What is the Point of “The Church”?

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Scripture, when looked at with a logically open mind and spiritually open heart defines “the church” as being created by God Himself.  What, then, is the church?  The Greek word for the church is “Ekklesia”, “Ek” meaning “out of” and “lesia” meaning “to be called.  So the church is called to be a separate people.  Much like Old Testament Israel the church is by definition the people of God.  As Paul said to both Roman pagans and Jews who had put trust in Jesus Christ as their risen Messiah, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.  Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:15-16 NIV)  He was talking of people of a Jewish background, the Judaizers, who wanted to circumcise Gentiles who were accepting Christ.  Paul told them that it was not these outward signs of religious affiliation, or works, which made one righteous in God’s sight, but it was merely the sacrifice of Christ that covered the sins of any who would be called to Him and accept Him.

The church exists to glorify, honor and extol God.  The church exists to enjoy the presence of and worship of God forever.  Ephesians 1:12 states that the church exists in order that we, who (have) put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  It’s incredible to understand that Jesus came on a mission from God to gather people to Himself.  It would be easy for God to force His glory upon all creation, but He wished instead to gather representatives.  He wished instead to have His perfect love, mercy, truth, integrity, holiness, passion, grace, and peace shine through imperfect vessels which were birthed in His imagination before the beginning of time.  We are His representatives, those who are the church, the people of God.

We as the people of God are supposed to live in love and unity with each other.  Unity though we are a great diversity of all peoples, different backgrounds, issues, struggles, colors of skin, socio-economic statuses and biases.  Romans 15:5-6 says it this way, that the God who gives endurance and encouragement (wants to) give (us) the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice (we) may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It doesn’t matter if we have a republican or democratic disposition.  It doesn’t matter if we grew up in a tribe in the African Desert or are a CEO who lives in a mansion.  It doesn’t matter what sexual, addictive, or psychological struggles we’ve had or will have within us.  The call is the same for all, to lay this plethora of identity at the ground below the cross, and let the shed blood of Jesus wash over it and transform it into what God will have it be.  This is why we as followers of Jesus share such a beautiful affection for each other, because Jesus and the Word of God cause us to have a transcendental love abound within us.  We really ought to be the only society in the world that is truly able to unite all individuals under one King.  This King is unseen for the time being, but will return on the clouds with fire.  The new Jerusalem will be the only true utopia, beyond the ideal aims of communism, capitalism, or any other system that aimed at creating a consummate existence.  All who dwell there will live in love and peace forever under the Kingship of the only perfect King Jesus.

We are all called to be examples of this light of love we live in to each other and the watching world.  1 Peter 2:9 says that (we) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that (we) may declare the praises of him who called (us) out of darkness into His wonderful light.  We have a duty to each other and the world to make these glories known.  We all have a part in this whether we are scrubbing toilets, making music, running a business, flipping burgers, telling jokes, serving food, leading in a church, serving on a mission field, or giving our lives for the gospel. A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, emphasized this concept and mission on his last speaking tour in 1917.  In this he said that “the primary objective of the Alliance Movement was the salvation of souls and the reaching of the neglected classes from whom the conventional methods of modern churches were steadily creating a distressing gulf of cleavage and separation.”[i]  This is our function as priests of Christ on this earth- to overflow with constant, consistent, joyful truth, love purity and righteousness for all the world to see.

The thing that may be the most striking is that our purpose on this earth will not change in eternity!  Revelation 7:9-12 talks of a day in the future when people of all nations will be gathered together to live in, labor and love within the Kingdom of eternal heaven, and they will worship in love, spirit and truth forever and ever.  When Jesus talked of the Father’s will being done “on earth, as it is in heaven”, in one sense He meant that we would get a taste of eternity in this life, and be able to live out a heavenly existence as aliens and misfits amidst the violent darkness of our world.

