Monday, January 26, 2015

Win a Free Copy of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity. No Strings Attached!

One of the best parts of being editor of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is that I get to give away free copies. That's what I'm doing right now in this blog post - with no strings attached of any kind.

If you win you don't have to say anything nice about the book, write a review, or even tell anyone that you won. Of course I do hope that you actually read the book.

One of the book's primary themes is simplicity. Keeping with that, I'm going to make this giveaway as simple as possible. If you want to enter all you need to do is send me an email with your name and reason for desiring a copy. Please limit your message to a few sentences so I don't get overwhelmed with this. Send the email to ecarp70@yahoo.com.

I'm doing this via email both because it is simple and because sometimes people run into problems trying to comment on this blog. Don't worry - I won't give out your email address to anyone.

I'm giving away two paperback copies. You may enter between now and Friday night. On Saturday I'll have one of my kids randomly select the winners. I'll then contact both winners to ask for mailing addresses.

You must be eighteen years old to enter.

What could be simpler?

(Thanks to Redeeming Press for providing me with several copies.)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Time for a Dose of Absolute Nonsense

Thom Rainer occasionally has some decent things to say. His latest blog post (Six Observations About Speaking to Pastors Right Before They Preach) is not one of them. As with so many inside the comfy confines of the institution, Rainer believes that pastors have some sort of exclusive communication connection with God. In particular, he acts as if what a pastor happens to say from a pulpit is a literal special message from God. This is nothing more than mystical mumbo-jumbo and complete nonsense.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Was the Early Church "Minimalist" in Nature?

A commenter on this blog recently referred to my view of church life as "minimalist." In response I asked him to tell me specifically what he meant by this. He never answered my request.

I derive my view of the church from what I see in the New Covenant people of the New Testament. It's as simple as that. Therefore, if my view is minimalist, that means that what we see in the New Testament is also minimalist. But what are we even talking about here?

The term "minimalist" implies that the early church was in the beginning stages, but that maturation was left to come. In other words, what we see in the New Testament is the early form of the church but other changes in form would actually improve upon what we see in the bible. Simply put, it's the concept that later alterations were improvements upon what we read about in our bibles.

I outright reject this idea.

If the early church was minimalist, then we would read in the New Testament about changes in the future that the church should make in order to improve somehow. I'm referring here to alterations in form and structure, not in holiness. However, the New Testament does not even hint that the early believers ought to change what they were doing. They were not minimalist; they were just as they should be.

The charge of early church minimalism is one made by some proponents of today's traditional/institutional church forms. They do this in order to justify their structures and practices that have no biblical basis (for example worship services, large buildings, and salaried clergy).

The minimalist charge fails because it has no evidence to support it. The New Testament does not suggest an early church that is lacking anything. Instead, we see fully functioning church families living as the Spirit leads. Therefore, it is safe to say that the early church was not minimalist. It was as God wanted it.

We do well to follow their model.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

You Don't Have to Defend Why You Homeschool Your Children


My wife Alice and I have been homeschooling our children for thirteen years (full disclosure: Alice has done the vast majority of the work). It has been a wonderful experience that we would not trade for anything. We are thrilled to have had this opportunity. Our eldest child graduated from college this year (and obviously has not been homeschooled for a while now). Our second graduates from high school in a few months. Our youngest is in tenth grade. Therefore, we are much closer to the end of this journey than the beginning.

After homeschooling for so long I've come to an important conclusion: those of us who have chosen to educate our children at home do not need to defend this to anyone.

Occasionally when I'm having conversations with various people we end up talking about children. Sometimes I'm asked where our kids go to school. I never initiate the topic of homeschooling, but if I'm asked I answer. At that point I receive one of two responses. Some people say something like, "That's cool." Others ask the unfortunate and ignorant question, "How do they get socialized?"

I used to answer by giving all sorts of reasons why homeschooling is excellent. I'd tell them that homeschoolers do just fine in social settings of all types. I'd inform them that no research exists whatsoever to indicate that homeschoolers have difficulty interacting socially with others. I'd tell them that home educated kids do better academically than their peers when they reach college. I'd inform them that those who are taught at home achieve higher scores on standardized tests than other kids their same age. I'd even bring up the fact that we are able to provide our kids with a Christ-centered education in a way that non-homeschooling families cannot.

I'm not doing any of that anymore. I don't have to defend homeschooling because it doesn't need defending. It stands as excellent on its own.

