heard non-Christians speak about Christianity as being “religious.” I would argue, as do many others still, that Christianity is a “relationship” as opposed to a religion. While many may mean that, I am now convinced that, the Sunday morning events, regardless of denomination and regardless whether we like it or not, are very much “religious.” Our rules, accepted norms, traditions, by-laws, constitutions and whatever other policies there may be, are actually quite removed from the teachings of the Gospel and the practice of the first century church. If that is true, and I think it is, then why do we continue in it? I believe that the answer lies, at least in part, with “tradition.”

Is our religious experience really any different than that of the Pharisees of old? Jesus asked them, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:3) Quoting Isaiah, Jesus then said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:8-9). Are we really any different? I don’t think so. Jesus could just as easily be saying those words to you and to me in our modern institutional church systems, and I believe that He is doing just that. I know that is a hard word and maybe even offensive to some, but we would do well to think about it. How much of what really goes on inside the institutional church are merely traditions and rules taught by men? If Jesus got after the Pharisees for doing this, what makes us think that He won’t likewise get after us for the same thing?

Consider our typical Sunday morning “Order of Service” that dictates those things that we do in our “services.” We’re often so tied to that animal that any divergence from it is almost sacrilegious! We’ve so sealed God into a box that I sometimes wonder if His Spirit can even breathe enough to move amongst us. One Christian Brother, who remains very much tied to the institution, once told me that his particular denomination required such-and-such a procedure. He then even admitted to me that this particular thing was not found in the Gospel, but rather in the denominational “rule book” (as he called it) or constitution. Yes, I believe that, contrary to our insistence that our Christianity is a “relationship,” the modern institutional church has become very “religious” indeed!

On another note, we would do well to consider some of the words we use to describe what it is that we do at our church times. For example, we often call the whole experience on Sunday morning a “worship service.” What does that mean? Let’s take the term “worship service” apart in order to try and better understand what that is.

The “Worship” in Worship Service

When we speak of “worship” we are referring primarily to the praise and adoration of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It’s a vertical relationship in that it’s all pointed heavenward. That’s fine except for one little thing: worship of God must be done in relation to people. In other words, genuine worship must have a horizontal element as well, and this is precisely where I believe that we most often fail. Oh, to be fair, we say that we love one another, but unfortunately that love is (with a few exceptions here and there), often hypocritical, often conditional, or often simply not there at all. Ouch, that hurts!

It is interesting that the non-Christian world often sees our hypocrisies more than we do. We tend to be quick to dismiss or turn a blind eye to such accusations. Nevertheless they’re there in that we say one thing and often do another. For example, we talk about love, yet we tend to slander and gossip. In the same way our love is often conditional upon whether or not we accept the denominational and institutional doctrinal views. If I don’t join in membership, or at least attend services regularly, the unofficial position seems to be that I cannot be fellowshipped with. This seems to be due to some belief that all fellowship can happen only through institutionally sanctioned events. In other words, while the believer outside of the institution may wish to fellowship with those inside the institution (albeit separate from the institution), those inside the institution tend not to want to fellowship with those outside of the institution. It’s almost seems like those believers outside of the institutional church have been shunned by those from inside of it. In that sense the church’s love is often conditional.

Ironically, there’s a lot of talk in Christendom about loving one another. Many use catchy little phrases to describe the love they think they have towards God or towards others. Unfortunately, most of it is followed by very little action to support those phrases or slogans. 1 John 3:18 says “let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” In other words, talk is cheap. We say that we love others, but what do our actions say? It’s interesting that even many secular books say that approximately 70% of our communication is non-verbal. In other words, we communicate more by body language than by what we actually speak with words. 1 John 4:20-21 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

In the same way, consider John 15:13 where Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” While Jesus was referring to himself in this verse, it seems clear from the greater context of New Testament teaching that we are called to go and do likewise (see Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37 for a couple of great examples). With perhaps the odd exception, that kind of love really doesn’t exist in most churches today. Why are the examples of the early church in Acts so foreign to what we see around us today? Why is it that most relationships within the church miss the point when it comes to sacrificial love? Could the bottom line be “carnality” or “worldliness” within the church institution?

Think about what’s involved in planting or starting a new church. While we used to believe in a separation of church and state, today it seems as if nothing could be further from the truth. The state says that we have to organize ourselves and have a charter. This involves having a CEO (a pastor/leader), a board of directors (deacons and/or elders boards), voting members (local church membership), and who knows whatever else. When we comply, we are given a tax number. Suddenly we look more and more like “man’s church” and less and less like “Christ’s church.” Now the emphasis is more on the institution than it is on Christ. Taking this one step further, now that we’ve built the institution, we’ll do whatever we can to protect it. Many institutional churches today require participants to sign legal waivers of responsibility in order to protect the institution from lawsuits in case something happens to someone in or around their premises. Given such circumstances, and if push really came to shove, would I actually “lay down my life” for my friends? Are our relationships in the church strong enough that we would put anyone else ahead of ourselves? I’m sure that we all would like to say “yes,” but would we really? I wonder.

