This year, at onething’09, our theme is: “What is the Spirit Saying to the Church?” As those who love Jesus, we are all desperate to hear what He is saying, and then to obey it. At this four-day conference Lou Engle, Misty Edwards, Allen Hood, Dwayne Roberts, Mark Anderson, myself, and others will be teaching on what we believe the Spirit is saying.

There is an answer to the confusion and deception that is coming from some of those associated with the Emerging Church. We believe the Spirit is raising up what we refer to as the “Praying Church”—a church that loves the truth and has unwavering allegiance to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is raising up such congregations that will do outreach and works of justice that flow from a foundation of prayer and deep relationship with Jesus. This “Praying Church” movement is resisting the false church, which is emerging in our nation today, especially among young adults.

Comment from Alex on this post

As one who is finding myself more and more associating myself with the Emerging Church, I take exception with the idea that the conservative type Christianity has the truth. Let me say that as a progressive Christian, I can say with just as much passion that we “who love Jesus, we are all desperate to hear what He is saying, and then to obey it.” It just happens that what the two camps are hearing from God are often different, even opposing. Theoretically, I could say in response:

There is an answer to the confusion and deception that is coming from some of those associated with the Praying Church. We believe the Spirit is raising up what we refer to as the “Emerging Church”—a church that loves the truth and has unwavering allegiance to Jesus.

More and more I am feeling like I am being pushed into a corner to ‘get with the conservative program’. Implied in the above IHOP quote, is that their camp is the one that loves Jesus and has the desire to be obedient and those of us that are emerging are the deceived false church. I am starting to develop thinking that God is more glorifies in the multitude of belief sets. Worship of God cannot be complete in any one camp. Not the Eastern Orthodox nor the Catholic. Not the Protestants nor the Anabaptists. Not the Calvinists nor the Armenians. Not the Charismatics nor the Cessationists. Not the Liberals nor the Conservatives. Not even the Emergents nor the Praying Church. I am starting to think that complete worship of God will come in an open environment when we recognize that  all the above camps, and all the camps that were left out make up the Body of Christ.

I pledge to recognize all camps as legitimate expressions of the image of God. Who will join me?

Ever since the US election, I’ve been thinking about the division of Christians over Oboma. I remember reading Dutch Sheets response:

but my convictions run deep and I believe I bear a God-given responsibility to share them.

Was This God’s Will?

Was what happened Tuesday God’s will? I am quite confident it was not. America was offered a very clear choice between moving further toward protecting the unborn or further away; between a Supreme Court that would move towards honoring God, life and morality or away from it. The stakes couldn’t have been higher nor the cost greater. As a nation we put on blinders concerning Barak Obama’s background, associates, beliefs and practices, and set these causes back years, possibly decades.

And in doing so we took another step away from God and His plans for America, and another step towards judgment.

  • For those in the Church who aligned themselves with pro-abortion forces, I believe judgment will result.
  • For leaders in the Body of Christ who refused to take a stand for fear of losing people, money, and tax-exempt status – I believe there will be a degree of judgment.
  • For those, both withing the Church and without, who voted money over morality – a potential raise or better health insurance over the life of a baby – there will be judgment.

I think I now believe that those who claim to be pro-life are, in fact, narrow minded. Not that they are wrong for being against abortion, but most who say they are pro-life, are actually just anti-abortion? They are short sighted and on a mission for God. And to quote Frank Schaeffer, ”No matter how good a cause, when you think you are on a mission from God, you eventually get crazy”.

Can you be pro-life and pro-death-penalty?

Can you be pro-life and anti-condom distribution? If this is the case, then I would say that you are more concerned with the image of abstinence then you are with life. If you were really pro-life you would teach abstinence and hand out condoms.

Can you be pro-life and be pro-war? If one is pro-life does that not mean they should be at least anti any and all civilian causality? I don’t believe you can say you are pro-life and be supportive of the war in Afghanistan or in Iraq. In this respect Obama is more pro-life than the alternative!

