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.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Are You a Done?

After reading this article, it's clear that I'm a "done." Are you?

Click here to visit a new site named the dones.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Church Simply: One Anothering

What is the most important part of church life? Is is preaching? Is is giving? Is is teaching? Is it eating? Is it fasting? Is it praying?

I believe the most important part of church life is one anothering.

When we read through the New Testament we see exhortation after exhortation to mutually do certain things for "one another" or "each other." Some related exhortations are to not do certain things within the body. All of this has the purpose of the edification, or building up, of the entire body in Christ.

In order to show just how important this is, I'm listing several here:

"Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor." Romans 12:10

"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight." Romans 12:16

"Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8

"Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." Romans 14:13

"Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." Romans 15:7

"Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you." Romans 16:16

"So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another." I Cor. 11:33

"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." I Cor. 12:24-25

"Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you." II Cor. 13:11

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." Galatians 5:13

"Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." Galatians 5:26

"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2

"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." Ephesians 4:1-3

"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." Ephesians 4:25

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Ephesians 4:32

"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:18-21

"Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices." Colossians 3:9

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Colossians 3:12-13

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Colossians 3:16

"Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you." I Thess. 3:11-12

"Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another." I Thess. 4:9

"Therefore encourage one another with these words." I Thess. 4:18

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." I Thess. 5:11

"See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone." I Thess. 5:15

"We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing." II Thess. 1:3

"But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:13

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:24-25

"Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door." James 5:9

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." James 5:16

"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart." I Peter 1:22

"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace." I Peter 4:8-10

"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" I Peter 5:5

"Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ." I Peter 5:14

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." I John 1:7

"For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." I John 3:11

"And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us." I John 3:23

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God." I John 4:7

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." I John 4:11

The length alone of the above list should give us pause. Are we really striving to carry out what we see here? Our Lord clearly has an expectation for his church that we will care for each other and strive to edify each other. I Thessalonians 5:11 sums it up well, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."

I do not believe that what we read above is a sort of grocery list or laundry list. It's certainly not a to-do list. Rather, as we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, these are activities that we should enjoy. As the body comes together, the Spirit gives us the desire and ability to help others mature in Christ. Since these are reciprocal in nature, we also must accept edification.

When the church does these things, it becomes more and more of what Christ wants it to be: a healthy, mature body.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Church Simply: Homes Make Great Places to Meet

Continuing with this series of living church simply, in this post we'll look at homes as being great places to gather.

It is obvious that when churches gather they need some place to do so. In the bible we see one primary place where the body of Christ comes together: in homes. A few examples:

"Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia." Romans 16:3-5

"The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord." I Corinthians 16:19

"Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house." Colossians 4:15

"Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house..." Philemon 1:1-2

The above passages do not make it imperative that we meet in homes (click here to see another location). However, they do show us that this was the general practice of the day. In light of this, we do well to follow their example.

Why meet in homes? What are the benefits? Below are five that come to mind quickly:

1. Homes are comfortable. It's wonderful to sit around some family's living room on couches. It is conducive to relaxed conversation.

2. Homes are safe. In countries where persecution is real, homes offer a relatively safe place to come together. Houses do not draw the attention that church buildings do.

3. Homes are cheap. Meeting in a house costs next to nothing. Even the poorest Christians in the world can do this.

4. Homes are where real life happens. There is a real-world feel to gathering in houses. This atmosphere is good for real-life conversations. This is when edification can easily and naturally happen.

5. Homes are great places to eat. It is easy to have a meal in a house. Eating together is one of the primary things churches do. When everybody eats the same food, it levels the playing field. It helps all involved bond together and promotes the building up of the body.

Are we required to gather in homes? I do not believe so. Should we gather in homes - at least some of the time? Yes, we should. Too many benefits exist to ignore homes as obvious places to meet.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Countdown Continues: One Week Until Publication!

About one year ago Jeremy Myers approached me with the idea for this book. During the past twelve months there have been many hours of editing and writing. A few times I almost lost hope of completeing the project. But now the day is almost here!

One of the challenges of editing is changing only what needs to be changed. I attempted to make sure that each chapter did not become my own. Rather, they belong to the contributors. Doing this required quite a bit of time. It would have actually been faster to make more changes and just turn everything into exactly what I wanted. However, that would have made the book far less interesting. I'm glad it is as it stands.

