Spirit

How to BE the Church…

Allan asked a couple of excellent questions on my previous post, Email: Church Covenant – Part 4. This is what Allan said:

Furthermore, in the limited time since reading your blog (I have not read it all, nor do I intend to), I have a question for you. It relates to the “Church issues” I notice you (and I and others) have been struggling with: if we do not agree with how the Church functions or operates (as I think Christ intended for it to be) – what can we do about it? How can we BE the Church Christ intended?

So, my question to all my readers is the same. How do you handle these disagreements? How do you “be” the Church?

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19 Comments

  1. Allan,

    I am taking this from your second comment.

    You asked, “I think we all find it easier to complain about how things in the Church are done incorrectly… but what are WE doing about it?”

    I would say it is very dangerous to get up during Sunday morning “business meeting” and tell everyone that they need to sell their building, stop calling singing “worship,” etc. For the most part we are dealing with people who have been taught what to believe. Even the people teaching are relying on commentaries and commentators who have placed their tradition within their presuppositions. I personally think that the best way to deal with this is two-fold. One teach it (in small, easy to swallow doses) and LIVE IT! Stop misusing the word “worship,” “church,” etc. Don’t get mad at others when they misuse it either – you’ll just strain your relationship with them.

    When you truly fellowship with your brothers and sisters, recognize it as fellowship… get them thinking about the 30-second-fellowship-shake-your-hand time. There will be a few people (very few) who are open to these ideas… try to meet with them regularly to challenge each other. During this time, when you are relying on God for your wisdom, it is easy to forget God and do things that hurt you and others.

    You asked, “Is it not time that we start BEING the Church Christ intended?”

    YES… YES… YES!!! Luckily we know that we are Christ’s Church already. It is only our form that is broken. We have spent too much time focusing on the form and it has hurt our function as well. Again, only by leaning on him for understanding will we be able to discern when the form is getting in the way of being his church. Do not let form issues (like covenants, etc.) get in the way of our responsibilities of one-another.

    You asked, “Is he going to be satisfied that we did things the ‘XYZ Church way’ when he meant for it to be different?”

    I would say that he is probably saddened at the state of his church right now, but there are a growing number of individuals who have started to look to him again.

    Thanks again for the great comments. I hope this helps you and I hope others comment too.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  2. I agree with what you say, Lew.

    Additionally, I think that part of the problem is the fact that the church has become institutionalised (actually, it’s been like that for ages). And I am not only referring to the Catholic church.

    Jesus only had twelve “full time” disciples, into whom he invested a lot of intimate, personal time. He also never had a building. Yet, we think we can do better: we go “big”. We have “churches” of hundreds or thousands. That starts requiring a lot of extra overheads and unnecessary things: buildings, full-time admin staff, full time pastors/elders, organising, programs, etc., etc. Egos and empires also come into play – although it will never be admitted…

    Most of today’s churches mostly grow by “stealing members” from other churches and not by people freshly coming into the Kingdom.

    I am also of the opinion that most church-based mission outreaches (admittedly not all) are to idyllic spots on earth. Of course, one needs to answer the question whether “missions” is currently being done the way Christ intended, but that is another topic…

    Where am I going to? As I said, I agree with what you said. I think that one should put effort into:
    1) Praying that the Lord would reveal His Truth to us through his Word and the Holy Spirit
    2) Praying that we would be obedient to what He teaches us
    3) Praying for the church
    4) Praying for the Lord to open people’s eyes and to send them across one’s path
    5) Identifying such people and getting together in small groups and edifying one another – to BE more what Christ intended

    I personally believe that (one of) the biggest danger(s) in church is that fact that people want to institutionalise it and grow it by numbers and not spiritual quality, i.e. spending quality time discipling each other to be more like Christ. People soon start gathering around a person, who soon starts a church, instead of being discipled into growing up in the Lord -> and then discipling somebody else. (Much like [I think Alan’s] “Discipling a lawnmower”, which I also saw last night.)

    Of course, there is always the fear of people getting their doctrine screwed up if they don’t belong to an institution, but I believe that that is part of discipling: ensuring that you have a sound doctrine and being able to pass on the fact that you have to let God’s Word through the HS speak the Truth into your life – and not filtering it with your own agenda… Isn’t that one of the core principles of being a disciple anyway? – Dying to self and being continuously transformed by Christ to let Him reign supremely?

    I think I’ve spoken too much already.

    I would like to hear Alan’s comments too. From the bit I’ve read so far, I also have a value his input.

