Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review: "Corinthian Elders" by Jack Fortenberry

Yesterday I received the book "Corinthian Elders" to read and review. I sat down to read it, and in one sitting was able to do so. It's not a very long book, and people who enjoy reading - particularly the subject material will likely finish it very quickly.

I really appreciate the gist of Jack's "essay" on the role of elders in the local church - which is that we've gone off camber as The Church by embracing the teaching of men - even those who are good teachers. Jack does a good job of showing how this has been somewhat of a problem since the first century church when there were divisions because of individuals aligning themselves with Paul, Peter, and so on. Of course, these apostles were upright, good teachers, and could provide much insight into Jesus having spent time with him, etc. However, Paul still encouraged his readers to align themselves under the headship of Jesus Christ and not other men.

Jack does a good job summarizing the New Testament view of the New Covenant truth that The Spirit of God now resides in us and is able to communicate truth to us through the Scripture without the need of intermediaries who spoon-feed us or otherwise play a middle-man role in our walk with the Lord.

Further, a main theme in Jack's work is the Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ. This is something that is showing up more and more in the thoughts and reflections of the saints which I believe is evidence of God at work! The Church has largely just paid lip service to Jesus Christ for nearly two thousand years and it's time for Jesus to actively be the head of His body in every aspect of The Church - including leadership. Jack makes the appeal for Jesus to be our head both personally and corporately.

Another aspect I appreciate about this book, and others like it, is it's ability to bring harmony to what often seem like opposing views. Specifically, the role of elders in the local church along with a consensus understanding of God's direction among the congregation. I think Jack does a great job highlighting the role of elder without giving it more or less value than the Scriptures allow.

Those accustomed to more institutional views of Church would likely struggle with the ideas expressed in this book because tradition is not easily dislodged from the soul. I am not saying all tradition is bad, but some traditions keep us from accepting the plain truths of scripture. I believe the truths that Jack has written about here are necessary to hear and must result in a change of thinking in some areas of our understanding.

If you're a person who longs to see Jesus lead His Church - not as a metaphor, but literally - you need to read this book. If you're a leader or otherwise involved in a local fellowship - read this book.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Moving Past "Event-Driven"

First a note to my colleagues... this has nothing to do with "Event-Driven" programming, architecture, design, etc. If you want to read on, feel free, but this is about faith, not technology.

Okay, now that we've filtered out the riff-raff ;-)...

It's been on my mind for a while to write a little about what I think is a scourge on The Church in America and the western world at large - that is, an "Event-Driven" understanding of Church. Before I begin, I'll be the first to confess that I have had this view myself, and have needed to repent of it. In fact, I am still struggling to change my thinking and vocabulary in these areas.

What is Event-Driven Church? It's viewing Church as something to go to and participate in rather than something we're part of and is part of us.

An Event-Driven view of church sees the Christian life taking place in a series of meetings, get-togethers, and well... events! It's a way of thinking that says "we're Christians, so we need to do [Insert idea here] with one another" as a means of relating to other believers. I am not talking about normal, simple things like dinner, going to the park, etc - but events that are more planned, rigid, unnatural anywhere else, require a special language to participate in, etc.

But that's not something visible in Scripture is it?

I hear this sort of view reflected often. Usually it's with incredible zeal for doing good things - but in my opinion - it's leading the average American Christian into a life of extreme busyness, but not really providing many of the benefits of a life shared in the community of other believers.

Often it's like this.... "Heh John, we have some things in common - you like to play golf, I like to play golf... maybe we should start a Christian Golf League and play Christian Golf every week? We could begin with a devotional reading of Scripture, followed by prayer, then play 9 holes of golf!". From there, it's a downward spiral into meetings, committees, by-laws and a completely lifeless, in-organic way of relating to one another. Usually, the thing in common is now less enjoyable, and so are the relationships.

Why not just go play golf with your buddies? If you're a believer, it should be quite natural to be talking of your relationships with Jesus as you play golf. Too, I bet most of us are responsible enough to manage our own recreational schedules without the need to have someone coordinate our golf outings with our friends.

In my other relationships in life, there's not this unnatural need or tendency to create specialized events to spend time together, so why do we do that in The Church, where we ought to have more natural intimate and more meaningful relationships than anywhere else?

We don't have committees design our time with those we relate to everywhere else in life, why do we have them for relating to other saints? Why can we not get together without it being a prayer meeting, bible study, or outreach event?

We've replaced being together in simple relationships with this whole un-natural means of quazi-relationship that (to borrow a phrase from Frank Viola) is so shallow, a gnat couldn't drown in it!

Just a brief look through scripture reveals that the early Church related to one another in quite normal, natural ways. Church for them was what/who they were as a group - not something they DID on Sundays, etc. They were a people gathered under the headship and commonality of Jesus Christ.

Nearly all the instructional aspects of the epistles are written to address issues of relationship because this is where the early Church lived their life - in the gritty, day-to-day dealings with one another. This wasn't "how to be polite and civil with one another" sort of instruction - but how to deal with people at a soul-level. They spent lots of time together and knew a whole lot about one another - The good, the bad, the ugly!

Likewise, Jesus doesn't appear to have staged events in town center either nor did he call what he did "outreach" or "ministry". He simply went about, meeting people, hearing stories, forgiving, teaching along the way, etc. He didn't setup "Friend Day", or a "Free Donkey-Wash" to get people interested in what he had to say. But this is completely the sort of thing we do these days, isn't it? We even have special words to describe these things. If we have a cup of coffee with our spouse in Starbucks, it's called having a cup of coffee. If we meet a friend there for a cup of coffee to talk about their troubled marriage we call the same thing "ministry". Why the difference?

I don't know about you, but I feel totally busy but often very lacking in meaningful, real, time with people that results in all of us being built up. Most of this busyness comes from this sort of thinking unfortunately. Further, I find the more I say no to these special events, the more those believers seem to get offended. This to me is the real shame. What binds us together should not be our common attendance at any event - but our common relationship with Jesus Christ. That's what being IN The Church means!

Hopefully, we'll learn to replace GOING TO church with BEING The Church and by God's grace more past being event-driven and on to relating to one another in more caring, meaningful, and natural ways.

