the weblog of Alan Knox

It is dangerous to ask "Why?"

Posted by on Aug 13, 2007 in definition, discipleship | 36 comments

It is interesting, and sometimes dangerous, to ask why believers traditionally do certain things:

Why do we say that the church is people and people are important, but spend so much money on buildings?

Why is the place where the church meets called a “sanctuary”, “house of God”, or “church”?

When believers meet together, why is it called a “worship service”?

Why is a piece of bread and a thimble of juice and fifteen minutes at the end of a “service” called “the Lord’s Supper”?

Why do men wear suits and women wear dresses when believers meet together on Sunday mornings with other believers?

Why do believers typically bow their heads and close their eyes when they pray?

Why do we use a phrase like “pastoral authority”?

Why do we put all of our “offering” in a joint account, then decide later what to do with it?

Why is the “preacher” or “pastor” allowed to speak when the church meets but no one else is allowed?

Why are some people called “Reverend”?

Why do we need a special “family life center” for sports activities when there are perfectly good community centers?

Why do we call each other “brother” and “sister” when we barely know one another?

Why do we spend one minute shaking hands and call it “fellowship”?

Why do we spend so much time arguing about things that are not in Scripture when we are not obeying what is in Scripture?

Why do we think that God speaks clearest through a sermon?

When we meet with other believers, why do we spend most of our time looking at one person and the back of everyone else’s heads?

Why are only certain believers called “ministers”?

Why do we emphasize, teach, and demand obedience to these things (and others) which are not found in Scripture – and some are even contrary to Scripture – while we de-emphasize, ignore, or explain away other things such as discipleship, fellowship, community, or the “one anothers” which are emphasized in Scripture?


36 Comments

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  1. 8-13-2007

    Awesome post Alan. I personally have difficult emotions on several of these questions, not the least of which: “Why do we say that the church is people and people are important, but spend so much money on buildings?”

    Man, I struggle with this one in my own church. We have this wonderful 2 million dollar Family Life Center. TWO MILLION BUCKS.

    We regularly worship 200 people or so. TWO MILLION BUCKS for 200 people to worship. Yikes.

    I know it isn’t that simple (the building does serve a host of other functions), but gee whiz it seems far from the principles put forth in the New Testament.

    What would happen to our ministry if our focus wasn’t on making a $6000 per month mortgage payment?

    I’d love to find out.

    Great post Alan!

  2. 8-14-2007

    For those of us who see these problems of orthopraxy, how do we go about voicing our concerns in our congregations?

  3. 8-14-2007

    Alan

    Why ask why? Try Bud Dry!

    No really, you’ve asked some excellent questions. Yesterday I started a “Question of the Week” post. I hope to get people to think about some of these traditions and beliefs and really ask themselves… “Why?”

    Mark

    The group I meet with most often (on Sunday mornings) recently put up a large building – not 2M, but somewhere around 500K. This structure was built to attract the outside. The only problem is the group is much to rural, the attendance and “tithes” have started to drop and some of the “deacons” have decided that they do not want non-members to use the facilities.

    The building has become our god.

    sandmanjdl

    From my experience, most of your voicing will go unanswered/ignored/shunned/etc. I try to urge the people I meet with to think about these things (in a non-threatening way). I also try to meet with their leader from time to time to raise some questions. Most of the time I feel like I am talking to wall (which may be my own short-coming) but all I can do is present another “alternative” to these situations and hope for open ears.

    That’s the only advice I have. I am sure Alan had much wiser advice to give in this matter.

    Thanks for the post Alan – great job.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  4. 8-14-2007

    Why are you getting a PhD at a seminary when the New Testament and the Holy Spirit will do all that is necessary for the church?

  5. 8-14-2007

    Terrific questions, Alan. I have another one. Why do we require “membership” in a body where all believers are members?
    Kat

  6. 8-14-2007

    Terrific questions, Alan. I have another one. Why do we require “membership” in a body where all believers are members?
    Kat

  7. 8-14-2007

    Terrific questions, Alan. I have another one. Why do we require “membership” in a body where all believers are members?
    Kat

  8. 8-14-2007

    Terrific questions, Alan. I have another one. Why do we require “membership” in a body where all believers are members?
    Kat

  9. 8-14-2007

    Terrific questions, Alan. I have another one. Why do we require “membership” in a body where all believers are members?
    Kat

  10. 8-14-2007

    Terrific questions, Alan. I have another one. Why do we require “membership” in a body where all believers are members?
    Kat

  11. 8-14-2007

    Terrific questions, Alan. I have another one. Why do we require “membership” in a body where all believers are members?
    Kat

  12. 8-14-2007

    I’m not meaning to be snide. There is a serious question there for you. Your post is right on the mark for the most part.

