Thursday, April 17, 2008
I do appreciate your concern for me and your willingness to raise
issues that have caused you concern. I know the way I relate to the
church is a bit unconventional and some even call it dangerous.
Believe me, I understand that concern because I used to think that
way myself and even taught others to as well.
If you are happy with the status quo of organized religion today, you
may not like what you read here. My purpose is not to convince you to
see this incredible church the same way I do, but to answer your
questions as openly and honestly as I can. Even if we don't end up
agreeing, hopefully you will understand that our differences need not
estrange us as members of Christ's body.
Where do you go to church?
I have never liked this question, even when I was able to answer it
with a specific organization. I know what it means culturally, but it
is based on a false premise--that church is something you can go to
as in a specific event, location or organized group. I think Jesus
looks at the church quite differently. He didn't talk about it as a
place to go to, but a way of living in relationship to him and to
other followers of his.
Asking me where I go to church is like asking me where I go to
Jacobsen. How do I answer that? I am a Jacobsen and where I go a
Jacobsen is. 'Church' is that kind of word. It doesn't identify a
location or an institution. It describes a people and how they relate
to each other. If we lose sight of that, our understanding of the
church will be distorted and we'll miss out on much of its joy.
Are you just trying to avoid the question?
I know it may only sound like quibbling over words, but words are
important. When we only ascribe the term 'church' to weekend
gatherings or institutions that have organized themselves
as 'churches' we miss out on what it means to live as Christ's body.
It will give us a false sense of security to think that by attending
a meeting once a week we are participating in God's church.
Conversely I hear people talk about 'leaving the church' when they
stop attending a specific congregation.
But if the church is something we are, not someplace we go, how can
we leave it unless we abandon Christ himself? And if I think only of
a specific congregation as my part of the church, haven't I separated
myself from a host of other brothers and sisters that do not attend
the same one I do?
The idea that those who gather on Sunday mornings to watch a praise
concert and listen to a teaching are part of the church and those who
do not, are not, would be foreign to Jesus. The issue is not where we
are at a given time during the weekend, but how we are living in him
and with other believers all week long.
But don't we need regular fellowship?
I wouldn't say we need it. If we were in a place where we couldn't
find other believers, Jesus certainly would be able to take care of
us. Thus, I'd phrase that a bit differently: Will people who are
growing to know the Living God also desire real and meaningful
connections with other believers? Absolutely! The call to the kingdom
is not a call to isolation. Every person I've ever met who is
thriving in the life of Jesus has a desire to share authentic
fellowship with other believers. They realize that whatever they know
of God's life is just in part, and only the fullest revelation of him
is in the church.
But sometimes that kind of fellowship is not easy to find.
Periodically on this journey we may go through times when we can't
seem to find any other believers who share our hunger. That's
especially true for those who find that conforming to the
expectations of the religious institutions around them diminishes
their relationship with Jesus. They may find themselves excluded by
believers with whom they've shared close friendship. But no one going
through that looks on that time as a treat. It is incredibly painful
and they will look for other hungry believers to share the journey
My favorite expression of body life is where a local group of people
chooses to walk together for a bit of the journey by cultivating
close friendships and learning how to listen to God together.
Shouldn't we be committed to a local fellowship?
That has been said so often today, that most of us assume it is in
the Bible somewhere. I haven't found it yet. Many of us have been led
to believe that we can't possibly survive without the 'covering of
the body' and will either fall into error or backslide into sin. But
doesn't that happen inside our local congregations as well?
I know many people who live outside those structures and find not
only an ever-deepening relationship with God, but also connections
with other believers that run far deeper than they found in the
institution. I haven't lost any of my passion for Jesus or my
affection for his church. If anything those have grown by leaps and
bounds in recent years.
Scripture does encourage us to be devoted to one another not
committed to an institution. Jesus indicated that whenever two or
three people get together focused on him, they would experience the
vitality of church life.
