Don't get me wrong
I am not trying to defend the 'honor' of the American Institutional church. And I have to agree that the Institutionalized church in America probably has set the standard for turning the church from a living body into a mechanical institution of corporate tactics and organizational hierarchy. However, the problems in the church go deeper than that. The reformers, while they did much to correct the errors of theology, did not really take up the issues of institutionalized and ingrained non-bibical structure such as the "church service" (What is that anyway? Service to whom and why is just that meeting called a service?), the "building", the "pulpit", the "pastor" (a gifting, not an office) the "attend church" mentality (vs the 'We ARE the church mentality')
I could go on. Constantine did it
He introduced a virus into the church, a lie that said the church was like the other religions
It had its shrines named after 'saints' (a distorted use of the word), its priests, its pomp and ceremony
And ever since, to varying degrees the church has accepted this lie and even forgotten that just because that is how it has 'always been done' that really the Bible says nothing about these things that turn the living body into a body of stone. Now, although I have understood this for years, it was not until recently that I really looked at it again and noticed that in spite of understanding these things I was still trying to walk out something more Biblical (like eldership) in the old wineskin of this organizational church.
WHY YOU DON'T WANT TO "GO TO CHURCH"
While we were in the church system we were constantly being urged to pursue programmes of outreach. This usually meant trying to invite people to attend church based functions, outreach dinners, barbecues, evangelistic meetings, etc. Generally people were fairly cagey about accepting such invitations. They were not slow to see the hook in the bait, and often excused themselves, because, I believe, they feared being pressured into joining a religious organization. Also, after years and years in the system, we had few real friends who were not Christians. We really lived in a kind of Christian ghetto. Our lives revolved around the meetings and functions of the church or fellowship to which we belonged. We did not have time for outside friendships. Since abandoning that old way we have found that, for the first time in years, we are forming friendships with neighbors who do not share our faith, and learning to relate to them as people. Bridges are being built and a basis established for testimony to the primacy of Jesus in our lives, without their having to be wary that involving them in some religious organization is our ultimate aim. Others of our friends too have found that there is much greater openness to talking about Jesus and the gospel in such circumstances. We have only Jesus to offer. No religious package comes with Him. He is truly all we need.
In these recent years we seem to have met more and more Christians whose conversion and new birth were brought about solely by the work of the Spirit of God, with no assistance from any of the outreach tools to which I have previously referred. Characteristic of these believers is that they go on and grow rapidly in the knowledge of God, without having to be propped up by repeated "ministry" or counseling. This is in contrast to the tremendous drop out rates of those who make commitments or decisions in the traditional evangelistic environment.
SELF-WILLED WORK AND EMPTY NETS
Let this then be our model for "evangelism in the church". Let us first attend faithfully to the building up of the body in its most holy faith, equipping the saints for the works of service marked out for each--and in the process, with a good testimony to those outside (Tit. 2:5, 10; II Pet. 2:2; Col. 4:5-6), the Lord will lead us to those He has drawn, and prepared their hearts for the ready reception of the gospel. Let us men learn first to hear His voice, such as in His prompting us to speak (I Cor. 14:30), that we may be attuned to it and directed of the Spirit to those whom He wills through us to "snatch from the fire" (Jude 23). Dear brothers, all too often the "evangelist" of today butters up his hearers with flattery and toils to persuade hearts which are not as good soil--spending all night long in the boat, and in reality catching "nothing" (Jn. 21:3). In self-will he says, just as Peter himself did, "I am going fishing" (v. 3). But there are a great multitude of fish to be caught--exactly 153 (v. 11)--and the Lord must direct, and in His incomparable power keep the net from breaking in the process of luring all 153 of them in. Thus we must seek out Spirit-worked evangelism, specifically as according the word of God, versus the self-willed efforts of man. One will produce spurious conversions, but the other will bring in the 153 fish--that the Lord is not willing that they should perish.
CHURCH MEETING FRAUD
That favorite verse that everyone likes to use to justify church meetings and church attendance
Hebrews 10:25 - Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If read in context with the verses above it
We see what kind of "meeting" he is talking about
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. The meeting is apparently to be less about ceremony and agenda and more about personal "spurring"
Examining ourselves and each other and encouraging each other toward deeper love and deeds/life that is more in line with what Jesus would want of us. Which brings new insight into the meaning of a "worship service" if you take the NT definition of "worship" as Romans 12:1 defines it
"in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God".