Can you be pro-life and do nothing for poverty? If you are not active in the fight against poverty politically, on the local body of believers level and on a personal level, I don’t think that you can say that you are pro-life. I don’t know all the statistics but I did hear that 90% of abortions that occur for those under the poverty line are done for financial reasons. Having a baby could mean losing a job, not finishing school or in general subjecting the baby and maybe other children to malnutrition and a general shitty life.

It is because of this last issue that I struggle calling my self pro-life. I have never brought into my home a pregnant mother that has no where to go. I have never in any active way tried to help those suffering more then me due to their condition in poverty. Politically I am against poverty, so at least I do something for poverty come election time, but I am not sure how much my vote aids in their real life struggles.

Taking the stance of pro-life, for most people including myself, is an easy way to ease our conscience rather than being actively pro-life.

So, back to the new US administration, there were two groups of response on election day: the group that were singing and rejoicing and praising God; and the group that were on their knees in mourning and interceding on the nations behalf. Both sides need to repent! Obama is not the savior nor is he the anti-Christ. He is, however, God’s authority in the seat of power of the kingdom of the west. Both sides need to come together in unity to pray and bless Obama and to seek God for direction for the Kingdom of God. For way to long, we have been mesmerized by the kingdom of the west. We have bought into the capitalism as though it were God’s economic system. We thought that it is through this worldly kingdom that God’s morality would flow. We have fought each other and drew divided lines, less on the things of God and more on politics.

Jesus will bring judgment on all kingdoms, and they will all fail. If America and west fall (not to mention China and the east which are being hit just as hard by the economic situation we are finding ourselves in), it willnot be because the wrong party was voted into power in America. If any thing the last party has been instrumental in the failing economy, what with their pro-death war! All Obama’s horses and all Obama’s men will probably not be able to put Humpty together again.

Revelations 18,19 is a better indicator for the state we find our selves in, rather then any results of an election in a worldly kingdom.

Obama was either chosen or allowed, by God, to be the leader of the United States in this hour! We need to stop rebelling against God’s authority by subversive intercession and negative attitudes masquerading as prophecy and raise up, separate ourselves from the kingdoms of this world and actively bring God’s Kingdom to earth! Love one another (fellow believers, our neighbors, even our enemies); Sell all you have and give it to the needy; Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, invite in the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned; Visit orphans and widows.

Dutch Sheets claimed that he knew what God’s will was for his nation and that Obama was not it. Other Christians claimed they knew God’s will for the nation and Obama was the answer. Rationally, only one side can be right. Only one side can be hearing from God, meaning the other side is being deceived by some one else. This is the only rational answer. I believe God’s answer is not rational. God does not speak to individuals, he speaks to his Body. As long as God’s Body is divided into different camps, we will not know, we cannot know God’s will.

God’s Body is bigger than most people believe. It includes many that we ignore or resist (Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Anabaptist, liberal, mainline, evangelical, charismatic, post-charismatic, cessationists, post-evangelical, emergent, house-church, …). This is the Body! And until this Body comes together in unity we all will be carrying only a fraction of puzzle known as God’s will.(John 17; Eph 4) We need to focus less on the doctrines and practices of the different parts of the Body, and less on the kingdoms of this world. We need to focus more on Christ and His Body. His complete Body!

What is it that defines our walk with God?

  • A modernity rationalistic reading of the bible? Trying to figure out the rules, the biblical way to live. (Often seen as a literalistic approach to biblical interpretation)
  • Approaching the bible as a history, the narrative of the people of God? We see an example, not of right belief but of right living.

More and more I am getting away from the tyranny of believing right. It does not matter as much what I believe about Jesus and Father, but what I do with them. Jesus was an example to be followed, not a source of doctrine to be dissected.

For the past 500 years of protestantism, we have found ourselves in a swirling sink-hole that has been sucking us in deeper and deeper into a state of division. The Reformation fit in well with the rational ideas of the enlightenment.Because of this, we suddenly found ourselves having a heavy reliance on a book and the science of dissecting and resembling that book in a systematic manner. This systematic theology heavily ignores the narrative and the historical context the scriptures came to life in and cuts and pastes sterilized verses into rational doctrines often far removed from the life of the spirit.