You can order the book from Redeeming Press or Amazon.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"The Accidental Organic Church" - By Alan Knox

In January of this year my good friend Alan Knox penned a short essay that was published in House2House magazine. It is entitled The Accidental Organic Church.

Alan Knox and I became good friends while in seminary together. We were also part of the same church family, which Alan describes in the first part of his post. Those were fascinating days as we as a church body searched the scriptures together, trying to see how God desired that we function. I think I learned more from my time with Alan and the others than I did during my seminary classes.

Alan and I do not get to see each other much anymore. However, we remain close friends and fellow bloggers (although his has gone cold for now). I'm excited that Alan is a contributor to Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity. His chapter is entitled, "A Church That Knows Leaders Are Servants." It is one of the strongest chapters in the book.

I encourage you to read The Accidental Organic Church. It will be five minutes of your life well spent.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Just Ten Days To Go!

Only ten more days until the publication of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity!

Although I am the editor of this book, it is not my book. Rather, it's really a book owned by twenty-four different people. That's probably one of the reasons I'm so excited about it. This is not just my thoughts; it's much better than that. It is a compilation of what a diverse group of Christians believes about simple church life.

I'm also very pleased that this is not a homogeneous group. Although we all have Christ in common, we have many differences: backgrounds, locations, genders, occupations, races, and (gasp!) some doctrinal issues. We even chose a wide variety of bible translations to use in this book (eight total).

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity has not been written from a narrow perspective. Rather, a bunch of Christ followers from all over the world (literally) have joined together to discuss some of the wonderful benefits of simple church life. I hope you are blessed by it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Church Simply: Everybody Actively Use Your Spiritual Gifts!

One key aspect to simple church life is that everyone is encouraged and expected to actively use his or her spiritual gifts to serve the body.

This is based on the view of the body described in I Corinthians 12. Paul informs us that every member of the body is important. The body will not function properly unless all body parts are healthy and active. None are ignored. None are more important than others. In order for the body to do what it is supposed to do, every part must be up and running.

For this to occur the body as a whole has to trust the lead of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit not only bestows spiritual gifts, but also leads believers into using these gifts. The body must respond to the Spirit's leading by encouraging everyone to use their own gifts actively for the building up of the entire body. Everybody matters.

One place many churches (regardless of form) fail is in encouraging everyone to be active. It's easy to simply let some folks sort of sit quietly in the background and not do much. If this happens the body will suffer - possibly in ways it hasn't really considered. Since I Cor. 12 is true, then everybody needs everybody. We the church must get the message out that every believer has the responsibility to be active. Let's not guilt one another in this, but instead encourage each other. Ironically, this means we will be encouraging each other to encourage each other.

The church is stunted when a small number of people do most of the ministry. That model makes for a sick body, where some parts are overworked and others are undeveloped. Much healthier is a body where every part is in shape from regular exercise. Let's all do our part by using our gifts to serve and encouraging others to do so.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Church Simply: The Spirit Leads the Meetings

As churches come together, who's in charge? Who leads? Who points the way forward?

In simple church gatherings it is the Holy Spirit who leads.

It is the Spirit and only the Spirit. The Spirit needs no help. The Spirit desires no assistance. He can direct things just fine on his own. He doesn't request human "sub-leaders" to get out in front of the body.

When we look in the pages of the New Testament we see believers gather together for mutual edification. As they do this they rely on the Spirit to lead. When we analyze their get-togethers, we see free-flowing gatherings where those involved act for the betterment of others. We don't see a great deal of pre-planning; the believers wait for the Spirit to lead them in edifying activities.

Acts chapters two and four illustrate what the Spirit's leadership can bring about.

Much of the institutional church is pastor-centric. Pastors lead almost everything and are a key focus of the body. For better or worse they point the way forward. They are at the head of almost all the important decisions. Whenever a big activity takes place, the pastors are front-and-center. If you look in the New Testament you simply do not see this. We see elders within local bodies, but these men lead through serving, not decision-making. They don't stand out in front. Like the other folks, they wait for the Spirit to lead.

