Category Archives: Churchianity
I use computers quite a bit, and I’ve noticed something over the years. Maybe you’ve noticed it, too. When a computer is brand new, I’m always amazed at how fast it does things. But within a couple years, its processing speed starts to get slower and slower, so that basic functions seem to take forever. From conversations I’ve had, I think this is a pretty common occurrence.
When this happens, there are a couple of options. Some people just accept the slowness, figuring that their computer is “getting old” and the sluggishness is to be expected. Some take the computer to get repaired, but with the age of the machine and the price of computer technicians these days, getting it fixed can cost more than the computer is worth. Others skip the repair step and just chunk their old computer and upgrade to a new one.
I’m not one to accept slow speeds from a computer when I know it’s capable of much more, and I also don’t like throwing good money down a hole. So I’ve done some digging and figured out how to restore my computer to running like it’s new again. It takes a little time, but it’s really not that hard.
The first step is to open the “add/remove programs” control panel – which lists all the software that has been added to the system over time – and remove all the unnecessary programs. I’m often amazed at how many there are. Some came installed on the computer and were important at the very beginning but have no use anymore. Some provide fancy features that simply aren’t necessary. Other programs were ones I added over the years for a specific purpose but are no longer necessary. There are usually others I know nothing about – I don’t know how they got there. All of these had some good purpose at one time but are simply not relevant anymore, and by remaining in my computer they serve as a drain on the system. After removing these unnecessary programs, I restart and go on to the next step.
Step Two is to run a virus scan. It’s surprising all the bad things that are out there that can get lodged in your computer. Computer viruses can sneak in through a “back door,” they can come disguised as something good, or they can come attached to something that appears to be safe. Whatever way they get in, viruses infect our systems with potentially harmful programs and slow down their performance. After locating and removing all the malware, I restart again and proceed to the final step.
The last step of this process is to “defrag” the hard drive. The hard drive is the internal storage disc that holds all the data on a computer. Each bit of information on it resides at a specific “address.” With all the adding and deleting over the years, and then all the stuff removed by this clean-up process, the data on the hard drive can get quite fragmented, with bits and pieces of it scattered all over the disc, and so it takes the system extra time to call it up when necessary. The defrag process re-organizes the data and brings it all closer to the center of the disc, so it is unified and easy to access.
After one final restart, my system runs at like-new speed; it was not obsolete or beyond repair after all! This whole process takes time, tough decisions to figure which software to keep and remove, and humility to admit that I’ve let the bad guys plant viruses on my system. But it’s worth it.
So… what does all this have to do with the subject matter of my blog?
It’s simple. I’ve found this computer renewal process is a perfect metaphor for the job before us as the Body of Christ.
While none of us have first-hand experience of when the Church was brand new, we have perfectly clear records in the Bible which tell us that the Body used to function at a much higher level of performance. And, like an old computer, the level at which we function today is pathetic compared to what it’s supposed to be.
Because of this, some folks simply resign to the fact that our faith is obsolete, or that what we experience today is the best we can expect. Others throw money at the problem, and others simply trade in our “religion” for a newer, more “relevant” belief system. But none of these options is good!
Instead, there’s a process we must undertake, which can restore us to the performance of the early Church. Like the computer tune-up, it takes time, tough decisions and humility.
The first step is to analyze all the things we believe, teach and do. If we do this soberly, we’ll find that, just like on the computer, there are all sorts of things we hold onto without even realizing it. Many of these were great at a specific time and place but simply aren’t beneficial anymore. Some just add fancy and unnecessary features to the practice of our faith. And there are others that make you wonder how they got there in the first place. The key here is to discern the fundamental truths of Scripture from all the traditions, interpretations and habits we’ve embraced over the millennia since Christ walked the earth, and jettison all the unnecessary stuff. For long-time Christians, this un-learning process can be hard and painful.
The second step is to pray for revelation to see all the bad things the enemy has snuck into our Church operating system. If we’re humble and hungry, we’ll see it. Politics, pride, practices adopted from paganism, patterns of this world, a focus on prosperity, and lots of other flesh-based junk has snuck in over the years, and must be removed.
Finally, because of all the stuff that’s been added and removed over the years, the Body has become quite fragmented. Once we strip away all the unnecessary programs and viruses, we’ll find there is nothing standing in the way of true unity, and we’ll be able to “defrag.” This will come when we all agree to let go of our long-held theological subdivisions and re-unite around the center, which is the cross of Christ.
Our current dysfunction is not what God intends for us! When we, as a Body, can allow the Lord to lead us through this process, we will experience the same miracles and community transformation they experienced back then.
When we finally let go of 2,000 years of tradition and once again embrace The Way of Christ, we will once again become an earth-changing force, on The Way to Kingdom victory.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note: Just yesterday, I finished the first draft manuscript of my latest book, Church Burning: What will it take to rediscover The Way? Thought I’d share with you the book’s introduction.
In the years after Christ walked the earth, the men and women who had walked with Him continued to journey down the same path.
Following His footsteps, their vibrant, Spirit-led lifestyle was completely free of ceremony, tradition, organizational structures, facilities and clergy. Virtually all the things Christianity is known for today were non-existent. In every way imaginable, theirs was the anti-religion.
The growing community of brothers and sisters was centered on sharing, service, deep fellowship, and experiencing together the awesome wonder of their living, loving God.
In the face of mounting persecution from the institutions threatened by this uncontrollable, organic movement – long before there were steeple-topped buildings, ordained ministers, Sunday “church services,” committees, Christian radio stations or fish emblems … and centuries before the Bible as we know it was printed – the Body of believers experienced Christ’s presence daily, as they forcefully advanced His Kingdom in exciting, miraculous ways.
Without the trappings of religion, Christians then were known simply for their authentic loving kindness, and nothing else. They lived as Christ did – a life of love, passion, purpose, peace and selfless service. “And the Lord added to them daily those who were being saved.”
During His time on earth, Jesus had declared He was The Way. And this is what the early believers called their Christ-centered lifestyle: The Way.
So what’s happened in the past 2,000 years?
Under the influence of 20 centuries of Judaizers, Romanizers, legalists, traditionalists, theologians, intellectuals, religion-seekers, “prosperity” pushers and students of the world’s ways, Christianity has become a religion much like all the others – I call it “churchianity” – that bears little or no resemblance to The Way of our faith’s forefathers.
What are Christians known for today? No doubt, we’re better than ever at building big “churches,” organizing group activities, staging “services” on Sunday mornings, recruiting “members” and raising funds. Yet despite all this (or, just maybe, because of it) we are failing to accomplish the mission He gave us, in every possibly way, and people – believers included – are suffering as a result.
I need to tell you up front, this book does not seek to establish the fact that we’ve lost The Way. This has been well proven by numerous, excellent researchers and writers over the past few decades. Heck, it’s plain to see by anyone who simply reads the Book of Acts!
Instead, this book addresses the question: What now?
A course correction is due on a grand scale. It’s time we rediscover The Way.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note – This is an excerpt from my book UPRISING: Time for Christians to Stop Waiting and Start Winning.
WARNING: This is blog post contains a Greek lesson.
Now don’t get scared. I’m not some boring academic type, and this isn’t some intellectual, ivory tower lecture. Instead, if this information is new to you (as I’ve found it is for most Christians), I think it will be one of the most explosive, exciting, faith-expanding things you’ll ever learn.
This is one of those truths that hit me like a ton of bricks when I learned it, and it’s taken my relationship with the Lord to a level I never knew was possible in this day and age. It can do the same for you.
I am shocked and disappointed that I had to learn it on my own, outside the “four walls” of the “church,” after decades of sitting in pews, dutifully doting on the teachings of my pastor and denomination.
