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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Newsweek on the Bible — So Misrepresented It’s a Sin"

Click here to read Albert Mohler's review of an upcoming story in Newsweek magazine.

According to Mohler, Newsweek has in the past offered both liberal and conservative perspectives (set side by side) on various meanings of the bible. Unfortunately, in this latest article the magazine does nothing of the sort. While it suggests that it is a solid journalistic look at the scriptures, it is in fact little more than a hit-piece on both the bible and evangelical Christianity.

If you bother buying the magazine (I wouldn't), be ready for a brazen attack by an author with an obvious axe to grind.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Blogging About the Sabbath

Someone recently asked me whether or not I've blogged about Jesus being our Sabbath rest. The answer is a resounding yes. I love the fact that Jesus Christ Himself is our 24/7 rest. Below are some of my blog posts on this subject:

Jesus is Our Sabbath. His Yoke is Easy and Light.

More Rest on Sundays Since It's Not the Sabbath

Acts 20:7 and the First Day of the Week

On Mowing My Lawn on Sunday

What Should We Do About the Sabbath?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Church Simply: Putting It All Together

Simple church is not a monolith. Christians all around the globe gather simply and differently. Despite this, many commonalities do exist. At its core, those who meet simply look to the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures to guide church life. It is the Spirit who gives life. He opens our eyes to see in the Bible how God would have us live. What we read in the New Testament serves not simply as a description, but also as a prescription for how the church can and should function today.

Christ is the unquestioned Head of His church. We in the church are the body; all are of equal significance, and all are needed. Jesus leads and we follow. When we come together, the goal is to have a family gathering that glorifies Christ through the mutual edification of the body. We all have the joy and responsibility of edifying one another in Christ. During most gatherings we eat; this is the Lord's Supper. It is a beautiful time of all the members using their gifts to help the whole grow toward maturity in Christ.

Many times we meet in homes, but this is not required. Wherever mutual edification can occur is a great place to gather. A key component of the gatherings is the "one anothers."  The New Testament is full of commands to carry out all sorts of one another functions within body life. The purpose of these (no surprise here) is mutual edification.

Simple churches can easily be generous churches. The reason for this is that everyone is encouraged to give as the Spirit leads. All the giving can go directly toward meeting real needs, either inside or outside the body. Simple churches basically have no overhead costs such as buildings and salaries. When churches come together decisions often have to be made. The goal is to seek consensus. This may take extended time and even get messy, but the result is unity. Unity is important because Christ expects and demands it.

Leadership happens through setting the example of service. Leaders don't lead through decision making, but by caring for the needs of others. Elders, who usually are leaders, come from within the church family. They are spiritually mature, respected men who lead by setting the example. This example is one left by Christ - the night before His crucifixion He washed His disciples' feet.

To sum up, simple churches strive to emulate the positive aspects of church life that we read about in the New Testament. When we seek to live this way it can be a glorious thing indeed.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Best Gift I Received Today!

Although it involves much pain and suffering, the Buffalo Bills will always be my favorite professional football team. I grew up in western New York State and have remained loyal despite moving south almost twenty years ago. Today my family gave me something I've always wanted: an authentic Bills jersey. As a bonus, the jersey has my last name on the back (the Bills' kicker is named Dan Carpenter). Sweet!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Church Simply: United in Christ

Unity is not an option.

Jesus Christ demands that His church be united. He provides no loopholes or exceptions. We are to be one.

In John chapter 17 we find Christ's famous High Priestly Prayer. One of the primary themes of that prayer is Jesus' expectation that His body will be united. In this incredible prayer we read:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:20-23).

Jesus prays that we will be one as the Father and Son are one. In other words, our Lord expects perfect unity. Jesus goes on to tie the effectiveness of gospel proclamation to the unity of the body. These are some extremely significant words by Christ.

Not long after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension we read of the early church in the book of Acts. Luke paints a beautiful picture of unity for us:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).

We know, however, that all was not hunky-dory in the world of the early church. As the gospel spread and churches were planted some of the early believers struggled with unity. Paul in particular wrote to these assemblies to instruct them in the importance of being one. Paul offers no exceptions to the command for unity. Below are three examples:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment (I Cor. 1:10).

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3).

