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Friday, November 26, 2010

My first experience with the weakness in institutional church forms

            This story goes back to my sophomore or junior year in high school.  For context, my parents didn’t go to church, but on Sunday mornings, beginning when I was about 8 years old, dropped me off to go to Sunday School at a little Calvinistic theology church in a small town of about a couple hundred people.  I am guessing that about 70 went to this church.  I was dropped off just before then end of the regular service, so sometimes I was there early enough to hear the elderly pastor yell something to make a point.  I would go to Sunday School, and afterward go to the diner about 2 blocks away, meet my dad, and went home.  Between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I came to faith in Jesus, and started going to the worship service.  Almost the same time as my becoming a Christian, the elderly pastor passed away.  Since this church was so small that it couldn’t afford to hire a pastor for the amount traditional in that denomination, the replacement was a young man who just finished last in the seminary class.  Somehow, he was just the right person to cross my life at that time.
            One of the things he did was take over the Sunday School class that could be described as 7th grade through young adult.  Somewhere along the line, he must have picked up the idea that persons in that church really didn’t buy into the Calvinistic idea, not held by most parts of the Christian faith, that infant baptism was correct theology.  One Sunday, he asked how many of the dozen or so persons in that class agreed with this idea.  One has to get the context that some of the “students” were believers, and some were probably there only because their parents were there.  I was sitting in the front row. As I knew that to agree was the correct answer, but I wasn’t too confident in it being correct, I raised my arm about halfway, and shook my hand in a quivering fashion to indicate unsure.  I was to later find out that no one else raised their hand at all.
            Given that, the pastor taught us for the next three weeks on this idea, and then asked us again.  For anyone unfamiliar, this idea is based on Calvin’s idea that infant baptism was the New Testament equivalent to circumcision.  While there is a general principle in scripture that things that God did in the physical realm in the Old Testament with the physical chosen people are analogous to things He has done in the spiritual realm in the New Covenant with the new chosen people, the church, infant baptism isn’t a spiritual thing, and doesn’t align.  At 16, I understood that.  As such, I didn’t raise my hand and neither did anyone else.  In the rest of the time I was around him, that subject wasn’t brought up again.
            The point here is that there are different points in different “churches” that don’t line up with scripture, and for those who have desired to serve God by getting in such positions of leadership, they eventually find that part of their getting paid is to defend such points.  The easiest way to deal with the situation is to avoid the embarrassing point.  Given that they control the agenda, avoiding it is relatively easy, most of the time.  A number of years later, before graduating from college, I was considering going to the seminary in that group of churches, even to the degree to applying and getting accepted, but the problem for me was recognizing that part of that job was defending that and a couple of other doctrines that in good conscience I didn’t agree with.  For all the struggles I’ve had in my life, going that direction was one of the possible mistakes I didn’t make.  It was years before I came to grasp that leadership in the true church is by gifting.  There is nowhere in the Bible where God gave to any person, committee or corporation any right to accredit or certify who is a leader.  Given how almost all of the world’s organizations operate on a leadership hierarchy, God’s way of appointing leaders by gifting is, by being contrary to the world’s ways, a sign of His hand on His true followers.  I might say that, in reality, many gifted persons have gone through the world’s system due to various reasons including assuming that the previous generation of leaders somehow have it correct.  Maybe, I just feel this way due to my tendency to have assumed the background behind leaders I have respected must have been valid without realizing that I had not thought it through, or even considered that a problem might have existed.
            Let me conclude by giving an example of this.  If one was brought up going to an institutional church that had a Sunday School, one heard the story of David and Goliath at a young age.  In 1 Samuel 17, it tells that David’s three oldest brothers had gone to war, albeit that the war was not far away.  Jesse, David’s father, sent David to bring food to his older brothers and their captain.  That is what David is doing there to hear Goliath’s derision, and how the story ensues from there.  The point I wish to make is about the little point that is usually passed over in telling this story as it would be told children.  Why is David coming up to the area behind the lines with food?  Our military provides food, clothing, and equipment necessary to the job of the military.  Here is the U.S., since 9/11, it is just about impossible to get on military property without a military pass, an escort from a military person, or, in the case of a “welcome home” celebration, at least being able to say who you are welcoming, and that involves a procedure that differs every time.  Now, when one is four to nine years old, those are details one wouldn’t have the experience of life to think of, but, if you hear this story once every two years (the general time frame for covering Bible stories in Sunday Schools), one can easily think one knows this story, and miss the point that this all happened in a culture far away, very different from our own.  It is easy to assume one knows all about the familiar.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Professional driver, closed course, do not attempt

