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!
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.
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!
Imagine for a moment I have a vending machine for selling sodas. Just for fun, I post the following instructions:
Insert coin(s) in slot
Jump three times, spin around and pat your head twice
Sing a song
Tap out a rhythm on the front of the machine
Push the button for the soda you desire
Retrieve soda, open and enjoy!
I’m sure there are quite a few folks who would follow these instructions and have fun doing it.
And it just might happen that word would get around: “That’s a cool machine over there. It’s a lot of fun to do, and really entertaining to watch others.”
Folks would come from miles around. Over time, the jumping, spinning, singing and drumming would take on a life of their own, and various styles would emerge. Many would take great pride in their performances, and form clubs around their preferred styles.
It wouldn’t be long before the whole thought of getting a soda would become secondary and eventually fade away. The show itself would become the point, folks would schedule specific times and places to gather and perform their routines, and they’d forget all about the fact that the whole purpose of the exercise was once to get a cold drink.
Think this is crazy? It happens all the time. Take competitive duck calling. Yes, there really is such a sport. Real duck calling – as in, using a call in the wild to attract ducks – is a true art, requiring great nuance and years of woods-wisdom. Competitive duck calling, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to do with calling ducks. Sure, competitors use the same equipment, and may even wear camouflage when they do it, but it’s evolved to the point that judging is all about how loud, fast and long a fellow can blow a duck call. It’s all a show, with no bearing in reality. Were a world champion competitive duck caller actually try to call a duck, the darn thing would fly away in a panic, as the caller’s “skill” has evolved to the point of absurdity.
Back to the soda machine. Say in the midst of all the hoopla regarding the ritualistic routine, I walk up and really do want a soda. So I put my money in the machine, push the button and pick up my pop. Think the folks would relate to that? Rather, I imagine they’d consider me something of a party pooper. There’d probably be some who didn’t even know the machine they danced in front of had sodas in it to begin with. If I told them all I wanted was to get sodas, and that I thought their routines were pointless, you think they’d let me join their club?
With duck calls or silly soda machine scenarios, or anything else that’s evolved to the point of absurdity, it’s really no big deal. Live and let live. If guys get their kicks making loud, unnatural noises with duck calls, so what? More power to ‘em.
The problem is that this same phenomenon has happened with Church. Compared to the way God intends it, Jesus modeled it, and His early disciples practiced it, what we call “church” today has evolved to the point of absurdity, and the real purpose has been long lost.
Sure, we’ve become masters at building the Christian country clubs we call “church” today. We can erect beautiful buildings, organize committees, entertain and motivate audiences, raise money, train and ordain clergy, and make a big deal about it.
But underneath it all, we’ve lost the heart, the real meaning. The soda has been relegated to long-ago stories that many folks think are fables, and when we blow our calls the ducks fly way.
I was thoroughly steeped in churchianity and well into my adult life – and even in full-time ministry! – when I first heard the words “God” and “relationship” in the same sentence. The very idea of having a literal, back-and-forth relationship with the Creator is foreign today, and Jesus saying “My sheep know my voice” is a puzzle. The Gospel of the Kingdom – the good news of the unimaginable power, global victory and royal destiny promised us in Christ – is rarely taught from pulpits, as it is unknown by most “pastors.” The idea of actually sharing everything we have with our brethren, so that “he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack” is shocking.
The real purpose of Body life has been eviscerated, and replaced with religious rituals, bureaucratic organizations, rules for living, “prosperity,” popularity, and spine-tingly sensations when the music is played just right. “Ministry” is outsourced to the professional clergy class, and “church” has become a place to go and a thing to do.
Strip away 2000 years of layer upon layer of tradition and distraction, and underneath it all there’s still a soda in that machine, and it tastes really good. In fact, it’s just what our Body needs right now. Once upon a time, that was the whole point of it all. Once upon a time, the people experienced the raw power of simple Body life, and the manifest reality of the Kingdom come. That time can come again!
