As I’ve said several times, I believe that the church is God’s people gathered together. In the New Testament, the term translated “church” is never used to refer to a building, or an organization, or even a certain event/meeting.
But, since I think the term refers to God’s people gathered together (and not to us individually), then the term necessitates some type of “meeting” in the sense of two or more being together in the same place at the same time. However, and unfortunately, Christians often focus on one type of meeting or one specific meeting when they think about the church. This meeting is even given a special name, such as “the worship service.”
Over the last few days, I’ve had a short discussion on this topic on an older post with a reader named Greg. I thought that Greg’s points were too good to leave in the comments of that old post, so I’m going to copy them (and my responses) here:
Greg: I find it interesting and puzzling why there is so much emphasis on meetings today. I am much more interested in how we live our daily lives in our homes, at work recreationally and in community. Our daily regimen and lives together outside of meetings flow along without self conscious behavior and adherence to scripts then when it comes time to have a meeting we turn into wooden soldiers.
They have taken on an incredible amount of importance with serious discussion about how they should go and how often we should meet and who should be in charge and what we should do. But they reveal very let little about the real us, and even less about God. The disconnect between meetings and the lives of the believers is a serious concern to me. I suspect that’s why the scriptures don’t spill very much ink about meetings but are filled with the stuff of everyday life. if the church would like to see where they’re spirituality is let them fast from meetings for a year for all but the most important reasons to meet. I’m generalizing grossly here and covering all meetings with the same blanket and of course I don’t mean every meeting all the time everywhere. I am challenging the notion that meeting should be held simply because it’s time to have a meeting. if even a small percentage of the time that we collectively spend in meetings were redistributed and spent with one anothering.
Alan: I’m not puzzled at the emphasis on brothers and sisters meeting together. I am puzzled at the emphasis on certain types of meetings. I think it should be normal and natural for us to get together with other people who are following Jesus Christ. But, I don’t think it’s normal and natural for us to get together the way many church organizations dictate.
Greg: I guess I dont really know much about different kinds of meetings as I have only ever been with one group of people, though we went thru quite a metamorphosis from what might be called organic to self conscious.
Our meetings were not structured, and could morph into any one of several topics, go short or long and not happen again for days or weeks followed by one every day if the need arose.
Maybe it will help to explain my puzzlement by saying that I suspect that if we all had closer daily interaction, like family, meetings would not be such a big deal.
Alan: Those “closer daily interaction” meetings are exactly what we need.
When you think about gathering (meeting) with the church, do you think of a specific meeting or type of meeting, or do you think about any time you are with other brothers and sisters in Christ?
Last week, I published a guest post by Greg Gamble called “Identifying with the Shunammite.” Now, I want to highlight something else that Greg wrote.
This time, Greg left a comment on my post “Scripture… As We Live It #202” which was a re-mix of Titus 3:10-11 – a passage about divisive people. But, I want his comment to get more notice, so I’m publishing it here as a “Comment Highlight.”
Here is Greg’s comment:
One would think that Paul might have explained in more detail exactly how to get past the trap of taking sides in a serious matter. But one would be mistaken to look for an answer to a question that is not in God’s heart, and therefore not explicitly spelled out in scripture.
All of history is a record of Adams children being tested to see if they will choose to be right, or to walk in truth, as it is in Jesus. Eph 4:21. The temptation to be right has lured many, many brethren who started off walking with Jesus to feel it necessary to forsake humility and long suffering, prayer and patience in order to defend truth.
It’s instructive that Jesus didn’t expose Judas for 3 yrs, though he, and likely the disciples knew he was a thief and liar. Our appetite for 12 step programs and prescriptions of how to live in the Spirit is not borne of God. We have perfected the art of routing the Judas’s from out midst, resulting in a church at war, and the greatest impediment to tired sinners bowing before the Prince of Peace.
Paul prefaced Eph 4 with precisely how to prevent division or respond to divisive ones: “all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
It is messy, uncertain, risky and dangerous to weak brothers to witness a church going thru this kind of conflict. But it is necessary.
It’s the one universal way that we learn that we all are capable of division, even heresy, if we don’t choose to be Christlike rather than to be right, or as we have disingenuously called ‘love the truth.’
