So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the tag “church”

The Blind Leading the Blind

blind-leading-the-blind

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:20–23 (NKJV) 

Rejection and then substitution; this is what unregenerate humanity does with God. When the rule of God is ignored all that’s left is human corruption and hubris. This is why all human governments eventually end in failure.

Political corruption and arrogance has always existed but their magnitude in our time is unprecedented. It’s no longer isolated to just a few nations but is now global. And what is even more alarming is the ‘in your face’ display of this corruption as if no consequences exist. Like the blind leading the blind, reprobates lead other reprobates and as long as godless perverts elect other godless perverts into government office we can expect more idolatry, lawlessness and anarchy driven by a disregard for all moral restraint in the pursuit of personal gain under the guise of ‘what’s good for the public’. The ‘public’ turns out to be little more than tribes, special interest groups, self-defined minorities, so-called marginalized groups, dissidents, malcontents, anarchists etc. demanding that their particular agendas be addressed to the exclusion of others. They utter the slogan of “tolerance” like drugged devotees to an idol but, hypocritically, are intolerant of all who disagree with their warped views of reality. Public discourse, political debates, foreign policy are all fast approaching utter madness.

This madness is inevitable because the only viable standard of justice is the Judeo-Christian world-view given by God, sustained by God and revealed by God is prohibited as if it were criminal to think in such a way.

I, therefore, along with many others, have no faith in government, any government, to do what is just for its people, unless, of course, it is one that unreservedly embraces God’s laws and principles of governance. Someday, and sooner than we might think, just such a Government will be imposed upon the world requiring that every knee and every tongue confess the Lordship of a King who rules with absolute and perfect justice.

I must say that this is not an argument for disengaging from civic or political participation or discourse. It is simply to point out what’s really going on, that we shouldn’t be at all be surprised by the degeneracy we see. Should we think that somehow secular politics and reprobate politicians will be our allies in this project, then we are sadly mistaken.

So there should exist within Christianity a certain level of skepticism about, and antagonism towards, ungodly authority whether it be secular or religious. While the secular might not be surprising, the religious one might be. However, religious governance, that is churches, denominations, or other ecclesiastical entities, can be as corrupt as their secular counterparts. Just because leadership claims to be Christian doesn’t not make it so. Only the true Church, the Body of Christ, who’s Head is Jesus Christ is free from this. But now the wheat and the chaff remain intermixed until that great day when everything and everyone will be revealed for what it, or they, really are.

So, taking all this to heart provides a filter through the flapping gums of presidential political verbiage might be assessed. In spite of the corruption we can be confident that ultimately God decides who will lead nations in accordance with His inscrutable purposes in which I have full faith and confidence.

W. G. Ryzek

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What’s With This Church Growth Thing, Anyway?

 

In my meanderings around the net looking at Christian websites I’ve noticed more and more manuals, books, seminars, studies, conventions etc. offering to help churches learn how to grow, all for a price of course. Three things came to mind; first, publishers, publishing houses, and writers need audiences in order to keep the wheels turning and keep the doors open. Since church growth is a hot topic many ‘experts’ offer their strategies, sell their wisdom, and make it all sound extremely important and necessary. Now, I may be wrong, but I haven’t found any reference in the Bible that church growth is required or commanded so on a scale of important topics, it ranks pretty low.

Which leads to the second observation; many churches that are into ‘growth’ usually mean numerical growth by ‘reaching the lost’ or something like that. I’ve also observed they seem to be following the pattern of secular corporations in their governance, finances and leadership (at least the independent and non-denominational ones); i.e. the ‘lost’ are like potential customers. In some churches it seems an MBA is superior to an M. Div. for its leaders. I guess the sheer size of some churches (aka campuses) require this kind of expertise; they are called ‘church administrators’ or “administrative pastors” I think. I guess putting a ‘pastor’ as part of the title legitimizes it as a proper ‘ministry’.