What if someone who grew up thinking the whole purpose of a soda machine was simply to serve as a location to jump and spin were to finally get the revelation of the soda inside, and that all the traditional showboating was nothing more than a distraction that kept people from finding what they really need?
I imagine that person would have a hard time in many ways. For one, when he went and got his soda, and then sat by and drank it while all his former buddies went thirsty through the useless rigmarole, he’d probably feel he was missing something, like a part of him had been amputated. He’d have fond, thankful memories of the good times he had jumping and spinning, the esteem he felt among his friends when he did it just right, and the wisdom he learned from his club leaders. Still, once he tasted the soda, there’d be no way for him to go back, yet his joy in the soda would sometimes seem bittersweet.
He’d also feel frustrated for all his friends. He’d know that, back in his jumping and spinning days, if “one of those crazy soda drinkers” would have tried to persuade him to stop the ritual and just drink the soda, he’d have felt the guy was a divisive troublemaker and written him off as a hack. And now he realizes, he is that crazy soda drinker, and all the people he loves the most write him off as a hack. The challenge, frustration and heartbreak could drive him to militancy, or silence, or exile – or probably some confused mishmash of the three. Yet when he looked at the good, well-meaning people trapped in his former pattern, even in the face of their painful persecution of him, his love for them, and his passion for the truth, would keep his hope alive.
This is how I feel about “church,” and I know a lot of people who feel the same way. It’s not woundedness that compels us, or anger. It’s love and hope for people, passion for the truth, and a burning desire to see God’s Kingdom come the only way it can: By abandoning the Christian “religion” and returning to The Way of authentic Body life.
If our words seem divisive, that’s because there IS a radical difference between what God desires and what we generally practice today. But that’s not division, it’s discernment. Fact is, true unity can only be found in the truth, and will never be found in the structures, rituals, hierarchies, and traditions of man.
We’re not rocking the boat, we’re trying to bail water, because it’s sinking fast. If you’d stop rowing it so fervently in the wrong direction and tried to “be still” for a moment, maybe you’d realize this, too.
Please God, I pray your people will finally stop jumping and spinning, and just push the button and drink the soda.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I remember as kid being forced to sit in a hard pew during Sunday “church services.” My mom would hand me some crayons and a piece of paper, or a small toy, or a snack, so I would be inconspicuously entertained as the music played and the holy man talked. Whatever it took, I guess, to keep me from being a distraction to the people who were there to “worship.” “Be quite,” I was often told. “This is God’s house.”
Occasionally, my father would give me some pocket change to “give to God” by putting it in the offering plate. I still recall a mental image of some guy behind the scenes stuffing all the offerings into a big bag and taking it to “God” in His office at the top of a tall building. What He did with it after that, I never knew.
The “services” were long, boring and way over my head. One time, I counted all the times I thought the pastor should have said “amen” during a long prayer. As I recollect, he could have finished that flowery oration more than a dozen times, but he just kept going on and on and on, until the long-awaited “amen” finally came, freeing me from the uncomfortable hands-folded/head-bowed position.
Often on the way to “church” my parents would argue, or yell at us kids, or say bad things about some other member they were at odds with. The anger and frustration would be thick, yet as soon as we stepped out of the car, we had to smile and act like everything was just great. “We’re at church,” was the reason given for the sudden suppression of true feelings. Of course we had to be “nice” and put on our Sunday best whenever we visited “God’s house,” didn’t we?
I was too young to know the details, but I recall my father many times coming home fit-to-be-tied after some or another “church” committee meeting. “They” were all a bunch of self-serving, incompetent idiots, and just didn’t “get it,” was basic gist of his reports.
Sure we kids sang the little song, “the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people…” But we did it in a building, with a steeple, that we called “church,” so this quaint little ditty really made no sense at all. Even back then, I think I knew what “hypocrite” meant. “The medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan said. True that.
