The Great Commission and The Authority

The Great Commission and The Authority

An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersio...

An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersion in a river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18 When Jesus came near, he spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach them to do everything I have commanded you.  “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”

The “Great Commission” as spoken by Jesus.  This fundamental passage has to be at the core of all a Christian does and all any group of Christians do no matter if they are a church, a part of a church, a para-church organization or a group of Christian friends.  At all levels this is your mission statement, your calling and should becomes the basic foundational drive of all you do as a believer.

The message is very basic, but can often become lost in the systems and plans of groups and individuals in a way that many individuals feel this is not for them to do because it is not their job.  The fact is that the way this statement was made and how this passage reads it is clear that every individual is called by Jesus to do this by the power and the guidance of Christ Himself.

The first statement here is the fact that

Matthew 28:18 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18 When Jesus came near, he spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

What is this “authority” and how is it relevant.  Lets start with the word authority as defined in the dictionary:

› the power to control or demand obedience from others:

› An authority is someone with official responsibility for a particular area of activity:

Using this definition from the dictionary, Jesus has the responsibility for some area or areas of activity and has the power to control or demand obedience from some group.  What areas of activity and who He is controlling or demanding obedience from will be defined by whatever He says next and the context.

In context Jesus is speaking to the eleven disciples that were to be the catalysts of what would become the church.  The people to whom He is speaking directly are the fathers of every Christian church.

Matthew 28:19 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  19 So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

They are instructed to “go make disciples.”   In this translation the idea is also tied to being “wherever you go.”  The instruction here is for them to not only go to everywhere on the earth to make something called disciples, but to do that everywhere they go.

The area of responsibility that Jesus has been given can be seen as two distinct areas from what we have read so far:  the first is obvious because the passage said it:  all authority in heaven and earth” which includes the entire world.  The second is clearly and more directly to those who are His disciples (in this case the ones He is speaking to).

The responsibility that He is delegating is for each of them to do their part in making more disciples.  They are the instruments that He will use to exercise His authority as well as being subjects of His authority.

Then, these disciples are told to take the people that are willing to become disciples like them and have them make an outward expression of being under this authority by being baptized.  These disciples will not only learn new things will be washed of the old and brought into the new way of living that is voluntarily living under Christ’s authority.

Matthew 28:20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  20 Teach them to do everything I have commanded you.  “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”

Here we find the definition of what a disciple is and what it means to make one.  A disciple is a person who is taught TO DO everything that Jesus taught the Disciples He is talking to here to do.

The big teaching being the teaching given in the context of this statement:  The teaching to go and wherever you go make disciples that get baptized and do everything that Jesus has commanded those disciples because of his authority over the world and over each person in it.

For most people, there is some limiting factor to our ability to do this and for some of us this seems impossible or as if our job is to just give support to the others that do this.

While there is something to be said for that, the truth is that each person who is truly a disciple is to go and wherever you go you are to make disciples in the manner outlined here.  If that seems impossible, then that is awesome.  That simply means you understand the fact that you cannot do it.  If you could do it on your own power then what would you need God for.  It is His authority that you are exercising, not your own.  It is his power that you are exercising, not your own.

This is the core component of our relationship with Jesus is living this out.  This is to love Him and be a disciple of His.  Sitting in a building full of people who believe in Jesus, giving money or other support to others who do this, and such things are great and are amazing expressions of your belief, but are not what you are told here to do.   That is not the “go” or the “everywhere you go” that Jesus taught his disciples to teach their disciples of Him that they would teach.

There are places and people that you as an individual are the person Jesus has put in place to spread his “authority” over.

This actually is impossible for you and is outside of what you are wired to do.  That is why you need Jesus.  This is the point:

REMEMBER THAT JESUS IS ALWAYS WITH YOU UNTIL THE END OF TIME!

Fixing Our Churches – The Lost Love

Westboro Baptist Church picket in Beverly Hills

Westboro Baptist Church picket in Beverly Hills (Photo credit: k763)

Fixing Our Churches – The Lost Love

Acts 2:44-47 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 44 All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. 45 From time to time, they sold their property and other possessions and distributed the money to anyone who needed it. 46 The believers had a single purpose and went to the temple every day. They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. 47 At the same time, they praised God and had the good will of all the people. Every day the Lord saved people, and they were added to the group.

I was reading some articles about the problems that churches in the United States have. Things like lack of commitment, not teaching the Word (implies teaching a western university method with references and focused on the western academic mind), keeping the finances up with the perceived needs of the congregation, and on and on.

There actually were several articles with really good and deeply profound ideas, but I noticed that many of these articles missed what it seems to me was the core of the early church.

The early church (no matter how large or small) had at it’s core one key focus – one another. I am intrigued by the American church’s focus on either getting bigger by counting registered members or on staying small at all costs because “it is more personal”.

Both have their merits as a church that is not growing is clearly not focused on living out the great commission. A Christian church that is not reaching the unsaved and not only leading them to Christ but also discipling these new believers is hard-pressed to say it is a Christian church when it is not following the core mission it was given by Christ.

Matthew 28:18-20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 18 When Jesus came near, he spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach them to do everything I have commanded you. “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”

On the other hand a church that is so big that the people don’t know or care about one another is not showing the love that was to be the mark of the church. It simply becomes a ritualistic exercise that assumes that there is some magic power to just being in the building and performing some amount of the ritual that is done there.

John 13:34-35 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 34 “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. 35 Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”

Both (very commonly expressed) points are valid, but I am not sure that the size of the worship or celebration service is the problem, as a matter of fact, I am convinced that these are symptoms of a bigger problem. The problem is the focus on anything but the “community of believers”.

I am not saying that there is the absence of this concept, what I am saying is that there seems to always be something else that is more important than this key focus.

In my travels, most churches have an element of discussion on building some kind of deeply interpersonal community of believers, but it is almost always overshadowed by some other focus.

In research, discussion, debate, study and so on, I can usually find reasons for various focuses that each church model or denomination had for their focuses. These were not bad things even in the models of church that seemed to be miserably failing. To be honest, many of the models that seemed to be miserably failing seemed to have a focus that was for a particular season. The season merely seemed to change and the church simply didn’t change with it. God moved and the church decided to stay.

I know I have written a lot in the past about church models and those that know me have probably had a few conversations about church models, but I do not think that even that is the real issue and I am not convinced that simply changes models will fix the struggles of the western church in the long term.

THE PROBLEM IS NOT STRICTLY ONE OF MODEL, STRUCTURE OR CONTENT, THE PROBLEM IS PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST!!! Look at this verse:

Revelation 2:2-4 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 2 I know what you have done—how hard you have worked and how you have endured. I also know that you cannot tolerate wicked people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not apostles. You have discovered that they are liars. 3 You have endured, suffered trouble because of my name, and have not grown weary. 4 However, I have this against you: The love you had at first is gone.

This message to the church in Ephesus has some interesting points:

  1. They work and endure
  2. They do not tolerate wicked people
  3. They test those who claim to be called of God and weed them out
  4. They stand up for their faith even in the face of great adversity
  5. THE LOVE THEY HAD AT FIRST IS GONE!!!

I have been taught in the past that the first love they had forgotten was the Word of God. Of course this was taught as a logical progression from the idea that the first love was Jesus, by extension that means that the first love was what Jesus told them to do and so that means the fist love is the Word of God where what Jesus wants believers to do is explained. I do believe that idea to be a part of the truth, but there is a more obvious idea expressed in the context of the time.