God has granted parents the gift of instructing their children. Those who choose to do this full-time are doing an honorable thing. The ones who should have to defend their choice are the parents who are relying on the secular state to educate their offspring.

To Moms and Dads: you do not have to defend your choice to home educate your kids. Your decision is an excellent one. It requires no defense.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Now This Is One Smart Feline!


Simple Church:Unity Within Diversity contributor Chris Jefferies recently posted this photo of his cat on Facebook. I don't know this feline, but it seems to be intelligent and have good taste in books!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Unlike Football, In The Church There Are No Benchwarmers


Today I will spend several hours watching American football on television. Since I have no particular dog-in-the-fight, I'll be rooting against the Evil Empire (New England Patriots) in the AFC Championship Game. As for the NFC Championship, I don't really care who wins; I just want to see an exciting game.

In football, as with most other sports, each team will put certain players - the more skilled ones - out on the field. The remainder of the players spend most of their time on the bench. They are the benchwarmers. Some of them play a little. Others rarely ever get off the pine. These folks are largely inactive in the life of the team.

The church ought not function in this way. The body of Christ has no benchwarmers. God's expectation is that every member of his team will be an active player. This is because every member is needed. Nobody in the church plays the role of a third string quarterback. Rather, every person in the church family is a starter. We may have different roles, but all are needed in order for the church to function properly.

I Corinthians chapter 12 spells this all out for us. Paul could not be clearer in stating that each and every member of the body must be active in order for that body to be fully functional. In 12:22-26 the apostle writes:

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

We all need each other. Let's not only be active ourselves but also encourage all our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same. In the life of the church we are all starters.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why a New Blog Color Scheme?

I made the earth-shaking decision today to change the color scheme of my blog. Why? Three main reasons:

1. Boredom - It was simply time for a change.

2. Vibrancy - It's winter (even here in Georgia). That means it is mostly cold and gray outside. I wanted more color to brighten up this blog. The blue sky at the top points to sunnier days ahead.

3. Relevancy - I selected this Spanish arena as a reminder to us all that Christians still face terrible persecution in much of the world. Just as believers perished many years ago in Roman arenas (much like the one here), thousands of Christ-followers still die each year simply for their faith. For those of us who live in easier places let's not forget our mistreated brothers and sisters.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Ten Commandments of the Church Institution

Based on forty years of participation in traditional Christianity, I believe these are the Ten Commandments of the Church Institution:

I. Thou shalt attend worship services.
II. Thou shalt attend Sunday School.
III. Thou shalt tithe to the church.
IV. Thou shalt obey the pastor(s).
V. Thou shalt send your kids to Youth Group.
VI. Thou shalt listen to the sermon.
VII. Thou shalt treat Sunday as the Sabbath.
VIII. Thou shalt join a local church.
IX. Thou shalt participate in many programs.
X. Thou shalt fund a new building.

Would you substitute anything else in place of one of these?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Christian Books Free

A quick recommendation for you today: Christian Books Free.

Christian Books Free is what the title suggests. The site, run by the husband and wife team of Chuck and Tessa McKnight, posts link after link to free books (mostly e-books). Chuck is a contributor to Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity and blogs at BeingFilled.

If you like free books, especially e-books, then you will love this site.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Adding a Give Button to My Blog

Most Give Buttons ask you to donate money to some sort of institutional ministry. Not this one.

Instead, my Give Button is simply a reminder to give generously and freely when you see someone in need. It's really that simple. Money/goods should flow out of our hands relatively easily when we come into contact with folks who have needs that they cannot meet.

"Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." II Cor. 9:7

Monday, January 12, 2015

Not Forgotten: The Top 50 Countries Where It's Most Difficult To Be A Christian


"Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" (Hebrews 13:3).

We in the West have life fairly easy as Christians. Quite frankly, I'm not sure that we realize just how easy our lives are compared to many of our brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the world. I was reminded of the struggles many Christians face when I read Christianity Today's recent article entitled Not Forgotten: The Top 50 Countries Where It's Most Difficult To Be A Christian. I cannot speak to the accuracy of all the details in the article, but the general thrust cannot be ignored: many Christians in many countries continue to suffer for Christ on a daily basis.

As we are exhorted in Hebrews chapter thirteen, let's be in prayer for the persecuted saints worldwide.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Good-Bye Congregational Sized Church

While mega churches and simple churches grow, congregational sized churches are shrinking...rapidly.