Third, big churches mean big budgets and big budgets need big offerings and big offerings need big numbers of people, otherwise the ‘church’ shuts down, goes into bankruptcy, leaders get indicted, or fraud is exposed. It’s sad but these very things are happening across the country with alarming regularity.

Now, let’s consider the meaning of church growth. Does it mean growth in numbers (the body count on any given Sunday) or is it spiritual growth? A quick response might be  “Both, you idiot”.  Ok, I can accept that but if and only if (you philosophy majors will recognize the significance of ‘if and only if’) numerical growth is in proportion to the successful advancement of spiritual maturity in the congregation. “Well”, some might say, “it’s much more difficult to measure spiritual growth than it is numbers.” Exactly… this is why numerical growth is often the main, or only, measure of a church’s or pastor’s ‘successes’. It’s almost like they’re thinking “the people are theologically dumb as a brick and spiritual midgets, but there sure is a lot of them, praise God.”

Well, in case you’re thinking I’m just a cynical grouch, I’m all for church growth.  However, I just think it’s a natural result of a healthy flock, not a lot of ‘creative’ strategizing; sheep beget sheep, after all. In other words, it’s not really that big of a mystery and besides, after all is said and done, it’s God that increases a church anyway. (1 Cor. 3:7) Since this numbers thing is never mentioned in the Bible as an indicator of spirituality but growth in the Spirit is, the number of people attending our church is secondary to how spiritually mature the one’s are who do and what steps are being taken to make them more so. (Acts 16:5) And this has always been the hard part, the long-term challenge, this “making disciples” thing.

I think that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is the only church growth manual any pastor or church needs. The first three chapters are a magnificent and profound description of what being a Christian is and how to become more so while the next three show what a Christian should do in practical, everyday life. If its wisdom is taken seriously and implemented faithfully all churches, no matter their size, and every Christian, no matter their age, will grow and thereby be worthy of the calling they have in Christ.

And, by the way, it’s free of charge and written by a great author.

 

 

Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right thing…Really? (Part 5)

I’ll begin by stating what is obvious to many cultural observers: our society suffers from information overload, internet addiction, anonymous media manipulation and distorted on-line relationships where a person creates what they would like to be instead of being who they are. Misinformation, falsehoods, bizarre ideas seeking fertile ground in undiscerning minds is promulgated as ‘truth’ just because someone says it is. Adding to all this is a cacophony of voices desiring to be heard, affirmed or at the very least, noticed.

There is one voice that cuts through this clamor like a two-edged sword, the Voice of the Good Shepherd, the God who speaks and upon whose words the very existence of creation rests. And if we are His sheep, then we know this Voice and hear it no matter the noise surrounding us; that is, of course, if we are listening. To those who hear and know his voice, Jesus the Good shepherd will “lead” them, He goes before them and speaks to them; He even knows their names (John 10:3). He marks out paths that will benefit the flock the most, guiding them away from danger, and bringing them to appropriate destinations (Psalm 23). If the flock of the Good shepherd is listening, it hears His voice and knows His voice so well that it will not follow (and even run from) a stranger’s voice (John 10:4-5).

But, we know that sheep do follow other voices, usually off into some la la land where everything is fake, attractive maybe and looking very much like the real deal, but fake nevertheless. It is hirelings (hired hands, not true under shepherds) they listen to, ones that “drive” the sheep from behind forcing them to face dangerous conditions while they hide behind the flock. It is by the voices of such hirelings many sheep will be deceived these days and “…will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned to fables.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)  To not endure sound doctrine literally means “not putting up with it” and suggests it was too restricting, too familiar and lacking the ‘newness’ of other doctrines (read proto-gnosticism), or boring, staid, and predictable. But far worse is the implication of actual rebellion against sound doctrine, actively resisting it, rejecting it outright and encouraging others to do the same.