That period of history where the New Testament was not assembled yet, Old Testament texts were rooms full of scrolls in temples and there was little chance in Ephesus of doing things the way we do them in our modern contexts so although many of these sort of interpretations fit into our context and quality exegesis of the scripture they may not fit into their context.

So although our modern interpretations are okay, what did the text mean at the time. I wasn’t there and have limited insight into the deeper details of their context, but there is something I have been pondering: The key is what the Church in Ephesus’ first love was and how that plays out in our modern lives.

I started with the obvious question of what role love is supposed to play in the Church and in the lives of Christians. The most obvious place to start:

Matthew 22:37-40 New International Version (NIV) 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I would have to say that the first love we were all told to have is in fact God with all of our hearts. In this passage, Jesus himself describes what the “by extensions” are. Loving others a part of loving God. Anything we do that is supposed to be about loving God has to be completely tied to loving others.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) –  I may speak in the languages of humans and of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 I may have the gift to speak what God has revealed, and I may understand all mysteries and have all knowledge. I may even have enough faith to move mountains. But if I don’t have love, I am nothing. 3 I may even give away all that I have and give up my body to be burned. But if I don’t have love, none of these things will help me.

Anything that is done without love (particularly expressions of God to other people as noted in this passage) is nothing and is definitely not truly expressing God. Now think about the church in Ephesus:

  1. They work and endure
  2. They do not tolerate wicked people
  3. They test those who claim to be called of God and weed them out
  4. They stand up for their faith even in the face of great adversity

But, some kind of “love” was not involved that was supposed to be. I think it is obvious that love of God is supposed to be everyone’s first love and is what is being directly expressed here. It is the details of what they were or were not doing that is still a bit unclear. According to Jesus Love for God and expressing love for others are tied together. It is possible to work, endure, not tolerate wicked people, test what people teach and stand up for faith while not expressing love for others.

I have been around people who seem to be like this. They do lots of Christian stuff, they can tell you whats wrong with how others live out a relationship with or talk about God. They can boldly defend their theology yat they do all of this with no real expressing of love in a way that the people they encounter can experience the love of God through them.

There is that idea that showing love is trying to force people to believe as their theology dictates and to argue with them if they do not is a great showing of love. The mere idea of loving someone by force is a strange concept in and of itself, but this idea of what the passage is describing is something we commonly see even now. Was the church at Ephesus a church of doers but not lovers?

This possible translation in mind, it would seem that the most important things that a church should be about are:

  1. Loving God
  2. Loving others (starting with each other which is the way others would know that we are God’s people)

If this does not permeate everything that a church does, the things that the church is doing is just a loud gong or clashing cymbal to God and to the world around them.

Most mainline churches have plans and programs to involve elements of loving the community or people in “missions fields” somewhere remote and poor, but are these really the love we are to show one another. That love for one another is a key outward expression of the the church that is supposed to be evident to all. Every church is supposed to exude this kind of love in a way that love for God, love for all people and definitely love for one another is what any outsider should be able to see and experience at any church.

This kind of love is something I have serious doubts about creating via a program or a six week sermon series. First off, this is a key ingredient and not some afterthought that we add later. This is even more than mindsets and theological thoughts; this is a lifestyle that should permeate the congregation create a sustained atmosphere within the church.

The question is how do we get this lifestyle throughout our churches? One thought is asking ourselves if the model we are using is the most likely model to produce this kind of love for God, one another, and the people around us or not. I may be generalizing a bit, but just finding some building and sitting through a sermon most Sundays and maybe going to a midweek service.

Many people do more like join ministry teams or groups within the church, but instead of being a portion of the church that has deeper relationships with each other and spends time together, shouldn’t it be the norm and those that don’t the exception? Shouldn’t everyone be deeply interconnected with the other people in the church? Shouldn’t everyone there quite naturally care for and about one another.

I am amazed at how many times one or two isolate incidents of members of the church caring for one another are paraded around by church members. Doesn’t the fact these are such big news imply that these sorts of things are incredibly rare.

I know I am partial to churches either having a small group component or consisting entirely of small groups, but that is because that seems to be the only way that these things can happen on a deeper level.

We have to use models that best facilitate the growth of this kind of love for God, for each other and for the people of earth on the deepest levels.

Many of the models we western churchgoers and western churches are comfortable in wouldn’t even have room to discuss but the deepest issues of an incredibly small segment of the congregation. As a matter of fact, if we tried to discuss the problems and needs of every person in the church each week, there would not only be too little time in the service to get through them all, I doubt if there would be enough time in the week. Our services are not structured for this information, so how could it be possible for the people in the church to respond to these problems and needs if they have no way of knowing them?

So yes, my suggestions on this key issue does include small groups. I simply do not see how you can get this personal and involved in every person’s life without breaking it into smaller more personal settings. Having small groups and studies/discussions designed to lead to community is still artificial, but it also much more likely to develop in these environments and the tools are just to aid something that could probably happen on it’s own.

The church described in Acts met together everywhere and did all kinds of things together as well of taking care of one another. It wasn’t some program the Apostles came up with, it was simply the lifestyle ans those that joined were really likely to do the same.

It is very common in years past to hear great speakers saying the church is the people and not the building. There is more to that. The churches job is to love God and to love the people and there is nothing stated in the New Testament about loving the building or the address.

I guess what I am proposing is a question more than an answer. Have we as the American church lost the love? I am not asking about one church or the group of deeply spiritual people at every church that do more than the general membership of the church. I am asking if the general state of the church in America is one that exudes an atmosphere of love for God, each other and people in general that it is most likely what each person experiences most with any contact with us?

It is funny that most people I know that do not believe see us as angry at the world, complaining about politics (especially complaining about democrats), we hate homosexuals, we don’t accept those who don’t believe, we hate anyone who thinks abortions are okay and on and on.

I know these things are not true and is totally the opposite of many American Christians and so on, But what all of that does not reflect is that people know us for our love. The American church is most known in my area as the people who hate this and hate that and hate these people etc. I am not saying not to have political views or to take stands on morality etc., but no matter what we are doing love has to be broadcast as the message or we are misrepresenting Christ.

As I said before, it’s not about a program or just adding small groups, this is about a complete change of focus for the American church and many churchgoers.

If you want to fix your church experience, your church, or the American church as a whole this must be the starting point. Have we lost the love we are supposed to have? Do we love God and one another in such a way that love the core of who we are and everybody can see it? Do we love others so much that everyone knows us for our love? If we cannot answer yes to all of that we cannot answer yes to any of it and definitely cannot say we are loving God without a deep level of loving others.

Prayer Bible Study Outline For Small Groups

The Power Of Prayer

The Power Of Prayer (Photo credit: r. Vore)

I just completed the “Prayer Bible Study for Small Groups”.

This discovery study outline was designed for studying what the Bible actually says about prayer. This study covers what prayer is and isnt’t, what it takes to get prayers answered, what might block some prayers, what makes good prayers and not good prayers, how to pray etc. while still focussing on the teaching and leading of the Holy Spirit.

This topic is so key to everything we do and to our personal relationship with our Heavenly Father that it seems like it is a tremandously important study to undertake for all of us and to allow ourselves to be changed by.  IF YOU FAIL TO PRAY; IT IS ALMOST LIKE PRAYING TO FAIL!

This study is not designed to be just about learning however, the focus is on going from learning, to doing to living a lifestyle of prayer.

