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Archive for January, 2010

Deconstructing Church (pt 1)

In my quest to find, “What is Church”, I have found that I have had to de-construct everything I thought I knew about Church. As I have looked to the Biblical blueprint for church and how we are to participate in church function I find the American Church model is woefully off track and has very little resemblance to the Church found in Scripture. (I know, that statement was a little “churchy”.) From the Brick and Mortar edifices that we have constructed, to the services, the lectures, the one man focus, the passive pew occupation, the authoritarian offices that man has imposed on the flock of God… every aspect of ‘church’ we see in America today is more traditionalism than it is biblical.

Let’s begin by looking at the “How we do Church” model. I realize that one of the most effective ways to teach a group is in using the lecture style, “I teach, You listen.” Massive amounts of information can be transmitted to the greatest number of people using this method. And there is a place for such teaching/learning. What has taken place in the American church is this has become the exclusive method for a “pastor” to use. This method has helped create a caste system in the body of Christ where it is no longer a gathering of equals but has become a showcase for the “anointed” (I have heard pastors referred to as “God’s anointed” and called “the man of God.” I will address this a little later) to stand, perform and be over other believers. Total control is placed in the person behind the lectern. There is no place for Hebrews 3:13, or Hebrews 10:23-25, or 1 Peter 4:9-11 in the “service” of the lecture ready congregation. Then somewhere along the way we have held the Epistles of Timothy and Titus apart as though the Scripture in these passages are only for the “anointed” or the “spiritual” or the “called…man of god” as if the teaching of these Epistles somehow created a special office, and a special class of Christian believer who is above all others. Mark 10:42-44, “But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.”

 At this point many will be ready to hammer me with Ephesians 4: 11, and if Ephesians 4:11 was a stand alone thought I would say, “Okay, you’re right” but it is not the main emphasis of that passage. The emphasis of that passage is not that Jesus Christ gave “some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,” to be offices of the church. No! He gave these as functions of the church in order to equip the body for service; “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Even the King James Version says, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:”. The “ministry” is not the functions given, but what each and every believer is to be engaged in and to be equipped to do. The function of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor/teacher is to equip the body of believers to minister the Gospel of Christ to a lost and dying world.      (more…)

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What is Church?

I have been struggling with this issue for several months now. Our congregation is currently without a Pastor (or Preaching elder) and one candidate we interviewed asked us, “Why do you exist, or why should the doors remain open at your building and not merge with another Bible-believing church?” That really started me to thinking and the only answer I could come up with, is, “If all we are, and are going to be, is another Independent Baptist Church in a sea already polluted with Independent Baptist Churches then we have no purpose and I cannot find justification for our continued existence.” I have wrestled with that question long and hard which naturally led me to the other question you have to ask, “What then IS Church?”

I know more about what it is ‘not’ right now, than what it is. It is not the bunker where “Christians” gather in order to “be ye separate” nor is it a place where we invite ‘sinners’ in so that that they might get under the “sound of the gospel” preached by the “man of God.”

First: The assembly of the saints of God is for their edification, exhortation, and a time to be built up in the faith through the word, fellowship and most of all worship of the one who is worthy, our Lord God Jesus Christ and God the Father thru whom, in whom and by whom all things exist. (a bit preachy but true). The Assembly is not to be made into the primary source of evangelism that it has become in so many American “Churches”.

Second: The “sound of the gospel” is such a cop-out. That is the mantra of lazy so-called Christians who have thrown off their primary roll as priests and ambassadors. Each and every one of us who name the name of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour are called to be witnesses and be ready to give to anyone who asks us, reason for the hope that is within us. To drag a lost person to “Church” so that they get under the “sound of the gospel” is nothing less than Roman Catholicism re-dressed in some other denominational camouflage. Every believer should be able to tell anyone who asks what we believe, why we believe it and tell what Jesus Christ had done for us. (Nowhere in scripture does it say we have to be “deal closers” as if we are part of some divine marketing campaign.)