Rest easy – it’s not a mystery, it’s not a new pop theology, it’s not an odd mountaintop revelation from some mystic, and I’m not asking you to “just trust me” – it’s simply Greek, and it’s been there in the Bible all along, lost in translation.
The word I’m going to dig into here is just that: The English word for “word.” Bible translators slap this four-letter word on top of several Greek words with vast differences in meaning. Much more than simple nuance is lost. Rather, a vital, foundational principle of the Christian faith has for generations been virtually erased from the Bible by this translational shortcut.
For years I’ve asked Christians what they think of when they read or hear the phrase “the Word of God.” Every single person I’ve asked has the same answer: The Bible. That’s all there is to it: The Word of God is the Bible, and the Bible is the Word of God. Period, end of subject.
So when they hear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” they picture a Bible floating in space. When they hear, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” or “Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” their minds insert “Bible” and come up with this: We live by the Bible, have faith by hearing the Bible, and fight the devil with the Bible.
I must ask you to pause for a moment before you read on. Please ask God to open your heart to His truth. It’s hard for me even to type this, because I know most readers who (as I do) revere the Bible more than life itself may initially take this statement as shocking blasphemy, but the fact is this: Inserting the word “Bible” into these great verses is wrong, sucks meaning out of them, drains them of power, and robs us of possibly the most precious promise of God in this life.
There, I said it.
I hope you’re still with me (and still breathing normally!). And I hope that seeking God’s truth is more important to you than holding onto long-standing, traditional paradigms that simply aren’t working. If you have difficulty with anything I am presenting here, don’t take my word for it — dig into it! Get a Strong’s Concordance or other Biblical Greek dictionary and see for yourself. I’m not making this stuff up.
Ok, back to it. As I said, there are numerous Greek words, expressing widely divergent meanings, which most English-language translators simply lump under our word, “word.” These include logos, graphe (grah’-fay), and rhema (ray’-muh).
As I dig into the definitions for these, allow me to couch them in a metaphor so they make more sense. Think of God as an architect and us as His work crew. He wants us to complete a building project (His Kingdom) and is seeking to guide our steps as we do it. He has a crystal clear vision for the structure, including every detail, and He must communicate this to us so we can build it according to His specifications.
At its essence, communication is the effort to transfer a thought from one mind to another. There are lots of ways to do this – through writing, speech, pictures, demonstration and much more. When you look at all the Hebrew and Greek Bible words we translate as “word,” you begin to see that God employs all of these means to transfer to us His vision and guide our steps. Yes, the static, printed words of the Bible are a vital and incredible source of divine communication, but they are just a small fraction of what He offers “those who have ears to hear.” As long as we remain stuck in man-made tradition, and continue to view the Bible as the sum total of God’s “Word,” we will never be able to find The Way or complete our Kingdom building project.
Before the dawn of time, God had a vision for His Kingdom, His sons and daughters, and this world. This original, founding vision is best expressed in Greek by the word logos. It is “a decree, mandate or order; what is declared, a thought, declaration, aphorism, a weighty saying, a dictum, a maxim.” This word is used 316 times in the Greek New Testament. It says, “In the beginning was logos, the logos was with God, and the logos was God,” and that Jesus was logos made flesh. Before the dawn of time, there were not little scrolls or books floating around in Heaven; instead God had a vision, a plan, a Big Picture. And Jesus was not a talking Bible with arms and legs! Instead, He was the physical incarnation of God’s vision. (Is it starting to make a little more sense?)
An architect must start with a clearly defined vision. This is the source of all other forms of communication related to the building project. All other methods of attempting to transfer this vision from his mind to others’ – including scale models, drawings, etc. – are derived from this original vision. It is important to understand that nothing less than the finished building itself fully expresses the architect’s vision. Every other form of expression, while accurate, is incomplete.
Once the architect has conceived the vision in his mind, next he drafts a set of blueprints. These are printed sketches, descriptions and instructions intended to guide the steps of the builders. The Gospel writers used the word graphe for this concept. It means, “written word, scripture,” and is used 51 times in the New Testament. We get the word “graphics” from this root. The printed pages of the Bible are graphe. Interestingly, this is always translated as “scripture” in the standard King James Version – and so while this is never called “word” in the Bible, it is the one thing people think of when they talk about the “Word” of God!
Our traditions have led many of us to take the Architect’s blueprints and then just run along with the assumption that they fully and completely express His divine purpose, plan and will. But as anyone who works in construction can tell you, if you simply take blueprints and hand them out to your work crews – with no hands-on, step-by-step supervision from the architect or a general contractor – the building will never take the precise form intended by the architect. A building may come together but it will be plagued by quirks as the different subcontractors interpreted things their own ways, and the look, feel and functionality will differ from what the architect intended. As hired hands for God’s Kingdom construction, we need more than blueprints!
Let me step out of this metaphor for a moment. You deserve more than human reasoning to accept this point so let me spell it out straight from the Bible. At what we call the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples that His time on earth was coming to an end, and there was of course much more information they needed to know in order to continue His work. “I have much more to say to you,” He said. “More than you can now bear.” But He couldn’t because His time was up. He told them not to worry, however, because “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things andwill remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Right here, in Jesus’ own words, He clearly said there is much more to the Architect’s vision than He could communicate to His disciples, even after spending three years in their close company; that all the words He spoke and demonstrated to His disciples were but a fraction of the entirety of God’s logos. Then, just a few chapters later in John, the great apostle concludes his book by saying, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” And so my point here is confirmed by the words of Christ and the personal admission of one of the Bible’s primary and most prolific writers: The graphe (written word) – what most Christians assume is the entirety of God’s Word – is but a fraction of a fraction of all that God desires to communicate to us.
Of course Jesus didn’t leave us hanging. As He said, in reference to the Holy Spirit, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” Back on the metaphor, Jesus is saying here that the Architect isn’t going to leave us hanging with just a set of blueprints; instead, He will send a jobsite foreman (in the form of the Holy Spirit) to fully and completely communicate His vision to us, every step of the way.
This brings us to what I believe is the most important Greek word for “word” of them all: rhema. This word means, “that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken; word any sound produced by the voice and having definite meaning.” It is used 67 times in the New Testament, in some very key places.
Rhema is the personal, conversational, relevant, relationship Word of God. It is God’s voice for each of us, like it was for Samuel as a youth when God called out to him in the middle of the night, saying, “Samuel! Samuel!” Interestingly, in this story it says, “In those days, the word of the LORD was rare.” There weren’t fewer scrolls in the temple than before. Instead, because of the high priest’s disobedient household and nation’s rebellious people, the personal, spoken word of God is what was rare.
This story also says the great prophet-to-be didn’t recognize that voice because “Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” By this time in his life, he had been fully inculcated into the religious structure, he obviously believed in God, and he had been exposed to the Scriptures. But he still didn’t know God, in the true sense, because he hadn’t yet been introduced to God’s rhema word. Personal communication is the basis of every real relationship. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow.” Prior to hearing and following His rhema, Samuel wasn’t in the flock. But then God’s living voice came to him and he responded – and that changed everything.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Imagine a leader calling his followers to pool their resources and work together to make a batch of ice cream. He motivates them by describing how great the ice cream will be and how much they’ll enjoy it once it’s done, then he invites each one to bring a portion of the ingredients.
At the designated time, they all bring their fair share and combine them according to the recipe, pour it all into an old-fashioned popcorn maker, plug it in and hit the “start” button. How long do you think it’ll be before they are all enjoying the ice cream the pastor promised? Of course it’ll never happen. Popcorn makers simply are not designed or equipped to make ice cream.
Trying to make ice cream in a popcorn maker is absurd, like staging a swim meet on a basketball court, or a Broadway play in the city dump … or seeking true Church within the organizational and physical structures of a “church.” The things we’ve built and call “church” today are just not equipped to facilitate true, organic Church.