The studies are created to use the same discovery concepts the S.E.A. of Galilee Fellowship uses for all studies:

S = SCRIPTURE; read and discuss a passage

E = EXPLANATION; look at questions that help explore and discover what the passage is really saying (what God is saying through this particular passage to mankind, to your household and specifically to you)

A = APPLICATION; participants make a commitment to take action on what was revealed as what God wants from us through the study (the teaching them to obey from The Great Commission.

The studies are designed for leadership to be done by a person who is facilitating the study and not by a teacher etc. the facilitators main job is to get everyone involved in the discussion for each question.

The other task the facilitator has is to teach the group to lovingly ask “Where do you see that in this passage” if someone brings up something that is not related to the passage being discussed or some perceived heresy.

The webpage where the study is found can be accesed by clicking https://seaofgalilee.wordpress.com/prayer-bible-study-outline-for-small-groups/

The actual study itself can be accessed by clicking https://seaofgalilee.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/prayer-bible-study.pdf

You can print the PDF file from there or you can go back and forth to the page for reference as needed.

I pray that your praying and prayers will be blessed and inspired of God,

W. Lawrence Hess

“Church Bible Study for Small Groups” is now available

Church Sign

Church Sign (Photo credit: simplerich)

“Church Bible Study for Small Groups” is now available

In a time where statistics, magazines and the people who are experts at church information are all saying that the church as we have known it is in trouble it seems like it is important to see if the “church as we have known it” is truly the only way that God said church is to be done.

The implication is that we need to also look if God gave us instructions that might lead us to experience church some other way.  The key question is not what I am comfortable with, or my denomination says church is supposed to be or even what my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents said it was to be like.  What does God say and what does God want right now in this day and age?

This study is designed to help small groups explore that question by studying passages talking about the New Testament concept of church or related topics.  With whatever the Holy Spirit reveals through the scriptures we have to ask ourselves if I am more focussed on my way or God’s best for the here and now.  Is God my co-pilot or pilot.  If God is your co-pilot, you desperately need to change seats.

These studies are designed to be done in a small group context with a facilitator and led by the Holy Spirit.  That means leadership only involves facilitation by one of the participants as the group discusses the passage using the S.E.A. of Galilee Fellowship discovery methods.  The facilitators main job is to get everyone involved in the discussion for each question.

  • S = SCRIPTURE; read and discuss a passage
  • E = EXPLANATION; look at questions that help explore and discover what the passage is really saying (what God is saying through this particular passage to mankind, to your household and specifically to you)
  • A = APPLICATION; participants make a commitment to take action on what was revealed as what God wants from us through the study (the teaching them to obey from The Great Commission.

The other task the facilitator has is to teach the group to lovingly ask “Where do you see that in this passage” if someone brings up something that is not related to the passage being discussed or some perceived heresy.

The study can be accessed by clicking https://seaofgalilee.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/church-bible-study.pdf

Or by clicking the button above marked “CHURCH BIBLE STUDY FOR SMALL GROUPS”

 

Be blessed…

W. Lawrence Hess

What is Wrong With the American Church? Better Exegesis?

Worshipers at Phoenix First Assembly of God, a...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is Wrong With the American Church?  Better Exegesis?

Acts 2:44-45 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  44 All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. 45 From time to time, they sold their property and other possessions and distributed the money to anyone who needed it.

I was listening to a prominent radio preacher this week and he was talking about the problems of the current state of the American church.  It was interesting what his idea of the main problem of the church is.  He felt that the main problem of the church was that there was not enough exegetical teaching.  In thought I found myself disagreeing with this statement.

At first I was in agreement, but then when I thought about it I was struck by the thought that breaking down the Bible line by line and word for word may not be the best learning method for every person.  

When playing out what he was saying to it’s logical end, the man was really saying was that there are not enough buildings with Bible college or university educated leadership (highly educated leadership) that can sit down weekly (or bi-weekly) to study and draw out a deep and relevant message and deliver the message with skill and in a way that will keep the crowd interested.

Thinking this through, the first problem is that having a highly trained professional that can exegete passages word by word is not likely to motivate large numbers of listeners to study in the same way or to study at all.  In many cases like this the reliance is on such a person to do the studying and more importantly the connecting with God for you and less individual study and individual connection with God.  The reliance is often on that person and if that person leaves, dies, falls in some kind of sin etc. the congregation are often lost and limited in the ability to do this on their own.

As far as the model of having a building and a trained expert to teach the group weekly from a pulpit, that model is not really the example of the churches planted in the New Testament.  The churches of the New Testament had varying levels of teaching from trained leaders (many of them had it for a period to start and the church planter –like Paul- would then leave) but the focuses seem to be on deep interpersonal fellowship, taking care of one another, prayer, and worship and the scripture was in their discussion or in the context of the Jewish converts in Israel they did all of this, as well as listening to the various teachings and teaching styles of the Apostles and went to the temple also.

The New Testament model including teaching:

Acts 2:42-47 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  42 The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. 43 A feeling of fear came over everyone as many amazing things and miraculous signs happened through the apostles. 44 All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. 45 From time to time, they sold their property and other possessions and distributed the money to anyone who needed it. 46 The believers had a single purpose and went to the temple every day. They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. 47 At the same time, they praised God and had the good will of all the people. Every day the Lord saved people, and they were added to the group.

Most of the models described throughout the New Testament have little access to such teaching (and to Bibles – particularly since the New Testament had not been written yet as evidenced by the fact they are in the stories) so they focused on getting together to seek God and to show live to one another in various ways.  Loving God through things like worship and prayer and loving each other through caring about one another and for on another seemed to be the main focus.

Matthew 22:34-40 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 One of them, an expert in Moses’ Teachings, tested Jesus by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ Teachings?”

37 Jesus answered him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and most important commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All of Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

If these are the greatest commandments, then whatever model of church that most demonstrates and creates these is the best model.  Along those same lines, if you are looking for the problems in a church or the churches of a nation then the biggest problem would have to be anything that hinders or limits these things in any way.

I have my feelings on people taking it upon themselves to say that only one way of teaching is the way it must be done when that is not the example we get from Jesus who used many teaching styles to reach various audiences, but that is not the biggest challenge here.

The first problem to look at is the model itself before the discussion of teaching styles.  Has the model of having a building with a cross on it, a pulpit and a highly trained expert teaching (whatever the teaching style) produces an environment completely focused on the exchange of love with God and the exchange of love with others to the point of all believers selling their valuables etc. to make sure nobody has a need.

It would seem that in our churches in the United States the biggest problem might not be teaching method, it may be more of a problem of church method.  The house to house gathering together to eat, fellowship and focusing on exchanging love with God is absolutely absent in many of our churches.  

In many of our major cities, people rarely sit down together at home to eat dinner with their spouses and children much less other believers.  The focus seems to be every man, woman and child for themselves.  There are often programs in these churches which are designed to focus on loving others usually involving something like giving money to foreign missionaries, going to parks where the homeless congregate and giving out sandwiches, going to downtown areas to give out Bible tracts to start the conversation to talk people into the kingdom, etc., but these (while good things) seem to be a sort of beginners level to the kind of loving one another described in the Biblical examples of church.

Before focusing on teaching style the question needs to be if you alter the teaching style in this same context (same church model) will that alone suddenly make it more likely that each participant will develop a deep personal love for God (including studying the Bible and hearing from God in that study as individuals) and a deep interpersonal relationship throughout all of the members of congregation.  These are the greatest commandments according to Jesus and everything else hinges on these.  