Third: there is the whole “man of God” issue. Last time I checked everyone who is Born again is a Child of God and that makes us, men and women of God. The very idea of Clergy and Laity came out of Ignatius, Irenaeus, Cyprian, and Augustinian teachings that created the whole “Christian” class/ caste system.

I recently read, Jim Petersen’s “Church Without Walls.” there is much I learned in this book about what Church ought to be.  There is so much more that I will have to read, research and pray about but I know for myself I have already jettisoned the normal version of the American church, along with most of the pop-dispensationalism that comes with it. I have come to the conclusion that the pre-mil/pre-trib rapture theory is deadly to the health of a church, because it soon settles for becoming a bunker where everyone is content to merely “occupy” until Jesus comes. And then every disaster and calamity that makes the news is heralded as “you know we are living in the end days” and “it can’t be long now…” and many churches climb in the bunker and close the hatch… then the world around us no longer sees a people of God who have good news… but members of an increasingly irrelevant sub-culture.

The answer is out there…  so on I go…

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Independent, Fundamental, Baptist …..bunker-ism

For some time now I have been wrestling with several issues that are “Church” related and I have finally come to a few conclusions about where I stand on them.  Not long ago I asked everyone to comment on the words I posted: Independent, Fundamental, Baptist, and some others.  The answers I got back were about what I had expected.  Mostly negative.   My own thoughts on those terms and definitions were about the same.  The original definitions were not what they mean today.  I could mostly agree with R.A.Torrey and those old-timers on how they defined the terms back then, but what the movement has become today is poison to the soul.  The Independent, Fundamental Baptist has become synonymous with spiritual tyranny, and modern Pharisee-ism.  If you don’t look like us, walk like us, talk like us, listen to the same music we do, cut you hair like we do, believe in the end times like we do, and believe that the 1611 King James Bible is the only English version, and the only true version of the Bible… then you cannot be ‘right with God.’  To all this I say, “Horse feathers!” 

     Recently we had a group in at ‘church’ that showed us a glimpse of how “Church” ought to be.  There was praise music and hymns, which truly prepared our hearts for worship.  There was Scripture reading that pointed our minds in the direction of the message to come so that by the time we arrived at the message we were ready for the word of God.  The Exposition of God’s word was like going to Golden Corral after rooting around in Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard!

      The only thing that would have made it better would have been if the Scripture had been ESV, NKJV, or NASB.  The strict adherence to KJV, even if only to say it is the ‘preferred” version is to leave an anchor smack dab in the middle of the IFB harbor.   (Don’t get me wrong; I believe that the KJV is a beautiful English Translation of the Scriptures.  I grew up on the KJV but dogmatic adherence to the KJV is an unnecessary restriction of the Gospel message.)  It is not the KJV version I have issue with, it is the ignorant, militant, arrogance with which the KJV camp declares you cannot be “right with God” unless you only preach out of the KJV. Here is a link to a prime example of ignorant, militant, arrogant, anti-intellectualism:   http://amazinggracebaptistchurchkjv.com/Download99.html

Once you start down that slippery slope of legalism this is where you end up.  So, we need to get over our cultic adherence to the KJV as some, “you can’t be right with God unless you only use this bible,” standard.  Too many are making a Bible version out to be essential doctrine…  Again, to this I say, “Horse feathers!” Get over it.  I do agree with John Piper, make sure the Bible you use has all the words in it… so preach from a word-for-word translation not a thought-for-thought.  (But even then, to say one can’t be saved by reading God’s word as found in the NIV and others is poppycock! “Horse feathers” to that as well.)  God has used his word in many different translations to bring men, women and children from all tribes and tongues to repentance and saving Grace.