  3. Forgive me, but I have to make one more comment regarding the institutionalised church…

    The problem of course is, that the moment a church becomes a “thing” (an institution, a club or whatever), it starts needing resources that cost money (staff, buildings, programs, etc.). The moment that happens, you have a business: you have costs and you need an income to sustain it. That is when the church leadership have to start doing things to be popular to make sure the attendance numbers don’t drop, otherwise the church starts running into debt… an ever-increasing spiral, causing the church to play and dance to the wrong tune.

    ALL of this is totally contrary to what Christ taught and did.

  4. Lew, I know I am coming into this whole thing somewhat in the middle, but oh well. I think all the stuff you are saying is totally dead on, but I have also come to realize how difficult it all is. To seriously look into people and try to see what their spiritual needs are and to really love them is much more difficult than a 30 second hand shake time. To really know if people are struggling is much more difficult than assuming they are doing well or bad based upon their “church” attendance. There are no steps to “being” the church; all we need to do is love our brothers and sisters enough to be a real part of their lives. Or I could be wrong.

  5. Lew, Allan, and Dan,

    Great conversation! I don’t have anything to add to what you say. My concern is all of this – both for myself and for others who are “rethinking” what it means to be the church – is that we do not separate ourselves from brothers and sisters who disagree. Many will probably think that we are heretical. How are we going to treat and respond to them?

    -Alan

  6. Dan, I fully agree with you regarding love. All of this must be done in love. That also touches on what Alan says: we have to bring the truth in love.

    It wouldn’t help much if we bring the truth in such a way that it causes hurt and separation.

    But, at the same time, I am not convinced that we can just accept and continue with the status quo of the church in the name of love. It may be a very bad example to use, but the reformation was painful, but very necessary. Imagine where we would have been now if people never wanted to go through with it.

    I hope I am not coming across as a fanatic or an activist! I am not, but I am a firm believer that the current state of the church is not what Christ intended. The question is how do we make a difference? What would Jesus want us to do?

    (BTW, please do not read my previous 1-5 bullets as “steps”. I think the numbers are giving the wrong impression.)

    I am concerned that I am jabbering too much, but it is just so exciting to find fellow-believers with a similar view. But – please, for the sake of the Kingdom – feel free correct me if you think I am going off the track or being too radical.

  7. Lew,

    You said,”Even the people teaching are relying on commentaries and commentators who have placed their tradition within their presuppositions.”

    This is where it all must start. Teachers, whether teaching by word or example (hopefully both), must do their own work studying Scripture, understanding their own need to rely on the Holy Spirit to open their eyes to what God is saying to, and through, them.

    Teachers must be about working themselves out of a job, replacing themselves with other, who will in turn do their own work, multiplying their ministry, instead of protecting themselves, their position, their ego and their salary.

    Many times I have heard the latter justified by, “God has called me to THIS ministry, ot someone else”.

    I suspect that Eph. 4:11ff. has escaped their attention.

  8. Amen Aussie John!

    The only reason they will always have a job is that, once they have worked themselves out of one job, they move on to the next disciples (or even unbelievers-yet-to-become-disciples), taking their valuable lessons learnt with them.

    They must never gather followers – they can only point to the ONE who is worth following, Jesus the Christ.

  9. *NOTE* I have been working on this comment since early this morning… but have had to run in and out several times to do errands. I know others have commented since the first four comments (mine, Allan’s x2, and Dan’s). I am going to finish this comment and the read the others to comment on them (if needed)…

    Allan

    You have made some excellent observations and comments. I do not know how far you are on your journey, but I would recommend you read So You Do Not Want to Go to Church Anymore? by Wayne Jacobsen and probably Church Without Walls by Jim Peterson. They may reinforce your current walk and help you along the way. I know that I found them to be very beneficial to my outlook on things. I am actually going to be writing up a post about Church Without Walls in the next couple weeks.

    Dan

    You are absolutely right, it is very, very difficult. I am actually working on a post about how difficult it is for us to trust God. I think you are right, there are no “methods” or “programs” that will make us “be” the church. Being the Church is a heart condition… when we truly trust God to take care of things “being” the church will flow naturally from us.

    Thanks guys for the great comments.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  10. Alan

    You are absolutely right, and I agree with your conviction to not separate ourselves. One thing I always find myself realizing is that I use to think like the people who usually despise me. And I cannot blame them for it – I can only feel hurt and try to encourage them. (I hope that doesn’t sound like a pharisee or anything).

    Allan

    I appreciate your humility in this discussion. Often times we can misread intention when it comes to black and white text. You are making some excellent comments and I am glad that you happened upon our discussions.

    John

    I agree… I just want to say I do not think commentaries are evil or anything. I use commentaries and I do a lot of “commenting” myself :). But you’re right… we should be replicating ourselves, as far as we reflect Christ.

    Thanks everyone for the great comments!