This is one of the greatest differences between simple churches and institutional/traditional churches. While the Spirit leads simple churches in general and their gatherings in particular, it is the pastors who lead institutional churches. To say otherwise would be to ignore the obvious.

Bodies of believers do well to follow the Holy Spirit. He is God after all. We can and must trust the Spirit to lead us in how he wants us to live as his church. He will not fail us. Let us not fail him.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Only Two Weeks Until Publication!

I am getting more and more excited about Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity as the publication date (Dec. 2nd) approaches. The more discussions I'm having with others about this book, the more I realize that the general message is resonating with many people. Christians with all sorts of church backgrounds are interested in what the contributors of this book have to say. I've been somewhat overwhelmed by the response so far.

Chuck McKnight, one of the contributors, made an interesting observation this week. He said, "I just skimmed through the contributor bios in the back of Simple Church. Looks like almost half of us are either foreign missionaries or missionary kids (myself included in the latter)." I knew we had a variety of people writing, but I didn't realize the overseas connection. This makes sense. Living overseas forces people out of comfort zones and often leads them into asking hard questions about all sorts of things - including church life.

You can pre-order the book by visiting Redeeming Press or Amazon. The Kindle version is available as well.

Happy reading!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Church Simply: A Real Lord's Supper

Confession time: I love to eat. Food is excellent. It is best served with good company.

Simple church gatherings almost always involve eating of some kind. Many of these meals are real Lord's Suppers. I'm referring to an actual meal that celebrates what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. We see this in various places in the New Testament. For example, in Acts 20:7 we read, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight." Please notice that the body gathered for a specific purpose: "...when we were gathered together to break bread..."

Earlier in Acts, we see that the early believers dedicated themselves to several things, one of these being the "breaking of bread" (2:42).

The Corinthian church was struggling with the Lord's Supper. Some in the body were abusing it. The wording of chapter 11 only makes sense in the context of an actual meal. Paul does not tell them to stop eating a meal; rather, he instructs them in how to eat it properly.

Many institutional churches are starving themselves. The Lord's Supper celebration has been changed into a Lord's Snack funeral-like ceremony. This is a sad deviation for the worse.

One of the best aspects of gathering with other believers is eating together. There is something about eating together that brings about community life. It is easy to have conversations when sitting around the table. The body comes together as it all shares food together. Part of this meal, although I don't think it is required, is the bread and the cup. The eating and drinking of these helps remind us of what Jesus has done and also fosters the unity of the body.

I love the above icon because it shows a real meal in action. People are happy. There's even a dog at the table. The meal is portrayed as an active, joyful occasion. This is what the Lord's Supper should be.

When the church gathers, one thing we should all be thinking is, "Let's eat!" And by "eat," we are referring to a real supper.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Church Simply: Why Get Together Anyway? Mutual Edification

One source of great confusion in much of the church today is why the church gets together. This is fascinating because churches gather so regularly. You would think that the people would know why they are doing so. When asked, most Christians respond with the vague, "...to worship." However, they can neither support this biblically nor even accurately define it.

At least some of this confusion stems from the term "worship service." Since people attend these ceremonies, they think this is when "worship" happens. It is all one big confusing mess. The reason for all this, of course, is that worship is not why the church gathers (worship is a 24/7 exercise). Rather, the church comes together for mutual edification.

I Corinthians 14:26 is an extremely important verse. Paul writes, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." Paul is less concerned with their specific activities than he is with why they are doing what they are doing. All should be for the building up of the body into maturity in Christ. We see an active body where each person uses his or her gifts to build up others.

Mutual edification is easy to define. Because of that, it is easy for local bodies of believers to make this the focus of their gatherings. They can step back and see if what they are doing is actually accomplishing what it should. On the other hand, when churches focus on worship, it is nearly impossible to determine what their meetings are accomplishing.

Before even gathering together churches should ask the "Why?" question. The answer to this question is much more important than the "Who? What? Where? When? and How?" questions. If a church doesn't know why it comes together, then none of the other answers matter.