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Phil. 2:1-2).

Christ's church today is splintered into thousands of different factions. These have another name: denominations. Within these denominations, local churches often have statements of faith and membership roles that separate those who are in from those who are out. Some even deny the Lord's Supper to Christians who haven't joined their particular church. All of this flies in the face of Christ's command for unity.

Christian unity has no justifiable exceptions. All dividing walls beyond the gospel need to be removed. Christ wants His body to be one; we must do all we can to make this a reality. How do we do we accomplish it? Paul tells us in Philippians chapter 2. The key to unity is humility. Immediately after Paul calls the Philippian believers to unity he writes in 2:3-4, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."

Unity is a wonderful thing. It brings great joy within the body. More importantly, Christ commands and demands it. We make this happen through the simple yet profound act of treating others better than ourselves.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Theologians Off the Rails Again...

In a recent blog post Arthur Sido asked an excellent question: "What is it about ecclesiology that makes otherwise sound theologians go off the rails?"

I had been thinking about that question quite a bit this week when a magazine arrived at our house. This particular magazine is published by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (where I graduated in 2006). Despite my current views on the church, I still think SEBTS does some good things. For example, I love their emphasis on international missions. A sizable chunk of this magazine focuses on that topic. However, I did find one article that is disturbing. Not surprisingly, that article focuses on the dreaded subject of church membership.

The SEBTS article is an overview of a conference held back in September that was a joint venture between SEBTS and 9Marks. The conference's name was "Meaningful Church Membership." Speakers included Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Alistair Begg, Danny Akin, and others.

What I find most problematic is the two quotes from the conference that the writers of this article decided to highlight, placing them in bold font in the middle of the magazine's pages. These two quotes are prime examples of theologians going off the rails.

First, Jonathan Leeman (editorial director of 9Marks) is quoted as saying, "The local church represents heaven. It is also God's embassy on earth. We don't join churches, we submit to them. Church membership is the declaration of citizenship in Christ's Kingdom."

Let's be clear about something: when these speakers refer to church membership they are talking about the extrabiblical idea of belonging in a special way to only one particular local body of believers (sign your name on the card and you go on the membership roll).

Leemon's statements in that quote are unbiblical and absurd. His final sentence is the most shocking. He is calling into question the salvation of anyone who is not a member of a specific local church. He has, therefore, equated church membership with the gospel. Now, I'm sure he would deny this if asked in these terms, but his statement certainly makes things murky at best.

Later in the article, speaker Thabiti Anyabwile is quoted with the following, " Every time we talk about the body of Christ we are talking about church membership. God puts His body together. Pride tears it apart."

I agree completely with Anyabwile's second and third sentences. It is the first one that is troublesome. The key is the definition of church membership. Anyabwile's statement is correct if by church membership he simply means everyone who is part of the church everywhere. However, in light of this specific conference, he is much more likely to be talking about the extrabiblical specific church membership I mentioned earlier. If that is the case, then Anyabwile, like Leeman, is referring to the body of Christ as only those whose names are on membership rolls somewhere.

What do these speakers do with folks like me (and probably you) who claim Christ as Lord and Savior but who shun the idea of specific church membership? The answer is that they want to ignore us because we do not fit their paradigm for what church membership is.

Returning to Arthur's great question, what is it that causes normally solid theologians to go off the rails when it comes to church issues? My answer is an old one: the love of man-made traditions. These theologians either cannot or will not see past the church traditions that they love so much. These men consistently fail to use the same principles of biblical interpretation for the church that they do for other topics such as Christology, salvation, and social/cultural issues.

The church institution is not based in scripture. Rather, it exists as part of man's own comfort zone. It makes him feel good. The problem is that it is not what God wants. It bears little resemblance to the church of the New Testament. It remains based much more in Rome than Jerusalem.

Many theologians continue to ride the same train off the rails again and again and again. Let's hope and pray that God will open their eyes to the magnificent thing His church can be when we live church life according to sound biblical principles.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Have An Idea For You...

It's only one week until Christmas!

If you are still looking for a great gift, let me suggest this book. Yes, I am biased in favor it. I've read it several times. It is excellent.

