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.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Alarming Facts About Pastors

Pastors of institutional churches face many challenges and difficulties. What is the solution to this? Traditional answers usually focus on being nicer to the pastor, supporting the pastor better, not expecting so much of the pastor, and paying the pastor more.

The folks at Fellowship of the Lamb have a different idea. Click here to read "Alarming Facts About Pastors." The authors offer a far different solution to problems within the institutional pastorate.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Great Quote

I saw this on Twitter a few days ago:

"The greatest distraction to discipleship in church history is trying to pull off an amazing Sunday service."

Thanks to Seth McBee (@sdmcbee) and Kathleen Ward (@ChurchInACircle).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Smoke Shack: A Model for Church Meetings

Many of you know that I work at JCB here in Savannah. JCB's smoking policy is fairly simple: if you choose to smoke, you have to do so at the one designated location outside the building. This "smoke shack" is little more than a metal overhang where the smokers congregate throughout the day.

Although I do not smoke, my specific job duties have me walk near the smoke shack several times per day. I can't stand the smell, but what I see fascinates me. The smokers have inadvertently found a good model for church meetings.

Those who smoke talk with each other, stand around, and share an activity: they smoke. Everyone gets to participate. Each person, regardless of specific job in the factory and offices, is on a level playing field at the smoke shack. Little is planned; conversation is spontaneous. All involved seem to be having a good time. No one is required to attend. Rather, they simply come when they want to. The smokers generally enjoy each other's company. Everyone is to some extent encouraged through the conversations.

The model I'm describing from the smoke shack also sounds like an excellent one for church gatherings. How absurd it is that regular folks know how to get together in a manner that encourages the group, but the church generally does not. Most churches believe that a special ceremony is needed to please God. This could not be more incorrect. God wants His church to gather to build up the church. This happens through free-flowing, spontaneous, Spirit-led get togethers.

Frankly, it looks a lot like what I see at the smoke shack.

Monday, October 20, 2014

If Sermons Were Edifying the Church Would be Much More Mature

Sermons are ubiquitous. Almost all institutional churches have some type of sermon during their large weekly meetings. The denomination, style, size, and location do not matter; some form of sermon, message, speech, or monologue will be present.

This is significant because it means that each week thousands upon thousands of sermons are preached around the globe. Simple math suggests that every year hundreds of thousands of sermons are delivered to/at the church worldwide.

Despite all these sermons, the church in general is not very mature. The body of Christ as a whole continues to struggle with many elementary issues that mature Christians should have dealt with long ago. Why is this the case? If sermons are edifying to the church, then in light of their frequency, the church should be very mature. So why is the church (at least in this country) generally failing to reach maturity in Christ?

The reason is simple, profound, and troubling: sermons are not edifying.

I'm not suggesting that all sermons are bad and that no one knows how to preach. Rather, I'm saying that the very act of monologue style proclamation to a quiet audience is in and of itself not edifying. No matter how good, entertaining, attention-grabbing, informative, and/or challenging the sermon is, it still fails to build up the body.

The reason for this is that lecture is not edifying. It is one of the poorest forms of teaching. And yet, sermon after sermon is delivered week after week after week. Why? Pastors need to earn their paychecks and tradition tells them to do so. The people in the pews are used to sitting and listening. Sermons go largely unchallenged because "we've always done it that way."

If sermons were actually edifying, the church would be much stronger, holier, and vibrant.

What the church needs is a different form of communication between members during gatherings. Edification occurs when all are free to speak as led by the Holy Spirit. When this happens the body can and will grow.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Series Summary: Old Testament Interpretive Problems Always Lead to Church Problems

The Bible is a wonderful book given to us by a wonderful God. It is, therefore, imperative that we interpret it correctly. When we fail to do so it frequently leads to all sorts of difficulties. In this particular blog series, I've discussed several of the church problems that stem specifically from poor interpretation of the Old Testament. Whenever the body of Christ attempts to apply Old Covenant principles and practices to New Covenant life, only bad things come of it. My hope is that the people of God as a whole will embrace our freedom in Christ and His plan for His church.