The mission of the church has been dictated clearly by Jesus Christ Himself.  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)  In this light, the church does not exist for it’s own self-gratification.  It exists to bring Jesus to those who haven’t known Him before, or don’t see clearly because of a plethora of false images of Him broadcasted in their mind.  Some supporters of hyper-predestination could argue that Jesus can and will reveal Himself to whoever He wishes.  Yet Matthew 28:19-20 shows that Jesus wanted us to go to all people, teaching them and baptizing them in His name.  He could reveal Himself however He wanted to, and He chose to do so primarily through us, His people.  We are not to seek to make converts, but rather to make disciples.  This is something a tricky marketing scheme will not accomplish.  It is rather the life on life mentoring of someone.  It is walking into the murky dirt of someone’s life, and showing them how to walk, talk, live, and love like Jesus.  We can offer the call of discipleship to those that completely don’t know Jesus, and also to those that do.  This is our mission that we are to live out all of our days.  It is a worthy, worthwhile mission.

Our relationship to Jesus Christ is one of dual nature.  We are not merely His servants and we are not merely His friends, but because we are His friends we become His servants.  This gives us great worth in the eyes of God and understanding of our own state of being.  Christ is the head of the church.  The church is Christ’s body on earth. Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12)  We are to be unified chiefly by the mission stated before- to make disciples and proclaim Christ to all.  Any Christian can do this.  We don’t need to have inordinate skill or unusual abilities to make disciples.  We don’t need to be a successful pastor or a charismatic leader to make disciples.  We don’t need to be great communicators or innovative thinkers to make disciples.  That’s why Jesus says every Christian must do this.[ii]  We are a diversity of people with varied strengths and weaknesses, and our leaning upon each other allows us to collectively manifest the fullness of Christ to the watching world.

We are also the beloved of Christ.  Scripture uses the image of a bride to describe Christ’s relationship to us.  In the New Jerusalem, the church, or those who belong truly to Christ are described as a Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Rev. 21:2)  As cliché as it sounds, it is a true truth that Jesus simply loves us.  He gave Himself up for us and desires an intimate relationship with us.  Some have gone as far as to say that the sexual metaphors within the Song of Solomon where the husband speaks to his wife are akin to the way Jesus feels about His church.  This may be a stretch, but the level of deep intimacy, romance and devotion are all there within this line of thinking.  Jesus truly loves and longs for us in a way that we could never mimic without the power of His working in us.

There are not only greatly high qualifications for becoming a leader within the church (1 Tim. 3:1-7), but there are also qualifications for those who would submit under the leadership of the church.  This is a synchronistic relationship.  If the leaders are honoring the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, then we can “have confidence in them and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over us as those who must give an account. We are to do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to us.” (Heb. 13:17)  Pastors, elders and deacons are firstly to submit to Christ Himself and the pure, holy Word of God.  But also, they are to submit to other godly, qualified people.  There is no man or woman who has walked this earth who is completely above reproach, except Christ Himself, the perfect, sinless Son of God.  Those under the leadership of pastors and elders are to submit to their leadership, and trust that the Lord has put them there.  If a leader errs, anyone has the right to bring gentle correction if it is grounded in the scripture and not mere opinion.  So ultimately, leaders are to be teachable to all.  Yet still, “congregants” are to trust those who lead them, pray for them, and encourage them.

At times, pastoral leaders must make difficult decisions that will not bring the entire favor of all people upon them.  But they must seek the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength through prayer, and allow the Lord to lead them.  It is easy as a leader to be led with a hook in the nostrils by those who complain, grumble and fuss.  Like Moses, men of God need to be strong and courageous, able to stick up for and graciously defend the Word of God to any and everyone.

This is what the scriptures say about the church.  If we live out what they say by faith, to the best of our ability, God will be glorified.


[i] Ed. Robert Niklaus, John Sawin & Samuel J. Stoesz, All for Jesus:  God at Work in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Over One Hundred Years, 133

[ii] Platt, David Radical, 90

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Beyond Isolation and Confusion…

ghost god (pike and 12th)

ghost god (pike and 12th) (Photo credit: Dylan)

 

We live in a culture full of varied, multiple, and confusing entities.  Influenced by the pantheistic and pan-entheistic worldviews of the likes of Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists, we see all things as spiritual.  We look upon the peripheral surface of all the religions and philosophies and conclude that there is likely something good in each one, and they all point to the same thing- that being the activation of conscience and pursuit of the good.  The free dictionary describes pluralism as, “a condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present”.  We, in America, and increasingly in metropolitan centers of the world, are a pluralist society.  Our response to this multicultural phenomenon is to make peace with it at any cost.  Webster’s Dictionary defines relativism as “a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them.”  We in our culture are generally relativists, mostly because we want to create a unity within the diversity that surrounds us.  It’s not because we are well educated on the subject of world religion and philosophy, on the contrary, we as a culture accept relativism to be a general guiding principle apart from any factual data.