This new science of bible study, combined with the rationalistic idea of ultimate truth and personalized study has done more for creating a spirit of disunity and division than any thing we have seen before. 30,000 + Protestant denominations!

Even though the bible is sliced up, much like a legal document, with chapters and verses, it is not a contract that we have to mine out the meaning in order to be able to judge our beliefs (and others) rightly. The bible is a narrative and can only be understood in reading it as a story. And because languages change, and individual words take on different meanings depending on the context, so even if we perfectly understand Greek and Hebrew, could the meaning of the word have evolved to take on different emphasis or meanings? Could not the use of words, though they have the same meaning, take on a different spin depending on the context and understanding of different audiences?

Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he used to say, ‘Come, and let us go to the seer’; for he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer.
1 Samuel 9:9

Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word[rhema, spoken or written utterance – story] of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness
2 Timothy 2:14-16

It is better for someone to never have heard of Jesus but follow in his steps, than someone who believes in right doctrine but doesn’t follow the life.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:6,7

True faith, and thus a true and healthy walk with God, has more in common with doubt and uncertainty then it does with having confidence (and placing that confidence in the understanding that there is an absolute truth, and that we have parsed life and the bible rightly and have a good, solid handle on what that truth is).

”No matter how good a cause, when you think you are on a mission from God, you eventually get crazy”
Frank Schaeffer

And much of evangelical and charismatic Christendom has been on a mission from God!

The way I see it, the greatest problems with the church today are:

  • Denominationalism
  • Institutionalism
  • Professionalism

I find it interesting that these things have nothing- or little to do with doctrine or theology. Doctrine and theology are important, don’t get me wrong, however, when we look at the New Testament I think the issues have less what do we believe and more about how we are to living together.

Denominationalism

To my mind, this is the number one problem existing in the church today. Jesus said that we would be known for our unity not our diversity. The problem is not that we have variety but that this variety comes from disunity.

I am in no way a historian, however, I do think I see a historical evolution of the church as it relates to our unity.

We see in Acts that for the first 10 years the faith of the Way was very unified. It was a Hebraic religious understanding of the life and death of Joshua bar-Joseph considered to be the Promised One of Israel. Jesus kept his message, for the most part, for his nation and for the first 10 years, his followers also kept it to their nation. Sure there were Gentiles that entered the Way, but these had to be circumcised and converted to Judaism.

In Acts 15 we see the first council gather to discuss and solve the problem in Antioch. I say council, however, it was not a council as we understand it today. There was no formal structure, no head table listening to the arguments and no smoke to let the people know a decision was made. But a decision was made. There was no need to make the Gentiles convert; their foreskins were safe.

James put it this way: “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles” Act 15:19 The Way of faith in Jesus is not dependent on a culture or in religious rituals and practices. Faith is to grow and be interpreted differently in any given cultural context. And for three hundred years these two out workings of faith in Jesus coexisted beside each other. Then Constantine happened.

Greek Christianity killed the Hebrew version, and for 1000+ years, Greek philosophy had complete reign over the development of western Christianity. And then the reformation happened. From then to now, individuals have been reading and interpreting their bibles as they see fit. The result? 30,000+ denominations. Western Christianity went from 2 to 1 to 30.000+ expressions of the faith. Variety is not bad, disunity is.

Our hope? The internet and the global community. With the invention of the printing press, individuals could read the bible for themselves. With the internet, the discussion goes global. We now can read blogs, listen to podcasts and discuss ideas on forums. We have the opportunity to workout our theology on a global scale. There will still be diversity but there is hope that we can have diversity with understanding and acceptance. A diverse unity.