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  11. Lew,

    I too, use commentaries, and appreciate the hard work those dear brethren, who wrote them, have done.

    Too many seem to think that God stopped speaking to His people when the writer put down their pens.

  12. Lew,

    Thanks for the references. I started reading “So you don’t want to go to church anymore” and I will keep my eyes peeled for the book “Church without walls” in order to purchase it.

    Do you know of any other web sites also dedicated to this topic? I took a quick look at nextreformation.com, but it also seems like a blog. I would prefer something a bit more structured too – if there is such a site.

    Thanks,

    Allan

  13. Allan,
    I hope you didn’t misread my comment. That was not a passive “oh love each other and let it ride” type of comment. I totally agree that the “church” as many people call it is a very messed up system that needs to be fixed, but it needs to be fixed at the heart. If we just replace one system with a new system than we really haven’t fixed the problem, like my in-laws who recently repainted their rotten porch. It will look nice enough to sell, but don’t lean on it. It needs to be fixed under the paint, it doesn’t need a new layer of paint over it.

    I think many of “us” need to stop thinking in “us” and “them” terms and then we can do like Alan said and not cause division. They are still the church, just like us, even if they have created another thing and called it “the church.”

  14. Thanks Dan, I think your emphasis on love is very valid. I also fully agree with you “us” and “them” comment. I think I may suffer from a bit or “holy impatience”(!) ;-) and want to see things moving a bit quicker.

    Problem is, I have not seen much movement at all in the “correct” direction, but that could be because I have not been exposed to many people who think that way. What I have seen – and which has been disheartening – is that some people have the right concepts (e.g. they picked them up in books or para-church organisations like YWAM) but started bending their beliefs now that they belong to a church that do not follow that model. And they do that because there “is no better church locally available that is closer to the truth”.

    So, a question in my mind is: if you know what is best, why do you have to settle for second best? At the same time, I do not want to fall into the trap of “starting a new church” that potentially just brings MORE division. I’m not sure whether trying to “compromise” by “attending” a church that is not following the correct model will actually help to get that church to move much closer to the correct model. Usually, there are just not enough like-minded people to “rip out the rot from the inside and replace it with something new”.

    Or do we keep on “attending” a church that does not follow the correct model, while at the same time praying and trying to find like-minded people both inside and outside to “start your own thing” (let’s not call it “church” – maybe a discipleship group?), in parallel, which more closely follows the correct model. (Sounds like an under cover church!)

    I’m a very practical guy: I try to think of how to do things (full knowing the correct way of the new Church is more a matter of BEING).

    Maybe I should not be so impatient and be praying and hearing more from the Lord… I do not want to be involved in building anything that is not from Him anyway.

  15. John

    One thing I appreciate about the U.C.C. is their slogan, “God is still speaking…” Although they mostly mean that “God is changing” which I disagree with.

    Dan

    You’re right and you have made an excellent point. I know I am guilty of making the “us” and “them” distinction.

    Allan

    I know it is easy for me to be impatient. Especially when I think I have done explaining what I think to be the Truth, so well. But I have to remind myself that I do not want people to change because I convinced them – I want them to change because there relationship with God is being built up.

    Regarding those who have picked up some of these various ideas and have started to ignore them. I think part of the problem is their failure to realize that they have a responsibility to teach others. My wife and I still meet with a “traditional” group on Sundays. I think it is important for us to be as involved in their lives as possible and to encourage them to think about some of these same issues. Which was one of the reasons why I started the Church Covenant conversation with Benjamin.

    I think you’re right, the correct “model” of Church is “being” not “doing.” Though I do not think we can expect to start anything. Jesus already started his church… it is only up to us to recognize that fact and to experience his church as we go about our daily lives.

    I think your caution is biblical. Remember ought to be quick to listen and slow to speak. I think this applies to our human relationships as well as our spiritual relationship with our Father.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  16. I just wanted to make a couple of comments before reading through all of these fascinating replies because this is a topic very near to my heart personally.

    Regarding the church being a building and Christ having a different example with the 12, you forget the temple, which was God’s idea. I completely agree the church is not a building, it is the body and bride of Christ, and it consists of us — you, me, and every other Christ follower. Yet the building aspect of it is not contrary to Christ, assuming you accept Christ as God and believe God to be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He established worship in His temple with Solomon, which seems to indicate He does encourage a central place of worship. Christ, too, held the Temple to be holy, which is especially demonstrated when He wrecked up the place over the money changers.

    Regarding the institutionalization of the church, I recently read something very interesting that, while I’m still processing it, appears to have a lot of truth to it. Here’s a summary:

    Way back in the day, humanity wanted to build a tower to God. God looked down and saw what they were doing, and said (paraphrased), “these folks can do anything while they are joined together with the same language!” At that point, God cast them apart with various languages (See Genesis 11).

