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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Comment on Grassroots Christianity is Back! by Rad Zdero

            A couple of days ago, I got an email from Rad Zdero which had links to various writings that he is connected with.  One of them really struck me, in that I have meant to write such a thing, but he has done an excellent job of giving a one page (both sides) presentation of the “what and why” of simple, organic Christianity.  It is at http://www.scribd.com/doc/79043324/Grassroots-Christianity-Brochure-Rad-Zdero.

Rad has it set up that you and I may copy and use it to give to others.  For those of us involved in simple church, there is nothing new here, but it says as much of the basics as one can in two 8 ½ x 11 pages.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

On faking it in the traditional church

            It occurred to me to recount a story of an incident that happened at an institutional church I attended when I was in college.  There was a point in time in which the church was looking to have a new person teach a 7th & 8th grade boys Sunday School class.  It was at that time taught by an elementary school principle who also was an elder at that church, although, in this church, elders attended elders meetings, and I assume made decisions, but were not allowed to actually do anything before others in the church that would show their leadership.  Anyway, this class was a problem.  It seems that this one class happened to have an unusual collection of youth who didn’t care much about being at church, exacerbated by two young men, sons of one church deacon, who had already been in trouble with the juvenile authorities.  I volunteered, tried what I could, and resigned after about six months, in part due to living in a college town about twenty miles away, and realizing that I really wasn’t truly connected to this church except on paper.

            Now, I don’t know if I ever heard this deacon’s voice.  In various meetings, I remember his wife sharing from her heart, and their daughter, but never the husband.  About five years later, it came up in the news that there was a group of men in this town arrested, as they were involved in mutual sexual deviance, and this man was among them.  I (and you) could make some assumptions about this family that would probably be true, but for this writing I will not go into that.  I will go this far though:  in any culture, there are a certain amount of persons who attach themselves to the main religious group in that culture, not because they believe the details of that belief, but to be attached to the main group.  Among such persons, they will gravitate to one of two positions.  One, the more obvious, but rarer, is the person who works to become a leader, and has control of the direction that group goes in.  In western Christian culture, that person will desire to be a pastor, be paid, and guide things in a way that suits the person’s whims.  A few will use the position to advocate social change.  Many will be satisfied with a salary, control of an organization, and a place where others will listen to him/her.  The way churches are set up in this culture, this can be accomplished without many persons outside such church even being aware of the person’s or church’s existence.

            The opposite side of the coin is the non-leader.  Such a person may well learn to say whatever phrases might be expected of a member when totally called upon, but is quite happy to sit there, listen, make some donations, walk in and out of the building, and not let others get to know them.  Only if/when a situation such as the one with the deacon, above, comes up does anyone know anything about the real person.  In the situation above, an arrest and public charges were the notification.  In other cases that I am familiar with, just one believer learning of how such a person really feels about spiritual things in sufficient to see such a person disappear, which may be little more than going to a similar church a short distance away, although I have known others to move to another city.

            One aspect of simple church is that neither type of person above will wish to have anything to do with it, expressly because, if a group is small enough for every person to know each other, it will be too small for the person who wants to be the leader to hide on a pedestal above everyone (and, of course, there is no salary) and the second group is in no position to hide in the crowd, because there isn’t a crowd to hide in.  I have noticed that traditional churches that try to get people into small groups rarely are successful enough to even get half the people to actually go to such groups.  While almost any person can make up a plausible (at least to oneself) reason for doing or not doing anything, I believe that at a weak level says something about true faith abiding in the hearts of large numbers of so-called believers.

            Am I being harsh?  John 6:30-71 shows that Jesus wasn’t at all concerned about building up the numbers of persons following him, and even invited his disciples to leave if they wished.  Peter, in verse 68, said “…to whom shall we go?” which is an early indication of true faith.  I need to encourage my fellow believers in Jesus, and need them to encourage me.  I don’t need to play religious games, others don’t need me to do that with them, and I desire to disavow any such actions.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

On the words "friend" and "agenda"

            A few times when explaining what church as Jesus taught his disciples, in comparison to what believers in this culture now mean by the term, the idea comes up that words like “church”, “preach”, “apostle”, “pastor”, and the meal/Lord’s Supper/Love Feast, etc. meant very different things to the early believers then than what the terms mean now, and that the change in meaning over the centuries did and does not change what Jesus and the writers of the books of the New Testament meant then. 