LEADERSHIP IS IN ACTION, NOT INDIVIDUALS
The purpose of Biblically qualified leadership is to continually build up the saints in the faith (Acts 20:32-35), to teach (by example and word - 1 Peter 5:2-6) the ways of Christ and His Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2), and to provoke unto love and good works (Hebrews 10:22-24)? If leadership isn't accomplishing this, perhaps it's time to take a hard look at what they are doing (Romans 8:1-8). Beware though, for using the same rule and measure (which I'm convinced is the Word of God - Philippians 3:14-16) may expose some surprises (Hebrews 4:12-13, Ephesians 6:12-13) and require some personal decisions on your part.
PROFESSIONALISM RESTRICTS & DEFRAUDS
Our Lord's Great Commission is ignored by most and/or intentionally restricted to the professionally trained, degreed, and religiously organized clergymen. For Biblical examples of true evangelism, please see Acts 8 and follow the record of Philip. He worked as one of the first seven deacons in the New Testament church to feed widows and serve tables (Acts 6:5) but also evangelized the Gospel in the streets and by-ways (Acts 8). Paul is commonly called a missionary, but Biblically speaking, there is no such thing. Rather, Paul travelled as an evangelist who purposely took the Gospel to foreign lands and to foreign people in their foreign languages. NT officers aren't above nor exempt from the Lord's Commission, as Paul reminded Timothy to continue the work of an evangelist as part of his overall ministry (2 Timothy 4:5), even though he was teaching and overseeing among the saints.
The local church is merely a gathering of the saints in a particular geographic area. It's unlikely that they met together to draw up a constitution and by-laws, along with a doctrinal statement and application for formal 501(c)3 status, build a sanctuary, elect officials, and map out the weeks activities for the congregation including Sunday School and "worship services". These are all recent innovations that would have left the early saints puzzled and out of place.
We are to observe from the word of God that a well--functioning New Testament church will necessarily produce over time mature men biblically qualified for oversight. That is, the work of the men becoming overseers does not just happen (as the product of aimless conduct), but as part of a broader "lifestyle of careful biblical obedience." There is great need for assemblies to practice corporately, as families, and as individual members of Christ's body, separated lives--lives of reverent submission to the word of God "in all things" (II Cor. 2:9; Eph. 5:24; Mt. 28:20; Jn. 15:14, etc.). Thus it is in the context of the church's men leading their families in continual spiritual training (Eph. 6:4), exhorting one another daily (Heb. 3:13)--all as preparation for, and with a view to, powerful and obedient Spirit-led participation, contribution, and interaction in the corporate assembly times (I Cor. 14:26). We cannot expect to wake up one day and find our churches suddenly filled with mature men eager to serve as overseers without the necessary preparation to do the will of God (see Lk. 12:47). That is, in the II Timothy 2:5 sense, there will be no "crowning" of any men apart from their having run the race "according to the rules."
CONFORMED & UNPREPARED
The visible church has sure changed in its ability to stand up for what it teaches, thereby taking a toll on the spirit of the people and on God's power. We talk about truth, but little is discerned and even less is acted upon. We talk about faith and little is hoped for and even less is assured. We talk about what we believe God is doing, and less about the work of the Holy Spirit. If we don't prepare to do the work now and sacrifice and discipline ourselves, what does that say about our commitment and our relationship with Christ? Waiting is not a virtue. Giving has power and grace in it. A Spirit-filled church will invite the anger of the enemy. Are we going to fit in with the world or are we going to believe in the power of God?
It is hard for us to accept the fact that it is now very rare for anyone to come into the house of God with guard completely down, head bowed and with the silent confession: "Dear Lord, I am ready and willing to hear what You will speak to my heart today!" We have become so learned and so worldly and so sophisticated and so blase and so bored and so religiously tired that the clouds of glory seem to have gone from us.