So, what’s the point of all this and what has it to do with church leaders? Of particular concern, to me anyway, is the dearth of coordinated, systematic preaching of Biblically ‘sound’ doctrine which, you’ll notice, is first on the above mentioned list about the use and value of inspired scripture. The early church made doctrine a priority; it had to because so many aberrant teachings were gaining footholds here and there amongst the churches. The ante-Nicene church fathers and their prolific doctrinal treatises are an example. These days in many non-denominational (so-called) churches where being ‘seeker friendly’ and avoiding any controversy that might offend someone is paramount, doctrine is rarely mentioned. I know there are exceptions but I don’t think making doctrinal preaching a priority should be exceptional; it should be the norm. Simply put, the flock needs to know what it should believe and why; it is the under shepherd’s responsibility to meet this need (Titus 1:9).

The fact is, no matter how formal and uninteresting it sounds, doctrine is critical because it marks off the pasture that is safe for the sheep to graze; it is the fence and Jesus, the Good Shepherd is its Door. Under shepherds that make doctrine a priority in their preaching provide guidance and guidelines, markers, so to speak, to help the flock recognize more readily the Good Shepherds leading. This at least lessens the chance they run off after strange voices (read ‘doctrines’) looking to get their itching ears scratched only to end up thoroughly confused, disoriented and, in the worst scenario, lost altogether.

Well, if this is anywhere near true, then what doctrines should we be most concerned about? Given the days we’re living in, I would address four major issues consistently and regularly: Christology (primarily Jesus’ deity because it is under attack, even in so-called ‘Christian’ churches,  followed by soteriology (the doctrine of salvation with emphasis on the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice), and next the inerrancy, authority and dependability of Scripture, and finally theology proper, namely the doctrine of God with emphasis on Trinitarianism.  For some of you reading this, these topics will seem obvious. But it is not enough to just say “Jesus saves…” when so many other avenues of ‘salvation’ are being sold to people. We must show how and why He is the “way, the truth, and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him; He is the Door, there is no other, period, end of argument. Convincing others of this finality and making sense of it ourselves requires a working knowledge of Christology, the authority of the Bible, what salvation is and why we all need it (soteriology), and how Jesus is related to the Father (Trinitariansim). This doctrine all by itself is so critical that if any sheep stray from it or reject any portion of it, then all is lost. I hope you, the reader, are securely ‘fenced in’ because your church leadership, your under shepherd is teaching you what ‘sound doctrine’ is, why your faith depends on it and to reject all voices except the Good Shepherd’s.

(For those reading this blog and not the previous ones, this series is in response to Ezekiel 34-part 1 explains why)

Push Back

The harder Christians push back against issues like abortion and homosexuality (along with worldliness in general) the more intense the hatred and loathing of Christianity will become. That the Christian faith is the only true faith is proven by the increasing intolerance towards it while other almost barbarian religions are tolerated more and more. This will make it increasingly difficult to be a ‘closet’ Christian. We will either have to openly confess our faith in Christ or live a lie, both alternatives having eternal consequences.

I take some comfort from all this knowing that it’s always been this way for the Church of Christ somewhere in the world. We in America are fortunate to have enjoyed a long period of relative quiet with regard to persecution but I think those days are ending, and soon. I must emphasize strongly that the persecution of which I speak is for the sake of Jesus and because of our loyalty to Him, not some bizarre, out in left field (like snake handling) activity or off the wall prediction of the world’s end that heaps ridicule on, but not hatred of, Christians. In other words, sometimes what we think is persecution is merely people reacting to our stupidity and unpreparedness to deal with their questions or hypocritical living by talking about Jesus but not living for Him.

I’m not being a calamity howler; quite the contrary since I believe persecution brings about a strengthening and expansion of the Church by empowering its people through the Holy Spirit to stand strong in the face of adversity, exhibit God’s power to undo the works of the Enemy, and live holy lives in the presence of an increasingly dark world. Persecution galvanizes Christians and unifies us against a common foe and reduces our unnecessarily complicated lives to the simplicity of “…for me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

Well, this sort of talk is nothing new. There are many voices these days warning us to be prepared, to stand fast and give an account of our faith to all who will listen. As I’ve said before in another blog, the Church of Jesus is at war and has been since Pentecost. It is a war of words, of ideas, of truth over lies, of light overcoming darkness. In other parts of the world it is all that along with guns, torture and martyrdom thrown in. The question is whether we will push back when the time comes in our little part of the world or just keep silent and get pushed around. Anesthetized is the word, a numbness, a dullness, like being filled with novocain, this is what a Christian becomes if they allow an anti-Christ culture to bully them into submission. Not much chance of push back from these people.

