Thursday, 6 March 2008

I Gave Up On Civil Religion!


While I am NOT the author of this article, I do agree with much that he says in it. As such, I thought it bears re-sharing. The web address is included for those interested in knowing its source.

However, there is a problem. I tried to contact the author using the e-mail address on the site in order to get permission to repost this, but my e-mail was returned undeliverable. Apparently the e-mail address provided is no longer in service, and since then, neither is website itself.

If anyone reading this knows who the author is, please do send me a message with the details so that I may properly contact him regarding this post. I would very much like to secure proper permission for it's reposting, as well as to be able to give credit where credit is due. If the author does not wish to grant permission for this reposting of his material, I will promptly take this post down. Thank you.


When I was a child, I joined the Boy Scouts. We often met in church buildings. I learned about how to help little old ladies across the street, and about how America was good, and righteous. I was raised in the South, and so tradition was deep in my bones. I went to the First Presbyterian church every Sunday, even though my Daddy was an atheist. There I saw the first black people who had ever tried to attend turned away, and the news made the national press. Up in the balcony where I sat and tried to stay awake every Sunday, a very fat and very loud woman assured everyone who was listening that it was all Communist inspired. I went to Sunday School, where I heard our sheriff talk about the educational crisis. Several years later I read a book by conservative educational writer Max Rafferty, and it was word for word the same, because my local sheriff had plagiarized it. He, the good Christian man that he was, later left office in the midst of scandal. In the midst of all this, I began to wonder if being a Christian was smart.
I still do not understand why those who incessantly preach the inerrancy of the Bible, completely and utterly fail to practice the church as revealed in its pages.
At the University of South Carolina in the radical early seventies, I almost lost my faith, and then I found it, courtesy of a small group of misfitted Jesus people radicals. It was through them that I learned about radical, biblical, New Testament house church Christianity. That oasis of heaven in the midst of a radical leftist hell is something that marked me for life. The exhilarating experience of church life in the midst of a radically antichristian culture, and reading Watchman Nee's Normal Christian Church Life, set me on a course from which I have not deviated. I want to know the church as it was in Jesus' mind when he established it, and commissioned his apostles to plant it.

Now I am getting old, and I am no longer thrilled about America. It is pagan to its roots. Its media, its universities and colleges, its think tanks, its political parties, its businesses, its entertainment and popular culture, its public schools, and worst of all, its church institutions (for the most part) are apostate. When its politicians incessantly invoke "Gawd," I try to restrain the nausea.

I looked to the conservative church to fight the rot, but the church was not there for me. The stifling ecclesiastical bureaucracies, the preening professionalism of its pastorate, its shallowness, its cowardly compromises, and in many cases, its downright immorality left me looking elsewhere.

I never stopped believing the Bible. I believed it when I was told it was the inerrant, infallible, inspired word of God. But I looked in there, and I never could find the "church" as I saw it in America. I could not, and still do not, understand why those who incessantly preach the inerrancy of the Bible, completely and utterly fail to practice the church as revealed in its pages.

My scepticism about the American Constantinian church started in a Presbyterian Sunday School class. The teacher, a college professor, was teaching us about church government. I asked a completely innocent, and logical, question: where's the Scripture reference for the pastor? When I was met with dead silence, I was astounded. A Presbyterian college professor couldn't tell me where in the Bible was the pastor?

I've learned since then there's a lot of things in the American mercantile church that aren't in the Biblical New Testament house church. There are no sermons there. No Christian religious church buildings to house passive pew potatoes listening to a professional orator dishing out three alliterative points. No church budgets. No salaried clergy. No clergy period. No religious furniture pointing all the somnolescent "laity" in the direction of the "clergy," putting on his one-man show, paid to perform week in and week out. No Sunday School. No children's church. No juvenile segregation. No church business meetings decided by a majority votes, or votes of any kinds. No elders meetings held apart from the rest of the church, where decisions are handed down to to the rest of the brothers, who don't know what's going on. No funereal communion services where the communicants sip little shot glasses of grape juice, and eat soda crackers. No big tongue up front wagging for a bunch of little ears in an audience.

What you do find in the New Testament are meetings held every Sunday around the Lord's Table, which is a table that holds a full meal, as well as the bread and wine. Decision-making by consensus. Children who meet with their adult brothers and sisters. Mutually participatory, and mutually edifying meetings in which EACH member speaks, with no pastor directing the meeting. Churches meeting, eating, and hanging out together where families live, eat, and hang out together: in their homes. Churches which discipline themselves, and where phoniness can't be hid, and where real people share their lives with each other, and whose members grow quickly up unto the head. Churches where the members weep for one another, and rejoice with one another.