The tension between family members that quarrel is where they stand or fall. Its always right to stand for the truth, but its not always right to stand with a brother that stands for the truth. Sometimes, people who are right in truth are wrong in attitude, forgetting that truth is not always being right.
There is way to heal divisions that have already occurred, like the schism we find ourselves in after two millenniums of drinking the Kool Aid of being right.
We must endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
If we are indeed going to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we all going to have to relearn how to walk in ALL lowliness and meekness (no fleshly anger) with long suffering, forbearing one another in love. If there is a prescription, that’s it.
If a church, a family or even a political party would make that their SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) even for selfish reasons, they would soon be widely known as leaders, mentors and an example to follow.
Error, untruthfulness, lies, carnality et al become increasingly difficult to practice in an atmosphere of humility, meekness,long suffering and gentle but firm patience with each others weaknesses.
Division, arguing over doctrines, who is right, church models etc is a devilish, foreign vaccination that Satan has injected Gods people with. Satan tricked Eve into wanting to know Good and Evil like God, and all of her children have faced the same test ever since.
Like our first parents, we will choose knowledge when we don’t hunger for the tree of Life. Tolerating division among God’s family is like getting vaccinated.
Doctors have convinced us that the way to not get sick with a disease from your neighbor is to put a little bit of that disease into your blood, in order to kickstart and speed up your own immune system to fight it when you contact it.
And we thought blood letting in the middle ages was voodoo science!
This assumes your immune system is not good enough, and it may not be, and therein is the hook. Rather than strengthen your immune system, rely on poison to make you stronger.
We fall prey to this trick because we don’t believe that the Lord Jesus, who indwells us, is the anti-body to not only our neighbors infection, but also our own, that we inflict on them.
Fear of our neighbors sin has blinded us to our own.
This would be a good place to remind us that Jesus told us to remove the log from our own eye so that we can see clearly to take the splinter from our neighbors.
Apparently, we all have something in our eyes.
We don’t need to defend the truth at the cost of losing a family member who is mistaken, deceived or even proud.
They will not be able to stand up to the flood of love and conviction of the Holy Spirit that He releases on them, when we quit trying to do His work and just let Him do it.
And if they do manage to stand up to Him, like Judas, they will go out from among us, proving that they were never part of us.
If we will continue in meekness, walking in truth ourselves, loving even our enemies, calling out to Father to change the hearts of those who oppose themselves and us, then we will witness the miracle of unity that turned the Roman Empire upside down in a generation.
This is a comment from Vincent. According to his comment, he is a new reader here. But, this week, he left an awesome comment on my post “What is teaching from the perspective of Scripture?”
In his comment, he expressed many of the same ideas that I was trying to get across in the post. Plus, he expressed it in a much more personal manner than I did.
I hope you enjoy his comment as much as I did. (Thanks, Vincent!)
Just this year I have really struggled with being the example of all I’ve taught. Years ago, the Lord called me to teach and I’ve always found myself in settings where I was teaching and often those older than me or in different life settings. For example, one of my first classes I was called to teach, was a married couples class and I was single. Now today, as a married man, I teach a class containing many of the elders in my church. From seminary, I too learned “explanation, illustration, application.” Because I often received comments on my teaching style and people enjoyed my teaching I believed I was often doing all the Lord had called me to. I was always only concerned my lessons were biblically based, which is important of course.
But recently I was really struggling with “doing all the Lord had called me to.” I say this because I realized (or it was probably more like the H.S. showed me) I was not living out all I was teaching. When I hear K.P. Yohannan speak for example, I can’t help but stop in my tracks to hear him, because I know he is speaking from all he has lived and experienced. The words of scripture come alive because he is living proof of all he is teaching. Even in the elder class I teach, there is a couple in there that are Wycliffe translators who, when they’re not traveling, are in our class. When they raise their hand to speak I hold on to all they say and think they should be teaching not me. It is because they are living examples, again, of what scripture is. I am a Voice of the Martyrs representative in Tucson, AZ. I often struggle to be their voice because I see a huge gulf between their way of life and mine (but his is a whole other topic.) But even when I would pick up a book by Richard Wurmbrand, the found of the Voice of the Martyrs, I cling to every word because he teaches from the life of a man who endured suffering for Christ.