Is it helpful to regularly participate in a local expression of that
reality? Of course. But we make a huge mistake when we assume that
fellowship takes place just because we attend the same event
together, even regularly, or because we belong to the same
organization. Fellowship happens where people share the journey of
knowing Jesus together. It consists of open, honest sharing, genuine
concern about each other's spiritual well being and encouragement for
people to follow Jesus however he leads them.
But don't our institutions keep us from error?
I'm sorry to burst your bubble here, but every major heresy that has
been inflicted on God's people for the last 2,000 years has come from
organized groups with 'leaders' who thought they knew God's mind
better than anyone around them. Conversely, virtually every move of
God among people hungering for him was rejected by the 'church' of
that day and were excluded, excommunicated or executed for following
If that is where you hope to find security, I'm afraid it is sorely
misplaced. Jesus didn't tell us that 'going to church' would keep us
safe, but that trusting him would. He gave us an anointing of the
Spirit so that we would know the difference between truth and error.
That anointing is cultivated as we learn his ways in his Word and
grow closer to his heart. It will help you recognize when expressions
of church you share life with becomes destructive to his work in you.
So are traditional congregations wrong?
Absolutely not! I have found many of them with people who love God
and are seeking to grow in his ways. I visit a couple of dozen
different congregations a year that I find are far more centered on
relationship than religion. Jesus is at the center of their life
together, and those who act as leaders are true servants and not
playing politics of leadership, so that all are encouraged to
minister to one another.
I pray that even more of them are renewed in a passion for Jesus, a
genuine concern for each other and a willingness to serve the world
with God's love. But I think we'd have to admit that these are rare
in our communities and many only last for a short span before they
unwittingly look to institutional answers for the needs of the body
instead of remaining dependent on Jesus. When that happens do not
feel condemned if God leads you not to go along with them.
So should I stop going to church, too?
I'm afraid that question also misses the point. You see I don't
believe you're going to church any more than I am. We're just part of
it. Be your part, however Jesus calls you to and wherever he places
you. Not all of us grow in the same environment.
If you gather with a group of believers at a specific time and place
and that participation helps you grow closer to Jesus and allows you
to follow his work in you, by all means don't think you have to
leave. Keep in mind, however, that of itself is not the church. It is
just one of many expressions of it in the place where you live.
Don't be tricked into thinking that just because you attend its
meetings you are experiencing real body life. That only comes as God
connects you with a handful of brothers and sisters with whom you can
build close friendships and share the real ups and downs of this
That can happen among traditional congregations, as it can also
happen beyond them. In the last seven years I've meet hundreds if not
thousands of people who have grown disillusioned with traditional
congregations and are thriving spiritually as they share God's life
with others, mostly in their homes.
Then meeting in homes is the answer?
Of course not. But let's be clear: as fun as it is to enjoy large
group worship and even be instructed by gifted teachers, the real joy
of body life can't be shared in huge groups. The church for its first
300 years found the home the perfect place to gather. They are much
more suited to the dynamics of family which is how Jesus described
But meeting in homes is no cure-all. I've been to some very sick home
meetings and met in facilities with groups who shared an authentic
body life together. But the time I spend in regular body life I want
to spend face to face with a group of people. I know it isn't popular
today where people find it is far easier to sit through a finely-
tuned (or not so finely-tuned) service and go home without ever
having to open up our life or care about another person's journey.
But ultimately what matters most to me is not where or how they meet,
but whether or not people are focused on Jesus and really helping
each other on the journey to becoming like him. Meetings are less the
issue here than the quality of relationships. I am always looking for
people like that wherever I am and always rejoice when I find it. In
our new home in Oxnard, we've found a few folks and are hopeful to
find even more.
Aren't you just reacting out of hurt?
I suppose that is possible and time will tell, I guess, but I
honestly don't believe so. Anyone who is engaged in real body life
will get hurt at times. But there are two kinds of hurt. There's the
kind of pain that points to a problem that can be fixed with the
right care—such as a badly sprained ankle. Then there's the kind of
pain that can only be fixed by pulling away—as when you put your hand
on a hot stove.
Perhaps all of us have experienced some measure of pain as we have
tried to fit God's life into institutions. For a long time most of us
hung in there hoping if we tweaked a few things it would get better.