Click below to read any of the posts in this series:

Poor Interpretation of the Old Testament Always Leads to a Multitude of Church Problems
We Do Not Have to Follow the O.T. Law
Jesus Christ Fulfilled the Law. We Don't Have to, Nor Could We.
All of the O.T. is Not the O.T. Law
Genre, Genre, Genre
Abraham vs. Moses
No Mention of Sinai in Hebrews 11
Jesus Christ and the Tithe
We Do Not Have to Follow the 10 Commandments
We Are Free in Christ!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We Are Free in Christ!

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1-2

We are free from Adam's curse.

We are free from the wages of sin.

We are free from the Old Testament law.

We are free from Old Testament ceremonial requirements.

We are free from Old Testament models for community life.

We are free from the clergy-laity divide.

We are free to live as the priests to God that we are.

We are free to live joyfully for Jesus Christ.

We are free to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are free to be the New Covenant church God wants us to be.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

We Do Not Have to Follow the 10 Commandments

This post may seem a bit redundant to some of you. For that I apologize. However, I believe it needs to be stressed that as followers of Jesus Christ we do not have to follow the 10 Commandments.

This statement sounds like heresy to some. How can we call into question what God provided in stone to Moses? How can we ignore these basic biblical truths?

My answer is that I'm not calling them into question or ignoring them. Rather, what I'm saying is that they do not apply to those of the New Covenant.

The New Testament is clear that salvation comes through faith, not through law keeping. Jesus Christ fulfilled the law; we do not have to. The NT writers are united in their call to repent and believe, not repent and keep the law.

The 10 Commandments are part of the OT law. In fact, they are right at the heart of it. God's covenant with the nation of Israel at Sinai has the 10 Commandments at the center. When Jesus came and ushered in the New Covenant, the law no longer had any hold upon his followers. This logically includes the 10 Commandments.

The interesting thing in all this is that if we follow Jesus' teachings, we will end up keeping nine of the ten commandments. It is only the command to keep the Sabbath that we no longer have to follow (we actually keep a different kind of Sabbath - 24/7 rest in Jesus who is our Sabbath). The difference is that we do not obey Jesus' teachings in order to gain his approval. We already have his approval through faith. Rather, we keep them out of hearts full of joy in Christ. We keep them because we want to.

Jesus came to earth for numerous reasons, all of which were part of his mission of salvation. One aspect of this was perfectly fulfilling the OT law. This Christ did - the entire law. Because of this, none of the law's requirements rest upon us. This includes the 10 Commandments.

Our Lord has freed us to live by faith!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Jesus Christ and the Tithe

Continuing in this series on Old Testament interpretive problems, we now come to one of the largest, most ubiquitous, and most disturbing: the tithe.

We've probably all attended worship services of one type or another where the pastor has spoken on the supposed importance of the tithe. Most of the time the audience is made to feel guilty (see above comic), being told that if they don't give 10% (before taxes no less) to the church then they are in sin. Ouch. But is this accurate? What did Jesus say to his followers about the tithe? Did he want them to give 10%? And by extension, does Christ expect us to give the same?

(As an aside, in the OT the tithe often came out to significantly more than 10%. The 10% figure is just a simplistic one that many in the church like to use today because it is simple.)

So, do we have to tithe? The answer is NO. Jesus does not expect us to give 10%. The tithe is an Old Covenant concept. It dealt mainly with giving of agricultural items for support of the temple. It never focused on money. Only those under the OT law had to follow it.

Nowhere are any New Covenant people told to pay the tithe. Jesus never instructs his followers to pay the tithe. None of the writers of the New Testament tell Christ's followers to pay the tithe. As we read through the NT, we never see believers paying the tithe.

But what about Matthew 23:23-24? It says:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

The key to the above passage is who Jesus is talking to: pharisees. They are part of the Old Covenant, and by extension still under the law. They are hardly Christ's followers. Additionally, note that Jesus mentions mint and dill and cumin, not money. Finally, Jesus' emphasis is actually what they are neglecting: justice and mercy and faithfulness.