If you don’t feel strong enough to endure this kind of battle you are in a great place because by ourselves none of us is up to the task. Push back anyway and know that “… in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  All you need to do is push and the strength of the Lord does the rest.

Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing…Really? (Part 4)

In the last installment (part 3) I noted that the content of John 10 is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34 about the promise of a shepherd appointed directly by Yahweh. The promise has two parts: the first is David appointed king over Israel and the second is the eternal Good Shepherd, the Messiah that would come through David’s lineage. This promise was made during the failure ofIsrael’s ‘shepherds’ (i.e. political and religious leaders) to take care ofIsrael’s needs. John 10 can be read in a parallel fashion to Ezekiel 34 because many of the same sorts of conditions  in Israel during Ezekiel’s day were being repeated in Jesus’ day. So we see Jesus, the promised Good Shepherd, as the true caretaker of Israel stands against the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees of His day who, among other things, hid God from the people by the onerous requirements placed on them in the name of God.

The point of this article is that an under shepherd, or anyone caring for God’s people, who follows the example of the Good Shepherd will likely suffer personal sacrifice and be placed in harm’s way. Why?-because he stands between the sheep and whatever danger presents itself, from robbers and thieves to wild animals (read false doctrines, false prophets, worldly influences, demonic attacks etc).

Turning to Jesus as our model we see the idea of sacrifice in John 10:15. The flock belongs to the Good Shepherd because He gave His life for it (v11) and did so willingly (vv17-18). Not only is He the Shepherd, then, but He is the Owner of the sheep which puts Him in a unique position unlike any other shepherd. What this means to an ‘under shepherd’ is that sacrifice is part and parcel of true ministry; in extreme cases it might mean death. The needs of the flock come first (including an under shepherds family) so somewhere beneath the church and family come the needs of the under shepherd. This is a tough one because the temptation is ever-present to exploit the flock in order to better one’s ‘position’ monetarily, amongst one’s peers, or denominationally; i.e. climbing the economic and ecclesiastical ladders, so to speak. Embracing this temptation is the quickest route to turn from an under-shepherd to a mere hireling (John 10:11-13)

A hireling is a ‘hired hand’. They don’t own the sheep nor have a vested interest in the sheep except for a job. Their primary concern is their own welfare and well-being. Should the demands of the job threaten either one, the flock is abandoned and scattered. These hirelings are, in my opinion, like professional clergy who have chosen the ministry as a vocation usually because they have an itch to scratch and a congregation is a means to their end; i.e. the congregation is sacrificed for the needs of the hireling rather than the other way around. Jesus says of a hireling that they, especially in the face of danger or adversity, abandon the flock because they don’t care about the sheep (v 13).

Simply put, a true under-shepherd is called by the Good shepherd for the care of His people. Church leaders, then, who are not just hirelings will be intimately involved with their congregations and know where the ‘sheep’ go, what they ‘eat’, what they do for entertainment, what they need (not always what they think they need), what they are reading, watching on television, what trouble they might be getting into etc. Now, this might seem excessively intrusive, nosey even, ‘going above and beyond’, invading privacy and so on. But I think it very possible to know many of these things simply by being ‘with’ the sheep. In other words, under shepherds cannot be isolated or insulated from their flocks hiding behind the guise of ‘other church business’. The business of the church and its pastor are the sheep, plain and simple. And there is simply no way of doing all this properly without a great deal of personal sacrifice.