            While I have and will usually write about serious subjects with regard to the proper functioning of the community of believers in Jesus, when it comes to humor, I tend to lean towards the wacky panels style.  This reflects that aspect of me.
            One of the serious changes to our society during my lifetime was the change, I believe it was in the 1960’s, to not limit the amount of persons allowed to enter, and therefore, graduate from law school and become attorneys.  From that came attorneys not having enough legitimate work and generate some, which in turn created our litiginous society, which then created some little oddities caused by companies attempting to protect themselves to a ridiculous degree.  One of the most obvious is during car commercials, where, at some point, in fine print, on the bottom of the screen, appears the words, “Professional driver, closed course, do not attempt.”  One extreme appeared in a commercial a few years ago where one sees a car (bad commercial—I don’t remember which brand anymore) which is driving with its left wheels on the ledge of a tall city building and the right side of the car parallel to the ground, but in mid-air.  What do they mean, “Do not attempt”?   How could I get a car up there?  If I could, it’s physically impossible to balance a car on two wheels and have the car parallel to the ground.  Given that, am I supposed to believe that a paying a driver makes that scenario more plausible than if you had a volunteer?
            This was brought to my mind this morning when I saw the exact opposite commercial.  It was from Audi.  After showing words and various stuff, we see a scene in which four new models of Audi are driving in parallel down a piece of pavement in the middle of a desert, nothing else around, mountains far in the distance, and they stick up on the screen, “Professional driver, closed course.  Do not attempt.”  Why not?  It looks safer than, say, driving eight cars wide, with more to the front and back, on the QED on the west edge of Toronto.  Did someone at the ad agency just throw those words onto everything?    By the way, say “professional” implies that a person is more skilled, but it really only means that one gets paid.  I know most persons reading this could do my job as well as I do it with a few months of experience, and nearly as well immediately, because it is mind-numbing easy.  I think I could be a professional at driving a brand new car nearly by itself in the middle of the desert.  The only problem is that such a job is only needed for a few seconds.  Oh, well…

Simple Church Minute: An Introduction

           About a year ago, I was in a job in which there was almost nothing to do except press a button when a person authorized to enter the building came to the door.  At the time, I had just finished reading Barna & Viola's Pagan Christianity and Wolfgang Simson's Houses That Change the World.  Now, I tend to be the type of person to read certain types of works on theology, but I realize that most of my fellow believers in Jesus are not.  The persons who are tend to be leaders, but these works overtly challange their paychecks.  I'm in no way accusing the average pastor of doing it for the money, but if one has already committed one's life in a direction, and someone threatens one's family's livelihood, one tends to react in a protective mode, particularly if it comes through a human voice, as opposed to directly into one's spirit by the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit does things that way, but also oftentimes does not.  Be that as it may, my idea was to boil the major points of those works into a group of 2 minute presentations appropriate for radio broadcast.  I wrote the 2 minute scripts and recorded them, but I didn't have the money, modest as it was, to broadcast the programs.  One thing this excercise did was give me plenty of time to think through the points these books present on the correct orthopraxy of housechurch/simplechurch.  As such, I am posting the scripts to these programs on my blog, with certain portions appropriate to my geographical area deleted.
          Just for reference, a very few of these scripts are based on something other than the two books above.  One comes from an idea of Milt Rodriguez of, one from a man names Glen Davis, who, last I knew, was a campus pastor at Stanford U., and a couple were based on experiences in my life.  All these will have "Simple Church Minute" in the title.