    But the serious question is this: Do you believe it is possible that some of these things have come about because groups of Christians, led by the Holy Spirit, have gathered together and made decisions to do things this way?

    A story: My congregation is the result of 4 smaller local congregations combining for more effective ministry (hmmm. . . a city church?). One of the congregations owned land, which was sold in order to fund ministry. Unfortunately, it was sold at a low point in the real estate market, and the money from the sale dried up quickly. The congregation ended up going into debt to fund facilities and ministry, meeting in a succession of leased spaces (most of this happened before I moved out here). Since then, through some strong godly leadership from a pastor experienced in ministry and the building up of a diverse, godly team of elders who saw fit to unite and equip our congregation in ministry, we are out of the hole of debt.

    We still meet in a leased warehouse, close to the middle of town, where we have proximity for ministry to people who are homeless, addicted, and otherwise broken. That stuff is done by people in the congregation, assisted and equipped by leaders who have wisdom and experience in dealing with such matters.

    We lease a building, because we couldn’t do what we do if we didn’t have a place to do it. We’d sure like to own a building, because there are things you can do on property you own that you can’t do when you have a landlord. Buildings in Southern California cost a great deal of money. So does rent. So we’re working on that. For the purpose of doing what God has called us to do.

    I wear sandals on Sunday morning. After I get people settled down from all their loving fellowship (a difficult task), I lead people in praise together, teaching and admonishing with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We hear from God’s word from someone who has studied it hard, and lived through the things that it teaches. We eat wafers the size of a fingernail clipping and drink a thimble of juice together while we remember that Jesus died, and He is in us. We put offerings in a basket or a bag cheerfully as we sing and play music. And during that time, we worship.

    My point is that the reason for many of these things you’re asking “why” about is that Christians have gotten together and, guided by the Holy Spirit to a greater or lesser extent, decided to do them that way. That includes establishing seminaries, translating Bibles into non-original languages, establishing community standards of dress and behavior, and building church buildings. People organize, and for some reason, God just keeps letting it happen. Why?

  13. 8-14-2007

    Mark,

    It would be interesting to find out if (perhaps) God actually had other uses for that $6000 per month.

    sandmanjdl,

    I don’t think you’ve commented here before, so, welcome to my blog! You’ve asked a very important question. My suggestion is to start with yourself. Know why you do what you do and why you believe what you believe. Then, actually live according to that. You will be surprised how many times God will bring people across your path who need to hear what you are learning and what you are going through. You can then help them through a similar process, living with them as they go through it. It is a journey that is best walked with another brother or sister – at least, that is how I’ve found it.

    Lew,

    Great answers! By the way, thank you for this idea. I’m glad that you’re going to post your questions once per week. I’m not that patient though.

    (For the other readers: Lew and I talked about this idea a few days ago. We’re doing it a little differently, but I greatly appreciate Lew’s creativity and encouragement.)

    Kat,

    Another good question! Perhaps Lew will add that one to his list.

    David,

    I think you’ve asked an excellent question (about seminary). I have talked to several people about this. I am currently working toward a PhD for vocational purposes. I hope to teach full time. I do not consider seminary the same as church, nor do I consider education the same as discipleship or maturity.

    Also, thank you for sharing part of your story with us. I certainly do not want to discount anything that God has done or is doing. This post was about asking, “Why?” Perhaps you and yours did ask, “Why?” However, I know many believers who move and act and do according to what they’ve been taught or according to tradition without asking, “Why?”

    Just to throw a couple of questions back toward you, when you say your pastor is experienced in “ministry” do you mean “serving others” or do you mean “organizing and planning”? When you said, “We lease a building, because we couldn’t do what we do if we didn’t have a place to do it”, do you mean that it would be impossible for God to use you to serve people out of your homes? When you say, “We hear from God’s word from someone who has studied it hard”, do you mean someone who is mature in the faith and living out what he says he believes, or someone who is trained in oral communication?