     Now most of this note has been to make a stand against the movement known as Independent, Fundamental Baptist. ” Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”  Luther said these words as he stood against what he knew to be error in doctrine and practice in the Church of his day.  I feel the same way regarding the way church is practiced in the IFB world.  The IFB model says anyone can preach so long as they “say” they are called to be a preacher; then go on to make  a major emphasis on the difference in the “pew” Christian and the full-time “man of God.”   There is a mystical veneration that is shown toward the “man of God” aka “God’s anointed“(Read Ephesians 4:8-16, the emphasis is not on the ‘gifts’ but on why the gifts were given and what they are to be used for) …and all the congregation is to be in submission to this super saint.  (horse feathers)

      Ok, let’s unpack all that.  For the most part the little Independent Baptist churches have a pastor that is usually, not formally trained in any of the disciplines (literature, language, grammar, leadership, logic or philosophy) that one would associate with the gifts of teaching. If they are trained it is at an IFB college where they are trained in the IFB way.  This model perpetuates an anti-intellectual mindset that is killing Christianity. All they  really require is the calling to “full-time” service.  (“Full-time service” in the IFB model means preaching is one’s chosen or ‘called to’ vocation.  i.e. a full time paycheck.) Last time I checked every believer is called to “full-time” Christian service. 

Which brings us to the IFB “man of God” myth.  Last time I checked if you are a born again Child of God then you are a “man (or woman) of God.”  The IFB Model creates a Christian Caste system where there are different classes of Christians.  Basically it is the IFB version of Roman Catholicism, only the pope is localized -vs.- the centralized version found in RC.  The Biblical model is that God has, “…gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Ephesians 4:11-14    Nowhere in the Scripture do we find some mystical anointing that creates a special Christian “Priesthood” apart from the general Ambassadorship and Priesthood all redeemed Saints of God are called to.  According to Scripture, all we who believe are Priests and Ambassadors of and for our God and His kingdom.  Some are gifted to be able to preach/teach, and some to sing, and some to help, and some to administrate but all to minister! 

What IFB bunker-ism leaves us with is a “one-man rule” model;  where the “anointed one of God” is not to be questioned (especially not from the congregation, ie.”Touch not god’s self anointed”).  Much like the Charismatics, while the “man of God” is behind the “sacred desk” his words are “God breathed.”  This in turn either leads to the “man of God” becoming a tyrant without accountability to anyone but God… or it leads to a power struggle in the church.  I have seen both.  Usually this leads to a split and more often than not those who leave will toss a rock down the street and wherever it lands… they start a new IFB Church (instead of finding an existing Church family to plug into.)   The biblical model for church rule is in multiple elders who have the gifts to lead, preach/teach (the pastor is required to be gifted to both proclaim and explain) and shepherd the congregation.  No one man should ever have the absolute power in a church… that leads to guys wearing sunglasses preparing you some special kool-aid.  It is the breeding ground for cult like practices that are killing Christianity in America. (Think Jimmy Swaggert, Ted Haggard, Jim Baker, Jack Hyles

So, having said all that, “what do I now do?”  I know that I am going to make a stand to purge all IFB practices my family is exposed to, wherever I find them.   I want to see radical Biblical Christianity in practice.  It is not to be found in the experiential form of church that is the mainstay of the IFB movement.  That is, where the people are looking for someone to preach ‘hard‘ to them, and step on their toes.  (In the IFB world this is the manifestation of “good” preaching, having one’s toes stepped on.)  Such experiential “churchanity” allows the hearer to rely solely on the experience and not have to read the Word of God and think about the word of God.  It is the ability to warm the pew, have the message spoon or bottle-fed to you, get burped and have a warm fuzzy about having gone to church that week.  The experiential ‘churchanity’ undermines the “Sufficiency of God’s Word.” 

I want to have to stretch for the message… I want to have to reach up and grasp the fruit of truth, not have it pre-chewed and regurgitated on me.  So, I am drawing a line in the sand and like Luther here I stand.  My family and I choose to follow the path of the Reformed Theology first, and then Baptist if it is available as reformed.  Sola scriptura – Sola fide – Sola gratia – Solo Christo – Soli Deo gloria

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