Ten definitions of the word "church"

            As far as I can count so far (i.e., this writing is very much up to a later revised version), there are ten definitions of the word church that would be recognized by either a) our culture at large, b) North American church culture, or c) the believers of the era in which the New Testament writers were writing through the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire (roughly 30 to 320 A.D.). The last is important in that that is the group that the New Testament writers were writing to, and no meaning can be the correct meaning if it would not have been recognized by those persons as a meaning., and the first two reflect everything, including mistaken understandings, that have happened since then.  Why this is important for believers in Jesus is reflected in point #9
            Definition 1:  a denomination.  Our general cultural and church culture would recognize this as a meaning of “church,” but this is something that could not have crossed the minds of the early believers.  Therefore, when we read the Word, this definition is in no way, shape, or form what the writer was intending as the main meaning.  This could only be defended by saying that what one was reading is allegorical, as in Jesus and the boats sailing the Sea of Galilee in John 6:22-23 (I know an attorney in Florida who defends the existence of denominations by this reasoning, but I would maintain that, even if it is appropriate to understand boats to be allegorical to denominations, one could equally state that the allegory could also be to churches, even institutional churches, but even so, definitions 3 and 7, below, are more appropriate than either).
Definition 2: a building.  As in 1, our general and church cultures would easily recognize this as a definition of church, but the early believers would not, as they did not have buildings until the Roman Empire legalized Christianity and force buildings upon them, as the state recognized paganism had.

Definition 3: a Christian version of what in the U.S. is called by law a 501(c)3 corporation.  It is not “the” Christian version, as parachurch groups, missionary organizations, and other Christian groups which do not attempt to be churches can still be 501(c)3’s.  As the early church was officially illegal, they would not have thought of church in that way, although they easily could have thought of the organization behind the pagan temples in that way.

Definition 4: the officers and/or CEO of the not-for-profit corporation, as was in definition 3.  Within the general culture, at least certain government agencies would recognize this definition as equivalent, as far as they were concerned, especially if the organization did something contrary to one of their laws or rules.  Church culture probably would not see this as a definition of church, and again, this definition could not have been imagined by the early believers.

Definition 5:  All believers in history.   Because our general culture so much would see church as definitions 1, 2, and 3, and would be most concerned with now and the near future, extremely few of these persons would see this as a definition of church.  In church culture, the amount would be somewhat greater, because a greater amount of persons would understand the history of the faith.  Among early believers, they would clearly recognize this as a definition of church, although it took at least a generation before this definition was significantly different from the next.

Definition 6:  All believers in an area or city.  As with definition 5, most persons within
our general culture are so concerned with the now and the near future to see this definition as relevant.  Within church culture, the amount is, again, slightly greater by the amount of people who have cared to know the history of the spiritual family.  The early church would have recognized this definition.  When Paul wrote his letters to the various churches, and John wrote what Jesus directed him to to the seven churches, the letters were directed to all the believers in the city or area, and specifically not written to the leaders, as would be the norm if writing to a traditional church today.

Definition 7:  Because, for centuries, the only recognized church in the western world was the organization we now call the Roman Catholic Church, to some, the word “church” is equivalent to that organization, specifically.  Clearly, it would be impossible for the believers of New Testament days to have had any idea of that definition. Only a few believers who might be involved in that organization think of that as a definition, at best.  Within the general world, particularly among unbelievers who grew up in a subculture dominated or, at the least, affected, by that group, there is that association.  We see this most often within people in the general media, as in news reporters and entertainers.  For persons who did not grow up in or near this subculture, this definition is irrelevant, except historically.

Definition 8: a group, gathering, or mob.  It should be noted that the Koine Greek word ekklesia, which has been translated “church” in most English versions of the Bible, might have been more accurately translated “gathering, assembly, or group.”  The mob in Acts 20 rioting against Paul was described by the word “ekklesia” but it clearly wasn’t a church, given they were in support of the idol makers in Ephasus, and they were making idols of a fertility goddess.  Why was this translated church?  I hope this doesn’t sound too cynical, but the translators of the KJV and all following versions of the Bible were in the employ of a denomination, seminary, or book publisher who knew that most of their sales comes from persons connected to traditional churches.  The words “gathering” or “assembly” would clearly indicate that the writer was speaking of believers meeting together and not the denomination or corporation, and, by the time they were translating, the word “church,” although not technically incorrect, was sufficiently vague to the superficial reader, and as unbelievers or young believers we are or were all superficial readers, so the distinction would almost assuredly not be noticed.  We must also take note that, the day and social pressures being what they were, we cannot say these persons were doing something intentionally incideous, but may have not realized this error of nuance, given that the KJV translators, in Ps. 42 and eight other places wrote “hart” instead of “deer.”  For note, a hart is a specific group of deer species native to central Great Britain, and none of the Old Testament takes place anywhere near there, although the KJV translators lived there.