Not terribly often, but occasionally, I hear a pastor exhorting “his” congregation to experience Church according to The Way. No doubt there’s something deeply appealing to the description of organic fellowship in the New Testament, and any Christian who really reads his Bible must feel some pull to it.
I certainly respect these pastors’ desire to function in a more Biblical way. But their calls invariably fall flat, as if their preaching goes in one ear and out the other.
Generally, I’d suspect, the response of these pastors is to 1) chalk it up to the “immaturity” of the congregation, 2) internalize the failure and think less of themselves, or 3) rationalize the failure to mean that true Church simply isn’t possible today. Whether their response is one of these or something else doesn’t really matter, because they’re all wrong. I’ve never seen or heard of one coming to the right conclusion, because if they came to and acted upon the right conclusion, it would likely spell career suicide.
“Look folks, when the believers met in the New Testament, it says they all participated in the fellowship, and we’re supposed to do that, too,” he says … while considering himself “clergy” and speaking through a microphone in front of rows and rows of “laymen.” He might as well be saying, “come on, pour your cream into the pot of this popcorn maker.” It makes just as much sense!
“Church isn’t supposed to be in here, it’s supposed to be out there,” he says … during the 10:30 “church service” at “XYZ Community Church.” And he wonders why the ice cream ingredients are boiling instead of freezing!
No wonder the people don’t get it. For a pastor in a “church” to try to compel his congregation to function as an organic expression of the Body of Christ is the epitome of “do as I say, not as I do.”
A pastor’s job description is to facilitate and give a speech at the weekly sing-along/lecture/fundraiser, serve as CEO of a non-profit organization, live as the designated holy man, and in between perform the clergy-related tasks of counseling, visitation, etc.
Some have made bold leaps in changing the traditional ways of “church,” like taking the denominational name off the sign, incorporating more modern music, embracing a more casual dress code, and so on. But in reality, that’s not much different than peeling the “popcorn maker” label off the machine. The guts of their organizations and gatherings remain the same. A man-made, paganism-inspired “church” by any other name is just as dysfunctional.
There’s a Biblical principle that “like begets like.” Cats breed cats, apple trees grow from apple seeds, and tennis coaches teach tennis players. In the artificial, pre-fab, man-made structure of “church” today, our designated leaders are stuck in the position of saying, “ok folks, don’t practice your faith day-by-day the way I do; rather, go and do it some other way…”
This is not the way Jesus or the Apostle Paul did it in the Bible. Jesus said, “come, and I’ll make you fishers of men.” They followed Him, step-by-step, as He demonstrated by example exactly how to live each day, and He groomed them to continue precisely as He modeled it. He said, “go and do likewise,” and they could. They followed His footsteps, not merely His “sermons.”
Paul, too, raised up people to mirror his every step. He was not “clergy” – he was a tentmaker! He didn’t stage weekly shows under a steeple; rather, they gathered continually, house-to-house, and lived inter-connected, inter-dependent lives as a growing, living Body. He knew, as Jesus did, that if he did it right, it wouldn’t be long till the people could do it without him.
If a pastor says, “go and do likewise,” he doesn’t really mean it – he can’t – because if the people did, there’d be nobody there the next Sunday. They’d all be off somewhere preaching under steeples to silent audiences, just like he does! Very few people ever follow their pastor’s footsteps, thank God. (There’s no offense intended to any pastor; I’m just voicing the fact we don’t need more pulpiteers in the Body, we need more Pauls.)
Jesus’ ministry, from start to finish, was three years. Paul would spend a few months in the majority of communities he reached – a couple short years at most –and then move on. In this short period of time, they sparked a movement that transformed the world.
How long as your pastor been in ministry? How long has he served your specific congregation? There are some out there who’ve stood behind the same pulpit for decades. Sure, maybe their building and staff are bigger now, and maybe their audience and budget have grown. But compare their results to those of Paul. How does it stack up?
Now imagine what Paul would accomplish if he had as much time, technology, freedom and wealth at his disposal as even an average pastor in America. If you have any a smidgen of understanding of The Way Paul functioned, you know the difference in outcomes would be impossible to calculate.
Understand, I’m not questioning the faith, sincerity or capability of any pastor. On the contrary, I tip my hat to them. The resilience necessary to do the same thing over and over and over again – and never really get anywhere, but just keep plugging along – is admirable. The tenacity required keep people pouring ice cream ingredients into a popcorn maker, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, and never taste any real ice cream – and yet keep them coming back for more – is amazing.
Even more admirable and amazing, however, would be for a pastor to realize that the machine that employs him is the real problem, and simply walk away from it.
No, the problem is not the people. It’s not the pastors. It’s not the world, or the times, or anything else.
I pray someday a prominent pastor will grasp God’s true vision for The Way today, commit to it, courageously walk away from the man-made trappings of churchianity, and then say, like Jesus and Paul, “Do as I do! I’ll see you at the tentmaking shop. Oh, and y’all are all invited to my place for dinner!”
Ice cream is quick and easy to make in an ice cream maker.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salt, my friends.
To my friend and blog followers –
Some of you already know that I’ve felt called by God to assemble some of my recent writings and publish them as my second book. The working title is Church Burning.
This is a play on words, of course, with multiple meanings. In the Bible, fire is used metaphorically for several clear purposes. On the bad side, it is used by God to judge and punish. On the good side, it is used to purify and motivate.
There is no doubt God wants to bring a fire to His Church. If we are doing things the way He intends, we should welcome this, like the disciples at Pentecost. If we are not, we should dread it.
If you think “church” is a place to go or a thing to do — a building, an organizational structure, a set of teaching and traditions, or an event — then Church Burning may well conjure terrible images in your mind. If you know Church as the intimate fellowship of God’s sons and daughters on earth, then you probably see Church Burning as a glorious thing.
I said that Church Burning is the working title. I’m still not quite convinced, but the more I chew on it, the more I like it. It seems sizzling enough to sell books and yet multi-faceted enough to make people think, but I reserve the right to be wrong about that. I’d value your feedback. Do you like it? Would you pick up, buy and read a book with that title? Or is it so in-your-face that it’ll turn off the average Joe Christian? If the people that most need to read it are repulsed by the title, that’s bad. Please leave a comment or drop me a note and let me know what you think.
ALSO, below is what I’ve written as a draft of the first chapter. My goal is to clearly express my heart — that I am not angry, hostile, or bitter, as so many “church” critics come across — so that the reader will be more prone to seriously consider the things I write.
Thank you for all your comments and feedback over the past several months. I appreciate your prayers as I work to bring this project to completion.
First chapter –
Talk about kicking a hornets’ nest! Writing a critical book about modern churchianity is probably not the best way to go about winning friends and influencing people, but I believe somebody has to do it.
Despite the intentionally controversial title (gotta sell books, you know – and it has multiple meanings, many of them positive), I’ve done my very best to approach this topic with tenderness and candor.
I’ve found there are generally three groups of people who are eager to discuss the problems with “church” today.
First are those who are hostile to our faith and are quick to pounce on and propagate anything they think will get us to question our beliefs. Many of these are deeply wounded folks who come from a “church” background, and who rejected God when they rejected the institutions we’ve build in His name. (Sadly, these formerly-churched people seem more numerous and harder to reach with the truth than the un-churched, which I think is something we must address.)
Second are those who have been wounded by “church” politics, legalism, hypocrisy and religiosity, and yet who still hold on to their faith, and to the often vague hope that there is a better way. These people seem to talk about “church” like a cheated-on wife talks about her ex-husband; they feel betrayed by someone they love.