We also live in a culture full of immediate gratification.  The Internet is at our fingertips, TV at the press of a button, an international marketplace a click away, and a mass saturation of marketing, an information overload.  The Switchfoot song “Lonely Nation” describes this in these words; “we are the target market, we set the corporate target, we are slaves of what we want.”  Webster’s Dictionary defines hedonism as “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life”.  The question of whether or not this pursuit of comfort, luxury and pleasure truly brings happiness is pressing.  We are a culture of mass-marketed, varied hedonism.

Possibly because of the saturation of marketing, and variance of cultural background and belief, we find ourselves to be an autonomous society.  Webster’s Dictionary defines existentialism as “a chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad”.  We in America and the existing Metropolitan First World are embodiments of existentialism, whether we are aware of it or not.  We are focused completely on the plight of our individual existence.  We ask the questions; “What will I accomplish in my life?”  “Who will I marry?”  “What is my purpose?”  “What will I drive?”  “Where will I work?” and “When will I die?”  When we see ourselves having to assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad, the result can be a profound desperation that leads to an undercover loneliness.  It is common in our culture to be absorbed within ourselves in a cocoon of our own creation, and within our free will to take on an individual identity of which we believe we have completely devised on our own.  Yet this persona leads to arcane bewilderment.

So what is the answer to all of this confusion, over-saturation, and solitary plight?  Many run to institutions as an answer.  Institutionalism is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as an “emphasis on organization (as in religion) at the expense of other factors.”  Many people ascribe to an organized belief because they find comfort in being with people of a like mind.  This type of behavior isn’t solely affiliated with large scale Self-Help seminars, cults that prey upon fragile souls, and holistic hippie communes, but Christianity in the negative institutional sense is prone to encouraging this in attendees.  Institutionalism pleas with the masses to “come, conform, and commit”.  This happens often when one places the value of a human, a building, a doctrine or an idea above deity.

In contradiction to institutionalism and all these others is a concept well described by A.W. Tozer in his work “The Pursuit of God”, where he states, “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.”[i]  This profound statement denotes the depth of intimacy and relationship that can be attained in the quest towards the Lord of the Universe.  Biblical Christianity is an account of this:  Man’s quest towards the true God of love and truth.


[i] Tozer, A.W.  The Pursuit of God, 12

Worship Fads Versus Unified Worship (A Radical view of Blended Worship)

Illustration showing Dr. Harrington's 1938 Eng...

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America.  Land of fads.  We are a country that, potentially more than any other, is obsessed with trends.  We are the trend-makers of the world in many ways (apart from maybe fashion centers like Paris, France).  Just go anywhere else in the world and you’ll find people of other cultures imitating the current crazes of America.

But how do those who call themselves the church, being people who love, honor and obey Jesus Christ, respond to this strange, ever-changing reality?

One response would be to reject it altogether and label it as “worldly”.  I’ve seen churches that become this way.  Their battle-cry becomes “uphold the traditions of our elders!”  Church becomes a rote-religion filled with old hymns, fire and brimstone preaching, only one kind of scripture translation, etc.

But these churches fail in that they don’t care for those who don’t yet know Jesus.  Any significant movement of God has happened where the church engages culture on it’s territory, and translates the gospel into that culture.  Anyone who is part of a movement like this will be criticized by the “religionists” that we mentioned above.  They will condemn it like the Pharisees condemned Jesus, who although never sinned, was called a ‘glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (Matt. 11:19)

Yet then there is the other reaction to America’s faddish tendencies.  This reaction is to become obsessed with keeping up with the latest.  Music trends come and go.  Worship trends come and go.  Styles of clothes come and go.  Visual arts come and go.  One generation will desire to have a smoke machine and colored lighting, making worship like a rock concert.  The next generation will reject this consumerism for a return to simplicity and anti-materialism.  It’s impossible to keep up with the Joneses, but many churches, particularly mega ones, can fall into the trap of being “faddish”.