Just my $.02

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thoughts on Rick Warren

I'll be the first one to confess that I've been largely critical of the Purpose Driven Life phenomena over the last few years. It's not the man, Rick Warren that I don't care for, but the evangelical frenzy over "shiny things" that come about in the evangelical sub-culture (ie. PDL, WWJD, Prayer of Jabez, Promise Keepers). I realize that people are sometimes encouraged by these fads, but I still believe the collective adoration of Evangelicals toward these things is nothing short of idolatry. Only Jesus Christ should occupy our attention with such fervor, in my opinion.

Anyway, it comes as no surprise to me that Rick Warren, being as popular as he is, would be invited to pray at a President Obama's Inauguration, or address the Islamic Society of North America. Likewise, it doesn't surprise me that there would be an evangelical uproar in response to these actions.

From what I've been able to tell from the news reports, the gist of Warren's message was "let's work together on addressing some social plights in the world." Heresy!? Not quite, but at the same time, I don't believe the mission of Jesus Christ and his body (The Church) is solely to address social issues either.

What I find disturbing is the evangelical attitude toward Warren for even attending and participating in these events. It reminds me of the response of another group of religious people a few thousand years ago.

In one example found in reading of the Gospel of John, I see Jesus breaking all sorts of social and religious taboos by deciding to talk to a Samaritan women - about religious things. This women had totally different ideas about God than Jesus, not to mention she was a women, not to mention she was an adulterous women, etc.

Yet, Jesus' love for this women is apparent in scripture. He didn't have a separatist attitude toward Samaritans like the religious people of his day (who happened to miss Jesus' entirely due to their religious fervor). In many ways, I think that the American "Christian" sub-culture has made enemies with groups of people (ie. Muslims, Homosexuals). This is contrary to the Gospel because it seeks to cut off certain people from the Cross of Calvary.

Jesus's message to the Samaritan women at the well (who was there for thirst quenching mind you) was that the current religious categories and practices (at that time) don't matter, God was looking for Spirit and Truth worship from Spirit and Truth worshippers. Please, don't misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying that God wants Islamic and Christian worship. What he wants is people who know and worship him. He's gathering those people from every conceivable people group on earth those "born" into the "christian" sub-cultures of the west, as well as those born into Islam - even religious, mean-spirited people fortunately!

How else, aside from relating to people are we going to build relationships with those who are perishing? If the ISNA wanted to work together with Christians like Warren to build strip clubs across the nation, I could understand the hesitance, but wanting to relate to one another around something social is not synonymous with evil. It's not being yoked together as we're told not to be, but it's an opportunity to relate to one another which is why the Church is here on earth and not in heaven!

We'd all do well to learn that relating to one another does not equate to condoning the beliefs or actions of one another. Separating ourselves entirely from others is not the answer, and it's not something Jesus did. Jesus was nearly always surrounded by CROWDS of people.

In summary, perhaps Christians need to simmer down and holster their weapons. Rick Warren's actions do not make him an enemy of Jesus Christ, nor should he be made an enemy of followers of Jesus. They guy is building relationships with "Samaritans". When's the last time you and I did so?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review of "From Eternity to Here" and Interview with Frank Viola

I've been reading a terrific book by Frank Viola - "From Eternity to Here". This is by far one of the best books I have read. Many "Christian" books talk about the same tired topics again and again, and usually do a great job of pointing the reader's focus toward self.

Viola does a fantastic job revealing God's ultimate passion - The Bride of His Son! I've read a lot of books, and quite honestly have never seen some of these insights before. I believe that God is doing a work amongst His people, revealing to a crooked generation his ageless love and purpose.

Don't let this week go by without getting a copy of this book!

I had the opportunity to ask Frank a few questions about his book and experience with some of these truths. His answers are as follows:

  1. Live and Move: What, if any significance should the Body of Christ see in the timing of God's increasing revelation of his eternal purpose that have been seemingly hidden and waning for thousands of years?

    Frank Viola: God’s people, by and large, are not familiar with God’s eternal purpose today. However, we live in a unique time. A book like Pagan Christianity would have never been published by a major publisher five years ago. Yet Tyndale published it in 2008. I still can’t believe that happened by the way. Equally so, this is the first time that I’m aware of that a major Christian publisher has put out a book that comprehensively unfold the eternal purpose. So hopefully by this fact alone, the message of From Eternity to Here will have more of an impact. Not to mention the fact that there will be a number of conferences through the U.S., South Africa, and Canada which will deal with the subject this year. It’s a very exciting time in which to live.

  2. Live and Move: Are you finding the truths that you've been writing about to be currently experienced world-wide among diverse cultures, or is it just North Americans that have had their heads in the sand? How have believers in other cultures, particularly those enduring persecution, responded to the ideas expressed in your recent writing?

    Frank Viola: I have no way to gauge this accurately. And I don’t believe anyone else does. Take for instance China. I know a number of people who go there regularly. Their reports are diametrically opposed to one another. So I don’t think anyone has a clear idea about what’s really happening all over that country. I think it’s quite diverse and mixed. Also, many Christian leaders have a tendency to exaggerate and “puff” things up.

    I do know that all of my books are being translated into various different languages as we speak. And I receive letters from Christians from all over the world showing the impact they are having on their lives and communities. But it’s hard to gauge beyond that.


Today (June 9th), the following blogs are discussing Frank Viola's new bestselling book “From Eternity to Here” (David C. Cook, 2009). The book just hit the May CBA Bestseller List. Some are posting Q & A with Frank; others are posting full reviews of the book. To read more reviews and order a copy at a 33% discount, go to

Your browser may not support display of this image.