    Don’t read too much into my questions. I’m only hoping to show that all of us can continue to ask “Why” about what we do and what we believe.

    -Alan

  14. 8-14-2007

    -when you say your pastor is experienced in “ministry” do you mean “serving others” or do you mean “organizing and planning”?

    He’s especially experienced in serving others, particularly in the areas of organizing and planning, among other “getting your hands dirty” stuff.

    -When you said, “We lease a building, because we couldn’t do what we do if we didn’t have a place to do it”, do you mean that it would be impossible for God to use you to serve people out of your homes?

    We do serve people out of our homes. All the time. Just not 300 at a time. The building’s in use every day of the week. The chairs in the “sanctuary” move out so we can feed people, host children’s events, recovery meetings, etc.

    -When you say, “We hear from God’s word from someone who has studied it hard”, do you mean someone who is mature in the faith and living out what he says he believes, or someone who is trained in oral communication?

    Yes.

    And some back to you as well.

    How is seminary different from church, if I’m reading correctly from what you’ve been saying for the last few months? Does it not involve the assembling of believers? Will your vocation involve teaching ecclesiology? And how is biblical education different from discipleship? If my understanding of these things is correct, there ought to be a unity between one’s vocational and spiritual life. Are they to be separate?

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ask “why”. I am saying that sometimes, when we do, there is an answer, and it’s a good one.

    I wonder how much a synagogue cost when Jesus was a rabbi. Think people built them on the cheap?

  15. 8-14-2007

    Alan,

    I’m glad you and Lew are posing these questions. It will be interesting to read the Biblically inspired answers!

    I’d like to ask David a question? How do you know the Holy Spirit led your church to do all those things?

    I ask the question because during my many years I have been part of “churches” who, to quote you, “led by the Holy Spirit, have gathered together and made decisions to do things this way”.

    More often than not, it eventually became abundantly clear that the DECISIONS made by the congregation were just that, a human decision based on the “pastor’s” current “leading”,economic or pragmatic issues rather than Biblical direction and precedence.

    ALL of which his congregation has done, as David mentions has been done, and is doing, is very easily done as a human exercise WITHOUT the Holy Spirit.

    The evangelistic TV crooks also claim they are led by the Holy Spirit, and vigorously justify themselves, their organizations and actions.

    Rest assured, because I don’t know him, I’m not, in any way, comparing David or his church with these charlatans.

  16. 8-14-2007

    Very good questions. Makes me think.

  17. 8-14-2007

    Alan,

    A riddle/question for you.

    Who are we?:

    We are people working together as one with the common goal of reaching heaven. We build large structures for ourselves so we can come together as one and not be scattered all over. We work to establish a good name among all people. We all talk the same talk. God observes and corrects us. God makes us go out to all nations.

    Who are we?

    Just a little riddle for you.

    I guess I was just bored and decided to start babeling about different stuff I was reading.

    This is directed at ABSOLUTELY NO ONE. It is just an interesting observation I made while reading.

    Jeff

  18. 8-14-2007

    Aussie John,

    How do we know that anybody is doing anything by the Holy Spirit?

    Well, one way we get the confirmation is good fruit. Our church has had the confirmation of good fruit. Disciples. Not programs, not buildings, not warm fuzzies. Disciples.

    I’ve been at this church for nine years. I didn’t always want to stay. I have seen the Spirit at work powerfully in people’s lives, and not in some whiz-bang Pentecostal fireworks show. I mean lives transformed from doing evil to doing good. Incredible love and sacrifice. Good Samaritan stuff.

    It takes a cynic to say that God can’t work in a church that has a family life center.

  19. 8-14-2007

    David,

    You asked: “How is seminary different from church?” This is a very good question. “Church” is an assembly of believers. However, I think there is also a purpose for that assembly. Thus, when two believers cross paths in a grocery store, that is not “church” either.

    I agree that “seminary” is a strange thing. I would also say that I believe that most of the things done by a seminary should be done by “assemblies of believers”… that is, churches.