Both of the above categories of “church” critics often put their fingers on some very real and important issues, but they tend to communicate their points with bitterness and hostility, as if they are trying to win people over to their side of a conflict. As a result, their hard-learned lessons often are lost on those who most need to hear them, who can do something to help fix the problems. While their ranting may draw a flock of birds of the same feather, it tends to compel their “church”-bound brethren to defensiveness, and not much good results.
There is a third group, however, and that is forward-thinking Christians who love God’s Church, seek truth and know there is a better way. These folks have dug into the roots and fruits of our modern “church” system, and into the original intent of our Father, and found that we are terribly missing the mark. Theirs is constructive criticism, for the purpose of calling God’s people to a higher, better, and more God-pleasing express of Church.
Because their intended audience has been bombarded by hostile complaints from both wounded brethren and opponents of the faith, and because the kernels of their messages are often quite similar to those the bitter critics, this third group can have a very tough time getting their points across. Theirs is a challenging calling. I know, because I fall into this third group.
You need to know that I thank God for my mainline, denominational, liturgical upbringing. I have fond memories of Sunday School classes, stirring sermons, inspirational music, fun fellowship, and even service on various committees. Some of my best friends over the years have been pastors, and I nearly went to the seminary to join their ranks. Sure, as I grew up and my horizons broadened, I began to question some things about “church,” and to seek to make improvements from within, but it was always “by the rules” and with deep respect for the institution and the other people involved. I do not consider myself wounded, bitter, or hostile toward churchianity in the least.
But I must tell you, as I have dug into the truth of God’s will for His sons and daughters on earth, and the true potential for His Church, something has changed in me over the years. I no longer feel called to work entirely from within the four walls of the “church.” While I still have love and respect for the people, my respect for the institutions themselves has greatly diminished. I’m just being honest here.
I want to ask you a favor as you dig into this book. Will you please give me some grace, and approach it with an open mind? I know these are sensitive issues, and we can easily become quite emotional, defensive and hostile when we discuss them. We can also jump to conclusions about the other person’s motives. I am asking you to accept that my heart is in the right place here, and I am only seeking to call God’s people to the very best. My goal is to build up, not tear down (although a little constructive demolition is necessary in any remodeling job).
And yet, I am only human, too. Maybe I have been a little wounded and not fully healed, and maybe it does come through a little at places. I don’t think that’s the case, it’s sure not my intention, and I’ve done my best to write with sensitivity and grace. But if anything I write seems bitter in any way, please forgive me, and try to look through it to the heart of what I’m saying. My writing style is often passionate, colorful and to-the-point; please don’t confuse passion and righteous frustration with hostility.
Anyway, just because someone is wounded doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, it just means they’ve experienced something that hurt them very deeply. We should not write off the words of the wounded; rather, we should have compassion for them. If elements of our “church” are hurting people deeply, then we need to bring them to light, however hard that may be, don’t you think?
As God has led me deeper into His Word, and into a greater understanding of The Way that He desires for us to come together as the Body, I’ve taken that understanding and laid it side by side with what I’ve personally experienced, observed and learned about churchianity. At times, this journey of discovery has been like watching a movie, where sometimes you want to laugh, sometimes you want to cry, and sometimes you want to yell at the person on screen. Writing this book has been a very personal and emotional journey, and at various points its content reflects all of these emotions.
This stuff is very important to me, and try as I might I simply cannot approach this topic as a scientific, emotionless observer sitting on the sidelines. Serving God by advancing His Kingdom and building up His people is my deepest passion. I pray that is the common ground on which you approach my writing.
There’s one more thing you should know before you jump off into the rest of this book. I wrote this over the course of about a year, and for most of the time I didn’t even realize I was writing a book. Rather, I was simply keeping notes of my observations, insights and experiences. It was only later that I felt the Lord’s call to pull it all together into one package. As a result, it’s more of a diary than a narrative, and like any diary, you will see a variety of emotions expressed.
There are certainly consistent threads and overarching themes throughout, but each chapter is also something of a stand-alone essay. This book is not a profound theological research volume, but rather a collection of thoughts, impressions and revelations I’ve had as I’ve wrestled with this topic in my own life. If there are chunks of it you simply can’t abide, that’s fine. I’m not trying to sell you anything. But I hope you’ll keep going anyway, because you may just find a few nuggets along the way that will revitalize your faith, bring you closer to the Father, and maybe even spark a healthy dialogue in your own congregation. If this happens, I’ll consider it a success.
Folks who know me know I’m a solutions-oriented guy. I don’t think much of bomb-throwers who do nothing but point out flaws and problems but never offer solutions. I agree with Theodore Roosevelt: It is not the critic who counts.
Yes, there’s absolutely a time and place to dig into what we’re doing wrong, but the point isn’t to find fault, lay blame or simply complain. Rather, the point is to uncover exactly where and how we’re missing the mark so we can take the appropriate corrective action. Constructive criticism offers a better way forward. Everything else, as I see it, is pointless and destructive.
Some who have kept up with my recent string of posts regarding my issues with modern churchianity have accused me of pointing out problems without offering solutions.
I would beg to differ. I believe I have presented the fundamental solution all along, but I can see why some folks have missed it. The misunderstanding lies in the fact they aren’t looking deep enough at the problems. Because underneath it all, there is just one fundamental problem plaguing the modern system we call “church” – and there is only one real solution. It’s really quite simple.
Yes, there’s a problem with what we call Sunday “church services.” But the solution isn’t to re-jigger the format or theme of our Sunday morning gatherings.
Yes, there is a problem with who we designate as “leaders,” and the organizational structures we build beneath them. But the solution isn’t a new way of choosing and elevating leadership, or re-mapping the organizational chart.
Yes, there are problems with how we raise and spend money and build useless buildings to house our Christian clubs. But the solution isn’t a new budgeting strategy or building design.
There are problems with what we consider “evangelism” and how we go about it, what we call the “gospel” and how we preach it, the traditions we follow, the teachings we embrace (and reject), and a whole host of other aspects of what we call “church” today. But to address these on the surface, and offer a “new way” of doing them, is nothing more than treating the symptoms without addressing the disease. It is all just re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.
If that’s what you’ve been looking for from me, I can certainly see how you’ve been disappointed, and how you may think I’m just lobbing bombs. I hope you’ll let me take you a little deeper.
Unless we’re just completely blind or clueless, we all see problems with churchianity. Many of us disregard these by saying, “well, you’ll never find a perfect church,” and so they settle for far less than the best, just seeking to make the most of it. These are the folks that get offended by the slightest fault-finding with the status quo, and discount any criticism that doesn’t come with a superficial “quick fix.”
Others of us just don’t buy that cop-out; we believe perfect Church definitely is possible, here and now. The Bible says Christ is waiting for His spotless Bride to arise, and that someday she will make herself ready. He modeled for us a perfect expression of Church, and that is exactly what He is calling us back to. Our Father has not called us to fail in this endeavor. Yes, a perfect expression of Church is definitely possible, it is God’s will, and I, for one, will not rest until I find it.
Our human nature demands a “plan.” We want quick fixes. We want to have a firm handle on the present and the future. We want a roadmap we can wrap our minds around that spells out exactly how we are supposed to get from Point A to Point B. We would never think of starting a building project without a blueprint. Those who expect me or other critics to offer such a roadmap or blueprint for “fixing” things need to understand that this is exactly the element of human nature that has caused all these problems to begin with!
Here’s the fundamental problem with churchianity: We have taken control of things. In doing so, we have built our “churches” on own understanding, conformed to the patterns of this world – which is the precise Biblical recipe for remaining outside of God’s will. We have – with the best of intentions – done our best to build “churches” for God. This is the opposite of God’s desire, and it is the underlying disease – the malignant cancer – that is causing all the symptoms I’ve written about.