We have within our congregations today, the atmosphere of denominational-ism. Our little group gathers with others of like mind. We read books by those in our group, listen to podcasts or bring in speakers from within our own group. We are quite happy having our ears itched by our charismatic ear scratchers; or our New Apostolic ear scratchers; our evangelical, our reformed, our prophetic ear scratchers. 2 Timothy 4:3

We need, within our churches, the opportunity to have real discussions and amiable debates over any and all subjects.

I don’t have any hope that we would allow a Paul in to speak a message that was not first approved by the board and elders of the institutionalized church. And if such a radical speaker got in, I dare say we would act more like the people in Thessalonica than the ones in Berea. Acts 17

Institutionalism

Upfront, let me say that I am not suggesting that any one should up and leave the local congregation. Even though I see nothing wrong in doing this, and possibly a lot right, my arguments are not meant for this purpose. If this is to happen, and I believe we will see a mighty move in this direction within the next 10-20 years, it is up to Jesus the head of the church and authority over individuals. [The barna research group has stats that suggest that by the year 2020, the majority of bible believing/ evangelical Christians will be meeting outside of any institutional church. If this is so, any leader of said institution should take note and seek out a responsible action].

OK the disclaimer is out of the way, I give a quick synopsis of my thoughts.

I believe that the New Testament church is an organic, living body that exists outside of any organized institution. For the first 300 years, it existed in homes and public meeting places – not in religious building set aside for this purpose. With Constantine, Christianity became the state religion and received all the perks that go with it, including financial assistance and buildings to meet in.

Jesus came to destroy the sacred places – the temple; but we have re-built it. By our very actions we have made our buildings sacred: don’t run in the sanctuary, we are to take it to the alter (front of the sanctuary); we are going to God’s house. The list goes on. I don’t know of any church that doesn’t promote this mentality to one degree or another. And no degree is acceptable.

The building is not necessarily wrong in and of itself. The problem is that once you have a building, your options are limited. Now you have a mortgage and bills. (I saw Barna statistics, a number of years old and for the USA only, that said the yearly amount paid on christian buildings was $500,000,000 or some comparable ungodly number ). And these buildings are mostly vacant most of the time.

How much better stewards of what God has given us would we be if all the churches in a city were to pool their resources, have one office and meet where ever they could? Think of it. $100,000 a month could easily be saved and used to further God’s Kingdom – feed, cloth, house the homeless; help widows, orphans and single mothers; not to mention relieve the stress of manipulation on those who are needy to have to pay their tithes (it would allow us to leave the old covenant legality of tithing behind and live in the new covenant freedom of giving cheerfully).

And that’s all I am going to say about this.

Professionalism

Also known as the clergy/ laity split. The fact is that the New Testament plainly teaches (in my view anyways) that there should be no division of the body into hierarchical authority. The fact is, Jesus is to be the head, we are to be the body.

God wanted it to be this way from the beginning. God wanted to speak directly to the people in the wilderness but the people said to Moses: “Speak to us your self and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die” Exodus 20:19

A) Jesus taught that in the kingdom:

  • leaders are not to have authority over other people.
    “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those that have authority over them are called ‘benefactors’. But it is not so with you, but the one who is greatest among your must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.”
    – children and slaves: those specifically without any authority
    Luke 22:25,26
  • there is to be no seat of position or title.
    “But do not be called Rabbi by men; for One is your teacher and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth father; for One is your father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
    Matthew 23:8-12

B) Paul and all the other New Testament letter writers do it another way. There are two things that we need to note in the letters of Paul:

  1. He wrote the letters not to any one or any group but to the whole body in a given place.
    For instance, in Corinthians there arose many issues that need correction. And some of these issues were no small thing. If Paul were to have handled it the only way I can see it being handled today, he would have written to the elders and expressed his concerns. He would have dealt with those who had authority and ruled over the rest of the body. The fact that he wrote to the body as a whole suggests to me that he took Jesus at his word when he said that we are not to have positions of authority over another.
  2. Paul did not write in an authoritative manner. He did not say “this is the way it is, this is what you should do” Instead, he wrote in such a manner as to persuade them into action. In the New Testament, leaders do not lead through coercion, manipulation or authority; they led through example – example of character and of living out the truth.