Definition 9:  a group of believers in Jesus who met regularly to worship.  The early church did not have buildings, organizations, rituals, or even the New Testament.  They had the Holy Spirit, the teaching of Jesus that some had personally experienced, the teaching of the apostles and others who learned from Jesus and communicated his teaching to them, and the Old Testament, which Jesus’ ministry on earth was largely, although not completely, a fulfillment of.  They had the oppression of a society, which consisted of a Roman Empire that did not trust the people of Israel and the Jews (for a considerable period of time they would be seen by unbelieving non-Jews as a part of Judaism), the Jewish leaders did not trust them in that Jesus was seen to be attacking the status quo, and by unbelieving Gentiles in general due to their upholding Jewish moral law.  Such an oppressive society drew them together to help each other in everyday ways in addition to overt worship.  Acts 5:13 shows that the surrounding people respected them, but people did not join them unless they, too, came to faith in Jesus.

Definition 10:  Let me quote 1 Thessalonians 5:11—“Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”  This is telling us that Paul said that the believers in Thessalonica comforted each other and edified one another.  Our general culture would not see this as a definition of “church” because they aren’t, for the most part, looking through our building walls, and, if they come in either in person or by the far more convenient method of television, would not see this happening.  If we asked this to church culture, in the way I did above, quoting a scripture, I am certain a great many would say they do this, because they are convinced they are following scripture, and that their leaders would not have them do any different.  Look at the parts of this phrase—first, “comfort one another.”  I could go on for a long period of time telling reasons why persons within any of the early churches would need to be comforted.  Who was to do the comforting?  One another.  Who does the comforting now?  To a degree one another, but in many places, this is seen as a job for the leader designated (depending on the church) as priest, pastor, elder, or even a specific visitation pastor.  Most modern traditional churches are so big that no one can know everyone, everyone knows, at best, only a few, and some are isolated from nearly everyone.  Too much of that is totally a function of the change in and distortions to the church forced on it by a variety of secular cultures.  The second part of that phrase is “edify one another.”  It is easy to look at the word “edify” and think it is something like our more common English word “educate”, and that the priest, pastor, elder, or someone does that via sermons or homilies on Sunday morning, and “Bible studies” on Sunday evening or (usually) Wednesday.   First, as any educator or education professor can and has told persons for decades, lecturing is the poorest way to actually teach information.  It is even more so if everyone knows they will not be given a test.  “Edify” would be better translated “build up”, as is synonyous with “encourage” or possibly even “mentor.”  Further, who is to do this?  Each other.  One person, particularly a professional who is inside the walls of an office writing sermons, is, to some degree, cut off from the outside world, no matter how well read.  I throw in “mentor” in light of the idea that, to a large degree, our example is Jesus.  How many disciples did he put much of his life into for three years?  12.  What gives anyone the idea that he/she can direct thousands or hundreds, or even much past 20?  Let me start by saying that, if you don’t know a persons name, you don’t have much of a relationship.
If this is the case, why do leaders take on guiding such a great amount of people?  First, that’s the way its been done for generations.  Second, as the church has chosen leaders according to academic credentials or ego, as opposed to spiritual and natural gifting, obedience to the Holy Spirit, maturity,

Leaders have come to see spiritual leadership as an occupation, and would feel rightly threatened if a significant amount of believers came to believe that their giving to God should go directly to needs, as opposed to organizations that spend money mainly on buildings and payroll.  Third, if “each other”, or rather, all believers, actually do all the work of ministry, it would be out of everyone’s control except the Holy Spirit.  I, for one, would like to support no program outside of the direction of the Holy Spirit.  From what I hear, that way of the church operating, as it is in countries where the church is officially illegal, seems to be more powerfully changing lives than the scripturally distorted but well-meaning ways we do things in the free world.
As such, I cannot financially support traditional corporate churches, but wish them well.  If we had a coupe-de-etat today, a dictator could close them down by just declaring their land and bank accounts confiscated.  All institutional churches I know of have no plan for helping their paid staff in such an occurance, and the paid staff oftentimes has no other marketable skills.  There is no scriptural direction to set up a “church” in the way that is common in our culture.