There is only one cure, one fix, one path to a perfect Church, and it’s is really quite simple. It is to remove this mindset from the Body, and return to the day-by-day, step-by-step leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Theological defenders of man-made churchianity for generations have misinterpreted one of the most important portions of Scripture, creating a false, two-sided debate in which both sides are flat wrong. In this passage, Christ clearly spells out the true foundation on which He desires to build His perfect Church. Here it is (Matthew 16:13-18):
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Here’s the $64,000 Question: What is the rock on which Jesus desires to build His Church?
For countless generations, Catholics have interpreted this passage to say that Peter, the man, is the original rock of the “church.” This understanding is the foundational stem cell of their entire institution, and explains virtually everything they do. It is a structure built on positional authority, and on the traditions and leadership of men. This is a dangerous thing!
Contrary to this, most Protestants since the Reformation have interpreted this passage to say that the rock is the words Peter spoke, “Surely you are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Peter’s statement is indeed true, and the heart of our faith. The belief that this statement alone is the intended foundation of Christ’s Church is the Protestant stem cell. This reliance on a static statement led to the principle of Sola Scripture (by the written Word alone), and explains virtually everything Protestants do. It is a structure built on the goal of having people believe and follow the written word alone (or at least their interpretation of it). This is not enough!
For hundreds of years this debate has raged, with both sides missing the mark. The current state of churchianity in the world today is the fruit of these two faulty interpretations. We’ve tried both, to an absurd extreme, and both have failed.
There is third option!
Here’s what that passage really says, and what we’ve missed all along: God doesn’t desire to build His Kingdom on a mortal man, or on the words spoken by a mortal man. Rather, Jesus was saying that it is the underlying truth of what had just happened – “This was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” – that He desires to serve as the foundation of His Church.
What made Jesus so excited, and prompted Him to speak this vital statement, was that Peter had just received and responded to the simple prompting of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was saying, “Yes! Somebody finally got it! He didn’t tell me what he thought, he just listened to the Father and obeyed. I can work with that!”
The key to the Kingdom is simple obedience to the Holy Spirit, the step-by-step leading of God.
Simple obedience is how Moses led the Israelites out of bondage, and how Joshua led them to conquer the Promised Land. When they relied on men, or the statements of men, they failed. When they followed the continual revelation of their Father in heaven, they succeeded.
This is what made David a man after God’s own heart. It is how every single servant of God recorded in Scripture lived, including Christ Himself. They let God call the shots – day by day, step by step – into the great unknown.
Jesus said we must be born of water and the Spirit to see and enter the Kingdom. Paul said that the true sons and daughters of God are those who are led by the Spirit. He also said that we are to grow – individually and corporately – into Christ the Head, who desires to call the shots.
Throughout the Bible it says we are not to lean on our own understanding … we are not to worry about material things, or about tomorrow … we are not to conform to the patterns of this world. When we do, we cannot know God’s will, and we are not on His path. Anything called “church” that is built this way – on our own roadmaps and blueprints – is built on the wrong rock. And the cure for what ails us will never be found in another man-made plan.
Instead, the solution, the way forward, is to simply cease from our works! It is to be still and know that He is God. It is to enter into His rest, take on His easy load, and let Him lead the way. It is to do nothing at all without His specific, personal prompting – and then to simply obey what He tells us to do, step-by-step, day-by-day.
He doesn’t care what we do “in His name” – because there is nothing worthwhile that we can do for Him. Our best works are like filthy rags! Rather, He just wants to know us, to have a real relationship. He wants to be the true center, the true Head, of our lives and our fellowships.
Yes, to abandon our understanding, to scrap our plans, to throw away our roadmaps and blueprints, will be a great adventure. When we do this, He will lead us to forge into the unknown and do things beyond our understanding, as He unveils our plan for us, one day at a time.
This is the walk of faith! This is the path to true, perfect Church. It is The Way modeled by Christ and recorded in Scripture.
Is this disappointing for you? Do you still want a man to give you a plan? I’m sorry, I can’t help you there.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
A note to my friends and blog followers:
This is my first post in a few weeks. I apologize for the long gap. My family has been tied up in a huge spiritual battle and period of unexpected hardship. Our local newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, wrote a story about our situation and ran it on their front page two days ago. If you’re interested in finding out more, here’s a link to the article. I appreciate your patience and prayers. – M.A.
I find it amazing how so many Christians simply cannot properly take – or assign – responsibility for the foul fruit of human failings.
It’s like they think, “So long as we don’t outright kill anyone or steal anything, or get caught breaking any of the other commandments, then everything else we do is irrelevant to the outcome of our actions.”
I’ve seen long-time ministers, who are indeed gifted at teaching the Word, live the most slothful lives and make the most foolish decisions – and then blame God (and/or the “immature” believers around them, who “don’t give enough”) for their poverty. Now, they wouldn’t outright say “it’s God’s fault” in so many words — rather, they seem to believe God is perpetually holding them in a “dry season” to “teach” them something – but it’s the same thing. Yes, God is trying to teach them something, like get off your butt and actually do something productive! The dry season they’re facing is not God’s fault; it’s the inevitable endpoint of the path they’ve chosen.
I’ve seen other long-time ministers form committees, councils, boards or teams of people who are incompetent, shallow, immature, conflicted and/or otherwise not trustworthy – and because they are “good Christians,” the organizer holds to an irrational belief that everything that happens will be “God’s will.” So when the group’s resulting action (or inaction) makes no sense or goes the wrong direction, the minister just follows merrily along, the blind following the blind, with God’s name stenciled on the mess.
The Lord gave me a vision onetime of a Christian farmer in a farmhouse, praying earnestly for a bumper crop of corn. This farmer has the most fertile bottomland in the county, the best equipment in his barn, it’s a wet year, and there is nothing standing between him and a record harvest. But a few weeks after planting time, this farmer’s field is still brown, while his unbelieving neighbor’s field is sporting healthy sprouts.
So the farmer gets on his knees and prays even more. He fasts, digs deeper into the Word, activates the prayer chain at “church,” and resolutely declares the “word of faith” that God is definitely going to give him a huge harvest this year. And yet another month later, when the neighbor’s crop is “knee-high by the Fourth of July” and growing, this farmer’s field is still desolate.
So our farmer pours out his heart to God. He puts a bigger check in the offering plate. The elders of his “church” pour oil on his head and pray over him. His touchy-feely, super-“spiritual” friend helps him dig into his childhood and analyze all the bad things that ever happened to him, seeking the “root of his troubles.” His holy-roller pastor waves his arms and flaps his tongue in a wild prayer of deliverance. But a number of weeks later, while his neighbor rolls out the combine and brings in a bumper crop, our friend’s field yields nothing but weeds and dust.
Finally the Christian farmer, at wits end, lays face down before the Lord, humble and broken. “Why, Lord? Why is it your will that I suffer, while my unbelieving neighbor gets rich?”
The Lord, with grace, yet a touch of frustration, replies, “My son, I gave you the best bottomland in the county, the best farm equipment there is, plenty of rain, and everything you needed to produce a bumper crop. But you didn’t do your part! All you needed to do was plant the seeds I gave you, and I would have made them grow….”
This scenario is more common than we may realize. Even as I write this, I am once again convicted of my own guilt in blaming God for the failures and lack in my own life. It is not His fault! He has given me more than I need, and I alone am to blame for the consequences of my own poor decisions. I pray God helps me see clearly where I’ve mis-stepped, because I know that taking responsibility is a pre-requisite for learning and doing better in the future. When I blame Him or anyone else for my mistakes, I am doomed to repeat them.
Here’s the truth: God gave us the authority and mandate to establish dominion over the world. He freely offers Wisdom and Revelation to guide our steps. He promises provision and direction when we seek and obey His will. And He also gives us free will to do it His way, or not.