My personal observations have been that church models that focus on studies that are “expertless” and small group based (often also based on multiple families meeting together).  These groups tend to, by nature be built on each individuals seeking of God, study of the Bible and better build deep interpersonal relationship with the other believers involved.  I have seen these groups as stand alone churches and I have seen these as key parts of a larger church that has a more traditional Sunday service also.

With the traditional Sunday service and small group together models there is that more traditional teaching involved but the building of obedience to the two greatest commandments is more naturally built in the small group settings and the worship service has a teaching and more corporate worship component.

I have traditionally been pretty comfortable going to a building and listening to deep, engaging teaching with little likelihood of carrying that out through the week.  The thing is, I have to ask myself, if having a model that has a much greater likelihood of building me and those around me into believers that study for ourselves and from that study hear from and are led by God while also building much deeper, interpersonal relationships with the body of believers as well as my family is really a model that I would better benefit from.  It might also be a model that I enjoy more personal interaction with God and others as well as building a group of people that really care about and for me as well as caring for and about the other believers.  In other words I think I would be more likely to grow in the are of deeply loving God and deeply loving others in such a model.

The real challenge with the statements I heard on the radio about what is wrong with the American Church can only be seen as wrong when you realize that question has to be the second question asked.  You can only ask what is wrong after you clearly define what a right church is.  Using something as simple as the likelihood that each member will rapidly grow in obedience to what Jesus stated as the two greatest commandments, suddenly a whole bunch of ideas that once seemed logical become just more of the same “holding pattern” style of church that is losing membership in droves over the past few years.

The problem really seems to be that we are asking the wrong questions so we are getting the wrong answers.

 

Thoughts by faith and in His service,

W. Lawrence Hess

New Thoughts on my Favorite Church Models

Coffee shop in Kalpeni Island Lakshadweep

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Thoughts on my Favorite Church Models

Hebrews 10:22-25 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  22 We have been sprinkled with his blood to free us from a guilty conscience, and our bodies have been washed with clean water. So we must continue to come to him with a sincere heart and strong faith. 23 We must continue to hold firmly to our declaration of faith. The one who made the promise is faithful.  24 We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things. 25 We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.

Matthew 28:19-20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  19 So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach them to do everything I have commanded you.  “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”

I have had couple of conversations this week about what I would consider to be the perfect church setting for me and my family.  I came up with two that I find to be equally enjoyable ideas.

The obvious question being, what would others call the perfect church.  I have discussed this previously here and I have been discussing this (often accidently) with others a lot as of late. 

Hebrews 10:25 (in the above passage) is often quoted as a reason for remaining in the “traditional western church” and not going to other models.  The truth is that I do not see this in this passage or any other passage in the New Testament.  Since that model does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament why apply it to this passage.  I also think that concepts such as:  Encouraging one another, showing love to one another, doing good things with and for one another as well as making disciples more likely to obey all that Jesus taught would be better accomplished through other models.

Over the last couple of weeks the ideas I have been using to formulate answers to questions about my idea of the perfect church included such important ideas such as:

  • Where would each participant  experience the most spiritual growth (most likely to make obedient disciples vs. hearers)
  • Where would obedience (teaching them to obey – The Great Commission) would most be fostered
  • Where each participant would be most likely to go out and share the Gospel
  • Where personal relationship with God would most be fostered
  • Where relationship with a Spiritual Community would most be fostered
  • Where I would just enjoy myself
  • Where we could share in the growth and struggles of others
    • Encouraging one another, showing love to one another, and doing good things with and for one another

I came up with two that I find to be equally enjoyable ideas.  They are different, but the first model I feel is better for reproduction, the second model I think has similar, but lesser reproduction, but I would just find considerably more fun and cool as well as has better ability to build a strong larger fellowship.

The first is an obvious with the movements that are on the rise worldwide.  The small group, family based model which I will just call the house church model.

That would be a few families meeting in a home or rotating homes to worship and seek God.  Some of the important elements would have to be:

  • Some kind of musical worship experience (I would prefer having the participants write their own even if it is on top of the instrumentals of secular pop music)
  • Some kind of prayer and caring segment where we focus on discussing our struggles and blessings as well as focus on caring for and about each other. Ex. Questions:
    • What blessing have you experienced recently
    • What are you struggling with (prayer for these things)
    • Discussion about help for the struggles of each individual
  • A discussion based study of the Bible with nobody allowed to be an expert so we can all focus more on hearing from God and His word and less on some individual
    • That would also a mean a focus on what the passage actually says and not allowing members to read into the passage to prevent everyone’s big concern: “heresy”.
  • A discussion on how each member will change something or things about his/her life because of what God revealed in this study.
  • A discussion of who we are going to share what we have learned from this passage with that is outside of the group as well as a discussion about who we have shared the previous studies with.
  • A discussion about how have you (each participant) been doing with the changes you stated you needed to do in previous studies?
  • A time of fellowship and coffee/snacks etc.

 

That is the first and the second ideas are similar, but the second has a bit more hip of a setting that reflects my west coast cultural norms better:

  • A really large coffee shop setting with circular booths (like you see in some restaurants but a bit larger in circumference) that are really comfortable but also stylishly relaxing.   There would be a stage and all the booths would be facing it as much as possible.
    • There would be coffee and snacks available at a bar like a coffee shop
    • A hope is that whole families or segments of families would sit at booths with other families (this would be encouraged).
    • Those that find other groups of families or people that they are comfortable with would be encouraged to continue to sit with those groups weekly.
  • There would be live bands etc. playing as people come in and people can sit in their booths and sing along, listen or ignore it all together and talk as they feel led.
  • There would be a scripture that is read to the entire group or a testimony of God working that would be tied to a particular scripture (this would normally be no more than 5 or 10 minutes).
  • The groups then, at their respective tables would discuss the passage.
    • That includes a discussion on how each member will change something or things about his/her life because of what God revealed in this study.
    • Live music would continue in the background (at a level conducive to continuing conversation) There also could be a section that could be closed off to limit background noise for those groups that require more focus to be comfortable.
  • Then the stage would be open for individuals to stand up and discuss what he/she feels God has revealed to him/her, what he/she feels needs to be changed in his/her life as a result of what God revealed in this study or a short testimony that is related to the passage.
  • After this segment the tables would discuss:
    • What the sharing time revealed to them
    • What they will have to change in their lives because of what they feel God has revealed to them and
    • Who (that was not in that room) each person will share what was discussed and what transpired with before the next meeting as well as who he/she has been sharing the previous studies with (and how that has been going)
  • There would be prayer and free fellowship time after that where people were encouraged to socialize outside of their table and to pray for one another freely.
    • One of the focuses of this time would be some kind of prayer and caring segment where we focus on discussing our struggles and blessings as well as focus on caring for and about each other.  Ex. Questions:
      • What blessing have you experienced recently
      • What are you struggling with (prayer for these things)
      • Discussion about help for the struggles of each individual
      • How have you (each participant) been doing with the changes you stated you needed to do in previous studies?
    • Baptisms would take place somewhere at the location during this time.

These ideas have been met with mixed responses in the contexts I run in.  I do feel that both of these better reflect what I see in the New Testament as church than many of the experiences I have had.