“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be reveled, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”
1 Peter 5:1-3

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
Hebrews 13:17

Obey: peithō – to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe [NOT the commonly used hupakouō – to obey, be obedient to, submit to]
Submit: hupeikō [only instance in NT] – to resist no longer, but to give way, yield (of combatants) [NOT hupotassō – to obey, be subject]
Your leaders: hēgeomai – to lead or to consider, deem, account, think

So Hebrews 13:17 should read:

Let your selves be persuaded by those who lead you by example of thoughts and deeds and do not resist, but willingly yield to them, for they spend sleepless nights over your soul as one who gives word…

Nowhere in the NT do we find where one person has authority over another in the Kingdom of God. They do in the world, such as governments, and we are to respect and submit to this authority. In the Kingdom the leaders are told over and over again not to hold authority over others. Any authority we do have is the authority of our godly character and as an example of living out doctrine rightly.

Elders were appointed in the church plants, not as people that rule over the others, but as recognized examples and role models. We see that decisions were made by the community as a whole and not by a set apart group of elders. Decisions were made by consensus “It seemed good to the apostles and the elders with the whole church” Acts 15:3,4,22

The church in the New Testament was built up, held together and lead by the very real presence of Jesus through the Spirit. Elders were the spiritual mature in a given church, so they may have met together as elders, but the meeting was not to figure out how to rule over the church, but to fast and pray and figure out where they stood. Then they could come before the body and try to persuade them. Every letter written in the New Testament is an example of this in action. They were written to the whole body-not to the leaders and dealt with some pretty strong issues. Did Paul write with forceful authority or in a spirit of persuasion?

This idea of Rule by Consensus could only work if Jesus truly was still alive and active in the body. If He isn’t, we do need a human to take on this role. Also, the institutional structure of the modern (third century on) church brings with it a whole other set of issues: legal -need a board; practical -need to continually raise enough money to maintain the machine.

So, though I believe it is un-biblical, as long as we have bills to pay, mortgages to maintain and fund raise, and people on the pay roll, we need to have leaders that rule over us like the Gentiles.

Conclusion

Books have been written on these and other similar topics from both sides of the debate. I in no way claim to have authoritative knowledge on any of the above, however, I have been in the midst of discussions and debates on line and in print, so I am satisfied in my current position.

What is the practical steps of moving toward a more biblical model of a new testament church in the form and function that I have briefly suggested above? I do not have any answers. That would have to be worked out with sweat and tears on an issue by issue, church by church case. Way beyond the scope of my opinions.

I do long for the day, though, when these issues are openly discussed and debated in order to fine the mind of Christ. And if He is still alive and active today, there would be nothing to fear in such open discussions. I do have hope.

“but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires”
2 Timothy: 4:3

This is a warning that we need to take seriously. However, I believe we often fall into this error from the other side. When we read this verse, we think of someone who runs after teachings they want to hear. I don’t know if I ever heard someone warn us from not listening to doctrines we know nothing about or that are even distasteful to us. So often, we have our itching ears satisfied by listening only to our current set of favorite teachers.

The people in Thessalonica drove out Paul because he brought a teaching that did not itch their ears. They were satisfied having their ears itched by their current teachers. The Bereans, on the other hand, allowed Paul to come into their status-quo synagogue service preaching a message that messed with their theological comfort. And yet they received this message with great eagerness.(Acts 17:1-15)

I don’t think we can truly understand what happened – just how radical the message was for them and just how much they had to yield. Not only did they listen with eagerness but received the message with eagerness. They didn’t just hear what Paul was saying and resist reacting to it, they embraced what was said and came into a believing knowledge of the message. Only then did they go to their scriptures to check it out.

They did not go to the scriptures to find arguments against Paul nor did they go to the scriptures to find arguments for Paul. They went to the scriptures to see if it was so. I know from experience how easy it is to go to the scriptures to quickly dismiss someone’s ideas or theology. I also know how easy it is – for me at least – to hear a new idea and run with it, using scripture superficially to justify this new idea or belief. The hardest thing to do is to come to the new belief in a real and honest way and then go to the scriptures to see if it is so.