When I grew older and finally moved from home – after all the Sunday school classes with sugary, goody-two-shoes teachers … all the V-BS arts and crafts, flannel graphs and Kumbaya sing-alongs … all the gold stars for getting my memory verses right … all the youth functions with some dorky, over-the-hill dude who tried too hard to be cool to “connect” with us kids … all the countless “services,” and “sermons,” and potlucks in the fellowship hall – I was finally given a choice of whether or not I wanted to get up early on Sunday morning to “go to church.” Of course, my reaction was not just “no” but “hell no.”
Who really wants a God who is distant and dull? I mean, if His “house” is so boring and fake, His designated holy men are so namby-pamby, His “services” are so repetitive and rote, and His “church”-going “children” so superficial and divided – and if, in the end, after all our effort and expense to be active in “church” we’re really no different than our neighbors who actually get to sleep late on Sundays – what’s the real point of it all? I sure as heck didn’t see it.
I still don’t see the point. Thankfully, however, I’m now able to distinguish between the reality of the Living God, and the box we’ve put Him into after 2,000 years of tradition … between the things God truly does for and through us, and the things we’ve done ourselves “in His name” … between His true children (those who are led by the Spirit), and those who simply claim to “believe” … between God’s organic design for Church, and the clergy-led social clubs we call “church.”
But back then, however, the very thought that the true God was way different from (and also displeased with) “church” as we know it was not in my frame of reference. So I walked away from “church,” and pretty darn near walked away from Him, too. Had I only known then what I know now, I would have been spared loads of heartache.
Thankfully, my Good Shepherd left the 99 others and came after me. He had to chase me halfway across the country, and through quite a few dark places, but He got me, and I’ve been with Him ever since. Now, I haven’t been in “church” so much – I sat through a “service” only a handful of times during a recent decade! – but I’ve been blessed with an ever-closer walk with Him. Odd, isn’t it, that the further the “organized church” gets in my rearview mirror, the closer I get to Him? Maybe that’s not so odd after all.
You see, a big problem with the way we practice “church” today is that we can be so adamant in claiming our way of practicing “church” is the only way to connect with God, that when people reject our way, they end up rejecting our God, too. This happens way, way more often that most “church” people realize.
(“Well, they never came to my ‘church,’” you may say. You must realize, I’m not just talking about the specific way it’s practiced at “XYZ Church,” I’m talking about the whole dadgum thing we call “church” today – the whole show-up-at-the-designated-time, face-the-front, sing-the-music, listen-to-the-lecture, put-the-money-in-the-basket thing – because that sure as heck isn’t “church” as God designed it. I don’t care how much your “church” dresses it up or claims to be “non-traditional” or “relevant” – or, on the flip side, how diligently you’ve kept the traditions of your denomination’s founders – if you recognize a distinction between “clergy” and “laymen,” you think a “service” is a pre-set time and way of meeting, or you think funding your local “church” is equal to giving money to God, then yes, I’m talking about your “church.”)
Fact is, whether they leave from burnout, woundedness, boredom, a subconscious realization that our traditional practices are hollow and man-made, or seeing that we Christians can’t agree on even the smallest things with the folks at the “church” down the road, “back-door losses” are a big issue in churchianity. In all my efforts at evangelism, I must say, this seems to be THE primary reason most of the “lost” in our culture don’t want to get found: They, or someone who influences them has been there, done that, and got the bloody t-shirt to show for their experience in “church.” Truly, I do believe that what we have done “for” God all these years has driven more people away from Him than the devil himself. The devil can only offer emptiness, shallow “solutions,” and short-term “pleasure.” We’ve been doing the same, only we’ve been stamping Jesus’ name on it.
The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, mercy, self-control – is what everyone in the history of the world has ever looked for. And it can only be found in an authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And this can only be fully experienced in Body life as He designed it. Jesus Christ – as manifest through His true Body on earth – is the authentic hope of the nations, and the true, deepest desire of every human being. When we finally get this, we will be an unstoppable force.
But to get it, we must learn to separate God from churchianity, and choose which one we will serve. Because the two are NOT the same.
Introducing people to God through Jesus Christ is entirely unrelated to inviting them to “church.” In fact, inviting them to “church” is quite often the very worst thing we can do for them!