TOO WEAK TO COMPREHEND
A.W. Tozer remarked, "We know lots of evangelical churches that would like to grow, and they do their best to get the crowds in. They want to grow and have contests to make their Sunday school larger." That is true, but they are trying to get people to come and share their rut. They want people to help them celebrate the rote and finally join in the rot. Because the Holy Spirit is not given a chance to work in our services, nobody is repenting, nobody is seeking God, nobody is spending a day in quiet waiting on God with open Bible seeking to mend his or her ways. Nobody is doing it-- we just want more people. But more people for what? More people to come and repeat our dead services without feeling, without meaning, without wonder, without surprise? More people to join us in the bondage to the rote? For the most part, spiritual rigidity that cannot bend is too weak to know just how weak it is.
GOD'S PURPOSE IN GATHERING
The basic meaning of ekklesia/edah/cahal encompasses a meeting, gathering, or assembly. That is why Israel in the wilderness (Acts 7:38) and the Gentile mob at Ephesus (Acts 19:32,39,41) were both called by this term. There are times that the NT writers have the frame of reference of an activity. Here are some examples from I Corinthians:
11:18 "when you come together as a church"synagogue also can refer either to the gathering or to those gathered. The New Testament uses ekklesia referring to Christians in particular geographical locations. Groups of Christians were distinguished from each other by their geographical locations, not by their pet doctrines or favorite preachers. Thus we have ekklesia referring to disciples of Yashua who are meeting in a particular house, in a particular city, in a particular province, or in a larger area still.
14:19 "in the church I desire to speak"
14:28 "let him keep silent in the church"
14:34 "let the women keep silent in the churches"
CHRISTIANS MEETING IN A HOUSE
Romans 16:5 "also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia."
Philemon 2 "the church in your house" (Philemon's in Collosse)
Colossians 4:15 "Nympha and the church that is in her house." (some city near
Laodicia and Collosse)
Romans 16:23 "Gaius, host to me and to the whole church" (Corinth)
1 Corinthians 16:19 "the church that is in their house" (Prisca & Aquila at Ephesus)
CHRISTIANS IN A CITY
I Thessalonians 1:1 "the church of the Thessalonians"
Acts 8:3 "Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house"
Acts 20:17 "he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church"
Romans 16:1 "the church which is at Cenchrea"
Acts 11:22 "the church which was in Jerusalem"
CHRISTIANS IN A PROVINCE
I Corinthians 16:19 "The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house."
II Corinthians 8:1 "the churches of Macedonia"
CHRISTIANS IN A LARGE GEOGRAPHICAL AREA
Acts 9:31 "the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria"
The NT uses church (Greek: ekklessia) to denote the people who make up the body of all Christians--an organism. Ephesians is notable for teaching this truth:
Ephesians 1:22-23 "And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all."
Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;"
Ephesians 5:29 "for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,"
FAITH BEYOND THE WEEKEND
There's no cause to continue to live for the weekend, nor to weekend "worship"; your life now belongs to Christ. Faith in God has legs, though there is nothing we can do of God on our own initiative. [John 5:30; 12:49; 14:10; 16:13,14] If God doesn't change some minds, what magic would we in ourselves muster to somehow transform them for Him? However, God IS transforming hearts and minds; and I'm positive on acting in accordance with His miraculous works, today and forever.
"Church", "Congregation", "Assembly"
The manuscript ekklesia is understood by us to refer to The Church of God. Stephen, speaking in the Spirit, might have here used a different word, but he didn't. In fact, Stephen's entire sermon to the religious leaders of his time would be well worth a re-read by us. [Acts 7:2-53]
There is another possibility that may be at work concerning a teacher's observations surrounding reform, revivals and awakenings
The changes that result from historical revival within the Church are so relatively profound, one might envision them as, "out with the old, in with the new." In effect, the church takes-up new wineskins for its more noted awakenings, whether the nomenclature would undergo a change or no.
Action by faith should not present as subject to public opinion.
MILLIONS HAVE DIED: SPIRITUAL ABORTION
There are bunches of folks who have gone to the altar a dozen times, and do not yet know God. Maybe they've never come to true repentance; maybe they just haven't yet got a clu from above
Theological fact is, there ain't no sinner's prayer from the Bible's own. You can repeat all sorts of words as you're told, get washed a thousand times, do many religious or charitable things in Jesus' name, and still remain dead in your sins.