I am truly learning and have been learning that right believing does not always translate into right living. I must be living right. Again, I must confess, while I might be able to hold a class’ attention to my lesson, I don’t see these same people flocking after me during the week to follow my way of life! Shame on me right? Your article seemed to be written at just the right time as I have been thinking about the fact that teaching is more than the transfer and discussion of knowledge. I find I have always been attracted to those whose lives are living examples of the faith and I want to be around them. Yes, teaching is more than just information, it is a way of life!
Over the weekend, after I wrote my previous post linking to a great comment by Arlan, Bettie left another comment that I would like to highlight so that more people read it and think about it.
As with the previous post, Bettie is actually introducing himself to me and my readers. However, her comment touches on an issue that I often struggle with as well. What do you do when you have a longing to change the way you live among the church (in whatever aspect), but others around you are “fine with the way things are”?
Here is Bettie’s comment:
I’ve been enjoying your posts for a while now, and sharing them from time to time. I guess when you say something that I’ve been thinking the same way about, it feels safer to let you say it than for it to be just my opinion… You have a nice way of challenging our thinking from a perspective of humility.
I have been a missionary in Guatemala for 14 years now, involved in different forms of ministry, and attending a megachurch. For the last three years or so I have been feeling more and more restless with that situation, studying both on my own and with the help of others like you, and coming to some disturbing conclusions about the current state of church in general.
My challenge here is that Guatemala is highly evangelized. Sometimes I wonder why I stay here when the Gospel has been so widely preached, but in reality Christ-followers are difficult to find. There is a church on almost every block but mostly full of religion, legalism and man’s traditions. I feel that with the religious freedom here we have a wonderful opportunity to be a greenhouse, so to speak, to raise up missionaries to go to places where the need is greater but North Americans wouldn’t be so welcome.
So when I read of missional communities, house church, simple church, organic church, etc. etc. I feel a longing for something like that but the culture here hasn’t seemed to be conducive to that sort of movement. People seem to be just fine with the way things are but I just can’t go on this way. So I feel like I’m longing for a home that I’ve never seen, and wrestling with the thoughts of whether I am to start something, keep looking for something already existing, or what. Somehow I know that I’m not the only one around here that feels this way.
So, I’ll ask you the same question that I asked Bettie in response to her comment: Why do you think you feel a restlessness about “the way things are” while others seem to be fine with it? How does someone move forward in this situation?
Last week, on my post “Have you signed my ‘Guest Book’,” Arlan left a comment that I would like to highlight so that more people read it and think about it.
In the comment, Arlan is actually introducing himself to me and my readers. But, I think his comment goes along well with several of posts investigating fellowship and unity among brothers and sisters in Christ in spite of various kinds of disagreements. My latest post to discuss these issues was called “Unity and Fellowship: Where do you draw the line?”
Here is Arlan’s comment:
I was raised outside of the regular (institutional) church and have spent most of my life outside of any church. I have had some Christian fellowship, particularly with my own family, but I hesitate to call all Christian contact “church” in the sense of those called out by God assembling for the purpose of mutual edification.
Your recent post on unity and fellowship really strikes a nerve. In most of my childhood my family could not find enough unity to maintain fellowship. As I have tried things out on my own I have more often found too much fellowship without unity–a circle of friends, but not of servants, and without much honesty about the real differences between members.
Church, in all its institutional and organic flavors, seems to be a contest between doctrines and good feelings. On the one side they insist on truth at all costs and forget that God loved us while we were his enemies; on the other side they insist on love at all costs and forget that love without truth is false love–treachery, really. If we neglect to admonish each other we are abandoning one another to our sins.
A year ago I went to a Baptist Sunday school that was more concerned with Being Right and also to a home fellowship that was more concerned with Joy, Peace, and Encouragement. In June I moved and I haven’t gotten with any fellowship since. It is hard to even know how to look.
I’ve been to the Searching Together conference in 2008, 2009, and 2011, which is nice to do once a year; but I feel the need to live the truth, love, and service where I am without yet knowing how.
I appreciate Arlan’s last line especially: “I feel the need to live the truth, love, and service…”
Art left the comment on my post “God actually cares about THOSE people: lessons from Jonah and Mark” and is a reply to a question that I asked him in a previous comment: “Why do you think we tend to cling to God’s goodness and graciousness when it pertains to ourselves… but not necessarily to others? (Like toward THOSE people?)”
This is how Art answered my question:
We can’t offer what we haven’t received.