We must realize that He didn’t give all this to us so that we may have a free pass on the principles of His creation. Believers are not exempt from reality! Instead, the opposite is true: God established the fundamental principles of creation – scientific, economic, political, business, etc. – and gives us access to His very mind, so that we may master them. He wants his sons and daughters to rise up and take dominion over these things, not cede them to the unbelievers through our own foolishness, ignorance and inaction!
This truth applies to us, wherever we find ourselves. I see everyday believers “blame” God for their unemployment, yet they don’t hustle to find work, don’t present themselves well in interviews, and never took the time to master the skills necessary to be successful in their given field. No, their unemployment is not God’s fault! It is a result of their own bad habits and poorly-chosen path.
I see believers who actually believe their broken marriage is God’s will. Of course, it must be God’s will, and certainly has nothing to do with the fact that they’re lazy, self-centered, worldly, and didn’t put Christ at the center of their relationship!
I see Christian business owners “blame” God for hardship and failure, yet they continually ignore wise counsel, make stupid decision, and do not put a professional face on their endeavors. How is it God’s fault when they go out of business? Just because they’re a “Christian” business doesn’t mean they don’t have to compete in the marketplace!
Sure, there are legitimate “dry spells” and hardships in life. God teaches us through trials and fires. We’re not here to live it up in the here and now, and material outcomes are not necessarily any measure of Godly success. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about all the times that we miss out on God’s desired outcome through our own ignorance, stubbornness, foolishness, laziness, and bad habits – and then, instead of facing the truth, we chalk our failure up to God. I believe this is more widespread than any of us may care to admit.
Where this grips me the most is in “church.” Pews and pulpits today seem filled with folks like the Christian farmer in my little story. We are failing in our God-given mandate to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, and we are becoming increasingly mocked and marginalized in the world. At the same time, frauds and phonies are reaping a bumper crop, leading multitudes down the path to destruction.
How can we honestly believe this has nothing to do with the fact that even the most “contemporary” of our “churches” today – compared to The Way modeled in Scripture – are legalistic, ritualistic, materialistic, tradition-bound, shallow, inbred and downright goofy?
Instead of facing the facts and returning to The Way, what is our answer? Redesign the bulletin. Rejigger the order of “service.” Play more modern music. Wear flip-flops on Sunday. That, or double-down on the archaic traditions of our denomination’s founders.
Fact is, we reap what we sow, and we don’t reap what we don’t sow. It’s time we step up and accept responsibility! Churchianity is failing, and yet our “church” leaders continue to inflict us with failing methods – and then blame God for the outcome.
As if claiming that our failure is somehow His fault were not bad enough, now we’ve come up with a pop theology to justify it all. The ultimate insult to our Lord and King, and the pinnacle of the “blame God” mindset, is the modern teaching that global dominion of the Body is not really inevitable, after all, and the best thing we can do is just wait to be rescued. The only one glorified by modern “end times” teaching about the inevitable rise of the antichrist is the antichrist himself! This is not Biblical in the least. Holy cop-out, Batman!
It’s time to grow up, stop blaming God, beg for wisdom, follow His lead, take responsibility for our failings, learn from our mistakes, plant the right seeds, and set our faces like flint towards finally establishing dominion over the world He created for us.
This is His will, and He continually gives us everything we need to do it. If we continue to miss out, it’s not His fault.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I can be obsessive. The Bible says that whatever our hand finds to do we should do it with all our strength, and doing so is hardwired into my psyche. When I focus on something, I really dig into it and don’t rest till I fully get it. While my kids might tell you this can lead to some over-the-top board game competitions in my family, I don’t think on the whole it’s a bad personality trait.
The Bible also tells us to be wise and to take our thoughts captive. Doing the one without the other – that is, committing fully to something without being strategic about it – is a surefire recipe for a misspent life. In my youth, I gave myself to all sorts of projects and causes that, sadly, will not stand in light of eternity.
As a result, over the years I’ve learned to be deliberate about my obsessions, to guard my passions. I realize I’m past the midpoint in my life and I don’t want to waste my remaining years pursuing random, meaningless or selfish things.
As my recent string of blog posts reveals, for quite some time I’ve been focused on getting to the heart The Way that God desires for us to function as a Body of believers. Some folks have asked why this is so important to me, as it can seem like an obscure topic. No doubt it’d be easier for me to follow the herd and focus my attention on the latest football stats, celebrity gossip or political drama, and then sit in a pew and baaaa in unison with the rest of the sheep.
This pursuit has proven to be a challenge and a sacrifice, as it’s taken me into a territory where I often feel the need to tiptoe and whisper, lest I incur the wrath of those who are content with the status quo. But try as I might, I simply don’t think there’s anything more important for me to be obsessed about. This is where the Lord has called my attention, and I can’t rest till I complete my assignment.
As I see it, there are three main reasons why this is so important:
First is practical. For years I sat in pews, served on committees and paid my tithes at a local “church,” going through the motions of churchianity. All the while, we heard messages, sang songs, and participated in studies based on the Bible, which was said to be the inerrant Word of the God (the same God, we were told, who established this “religion” to begin with).
Call me a rebel, but I figured, if I’m going to give so much of my life to my “church” and abide by its rules for living, I should probably read its Holy Book and see what it says. In it, I found a number of crystal-clear promises like if I seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, He will provide for all my physical needs, and if I trust and acknowledge God above my own understanding, He will guide my steps. I also read that the Christian’s life is supposed to be marked by true and abiding peace, love, joy and contentment in all situations (which I certainly wasn’t feeling despite my devotion to “church”).
And so I decided to see for myself if all this stuff was legit. I mean, if the Bible is true and God is real, then He should be able to keep those promises, right? And if He can’t, then it’s all a big joke and we’re wasting our time with all this “church” stuff. If it’s not true, and there is no eternal judge or afterlife, then we’re fools not to live large and make the most of our time on earth. On the other hand, if it really is true, then we’re fools not to do every single thing He tells us to do, every step of the way. Living in the twilight zone in between these, as I did for so long, is a meaningless, pointless existence.
To get to the bottom of it all, I jumped into my part of God’s promises with both feet, and it wasn’t long before I saw first-hand that God is real and His promises are true. He’s given me everything He promises and then some, and has demonstrated His reality in countless, miraculous ways.
Grounded in this certainty, I’ve made my pursuit of the Living God and His perfect will my overriding obsession. I want to know Him more and understand – and obey – His Word as deeply as humanly possible. I’d be a fool not to. And since the thing we call “church” absorbs the lion’s share of the time and money we dedicate to God, I figured this was a good place to start digging into His will.
Fact is, if I found out “church” as we know it today is aligned with God’s desire, then I’d want to do it will all my strength. (And I’d want to know which one is right, because most claim all the others are wrong.) On the other hand, if the way we practice “church” is not what God desires, then why do it? If it’s for tradition alone, that’s a terrible reason. Think about it: If we’re off target with this, we’re flushing a massive, tragic amount of human time, talent and treasure down the toilet – and missing the full realization of the blessings God has in store for us.
So my quest for the truth of Church is, in part, fully practical. I want to know how God wants us to live, and I want to follow it to the best of my abilities – because I want to grab hold of all that He has in store for me, and I don’t want to waste my time on an activity He doesn’t endorse.
The second reason I believe this is a worthwhile obsession is because we are called, as ambassadors of Christ, to truly serve the needs of others, as He served us. This is the true religion that pleases God, and we are falling terribly short of it.
We were designed by God to fully thrive only when rightly connected to the Body, according to The Way put forth in Scripture. It is in and through the healthy Body of Christ alone that all our needs are truly met: financial, physical, emotional and spiritual.