For more resources, such as downloadable audios, the free Discussion Guide, the Facebook Group page, etc. go to the official website:

Enjoy the reviews and the Q and A:


Out of Ur -

Shapevine - (June newsletter)

Brian Eberly - -

Greg Boyd -

Vision Advance -

David Flowers -

Kingdom Grace -

Captain's Blog -

Christine Sine -

Darin Hufford - The Free Believers Network -

Zoecarnate -

Church Planting Novice -

Staying Focused -

Take Your Vitamin Z -

Jeff Goins -

Bunny Trails -

Matt Cleaver -

Jason T. Berggren -

Simple Church -

Emerging from Montana -

Parable Life -

Oikos Australia -

West Coast Witness -

Keith Giles -

Consuming Worship --

Tasha Via -

Andrew Courtright -

ShowMeTheMooneys! -

Leaving Salem, Blog of Ronnie McBrayer -

Jason Coker -

From Knowledge to Wisdom -

Home Brewed Christianity -

Dispossessed -

Dandelion Seeds -

David Brodsky's Blog- "Flip the tape Deck" -

Chaordic Journey -

Renee Martin -

Bob Kuhn -

Living with Freaks:

Real Worship -

Fervent Worship -

Julie Ferwerda Blog - /

What's With Christina?! -

Irreligious Canuck -

This day on the journey -

Live and Move: Thoughts on Authentic Christianity -

Spiritual Journey With God -

Dries Conje - / /

Journey with Others -

On Now to the Third Level -

Christine Moers -

Breaking Point -

Hand to the Plough -

Jon Reid -

Weblight -

D. L. Webster -

Searching for the Whole-Hearted Life -

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Kingdom Culture

According to, the definition of "culture" as it relates to human experience is: "the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another."

Growing up as an American, I am constantly faced with how much of my thinking regarding God's kingdom is sourced in the "ways of living built up by a the group of human beings"! Some don't see this as a bad thing, but the more I am faced with the truths of scripture, the more I find a holy discontent with what I've considered true for most of my life. I don't find what has been transmitted to me to reconcile very well with what I see revealed in scripture! Yet, it seems like much of has been called "Christianity" is just an attempt to meld principals in the scriptures, and principals of culture into a "Frankenstein" of sorts. The proof that it's messed up is that it doesn't work in every culture! A quick trip or two out of the USA will quickly prove that to be true.

So what is the solution?

The gospel contained in scripture is trans-cultural. That means it is relevant in any culture on earth, despite the specifics of that culture. The scriptures describe a Body of Christ that is made up of every tribe and tongue and nation. Since our earthly cultures are distinct, and often at odds with one another, what else is there? How then should we live?

The essence of living as part of the Body of Christ on this planet means living in a new Culture of the Kingdom. This could be said to be the sum total ways of living designed and orchestrated by the Trinity and imparted to us by the God's own indwelling Spirit as we follow Him. Unlike earthly culture, this is not transmitted by people and passed from generation to generation - something I think we've witnessed enough of in the religious psuedo-gospels of our day, but rather something imparted in our hearts as we encounter Jesus Christ in all his wonder.

For me, the scriptures then become a description of what this Culture of the Kingdom looks like. For too long, we've treated the scriptures, and even Jesus himself as a set of principals used to guide us to a "christian" sub-culture - one that ultimately has Man at the center and not something altogether different and new.

From what can be seen in John 17, the Culture of the Kingdom is supernatural - and when it is functioning will demonstrate to the world that Jesus was sent from the Father.

The world is not interested in a sub-culture. That's nothing new, and is just the work of human beings. However, the super-natural culture described in the scriptures is something altogether different, born of God and possible only through His Spirit transforming our lives. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he taught us to pray saying things like "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"?

By God's grace, I believe we're seeing this Culture of the Kingdom begin to take root here in our country and across the world. Perhaps soon we'll witness the fulfillment of Jesus' requests to the Father in John 17.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Watch your language?!

I grew up outside of Baltimore, MD and I admit, Marylanders have some pretty funny accents at times (think "Hon", John Trivolta in "Hairspray"). Nevertheless, when I moved to central Pennsyltucky where I now reside, I noticed some pretty funny patterns of speech. One of which sticks out to me is the occurrence of improper word substitution. For example, during one conversation, someone was speaking of getting used to something and said things would probably be fine once you get accumulated. Accumulated? Oh! You mean acclimated!

I just use that as an example of using the wrong words to describe the wrong things - something I think is happening alarmingly too much in the lives of followers of Jesus Christ.

On pretty much a daily basis, I hear someone talking about "going to church", or "it's at church", or "that's at such and such church", "where do you go to church" etc. I also occasionally hear the church building called "God's house", or "the house of the Lord" - two sayings that are in direct conflict with the teaching of scripture.

Now, I realize that our culture has adopted the word "church" for describing these buildings and events, but should believers do so? Doesn't it re-enforce the wrong thinking that The Church is an event or a building? Calling the event church is like calling dinner with your spouse "marriage". "Honey, what's for marriage tonight?", or "What time should I be home for marriage?", "You're late for marriage!". You get the point I hope. Marriage is a relationship - and so is Church.

Some might say this is mincing words, but I say, let's try to speak using a scriptural vocabulary. I am completely guilty of this myself. Our family has been trying to change this for years now, and it's painful. We've got our kids using the right vocabulary (and more importantly, understanding the idea), and they've turned into little vocabulary Nazis! I see hope though of a new generation of Jesus followers with a fresh new understanding of being The Church, instead of going to church.

So what have you're experiences been like with this? How are you describing and speaking of your church meetings, locations, etc? Please post your ideas in the comments.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Is your theology idolatry?

I've got this friend whom I see occasionally who always seems to bring every conversation around to a specific theological/doctrinal issue. Heck, he skips the small talk even and just jumps right in to the issue on his mind. It's just that it's the same issue all the time! It's funny to me that people who seem to love this particular doctrine frequently seem to do the same thing. Some of you will rightly guess what doctrine I am speaking of simply by your common experience (feel free to post your guesses in the comments)!

I guess some would just call this obsessive, and I would agree that it is. But what's the difference between obsessions and idolatry? Isn't idolatry just when we obsess over or fill our mind with things other than the God of the universe? Isn't it when we've allowed an idea to fill our minds to the point that no other thoughts can dislodge our attention on these things?

If that is the case, then can't our theology become idolatry? I think the answer might be yes! Now, don't get my wrong, I am not advocating (as some do) abstinence from theological thought or doctrinal study. However, when our theology become something we adore, we're in the wrongful territory of idolatry.

In my own life, I am coming to the conclusion that true life is found only in an uninterrupted obsession with Jesus. That might sound crazy, but if we're obsessed with him to the point of focusing all our thoughts and attentions on him, then we're in the right where God designed us to be. That's what being the Alpha and Omega is all about in my opinion.