We must learn to truly trust God. If we do our job and personally introduce people to Him, He certainly reserves the right to lead them to plug into a “church” and participate in “services.” And if He does, more power to them! If He doesn’t, then we must realize that Father knows best.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
My heart aches for the multitudes of strong, capable, faithful people who limp along, bound up in traditions, believing that’s the only way we can walk.
It reminds me a portion of the movie Forrest Gump. As a child, young Forrest’s mother was told he had a spine ailment, and that wearing metal leg braces – “magic shoes” – would correct his condition. The boy grew up resigned to accepting the hindrances of the clunky, unnatural superstructure. The prosthetics held him back from so much, forced him to adopt all kinds of odd habits to get through his day, and caused him to be an outcast.
Like young Forrest, the enemy, the patterns of this world, our traditions, and our own insecurity tell us the Body needs a man-made support structure to function. Our prescribed “magic shoes” include “church” buildings, pyramid-shaped organizational charts, central coordinating committees, designated clergy, pre-set “service” times and formats, one-size-fits-all orations that pass for real teaching, pre-fab “programs,” and all the other things we generally think of today when we say “church.”
None of these things were practiced or implemented by Christ or the early apostles. They knew the health, strength and growth of the Body, as God intends, is only hindered by such things. Jesus spoke vehemently against them, and they were anathema to the Apostle Paul.
Yet somehow, over time, we have bought into the diagnosis that we are crippled and incapable of functioning without these unnecessary, man-made prostheses – to the extent that we think real life as the Body of Christ is impossible without them.
And, like Forrest, as a result, we have resigned to accepting the hindrances of the clunky, unnatural superstructure we call “church” – even though it holds us back from so much, forces us to adopt all kind of odd habits to function, and causes us to be increasingly outcast from the very people we are supposed to be serving.
A moving scene in the movie is when Forrest is walking home from school with his friend, Jennie, and a group of bullies begins mocking and throwing stuff at him. It is clear they wish to beat him up, so Jenny shouts, “Run, Forrest, run!” – and he takes off down the dirt road, waddling awkwardly in his brackets, chased by the bike-riding bullies. As they get close to overtaking him, the brackets fall off his legs, and Forrest is finally able to outrun his pursuers.
“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but I could run like the wind blows,” says the older Forrest, narrating the story. “And from that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running.”
I just watched that movie clip online to research for this message, and found myself moved to tears in two different places. At the beginning, they were tears of sadness, because having seen the movie before, I knew the true capabilities that Forrest possessed. Beneath his unwittingly self-inflicted shackles, he was strong and able. He just didn’t know it – and so he just accepted the handicap and bullying as par for the course. It didn’t have to be that way!
These are the same tears I, with Christ, shed for our brothers and sisters who are so bound up and blinded by churchianity that they cannot accept any other way of functioning. I don’t care how big and popular their “church” is – compared to the glory and magnitude of the Kingdom Come, every single one of them has resigned to marginalization and mediocrity, and they don’t even know it. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Because, like Forrest, the true strength of the Body of Christ is far beyond anything we can comprehend. We are called to conquer, not merely endure. We are called to manifest the full stature of Christ – the King of Kings and name above all names – on earth as it is in Heaven. We are called to establish true dominion over every aspect of this world, through the powerful attraction of the peace and love that exude from the Body of Christ when it functions properly.
The second point I cried in the clip, it was tears of joy when the braces fell off Forrest’s legs and he took off down the road like a bullet, leaving the enemies in the dust. These are the tears I, with Christ, long to cry for all our brothers and sisters who are bound up in the unwittingly self-inflicted shackles we call “church.”
Some generation, someday, will throw these braces off the Body, and when they do, we will run like the wind blows. From that day on, whenever we go anywhere, we’ll be running. Victory is our destiny!
The question is, how bad will it have to get? How much more persecution, marginalization and mocking – and “church” politics, division, conflict, woundedness and waste – will we have to put up with before we finally break from the shackles and run free in the full potential God has given us?