    My vocation… God willing… will involve teaching Greek (maybe Latin?), New Testament, and perhaps theology. Teaching these subjects is not the same as discipleship though.

    I agree that synagogues cost money to build. But, where do we see God telling people to build them? Did Jesus and Paul uses them? Abosultely, because that is where people were. They also taught and discipled in other locations as well… locations such as mountains and valleys that did not cost anything to build, and homes that supposedly had already been paid for.

    By the way, David, maybe I missed it, but I haven’t seen anyone say that God can’t work through a family life center. Instead, you said that God couldn’t work in the lives of the people there without the building that you lease.

    redheadrev,

    Thank you, and welcome to my blog!

    Jeff,

    Great riddle! Are you a “church” or… perhaps… the people of Babel?

  20. 8-14-2007

    Alan,

    I asked the question of David because I am aware that secular groups such as, what we call, service clubs (Apex, Rotary,etc.) are able to attract dedicated, faithful followers, who are extremely willing and sacrificial in their use of time, finance and effort. They do much needed, and amazing, work for their fellow members and the community in which they live, including rehabilitating and mentoring to decent, upstanding citizenship, those who have fallen by the wayside, truly deserving the good Samaritan label often attached to them.

    In reply to David: I’m not sure of the ethics of entering into a sustained conversation with a fellow responder on some else’s blog, so I offer my thanks for his gracious answer.

    By the way! I trust I’m not the “cynic” he was referring to, as I mentioned nothing about God’s ability to work nor regarding “family life centre”.

  21. 8-15-2007

    dr. knox (wink, wink),

    In asking similiar “why” questions during the past twelve years of my life as a church member, I’ve gleaned the following:

    1.) Be careful of who you ask.

    2.) Beware of what follows.

    3.) Know when to respond.

    4.) Know where to run. (smile)

    5.) Know how to practice patience.

    -stan

  22. 8-15-2007

    Waitwaitwait. Where did I say this?

    “Instead, you said that God couldn’t work in the lives of the people there without the building that you lease.”

    I said:
    “We lease a building, because we couldn’t do what we do if we didn’t have a place to do it.”

    Different story completely.

    My deal with the family life center is that sometimes a $6000/mo mortgage allows you to do some priceless ministry. If you let God work through your people.

    I’m sorry I’m feeling snippy about this, but you really have no idea about the New Testament love we have for each other in our moderately traditional church until you’ve been here.

    God didn’t tell people to build synagogues (as far as we know from scripture). He let them. God doesn’t tell us to build church buildings. He lets us.

    Grace and peace.

  23. 8-15-2007

    Aussie John,

    I’m glad that you and David have continued this discussion.

    Stan,

    Very wise advice! Thank you.

    David,

    You are correct. We do not know about the love that you have for one another. I don’t think anyone is questioning that either. I also don’t think that anyone is questioning whether or not God can use a building. Instead, I am asking why we feel it is necessary (and if you don’t, then the question doesn’t appply).

    By the way, since I believe that followers of Jesus can do nothing without God working through them, that means that if we can’t do something (“we couldn’t do what we do if we didn’t have a place to do it.”), then that is only because God can’t do something. In other words, I would understand your statement as “God can’t do through us what he does through us if we didn’t have a place to do it”.

    I’m sorry that you’re feeling snippy as well. I promise, this is not an attack aimed at you at all. In fact, you have given me much to think about today, especially when it comes to “seminary” and “church”. I’ve always enjoyed interacting with you. Like we’ve said before, it would be much easier if the communication was face-to-face instead of electronic.

    -Alan

  24. 8-15-2007

    Alan,

    Great Post. I have enjoyed the dialogue also.

    If I may I would like to ask a few questions about the seminary issue? The reason is it seems to me you could have easily asked another question on your list. Why do we send our young men away from the church to be trained and when they come back with their degrees we call them pastor/elder/worship leader.

    Also you stated: I agree that “seminary” is a strange thing. I would also say that I believe that most of the things done by a seminary should be done by “assemblies of believers”… that is, churches.

    Doesn’t the presence of seminaries cause a stumbling block for the above statement to happen.

    Also, couldn’t we say that the seminary is a major diversion of funds from the church? I wonder if God has other uses for those funds. Other uses for the tuition collected from the students of these institutions might be useful.