It’s interesting that Paul dealt with essentially the same issue with the Corinthians. There, Christians needed to learn to get along with each other too. Things got so out of hand that Paul makes mention of some brothers who were actually taking other brothers to secular courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-11). That doesn’t sound very loving to me! Lest we become too conceited, we’re really no better than they were. We bicker and gossip and slander each other all the time as well. Often it’s so subtle that we may not even recognize it as the acts of the sinful, or carnal, nature that they really are (see Galatians 5:20 – “factions” in the NIV; “party spirit {factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies}” in the Amplified). I remember calling one pastor of a large church near where I live for some advice on something and, after I explained who I was and what I wanted, he told me to “speak to someone from my own tradition!” Just what we all needed: more factions and disunity.

I remember another time going to candidate at a small church in another town. Before the trip we had our telephone interviews and ultimately were asked to come and candidate for the position of Senior Pastor. We drove the 1000 kilometers, were involved in several speaking engagements over the weekend, and then drove another 1000 kilometers home again. The sad part was that we couldn’t even get reimbursed for our gas money. On top of that, when I later phoned back asking about that, they even denied that we candidated at all and treated the whole experience as nothing more that a generic pulpit supply. Where was their Christian love in that? It’s no wonder James said, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3: 9-10).

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus said, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25: 40). Who is it that we are worshipping? We presumably worship the Lord Jesus Christ. However, time and again the Bible tells us that genuine worship is not only vertical, but also horizontal. Worship must be relational. How can I say that I am worshipping God when I honestly don’t genuinely care for my brothers and sisters?

The “Service” in Worship Service

Secondly, we speak of a “service.” What do we mean by that? Do we mean by “service” that we are “serving” someone or something? I think that by using the word “service” we often imply that we are somehow “serving” God or “serving” the Lord Jesus. This is interesting in light of what Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve." Isn’t it interesting that we call it a “church service” and Jesus says that he didn’t come to be served? In the same way, John 13 describes Jesus as washing his disciples feet in an act of service. There He says in verse 15, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Perhaps what we really need in our “worship services” is more acts of service of “people” instead of service of the institution. Maybe what we really need is more of an element of meeting the needs of others, and of caring for others, in practical and tangible ways.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’ (Matthew 25: 34-36).

The bottom line is that “the church” is the people who prove their love for God by the way they love and build relationships with other people. Any “worship” of God that does not include genuine love and relationships with God’s people (regardless of denominational affiliation or no denominational affiliation) through acts of “serving their individual needs” is, I would argue, idolatrous and is not real worship at all. One brother of mine even goes so far as to label such “church services” as being “anti-Christ.” While that sounds harsh, and in some people’s view maybe even heretical, it may not be that far off the mark after all. Let’s think about it: if what we do in our church “services” somehow goes contrary to what Jesus taught about washing each other’s feet as an act of service to them – then is that not “anti-Christ”? Maybe it is.

Genuine worship must be both vertical in that it’s directed to God, and also horizontal in that it is expressed through love and relationships with others. The two go hand in hand. One cannot be there at the expense of the other. Unfortunately, for many of us, our church experience seems to focus mostly (if not only) upon the vertical and not the horizontal. Any acts of service that we do is usually first geared towards our ulterior motive our ensuring our own institutional survival. If the institution survives, then we believe that we have somehow served God in it. But is that what God is interested in? Does He care about the survival of an institution or about the needs of people? These are not simply two different sides of the same coin. No, these are two very different things and cannot rightly be spoken about even in the same breath.

The Wind Blows Wherever it Pleases

I’m beginning to see that “going to church” in the truest sense of the meaning as the same as “going to visit Susan, or George, or Mary, or Bruce.” The church is the people and “going to church” is, rightly, loving and building relationships with people. That’s what it means to “go to church. That’s what fellowship is really all about. That’s what it means to be the body of Christ. Going to a church building is not “going to church” any more than going to the supermarket is “going to church.” How sad that we’ve lost focus of that and have equated the institutional church building with being the actual church.

I remember some time ago leaving the house early on a Saturday morning before anyone else was awake. We have a message board in the kitchen, so I thought I’d leave a message as to where I went. As I was going to go fellowship with some brothers in the Lord over breakfast, I thought I’d joke around a little on the message board. The message said simply, “I’ve gone to church.” But seriously, isn’t that exactly what I did do? In the truest sense, since I was fellowshipping with brothers in the Lord, didn’t I go to church that Saturday morning? I believe that I did.