First a definition: congregational sized churches are those with about 100-300 people. They generally have a pastor or two, meet in a building something like the size of what you see pictured here, and function in fairly traditional ways. Their worship services are seen by most of the members as the most important gathering of the church. Not a great deal has changed in these churches in the past fifty years.

When we hear about churches "closing their doors forever," this is the type of church being described. Almost everywhere in our country you can find more and more of these church buildings up for sale.

One pragmatic reason these churches are closing is that so many of the members are senior citizens. When we hear about the church "graying" in the USA, it is congregational churches that are being described. Just stand in the back of one of these churches on a Sunday morning. Many if not most of the heads will either be gray or bald. It doesn't require a genius to figure out what this means.

Why is this happening? Why aren't younger Christians as attracted to this type of church as they are to mega churches and simple churches? The answer: lack of community.

This may at first seem like a strange answer. After all, congregational sized churches are often small enough for everyone to know everyone else. Many of these folks even spend time together in small groupish settings called Sunday School. Why the problem with community?

The reason is that these churches are actually too large for everyone to know everyone. The members may know a little bit about each other, but most don't truly know what is happening in each others' lives. They are not aware of the other members' hopes, dreams, struggles, desires, problems, etc. The church is small enough for face and name recognition, but not small enough for actual community to take place. As for Sunday School classes, these often amount to little more than prayer requests and talking through a quarterly magazine.

Congregational sized churches are a thing of the past. Most will continue to function as they always have until they are forced to shut their doors for financial reasons. All the while they are dying they will have no idea what their actual cause of death is. This is because they think they have what they in fact do not have: authentic community.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Growing Numbers: Mega Church and Simple Church

As we look toward the future I believe we will see two types of churches grow rapidly in this country: mega churches and simple churches.

Actually, this is already happening. Christians are increasingly leaving congregational sized churches to move into either larger or smaller settings. This is occurring all over the country. Mega churches are doing quite well. Those who attend these churches appear to desire large gatherings, loud music, generally gifted orators, and whatever the latest trends are. These churches offer a wide variety of services and programs to various age groupings. I don't hear of mega churches struggling at all. Rather, they appear to be growing as people consolidate where they are gathering.

I also hear about increasing numbers of believers leaving institutional churches in favor of much smaller church bodies. These folks usually crave simplicity, family settings, edifying gatherings, and authenticity. While these types of church bodies tend to vary quite a bit from one to the other, the commonality of simplicity remains. Christians are increasingly finding out about this type of church life and are embracing it.

I'm a church growth enthusiast only if it refers to spiritual growth. However, as we interact with both the church and the world, it benefits us to be aware of current trends. We Christians have a disturbing tendency to operate way behind the curve when it comes to almost everything. Let's stop making that mistake. As we move forward, it is simple churches and mega churches that will be most vibrant. We should be aware of this and seek to know why this is happening.

Why, then, are mega churches and simple churches growing? I believe the answer lies in their one commonality: community. Mega churches often offer a wide variety of small groups/life groups/home groups that function something like simple churches. These groups, if operating well, provide the family type of atmosphere missing in much of life today.

In the end Christians desire community in Christ. They are finding this in mega churches and simple churches. Therefore, these types of bodies are growing.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Win a Free Copy of "Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity"

Redeeming Press is sponsoring a giveaway of two free copies of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity. If you have not yet read and/or purchased the book, this is an opportunity to get a copy for no cost.

Little in life that is any good is also free. This offer is an exception to that rule.

Click here to visit the website Christian Books Free. At that site you will be able to easily sign up to win. Enjoy!

Stranger in a Strange Church Land

Stranger in a Strange Land is a 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert Heinlein. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians (Wikipedia).

Many times I feel like a stranger in a strange church land.

As far as the church is concerned, it's as if I was raised by Martians on Mars but then later dropped off on earth. When I look around me what I largely see seems foreign. I often feel out of place and time. I imagine it's something like how Moses felt when, after fleeing to Egypt, he said, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land" (Exodus 2:22).

I live in the Bible Belt of the USA. The biggest evidence of the church I see around me is lots of mostly empty church buildings. Once or twice a week they partly fill with people. Beyond that I see little else that indicates that the church exists here (the not being allowed to purchase alcohol before 12:30 on Sundays doesn't count as evidence of anything other than silly tradition). This is a largely secular society where most folks are expected at a cultural level to "be in church." However, my guess is that the vast majority of these don't know Christ. Many are on a membership role that means less than the paper it is printed on.