Simple churches meet for mutual edification of the body. It's as simple as that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Contributing Authors Blogging About "Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity"

Most of the twenty-four contributors to Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity are also bloggers. Several of them have written recent blog posts about the book. Click on any of the following names to see what they have to say about the upcoming publication:

Bobby Auner
Keith Giles
Chris Jefferies
Miguel Labrador
Chuck McKnight
Will Rochow
Steve Scott
Arthur Sido
Kathleen Ward

You can pre-order the book here or here. For the Kindle version, click here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Now Available for Pre-Order!

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is now available! You can pre-order it through either Redeeming Press or Amazon.com. If you are the Kindle sort, the book is available for you as well.

I admit that it is sort of an odd experience seeing my name on the cover of a book. After all, I'm the editor but did not actually write most of the book (only two of the chapters to be exact). I'm thrilled that we have so many different contributors. The variety of writers makes the book more interesting and, I believe, more powerful. It is many voices speaking as one about the power and beauty of simple church life.

If you have any questions about the book, please contact me. Feel free to ask in the blog comments or send an email. Please also be in prayer that God will use this book to bring about increased dialogue, understanding, and unity within his body. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

THE BIG NEWS: The Book Nears Completion!

We're nearing the finish line. Praise the Lord!

Much like an engagement is not real until there is a ring, a book doesn't seem real until there is a cover. Well, we have a cover. What you see above is a first draft of the cover of the new book I'm editing. We may make some minor changes, but for the most part what you see above is what the cover will be.

The first thing that jumps off the cover is that the name of the book has changed. The original title was What We're For. However, Jeremy Myers (publisher) and I decided that we needed a title that more clearly describes what the book is all about. Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity points any interested readers to the general theme of the book.

I selected the icon on the front cover to emphasize the interaction between unity and diversity. Jeremy provided me with about thirty different possible icon choices. So far I've received positive feedback about this selection.

The back cover lists the contributors not in alphabetical order, but rather in the order their chapters appear in the book. The book contains 26 chapters; Jeremy and I each wrote two. The interesting thing about this book is that quite a bit of diversity actually exists among the various contributors. However, we all agree primarily that Jesus is Lord, and secondarily that simple church practices are the most effective pattern for church life.

We hope and pray that God will use this book to generate discussion, understanding, and unity within the broader body of Christ.

We are aiming for a publication date of later this month or early December. I'll post more about it as the date approaches.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Church Simply: Let's Have a Family Gathering

Simple church gatherings are just that: simple.

In every country in the world families get together. The purpose is usually to enjoy one another's company. There may be some planning, but for the most part it is the spontaneous interactions that are most important. Families just enjoy being together. It is much more about who is there than what is happening.

Simple church gatherings are like this. The body of Christ is one large family. Because of this, church gatherings should be be family gatherings. This can occur any place, any time, with any number of people. The purpose is to give believers the opportunity to glorify God through mutual edification.

This all happens most effectively when church meetings are family meetings.

When we look to the pages of the New Testament we see the redeemed coming together simply. They generally met in homes. We're told in Acts 2:42 that they, "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." This is not complex. However, it is very important. The importance lies in the community atmosphere that encourages the building up of the body.

Much of the church today seems to think that complexity equals excellence. Look at almost any mega church website to see this. The irony is that the scriptures show us the opposite. Simple is generally better. Family gatherings happen in simple environments. When large groups meet in big buildings for worship ceremonies, family dynamics cannot exist.

Local bodies of believers do well to think of their meetings as family get togethers. This keeps things simple and relaxed. Planning is minimized while edification is maximized.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Church Simply: Christ as the Unquestioned Head

All true followers of Jesus believe that Christ is their Head. All groups of believers also hold to this truth. Christ does not tolerate competition to his throne, not should he.

That said, many churches confuse this fact through their forms. The confusion stems from what appears to be many "little heads" that come between Christ and his people. These little heads are the various forms of clergy that pervade church life. If you attend any worship service you'll see a small number of people who lead the activity and perform most of the tasks. From an observer's position, these folks seem to be in control.

In simple church life Jesus Christ is the only Head both in reality and in form. No clergy exists. When believers gather simply the only person in charge is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads the body in pointing to only one Head: Jesus. There is no confusion. There are no little heads. Jesus' Headship is unquestioned in belief, form, and function. As the above image suggests, we are all equal cogs in the life of the church with Jesus Christ at the center, unchallenged in any way.