I humbly say that I hold to, or at least strive at holding to the mindset of the Bereans, free-thinking and open-minded people not afraid to challenge their own preconceived opinions and beliefs. Laying aside my own beliefs to take up and embody new ones being proposed to me, I have willingly challenged many doctrines (trinity, deity of Jesus, women in leadership, end times, inerrancy/ role of the bible).

Sometimes I have returned to my original belief with as strong or stronger conviction; more often I find that this practice of open-mindedness refines and fine tunes my beliefs, like iron sharpening iron; and sometimes I walk away with a completely new belief.

For example, one doctrine that I have recently wrestled with is the doctrine of sin, the fall and the atoning work of Jesus and the Cross. After much deliberation and study I have left behind the traditional Protestant view of an atonement of substitution; of a fall that resulted in a vast and unbridgeable gap between us and God due to the inherited guilt and punishment resulting from a legal consequence of disobedience.

Instead, I now see the fall as resulting in a distortion of reality, a severance of communion with God and a very real sense of separation and disharmony with God and between one another. All this resulting from our sin [missing the mark] and the shame that it brings. Jesus’ obedience, even unto death on the cross, was not to appease a wrathful God. After all, how can forgiveness occur if it requires a payment? That would be like saying to someone who owes you money, “I’ll forgive you if you give me your new car”. This is not forgiveness and neither is God forgiving us only because Jesus paid for our dept.

God’s wrath was never aimed at us, His children, but at the sin that kept us from truly entering into a relationship. It was not an angry wrath but a cleansing wrath. Jesus did not die on the cross to appease an angry God but to appease our sense of shame. On the doctrine of atonement I have moved to an ‘eastern’ Orthodox position.

Anyway, the main reason I write this is not to discuss any particular doctrine, rather to bring light to what I believe is one of the greatest issues facing the church today. Our problem is our itching ears.

We have within our congregations today, the atmosphere of denominational-ism. Our little group gathers with others of like mind. We read books by those in our group, listen to podcasts or bring in speakers from within our own group. And heaven help the one who reads an author that is black-listed due to the fact he is an outsider. We are quite happy having our ears itched by our charismatic ear scratchers; or our New Apostolic ear scratchers; our evangelical, our reformed, our prophetic ear scratchers; or our liberal or emergent ear scratchers.

The great down fall of the Reformation is denominational-ism. Everyone could read the scriptures for themselves and were responsible for their own doctrines. The result? 30000+ protestant denominations! And we claim this diversity is a good thing. Diversity with unity is a good thing. But diversity with division is anti-Christ. And it is this anti-Christ spirit we are, for the most part, stuck with today as a result of the Reformation. I am tired of having my ears scratched by the same old charismatic, conservative, evangelical ear scratchers.

The printing press was the catalyst to a divisive diversity. Maybe the world wide web will be the catalyst to a unified diversity. It has become so much easier to hear other sides of the divisive issues. I do not need to wait for a Paul to come into my synagogue, I can now go to his blog and hear the word of God there. And together, in this world wide congregation, we can have a conversation and go to the scriptures to see if it is so. And it is this engaging fellowship that should not be forsaken.

In a recent post, Bill Easums called for us to drop buzzwords.

“missional, incarnational, attractional, organic, externally driven, purpose driven, and the ever present emergent”

I realize that these words can have the possibility of having some confusion as different people and groups use them differently, however, they are descriptive and thus can help us understand one another. After all, would we also want to drop the other buzz words? – evangelical, charismatic, protestant, or orthodox. Or how about right wing/ left wing, conservative/ liberal, or modern/ post-modern? Should we drop them all? Or should we work at coming up with some standard definitions?

I don’t necessarily like buzz words either but we do need some way to set up markers that help others understand were we are coming from. So with that said, I will label myself post-charismatic, missional, maybe even a liberal conservative.