Let’s make this the generation! Run, my brothers and sisters, run!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I’ve written quite a bit about what God desires, and how we’re not hitting the mark. It can all seem complicated when you get into the details of it all. But what God desires is very simple – we’re the ones who’ve made it complicated. So for the sake of simplicity and clarity, let me answer the straight-up question: What do I want for my family?
I want my family to be a part of what God thinks of when He says Church!
I want to build a small group of families, one at a time, carefully, who enter into Covenant with each other, for real. I want to get together with them frequently, and share the Gospel. (And we’ll take care not to all talk at once, though it may be hard when God really starts to move in our fellowship!)
When we do, I want my kids to be with us. I want them to see and hear how real and exciting and relevant God really is! And I want to hear the Gospel from them – because they can encounter God often in ways that are more profound and powerful than we can!
I want to know that my wife and kids are being looked after when I’m out of town, or if I die, and I would love to do the same for others in the group. I want to be held accountable and rebuked – and edified and built up – when necessary, in love and grace and a spirit of brotherhood. I want to be real with folks – sharing daily blessing and burdens, victories and failures – and not have to put on my “Sunday best” when we get together.
I want our group to have a spiritual father, from outside the daily fellowship, who comes in from time to time to teach and keep us on track. But I don’t want anyone but the Spirit to be the designated “leader” of the group, especially not myself, because we’re all in it together.
No sermons, no “offering plate,” no buildings or legal documents, no signs or bulletins or committees, no “service” (except our service to God and each other). No set time – but all the time! We can sing and praise, but if you’re not musically inclined, no worries – it’s spontaneous, easy, and fun.
We’ll call, email, text and hang out with each other all the time, because we’re more than best friends. We’ll get together for meals, to do yard work, to go fishing, or just to be together, in good times and bad. We won’t have to “borrow” each others’ stuff, because what’s mine is theirs and what’s theirs is mine, so we’ll never lack anything. We’ll be tightly woven together, like the cells of a body, so that we can all be more effective in this thing called life. Together we’ll unlock the full potential of His promises — because we’ll be living the way He intended!
We’ll reach out to serve others outside our fellowship, and together we’ll accomplish more for the Kingdom than we could alone. We’ll dig into the Word, we’ll invite the presence of the Spirit, we’ll be disciples, and we’ll grow closer to Christ.
THAT’s what I want. Is it really all that crazy? Is it too much to ask?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I believe it is clear that God desires a new expression of Church today. The tired, man-made, tradition-bound system of “church” buildings, committees, clergy, ritualistic Sunday gatherings, etc., is just too far removed from His written Word, and too far out of touch with the needs of people today.
I am a die-hard optimist. By nature, I usually see the best in people, I sympathize with and overlook their shortcomings, and I tend to put hope in them long after others write them off as hopeless. Where it comes to the possibility that the leaders of “churchianity” can lead our institutions to change from the inside-out, my hope is fast fading.
My pastors have always been my heroes. But for the intervention of God, I nearly followed their footsteps to seminary and professional pulpiteering. I have great respect for the giftedness, passion and sincerity of most “church” leaders I know. I am thankful for my Sunday School and confirmation experiences. Many old hymns, modern praise songs, liturgical prayers, and fiery sermons can still stir me to spiritual euphoria.
But I realize now that my fondness for these things is borne from tradition, and that not one of these things has any relation whatsoever to that which God calls Church. From pastors to pews, from steeples to “services,” and from committees to pre-fab curriculums, every single thing we know as “church” is manmade, and virtually all of it comes from our forefathers’ efforts to emulate the practices of paganism.
As the Lord has brought me on a long-term journey of gradual understanding of these things, I’ve had great hope that my friends and heroes who are stuck in churchianity would be similarly motivated to pursue God’s truth, and would allow Him to lead us together to make the changes He desires in how we relate and function as His Body.
I’ve patiently and passionately sought to speak cautiously when called upon, bite my tongue when necessary, encourage, edify, and gently correct at the appropriate times. I’ve sat quietly, sung along, and prayed much. I don’t know, maybe God has led me down this trail so I could see that there indeed is no point in hoping for true reformation and revival to come from within the “churchianity industrial complex.”