            That, though, is different from a word changing in meaning in our own day.  I have been realizing over the past few weeks that the meaning of the word “friend” has significantly changed.  For those who ignore what is happening on TV, or specifically commercials selling alcoholic products, one might pass over the commercial for 1800 featuring the 30 to 40 year old Italian-American looking man in a suit making some subtly cynical, but clever comments on a subject.  In one, he speaks about everyone having 762 virtual friends, but that he isn’t sharing his tequila with 762 other people.  In short, he is making a point; the meaning of the word “friend” has changed, and for some of us who are older (and I’m plenty well older than the actor in the commercial), this is an unpleasant realization.  It took me a while to even sign up for Facebook, and for a year, the only people I have invited as “friends” are people who are my friends in the former meaning of the word.  Recently, I have broken down and submitted to the new Facebook definition of the word, which is anyone who will approve my friend request.  The computer makes suggestions.  Many of those persons are people who, if I was in the same area, would be my friends in the former sense of the word, and may become friends over time, via this communication medium, even though they live far away.  One gets a few names that, after seeing their sites, don’t exactly fit.  Overall, the computer has really not given that many errant suggestions.

            One problem is that I don’t have a word to replace what I used to mean by the word “friend”.  That’s part of the kicker in the tequila commercial—other people don’t, either. 

            One of my recent discussions brought up another word that can be misunderstood.  This word is “agenda”.  I probably wouldn’t bring this up; if it wasn’t that I have a story from about a decade that revolves around the word “agenda.”

            In the late 1990’s, I spent some time concentrating on giving some of my time to honor Jesus on a certain secular private college.  Approximately 25 years before, the college was in poor financial and academic shape, so the college hired a man who was a respected educator in that state.  It so happened, that he is a believer, who is part of a traditional denomination which is known for everyone being quite stoic.  To that effect, one of the things he did was to invite a certain Christian parachurch organization which works with junior high and high school kids, to teach about their program.  This, over the years, has attracted more than a secular school’s normal share of Christian students.  Also, where this college is geographically in its city is such as to limit the college’s growth, so that over time it not just stabilized, but became a somewhat elite college, in the sense that, at the time I was around there, the average liberal arts college accepted students from the top 51% of high school grads, and this school was accepting students from the top 21%, and was crawling up about another percent a year.  In other words, this college had an unusually large amount of students who really desired to live for Jesus, and had an intellectually above average student body.

            They had two evangelical student groups, who were about as far different as they could be.  One, which supposedly emphasizes the importance of leadership, had an adult leader who was by trade an attorney, came on campus two evenings per week when school was in session, and he controlled their meetings.  Further, this organization emphasized an evangelistic technique which most of us believers know, if it did work at a point in time, had worn out many years previously.  On the other hand, it might not have been a student organization at all if it wasn’t for having an attorney volunteer his time, in that the college saw no need for more student organizations, but as a private college probably didn’t want to spend precious funds to have a court fight that they just might lose.  This organization had a few students who were involved with it.

            The other student organization had almost all the Christian students involved with it, including some from the small one.  They had an adult staff person who was just a couple of years out of college himself, and he lived within walking distance to campus.  When he found that there were places on campus he couldn’t get to without a student ID, he signed up for a class, and now, in the administration’s eyes, he was part of the college, unlike the attorney.  While he was the supposed leader of this campus’ chapter of an international student organization, he did his leading day by day.  If one went to their meetings, the students shared in leading these.  Maybe once per term, he would actually speak at a meeting.

            The students in this group, which because of the features I described made up 10 to 15% of the students, planned a special event made to be a kind of soft sell evangelistic thing to the other students.  They planned it out to happen about two weeks before final exams, which would make it the last special event of the term before everyone had to crack down on final projects, papers, and the exams.  This was a difficult school, and those last two weeks, the whole school was quiet as a library (ok, except for music department, and art people running machine shop equipment).  I wish we in the church could always do things as well as this, but few of us are that talented.

            The point of this is that the third time they did this, Mike, the organization’s staffer, made one of his rare speeches to the students one week before the event.  I am sure he knew that, this time, one of the students, who prior to faith in Jesus had a high school and first year of college social life that was described by the phrase “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” would climax the evening telling his story of coming to follow Jesus.

The main phrase Mike would use in his short talk was, “We have an agenda.”  In our culture, that phrase is used with derision, that the person isn’t dealing with people directly.  Mike was pointing out that while everyone desired to follow Jesus, and do this event such that it was enjoyable for all, it wasn’t being done just to be enjoyable, so to do this overt presentation of the message of Jesus, was really the point, even if it would end the use of this method to contact others in the college.