on Thanksgiving

            On Sunday, when I was at church, the discussion, given that Thanksgiving was upcoming, was based on Ps. 100.  Specifically, the theme was the question, “What are you thankful for?”  I said a few general things, but the last couple of days, I became more focused on the question.  Possibly, it is due to my recognition that, in my mind, I have been more focused on my complaints about this and that.  I know no one really wants to hear that.  Complaining can be useful to everyone at the right time and place.  The Reformation, most wars for independence, and all social protests are complaints.  Today, the point came to my mind even more, as my body started hurting more and more as the work day went on, and eased off more slowly than usual as I got home and to some degree rested.
            I am appreciative for the freedom we have in the U.S.  I say this fully recognizing that this statement is all too often tied to a superpatriotic rant against perceived (sometimes real) enemies.  A huge portion of standing as a person desiring to live for Jesus in this culture is standing against a wishy-washy status quo.  The trick is how to do so rightly. I appreciate a warm or cool house to live in, warm, clean water, safe medicine to help keep me going—odds are extremely good I wouldn’t be here now without it.  The radio and TV let me know what’s going on in the world around me, and remind me of all kinds of situations I can be thankful not to be in.  Maybe I should be in one of those places, but if so, that would be based on a sin of omission a long time ago.  I can complain about not having a full time job, but I’m not certain I could physically do it if I had it, so I can appreciate having the part time job I do.  If I was busy all the time, as I was for years, I wouldn’t have the time to think about this writing.
            I am thankful that God has allowed me the experiences that I’ve had in my life.  I am totally certain that it has been easier to accept various truth the Holy Spirit has led me into over the years because my paycheck wasn’t tied to clinging to the status quo.  I think back that, when I started college, I thought I would wind up being a teacher and football coach.  Today, I couldn’t picture screaming at people to get them to do their best.  I know that it works in sports, military, and some other things, but it really isn’t my personality.
            I’m thankful for where I’ve been and what I’ve seen.  While in college, during breaks, I traveled to both coasts.  I’ve gotten to duck over the border into Canada (no big deal) and Mexico (bigger deal, given, all of a sudden, I can’t speak to people).  Many people have done far more traveling, but, at this point, all I want is to help one person in the way I can, and when I accomplish that, help another.  I (almost assuredly) won’t be remembered in two generations, but then, neither you nor I can name the top assistants to the great leaders of history, and if you can, you can’t name the food taster.
            I appreciate that I live in a place that rarely gets snow.  I grew up in Michigan, and I remember one Thanksgiving, when I was in college, crawling at 20 mph from campus to my mom and aunt’s house on Thanksgiving morning when the roads were snowy/icy.  Somebody’s got to live in those areas—I did for 40 years—but I’m glad not to anymore.  I don’t care for my beginning not to like it when its hot, as I started to last summer. 
            I give thanks for my family.  There isn’t much—the only close relatives I’m in contact with are my wife, son, and grandson.  Oftentimes, I’m sure I’m less than the most pleasant person to be around, but its not intentional, even though I don’t know how to prove that.  There’s plenty of people sitting around alone, and I’m glad not to be one of them.
            I thank God what He’s done in my life.  I am thankful that the Holy Spirit spoke into my spirit, and I turned my life over to Him when I was about 15.  There’s so many bigger mess ups one can make when one is an adult.  Paul wrote that one is a slave to Jesus and free from sin or vice versa.  Being a slave to sin as an adult can be so much more dangerous.  I am certain that I’ve made many mess ups in hearing His direction over the years, but to still be loved and guided by Him is a thing I’m thankful for.
            When my son was small, he was entertained by a commercial in a children’s program that had a line, “Your father likes lima beans.”  It was funny because I always did like lima beans, unlike my wife and just about anybody else in the family. 
            I know I could go on and on.  While writing this a few minutes ago, Music Choice on cable tv played Matthew West’s “The Motions”.  I know the story about West not knowing for months whether he would be able to sing because of voice box surgery.  I know it gets to be as my body starts working less optimally.  It makes one thankful for everything.  My response to being thankful is “God, how can I use what ever it is I have in me to honor You?”