So now I, who started so conservative, am a radical. It's been a long, lonely fight, trying to get people to look at the Bible to see what it contains. The inertia is terrible. Many don't even want to look. They say that its been done this way for centuries, it must be right. I respond: the Catholic Church did it their way for centuries, I'm glad someone decided to buck their system. The prejudice is also terrible. Over and over I hear the same defence stratagems: you can't expect the church to be perfect with imperfect people. Why do you hate the good people in the institutional church? Not all pastors are tyrants. The Bible never commands the church you describe, it merely describes it, so ecclesiologically we therefore can do what is right in our own eyes. And so on.

Of course, all these objections can be answered. I don't expect the church to be composed of perfect people, I just expect it be biblical. Every house church I know is composed of imperfect people, just like the institutional church is. The difference is this: the biblical house church has ways of dealing with that imperfection, and has means of putting spiritual treasures in those earthen vessels. And of course I don't hate the people in the ecclesiastical system, I hate the system that has ensnared them, usually through no fault of their own. And of course not all pastors are tyrants. Of all the victims of the antibiblical Western church, none are more tragic than the lonely pastor, many of whom took the job thinking this was the best way he could serve the Lord he loves. And I'm not saying that institutional church people are bad, rather, I'm saying that the institutional church system is bad. But I am saying that just because the Bible doesn't command that we do church a certain way, we are therefore free to do it however we want to, free from the guilt of transgressing the Lord's commands.

This last point is crucial. Until we all realize that the house church is not optional, but imperative, we are doomed to defeat. The marginalization of the church and all she stands for will continue, no doubt to the point of persecution. More and more will turn from the grace of Christ to other gods. The pain and misery of good people trying to make their Christianity work in a system that won't let them be what Jesus called them to be will continue. And it needs to stop.
And look at church history. Is anyone prepared to make the preposterous statement that we have actually figured out a better way than the apostles?
How can I say that the biblical home church is imperative, and not a mere option? Let's take the logic of those who say if there are no positive commands in the Bible to do something, we don't have to do them. Well: there are no positive commands to stay unregistered with the state. To have meetings. To meet once a week instead of once a year. To have church leaders. To have the Lord's Supper more than once every ten years. There is no specific command forbidding us to baptize infants, or to baptize the dead. So let's just do what's right in our own eyes, and forget Jesus' apostles. Let's became a dead- and infant-baptizing state church, with no leaders, eating the Lord's Supper every ten years, and meeting once a year. Who will there be who can point out a Scripture to us that we are violating the Scripture? There will be no one, because on this silly hermeneutical principle, we have violated no positive command of Scripture!!!

But I tell you, there are lots of Scriptures which do positively tell us to follow the apostles' examples. I'll mention some in a minute, but first: what is the main thing apostles do? They establish churches. Now, why in the world would we not follow their lead and example? Why would we have the sheer, unmitigated gall to think we can do it better than they did? And look at church history. Is anyone prepared to make the preposterous statement that we have actually figured out a better way than the apostles?

What are some of the Scriptures that exhort obedience to the apostles? In I Tim 4:16, Paul exhorts the Corinthians: "Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy – He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church." I will ask you a simple question: when is the last time you heard a church leader tell you that he is trying to imitate Paul, to imitate what Paul was doing "in EVERY church"?

Here are more Scriptures. I Cor 11:2 : "I praise you for remembering me in EVERYTHING and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you." I Cor 11:16: "If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have NO OTHER PRACTICE - nor do the churches of God." Phil 4:9: "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - PUT IT INTO PRACTICE." II Thess 2:15: "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings (traditions) we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter."

I will end with one last question. What happens when you reject the practices of an apostle? The answer is very simple. You reject Jesus Christ, who said: "whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me." (Jn 13:20) Jesus also informed his apostle that if the world obeyed Jesus' teaching, they would obey his apostles' teaching also. (Jn 15:20) So what does that say about church builders who build their way, and not the apostles' way? It means they have disobeyed Jesus' teaching.

I believe in radical obedience to Christ. And that ineluctably leads to a biblical house church. And that means no more long-robed, solemn-voiced professional holy men praying at high school football games and business dedications. No more civil religion. Real church. Church, Jesus' way.

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