What I’ve consistently seen is this: Even the most “non-traditional” leaders in “church” today are so personally invested in the status quo that they believe “unity” is found in everyone agreeing to do things “the pastor’s way.” This is something they just can’t seem to let go of. If we could all just act like we enjoy the music, his sermons and the flow of the “service,” then everything would be peaches and cream. If folks would come to their senses and sign up to give their time to the committee positions he deems necessary, then the work of the “ministry” could finally get some traction. If we all grew up and put ten percent of our income in his offering plate, then God could really get something done around here.
In this setting, it’s perceived as “divisive” for “church members,” outside of his earshot, to discuss any alternative ways of functioning. (“If you don’t like the way we do things, then you should just leave…,” is the general mantra. Does this attitude please God?) In this setting, activities not sanctioned by the Central Coordinating Committee (by whatever formal title it goes by) are rarely considered to be true ministry.
And sadly, in this setting, the headship of Christ is a foreign concept.
When the Apostle Paul spoke about unity, he talked about unity of the Spirit, and unity of the faith. He did not talk about nor seek to establish unity in the gathering format, or music styles, or committee structure, or the “clergy’s” way of organizing things. He knew that we can only grow together when we are each – individually and communally – growing into the headship of Christ.
If we take Jesus as our model – the Man who said that He came to bring not peace but a sword – then we get a glimpse of what Paul meant. The only unity Jesus practiced was grounded upon the truth of God’s Kingdom. He spoke vehemently against the Pharisees who sought “unity” through religious practices.
We should seek unity in truth, and nothing less. If the truth threatens the “church,” then maybe that “church” needs to be threatened!
I say it’s time we all spoke openly about the status quo, and whether it is indeed the best way we can honor God with our time, talents and treasures. Questioning the “order of service,” or the style of music, or the organizational structure, or committee decisions, or how the “church board” was selected or put in charge in the first place, is not a personal attack on anyone, so why should it be taken as such? Why should truth-seeking people who are hungry to please God be wrongly maligned as divisive gossips?
If this truly is God’s work, then let God’s people talk about it. Let’s get it out in the open! Let’s let the Spirit move! Let’s search for the truth together, so that we can unify around it! What are we afraid of?
If enough of us engage in productive, healthy, God-pleasing (yet possibly tradition-threatening) dialogue, then something’s gotta give. If “they” kick us out of their “church,” then fine; we must trust God has a better way for us to get together, and trust His Spirit to lead us there.
What we can’t do is wait indefinitely for them to “get it.” Because, as history shows, they’re just not gonna. They’d rather crucify us first.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I’ve written a fair amount lately about two issues that plague our current way of practicing “churchianity.” Today’s revelation brings the two together.
One issue is that, contrary to clear Biblical example, we build and solidify organizational structures around our ministry efforts. Most people can’t seem to separate the ideas of “church” or “ministry” from the ideas of “organizational structure,” “administration” and “facilities.” In fact, in the eyes of most, a “church” or “ministry” simply cannot exist separate from these things; it is the organizational structure, administration and facilities that make the church or ministry.
Contrary to this notion, the Biblical example of God-pleasing leadership was modeled by the Old Testament judges and New Testament apostles. Yes, they did great things and big works. But they did not seek to build an earthly entity around their work. Instead, 100% of their focus was on building faith, character and relationships in the people around them. When God called them elsewhere, all they left behind was edified people and a growing Body of Christ – and no organizational charts, bylaws or buildings.
The other issue that I’ve written some about lately is that those within churchianity today are not prone to accept those who hold true Spiritual authority. The “church” culture generally only accepts the “authority” of those who have been to seminary, and/or who are “ordained,” and/or who hold titles such as “pastor” or “bishop.” Authority is given to these people regardless of whether they possess any true Spiritual seasoning.
In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul made very clear God’s desired authority structure in the Body, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.”