My favorite part about the book is that the twenty-four contributors all have slightly different perspectives on church life. Despite this, we together offer a call for unity in Christ as his body. We are looking for true community in our Lord as we see described in the New Testament. We are hoping for a reformation within the church that strives for healthy church bodies seeking edification for all involved. We desire to see Christian maturity in all believers. We long for a church that is known for its self-sacrificial living and unconditional love.

You can order Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity at Redeeming Press or Amazon.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Church Simply: Everybody Matters Equally

I cannot overstate the fact that within the body of Christ everybody matters equally.

Most churches today would agree with the above statement, at least in theory. However, when it comes to actual practice, many local Christian groups function within a hierarchical framework. Put simply, almost all institutional churches treat some people as if they are more important than others. The usual order of importance - with some variation - is as follows: senior pastor, assistant pastors, elders, deacons, board members, committee members, members, visitors. This is a top down structure that is based in the secular business world.

Christ's plan for his church is far different from today's far too typical hierarchies. Jesus' church is a heavenly creation, and thus operates far differently from the world. Within this body no hierarchy exists. Rather, everyone is of equal importance. All have equal value. All matter. Everyone needs everyone else to the same degree. This is the only way for a body to be healthy.

We are all familiar with Paul's use of the body metaphor in I Corinthians 12. This passage is absolutely critical for our understanding of body life. Paul chooses the functioning of the physical body to show us in concrete terms that we, a spiritual body, all need one another. All the individual parts must be healthy for the whole to be healthy. All matter equally.

Let's reflect on I Corinthians 12:12-26:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 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, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

The final paragraph in particular is amazing. Three truths stand out. First, those within the body who might seem of less importance are actually critical to a healthy church. Those who come to mind are the folks who quietly serve others in the background, not desiring attention. Churches need people like this. Second, Paul tells us that God composed the body this way. It is no accident; rather, this is God's plan. Third, God did it this way "that there may be no division within the body." Our Lord's purpose in everyone being equal is to bring about and maintain the unity of the church family. God understands that when we all matter, all have value, and all have a part to play, we also will be more united.

I'll end this post where I began it: within the body of Jesus Christ, everybody matters equally. Only when we embrace this truth can the church be the healthy body God wants it to be.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Church Simply: Elders From Within

When we look in the New Testament we see much more about elders than we do about pastors. But who are these guys? Where do they come from? What are they supposed to do? Do they even matter?

Elders do matter. If they didn't, then Paul wouldn't have bothered with them. However, we see the following in Acts 14:21-23, "When they had preached the gospel to that city (Derbe) and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed." Paul and his helpers were directly involved in appointing elders in these new churches that they had planted.

On a later missionary journey we read, "Now from Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him" (Acts 20:17). Paul could not call the entire church to come see him so he called the elders.

In light of what we read in the New Testament, what do we know about elders?

1. Elders were ALWAYS selected from within the body. They were not from the outside.
2. Elders were recognized for what they were already doing. Their behavior did not change once they were appointed.
3. Elders were godly men who obeyed the Lord. They were not primarily known for their teaching.
4. Elders served others. This was their form of leadership

In I Peter 5:1-3 we read, "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."

Peter's primary exhortation to elders is to shepherd. What does this look like? Peter is referring to guidance toward a life of holiness, godliness, and sacrificial love. The elders were to accomplish this through their actions of service. They modeled the behaviors they hoped to see in the remainder of the body. Notice that they were not to put others under compulsion. They were not to be domineering. Instead they were to be "examples to the flock."

In the modern church we have in general lost sight of what elders are and what they do. This is to our detriment. Elders are important because they are godly men from inside the church family who model godly behavior to the rest of the body and lead by doing this.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Church Simply: Leadership Through Service

Much of the modern church is consumed with its leaders. This is true with Catholicism, where the Pope makes the headlines at least weekly. However, it is also true in evangelicalism. Super-star pastors are frequently in the news for saying things about things.

If you ask most Christians about their church, one of the first things they will begin to talk about is their pastor. Go ahead and try it. See what they say. Even if you do not mention the pastor, this will be one of their first topics of conversation.

Pastors/leaders within the modern church almost always lead through one main method: decision making. They certainly do other things such as preach, teach, baptize, etc. However, their primary leadership activity is making decisions for the body.