    Many years pass and Christ conquers death and goes back up to Heaven to sit at His Father’s right hand. A little while later, 120 Christ followers find themselves speaking in strange languages with tongues of flame above them, and people from all over the world could understand them. They were now all joined together by language again — In Christ all things are possible. The curse of Babel was reversed by the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we find just how reversed this was in Acts 2, when you have many from this huge variety of cultures coming together, yet “they had all things in common”. They were striving for God, they had God in them, Christ in them, the hope of glory, the Holy Spirit in them. It was not about the church, it was about devotion to Christ, to God, and to do His will through the Holy Spirit. Once again, God allowed all things to be possible to man because He was at the center.

    Then we find ourselves in the dark ages, with a struggling church. It was losing political power, going bankrupt, and in trouble. I think the following is a testament to the faith of the church leadership at the time — they decided to start offering forgiveness for a price. No longer was it about God; it was by the power of man they were leading people to connect with “god”.

    That practice — selling forgiveness — was one of the primary reasons Luther put forward his list, and therefore one of the primary reasons the church split…and split and split and split. The church institution tried to build a tower to God of their own, and God cast them apart, dividing them that they could no longer do so.

    Now, we are starting to find the church running for Christ again. Many are moving away from this idea that it is by works we are saved, and starting to see that it is by grace alone we are redeemed to our God. We are being humbled before God once again, and He is starting to move, and many, many people are feeling in their heart a desperation to be a part of Christ’s prayer in John 17:23 taking place.

    It is not the institution that caused the separation from God, it was the institution relying on the institution instead of God that caused the rift. “If we do this, we can be saved!” Another issue is we, as humans, find a formula that works, and we run with it, believing we’ve figured it out.

    William Booth is one of the most remarkable people I’ve read about because he was able to rise above this mentality. He was extremely structured — the Salvation Army, which did amazing things in the name of the Lord, was a hardcore bureaucracy. He went to check out what was going on with this Welsh Revival thing taking place in 1909 and saw Evan Roberts running services with absolutely no structure at all.

    As he left, he was quoted as saying something to the effect of, “This is not how I would do this at all, but God is definitely in this. I’m leaving because the only thing I could do is pull it away from Him.” Booth was someone who recognized that God is a creative God, and He doesn’t work in the same way, and when we start to rely on a certain way, start to hold the method above the Maker, He pulls the carpet from under the method not out of spite, but because we’ve turned it into an idol and He wants to protect us from ourselves.f

    Just a few thoughts about the conversation. I am looking forward to reading the rest of it. Thanks!

  17. the guy who…

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    I think we disagree and agree on a lot of things. I’ll touch on a few things that you mentioned.

    You said, “you forget the temple, which was God’s idea…. He established worship in His temple with Solomon, which seems to indicate He does encourage a central place of worship. Christ, too, held the Temple to be holy, which is especially demonstrated when He wrecked up the place over the money changers.”

    I do not think I have forgotten about the temple. Perhaps we view it differently, but the temple of the Old Testament was merely a shadow of the true temple, those who are also called his Church. I think you may find this described in Ephesians 2, 2 Corinthians 6, through 1 Corinthians, and probably by inference in Hebrews.

    You also said, “Then we find ourselves in the dark ages, with a struggling church. It was losing political power, going bankrupt, and in trouble.”

    I think this is partly where our understanding of the church probably clashes most. You seem to indicate that “lost political power, going bankrupt, and in trouble” as a sign that the church was struggling. I might suggest that the first 1500 years when the church was striving to gain political power, filled to the brim with money, and completely at peace with the world was when the church struggled the most.

    Where do we agree? Well I think we agree that the people of God need to start relying on him rather than the institution. I am not against programs or organization. I am only against those things that we turn into “formulas” as you put it.

    Thanks for the thoughts and for commenting. I appreciate it.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew A

  18. I just wanted to clear up that I think we agree about the state of the church, and when I was talking about “lost political power, going bankrupt, and in troubleost political power, going bankrupt, and in trouble”, I was trying to state it from the point of view of the leadership of the church at the time, where they had forgotten Christ’s words and were under the belief that so many today are that when things are going swimmingly, everything coming together, that they must be running in the right direction with Christ when He said the exact opposite.

    It’s an interesting point about the church that I’m going to have to delve into. Thanks for the scripture :)

  19. That Same Guy

    Thanks for clearing that up. I was talking to Allan via email this morning and ran into this in Revelation 21, John talking about the New Jerusalem – “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

    Something for us to consider.

    Thanks again,
    Lew

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