Look at the concepts I mentioned earlier:

  • Encouraging one another – there is a time in each of the models to pray for and encourage one another on any struggles each member is having
  • Showing love to one another – there is a time in each of the models to pray for and encourage one another on any struggles each member is having as well as the fact that the time talking about struggles and blessings itself being a chance to simply care about what is going on in each other’s lives.
  • Doing good things with and for one another – The discussion about how we can all help with each other’s struggles covers this.
  • Making disciples more likely to obey all that Jesus taught – There is a segment in both to discuss what you need to change because of what he/she learned and an accountability segment for previous things each person has stated he/she should change.
  • Experiencing the most spiritual growth – The idea not only hearing the Bible, but everybody discussing it, every individual discussing what he/she will change because of it, and being (politely and matter-of-factly)held accountable later to have changed it is a strong method of growing obedience based disciples.
  • Most likely to go out and share the Gospel – having each individual discuss ahead of time who he/she will share each study with and holding each accountable afterward is a key method of doing this in both models.

 

I will not belabor the point, but these models would be ones that fulfill all the mandates of the Great Commission and the New Testament descriptions of the church while also having better potential for the results mentioned in the New Testament.  

I am curious about what others think about these models and why.  Let me know.  You can email me if you like, but I would also like to see some post those responses here.

Be blessed,

W. Lawrence Hess

Wrestling With The Real New Testament Church

The wrestle of Jacob, in an original high-reso...

The wrestle of Jacob, in an original high-resolution format. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wrestling With The Real New Testament Church

I was just looking at a website named the Church Task Force and I stumbled across some very interesting observations on the church planting ministry of Paul (see http://churchtaskforce.org/resources/pauls-methods). 

I will go over some key notes from the page for thought but I recommend going to the site to get a deeper look at this information (http://churchtaskforce.org/resources/pauls-methods).  Here is a summary of what caught my attention:

The Galatian Churches

  • Three churches planted in an average of four months each
  • Left largely on their own after that for months—without any leadership in place
  • Local leadership teams emerged from within the startup churches
  • Pastors were appointed within six months of their salvation, on average

The Macedonian Churches

  • Three churches planted in an average of two to four months each
  • The newly planted churches are left on their own for a time without formal leadership
  • They function on their own in a relatively short period of time (months rather than years)
  • Whole households were being converted, not just individuals

The Churches of Achaia

  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally, this time from a base camp in Corinth
  • In a relatively short period of time, these churches are able to stand on their own
  • The church planters leave the region after the church is planted
  • Whole households were being converted, not just individuals
  • Paul enlists additional workers from among the new churches

The Churches of Asia

  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally, this time from a base camp in Ephesus
  • In three years, Paul not only plants the church in Ephesus, but the many churches of Asia are birthed
  • Paul was enlisting, training, and sending out additional workers
  • Paul established multiple pastors in Ephesus

In looking at this information I started pondering the concept that seems to be such a huge topic in the North American church culture as of late:  “How do we prevent heresy?”.  I have sat in classes and seminars on the subject of preventing heresy.  I have sat in many sermons that focus on that topic.  I have listened to long radio shows and debates on the topic.  I have listened to the rantings and musings of people who believe it to be the entirety of their ministry to hunt heresy (a ministry that can sometimes make me think that they must sound exactly the same as the people who felt that their ministry was to hunt and burn witches did).  

I have listened people describe how we are to micromanage the growth of the new believer and keep them on the straight and narrow path to theological depth.  Things like; memorizing immense amounts of Bible passages, telling them to force themselves to read the Bible some very substantial amount of time each day no matter what, telling them to throw out all their music and do nothing that is not “church approved” ever again, telling them who to associate with paying close attention not to associate with somebody our church has deemed a heretic, telling them how almost every pastor or preacher they have ever heard of is somehow a heretic (making it look like Christianity is about nitpicking every word a believer speaks and anything deemed wrong will get you excommunicated), and so on. 

The message is one that sounds far more like the message of the Pharisees than the message of Jesus or any of the Apostles.  It also sounds completely different than anything that called itself church in the New Testament.

John 13:34-35 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  34 “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. 35 Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”

I suppose that making and enforcing rules can be a part of loving someone but if that is the majority of the way you relate to someone, then I would have to say that calling it loving them is a reach at best.  I sometimes find it similar to the logic of dysfunctional parents who think that by verbally, emotionally or physically abusing their children they are somehow showing them love.

I do have a couple of huge concerns with the rule making, heresy hunting model of church.  The first of which relates to the concepts seen here:

John 10:27-28 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  27 My sheep respond to my voice, and I know who they are. They follow me, 28 and I give them eternal life. They will never be lost, and no one will tear them away from me.

Romans 8:14-17 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  14 Certainly, all who are guided by God’s Spirit are God’s children. 15 You haven’t received the spirit of slaves that leads you into fear again. Instead, you have received the spirit of God’s adopted children by which we call out, “Abba![a] Father!” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 If we are his children, we are also God’s heirs. If we share in Christ’s suffering in order to share his glory, we are heirs together with him.

These models are focused so much on the interpretations of a few educated men that the sheep rarely have time to respond to the voice of Christ directly (they are probably too busy trying to figure out and follow all of the church rules).  Rather than being guided by God’s Spirit, they are more likely to follow someone who they have come to believe is following God’s Spirit and hope for the best.  In the case of church communities that have learned to focus on heresy hunting etc. they are almost entirely driven by the fear of heresy that there seems to be more time looking for errors to point out and piously correct than they are spending time exhorting or loving one another.  It is as if there is no Holy Spirit or voice of God in some experiences I have personally encountered.  

I know that not all churches are like that in the United States and that and I do understand that there are times and places for all of these things.  Sometimes you have to confront people and there is a precedent for such things:

Matthew 18:15-19 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  15 “If a believer does something wrong,[a] go, confront him when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have won back that believer. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation may be verified by two or three witnesses. 17 If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the community of believers. If he also ignores the community, deal with him as you would a heathen or a tax collector. 18 I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free.  19 “I can guarantee again that if two of you agree on anything here on earth, my Father in heaven will accept it.

But, I am not convinced that anywhere in this passage there was a mandate for a Christian police force whose duty it is to find errors of any kind in any believers they encounter and nitpick them into submission.  As a matter of fact it seems like the only time something like this is in extreme cases where something egregious is taking place and is sustained without conviction. 

In context the verses before this describe a shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to go get the one lost one, but nothing about telling the other sheep not to talk to that sheep or about the other sheep refusing to have anything to do with that sheep.  Because that is not what sheep do with each other.  They simply do not have enough understanding (they are not smart enough) to handle it.

I also get the responsibility of a pastor/church leader to keep heresy out, but I have to wonder if the flaw is in the model.  I believe in pastors and teachers etc. but I think the current model in which the pastoral staff is the arm of God and the voice of God (exclusively for many church members) is flawed at best.

As I discussed in the previous post “Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter” I think this idea is not necessarily unbiblical, but I do feel that there is clear evidence that this has never been the best type of leadership model for God’s endeavors.

In the case of Moses and the Hebrew people that came out of Egypt, God wanted to speak to them directly.  The problem was that when God began to speak they were afraid of Him and decided to run away.  Then they pushed for this style of leadership in spite of the fact that God had wanted each person to individually draw near to Him and hear His voice.

Exodus 20:18-19 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18 All the people heard the thunder and saw the lightning. They heard the blast of the ram’s horn and saw the mountain covered with smoke. So they shook with fear and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die!”