What, then, are we to give? Paul tells us in II Corinthians 9:6-8:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Part of living by faith is giving as the Holy Spirit leads. This will differ from person to person and situation to situation. They key is that we take care of one another in the body of Christ, and that we help the poor as given the opportunity.

To sum up, we do not have to follow the practice of OT tithing. It has no bearing upon our lives. Those who say it does are interpreting the Old Testament extremely poorly; this continues to be a scourge upon the church today.

Give generously, give joyfully, and give freely! This is what it is to live in the Spirit!

To read a short, excellent book on tithing from a Christian perspective, click here.

To visit a website that deals with this topic in much detail, click here.

To read a silly comic, look below:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

No Mention of Sinai in Hebrews 11

Hebrews chapter 11 is sometimes referred to as the "Faith Hall of Fame." It provides us with a list of many Old Testament heroes along with their exploits. These saints likely make up the "so great a cloud of witnesses" recorded in Hebrews 12:1-2.

Abraham, the man of faith, is mentioned more than anyone else in Hebrews 11. Much of Abraham's life is contained in this chapter. Moses, the lawgiver, is also spoken of in Hebrews 11. What is fascinating is what aspects of Moses' life are recorded in chapter 11 and what are not.

Hebrews 11:23-29 focuses on the life of Moses. These verses tell us:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. 29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

The author of Hebrews focuses on acts of faith in the life of Moses. Notice where the verses conclude: at the crossing of the Red Sea. This is before the Sinai account, which by all measures is one of the most significant passages in the entire Old Testament. Surely we must hear some mention of Sinai. But no, we do not. Rather, Hebrews 11:30 says, "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days." The writer skips all the way from the crossing of the Red Sea to the fall of Jericho. In his focus on faith, the writer jumps completely past the events of Mt. Sinai.

Why would the writer do this? The answer is both simple and profound. The Sinai account focuses on the giving of the law. It has nothing to do with faith, which is what Hebrews 11 is all about.

Law keeping and living by faith do not mix. They are completely different things.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we live by faith. The law, which we see ignored in Hebrews 11, has no hold upon us. Since that is the case, we need pay the law no heed as we consider how to live today. Many church problems stem directly from trying to look to the OT law for direction. This is fruitless. Rather, let us look to New Covenant passages to inform how we live life together now.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Abraham vs. Moses

I have no doubt that both Abraham and Moses are in heaven with God right now. Despite their faults, they both showed themselves to be faithful followers of the Lord.

When we read through the Old Testament, we see an interesting contrast between Abraham and Moses. While Abraham is portrayed as a sort of ideal man of faith, Moses is described as the lawgiver. Faith versus law.

In Genesis chapter fifteen, Abraham was declared righteous by God due to his faith: "And he brought him outside and said, 'Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:5-6). Take note that Abraham's faith, not his works, led to God declaring him righteous. Abraham's greatest act of obedience (his willingness to sacrifice Isaac) came long after Genesis fifteen.

Meanwhile, Moses the lawgiver is not allowed into the promised land because of his lack of faith. In Numbers chapter twenty, the children of Israel again complain about not having water. God instructs Moses to tell the rock to yield its water (20:8). However, in 20:11 Moses does not tell the rock but rather strikes it. In response to this God says, "Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them" (Num. 20:12). God did not block Moses' entrance into the promised land due to his disobedience; rather, it was because "you did not believe in me." It showed a lack of faith on Moses' part.

Turning to the New Testament, Paul spells out for us that Abraham was righteous because of his faith. In Romans 4:1-5 we read the following:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

It is the faith of Abraham that God desires in us. In contrast, it is not the lawkeeping of Moses.

In light of this, why do so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ turn back to the OT law for church life? It is the Spirit who gives life, not the law. For those of us in the New Covenant, the law no longer has any power. To turn back to it makes no sense.

As the New Covenant is significantly different from the Old, church life is far different from the life of the nation of Israel. The life of the church is a life of faith. Let's live for Jesus in the freedom our Lord provides.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Genre, Genre, Genre

Poor interpretation of the Old Testament invariably leads to all sorts of problems for the church. One primary cause of these problems is a misunderstanding of genre.

Genre refers to types of literature. The bible as a whole is composed of many different forms of genre. For example, the Gospel of Matthew follows a back-and-forth pattern between narrative passages (what Jesus did) and teaching passages (what Jesus taught). The first four chapters of Matthew detail for us the birth narrative, Jesus' baptism, Jesus' temptation, and his beginning to preach, teach, and heal. However, when we reach chapters 5-7 we read one of Jesus' great teaching passages: the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter eight, Matthew returns to narrative.

The bible is full of many different types of genre besides teaching and narrative. We must be aware of what genre we are reading in order to know how to comprehend it today. To treat all genre the same is take a foolish approach to scripture.

One serious problem that plagues the church is the application of narrative passages from the OT to church life. The OT provides us with narrative accounts of priests doing various things at the tabernacle and later the temple. I've heard these OT passages referred to many times as reasons why the church today should have clergy who perform religious activities in special church buildings. The clear problem with this is that the OT is simply describing what was happening in a particular place and time. No indication exists that God expects us to follow these descriptions.

God told Noah to build an ark. Therefore, are we supposed to build an ark today? Of course not. However, God told the children of Israel to follow the Ten Commandments. Are we required to follow those ten commands? No we are not. They were given to a particular people in place and time. We are not Israel. We are not of the Old Covenant. Despite this, many Christians still believe we have to follow the Ten Commandments today. One reason for this confusion is that they treat the Exodus 20 passage as if it is a teaching passage from the New Testament. Rather, we should all see it for what it is: a narrative passage from the OT.

I'm not suggesting that we cannot learn from the OT. We must take care, however, in what we learn and how we apply it. Genre has direct impact upon this. Whenever we read the bible, regardless of what particular book and chapter, we must ask ourselves what type of genre we are reading; is it narrative, teaching, poetry, prophecy, epic, apocalyptic, etc.?

God has given us plenty of information to know how we should live as his people today. We are his New Covenant people. Not surprisingly then, much of this information is to be found in the New Testament. To reach back to the Old Testament, especially to narrative passages, is to ask for trouble.

The church must realize that genre makes a difference.

Friday, October 3, 2014

No More Sacrifices Needed

For a brief break from my series on OT interpretation, I offer up the above comic. Although it is somewhat silly, it has a ring of serious truth. Jesus is our once for all perfect sacrifice. God be praised!

Thanks to ReverendFun.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

All of the OT is Not the OT Law

We must be careful at this point. So far in this series I've mentioned the Old Testament, the Old Testament Law, and the Old Covenant. It is extremely important that we do not confuse these three or think of them as being synonymous. If we do this, we may end up considering the Old Testament as irrelevant. This would be a tragic mistake.

The Old Testament is all of the books from Genesis to Malachi (or in the ordering of the Hebrew bible: Genesis to Chronicles). The OT Law is found in the OT; we read it specifically from the second half of Exodus through Leviticus and into the first part of Numbers. The Old Covenant is God's agreement with Israel that is founded upon the law given at Mount Sinai.

I want to make it clear in this post that all of the OT is not the OT law. In fact, a good portion of the OT still has direct application for us today. One clear example of this is the book of Psalms. This lengthy book amounts to praise after praise of our wondrous God. There's no reason to think that this would change between the time it was written and today.

We must be alert as we read through the pages of the OT. Some sections that are not part of the OT law still refer directly back to it and are connected with it. For example, instructions related to care and upkeep of the temple fall into this category. These aspects do not pertain to us today. They are interesting historically and show us much about the holiness of God. In that sense they are instructive. However, they do not tell us how to live now.

We read other OT passages that deal directly with holy living, acceptable worship of God, care and service to other people, avoidance of false teaching, danger of idolatry, etc. that do have direct application to the life of the church today. We need to pay careful attention to these parts of the Old Testament.

Blessedly, we do not have to follow the OT law. However, the law is not all we find in the OT. It is the other parts of the OT that we must not ignore as we ask how we must live today.

One other important thing to keep in mind as we read the OT is genre. We'll look at that next in this series.