So, by God's grace, perhaps we'll all lay down our idols and start obsessing over Jesus rather than our pet doctrines and theologies. Maybe if we do that, we'll actually see the life of Jesus manifested in our lives, and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Did Jesus Have IBS?

I've been reading a book titled "Organic Church" by Neil Cole. It's a great book full of many great truths.

This morning, I noticed some of Neil's insights swirling around my head. In Chapter 10 of the book, Neil explains how what is often translated in the scriptures (NT) as "felt compassion" literally means "bowels".

I got to thinking about this and recalling my own response to situations throughout life. We Americans tend to refer to the heart as being the seat of emotion, but much of the ancient world, and some of the current world sees other parts of the body - such as the liver, or in this case, the bowels - as the center of their being. In some cultures, the believers refer to Christ living in their liver!

When I was young, if I knew I was in big trouble, or really stressed, or worried, or upset, or even infatuated with a cute little lady - it almost always resulted in butterflies, sour stomach, indigestion and often - a trip to the restroom! I don't think I am alone in this ;-).

Our guts really are a strong part in our response to emotions, are they not? Sure, some would call this IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and explain it medically. Fine - in fact, I think that would be a very biblical way to put it. Biblically, compassion means having IBS because of others!

So Jesus had that same inward pain and discomfort in his guts over the lost sheep of the world, that we have/had when we encounter difficult situations. To me, that's much more intense than "feeling compassion"! I cannot honestly remember the last time that observing or relating to a lost person sent me doubling over or off to the men's room!

Yet, for Jesus, this was and is the usual response to those whom he loves and died for. I know that in me, that is in my self, I don't have possess this level of compassion for people. Naturally, I am concerned about me and my own. However, Jesus lives in me, and I in him. Therefore, as I seek him, he can live his compassionate life in and through me. By God's grace, maybe my bowels - and maybe all of our bowels will be moved with what moves the bowels of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

15 Theses” For A New Reformation

The theses below were written by Wolfgang Simson and bear repeating and pondering.


God is changing the Church, and that, in turn, will change the world. Millions of Christians around the world are aware of an imminent reformation of global proportions. They say, in effect: “Church as we know it is preventing Church as God wants it.” A growing number of them are surprisingly hearing God say the very same things. There is a collective new awareness of age-old revelations, a corporate spiritual echo. In the following “15 Theses” I will summarize a part of this, and I am convinced that it reflects a part of what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church today. For some, it might be the proverbial fist-sized cloud on Elijah’s sky. Others already feel the pouring rain.

1. Church is a Way of Life, not a series of religious meetings

Before they where called Christians, followers of Christ have been called “The Way”. One of the reasons was, that they have literally found “the way to live.” The nature of Church is not reflected in a constant series of religious meetings lead by professional clergy in holy rooms specially reserved to experience Jesus, but in the prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday life in spiritually extended families as a vivid answer to the questions society faces, at the place where it counts most: in their homes.

2. Time to change the system

In aligning itself to the religious patterns of the day, the historic Orthodox Church after Constantine in the 4th century AD adopted a religious system which was in essence Old Testament, complete with priests, altar, a Christian temple (cathedral), frankincense and a Jewish, synagogue-style worship pattern. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther did reform the content of the gospel, but left the outer forms of “church” remarkably untouched; the Free-Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it into a uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and the Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the superstructure. It is about time to do just that.

3. The Third Reformation.

In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the Church through a reformation of theology. In the 18th century through movements like the Moravians there was a recovery of a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the Second Reformation. Now God is touching the wineskins themselves, initiating a Third Reformation, a reformation of structure.

4. From Church-Houses to house-churches

Since New Testament times, there is no such thing as “a house of God”. At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded unequivocally: God does not live in temples made by human hands. The Church is the people of God. The Church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There, the people of God: -Share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, -Have “meatings,” that is, they eat when they meet, -They often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings, -Teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God's word, dialogue - and not professor-style, -Pray and prophesy with each other, baptize, ‘lose their face’ and their ego by confessing their sins, -Regaining a new corporate identity by experiencing love, acceptance and forgiveness.

5. The church has to become small in order to grow big

Most churches of today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become “fellowships without fellowship.” The New Testament Church was a mass of small groups, typically between 10 and 15 people. It grew not upward into big congregations between 20 and 300 people filling a cathedral and making real, mutual communication improbable. Instead, it multiplied “sidewards”, like organic cells, once these groups reached around 15-20 people. Then, if possible, it drew all the Christians together into citywide celebrations, as with Solomon’s Temple court in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church as we know it is, statistically speaking, neither big nor beautiful, but rather a sad compromise, an overgrown house-church and an under-grown celebration, often missing the dynamics of both.

6. No church is led by a Pastor alone

The local church is not led by a Pastor, but fathered by an Elder, a local person of wisdom and reality. The local house-churches are then networked into a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called five-fold ministries (Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelists and Teachers) circulating “from house to house,” whereby there is a special foundational role to play for the apostolic and prophetic ministries (Eph. 2:20, and 4:11.12). A Pastor (shepherd) is a very necessary part of the whole team, but he cannot fulfill more than a part of the whole task of “equipping the saints for the ministry,” and has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.

7. The right pieces - fitted together in the wrong way

In doing a puzzle, we need to have the right original for the pieces, otherwise the final product, the whole picture, turns out wrong, and the individual pieces do not make much sense. This has happened to large parts of the Christian world: we have all the right pieces, but have fitted them together wrong, because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy and a power-and-control mentality. As water is found in three forms, ice, water and steam, the five ministries mentioned in Eph. 4:11-12, the Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists are also found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places: they are often frozen to ice in the rigid system of institutionalized Christianity; they sometimes exist as clear water; or they have vanished like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and “independent” churches, accountable to no-one. As it is best to water flowers with the fluid version of water, these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new, and at the same time age-old, forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual “ministers” can find their proper role and place in the whole. That is one more reason why we need to return back to the Maker’s original and blueprint for the Church.

8. God does not leave the Church in the hands of bureaucratic clergy

No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional “holy man” doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive religious consumers Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament. The heavy professionalisation of the church since Constantine has now been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into laity and clergy. According to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5), “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in-between people and God forever. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems, because it basically asks only two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be OK for politics and companies, but not the Church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His Church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, the hands of ordinary people made extraordinary by God, who, like in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume and revolution.