Not to restate my thoughts on the “Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter” post, but at the time when they were supposed to be close to God and hearing His divine voice and while their leader was actually up listening to God and talking to God to protect them, they soon became busy in worshiping the calf god they had erected.

Another example of God wanting to deal with the population directly and the people rejecting it for a single leader to go between is:

1 Samuel 8:4-9 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  4 Then all the leaders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They told him, “You’re old, and your sons aren’t following your example. Now appoint a king to judge us so that we will be like all the other nations.”  6 But Samuel considered it wrong for them to request a king to judge them. So Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 The Lord told Samuel, “Listen to everything the people are saying to you. They haven’t rejected you; they’ve rejected me. 8 They’re doing just what they’ve done since I took them out of Egypt—leaving me and serving other gods. 9 Listen to them now, but be sure to warn them and tell them about the rights of a king.”

The people decide that the church leadership, which really had limited access to all the people, are not doing a good enough job (which is actually true if you look at passages that precede this one).  They decide they want a king to judge and rule as go between for God’s will and the people.  In this passage wanting such a leader was described by God as idolatry and rejecting God, yet He instructed Samuel to “Listen to everything the people are saying to you.” 

Again it is as if the people wanted it so badly that God decided to help mankind (particularly the Hebrew peoples) fully understand that this model does not work through painful experience.  He let that model stay in place for quite a while after that also.

The spiritual leadership had a choice between leading the people to seek and listen to God themselves and the people kept trying to force the leaders to go before God instead and just fill them in.

This is funny to me because it reminds me of responses many of us give when first pondering ideas like this:

  • “Someone has to lead the people and make sure they don’t go nuts.”
  • “If the pastor or leadership doesn’t correct them heresy will slip in. “
  • “If the pastor or leadership doesn’t correct them, who will?”

Here is the interesting part; how well did that work for Moses.  In the first trial run the group completely abandoned God, completely rebelled against the very first thing they did manage to hear from God before they ran off, came close to being wiped out by God and wound up attacking each other.

There is a real mega-problem with the idea that things are so humanly driven by the heresy hunting, church police:

Romans 7:18-23 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18 I know that nothing good lives in me; that is, nothing good lives in my corrupt nature. Although I have the desire to do what is right, I don’t do it. 19 I don’t do the good I want to do. Instead, I do the evil that I don’t want to do. 20 Now, when I do what I don’t want to do, I am no longer the one who is doing it. Sin that lives in me is doing it.  21 So I’ve discovered this truth: Evil is present with me even when I want to do what God’s standards say is good. 22 I take pleasure in God’s standards in my inner being. 23 However, I see a different standard at work throughout my body. It is at war with the standards my mind sets and tries to take me captive to sin’s standards which still exist throughout my body.

The human driven model assumes the person doing the policing is being somehow perfectly led by God to do all of this correcting (be they a pastor, church leader, radio/television personality etc.).  The person describing himself here is The Apostle Paul.  He is saying himself that it is a huge task keep on the straight and narrow path.

Moses never made it into The Promised Land because of public disobedience stemming from frustration he had form the job of being the person who went to God for the whole group. 

My point is that even divinely inspired leaders are people with a sin nature.  They are only successful if the leadership constantly focuses people on God and points them to dependence upon God DIRECTLY.  Any “go-between” is flawed by nature and is in fact taking God’s place.

The idea of being the only way God communicates to another individual who has direct access to God through Christ’s death burial and resurrection is one that seems to stunt that person’s growth more than it could ever help.  I am not saying that there will not be times where God speaks to an individual through a person so blessed as to hear from God to do so.  What I am saying is that it’s hard to develop a personal relationship with God when you keep sending someone else to do all of the relational things.

ON the other hand; I do have many of those concerns of heresy and other craziness if people are left totally to their own devices.  I suppose for most of this article so far, I have been preaching from a soapbox a bit.  The truth is I am not completely sold on the idea of people completely doing whatever they feel the Holy Spirit has led hem to do with no intervention from people who are more advanced in understanding and may just simply have more common sense.  History has shown that if unchecked, all kinds of crazy can arise in any group of people and lead groups to do just about anything (some doing crazy things while quoting scriptures).

So all of those that read this that were taking notes to write their blog or radio show to blast each detail (possibly heresy hunters), I do not totally disagree with your position except for one glairing issue:  There is no New Testament example for having the kind of legalistic oversight that so many of us would like to see in order to avert potential crazy.

The prime example is Paul.  He went places, taught people as much as he could in a short time, appointed leaders, and pretty much moved on.  The time spent in an area varied from a couple of months to spending three years in a base camp traveling from there or sending out other trained leaders to do the same kind of ministry he had been doing.

The evidence in his ministry is that he empowered young leaders with little training to lead the church.  He left young churches, with little guidance to depend upon the Holy Spirit to guide them. 

Did heretical practices arise?  Absolutely!  Several of the letters he sent in the hope of directing them towards truth are still available as a large part of what we now call the New Testament.  Which brings me to my next point, when they started, they did not even have access to the level of information we have now:  If the letters were sent to and addressed to them later how could they have had them earlier?

So Paul discipled new believers and empowered them to depend upon God completely.  He taught them verbally (and I assume quite well).  They continued to meet and seek God and amazing things would happen.  He would give a little more training to those he was sending out as leaders and leave them in God’s hands also.

The difference between the model we see most often in North America (the one I have been most comfortable with myself) and the model we see as an example in the New Testament could be best summed up as trusting God to lead the church considerably more.  Paul relied on the Holy Spirit to do much of the day to day correction of the whole church at any given place and only seemed to intervene if there was a prolonged and way out there problem/practice that could no longer be ignored.

I am forced to ask myself (and in reality to ask God/the Scriptures) if so much day to day correction of so much detail and doctrine is necessary or if it is a better practice to allow individuals, groups and whole churches to drift a bit under the assumption that the Holy Spirit is in control.  Is it possible that what I perceive to be a group of heretics may be deeply spiritual believers that are growing and hearing from God, but are in the process of learning this or that particular lesson slowly.  In that case would declaring them heretics possibly make the group more likely to be stubborn and dig in slowing the process of their learning.  All of my self-righteous Bible thumping would be reminiscent of satan trying to tempt Jesus by quoting scripture (see Matthew 4:1-11). 

I know I have used the term “heresy hunter” as a negative term and it is intended to be.  The truth is I have been trained to be a politer “heresy hunter” and that is who I have been.  If these posts seem to be on the attack, it is most probably an attack on my own mindsets. 

The truth is I am not saying that the church should abandon all structure and do whatever people think the Holy Spirit is telling them.  It is something somewhat on an opposite note that I am saying:  Us heresy hunters have to stop telling people that the way we structure the church with all these checks and balances and careful heresy hunters posted at every turn, is the way it is supposed to be.  That way is not really spoken directly for or against in the New Testament.  The people who are doing church with less structure and less checks and balances however, are using the actual examples found in the New Testament and have at least a reasonable argument for that model of church (which in some ways is stronger than the argument for our super-structured model).  Especially when the best argument against the less controlled model (as seen in the New Testament) is that there will not be enough people in the right positions to keep it under control. 

IF PEOPLE ARE KEEPING A CHURCH FROM GOING OUT OF CONTROL IT IS DOOMED ANYHOW!  GOD MUST BE THE ONE KEEPING HIS CHURCH FROM GOING OUT OF CONTROL!   People do play a part, but that part must be leading people to the conviction and guidance of God not the guilt of my quoting scripture at them and relying completely on me to tell them what God is trying to tell them.