So what is a solution to all of this?  How can we drop the truth of the gospel like a fragrant explosion of conviction and joy in a package that is understandable to the culture we’re trying to reach, and yet still be willing to offend with the truth?

The solution I believe is simple.  We need to see to it that no one takes us captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.  (Col. 2:8)

Now I’m taking this verse out of context, because the apostle Paul was originally writing it to the Colossians about their involvement in a syncretism of pagan and Jewish mystic beliefs.  But it applies to the silly, vain pursuit of worship fads that we find ourselves in today.

The real solution to creating truly mature, spiritual worshippers is to force them out of being taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy.  Let’s think of this in the context of worship.  The philosophy of our age screams at us to “market to the up and coming generation!”  But the up and coming generation is saturated with marketing.  If they would set foot in a church they are looking for something that transcends this shallow overkill, with which they are bombarded by daily.

Who makes up the people of your church?  Do you have Baby Boomers who enjoyed synthesizers and 80’s music?  Then get someone to play synthesizer who plays in the style of the 80’s.  Do you have older people in their 70’s and 80’s that enjoy hymns?  Then have someone who plays a traditional style of hymn play in your worship band once and a while.  Do you have Gen-Xers and ex-grunge rockers who like rock and metal?  Get a guitarist in their 30’s that plays killer guitar riffs.  Do you have young punk rocker kids?  Then invite a high schooler to come and play bass with a flat pick.  Are there black people in the congregation?  Then please, throw some funk and gospel in there!  Are there people from India?  From the Middle East?  From Eastern Europe?  From China?  From Japan?  You get what I mean!  Throw it all together!

And here’s the part you won’t want to swallow- have them all play in the same band… at the same time…

I’m not fooling here.  This sounds like a foolish marketing trick, right?  You’re thinking, “This will never work!”

But the reality is, all of these people I’ve mentioned above represent the few of many different styles of worship which have existed within our very own nation.  If we were to combine the styles and languages of worship music that exist in the world, THAT would be impossible.  But we live in America, we all speak English, we can get along.

I’m proposing a new blended worship.  One that reflects the text of Revelation 15:4, which states “Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

This kind of blended worship in America will bring unity to everyone.  Music style means nothing.  14 year old punk rocker kids should be worshipping hand in hand with 72 year old women, and both should enjoy an old hymn followed by a morose rock worship tune by “the Wrecking”.  The same goes for black and white people, Asian and European, Caribbean and Siberian.  But here’s the real catch- when we have people from all different backgrounds, preferences and ages clumped together in a worship band, they will all be forced to learn from each other.  All the people in the group will have to learn from the other people’s styles and find a middle ground that will unify their sound.  It will be messy at first, though after time it will be beautiful.  It will be something that people in our culture don’t see- seemingly different people who may never get along outside of Christ learning to love and honor each other because of Christ.

And many of you will say- “sure Ben, but it will never work in MY congregation!”  My only question is, have you ever tried it?  It’s prideful for Christians to think that their preference in music is better than others, and this type of thinking will only be stamped out, and younger will be mentored by older and older will be fired up by the younger, if we annihilate cultural niches altogether.

However, as an aside, I have to honestly admit that this bizarre set of ideals won’t necessarily work in congregations that are large, and can have specialized subgroups and subcultures under the umbrella of the overarching church.  In the case of those types of churches, I would encourage specialized styles and worship cultures, but also creating avenues for people of different generations and backgrounds to get together.  What I’ve often seen in churches like this is young, Christ-following people in their twenties hanging out together, smoking, drinking and swearing, while criticizing how “uncool” most Christians are.  Then, you have the group of senior citizens who have been members at the church for decades getting together in fundamentalist niches, calling the younger people heathens.  Amongst the spiritually mature this ought not to be.

So with congregations where it is possible, unity between opposing forces ought to be sought out with constant, strategic intentionality.  It should NEVER be something that is ignored, or the church of God could potentially drown in a sea of legalism, or burn up in a fire of hedonism.

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Is it OK for Pastors to Dress in Designer Suits and Drive Luxury Cars?