9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity

The “Body of Christ” is a vivid description of an organic, not an organized, being. Church consists on its local level of a multitude of spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network, where the way the pieces are functioning together is an integral part of the message of the whole. What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straightjacket, often choked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control, faith can trust. Control, therefore, may be good, but trust is better. The Body of Christ is entrusted by God into the hands of steward-minded people with a supernatural charismatic gift to believe God that He is still in control, even if they are not. A development of trust-related regional and national networks, not a new arrangement of political ecumenism is necessary for organic forms of Christianity to reemerge.

10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God

The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized, a bit euphemistically, as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes against a holy fee. Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise called “worship service” requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy to keep going, formalized and institutionalized patterns developed quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional 1-2 hour “worship service” is very resource-hungry but actually produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people, that is, in changed lives. Economically speaking, it might be a “high input and low output” structure. Traditionally, the desire to “worship in the right way” has led to much denominationalism, confessionalism and nominalism. This not only ignores that Christians are called to “worship in truth and in spirit,” not in cathedrals holding songbooks, but also ignores that most of life is informal, and so is Christianity as “the Way of Life.” Do we need to change from being powerful actors to start “acting powerfully?”

11. Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing the church to the people

The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people “into the church,” and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.

12. Rediscovering the “Lord’s Supper” to be a real supper with real food

Church tradition has managed to “celebrate the Lord’s Supper” in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the “Lord’s Supper” was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.

13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations

Jesus called a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious companies with global chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing with each other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has, therefore, become politically insignificant and often more concerned with traditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into denominations. In the early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and then organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbors organizing themselves into neighborhood— or house-churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporateness of the Church of the city or region. Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the Church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the City-Church.

14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit

They crucified Jesus, the Boss of all the Christians. Today, his followers are often more into titles, medals and social respectability, or, worst of all, they remain silent and are not worth being noticed at all. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted”, says Jesus. Biblical Christianity is a healthy threat to pagan godlessness and sinfulness, a world overcome by greed, materialism, jealousy and any amount of demonic standards of ethics, sex, money and power. Contemporary Christianity in many countries is simply too harmless and polite to be worth persecuting. But as Christians again live out New Testament standards of life and, for example, call sin as sin, conversion or persecution has been, is and will be the natural reaction of the world. Instead of nesting comfortably in temporary zones of religious liberty, Christians will have to prepare to be again discovered as the main culprits against global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe. That is why Christians will and must feel the “repressive tolerance” of a world which has lost any absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God with his absolute standards. Coupled with the growing ideologisation, privatization and spiritualisation of politics and economics, Christians will, sooner than most think, have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. They need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.

15. The Church comes home

Where is the easiest place, say, for a man to be spiritual? Maybe again, is it hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed up in holy robes, preaching holy words to a faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office? And what is the most difficult, and therefore most meaningful, place for a man to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of his wife and children, where everything he does and says is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow. Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots, back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history.

As Christians of all walks of life, from all denominations and backgrounds, feel a clear echo in their spirit to what God's Spirit is saying to the Church, and start to hear globally in order to act locally, they begin to function again as one body. They organize themselves into neighborhood house-churches and meet in regional or city-celebrations. You are invited to become part of this movement and make your own contribution. Maybe your home, too, will become a house that changes the world.

You are welcome and encouraged to redistribute this article.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oily Hair and Mountain Dew

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head,running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. - Psalm 133 (ESV)

I am somewhat ashamed to admin that I usually just focus on the first verse of this psalm when I read it, and often it's in quoting it to my sons when they argue with one another! ;-) Lately, however, I've been looking at this in a different context - the context of God's desire for believers to live this way with one another.

I "grew up" in the faith around lots of grumpy, fundamental, fearful and unloving Christians. Unity was always a weird thing to mention because of the associated fear of being "ecumenical" which was a total heresy. Unfortunately, the fear of heresy can lead people to avoid biblical truths that are crucial to the Kingdom of God. Such is the case with unity.

Take a look at the prayer of Jesus here:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message [That's us!], that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. " - John 17:20-23
There appear to be great consequences to believers having oneness!

What I hadn't really considered from Psalm 133 before is the reference to oil. Oil in the scriptures is usually a picture of the Holy Spirit! So in this context, believers being together in unity is like the Holy Spirit on the head (Jesus), running down to the beard, and even down to the robe. I take that to mean that unity in Christ results in (or is the result of?) a pouring out of the Spirit on the body.

And what of Aaron's Head/Beard? Augustine, when commenting on Psalm 133 says this:
"...As the ointment on the head, which descended to the beard, to Aaron's beard, which descended to the fringe of his garment" Psalm 132:2. What was Aaron? A priest. Who is a priest, except that one Priest, who entered into the Holy of Holies? Who is that priest, save Him, who was at once Victim and Priest? save Him who when he found nothing clean in the world to offer, offered Himself? The ointment is on his head, because Christ is one whole with the Church, but the ointment comes from the head. Our Head is Christ crucified and buried; He rose again, and ascended into heaven; and the Holy Spirit came from the head..."
Now check this out...
What is the "Dew of Hermon"? To understand this, we need to understand some info about Mount Hermon:

  • At 9,200 feet above sea level, Mount Hermon is the highest mountain in Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.
  • The mountain is actually a cluster of mountains with three distinct summits (that's pretty trinitarian, eh?) , each about the same height. This cluster, the Anti-Lebanon Range, extends for approximately twenty miles in a northeast to southwest direction, running parallel to the Lebanon range on the west.
  • Runoff from the snow-covered mountain’s western and southern bases feeds several streams and rivers. These merge to become the Jordan River. Additionally, the runoff facilitates fertile plant life below the snow line, where vineyards and pine, oak, and poplar trees are abundant.
  • Mount Hermon is called the "gray-haired mountain," or the "mountain of snow," because of the covering of snow, which is present on it most of the year.
Wooah! The Dew of Hermon is the source of the Jordan River! To an Israelite, the Jordan River is the source of fertility for the entire country. This is a big deal!