I named this “Wrestling With The Real New Testament Church” because there seems to be two related Christian currents I repeatedly encounter everywhere I go.

  1. More and more people seem to be unhappy with the North American Church Model (and I keep hearing reports and statistics that describe the same about the “Western Model of Church”) and looking for a more personal relationship with God, less rule oriented model.
  2. There seems to always be some person (often who thinks a lot like the way I think) saying that all of that is somehow evil and watering down how the church is supposed to operate.

On number two the evidence seems to point to one fact:  The Western model may actually water down God a bit by putting the focus too much on the intellect of a few really educated people when God really has always wanted personal relationship with each member of His holy family.  The New Testament, the reasons for and content of some of the Pauline epistles, and history shows that the more open model is at least Biblical, but I also have to wonder how heresy is kept out (sounds a bit like I need more faith actually reading it).

The fact is that although you may wrestle with how to respond to the various movements arising that embrace a more Holy Spirit led model of church with less structure, checks and balances neither you or I can accuse them of being wrong or out of God’s will.  How could relying on God more be unbiblical?  It may be a bit more tricky to figure out and thus a bit more messy, but to demand more people lead is how Israel ended up with kings that ended up dividing and losing the nation, the temple, the ark, the people, and so on.

I clearly have embraced this movement and consider myself to be a part of it, yet I still attend a “traditional” church (those are finger-quotes in case you didn’t know) also.

 

Be Blessed

 

W. Lawrence Hess 

Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter

Moses on Mount Sinai (1545-1555); Gemäldegaler...

Moses on Mount Sinai (1545-1555); Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter

I was listening to a debate/discussion on if having a pastor in a traditional church was unbiblical or not and on the idea of a “pastorless church”.  A very interesting and enlightening discussion but in the end I was left feeling like both sides were wrong simply because I feel that they were debating the wrong question to begin with.   In other words there is  third side to the debate that was not represented:  “Is the western idea of a pastor in a traditional church Biblical and is it the best way to “make disciples” as Jesus instructed us.”

One side gave solid Biblical reasoning that showed that at the least, there was substantial evidence that the type of pastor that the western church is used to is not described in the New Testament churches.  There was also evidence from this side of the debate that churches did not have or need the kind of structured services that the traditional western church has in our era as well as a pretty good case that such structuring of the services can build a solid reliance on people and structuring instead of the Holy Spirit.

The other side of the debate was centered on the usual arguments that always come up in all such discussions about heresy (which is a very valid point and question).  Who ensures there is no heresy?

The choices seem to be a somehow Jesus based free-for-all vs. a super structured group with the super leader who ensures no heresy and is the voice of God to all of the hundreds of people sitting on their hands on some or most Sundays. 

Look at this story:

Exodus 19:10-13 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) – 10So the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people, and tell them they have two days to get ready. They must set themselves apart as holy. Have them wash their clothes 11and be ready by the day after tomorrow. On that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch. 12Mark off a boundary around the mountain for the people, and tell them not to go up the mountain or even touch it. Those who touch the mountain must be put to death. 13No one should touch them. They must be stoned or shot with arrows. No matter whether it’s an animal or a person, it must not live. The people may go up the mountain only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast.”

 

So, God told the people to prepare themselves because He was going to appear before all of the people and talk to the leader He had appointed over them and to them at the same time.  There were some rules and boundaries, but only the structure that God had clearly appointed for His own reasons.  

Now, lets look at what that day looked like:

Exodus 19:17-20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  17Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had come down on it in fire. Smoke rose from the mountain like the smoke from a kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. 19As the sound of the horn grew louder and louder, Moses was speaking, and the voice of God answered him.  20The Lord came down on top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up.

The key to this passage is to consider it from the perspective of the people that were there other than Moses.  This God that you have been praying for (and have been a bit unsure about with all of the plagues and extra work in Egypt) who does some really strange things including repaying the Pharaoh’s killing of their firstborns by killing all of the firstborns of Egypt in one night.  You have a bit of fear and confusion then there is all of this don’t touch the mountain or even touch someone who touched the mountain you are supposed to be standing next to talk from Moses.  Now, when the time comes the mountain is on fire, with all kinds of smoke, the earth is shaking, trumpets are blowing loudly from nowhere, and you can hear the powerful voice of God talking from amid all of this to Moses.  Then let your mind drift back to all of that if you do something wrong you will die or be put to death stuff.

A bit overwhelming isn’t it?  Then comes the voice of God bellowing out the Ten Commandments for all to hear in chapter 20 starting with some “jealous God” talk and more stuff you can do that is wrong.

Immediately after the Ten Commandments you run into this description of the next events that took place:

Exodus 20:18-24 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18All the people heard the thunder and saw the lightning. They heard the blast of the ram’s horn and saw the mountain covered with smoke. So they shook with fear and stood at a distance. 19Then they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die!”

20Moses answered the people, “Don’t be afraid! God has come only to test you, so that you will be in awe of him and won’t sin.”

21The people kept their distance while Moses went closer to the dark cloud where God was.

22The Lord said to Moses, “This is what you must say to the Israelites: You’ve seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven. 23Never make any gods of silver or gold for yourselves. Never worship them.

24“You must build an altar for me made out of dirt. Sacrifice your burnt offerings and your fellowship offerings, your sheep, goats, and cattle on it. Wherever I choose to have my name remembered, I will come to you and bless you.

The people were so overwhelmed by the presence of God, His leadership style, and His commitment to holding them accountable for their actions that they kept a distance.  Then they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die!” (Exodus 20:19 GOD’S WORD Translation [GW]) 

Thus you have the beginning of the issue.  This is the creation of the problem.  Later while they were supposed to be close to the mountain listening to God and while they were at a distance instead awaiting the return of Moses, they get tired of waiting for Moses.  

Exodus 32:1-6 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  1When the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. They said to him, “We don’t know what has happened to this Moses, who led us out of Egypt. Make gods who will lead us.”  2Aaron said to them, “Have your wives, sons, and daughters take off the gold earrings they are wearing, and bring them to me.”   3So all the people took off their gold earrings and handed them to Aaron. 4After he had worked on the gold with a tool,[a] he made it into a statue of a calf.   Then they said, “Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.”  5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival in the Lord’s honor.”  6Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought fellowship offerings. Afterward, they sat down to a feast, which turned into an orgy.

So one day the are so scared to do anything wrong before God that when he says not to touch a mountain while I talk to you they decide to get as far away as possible and let one fearless person go and have that conversation then a few days later they absolute do everything they can to trample all over the little bit they did manage to hear from God before running off.  The first commandment they heard was told to them like this:

Exodus 20:3-6 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  3“Never have any other god. 4Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water. 5Never worship them or serve them, because I, the Lord your God, am a God who does not tolerate rivals. I punish children for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. 6But I show mercy to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my commandments.

My point here is that once the leader appointed by God took on the spiritual responsibility and relating to God duties that every one of the people of the God were supposed to have the people felt free to do all of the stuff that God had told them directly not to do.  In other words, the fact that there was one person who took it as their task to go to God for the whole group allowed for the group to actually be at a great distance from God where evil and crazy can get a foothold.

This does seem to support the “no pastor” argument except for one glairing problem:  Moses was appointed to lead the group.  This is why I say the argument itself is the wrong argument.  It is not if there is to be leadership or not.  The problem is in what that leadership (specifically the pastor) is supposed to do.