Compared to the integrated, inter-dependent, egalitarian, dynamic, immersive, organic fellowship experience of the early Church, our “churches” today offer very little. Sure, there are often “fellowship” opportunities in the “fellowship hall,” and many are making headway with “home groups,” but these are insignificant in light of the richness of true Body life as God intends it.
The lifestyle of the early Church, as recorded in Scripture, is so foreign to us that we simply don’t know what we’re missing and how badly we’re failing. If only we knew how much better things could be for all of us – especially for “the least of these” – I believe we’d drop everything to grab hold of it. If the Body were to stand up in its full potential, we would transform the world overnight.
Instead, we live lives of disconnectedness … superficiality … lack … competition … fear … pride … despair. Scratch the surface of just about any “church” today and – if you are sober-minded and humble enough to admit it – you will find these in abundance. We should stop accepting this as our lot in life! It doesn’t have to be this way!
(Please understand, I say this in comparison to The Way that God desires for us. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone; I’m just trying to point us all towards Him. No doubt there are a huge number of “churches” that are much better than the cruel world. It’s just that to me, “better than” is not satisfactory when Christ came to give us the best.)
Here’s a hard truth: If you’ve sat in the same “church services” as someone for a long time, and you’re not integrally connected to each other – sharing possessions, truly serving each other’s needs, praying insightfully for each other, enjoying frequent fellowship, and so on – then you can call that place a lot of things, but please don’t call it a Church, because God sure doesn’t. Deep, all-in, intimate interconnectedness, where we come together to fully meet each other’s needs, is the heart of the Biblical definition of Church. But it’s virtually unheard of in “church” today.
This kind of interdependence is such an inborn need that throughout history countless millions of people have fought and died for corrupt, counterfeit versions. In reality, the promise behind communism and socialism is nothing more than an empty, evil, God-less version of the promise of true Church. There’s a reason this political paradigm is a continual, global force to be reckoned with. The meteoric rise of “social networking” is another testament to this universal human need. God made us to crave Body life!
We will never have our own needs fully met, or be able to meet the needs of others as we are called to, until we rediscover The Way. We will never be able to fully practice the true religion that pleases God, or unleash our full potential, until the living Body of Christ rises up, free from the shackles of division, human control and traditionalism.
Until we do our job, fake, shallow and harmful counterfeits will continue to flourish, and the people of the world – even “churchgoers” – will continue to needlessly suffer.
The third and most important reason I’ve focused so long on this topic is because I believe it’s central to God’s Big Picture, His original intent for creation and mankind.
God’s first words to mankind were the instructions to establish dominion, to conquer. Some of the last words in the Bible say that “he who conquers will inherit all things.” From beginning to end, and all points in between, the Bible gives us examples, instructions, promises and commands from God all pointing to His overriding desire for us – His children – to establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
Creation exists, and we are here in it, for this one purpose, and the end won’t come till we are done. We are not here just to “do our best” or enjoy “prosperity” until some random “end of the world.” We are instead here to conquer the kingdom of darkness; to follow His step-by-step guidance, and make use of His divine provision and power, to continually and successfully advance His Kingdom into every sphere.
The more I dig into it, the more I realize that God’s Kingdom is synonymous with His Body. The uprising of the Body of Christ is the same thing as the manifestation of the Kingdom come. The Body is the Kingdom – the Kingdom of righteousness, love, peace, joy and contentment in the Holy Spirit. It is the living entity that will emerge when we all let Christ live in and through us, and allow Him to knit us together in the unity of the Spirit.
His Kingdom cannot advance separate from true, organic Body life. It will come not by might or power, but by the Spirit of God – inside-out and from the bottom-up. Ultimate victory will not come through building projects, committees, mass-market campaigns, strident activism, or any amount of time and expense sunk into the institutions we call “church.” These things only get in the way.
We’ve been doing “church” our way for centuries, and yet we’re increasingly mocked, marginalized and fragmented. I’m passionate about God’s Kingdom, and so I am passionate about rediscovering God’s strategic plan for His Body on earth.
Advancing the Kingdom is our God-given mandate and purpose, and our only path to an eternal inheritance. By His design, there is only one way to advance the Kingdom, and that is by following The Way.
And so, yes, I think that getting to the heart of this is a worthwhile obsession. I wish more Christians felt the same!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I’m madly in love with my wife, even her little quirks. One is that, when she gets excited, she’ll often use a random word to refer to something, like “hurry, hand me the … uh … fork,” when she really means a hairbrush. I think after being married 18 years I’m actually learning to read her mind and can usually figure out what she means. But our children aren’t so good at deciphering her meanings, and sometimes it makes for a good laugh – like when she’s doing her hair and they actually bring her the fork she asked for.
Words are only useful so long as they stand for something that is commonly understood. If your meanings and mine for the same words don’t line up, we might as well speak to each other in a foreign language. That’s what a foreign language is, isn’t it – just a system of different words that refer, ultimately, to the same basic ideas and objects? When your meanings and mine don’t like up, things can get quite confusing. Just ask the builders at Babel.
I bring all this up to explain why it’s getting harder and harder for me to have a “normal” conversation about “church.” I’m even finding it hard to write about it.
One of my deepest desires is for my meanings of words to line up with God’s. That’s a passion of mine because it’s central to living a life of obedience. Aligning our meanings to God’s is a fundamental aspect of understanding and discernment. If God tells me to “jump,” I want to jump, and not run in circles. If He tells me to paint something blue, I don’t want to paint it red. If He tells me to be active in my local Church, then I want to do that, the way He intends it, and not according to a misguided understanding of that word.
Over many years I’ve studied, prayed, observed, and followed the Lord’s leading to gain a deeper understanding of the meanings of key words He uses. The root of my challenge is that my journey towards the truth has taken me further and further away from the meanings that are generally accepted in churchianity today. What this boils down to is, now that I’m learning the true meanings of the words we use, I simply can’t bring myself to use those words in the way most people understand them.
As a result, my obedience to God has led me to be further and further out of step with many brothers and sisters whom I dearly love. It’s a situation that can be painful, frustrating and sad. I can’t abandon my pursuit of the truth and all the Lord has taught me, and yet I can’t abandon my fellow Christ-followers, either.
All I can do is try my best to communicate the truth, in love, and lead by example. And it seems to get harder every day, because when it comes down to it, we’re really speaking different languages. It’s almost like what happened in Babel: We’re called to build the Body and establish the Kingdom, and yet we’re talking past each other on the most fundamental of concepts, and so we’re getting nowhere. Except this time, the different languages weren’t sent by God but rather the enemy has worked them in over many centuries.
Thankfully, the truth is the truth, and if we’re all teachable truth-seekers, we should be able to get over this hurdle and finally work together.
In the spirit of unity, let me tell you the most challenging words I face on a daily basis and offer some suggestions for moving forward together:
Church – When you read this in the Bible, it simply means, “the called out ones,” with connotations of civic duty and authority. It has absolutely nothing to do with a time, place, building, meeting methodology, organizational structure, system of ordination or hierarchy, or anything of the sort. The things we’ve built and call “church” today have zero basis in Scripture, and simply are not what God means when He says the word. Belonging to one of the man-made organizations and/or participating in the traditional Sunday-morning gatherings is an optional part of a Christian’s life, and has no bearing on our obedience to God’s desire for us to belong to His Church; the two things are entirely unrelated.
You may notice in my writing that when I refer to the authentic Biblical meaning, I capitalize the word Church, and when I refer to the man-made structures, I put “church” lowercase and in quotation marks. But in the long run, that’s not good enough. It certainly doesn’t work in conversation. My proposal, and it’s a modest one, is that we re-name the thousands of fragmented, facilities-based organizations called “churches” today “Christian Clubs.” So it’d become First Baptist Christian Club, or Hallelujah Bible Christian Club. If this suggestion catches on, then believers would be freed up to pursue true Church, and not feel so guilty for not “going to church” on Sunday mornings. Whether you accept this or not, please, do me a favor and stop calling your local Christian Club a “church” – because it confuses those who are seeking the truth, and it sure as heck isn’t something God calls Church.