    Last one: Could it be that seminary is a institution that keeps the church institutional?

  25. 8-15-2007

    Dude, I am totally eating up this blog for breakfast!!!!

    I have been asking “why?” for a while and where I live it is almost considered heresy. Tradition is very sacred in the rural area I live in. The churches are primarily filled with the old, crusty people and their old, crusty way of thinking. There are also the “new” churches that come in the area have great music, fancy powerpoint, and other exciting elements to draw in people, but they don’t always last either and have their own issues.

    I think church is missing the point somewhere. What if you take out tradition, liturgy, powerpoint, cool praise music, dress clothes, stained glass windows, etc….
    It better be Jesus holding up the walls because the whole bloody thing is gonna crumble if the church is built on all the “extras.”

    I don’t want to totally diss the church. I know that there are genuine people really trying to make a difference. But in reality, no one really comes to church anymore. Why don’t we take the “church” to them?

    This is totally awesome stuff…I must go read more!

  26. 8-15-2007

    Alan,

    I have seen it suggested by others several times on your blog that you should write a book. This is a great idea and something you are more than capable of. But a book is stuck in time once published. Meaning, it’s what you’ve learned from the Spirit before you published it. I would suggest an alternative…maybe a magazine. Something that is living and evolving with you as you walk with God. You could have many contributors from your blog and others’ blogs and elsewhere. While technology is wonderful and reaches many people there are many more who’ve never seen a computer. I read once that 50% of the worlds population has never even seen a telephone. Crazy! I don’t know. Something to consider.

    Jeff

  27. 8-15-2007

    Jason,

    I think that churches should be putting seminaries out of business.

    Revolutionary1,

    Welcome to my blog! I’m glad that you found it encouraging.

    Jeff,

    Thank you for the encouragement. I am working on a book – my dissertation. It will be more academic. However, I have been encouraged to publish it in a more popular format as well.

    -Alan

  28. 4-28-2011

    Some of these comments are so argumentative. It’s discouraging.

    However, i thought it was a good post, Alan and my favoite part was Stan addressing you as “Dr.Knox”. Very cool :)

  29. 4-28-2011

    Stephanie,

    Well, yes, I did say it was dangerous. :)

    And, of course, I can always count on Stan.

    -Alan

  30. 7-22-2011

    “I think that churches should be putting seminaries out of business.”

    Thank you for saying out loud what I often think. Is it going too far to say that our seminary system is part of “the problem.” I think so when I look at what a poor job American Christendom, if you will, is doing to win the lost.

  31. 2-7-2012

    Suzanna,
    that’s a good testimony. I feel there are a lot of people who straddle between the traditional church and more organic gatherings

  32. 5-7-2013

    Christianity has been based on church doctrine for over 1700 years. Partial changes have been made from time to time by martyrs, who were often treated as rebels. I.e Martin Luther King and many before and after him.The fact is when you quote the bible to enlighten people, they will equally call you Antichrist. I assure you, before you finish your sermon, you will be labelled Jezebel( If you are a woman) or devil incarnate.

  33. 5-8-2013

    Ruth,

    The difference is that today you can’t be killed for asking, “Why?” about the church (at least not in the West). That hasn’t been true for much of the last 2000 years.

    -Alan

  34. 6-11-2013

    Alan,
    Thanks for reposting this. These questions roll around in me constantly. Not that I don’t have a satisfactory answer for “why?”,but because of the next question for me: how? How to find/create a church situation here (in Guatemala) where the concept of organic/simple church is almost unknown, and people seem content with their cultural religions. I know it is possible because it is necessary in order for God’s purpose to be established. And the absence of this concept is causing a longing in me that is difficult to bear. I pray to find others that share that longing.

  35. 6-11-2013

    Bettie,

    I know a couple of people in Ecuador who face the same situation that you do. If you don’t know about Guy and Miguel already and if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll give you their contact info.

    -Alan

  36. 6-11-2013

    Alan,
    Thanks for the tip. I have been in touch with Guy and I am following Miguel also. Their experiences have been encouraging to me and give me hope. May I have the boldness to act on my convictions regarding church even when opposed by the religion around me.

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