When I read the New Testament I see a church that spent much time together. I see a church that was pushed to the margins of society. I see a people who carried out the one anothers faithfully within the body. I read of family gatherings where they shared the Lord's Supper meal together. I see people who gave sacrificially to meet tangible needs. I see the people of God following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I read of elders within the body setting an example of servanthood.

A massive disconnect exists between what I see in our modern church culture and what I see in the bible. In fact, the two are so different that they are completely different things.

Because of this disconnect, I consistently feel like a stranger in a strange church land. The disconnect doesn't compute with me. It feels like I was raised on Mars with one expectation of what church should be, and then traveled to earth to find something totally different. It is odd indeed.

Despite these feelings I do have hope for the church. This is a great hope based in Jesus Christ and his faithfulness.

Do you ever feel like a stranger in a strange church land?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

5 Blog Themes for 2015


Bloggers must blog about what they care about. Otherwise, their writing will be lifeless, without passion, and dull. Much like in 2014, I plan to blog about a wide range of topics in 2015. However, five topics that I care about deeply will receive quite a bit of my attention. I'll be regularly writing on the following five themes:


1. Church Body Life

It's no surprise that I'm a big proponent of simple church life. Within this framework body life is critical and can flourish. Mutual edification is the prime reason for gathering. Every person involved matters and is, therefore, expected to be an active participant. Each member can and should carry out the "one anothers" we see described in the New Testament. This is an extremely important issue because healthy body life is directly related to maturity in Christ.


2. Biblical Interpretation

The bible is a book (obviously). Although it was written for all of us to understand, many Christians fail to do so correctly. Much of the reason for this is that we read our traditions back into scripture. Additionally, we often see what we want to see rather than simply letting the bible speak. In order to be the church God wants, we need to interpret the scriptures accurately.


3. The Atonement of Christ

Jesus Christ died for the sins of his people. However, what does this mean? What took place when this occurred? Did he die as substitute or only as example? The church is currently all over the place on this issue. Since I believe this doctrine sits at the core of the gospel itself, I plan to write about it quite a bit. Additionally, for whatever reason the atonement has always fascinated me.


4. Doctrinal Concerns

The more I read in the Christian blogosphere, the more vague doctrine I see. Increasing numbers appear to believe that doctrine doesn't really matter. I'm talking about core issues (such as the atonement mentioned above). The truth is that doctrine does, in fact, matter. For example, we must follow Jesus Christ. But which one? The one described by the Jehovah's Witnesses who knocked on my door last week? Of course not. Rather, we follow the Jesus of the bible. Correct doctrine is one facet of following Christ.


5. Nonresistance

This will likely be the least popular of the five topics. Oh well. As I read the bible, in particular about the life of Christ, I see a pattern of nonresistance. This is a lifestyle that I hope the church at least begins to think about. I'm tired of how both the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association impact the church in this country. Jesus didn't go down with guns blazing. Rather, he did not resist when arrested, tortured, and executed. When can and must learn from this.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Ten Reasons I'm Hopeful for the Church

A change in calendar year means lots of essays, opinion pieces, and articles focusing on both the past and the future. In this post I'll offer my own look at things. Specifically, I'm suggesting ten factors that make me hopeful for the church.

We all realize that the church as it is has both positives and negatives. On this blog I tend to focus on much of what needs to be changed and how that can occur. I truly am hopeful for the body of Christ as we go forward into 2015. Ten reasons why:

1. Jesus Christ remains the Head of His church.

Our Lord and Savior is in charge. This has never been up for debate. Jesus will ultimately accomplish what He desires with and for His church. He is and will always be the unquestioned King of His people.

2. The Holy Spirit is active.

The Spirit is alive and well. He gives life to the church. He guides the church. He bestows spiritual gifts. The Spirit is the engine that drives the church to do what Jesus wants. The Spirit never stops.

3. Christendom continues its disintegration in the United States.

Christendom has only ever actually existed in the West. It is basically dead in Europe (except for inside the Vatican). It dies more every day here in the USA. This is a good thing. Christendom is like a veneer of Christianity sitting on top of a corrupt society. It is far more damaging than helpful. I live in the last bastion of Christendom: the Southern USA's "Bible Belt." I'm happy to say that it's even dying here.