In the New Testament the church body as a whole makes the decisions. Since that's the case, what do leaders in the New Testament church do? The answer is that they lead through serving others. Not only do they serve, but they model this service to the rest of the body.

In John chapter 13, Jesus leaves a model for his twelve disciples to follow. He washes their feet and instructs them to do the same. This is extremely significant because it is part of Christ's final teachings to those who would lead the fledgling church. Jesus did not, conversely, give them all sorts of instructions in how to make decisions for his body.

Christ's model of leadership was service.

Earlier in Jesus' ministry he said the following, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:42-44).

Jesus is talking to those who would take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Service equals greatness in the Kingdom.

Jesus Christ is Lord of his church. He expects leadership; however, he does not expect the earthly definition of leadership by making decisions. Rather, our Lord demands a heavenly sort of leadership: sacrificial service.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Church Simply: Decision Making Consensus

Robert's Rules of Order is a book about parliamentary procedure. It is necessary and even helpful for political meetings and other gatherings of that sort. When secular groups come together to discuss important issues rules must be in place to govern who speaks and how. If this doesn't exist, chaos will soon follow.

I'm saddened every time I hear about Robert's Rules being used by local bodies of believers. I admit to taking part in "church business meetings" in the past where Robert's was king. Those meetings at times felt more like contentious political gatherings than they did family get-togethers. It should not be this way.

When we look at the church in the New Testament we see no Robert's Rules of Order.

Instead, what we find are exhortations and admonitions to body unity, body charity, and body love. We see churches praised for striving for unity of mind. Conversely, we see churches in conflict who are told to stop it. Unity was of utmost importance.

Regarding the specific issue of decision making in the New Testament, we see a model of decision making consensus. Instead of the voting we so often hear about today in church business meetings, the church ought to be striving toward consensus. Voting simple allows for a quick decision to be made; it also allows for a tyranny of the majority. It actually hurts unity. Decision making consensus, on the other hand, forces people to talk through issues, see others' viewpoints, and focus on finding places where they can agree. It demands compromise in the good sense of that word.

When we read in the book of Acts, in particular chapters two and four, we see believers living in harmony. There is no strife, but one mind.

In Ephesians 4:1-3 we read, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Paul desires that they and we be eager to maintain unity. Unity of this sort is fostered through finding consensus in decision making.

Paul continues with this theme in Philippians 2:1-4, "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." Paul makes it clear that the unity he expects comes through looking out for others before self. This can be shown tangibly through striving for consensus when making decisions.

When we read the New Testament we don't see a couple of things. First, we do not find any church business meetings. They simply do not exist. Today's meetings of this ilk stem from secular thinking. Second, we do not see leaders making decisions for the body. Leaders lead by serving not through decision making.

So, who makes the decisions? The body does. How does the body do it? It accomplishes it by finding consensus.

Finding this consensus make take longer than voting. It may also be messier, at least for a while. However, in the end the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Consensus brings unity. God expects unity. Unity brings joy.

Let's find consensus no matter how long it takes and no matter how difficult it is.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Simple Church in My Living Room

You can see in the above photo of my living room floor that it is Christmas time. You can also see thirty copies of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity. This is a combination of books I purchased and books I earned by being editor and contributor. What a haul!

I'm excited about this book not because I'm the editor. Rather, I'm excited because I believe it is unique. Twenty-four contributors uniting to discuss a wide variety of simple church principles and practices from a generally positive perspective is not something you find too often in the bookstore.

As you probably know, the book published earlier this week. It has been doing well so far, especially in Kindle format. Up to now all the reviews of the book at Amazon.com have been written by contributors. I'm looking forward to additional reviews popping up there as others who have read the book get the opportunity to share their thoughts about it.