Just yesterday I discussed this with the president of a church board. “So, who provides apostolic and prophetic covering over your congregation?” I asked. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and then pointed out that 1) In the King James Version the word “administrations” is translated as “governments” – and that in his opinion the ranking of these positions is irrelevant. So, they choose to put the “government” on top. And 2) They choose to bypass the apostolic and prophetic covering and “connect (their) church government directly to God.”
What he articulated, in so many words, is precisely the heart of the issue: They value their organizational structure and bylaws over true Spiritual authority. In fact, true Spiritual authority is a threat to their enterprise. This is understandable, but it’s not right.
The office of apostle or prophet is not one that is conferred by a college degree, man-made “ordination,” committee decision or popular vote. It is not a position in an organizational chart, and it is unrelated to administrative ability. Instead, it is a difficult calling and lifetime pursuit, and comes at an exceptionally high personal price. True Spiritual authority comes through passionate pursuit of Biblical knowledge, combined with equal amounts of personal revelation and front-lines experience in selfless service, spiritual warfare and authentic miracles. Those who have grown in true Spiritual authority walk in close fellowship with the Almighty, and have abundant fruit – and scars – to show for it.
And, they don’t fit in well in most “churches.” Here’s why:
Say a man feels called to start a Holy work. It could be any form of “ministry” but for the sake of this example let’s just call it a local “church.” So, this fellow works hard to knock on doors, meet people, hold Sunday “services” and other “church” activities, etc. Over time, he assembles a congregation. He sows into their lives, and at the same time he works to solidify the organization by establishing a legal entity, bylaws, board of directors, budget, etc. This “church” grows and eventually builds a building, hires a staff, and establishes various committees and programs. Sound familiar? (You could take this to another level and say that this entity eventually launches other affiliate “churches,” and maybe even grows into a denomination, but we won’t go there.)
This man may well be a great fellow. He may well know the Word, have a seminary degree and be ordained. And no doubt, he’s a great “leader” and administrator. He is the top of the organizational chart, and regardless of whatever lip service he pays to it being “God’s house,” fact is the responsibility for the guidance of the “flock” and the enterprise they’ve built lies squarely on his shoulders. The buck stops with him. The reality is, however, that this authority is positional; he may well not have any true Spiritual authority – the only kind God recognizes, and desires in His leaders.
Now, say a man comes along who is a true apostle or prophet of God. And say this man with true Spiritual authority is assigned by God to speak a word that contradicts the “vision” of this pastor, or that seems to undermine his positional authority, or (heaven forbid) rebukes him. Would this man be considered an ally or a threat? A uniter or divider? If you sincerely believe that he’d be embraced as a uniting ally by the pastor, “church” government or rank-and-file congregant, you’re smoking bath salts.
This rejection of true Spiritual authority becomes even worse when the person holding the positional authority is several steps removed from the original workman. As in, the founder retires and the “church” selects his replacement. I’ve seen this countless times – it’s de-facto in churchianity – and it’s generally done through either popular vote or behind-the-scenes politics. Charm, public speaking ability and administrative skills – of course, with a seminary diploma and ordination certificate – are the universal standards by which candidates are judged.
Whether he is the founder or one who inherited the position, the holder of positional authority is generally most concerned with the preservation and growth of the enterprise, his paycheck, and his positional authority. He will by necessity feel threatened by someone who walks in true Spiritual authority – who is no respecter of man-made institutions, or of any “positional authority” in the “church.”
And he will seek, ultimately, to crucify the man who comes and says, “Tear down this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days.” Because in the eyes of the pastor, that’s a threat to his enterprise and livelihood. But in the eyes of the apostle, it’s a statement that the building and organizational structure is worthless, and the real edifice behind it – that is, the spiritual maturity of the people – is so lacking that it could indeed be recreated in three days. The gulf between these two is too wide, and seemingly too threatening, for most pastors to cross.
This is why we have a churchianity culture that, by and large, rejects the notion of true Spiritual authority, and that fails to recognize the offices of apostle and prophet today. And it is why our faith is increasingly marginalized and mocked today: We just don’t get it.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!