What about your church leaders? Do they know your name (more on this to come), where you live, who your family members are? Have they ever visited you and yours outside the church? Have they ever sincerely asked about your spiritual welfare, what they can do to guide and encourage you? Are they readily available to you or are they hard to reach, set appointments with, or ‘busy’? And if always busy, busy doing what, exactly?

Trench Warfare

Trench warfare, militant church. spiritual warfare, spiritual weapons, armor of God, fighting the good fight.  These and other terms depict  Christ’s Church as anything but passive or nicey nice.

There was a time in her history that the Christian church acted militarily to subdue its perceived enemies and acted on the assumption of God’s blessing for conquering His enemies. This came about from the sometimes unfortunate alliance of church and state where political and power agendas could be easily disguised as spiritual. And, given the power of the state with its standing armies the church could accomplish its ends without appearing sullied. Thus, so-called Christian imperialism was born and remains a source of contention, embarrassment, and cause for timidity for many churches and Christians to this day. However, the point here is simple- that in spite of past misconduct, the Church as the Body of Christ has always been called to battle, to fight the good fight, to die for the faith if necessary. By so doing it continues what Jesus started, a ministry of trench warfare, a messy foray into the depths of humanities propensity for both blatantly obvious and subtly enlightened evil. So, every local church, at least in my opinion, has a trench it is supposed to be fighting in for the cause of Christ and the advancement of the kingdom.

Now, I cannot say what specific trenches might be for specific churches. Each church is unique, its members placed by the Holy Spirit in that Body and no other which itself is cause for wonderment. The people in a church (I mean, of course, a Christ centered, Bible based congregation) might think they are there by choice or accident and the leadership might think they are there because of their ingenious programs.  But, the fact is, they are Christ’s people, saved by His blood, given gifts and placed there by the always mysterious machinations of His Spirit.

And I must emphasize it is trench warfare, it is a place where sin and evil is met head-on so to speak. We must think of ourselves as warriors, as aggressors against the Enemy and learn that behind every physical manifestation of evil and sin there are spiritual powers that cannot be overcome by anything other than spiritual weaponry.

So, the church and its leaders must set out to discover that trench they are to fight in, prepare themselves for battle, and then go on the offensive in the Name of Jesus.  Not any easy task, any of it really. Scary in fact because such adventures are usually into unknown territory but herein lies the secret of success. Any successful offensive is only brought about by the Lord Himself. What He asks of us is that we yield to Him so that we become His hands, feet, eyes, ears and mouth. He does the ministry, not us.  That is, if we lose sight that it is His ministry, His power, His cause, His Spirit by which we fight, I seriously doubt any of us will every engage in trench warfare. We will always have a shortcoming, a flaw, a secret sin, a less than dedicated heart that stand in the way of our full effectiveness; it might even the reason we don’t get involved in the first place. Or maybe we think ourselves to powerless, too old, to uneducated, to ill trained, to busy, to something to ever get involved in something like trench warfare. The fact is, however, that like it or not every one of us is in a fight; the difference between us is whether we simply find a hiding place in the trenches or whether we take up arms and fight back.

I have also noticed that given all the resistance to Christianity we might become apologetic for our beliefs rather than overwhelmingly confident we hold the truth about the ways things have been, the way things are, and the way things will be. I refer you to an earlier blog “Truth…What Truth?” for a discussion about this. The point is when you and I take a stand, it is a stand against something and for something.  Standing for the truth identifies who we are, standing against all untruth reveals the power that is ours through Him.

The upshot is that success or defeat in the trenches depends on whether we are led and empowered by His Spirit or whether we are pursuing our own agendas and empowered only by the flesh. Our lives will be a witness to which one of these options we choose.

Why Go to Church?

Why go to Church? This question is posed primarily to non-church goers but might be helpful to those who attend church but sometimes wonder why. And the answers I suggest by no means exhaust all possible ones; in fact, you can add your own reasons in the response box if you’d like.