I am not saying that Unity is the Jordan River. I think unity represents the idea of "several streams" and rivers that converge to channel the water flowing from the three peaks of Mount Hermon down to the Jordan River! When we understand our place under Christ's headship, we align ourselves to be channels of blessing to the whole world.

When believers live together in unity - the water that runs off the mountain (the three peaks!) becomes the source of life for all that need water. There's some rich significance here. Compare this to scriptures that speak of "living waters" and "deep fountains".

I have to confess, I have much more to think about regarding Psalm 133. Regardless, I am convinced that unity (in Christ) is something that by God's grace we MUST live in.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bullhorn - Yeah or Nay?

Take a few minutes to watch these videos regarding evangelism, then come back for some thoughts:

Rob Bell - Bullhorn Guy Part #1

Rob Bell - BullHorn Guy Part #2

Todd Friel - Response Part #1

Todd Friel - Response Part #2

The above videos are just one example of a larger "conversation" (often more of an argument really) going on in the world regarding God's disposition towards the lost and how should we relate to them. Should we tell people their headed for hell in a hand basket - or that God loves them just the way they are? Which is it?

Perhaps neither approach is correct in and of itself. Yes, God's wrath is on the unsaved. That's clearly understood from scripture and a terrible reality. God's love for the lost is also evident - had it not been, he would have never implemented a plan to sacrifice his only son (Jn 3:16) on their behalf. God can perfectly love and hate those who are lost.

What really troubles me is that the focus of "Evangelism" has been solely rescue from hell and destruction. Don't get me wrong, that is most assuredly a result of redemption - but is it the point? Remember, God created mankind in order to enjoy relationship with him forever! The New Testament calls believers to the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 cor 5:18) - the emphasis being on seeing people reconciled (ie. "brought back together") with God through Jesus Christ (Is. 58-61, Lk 4). As a result, God's wrath is no longer on them, and they don't need to spend eternity separated from God. .

When we simply stand outside and tell people "you suck - God hates you - you're headed for hell!", is that really what reconciling looks like? Would you seek to restore a sibling to your own father by calling them up and screaming "Dad hates you, you'll never see him unless you change!" Is it true? Yes, but just because something is true, doesn't make communicating that truth without love an okay proposition.

On the flip side, we must be sensitive, but courageous and firm in helping the lost see their brokenness if they desire to be reconciled to God (Jn 3:36). There's plenty of loving ways to do this without a bull horn - which is the point I believe Rob Bell is making in the above videos.

So how then should we witness? I propose by the Spirit of God - using the law as often as necessary, but with the right purpose in mind. The law, according to scripture, is just if one uses it justly...

"Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don't understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on. Now we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately. We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me." - 1 Tim 1.5-11

The law is much like an X-Ray machine. It reveals brokenness, but is powerless to fix it, or like a mirror that can show us our dirt and grime, but itself cannot remove it. Therefore, the right purpose of the law is to show us that we need cleansing. Some people need X-rays to prove to them that they're broken. Others no it the moment they come to the ER! As ministers of reconciliation, we need to be attuned to the Holy Spirit to know what's necessary in dealing with others to bring them along in the process. Love is never optional in this process (1 Cor. 13:1)!

With that in mind, we need to respect that fact that God has gifted the saints differently with various gifts, styles, and yes, even methods. Perhaps if we stop trying to prove everyone else a heretic and ourselves a hero, and follow Christ's command that we love on another, we can spend less time arguing about bull horns and more time reconciling!


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why the hostility?

Recently, a friend invited me to join him and a few other friends to meet weekly to discuss the "state of The Church" in our county. In a nutshell, we're each wanting to see The Church grow in our county. I don't mean church attendance, or more religious people - but new people relating to God through the sacrifice of his son Jesus.

One of the things we've been discussing is a desire to see the local church assemble together to worship, relate to one another, and also to strive together to permeate our area with the pleasant aroma of Jesus. You would think this should be something people want to do, but actually, many people don't get excited at the idea of being in unity!

We've discussed all sorts of reasons why people don't want to come together in the above manner. But I want to hear from others too. What are some reasons you think people/local churches aren't interested in coming together?

Please post your ideas or comments! I'd live to hear them.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What'd you expect?

I recently finished reading "The Shack", a very popular work of fiction which I really enjoyed. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to read it for a few reasons; First, I have young children, and the knew a little of the storyline and that it might bring to my imagination things I'd rather not imagine happening to them. Second, I don't usually like "fad" books - particularly when they're faith-oriented.

Despite the above I decided to give it a go! Boy, am I glad that I did. Many people have reported having a profoundly new perspective on God after reading this book. That's great, but that's not what I got out of it. I really latched on to something else... "expectations".

At one point In the story, "Mack", the main character converses with God who goes on to tell him that He has no expectations for Mack. This is profoundly difficult for Mack to get a hold of because of his history of viewing God as this sort of force full of expectations for Mack that he could never meet. God goes on to explain to Mack that people have expectations because people have desires for an outcome in the future over which they have no control or foresight. Because God knows the future, and is sovereign over the outcome of our lives, he has no need of expectations - in fact cannot have them! For God to have expectations, he'd have to 1) not know the outcome of all things in advance and 2) have no control over the future.

God then goes on to explain to Mack how expectations are law, and that the basis of relationship with God is expectancy. Big difference! The former locks us up in fear of failure, the later frees us to enjoy relationship! Wow! The law could be defined as a list of expectations and consequences when those expectations are not met, right? Expectations are a form of law!

The author (and myself) is not saying that those in relationship with God can just spend their life doing any old worthless thing. That would be contrary to the overall teaching of Scripture, and inconsistent with new spiritual life. The born again believer acts not because of expectations of God (ie duty, responsibility), but out love, gratitude, and joy in their relationship with Jesus.

It occurred to me how often my relationships are taxed or even ruined because either myself or the other moves from a place of expectancy to expectations. You know how this goes. You enjoy someone's company for a while, then you get to a place where you let them down, or they let you down. It's hard to recover from those events sometimes. "Let down" = "failed expectation(s)".

Many relationships fail because we expect something of the other, then abandon the relationship when the other fails to meet those expectations.

So aside from being challenged to understand and walk in the truth that God doesn't have expectations for me, I've also been challenged lately to release others from my expectations and enjoy the expectancy of relating to them. (ie. "What will happen next time we're together?") Isn't that the basis of any love-based relationship?