Though we could be successful in limited ways during moments of
renewal, we also discovered that eventually the conformity an
institution demands and the freedom people need to grow in Christ are
at odds with one another. It has happened with virtually every group
formed throughout the history of Christianity.
Are you looking for the perfect church?
No, and I don't anticipate finding one this side of eternity.
Perfection is not my goal, but finding people with God's priorities.
It's one thing for people to struggle toward an ideal they share
together. It's another to realize that our ideals have little in
I make no secret of the fact that I am deeply troubled by the state
of organized Christianity. Most of what we call 'church' today are
nothing more than well-planned performances with little actual
connection between believers. Believers are encouraged toward a
growing dependency on the system or its leadership rather than on
Jesus himself. We spend more energy conforming behavior to what the
institution needs rather than helping people be transformed at the
foot of the cross!
I'm tired of trying to fellowship with people who only view church as
a two-hour a week dumping ground for guilt while they live the rest
of the week with the same priorities as the world. I'm tired of those
who depend on their own works of righteousness but who have no
compassion for the people of the world. I'm tired of insecure people
using the Body of Christ as an extension of their own ego and will
manipulate it to satisfy their own needs. I'm tired of sermons more
filled with the bondage of religion than the freedom of God's love
and where relationships take a back seat to the demands of an
But don't our children need church activities?
I'd suggest that what they need most is to be integrated into God's
life through relational fellowship with other believers. 92% of
children who grow up in Sunday schools with all the puppets and high-
powered entertainment, leave 'church' when they leave their parents'
home? Instead of filling our children with ethics and rules we need
to demonstrate how to live in God's life together.
Even sociologists tell us that the #1 factor in determining whether a
child will thrive in society is if they have deep, personal
friendships with nonrelative adults. No Sunday school can fill that
role. I know of one community in Australia who after 20 years of
sharing God's life together as families could say that they had not
lost one child to the faith as they grew into adulthood. I know I cut
across the grain here, but it is far more important that our children
experience real fellowship among believers rather than the bells and
whistles of a slick children's program.
What dynamics of body life do you look for?
I'm always looking for a people who are seeking to follow the Living
Christ. He is at the center of their lives, their affections and
their conversation. They look to be authentic and free others to hurt
when they hurt, to question what they question and to follow his
voice without others accusing them of being divisive or rebellious. I
look for people who are not wasting their money on extravagant
buildings or flashy programs; where people sitting next to each other
are not strangers; and where they all participate as a priesthood to
God instead of watch passively from a safe distance.
Aren't you giving people an excuse to sit home and do nothing?
I hope not, though I know it is a danger. I realize some people who
leave traditional congregations end up abusing that freedom to
satisfy their own desires and thus miss out on church life
altogether. Neither am I a fan of 'church hoppers', who whip around
to one place after another looking for the latest fad or the best
opportunity to fulfill their own selfish desires.
But most of the people I meet and talk with are not outside the
system because they have lost their passion for Jesus or his people,
but only because the traditional congregations near them couldn't
satisfy their hunger for relationship. They are seeking authentic
expressions of body life and pay an incredible cost to seek it out.
Believe me, we would all find it easier just to go with the flow, but
once you've tasted of living fellowship between passionate believers,
it is impossible to settle for anything less.
Isn't this view of church divisive?
Not of itself. People make it divisive when they demand that people
conform to their revelation of truth. Most of us on the journey are
accused of being divisive because freedom can be threatening to those
who find their security in a religious system. But must of us aren't
trying to recruit others to leave their congregations. We see the
body of Christ big enough to encompass God's people however he calls
them to gather.
One of the things often said about traditional church is that Sunday
morning is the most segregated hour in American culture. We only meet
with people who look like we do and like things the way we do. I've
found now that I have far more opportunity to get with people from a
broader cross-section of his body. I don't demand others do it my way
and I hope in time that those who see it differently will stop
demanding we conform to theirs.
Where can I find that kind of fellowship?