The college of human understanding does not (and should not) as easily define a day or a decade in the life of the Church. In Christ, a supervisor can (and should well be) the servant of his peers. We subject ourselves to one another. If he slips-back into lording it over (as some of us once were), his work and ministry (though not his gifts) may all too easily be lost for him. The teachings of Christ make peership immutable for every disciple of His.
REAL GROWTH REQUISITE
How many chosen brothers are sent out into other parts of the community, region, continent and/or world, to minister and teach and preach -- to plant churches? More people were coming in -- coming through, while we were sending out very few. 100, 200, 300+ and the hired man soon had more on his desk than even God intended as a labor. We might have sent out a dozen or more prophets and teachers per year, with many more local churches/fellowships begun. Instead, we created another office, and more of the mega-church syndrome; which lingers with us as a reminder of our ingrown nail. Have we been apathetic toward this New Testament requisite for real growth?
LOSE YOUR OWN FAILURE
It is "inevitable" that men will stumble; but to stumble is no longer inevitable. [Matthew 18:7] There's no worthy hope in failure or condemnation. Get God's overview for your own, then we might bear/bare the rest without stumbling.
With the power of God by His Spirit, you will forever want to follow Him and please Him above the desires of your own life. No one who knows God intentionally wills to sin. [I John 2; I John 5:18] The blood of Christ being far too precious, that we should somehow hold it to be a common thing.
THE WORK TO DO
Everyone who loves God works; working until that new day dawns. Some have confused payment or wages, with work
a common slip in supposition.
Paul's own priority (impacting chronology) was to testify of Christ and of His Gospel. He didn't pilfer time and effort away trying to cook up a promotional scheme as his prerequisite to deliver thousands of people to one setting. If you love them in truth, they will come and/or you will go to them.
Are you attempting to justify so much obscene allocation in time and exposure via G-rated vanity and the philosophies of men?! Instead, do ALL that you do to the glory of God. If it doesn't, what's it then doing with you and yours?
Who told you to allow yourself time to recreate?
Entertainment can serve well to provide a medium for the Word of God to reach the lost. However, let's not all get the cart before the horse
Prayer, Bible study, church fellowship
these things may provide some measure of entertainment (in fact, they do). Yet, to hold entertainment as an objective
to make family our objective
to make anything of this world our objective
would effectively ask of Jesus Christ to step-aside from us, while something or someone else directs our life in share-time -- the life we gave him fully and in sacrifice to love. If you love your wife/children more than Him
(well, you know the rest.)
Yes, what we do with the talent He gives rounds-up the critical question. Instead of assuming the asset, we should fully assume the interests and expectations of the assets' owner (God Almighty).
GORGED & INCOMPLETE
How have so many become the casual Christian gorged, only to be found incomplete in Christ?
"These divorced and remarried folks were taken in adultery, in the very act. The Law commands us that such should be stoned. What sayest thou?" Go, and sin no more. Genuine repentance, as it is given by God; not more excuses for continuing in sin.
WHAT ABOUT ME?
If you do unswervingly want to keep your life, the following passages need be removed from your Bible (or, seriously re-worked) most promptly
Matthew 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-36; Luke 9:23-35; 17:32-33; John 12:25, etc.
The significant solution to the substandard performance of selfishness is to be done with it.
The Spirit of Christ works His will in me (no empirical explanation to be offered). If God lives in the house, it's His house.
NO GOOD LEAD
Do your teacher friends fail to practice all they have taught? Oh, yes. In fact, if you're diligent, you will quickly discover that the next church meeting you attend also fails to practice what they ought. Not that it should be an excuse for them
On the contrary, it would be sufficient cause for us to help as many folks who attend that gathering as we might. Doing what they teach (from the Word), rather than doing as they do.
Maybe those who often lead have made up their minds. That's significant; but, it shouldn't stop any one of us from caring enough about others to do the will of God in full face of certain opposition. In effect, more of a challenge to stay and to continue the work that God would permit you, rather than to leave in easement?