WEALTH IN THE USA

WEALTH IN THE USA (Photo credit: er00mb0b)

I asked myself this question this morning because during my time in ministry, I’ve seen so many pastors, whether on TV or close proximity, that seem to parade their wealth like a badge of success.

It’s important to say that when I’m describing wealth, I realize that I, as an American, am wealthy.  My wife and I collectively make about $40,000 a year, so in a global sense, we are wealthy.  If we looked at a chart of the global distribution of wealth, we’d even realize that some who are in the lower middle class of America are wealthy in an international sense.  This chart will baffle you when you look at the wealth in America compared to other countries (reflects the statistics of the year 2000):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wdpiechartppp2000.gif.

But what are we to do as pastors in an economy that is ever changing?  Things have likely shifted since the year 2000.  There is an ever widening gap between the upper and lower class, and the middle class in some ways seems to be disappearing.  No doubt that many who attend churches are no longer well to do, but probably work multiple jobs and struggle to make ends meet.

Yet I often see pastors, and not always necessarily those that would openly advocate a “health and wealth prosperity gospel” who seem to justify that it’s ok to wear expensive clothes- expensive suits, shoes and the like.  I also see many who drive luxury cars.  I do understand the argument that these could be a better long-term investment, and save money on car repairs or replacement in the long run, but what does having a luxury car communicate to Christians who are financially struggling?  Or the bigger question:  What does it communicate to people outside of the church?  This goes as well for people with large, expensive homes, or toys, or anything.  And I write this from a MacBook Pro computer, so I’m not completely blame free on this one.

And then there’s the other side of things… is it ok to drink an occasional beer as a follower of Jesus when so many struggle with alcoholism?  Is it ok to swear and use loose language as a Christian when the whole world expects us to act differently?  Is it ok to be cynical and bitter?  Is it ok to smoke an occasional cigar?  I mention all of these things because I’ve struggled with them in the past as a younger follower of Jesus, and it took time for the Lord to change my heart in these areas.  For example, I no longer drink at all because I see it as a stumbling block to many, and I make every effort not to swear because I know it’s a poor example.  God has changed my cynicism and bitterness and allowed me to have much more peace and joy, and I don’t ever smoke cigars, not even on special occasions.  I don’t say these things to appear all holy, I say them because it took time for God to remove these smaller struggles from my life.  We all as believers are in the process of being sanctified and more fully reflecting Jesus to a watching world.

I just believe that people view materialism and consumerism in the West as “no big deal”.  In 1 Timothy 3 Elders of the church are commanded not to be “lovers of money”.  Yet the 3rd World experiences poverty that we could never imagine- not having clean drinking water, or living on a ear of corn a day.  So with that presupposition we should interpret what being a “lover of money” truly is.  We live in an age where pastors drive luxury cars and live in lavish homes with big screen TVs, and 401K’s.  They take regular trips to Barbados.  They have a large collection of new designer clothes, and they have all the latest toys- iPods, expensive computers, iPhones and iPads.  But there are families of 6 in Bulgaria that live comfortably in a 4 room apartment, and there are people in Africa who are living with families of 10 in a one room mud-hut.  Is there something wrong with this picture?  Yes there is.  We as pastors ought to live sacrificially, which in America is still a very comfortable life.  We’re afraid that if we drive a junk car people will make fun of us, we’re afraid that if we live in a smaller home people will accuse us of making our family suffer.  But we aren’t thinking biblically, we’re thinking in our American framework.  We as pastors in America shouldn’t make the excuses we do- the American church represents merely 4% of the total population of the global church!  The way we think and act is not in the majority.

And our solutions for “reaching a lost world” are often not working.  The answer isn’t to add smoke machines, better technology and music equipment, better microphones, or more polished and catchy sermons to seeker sensitive church services.  The answer is to look within our own hearts and honestly ask Jesus, “Am I living totally for You?” and “What do you want to remove from my life that is keeping people from truly knowing You?”

Is being an authentic and legitimate example worth the sacrifice?  Yes it is, because God provides for those who truly love Him.  If we can live in contentment with a simpler life impact for Jesus will grow, and we won’t be led into misery and sin, stemming from the traps that exist in our world.  This should be the case whether we make 6 figures or 4 figures in a year.  We should set the standard of a simple existence we will live and give the surplus away for the Kingdom.