Ephesians 1:22-23 says, "And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."

Later in that same epistle we read, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (4:15).

Colossians 1:18 informs us, "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent."

None of these verses hint that Christ desires any sort of assistance in his Headship. Rather, he demands that he alone be supreme; everyone else serves in equal capacities as the members of his body. In simple church life this is a reality. Everything points squarely to Jesus as Head. No confusion exists or is tolerated. Nobody plays the middle-man role of little head.

The beauty of this is that everyone has a clear view of Christ. He receives all the glory while we receive the edification. Every body part is active in working with all the others to carry out the desires of the Head. All are equivalent in looking to the Head for leadership and guidance.

When the body works this way it is a wondrous thing to behold.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Church Simply: The N. T. Model

One foundational principle of simple church life is that God has provided for us what we need. He has done this through the Holy Spirit and through the bible. The Holy Spirit guides us all throughout the day, and also specifically when we read the scriptures. Since we are New Covenant people, we look primarily to the pages of the New Testament to see how God wants us to live church life. We don't need or want man's traditions. Rather, we believe the bible - through the illumination provided by the Holy Spirit - is sufficient for us.

The New Testament shows us a church of imperfect people who do some great things and make some mistakes. That sounds like us today. This makes sense since they were regular people learning to live for Christ in the midst of a pagan culture (something like ours). We have an advantage over those first believers: we can learn both from what they did well and from their blunders. We owe those first believers a deep debt of gratitude.

The gospel accounts show us Jesus is all his glory. We also see his earliest followers trying to figure out who he is. As we turn to the book of Acts, we read of the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is when church life really begins to take off. We see a church feeling its way through living as followers of Christ empowered by the Spirit. We also see them living simply. They gather in homes to edify one another. They eat together. They pray together. They serve one another. They live holy lives. They share the gospel generously.

Most of the remainder of the New Testament provides us with letters to churches dealing with specific issues. Many of these are "occasional" letters," meaning that they were written for specific occasions or reasons. The writers encouraged the new believers in enduring in the face of persecution, and also challenged them when they were living in a manner inconsistent with following after Christ. These letters are a treasure trove for us. We learn a massive amount about how we should be living today. One thing we continue to see is a simple manner of church life.

God has given us all we need to live as the church he desires. We have the Holy Spirit and the bible. We don't have to invent anything. We have all we need.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Church Simply: An Introduction

I love Jesus Christ and his church. Since you are reading this blog my guess is that you do, too. We all want to see the church thrive, making a significant difference in this world. We desire to see a church that looks different from secular culture, but which still engages that culture with both the truth and love of Christ.

I strongly believe that practicing church life in a simple manner is the most effective way to edify the body of Christ. It's also the best way to interact with unbelievers. This should not be surprising to us since simple church practices are modeled directly after what we see practiced by the early church in scripture. The early church was by no means perfect (see for example the book of I Corinthians); however, we can learn much from their simple practices. A prime example of this comes from Acts 2:42. We're told that the early believers, "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." This is surely not all they did, but it does instruct us in the simple model they followed.

A simple model of church life avoids many of the time and money consuming practices that have developed through hundreds of years of man's traditions. These things include salaried pastors, worship services/ceremonies, large church buildings, and never-ending church programs. Instead, a philosophy of simple church is to get together as a large family to edify one another through simple means. This edification ought to lead the body both into living holier lives and into sharing the gospel more freely and frequently.

The longer I live the more I believe that the church (at least in this country) has generally lost its way. While millions of people genuinely love Jesus Christ and his church, most of those same people do not know or understand just how wonderful body life can be. This is not due to lack of intelligence; rather, most of these sweet folks have just never thought about it. Week after week they unknowingly follow the traditions of men.

This is the first post in a series I'm going to call Church Simply (thanks to Felicity Dale for the name inspiration).

My purpose is to discuss simple church forms and practices in a simple manner. I hope to encourage those already involved in simple church and to challenge those who are willing to accept it.

Church life practiced simply is a wonderful model for the church to follow. My hope is that more and more believers will turn from their current traditional practices to see just how exhilarating simple church life can be.