The pastor doing all of the relationship with God things and going back to tell the people model clearly does not work.  But, letting the people do whatever they feel like will not work either.  This one story basically demonstrates that both extremes are incorrect.

Now let me go to one more passage from this same story to give the role of church leadership a different look.  Let’s go all the way back to right before we started.  Right before all of that consecrate yourselves and come close to the mountain, but don’t touch it stuff God made this comment about this congregation:

Exodus 19:5-6a GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  5If you carefully obey me and are faithful to the terms of my promise,[a] then out of all the nations you will be my own special possession, even though the whole world is mine. 6You will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.’

This clarifies what the role of leadership is intended to be within the congregations of God:

  1. To teach the people to obey all that God commands
  2. To raise the entire congregation up to be priests – the people who talk to God and bring His words to others and do His work of ministry for others
  3. These two things, in and of themselves, will make the congregation a special possession of God’s or “holy”.

 

Jesus described these things in more detail this way:

Matthew 28:19-20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  19So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 20Teach them to do everything I have commanded you.  “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”

This is widely accepted as the call to all believers.  That means the foremost call for every leader in the church to bring each individual into personal relationship with God in a way that teaches them to obey what He commands and to be a priest (a disciple maker who brings others into personal relationship with God, teaches them to obey, and teaches them to be a priest…).  

If you look at the failed model in the example used by Moses you have:  Moses spending an inordinate amount of time trying to get all of the information for everyone in the congregation to give everyone all of the details himself.  You have the people so detached from God’s presence, His voice and his will that He gets angry with them and wants to destroy the whole congregation, and their leader Moses (who at first risks life and limb to defend them before he has full understanding of what was going on while he was off in the presence of God for them) freaks out, throws the commandments that God wrote at them and has the congregation fight a death match (A.K.A. a church split).

Exodus 32:7-14 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  7The Lord said to Moses, “Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything. 8They’ve already turned from the way I commanded them to live. They’ve made a statue of a calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They’ve said, ‘Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.’ ”  9The Lord added, “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with. 10Now leave me alone. I’m so angry with them I am going to destroy them. Then I’ll make you into a great nation.”  11But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand? 12Don’t let the Egyptians say, ‘He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why he brought them out of our land.’ Don’t be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people. 13Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.’ ”  14So the Lord reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.

Exodus 32:19-20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  19When he came near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing. In a burst of anger Moses threw down the tablets and smashed them at the foot of the mountain. 20Then he took the calf they had made, burned it, ground it into powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

Exodus 32:25-27  GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  25Aaron had let the people get out of control, and they became an object of ridicule to their enemies. When Moses saw this, 26he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “If you’re on the Lord’s side, come over here to me!” Then all the Levites gathered around him.  27He said to them, “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: Each of you put on your sword. Go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other, and kill your relatives, friends, and neighbors.”

A key point that many people miss in all of this is that both God and the leader God had appointed were trying to get the whole congregation to come near to God and hear the voice of God themselves, but they insisted on letting God and the leader work all that out then the leader, Moses, was to come back and fill them in.  

The result, if you put it in modern terms was that the people did all kinds of stuff between the times that the pastor came to pass on what the Lord had said, the church split and the people set out to destroy one another (some with the pastors blessing, the pastor went mad with anger and frustration, the associate pastor led the charge to crazy town and participated in splitting the church, yet when confronted acted as if it was an honest mistake and that the congregation forced him to do it, and the pastor preached a big fire and brimstone service over the dividing church to scare the devil out of those that would remain under the same failed system.  In the end all of the people led in this generation by this leader died in the wilderness until a new pastor was appointed that would take them to where they were going and then send them out to do as the Lord had appointed.  That didn’t happen until that whole congregation died out and the leader died.

I am not saying that all pastors of western traditional churches are like this, or that we have to abandon the western church etc.  You can turn off the heresy detectors.  I am sure that there are some pastors who do a great job of empowering people to obey and go before God themselves etc.  I am just saying that this does not seem to be the norm for this model dating back to the first time it appears in the Bible which is the story we just read.

I am saying that there either needs to be new models that are more conducive to this kind of experience or huge adjustments to the current model to make it more likely that people will be lead in the way that God and Moses both described.  In a way where every individual is brought before God and hearing from God, obeying God and is sent out as a disciple maker that empowers others to hear from God, obey God and be sent out etc.

One of the people in the discussion had hinted to the fact that the western model of church was in fact unbiblical.  While I would agree that in the New Testament, there is not any church that even looked remotely like the western church model I do not see anywhere that it is clearly stated not to have a church like that either.  It simply is not mentioned and as such is abiblical (not talked about as good or bad).  

What that means is that while nobody has the right to say that the western model of church is unbiblical, nobody has the right to say it is the only way to have church either.  That also means that the large buildings that house the congregation on Sundays to sit and listen to the one person who goes before God are not in the New Testament either. 

There are times when a teacher would talk to the crowds etc., by and large the churches were smaller meetings that met in homes and in many cases were leaderless for years before Paul would send them a letter on how to structure themselves etc.

As far as heresy, Paul seemed to take a few people from each place and leave them to their own devices while the future leaders were with him for on the Job training.  If they got way out there with a heresy, he simply sent a letter with a trained leader.  These things seem to take up much of the New Testament. 

Was there heresy?  Yes absolutely.  Paul seemed to trust the Holy Spirit to work it out more than he trusted the leaders and himself as a leader.  He even addressed the letters to the congregations and usually not to specific leaders.

If we have to rely solely on strict systems and a well trained pastor trained in the art of heresy hunting, we are left with one glaring question:  What do we need God and the Holy Spirit for?

Sometimes (possibly often times) our model is the Moses model and whole generations of the church die stuck in the wilderness really close to what God has for them yet not personally connected to God.

Maybe we should take a real deep look at the western church model and the role that we assign to pastors and church leadership.  I guess, in reference to the discussion I listened to, I suppose that the are kinda both right and kinda both wrong due to not asking the right question.

 

Just some food for thought.  More to come…

W. Lawrence Hess

Study 2 Peter 1:3-4 – COMPLETED

End of the Second Epistle of Peter and beginni...

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S = Scripture:    2 Peter 1:3-4 [GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)]

3God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and for godliness. This power was given to us through knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and integrity. 4Through his glory and integrity he has given us his promises that are of the highest value. Through these promises you will share in the divine nature because you have escaped the corruption that sinful desires cause in the world.

 

E = Explanation

No matter what people want or think they need etc. God has provided for each of us everything that each one of us as individuals need.  The most important things He has given is is Himself and the salvation he has given us.  Nothing is more importnat than these things and we shold remember that.   He gave us these things, not because we earned them, but simply because of who He is and how He is.   Because of all of this we have been blessed beyond measure and be free of the evilo that is  a natural part of this world as it is and a natural part of every person born into this world.

  

A = Application

I need to take a moment every time I am struggling with thoughts of what I don’t have or what I think I need and literally thank God for the things I do have most importantly relationship with Him and His caring love. 

 

Study 2 Peter 1:3-4

End of the Second Epistle of Peter and beginni...

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S = Scripture:    2 Peter 1:3-4 [GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)]

3God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and for godliness. This power was given to us through knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and integrity. 4Through his glory and integrity he has given us his promises that are of the highest value. Through these promises you will share in the divine nature because you have escaped the corruption that sinful desires cause in the world.

 

E = Explanation

 

 

 

 

A = Application