4. Persecution is increasing around the globe.

Is this a good thing? Yes, it is. In the New Testament we read of a persecuted church. Persecution brings about a purer and healthier body. It weeds out most of those who aren't truly committed to Christ. In the USA, we don't currently face true persecution; however, the cultural climate is now set for it to begin a gradual rise.

5. More and more people desire true community.

Our modern society is increasingly individualistic and isolated. People desire community. The church is the only place to find community based in the One who gives life. This community thrives in carrying out the one anothers. It is an exciting thing to be part of.

6. Christians are increasingly tired of the same old, same old.

Christians are growing more and more disillusioned with institutional practices. More and more are leaving traditional churches forever. The worship services and programs seem increasingly repetitive. These folks are looking for something more (like the true community mentioned above).

7. Christians see the need to make a difference.

Church attendance appears to be mattering less and less to many people who follow Christ. Instead, they want to make a difference in a tangible way in their communities. They understand that God doesn't take worship service attendance, but He does care if we care for the needy.

8. Old Testament based practices are failing the sniff test.

Many institutional church practices find their (shaky) basis in the Old Testament. Christians are increasingly calling this into question. Big buildings with their huge expenses cannot be justified. Worship services find no evidence in the early church. The modern pastorate is foreign to the New Testament. Christians are no longer simply buying in to the old ways of thinking.

9. The world is gradually being reached with the gospel.

Although it is a slow process, the gospel is making its way around the globe. More and more unreached people groups hear the good news each year. In some places, such as China, the church is exploding in number. This is a thrilling time.

10. The Dones are growing.

Those done with institutional Christianity (like me) are growing in number. We are not Nones (those with no religious affiliation). Rather, we are Dones. We are followers of Jesus who want to follow Him as we read in the New Testament. The growth and recognition of this group is a positive. It also gives an option to other believers who can't find a home within the institutional framework.


In this post I've painted a bit with broad brush strokes. Many, many believers continue to be very happy and content with institutional Christianity. Many others aren't questioning anything. However, I do see some changes beginning.

John Wycliffe is frequently called "The Morning Star of the Reformation." I believe we are at a similar time within the church. A reformation is starting. While there is no one person who is a morning star, hope is rising for great change to come within the body of Christ.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Church and Institution: Two Overlapping Circles



The complex relationship between church and institution is much like two overlapping circles.

Before I proceed any further, please let me offer a couple of definitions. By "church," I'm referring to all God's people everywhere (followers of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior). By "institution," I'm talking about man-made traditions that are often confused with the church. These include things such as large buildings, worship services, and clergy.

In the above diagram, the blue circle represents the church (the colors have no specific meaning to this post). The red circle represents the institution. What we have is actually three groups of people. Those who fall in the blue are Jesus followers, but who are not part of the institution. This is where I fit. People in the red are those who are part of the institution but not the church. These are the thousands who attend worship services, sit through Sunday School, and may even preach from the pulpit but who do not know Jesus Christ.

What about the overlapping purple section? The purple represents people who are part of both the church and the institution. These are Christians who take part in institutional church life.

The above diagram is not perfect for what I'm writing about here because the purple section should actually be larger. However, it was the best I could find. My primary point in this post is that three groups of people exist. We need to keep this in mind as we think and talk about the church. Many, many people confuse the church and the institution, never considering the difference between the two. For example, here in the Bible Belt of the USA, people often ask others they have recently met, "Where do you go to church?" I almost never hear anyone ask anyone else if they follow Jesus.

When I was younger the world seemed simpler. In my mind Christians "went to church," and the lost did not. I knew some oddballs existed who claimed to be Christians and who didn't attend worship services, etc. Those I tried not to think about.

Now that I'm older I realize that thousands if not millions of people who love Jesus want nothing to do with institutional practices. Count me in this group. While I hope to be united with all my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have no desire whatsoever to take part in most institutional programs and ventures.

Many Christians are confused about the church because they have simply never thought about the difference between church and institution. They certainly haven't considered how the two interact with one another. We do well to keep these things in mind whenever we get into church-related conversations.

I'm part of the growing number of believers who fall outside institutional practices. I do not wear this as some sort of odd badge of honor. Rather, it is out of conviction. As we go forward, I believe more and more Christians will depart from man's traditions. We need to be ready to help them see that this is not only acceptable, but preferable. Many, many of us are thriving in the blue circle.