            As humans, we all have agendas.  Some of them are basic.  I like to eat, sleep where it is comfortable, and have freedom.  It would be nice to have enough money to occasionally do something for fun, but if it’s a choice between obtaining money unethically and having fun, or living to follow Jesus and not, I’ll take the latter.  Maybe I have agendas that I don’t realize.  I realize that I’ve been hurt my fellow believers, maybe intentionally, but probably not, for their attempting to run their programs.  I am not upset with those persons, BUT I highly encourage others to not throw money at helping such things continue. 

            I read in some book about simple churches that one leader broke them up into three groups.  One of the groups, which the writer labeled as the least effective, was one made up of older believers, who maybe had either more training or education or experience with western traditional church, and understood in detail why they came to not be part of that system.  That writer is probably right, and, unfortunately, I fall into that category.  Understanding that doesn’t make me younger or less doctrinally knowledgeable or any other quality that the writer said makes for growing simple churches.  As I see it, is like cheering louder or less in front of my TV doesn’t make my favorite team play better, worse, or different.  All I can do is attempt to live to honor Jesus with my life, and know I do so imperfectly, and not dwell on the imperfection, and keep going.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

God can operate on both sides of certain human issues

            “Then, when Satan lies to you and tells you that God is not listening to your prayers, that you won’t receive your healing or get that new job, don’t listen to him. Instead, begin to tell him about God’s mercy.  Tell him, ‘The Lord is good to all. He’s full of compassion.  His tender mercy is over all His works—and that includes me! I’m one of God’s favorites!’”

--Gloria Copeland, in “Pursuit of His Prescence”, by Kenneth & Gloria Copeland, devotional for January 3.

            One feature of God is that He can put exact opposite things on the hearts of different believers to His honor.  We emphasize how, in Acts chapter 10, Peter dreamt that what God has bless we should not call common.  This told the early church that  a) God was willing to bestow salvation on Gentiles, and b) reaffirmed that in the New Covenant, the Old Covenant law or teaching about refraining from non-kosher food had been abolished, as the covenant which it was connected to was fulfilled by Jesus on the cross, and, therefore, inapplicable to the New Covenant chosen people, without regard to being Jew or Gentile.  That was to be of utmost importance to Peter immediately as he visits the family of Cornelius, and the gift of the Holy Spirit comes upon them without Peter’s doing more than preaching (speaking from his heart, spontaneously, not the formal ritual we now think of as being preaching) of what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have shown him.
          In this day, we, in some flavors of the church, bring up this subject to disagree with persons of a group who insist on vegetarianism.  What I have never heard said publicly (so now is as good a time to say it as any) is that, while these persons teaching on vegetarianism is quite rigid, it also removes a roadblock to speaking about Jesus to persons of a variety of Eastern religious backgrounds.  This is not trivia because, in some places, persons of that group operating vegetarian restaurants and health/organic food stores, because of this, come into greater contact from persons of those backgrounds.*
          Above, Gloria Copeland assumes the western Christian point of view that getting a better job is part of God’s blessing on a believer.  I certainly believe that, as a general rule, in a reasonably fair society, if one works as unto serving God and not man, the hard, thoughtful work will accrue financial benefit to ownership because it benefits the employer without regard to his/her/its (corporations are “it”s) faith.  My experience has been that, from faith in Jesus, like the Three Hebrew Children, my faith has been such that I could resist the pressure to do unethical things to gain promotion (and I must say that the employer I am thinking of is a company renowned for how ethical its operations are!).  Most large corporation executives have no clue that, in pursuing maximization of profit, the have stepped into the idolatry of worship of money.  Unlike David’s story, the tables have never turned, for me, in this life so far.  For many believers worldwide, not only have they never turned, they have received the worst jobs, jail, rejection of biological family, torture, and death.  According to others who are in a position to examine world trends, the last century has been the worst, even as the death rate in wars (civilian and combatant combined) in wars, as a percentage of total population, has been reduced to the lowest level in recorded history.

            Therefore, I am thankful for food, a warm and comfortable place to sleep, and freedom to say what I believe.  I know those are luxuries too many of my fellow adopted sons and daughters of Jesus are not enjoying today.  That I have access to communicate my thoughts in freedom is a luxury, blessing, but also a responsibility.  I just ran into a quote of Dr. Walter Martin: To be controversial for the sake of controversy is a sin, but to be controversial for the sake of Truth is a Divine command.

            *I know that, of my fellow believers, some consider the group referenced here to be within, and others, outside the umbrella of orthodox faith.  In this writing, I am not attempting to make either side of that point, either explicitly or implicitly.