There is the story of the old minister on his deathbed. He had been a faithful servant many long years. In attendance was a young minister, who, in trying to comfort the old man, suggested, “Pastor, you are going home to well deserved reward.” The old pastor sighed, and whispered, “No, pastor, I am going home accepted in the arms of grace undeserved.”
I think most of us never really let go of the notion we have to earn God’s grace, and be worthy of God’s grace to maintain it. So, we listen intently to grace as it pertains to us. We are keenly interested in it. We even long for it. Some of us work very hard to be worthy and make all sorts of sacrifices.
But, in the end, we cannot curl up in Him against Him with our head fully resting on His arm. We have not been captured by grace: freed from performance we can never meet and from the exhausting efforts of maintaining self-deceptions that we do measure up (when we know within we do not).
Rather than extending grace to THOSE people, we extend judgement, needing to be better than them in the hopes it will be enough for God and bitter that such should be extended grace when we have worked so hard and have not received it yet ourselves.
Imagine how kind, how forbearing, how gentle, how gracious we might be if we were truly “rooted and grounded in love, comprehending with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,” completely accepted and forgiven for all the evil that we do and that lies within our hearts? We would be “filled with all the fulness of God.”
“He who has been forgiven much, the same loveth much.”
On my post “Discernment: Part of the edifying process of the church gathering,” Art left a very encouraging and challenging comment. In the comment, he offered some examples of how discernment worked among the groups of believers that he meets with.
In response to his comment, I asked the following: “Among many Christians, there is a concern about being “right” about everything they say. Many will not say anything because they might be wrong or someone else may disagree with them. I’ve had difficulty helping people overcome that. Any suggestions?”
Art then responded with the comment below:
I remind myself of various things, such as:
Without meaning to, we often model being right, and speaking/teaching very thoroughly/well. We studied hard to prepare, we know things that may not readily stand out, and we say way too much when it is “our turn.” When you don’t know or see several ways of taking things, say so. Puzzle out loud. Admit some lack of clarity when it is there. Rather than impressing them as a competent TEACHER/PASTOR/PREACHER, we need to reveal our own inadequacies and struggles as real people. Model reality, not caricatures that no one lives up to.
Don’t dismiss someone who disagrees with you–model being wrong, or possibly being wrong–without fanfare. When someone disagrees with you, take a breath, get small before our God, and ask them to explain more, seek to understand them, and leave it at “not sure now” or “never saw it that way” etc. if that is really the case if you were honest with yourself before God. No one needs false confidence.
When we aren’t experts and accept being wrong (or at least being unsure), that makes it safer for others to be that way. It also means that their own lack of knowledge is no reason for not following God with abandon.
And I wonder where the fear of being right comes from–underneath the “importance of handling scripture rightly,” and underneath all the other fears, such as the fear of speaking in public, the fear of failure, and the fear of looking foolish. Can it be the underlying issue is acceptance? Performance based acceptance is pretty much a cultural anchor most people carry, with attendant wounds and scars.
Whatever is going in within us, any hint of negative response to what anyone shares will heighten fears–especially in the beginning, where people aren’t experienced interacting in this way together. People also catch on to disingenuous affirmation with similar reaction. While we should be careful not to evaluate things said as “right” or “wrong,” we should also take care not to lay value their view as “good” or “interesting” or, “That’s one way of putting it.” Honest reactions are OK, just don’t be patronizing. You have to be in touch with yourself if you want to touch others. Too often, our encouragements to others are just performance enhancers for ourselves–where we are more concerned with how we look as leaders facilitating a discussion, than who we are as simple, fellow disciples who make mistakes and are fragile, too.
Those who struggle often aren’t used to being listened to. I’ve seen more than one person tear up when they start making sense and people start responding to what they share.
When someone is timid or hesitant, don’t evaluate or affirm what they say at all. Instead, we affirm them and state the obvious. “This is hard for you, isn’t it?” “You aren’t used to speaking in a group, are you?” “You don’t have to be a TV pastor with this–none of us are!” It can be helpful to let them take a new perspective by asking things like:
“How would you explain this to a small child?”
“How do you think your (mom/dad/friends/pastor) might have understood/understand this verse?”
“What one thing jumps out at You? Why”
“How does this verse make you feel? Why?”
“How would this look in real life?”