I could not advise anyone to consider entering a formal or "professional" leadership position. It's the servants of Christ who have the greatest standing among us (and in heaven). Be the best of the least of these in the Name of Jesus Christ, and nothing can ever stop you. If they've lied about you (and, you haven't lied about them), you probably have the edge. Just be sure and not discard that edge; don't stop loving them, as you take up the death of the old flesh and follow Christ. After all, that is part of the message we must deliver to those for whom we care: "We have One Leader/Teacher, that is Christ." We do not follow the poor examples set in as many men; we forever walk in the righteousness of our Lord.
IDENTIFY YOUR SOURCE
Art has a source, and it is not you. Somehow, we've as often bought-in to the notion that artistic expression can be derived from and within autonomous human beings. Not only are all men short of authentic autonomy, inspiration comes to man/woman from a source other than their own self or subjective experience. Identify your source, and we may understand something more of the purpose. Not every source or purpose is well toward us, or pleasing to God.
ART EXPRESSING LIFE IN CHURCH?
The organized church, here in the West, is performing an absolutely-generally miserable job in making disciples of Jesus Christ. Although I cringe in suggesting it, many of our Christian artist/musician brothers & sisters have come to know more about their works than they deeply understand about the walk of faith in Christ. May we rightly expect them to produce well beyond training and experience? Ahhh
But, someone may say, "If they're not ready, they should not be
" Then tell, if these do not go out in the Name of Yeshua, who will? For today, artists who are Christians may coincidentally reflect the blight of minimalist Christianity which describes a large group of contemporary, pseudo-autonomous-hedonistic believers. Art Mirrors.
The commercial music Industry does not exist to "serve the Lord"
If it had been so, the IRS. [US] would have pulled its plugs years ago. Industry has come to be about money, and the sometimes cathartic overlay of 'doing something for the Lord.'
GOD FOR MONEY
From where would we understand financial matters to be so vital to the life of the Church? [Luke 12:33,34] Among the disciples, who had the purse? [John 12:4-6] When it came time for one to lose his office, 'twas the treasurer who was terminated. There may be some men who have fallen in their delight to playing church with forms or titles over substance, but the heart of Christ has never been where moth and rust destroys or, where thieves break in and steal. [Matthew 6]
Is it Biblically correct to say that someone has been called to a full time preaching ministry in a local church? Can we back this up with Scripture? Is it right to give a man a salary, or should his need be more simply met with gifts in love? The Apostle Paul did elect (at times) to bypass support, while Matthew 10:10; II Thessalonians 3; III John 1:7-8 support our need and ability for specific support (as needful) of/for each one who labors in the fields of our God. Today, may we rightly regard salary as true support? Can anyone here demonstrate how salary for the servant (i.e., elder, deacon, preacher, missionary-apostle
) holds the substance of loving, caring and sufficient support? In the service of the Living God (who brings us every good thing), I/we need not submit to what most probably represents a grand shortfall in godly love: the convenience of a paid office as a cloistered instrument that lives to relieve many brethren of what would help complete their spiritual service of worship. [Romans 12:1] No surprise to hear from salaried men for how they loath its broad result.
TAX & HIRE
There's a problem with that word, hire. It emerges as a jeopardy in the 'hireling' -- a person that would not belong in the care of the flock of God. Whether or not he has a paying job (after the truth be spoken) should be of no mind; primarily because that man should have his life, family, job, position and paycheck, fully surrendered before God; secondarily for how our God faithfully provides for His own. Salaried (benefit) positions create the truth-and-dare conflict for a salary-dependent man. In the Church, we're now using money to keep some people in-line with other people's will and wishes -- whether it be a compliance to the congregation's will, to a board of administrators, or to a pulpit Pastor (or, to all these). Ideal in the business world; anguish from earth for Christ our Lord. Take away all the substance mammon, and what we have left is far more likely to consist/exist in the representation of Jesus Christ on earth today.
If your church is asking for a tithe, and with no intent to direct that tithe as the Lord's tithe is to be handled; well, maybe they're using a word from God's Law as a means to persuade you that you owe God (them?) at least so much. Yet, we owe God everything, and manipulative/reckless people much less.