We need to recapture what “church” really means. It’s not about going anywhere. It’s about being. Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” It seems to me that if we’ve truly been born again of the Spirit of God, we won’t be tied down to any one place of worship, but rather freely move about from here to there as the Spirit leads.

It may be that the Spirit leads us one Sunday into an institutional church building. It may be that the Spirit leads us to a restaurant instead because He has someone there that He wants us to bless through caring or sharing a meal. It may be that the Spirit leads us instead to the local jail or hospital or nursing home to simply visit someone that society seems to have forgotten. We just quoted this Scripture a moment ago, but it bears repeating again. Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’ (Matthew 25: 35-36).

It’s also interesting what the Samaritan woman said to Jesus in John 4:20, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Like many people today, the Samaritan woman was concerned about the “place” of worship. When the last institutional church that I was pastor at was about to close, I heard others ask the very same question, “Where shall we go?” But “the church” is not about a place to go, but about being the church. As I look through the New Testament, it becomes apparent that after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and in keeping with Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman, the church didn’t meet anywhere but in people’s homes. They went wherever the Spirit led them at the time. They weren’t busy putting up church buildings; they were busy being the church.

In answer to the Samaritan woman, Jesus said in John 4:21-24, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet 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.”

What does that mean? My prayer is that we might all humbly come before God and ask Him to reveal the truth of that to us. Worship is “neither on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” It’s not at First Baptist Church or Victory Christian Fellowship or Emmanuel Lutheran or some other institutional church. God is Spirit and our worship must also be “in spirit and in truth.” It seems to me that sometimes we’re kind of like the disciples who tried to stop a man from performing miracles because he wasn’t a part of “their church.” Jesus wasn’t at all pleased with them and said, “Do not stop him … whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38-40). It has nothing to do with one “place” of worship as opposed to another “place” of worship, but rather about being “in the Spirit” with our worship and with all Christians, no matter what their background may be.

What’s the Real Issue?

The issue is not whether or not I “go to church.” No, the issue is whether or not I “am the church.” The issue is not “simply believing” what the Bible says. The issue is rather “doing” what it says. James 1:22 puts it this way. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Where did we ever come up with the notion that Christians “go” to church as opposed to “being” the church? Where did we ever come up with that carnal and worldly idea that it’s possible to worship God without first genuinely caring for people? (see again 1 John 4: 20-21). Is that not really much like putting the proverbial cart before the horse?

God is not to be kept in a box. I’m sure we’d all agree. But having said that, why then does it seem as if we Christians can only meet Him in that building, that thing that we've sometimes called “the house of God?” Isn’t God bigger than that? In Isaiah 66:1-2 God says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” Let’s not try and keep Him there in some building somewhere. Since Pentecost, my physical and spiritual body is his temple (1Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2Cor. 6:16).

The real issue is unfortunately centered in “church history.” We have done things the same way for so long that most of us have forgotten what God really meant the church to be in the first place. I long to recapture that. I’m no longer interested in “church history.” I don’t care if we’ve done things that way for a thousand years. If the example is not clearly found in the Bible, I’m no longer interested in it. If the example is not clearly found in the Bible, then maybe it’s time to take that “weed-wacker” and cut that thing out of our Christian experience.

Once upon a time as the pastor of the last institutional church we were at, I thought we could rebuild our little dying church. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that due in large part to traditions, rebuilding can never work. If you try, any new life will automatically become tainted by old traditions or church history. Jesus said of the barren fig tree, “Cut it down!” (Luke 13:7). Is it time we did that to our fig trees, to our institutional churches? I wonder.

If the Horse Dies, It May be Time to Dismount

Are we in the habit of “going” to church as opposed to “being” the church? Are we content with just sitting on some pew Sunday after Sunday, being told when to sit and when to stand? Are we content to simply be lined up and blended into the masses like ducks in a shooting gallery? Being all lined up in neat rows as we are, can we really fellowship with the back of the head in front of us? For that matter, do we even know who these people are all around us, and would we (or they) even notice or care if the other wasn’t there? Are we content with just being passive spectators instead of active participants? Why is it that the church has become irrelevant to most non-Christians today and at best, only serves to leave a bad taste in their mouths?

Are we simply busy trying to rebuild what is ultimately a dying institution, though we may not recognize just yet as actually dying? Are we still going through the motions of trying to pick fruit from its dead branches year after year after year? What did Jesus say about that? (Luke 13:6-9). Is that really what God is calling us to do as an expression of our Christianity? Someone once said, “if the horse is dies, maybe it’s time to get off the horse.” Are we clinging to a dead horse? I wonder.

May God help us to come to grips with these most important questions and to learn how we can once again start “being” the church instead of simply “going” to church. Is it time for a new Reformation of sorts? I believe that it is and that it’s already begun, as more and more people each year leave the institutional system for smaller and meaningful fellowship groups in various homes, restaurants, or wherever the Spirit leads at the time.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons