Thursday, August 27, 2015

Positive Acts - A Promise with Orders

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Well this is certainly a familiar verse. We've all read and heard it hundreds, possibly thousands, of times. And while familiarity doesn't breed contempt when it comes to scripture, it can dull our ears. Do you see the amazing promise in the above verse?

The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon those with Christ at his ascension, but the implication is that the Spirit will soon. We see this happen in stunning fashion at Pentecost. And when this occurs, they certainly "receive power." What sort of power is Jesus talking about? It is the power to unashamedly, boldly, and effectively proclaim the gospel. This happens immediately in Peter's case. He goes from denying Christ three times out of fear to preaching Christ crucified even when the religious leaders tell him not to.

This promise has a purpose. One of the primary reasons the Holy Spirit came was to empower Christians to be witnesses for Christ all over the earth. The Spirit is not limited to certain places, as if some locales or situations are too difficult for him. Instead, the Spirit's presence with all believers ensures that we have all we need to be effective witnesses for Christ wherever we go.

In just one little verse Jesus provides his people with both a promise and orders. The promise is of a person - the Spirit - who will make their evangelism efforts successful. The orders are to be faithful witnesses wherever and whenever.

This should give us great hope. The Holy Spirit is as alive and active today as he was then. Also, we have much easier means to get our witness to the ends of the earth. It is the church's responsibility to see that happen. Let's work together to make it so.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Positive Acts

The book of Acts is a goldmine for the church. Throughout the book we see the church functioning in various ways and places. Much of this is positive in nature; some not so much. Although Acts is a narrative in genre, the models left for us provide us with bountiful information to instruct us in how to live today (we cannot ignore it just because it is narrative). Whether or not Acts is prescriptive or merely descriptive in nature is a matter for another time. My purpose in these upcoming posts is to look at positive aspects of church life we see in this book. You will quickly find (no surprise here) that I believe the majority of Acts is prescriptive.

I'm doing this in part because I love the book of Acts. I'm also doing it because I want to be able to focus on the positive for a while. Interspersed among the posts in this series will be posts of other types, some of which will no doubt be more negative. So be it.

Today's church institution has picked and chosen from Acts to support its traditions that stem mostly from man's ideas. I have no interest in this. Rather, I simply desire to read about what Luke shows us through his journey with the early stages of the church. God has given us this grand narrative to inform how we interact both with each other and with the world.

The church as a whole would do well to examine Acts more extensively and alter its practices to come in line with the positives we see there. I'll begin this look in Acts chapter 1. Does it contain anything positive? It certainly does.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I Really Do Try To Be Positive, But...

Blogging is a lot of fun. If it wasn't, I wouldn't do it.

Blogging about the church and how it interacts with culture is also enjoyable. Again, if it wasn't, I wouldn't bother. If you read this blog much you may not think that I like writing about church life. I say this because most of my posts (or so it seems) have a negative tone. As this post's title suggests, I really do try to be positive. However, in light of the current state of the church in this country it is difficult to focus mostly on the positive.

I suppose some of this stems from the fact that I was raised in the institution, stayed there for almost forty years, worked as a missionary, and worked as a professional pastor. I've seen most of the problems first-hand. It's not pretty. Meanwhile, much of my experience in simple church life has been theoretical. I know what the bible says about the church; however, I've only been part of simple church practices for a few years. I still have much more information to draw on about the institution than I do about simple church life.

Another reason for my struggle to be positive is that so many people in leadership within the evangelical church have no desire to make needed changes. To use a Southerism, they "just keep on keepin' on." It's the same thing week after week after week after week. The pastor preaches, the people sit dutifully, the babies cry in the nursery, the ushers take up the offering, and nothing of substance happens. Yucky.

In light of my negative bent, I want to do something proactive to change things up. Therefore, beginning soon I'm going to work through the book of Acts, looking for positive aspects of church life that we can apply to today. Starting in chapter one, I'll attempt to glean the positives from the text. I'm going to purposefully ignore the more negative texts, such as Ananias and Sapphira.

I have no idea what will come of this. Maybe I'll transform into a more positive blogger like Dave Black. Maybe not. Either way, a trip through the book of Acts is always a positive trip to take.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why the Institution's Top Priority is Self-Preservation

Institutional Christianity has three non-negotiable characteristics. First, the leaders are "experts" from outside the church family who are paid salaries to preach, marry, baptize, and bury. They are administrators (otherwise known as pastors). Second, scripted religious ceremonies that take place on Sundays are the high point of the church week. These we know as worship services. Third, expensive buildings are the location for large church gatherings, but these edifices sit mostly empty for the vast majority of the time. They are so ingrained in the life of the church that the buildings are often referred to as "the church."

The above three attributes - pastor(s), worship services, and expensive buildings form a sort of unholy Trinity that stifles church life. These three go largely unquestioned by the vast majority of Christians.

One of the three in particular is the primary reason that self-preservation is the top priority for the institution. That one is the building.

Institutional thinking goes like this: Doing ministry occurs primarily in the building. A church building requires significant money. The need for money requires a focus on giving by the church to the church. This leads inevitably to a focus upon self-preservation. This is part of the reason why pastors usually preach at least an annual dreaded "stewardship series" (translated as "Why you should be giving more money to the church").

Further exacerbating the focus upon self-preservation is the pastoral salaries. This can consume a massive portion of the church offerings. The pastor, who usually does most of the preaching, therefore speaks repeatedly about how "God wants you to give to the church." After all, the pastor's income depends upon it.

The constant need for money by institutional churches actually has very little to do with true ministry. Rather, it stems from local churches needing to pay their bills; and their two largest bills are the building mortgage/utilities and pastoral salaries. This necessitates self-preservation as priority numero uno.

Many churches like to say what the most important thing is to them. Some say the Great Commission, some say caring for the poor and needy, others say preaching and teaching, while others say prayer. None of these are accurate.

When it comes to the institution, the dirty little secret is that the top priority is unfailingly one of self-preservation. Everything else falls in line after that.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Simple Church Bloggers and Their Murky Theology

It's an odd thing that so many simple church bloggers have murky, soupy, grayish, ill-defined theology. It's odd because most Christians who blog about simple church life do so out of biblical conviction. They read what the bible says about church life and then say, "This is the way it should be now." They, myself included, then look to the institution and say, "No thanks!"

Now to the odd part. A significant number of bloggers who espouse simple church principles at the same time call into question numerous points of theology that the church as a whole is in general agreement upon (or at least used to be). It's weird. Many of the same simple church people who point to the bible for church life then ignore the plain teachings of the bible when it comes to theology, salvation, cultural issues, etc. It is a strange situation indeed.

My biggest concern is the simple church bloggers who call into question Jesus Christ's atoning work on the cross. It appears to embarrass them just as it does the liberal "Christians." This is extremely problematic because the atonement is at the heart of salvation. Simply put, if there is no atonement there is no salvation - period. Jesus certainly did more for his people than just die on the cross in their place, but he did die in their place. It was a substitutionary, penal atonement. Those who call this into question are left with an empty theology of salvation.

Speaking of salvation, a good number of simple church bloggers don't hold to a literal existence of Hell. Now, I'll say that I myself am not sure of Hell's specifics. However, I'm certain that it is an eternal place of torment; whether or not that is physical or emotional in nature I do not know. I do know that it is a spiritual Hell that will last forever. Some in simple church prefer annihilationism; this apparently squares with their understanding of a loving God. Apparently they conveniently ignore the holiness of God in coming to this conclusion.

Delving deeper into the issue of salvation, I've found that most simple church bloggers detest the doctrine of predestination. That's unfortunate since the bible tells us that some are, in fact, predestined. Some bloggers go far beyond rejecting predestination and instead hold to a near universalism. Yuck. As for the process of sanctification, I've read bloggers who basically say that since God saves and loves, it's O.K. to go right on sinning. Yet again, it requires a great deal of ignoring the bible to make a claim like this. God expects increasing holiness post-salvation.

What other issues are there? Well, some simple church bloggers have completely accepted homosexuality; others seem dazed and confused about the whole thing. Many just want everybody to get along. As for women's roles, it appears that the vast majority favor an egalitarian approach to church life (that complementarian thing is just too old-fashioned apparently). Regarding spiritual gifts, nearly anything is acceptable.

What is going on here? I see three major factors at play. First, these simple church bloggers are not being fair or consistent in how they interpret scripture. While they demand a literal understanding of the text when it comes to the N.T. model for church life, when it comes to these other issues they think of the bible as a sort of play thing. Second, these bloggers are clearly questioning both the infallibility and authority of the bible (at least when it is convenient). Third, and possibly the largest factor, these bloggers are bowing to secular cultural norms in a variety of areas.

I admit that at times I'm not consistent while interpreting scripture. Everybody makes mistakes. However, we ought to all try to understand the bible in as consistent a manner as possible. Either it is infallible or it isn't. Either it is authoritative or it is not. As we do this, we must keep factors such as historical context and genre in mind. We should also take a long look at the church's understanding of the issue throughout its history.

The simple church bloggers I'm referring to in this post need to start being honest. They cannot pick-and-choose how they are going to approach the bible. If the New Testament in particular shows us how the church should function, then it also shows us what we need to know about these other issues. To all you murky blogging types, you cannot cling to some scripture and ignore the rest. Either take the whole bible or leave it all.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Linking: "Shut Up, Bigot!: The Intolerance of Tolerance"

Ben Crenshaw discusses both the old and the new tolerance in his fantastic piece entitled Shut Up Bigot: The Intolerance of Tolerance.  The money quote:

We must challenge postmodern thought at a fundamental level and reintroduce the old vision of tolerance into society. This will be most effective if we practice the old tolerance, visibly and powerfully demonstrating that it is possible to hold to objective truths and dissenting views while being respectful and loving toward those with whom we disagree. Such interpersonal virtues are rarely seen in a culture where social media exchanges and comment threads overflow with vitriol. Only by consistently and unfailingly teaching and practicing the old tolerance—and defending its epistemological foundations—will there be any chance of overturning the new tolerance.

Take a few minutes to read the essay. It's worth it.

Meme Sunday Special Edition

Under normal circumstances I'll be using my own created memes on Sundays. However, this comic is simply too good to pass up. I posted it a few years ago, and it received numerous views. What a relief to finally know the truth about Paul's painful condition!

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity" Does Not Support the Homosexual Movement

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” Genesis 9:12-16 NIV (emphasis mine)

What beautiful and wonderful words! The above passage is a reminder to us of God's covenant both with Noah in particular and the earth in general. When we see a rainbow it reminds us of God's faithfulness, mercy, and love. He will never again destroy the earth with a flood (even though we deserve it as much today as it was deserved thousands of years ago). The rainbow is a symbol of the greatness and kindness of God.

Fast forward to today. Sadly, the rainbow has been hijacked by pro-homosexual activist groups. Now whenever pro-gay rallies of any sort take place the rainbow is present. In fact, one of the most prominent homosexual symbols is the gay flag, which is basically a rainbow. This is both frustrating and perverse. Those perpetuating and promoting this sinful, vile lifestyle have taken something beautiful and - at a cultural level - attempted to make it their own.

This brings me to Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity. I want to make it clear that the book I edited does not support the homosexual agenda.

Some people might be confused by the cover of the book. After all, the symbol on the front is sort of rainbow colored. Please allow me to explain. Selecting a cover for a book is not easy. I desired something that would convey the ideas of both unity and diversity. The cover symbol does that. It shows different people coming together as one. However, I had no specific agenda or topic in mind. Frankly, homosexuality never even entered my thought process.

As for the book, I cannot remember if homosexuality is mentioned. If it is, the subject is not prominent. While some of the authors may have differing opinions about homosexuality, it is not advocated in the book. If you are wondering what I believe specifically about the homosexual lifestyle, please click here to see a series I wrote about one year ago.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Linking: "America and Uniracial Christianity"

We've all experienced it: American churches are one-race dominated. They tend to be white, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. Few churches I have ever been to have had a true mix of cultures and races.

Peter J. Leithart discusses the problematic single race issue in his excellent piece entitled America and Uniracial Christianity.

Sermon Prep?

Me: Before and After

In February of this year I weighed about 220 lbs. I decided that I had had enough of being overweight. When I looked it up at the time, I found that I had actually slid into the obese category. Yuck. Something had to be done.

By the grace of God, I gave up junk food, stopped drinking Coke, started eating healthier, and began running almost every day. I'm now down to my goal weight, which is 175 lbs. Now I have to learn how to maintain that (never a simple task). One motivator for me in all this is that I want to run in the Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon this November. I've already signed up with no refund possible so there's no going back now. My training is on schedule. So far, so good.

As for the photos above, the top one is from last summer. The second was taken a few days ago.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is the Return to Rome Worth It?

Disclaimer: in this post I'm strictly dealing with church issues and not with the gospel itself. Additionally, for the purposes of this piece I could also have selected Wittenberg, Geneva, Canterbury, or any other place largely associated with institutionalized religion.

If you are convinced that the biblical model of church life is correct but cannot find it, what would it require for you to return to the institution? I've been pondering this a bit lately, but have never truly considered it as an option. It is interesting to think about.

Numerous Christians that we know here in Savannah are content in their church lives. They are convinced that they are edified through good fellowship in their institutional settings. It's difficult to know how much of this is a case of "ignorance is bliss," but nevertheless these believers appear happy.

I long for that contentment and happiness. Could it be found within institutional walls? I believe it can, as long as someone is not fully convicted about the model presented in scripture being the model for church life today. If I actually started visiting institutional worship services and small groups I believe I would feel ill, even if I enjoyed it, because I'd be violating my convictions. It's just not worth it.

If Rome is not an option, then what is?

The option currently for my wife and me is to find fellowship where we can and when we can. It also means gathering in our home with just our family for the time being. It means interacting with all sorts of folks online through this blog (not an ideal situation I admit, but better than nothing).

Simple church life is, almost by definition, life on the fringes. If church history tells us three things, it is that the institution does not change, is not inviting to those who want change, and will reject those who hope for change unless they bow the knee to institutional practices. This being the case, there is no reason to try to significantly alter the organization from the inside. If you seek fellowship within the institution, what you will get is institutional fellowship.

I cannot think of a solid reason to return to Rome. I may be lonely at times, but convictions are strong things.

What about you? What would or could make you go back to institutional church? Why?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wandering in Church Wasteland

I've reached that point. I'm wandering in fellowship wasteland that appears to have no end in sight.

This does not mean that I have no contact with other believers. I see Christian folks here and there throughout the week. However, this usually just amounts to quick conversations about the basics of life that are no different from what non-Christians discuss. As for real fellowship, I'm seeking it but not finding it. "Wandering in wasteland" may seem like more than a little hyperbole, but it's not. I want to share life with other believers, but it is nearly impossible (or so it seems) to find others who desire to follow the biblical model.

You may be right in the middle of this same wasteland. Or, you may have been there in the past. It is not pleasant. When we look in scripture, especially at the one another passages, we see that we need each other for spiritual growth. Mutual edification is difficult to come by when there's nobody there to be mutual with.

I long to be part of a family/community of Christ-followers where everyone is active and everyone is needed. It's an odd thing to know what you want and to think that it is what God wants for you, but not to be able to take part in it.

I realize that this could be in large part my fault. Maybe I'm being too selective. Maybe my family should just go to a worship service, seeking fellowship there. Maybe we ought to visit with some sort of preexisting small group/life group from a large church. However, when I look in scripture I don't see any of these things.

I haven't yet given up hope. However, I also don't see anything positive on the horizon. To continue with this post's metaphor, I see no oasis in sight. Rather, it's just more large sand dunes in every direction.

For now I'll just keep on wandering.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Where Are All the Simple Church Folks?

Where are they?

Where are all the simple church people? I know they are out there; many are seeking fellowship with other believers. And yet, they are difficult to find.

More and more Christians are done with the institutional model of church. I'm one of those Dones. If you are reading this blog, chances are fairly good that you are a Done, too (or are at least considering it). For your sake I hope you have close fellowship with other believers because it can be very difficult to find. If the institution does one thing well, it's that it makes it obvious both when and where meetings are taking place.

Why is it difficult to come in contact with other believers who are seeking authentic relationships in a simple model? One reason, as I alluded to above, is that it's not obvious during the normal comings and goings of life who simple church Christians are. Frankly, it's usually difficult to even spot the Christians, much less those looking for something different from the institutional norm. We don't wear patches that say "Seeking Simple Church" or anything like that.

Additionally, most folks who have departed the institution are wary of getting involved too quickly with other Christians. This is because of scarring from what they've left behind. Nobody wants to get into another bad situation.

A third factor is that Christians in general are increasingly looking for true relationships. Even those within the institutional walls want to really know people. As for simple church, those seeking it do not want anything forced; they want it to be natural. This takes time. Because we don't want to rush into making a mistake, sometimes very little ends up happening.

A final hurdle that we have to deal with is living in the Bible Belt. In the southern USA most folks still trust institutional Christianity. This is much more the case here than in other locales. It's weird. I'll be thrilled when these last remnants of Christendom pass away (which will occur I'm convinced within the next 25 years). For now, not that many Christians here are looking outside the institution because they still see it as a really good thing.

I apologize for the rambling nature of this post. My hope is that you can sense my struggles. It is difficult to want something real, something authentic, something wonderful but not be able to find it. I'm not seeking heaven on this side of death. However, I'm looking for something that I read about in the book of Acts. So far no success.


God has provided us with some unavoidable church principles in the bible. While the following is not an exhaustive list, each one is important to the health and vitality of the church.

Jesus Christ is the One and Only Head
A Family/Community of the Redeemed
Home Get-Togethers
Kids Present!
Everybody Active and Needed
Calling All Nations
The Poor and Needy
Mutual Edification
Home-Grown Elders
The Importance of Eating

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Darkest Day in the History of the United States

Seventy years ago today the United States of America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. I believe this is the darkest day in the history of our country.

In what amounts to one of the largest terror attacks in world history, our military set off a weapon that instantly vaporized thousands of unwarned civilians. Over the next days, weeks, months, and even years many thousands more died of burns, radiation sickness, and various cancers. The suffering was beyond comprehension.

For being a country that prides itself on being "the home of the brave," on August 6th, 1945 we took the cowardly way out.

I understand the arguments in favor of dropping the bomb on Japan; I disagree with them all. NOTHING Japan did or could have done would have ever justified our using a weapon of this magnitude on an unsuspecting civilian population. It was a hideous, wretched act on our part. To make matters worse, we did it again three days later at Nagasaki.

The United States has done some good things in its history. It has also done some bad. What happened on August 6th, 1945 was the worst. May it never happen again. We must never forget what we did that day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Difficult to Reconcile: Sovereign God & Impotent Church

I am a big believer in the sovereignty of God over all of life. I believe the bible teaches about a God who is actively engaged with every nuance of what occurs in his universe. He created it, and he sustains it. Paul described this during his speech in Athens in Acts 17:24-25, "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything."

God made humanity in such a way that we are responsible for our actions (we are not pre-programmed robots). What we do each day has real consequences. For example, if I choose to run a red light, there's a good chance I will get a much-deserved ticket.

In a way that is at least somewhat difficult for most of us to understand (myself included), God's sovereignty goes hand-in-hand with man's responsibility. This is the manner in which God designed it. These two truths may seem like opposites to us, but they are not. The fault is with our limited minds, not with God's design.

Sometimes God overrides man's plans with his own sovereign goals. Actually, this happens all the time, but we likely are not aware of it. When we look in the bible we see it again and again. For example, Abraham tried to come up with his own offspring (Ishmael), but God intervened with Isaac. Later, Pharaoh attempted to kill the Hebrews, but God freed them and then drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. King Saul attempted to murder David repeatedly, but God stopped him every time. Later, the Babylonians took most of the Israelites away from Jerusalem and into captivity. God intervened by using the Persians of all people to enable the restoration of the temple.

In God's ultimate act of sovereignty, he directed the execution of his son to bring about salvation for humanity. While the religious leaders just wanted Jesus dead (as did Satan), the Father directed the actions to bring about redemption for his people. God was ultimately in charge. Peter said the following at Pentecost in Acts 2:23-24, "...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it."

God is sovereign.

In light of his sovereignty I have trouble in my mind reconciling the impotency of his church. I'm referring specifically here to today's church in the West. Due in large part to man's traditions, the church does little more today than perpetuate itself (and it's not even very good at that). The entrenched professional pastors, worship services, and expensive church buildings have done much to stifle the vibrancy and life of the saved. Each Sunday millions of Christians attend a religious ceremony (or two) in order to hear a religious expert give a lecture. Most of these believers see this as the most important part of their religious week. Ugh.

Quite honestly, I just don't understand it. Why would sovereign God allow his church to become so impotent? Part of the answer to this question certainly has to do with man's responsibility for his own actions. We know, for example, that the church in Laodicea had all sorts of problems. And yet, God has a history of overriding man's sinfulness to accomplish his own goals and desires. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Despite this, it often seems like the "gates of hell" are prevailing against the church. I have a deep desire to see a church here in the West that stands for truth, loves the poor and needy, shares the gospel unashamedly, and lives holy lives that stand out to the world. Instead we see a church that looks largely like the world and generally does little of significance.

Why would God allow this to happen? I do not understand.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Unavoidable: the Importance of Eating

I'm going to end this series on an enjoyable topic: eating. Almost everybody likes to eat.

Eating was very important to the life of the early church. When they gathered they often shared a full meal together: the Lord's Supper. I'm referring to a literal complete meal, not a ritual ceremony with tiny glass of juice and tasteless cracker.

In Acts 2:42 we read, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." The breaking of bread describes a full meal Lord's Supper.

Later in Acts (20:7) we see this, "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." This verse actually gives a purpose statement for why they got together (at least on that occasion): to break bread. They met to eat.

Why is eating important to church gatherings? Four reasons come to mind. In no particular order:

1. Eating keeps the atmosphere informal.

2. Eating meets a basic need (nutrition).

3. Eating keeps everyone equal.

4. Eating is enjoyable.

Sharing the Lord's Supper together as a full meal is a wonderful experience. I hope it is something that you get to do frequently. Not only is it a great time, but it is also an unavoidable principle provided to us in scripture.

Unavoidable: Home-Grown Elders

The modern pastorate is a thing foreign to the bible. The professional pastor (he who dominates the preaching, leading, and decision making) stems from man's traditions and not anything we find in scripture.

What do we read about in the bible? We see elders. Where do these elders come from? They come from within.

Below are some descriptions of elders in the New Testament:

Acts 14:21-23

"When they had preached the gospel to that city 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."

Titus 1:5

"This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you."

James 5:14

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord."

I Peter 5:1-3

"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."

Based upon the above passages, especially Acts and Titus, it is clear that elders come from within the body. This flies in the face of the modern pastor who is almost always an "expert" brought in from the outside in exchange for a salary; this is the exact opposite of what's been modeled to us by the apostles and the early church as a whole.

Who were these NT elders? They were simply mature Christian men who were already serving actively within their local bodies. Their character and behavior were recognized for what they were: mature in Christ. Their appointment was based upon what they were already doing. There is no sense that their behavior changed at all once they were appointed as elders.

Their behavior did not change because they were already a part of the church family.

Modern, professional pastors often struggle to feel as if they are actually a part of the church where they preach. Even after years of employment in one church, they feel like an outsider. This is because they are, in fact, an outsider.

The scriptural model is unavoidable: elders come from within. Many of today's church problems stem directly from the rejection of this paradigm by institutional churches.

Unavoidable: Mutual Edification

According to scripture, why does the church come together?

I challenge you to ask your Christian friends the above question. How do you think they will answer? My guess is that the vast majority will answer with the same response: to worship. This is fascinating and disheartening because their answer is wrong.

Why, then, does the body meet? According to the bible the purpose is mutual edification.

In I Corinthians 14:26 Paul writes,"How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification."

As the church comes together as a family, meeting simply, the goal is the edification (some translations use the term "building up") of the entire church. The end goal is the maturation in Christ of the whole group. Everyone benefits through interaction with everyone else.

The I Corinthians 14 passage as a whole deals with the issue of spiritual gifts (actually, that is the topic of chapters 12-14). In chapter 14, one of Paul's main points is that use of spiritual gifts is specifically for the purpose of the upbuilding of the body. Gifts are not for personal aggrandizement; rather, they exist to help others grow closer to Christ.

So then, why does the church gather? What's the point? It's an unavoidable truth that according to the bible the purpose is mutual edification. It's a sad thing that so few Christians know this.

Meme Sunday

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Unavoidable: the Poor and Needy

In our modern, wealthy, capitalistic society the poor and needy are often ignored. The reality is that life here in the USA is busy. Many of us struggle just to make it through the work day, get home, and spend a little time with family before collapsing on the couch in a stupor. The idea of caring for the poor and needy doesn't even cross our minds.

What we cannot ignore is that God cares for those in need and expects us to do the same.

We see this modeled in the early church. In Galatians 2 Paul writes of his meeting with Peter, James, and John, "...they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do."

In James 1:27 we read, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

From the beginning to the end of the bible we see that God looks out for those in need. At a spiritual level we are all in great need. While God certainly cares about this, he also cares about the physical sufferings of those who don't have the basic essentials of life. In this country, which is increasingly becoming a welfare-state, we often rely on the government to care for the poor. This ought not be.

God cares for the poor and needy. The early church did the same. This is an unavoidable principle for church life. What will we do about it?

Unavoidable: Calling All Nations

The Book of Acts is invaluable for church life. What we see, among other things, is believers with a zeal to share the gospel with the lost wherever they are. Some people traveled far and wide (Paul), while others remained close to home. The common thread was a desire to see the good news spread to locations where it has not yet been heard.

Jesus Christ made his expectations clear enough. He told his followers that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. He expected them to make disciples of all nations. This is not optional.

While the specific methods we use for reaching the lost may vary widely, the key is the end result. That result must be local bodies that work together to get the message to even the difficult to reach places. Christ's expectation that we do this is unavoidable.

Unavoidable: Everybody Active and Needed

I Corinthians 12:12-16

12 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.

It could not be clearer from Paul's writing that all members of the body must be active for the body to be healthy. While today's institutional church model places importance upon the few (the clergy), in reality all are important. Healthy churches value all members equally, and need them to be active. This principle is unavoidable.

Unavoidable: Kids Present!

The bible never hints that families should be segregated by age when the church comes together. Separation, even with good intentions, is a modern and foreign concept for the church. It is also harmful. Just take a look at the droves of teenagers who are leaving the church today.

God has given us the unavoidable principle of families remaining together. Fathers, in particular, are charged with training their children with a knowledge of the Lord. When we read about the body of Christ coming together we see everyone together. The young learn from the old. The old gain as well from modeling for the young. The old can also learn from the young.

Churches did not segregate by age until the last 150 or so years. It is a modern idea that has no basis in anything effective. Quite frankly, it needs to go away.

Children need to be with their parents. They also need to be with the entire body. This is unavoidable.