This fear of being wrong or even speaking up seems to be heightened in a large group, so getting people started sharing in a smaller size group is helpful.
Using the discussion method I’ve described above has proven very helpful. Everyone takes a turn, so everyone is supportive and patient. In an hour, you can visibly see signs of people finding confidence, surprising themselves with their thinking and putting ideas into words. In a few weeks/months, the capabilities are very different than when they began.
How do you model an environment (among other believers) that encourages them to speak? What do you do (how do you respond) if you think someone is wrong? Do you expect everyone to teach using the same resources and methods that you use? If so, why? If not, how do you express that other resources and methods are valid as well?
In this comment Art is responding to another comment. But, you can click on the link to read back to the previous comment, but it’s not necessary to understand what Art is saying.
And, I believe, Art is saying something that all followers of Jesus Christ need to consider… carefully.
Here is his comment:
Suppose we agreed that “The Whole Religious System” was corrupted.
Aren’t these saints (willingly or blindly entangled) still our brothers and sisters? Aren’t we still members of one another? Is it possible we can just walk away and wash our hands of the whole mess?
While I can’t see my way to simply continue attending, pretty much anything short of that I’ve tried has ended up with either being asked to leave a lot of churches in 40 years, or, when not asked, getting to where I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. I consider these experiences largely evidence of my own immaturity.
These are my brothers and sisters in my city, the local church to which I belong and cannot escape. Most of them meet in the oddly shaped buildings and even more distorted organizational structures every Sunday. I can’t see any option to simply walk away.
Honestly, walking away from existing religious systems is what every group did that started a new division, beginning as a “non-denominational, perfected way of being the church together” and quickly becoming just one more distorted mess and one additional level of division. Name a denomination. Their “distinctives” or “heritage” or “restoration” was their departure point from any number of brothers and sisters.
For awhile, I satisfied my points of departure with most of my local brothers and sisters by functioning among the Plymouth Brethren. More participative, elder led (well, in truth, elder ruled, but when you’re an elder you can overlook that), plus they have near perfect doctrine (ahem, as I see it). Some find their recourse by signing on with some other denomination that fits their understandings better. Many are doing so today via the house church (now called simple or organic), the soon-to-be new denominations with about the same level of differences as there are between the 26 “baptist” denominations, etc.
More divisions. These are not the answers. With divisions, there is always an ache for my whole family and despair over His fallen glory (Jn 17) that remains, of which yet-more divisions of any sort make the pain worse, not better.
I think Marc makes a valid point that church leaders should consider. What do you think?
Here’s his comment:
Years ago, I served as the preacher for a church with about 150 members. One of the wonderful things about this church is their willingness…and just about mandate…that I have outside employment. This worked out for several reasons.
1. It freed up funding to be used for foreign missions
2. It encouraged members of the church to become involved in ministry and not just rely on the preacher
3. It made the elders take a leadership role.
4. It allowed me to preach what I felt the Spirit was leading me to say, without fear of being fired.
I’m ALL for the idea of having pastors/preachers work in a full-time job outside of the church. Makes sense spiritually and financially.
You pull into the parking lot at work, and the lot is nearly full–there are 450 employees here at DoinGreatStuff, Inc. As you enter the expansive auditorium, you find some friends in your department and catch up on their week so far. On the stage, final preparations are being made–four chairs are set in place. The lights dim and a hush settles in.
The CEO moves to his chair, as does the CFO, the COO, and the VP of Sales and Marketing. They each have a telephone–yep, the old fashioned kind with a rotary dial. This is a conservative business that sticks by the old fundamentals. Their faces seem so intense–these men are all very good at what they do. Then a phone rings. It is for the VP.
“Hello, this is John with DoinGreatStuff” he begins. Smooth as silk. A few minutes go by, and then he asks for the order, a trial close, actually, but so easily woven it seemed like part of the conversation. “So, then you you want those in red and delivered by the first of the month to meet your deadlines? Yes, we can do that. He takes a few notes while the voice on the other end gives final instructions. Then he hands up winking to the CEO. They shake hands smiling, and the audience comes alive with murmurs of “great job” “amen” and “praise you Jesus!”
Just another day at the job, where the workers sit in the auditorium and watch the well trained, senior execs conduct business–as usual. Where’s my notepad, I gotta write this down…