I hope to follow this up with some thoughts on how expectations produce soul-killing traditions which destroy organic community in Jesus. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Daily Bread: John 14:12-13

"I assure you: The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
John 14:12-13

I have to admit, I find these verses personally troubling. No doubt, they are true and good, yet I am personally challenged in reading them. Why? Because it would seem to me that as a follower of Jesus, I ought to be seeing myself (and other followers) doing the works Jesus did, and even greater works! All we should have to do after all is ask Jesus in his "name" - which I understand as being "in his will".

So how come I don't see this sort of thing happening? I wrestle with many possible answers. Here are some of the possibilities I tend to mull over.

1. I don't really know Jesus. Scary proposition! I do believe I know him though, and that's what makes these verses so troubling and hard to understand. I do seek Jesus, I do knock, ask, etc. If I don't know him, then there must some personal merit in addition to faith that is required to relate to God through Jesus. That would violate the very message of Jesus and the scriptures as a whole.

2. Perhaps what Jesus considers greater works are not works that we readily see or acknowledge in our personal lives, rather a collective work of his body on earth?

3. Perhaps these "greater works" are yet future (in my life at least)?

4. Perhaps I am not doing greater works because I am not asking "in His name" - that is, according to a relationship with the Father as Jesus had?

5. ????

At the moment, I am most inclined to understand these verses in light of option #4 above. One central theme I see in John is that Jesus was totally dependent on the Father for everything and did nothing by his own personal initiative. For example, John 14:10b says

"...The words I speak to you I do not speak to you on My own. The Father who lives in Me does His works."

The works of Jesus then are rooted and sourced in His Father. That means that Jesus would only seek to do what He knew the Father was seeking to do. He knew what His Father was doing because of the kind of relationship He had with His Father - one of total dependence. I believe this truth is core to the Christian Life - that everything is sourced in God! We were created to be totally and continually dependent on God. After all, He is the source of Life! To be disconnected from that source results in death (ie. The Garden of Eden)!

Perhaps my problem is that I am not relating to the Father in the same way, with a will ONLY to do what He's doing? That being the case, if I were doing only what I saw the Father doing, maybe I'd be part of doing greater works?

Lord, please help me understand and experience the truths of these scriptures!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Daily Bread: Psalm 90:14-17 (HCSB)

Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love
so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days.

Make us rejoice for as many days as You have humbled us,
for as many years as we have seen adversity.

Let Your work be seen by Your servants,
and Your splendor by their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us;
establish for us the work of our hands - establish the work of our hands!
Psalm 90:14-17

I really dig these verses. There are so many cool ideas here. The idea of starting the day my being satisified by God's faithful love. The author rightly sees the relationship between finding satisfaction in God as the basis for being able to live a life of joy and gladness. Our days need to start with worship, then continue with worship throughougt. I don't mean singing per se', but setting the compass of our hearts towards the "true north" of Jesus.

I like how the psalmist goes on to ask God "give us as many good days and experiences as we've had bad days and experiences". It's like "God, we've had a lot of hardship, and we want to see your splendor for as many days as we've seen grief". Who cannot relate to that? I've had an easy life compared to many, yet I've still seen a lot of grief, frustration, etc. It would be fantastic to experience a measure of God that were the same amount - and it WILL be.

Finally, as one who is, and continues to struggle with "Lord, what would you have me to do with my brief life", I love "establish the work of our hands - establish the work of our hands". Man, I just want to do what God has for me - to see Jesus lifted up. I long for God to turn this from an intellectual vision to a vision lived (as I am reading in Richard Showalter's book - see book notes).

Book Notes: On the Way with Jesus - A Passion for Mission - Part 1

Author: Richard Showalter

I admit it, I am an underliner! There, I said it, shweew! As I read, I tend to underline things that stick out to me. The problem is, I don't often recall them afterward. A friend of mine has told me how he writes things down elsewhere as they stick out to him as he reads. That excercises the brain a little differently and helps to commit them to memory, and also saves the book's value ;-). So, that's what I am going to do, only on my blog rather than a notebook.

p. 19
"The vision is for mission:
  • A mission initiated in prayer, bathed in prayer, consumated in prayer
  • A mission that responds to God's initiative and holds fast to the centrality of Jesus, the authority of Scripture, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit
  • A mission that takes seriously the judgement of Go, in the hereafter as well as the here and now
  • A mission that knows that sufering love is at the heart of the evangel and even embraces martyrdom as a way of witness
  • A mission that forsakes the deed/word polarities found amoung too many Christians and rather is caught up in a New Testament worldview that does not recognize such a distinction
  • A mission that does not focus on success and failure in terms of numbers, of worldwide denominational linkages, or of tradition
  • A mission that that is focused on the formation and nurture of new faith communities centered on Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and radical in obedience
  • A mission that depends on the power of the Holy Spirit
  • ..."

p. 21
"Yet in the end, vision alone is not the answer... It is easy to drift into thinking that a vision held intillectually is equivalent to a vision lived, that a vision stated is a vision realized. Perhaps that's why Jesus said so much about obedience." - Ouch!

p. 23
"Passion for Jesus expresses itself inevitably in compassion for the world. True compassion, of course, has little to do with merely getting enough material wealth to share with others. Of course, we'll share what we have of that. Instead, true compassion has everything to do with having Jesus' heart for the world.

After that, our hearts and our lives, all that we have and all that we are, are broken like break for those who hunger. They too will see and feast and live."

"Finally, let's fling ourselves at the feet of Jesus in the true communion and discipleship in our generation, abandoning oursleves once again to the Lord who bought us. Tbhere's no greater privilege, no nobler passion."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

All is not opposites

I've been thinking lately how bizarre it is that people (myself included) are so polarized in their thinking on so many issues. It's as if we only see the world in pairs of opposites.

For as long as I've been around evangelicals in particular, it seems like most "believers" will only ever acknowledge two "positions" on many issues. Here's a few examples:

  • Republican or Democrat
  • Calvinist or Armenian
  • Old or New Testament
  • Legalistic or Licentious
  • Covenant or Dispensational
  • Liberal or Conservative
  • And the list goes on!
Why is it that we are so polarized in our view of life that we must lump all people into groups at the outer edges of every issue of life, as if all people are either/or and never something else? This is very apparent to me as I look at blog posts and the follow-up comments. Often I see this "oh, you don't agree with my position, you're one of those..." types of comments. I've witnessed this person more times than I would like too!