One of the benefits to this book is the wide variety of topics it covers. The Table of Contents is as follows:

Part 1: Glorifying and Enjoying God
1. A Church That Honors the Triune God
2. A Church That Cherishes Jesus Christ Above All
3. A Church That Follows the Lead of the Holy Spirit
4. A Church That Clings to Scriptural Truth
5. A Church That Holds Theological Convictions With Humility

Part 2: Living Radically
6. A Church That is Most Notable for Its Love
7. A Church That Forgives
8. A Church That Is Composed of Peacemakers
9. A Church That Accepts Suffering as Part of Life
10. A Church That Exhibits Personal Holiness

Part 3: Building the Body
11. A Church That Is United In Christ
12. A Church That Recognizes Equal Laity With Christ As the Only Head
13. A Church That Counts Every Member as Key
14. A Church That Views Itself as a People
15. A Church That Assembles for Mutual Edification
16. A Church That Knows Leaders Are Servants

Part 4: Impacting the World
17. A Church That Gives Liberally and Generously
18. A Church That Gives Everything Away
19. A Church That Sacrificially Cares for the Needy
20. A Church That Dies For Others
21. A Church That Seeks Justice
22. A Church That Restores Dignity

Part 5: Proclaiming Salvation
23. A Church That Knows Eternal Life is Free
24. A Church That Sees Every Christian as Family
25. A Church That Proclaims the Gospel Clearly
26. A Church That Takes the Gospel to the World

I hope you get the chance to read the book. Enjoy!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Exit Churchianity

Exit Churchianity is a website/blog that my wife told me about recently. It's full of all sorts of good stuff that compares church practices to what we see in scripture. I think you'll enjoy it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Church Simply: Giving Without Compulsion. Giving to Meet Needs.

Much of the giving that takes place within the church is done under compulsion.

Most of us have been told that it is required for us to give to the church to support its ministries, building projects, etc. We've heard that we must pay the tithe in order for God to open up the store house. We've been guilted into putting money into the offering plate in order to pay pastoral salaries. This is all hogwash.

God's intent is that his church give freely and without compulsion. The passage that best illustatres this is II Corinthians 9:6-7. Paul writes the following, "The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Giving is important. In fact, it should be a primary mark of the church. However, this giving is far different in motivation that the usual guilt-inducing speeches we've all so often heard. We New Covenant people are not under any sort of tithe. Rather, motivated by the Holy Spirit, we are to give generously as we have decided. Paul clearly writes "not reluctantly or under compulsion." We give as the Spirit prompts.

To what or whom should we give? In the New Testament we see believers give to meet people's basic needs. Acts 4:32-35 informs us:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

That passage still amazes me every time I read it. What a challenge to us! And what an opportunity as well.

The above photo shows a person with open hands. This represents two things related to giving. Some are in a position to give and open their hands to do so. Others need help and open their hands to receive.

My encouragement to you is to give freely, generously, and joyfully. When you see a need meet it. This may occur either inside or outside the church body. Don't feel guilty if you go a while without giving. You may at other times find yourself giving so much that you cannot believe it. Additionally, avoid the pride of not accepting gifts from others. You may sometimes or many times need the help.

Give, give, and give. Just do so for the right reasons.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Simple Church Has Arrived!

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity has arrived at my house (twenty-nine copies to be exact)! I wasn't sure when the book would actually show up; this was quicker than I thought. Holding a hard copy somehow makes it feel more real. When should I read it again?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Today is the day. Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is published. Hooray! You can order here or here. The book has already made it onto Amazon.com's Top 100 Christian Ministry books list and has been labeled a "Hot New Release" (whatever that means).

I'd like to thank Jeremy Myers of Redeeming Press for both initiating this project and for publishing the book.

I also want to thank all the contributors (excluding myself):

Edwin Aldrich
Bobby Auner
Stephanie Bennett
Alice Carpenter (my wonderful wife)
Bonar Crump
Christopher Dryden
Kathy Escobar
Keith Giles
Chris Jefferies
Michael Jones
Travis Klassen
Alan Knox
Miguel Labrador
Chuck McKnight
Guy Muse
Jeremy Myers
Sam Riviera
Will Rochow
Steve Scott
Steve Sensenig
Arthur Sido
Brian Swan
Kathleen Ward

Great writing everyone! Thanks again.

Monday, December 1, 2014

One Day More!

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity will finally be published tomorrow. It has been a long time coming; this book has been in process for over a year now. I'm thrilled that we have arrived at the finish line.

I've said from the beginning that my hope for this book is that it will bring about unity and understanding within the body of Christ. I have no desire to "prove a point" or "win an argument" about church issues. Rather, it will be wonderful if this text will lead to healthy discussions about church life. Let's hope.

I hope you get the opportunity to read this book. You can order it here or here.