Church Service – This one is almost comical. Service is what we do to help someone. According to the Bible, it is the basis of true religion, which God says is “helping widows and orphans.” So, in God’s eyes, a true Church service involves the fellowship of believers pooling resources and working together to meet the needs of those less fortunate, like feeding the homeless or painting a widow’s house. In today’s language, however, a “church service” is when the local Christian Club gathers and performs a Sunday morning ritual involving a musical performance, a motivational speech and some fundraising. How we came to call that a “church service” is beyond me! How about we start calling them “Christian Club Weekly Rallies”? As in: “Hey, you want to come to my Christian Club’s Weekly Rally this Sunday?” “No thanks, I’ll be up late Saturday performing a Church service, and will need to sleep late Sunday after working so hard at the homeless shelter.”
Ministry and Minister – The Greek word means “service.” (See above.) It’s a menial job, and the title of “minister” (and “deacon,” which has the same root) is most closely translated as “bus boy.” To clarify this, I suggest we start calling ministries “grunt work,” and ministers “servants.” As in: “I want to go into full time grunt work. My servant thinks I’m called to it.” That’d clarify things big time.
Worship – Literally, this means groveling like a dog before his master and/or lying face down before a king. It has nothing to do with music whatsoever. (And no, “praise” is not fast music and “worship” is not slow; that’s silly.) True worship is intensely private. Yes, it’s a condition of the heart, and it’s a state of being that we can bring to all our activities, including singing songs. Just so we can all be on the same page, here’s my suggestion: Let’s start calling the music portion of our Christian Club Weekly Rallies “inspirational music sing along time.” Then, if our hired Inspirational Music Sing Along Time Servant wants to truly lead worship, he can lie down on his face while the other members of the Christian Club are singing.
Pastor – This word has no Biblical meaning, because it’s a completely man-made title and job description. It was made up by the Roman “church” during the Dark Ages to pertain to a facet of the pagan-inspired priesthood, and inserted in one place in Scripture by translators looking to justify the position. The word they stepped on is shepherd. This is a hard one to suggest a possible replacement, because there are a multitude of folks filling this position who have no shepherding gift or calling whatsoever. Even if they did, their full time job running the Christian Club would mainly be a distraction from the real work of shepherding as it’s portrayed in the Bible. I think the best idea is to start calling them what they are, and that is “CEO” of their Christian Club.
There are quite a few more words we need to change if we’re going to be able to journey together towards the truth, but I think this is a good start. When we get these right I think the others will begin to fall into place. Will you join me? Think it’ll catch on?
Oh … and I’ll see you next Sunday at our Christian Club’s weekly rally. I’m sure our inspirational music sing along time servant will put on a good show, and the CEO will deliver a great motivational message!
After that, if you’re up for it, we can put on our work clothes and join the Church service down at the old widow’s house…
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I have a confession to make.
Many years ago, my wife and I decided to sell our first house. It was small, we had a growing family, we had an opportunity to re-locate back to our hometown, and the market was hot where we were. It was a good time to sell.
Problem is, we didn’t have a lot of money to get the place properly prepped for market. And so we took some shortcuts. Now, we didn’t outright lie or do anything out of the ordinary, I guess, but looking back at it, I feel bad for the ways we cut corners.
For example, part of the wood on the awning over the garage was starting to rot. A couple boards really needed to be replaced. But instead of doing that, I scraped out the rotten parts, filled them with wood putty and painted over it. I didn’t even wait for the putty to dry. Problem solved!
Then there was the spot in the yard, right near the front door, where we couldn’t get anything to grow. It was a real eyesore. So I dug it out, rimmed it with rocks, and every couple days I’d get a $2.99 flower-in-a-pot from the local grocery store and drop it in there. The flowers were bright and inviting and made the ground look fertile, but they withered up and died every couple days. As long as I had a fresh arrangement stuck in when folks came to look at the house, I figured it was all good – and I didn’t really care that it would be dead and brown by the time they moved in.
In real estate sales lingo, this is called making the house “show ready.” The old wisdom of “buyer beware” is still relevant today – and I’ve kept it in mind as we’ve bought subsequent houses, making darn sure to poke and prod every little thing. If I can cut corners to sell a house, anyone can.
At the time I honestly considered these superficial, short-term fixes to be smart business. And while I still feel a twinge of regret about my youthful “enthusiasm” in selling our house, in the big picture I know the folks got a solid house for a good price, even if there were a few “surprises” covered up.
It’s not like the foundation was crumbling or there were termites in the timbers. But in other circumstances it certainly could have been. It’s a facet of human nature that we often go to extreme measures to do this sort of thing – glossing over fundamental, structural, and possibly fatal flaws, while being content dealing only with things on the surface. It’s a trap that can suck away all our energy and expense, as it takes ever more putty, paint and potted plants to hide the rotten and dead spots.
We can, in fact, get so wrapped up in this effort that we become downright defensive if someone questions our tactics. I believe the root of this is pride. I remember my wife asking if I shouldn’t just replace the rotten board and I snapped at her, “I know what I’m doing!”
This phenomenon doesn’t just apply to selling homes. Colloquially, we call it “re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship,” or “fiddling while Rome burns,” or “putting lipstick on a pig,” or “addressing the ‘urgent’ before the ‘important.’” We do this with our health when we treat symptoms while refusing to acknowledge root causes, with relationships when we focus on keeping up appearances instead of dealing with real issues, and with business when we focus on short-term gain over long-term stability and growth. Indeed, we can do this with just about every area of life – education, politics, public safety, personal finance … you name it.
Often subconsciously, we buy into the lie that it’ll be just too painful or costly to rip out the layers of superficial “solutions” and get deep into the heart of a matter. We just can’t bring ourselves to admit that the problems are as deep as they really are. “No way I have cancer, it must just be a cold…” When we do this, the inevitable result of our short term gain is long term pain.
Sadly, I see this all the time in “church” today. The symptoms are plain for all “church” leaders to see: increasing irrelevance in society, less enthusiasm and commitment from congregants, lower standards for what it means to be a “Christian,” back-door losses, a glaring absense of the miraculous manifestation of God, and often even a lack of fire in our own bellies.
“Steering” or “vision casting” committees are increasingly common as we come to grips with these stark facts. Pastors ask for suggestions, seek out advice, and pray for guidance. Members – with all kinds of expertise, backgrounds and motivations – offer their best ideas. Often, there’s even a call to group fasting and prayer. Then all the ideas go to the “committee” and out comes…
A new design for the bulletin.
Or a rearranged “service” lineup with a new way of collecting offerings.
Or livelier “worship” and shorter “sermons.”
Or a new “member retention” program.
Taken to an extreme, in a modern, leader-driven “church,” this drive to deal with symptoms can lead to a more “contemporary” vibe – with pop music, watered-down “inspirational” messages, and all forms of flash and dazzle.
No matter how well these solve the short-term, superficial issues – sure you can push buttons to increase membership, fire up an audience or boost donations – it’s still putty and paint on a rotten board.
You can keep things “show ready” as long as you want, and people will keep buying it from you, but what’s the end result? Certainly not the Kingdom come.
There are age-old termites deep in the timbers of the structure we’ve built and call “church.” The foundation of our dearly-beloved churchianity is not Christ but Constantine, and it’s been crumbling from the very beginning. No amount of lipstick can help this pig.
What’s it going to take for us – who supposedly represent the Body of Christ on earth – to come together, address the failings of our current system, tear away centuries of tradition, refuse the short-term fixes, and really address the heart of the problem?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!