That's one of the things I love about Jesus. He's so anti-stereotype. No one could look at him and say, "oh, I've seen this before, that's such and such...". Jesus is totally unpredictable - he's ... WILD!

And so, if we bear the name of "Christian" (lit. Little Christ), shouldn't we posses the same characteristics of being anti-stereotypical and completely non-categorical? Maybe if we focused less on trying to pigeon-hole one another into the black and white buckets we put one another into, we'd have more time and freedom for Jesus to produce his wild life in us!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Syncretism: "Democrianity" - The Religion of America

Many years ago, I had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of a wise, experienced missionary who had seen the Lord use him and his family to bring the gospel to another culture and witnessed the birth of the Church in the people group he worked with.

One of the main issues this sage spoke of was that of "syncretism" which is "A blending of religious beliefs and practices from the cultural context..." or "...the interworking of two or more cultural perspectives into one system."

In this gentleman's experience, this issue of syncretism was one of the more daunting challenges to planting strong churches in this foreign land. You see, the people had a tendency (as do all people it turns out) to combine the new information they were learning about Jesus with their existing, animistic beliefs, with some scattered religious ideas left over from past missionaries also thrown in here and there. His ultimate conclusion? The Gospel Message and the truths of scripture must replace the existing beliefs of the culture or they will result in a new, albeit counter-biblical or extra-biblical worldview.

Since those days, I have come to see some of my own syncretistic tendencies in how I think, etc. Over many years, and continuing to this day I've been challenged to answer the question "What about what I believe is really from a scriptural worldview?" Turns out, much of what I had been taught and always believed was from American culture and NOT from the culture of the Holy Spirit of God as I see in scripture.

This is where some might find my comments to be offensive.

As the scales continue to fall off, it's becoming apparent to me that "Christians" in this country have syncretised the gospel message with the social, political and even religious values and ideals that have existed in America since it's birth as a nation. Since this is not biblical "Christianity" as described in the book of Acts, I find myself calling this combination of belief systems "Democrianity". I choose this word because "democracy" is just one of those values that many in this country hold in as much esteem as faith in Jesus.

I need to be careful here to say that I don't necessarily find some of these American ideals and values to be particularly troublesome or ungodly, however, when mixed with the scriptural message of redemption - a message that transcends all generations and all cultures - a dangerous new mix emerges.

I think it's safe to say that a growing number of Americans are rejecting what they perceive to be "Christianity" because they're finding it to be so desperately lacking in real spiritual value. They should be! What we've seen lived out before us is not the life of Christ described in the scriptures, but an amalgamation of biblical ethics, political ideals, and ethno-centric beliefs that ultimately emasculate the scriptural message of redemption and wreak havoc on the witness of the Church! That's not to mention the sheer propaganda that is hurled at the American public for the sake of getting support for actions that stand totally opposed to the character of Christ.

I've got a lot to say about this topic, so my next several blogs will be devoted to fleshing out some of the myriad ways I see this syncretism occurring right before our eyes. Stay tuned! In the meantime, seek the Lord about what beliefs you might have "merged" with the gospel message!


The Idolatry of Scripture?

A facebook friend, David Flowers, posted a comment on his profile that he'd be blogging about a matter that he "believes many Christians are "Bible-centered" instead of Christ-centered".

Many would find this abrasive and downright heretical. Is it really, or is it possible that we've been so trained in the ways of religious thinking that we don't hear what people like David Flowers are saying?

I agree with David's observation. I think this has been a problem since forever. The Scribes and Pharisees (the "professionals" and "clergy" of Jesus day) were chiefly guilty of this. They certainly revered the Scriptures more than anyone else, yet they missed the revelation of the person of God in Jesus Christ. Did they lack willingness or zeal? Did they simply ignore certain parts of scripture? Perhaps they just hadn't read Isaiah? No! They were experts in ALL the scriptures. They revered it more than anyone else - even refusing to say or write the name of God out of reverence. Understand that these guys had ALL the the scriptures of their time memorized!

I think many today, through ignorance and the semantics of the English language have come to believe that the "Word" in John 1.1 is the scripture. It's not, the "Word" in John 1.1 is Jesus!

The "Word" (gk. logos) in John 1.1 could be understood as God's "communication" to man. The scriptures are very clear here that Jesus (not the scriptures) are the essence of God's revelation of himself to mankind. Of course, scriptures too reveal God to man, but when God wanted to "encapsulate" Himself in a form we could understand and relate to, he chose the person of Jesus Christ.

Herein is the rub that I think guys like David Flowers have picked up on. Many seem to have missed this and are acting as if God's Logos is the scripture. To say so is NOT to dismiss the revelation that is in Scripture. But by itself (as many have pointed out in the comments to David's comment) is not sufficient for relating to God. Once cannot achieve eternal life from reading/knowing the scriptures alone. Why?! Because they reveal man's need to be restored to relationship to God, and further, God's single means of providing that relationship - Jesus Christ!

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God. Yes! Agreed! Amen! However, the scriptures do not create a relationship with God, they only reveal how to have one through the single means God provided for relating to himself - Jesus the Christ.

Therefore, it can be said that we cannot relate to God outside of the Jesus Christ AS revealed in Scripture. However, it IS possible to know, love, and even idolize the scripture, but not have relationship. That's Bible-centeredness! That's "having a form of godliness but denying it's power".

Relationship with Jesus -- Scriptures = Unfruitful Life
Relationship with Jesus + word of God = Eternal Life.
Scriptire w/o Relationship with Jesus = Empty Religion.

A few disclaimers:
1. I believe that all scripture is God-breathed and inspired by God.
2. I don't believe that one can have Jesus, but reject the scriptures.
3. I believe that Jesus is the ONLY way to relate to God and have eternal, abundant life. This message is contained in scripture, the hearing of which must be united with faith in our hearts, confession with our mouths, and entering into relationship with Christ on the basis of his finished work on our behalf at Calvary.
4. I LOVE the scriptures, because they reveal the God that I am in relationship with.