At any rate, there is an important distinction that must be made in order to answer this question properly and it has to do with the word ‘church’ itself.  Now, many secular people associate this word with a place, an address where certain kinds of people, Christians (whatever that might mean), meet to engage in mysterious religious ceremonies directed towards an equally mysterious being, God, who may or may not truly exist. They notice that there are many of these addresses representing many, and sometimes conflicting beliefs about how these religious ceremonies should be performed and equally conflicting ideas about who and what God is, if He exists, and what He expects from us. There are Baptist, Methodist (Free and United) Congregational, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Evangelical, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed (Dutch and otherwise), Non-denominational (i.e. none of the above) churches and even further subcategories of these. To outsiders this is all very confusing and often leads to a rejection of ‘church’ as being anything useful or meaningful and certainly not something worth the time.

Martin Luther said the church, any church (for now anyway, important differences will be pointed out later), is a ‘hospital for sick souls’. The fact is, and this is a tenant of Christianity, that every human being is a ‘sick soul’ that needs hospitalization, intensive care even. But, herein lays the rub, namely admitting you are sick. Getting to this point entails at the very least diverting attention away from the many criticisms of church and focusing on your own personal foibles, inconsistencies, and, yes, that unpopular thing called personal sin.  The main difference between you, the non-church goer and those who do go is they are seeking healing from their admitted sickness while you deny yours. The most important reason for going to church, then, is to begin recovering from that sickness unto death, namely the sin that you share with the rest of humanity.

So, when you go to church, be prepared to meet people just like yourself. You’ll find some trying to hide their sickness from others, a few debating whether their sickness is as bad as someone else’s, the always present hypocrites who deny they are sick but there to help others get over their ailments, and those who know they are sick and give themselves over to the mercy of the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.

But, you might think that it’s possible to have fellowship with God, to get this sickness healed without the burden of church life. We are taught to be independent, self-reliant and masters of our own destiny and, you say, even Christianity has its hermits and monks. But, even so, monks have their monasteries and hermits are never totally isolated from human contact; those pesky pilgrims often disturb their contemplation. Just consider the fact that hermits and monks separated themselves from culture-at-large, not just certain parts of it. So, unless you are prepared for nearly total isolation from society and all its benefits, trying to be an “individually owned and operated” Christian is a delusion. The point is that living a Christian life and receiving continual healing from your sickness cannot be accomplished in isolation; you need a relationship with Jesus Christ and you need relationships with His people. And this leads us to the second meaning of the word ‘church’.

Think of the church on the corner as the little ‘c’ church. It is a building where individual people gather to be ‘together’ if only for a short time to worship God, receive the medicine of God’s loving grace, encourage one another, and get instruction from His Word. But there is another church, the big “C” church of which the local church is only a part. It is magnificent in its breadth, beautiful beyond knowing and more powerful than any human institution or endeavor; it is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ established unshakeable in His love and not even the gates of Hell can prevail against it.

Unlike the physical building or physical relationships between individuals in a local church, the Church is spiritual and each Christian is knit together with all the others into a seamless whole empowered by and guided by the Holy Spirit. Being part of the big “C” church is being part of something bigger than the universe itself, a timeless and limitless existence that is the true and final destiny of those human beings whose sickness has been finally and completely eliminated by Jesus. However, the same characteristics of the big “C” church are also true of the little “c” church, a fact often lost to its members who forget they are so much more than meets the physical eye (more on this in another article).

Therefore, walking through the doors of church on Sunday morning is not just entering a sanctuary built of mortar, brick and stone, but a Sanctuary of living stones (all those sick people, you included) being continually built up into the House, the Temple, where God dwells and receiving from His hand all that is necessary for life in this world and the world to come. If you don’t go to church, if you don’t admit your sickness, if you don’t experience the healing of Jesus you are missing out on the biggest building project the universe has ever seen, or will ever see. But, perhaps more important, you will miss what your life really is for, namely worshipping and serving the Saviour, and will never escape the tiny, restricted, suffocating, sickly, and self-centered existence that sin has bound you to. Go to church and breathe into yourself the life God has provided for you. But be sure and choose the right church to attend; more on this in the next article “Choosing the Right Church”.

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