There's no easy answer here. It might be right in front of you among
the fellowship you're already in. It might be down the street in your
neighborhood or across a cubicle at work. You can also get involved
in compassionate outreaches to the needy and broken in your locality
as a way to live out his life in you and meet others with a similar
Don't expect this kind of fellowship to fall easily into an
organization. It is organic, and Jesus can lead you to it right where
you are. Look for him to put a dozen or so folks around your life
with whom you can share the journey. They may not even all go to the
same congregation you do. They might be neighbors or coworkers who
are following after God. Wouldn't that kind of interconnection among
God's people yield some incredible fruit?
Don't expect it to be easy or run smoothly. It will take some
specific choices on our part to be obedient to Jesus. It may take
some training to shake off old habits and be free to let him build
his community around you, but it is all worth it. I know it bothers
some people that I don't take my regular place in a pew on Sunday
morning, but I can tell you absolutely that my worst days outside
organized religion are still better than my best days inside it. To
me the difference is like listening to someone talk about golf or
actually taking a set of clubs out to a course and playing golf.
Being his church is like that. In our day we don't need more talk
about the church, but people who are simply ready to live in its
People all over the world are freshly discovering how to do that
again. You can be one of them as you let him place you in his body as
Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained (think David Letterman)
10. A man's place is in the army.
9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.
8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be "unnatural" for them to do other forms of work.
7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.
6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.
5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.
4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.
3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.
2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, and maybe even lead the singing on Father's Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.
1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
They mentioned one time during this very snowy winter when the church service was canceled, and in a knee-jerk reaction I said, "Oh, we should have gone!"
The one time we enjoyed that church more than any other time was once when the service was canceled due to snow, and we didn't hear about it in time. We went anyway, and so did perhaps a dozen other people. It was the best time we've ever had at that church! Someone put on some music in the sanctuary, and a couple of people went in there to pray and worship in song. One woman danced in worship, someone whom I've never seen dance during the "worship service" at all. A lot of us hung out in the lobby, just chatting and shooting the breeze. I started talking with a woman whom I'd been wanting to get to know for a while, but we just hadn't clicked yet. She and I talked for a good hour, getting to know each other and finding out how much we had in common. It was great... and more to the point, it was church.
During the time when our attendance was trailing off, Grey went to church by himself one morning. There was the usual bellowing guy, the red-haired Southern woman hollering out some "prophesy" full of thees and thous (because everyone knows that's how God really talks, right?), and Grey got fed up and walked out before the singing had even ended.
A woman driving past had stopped right across the street. Her car tire had blown out, and there was something else wrong with her car; it wouldn't start. Grey went over to see if he could help. He ended up changing her tire for her, and then used his own AAA card to call for a tow truck. He even waited for the tow-truck with her. She thanked him profusely and drove away.
A week later, Grey got mail from this lady, who had heard him giving his name and address to the AAA rep in the tow truck. She send him a thank-you card with a gift certificate in it, and asked for God to bless him.
It's ironic that Grey got the opportunity to BE church for this woman only after he had become fed up with "church" and walked out. I'm sure many of the congregants still sitting in there were judging Grey as somehow less-holy-than-they, for walking out, but the fact is that he was obviously supposed to leave when he did, and he got an opportunity to serve that they were denied.
Moral of the story: it is far more important to BE church than to "go to church."
Saturday, March 29, 2008
A blog article by Darin Hufford, about the Bible, quoted here in its entirety (none of this is original to me, but someone emailed it to me and I thought it worth sharing):
The Bible Blog
Just about everywhere I go when I am traveling, I always ask the same set of questions to the audience I am preaching to: "How many of you feel like you probably don't read your Bible as much as you should?". With every congregation, regardless of the denomination, almost every hand in the building goes up. I then ask, "How many of you feel self conscious about your knowledge of the Scriptures?". Again, every hand in the building is raised. The last question I ask them is, "How many of you feel condemned in your spirit every time the subject of Bible reading comes up?". All the hands go up again.
I ask these questions because after years of feeling this way in my own walk, I began to suspect that I wasn't alone. As I speak with people from all over the world about this subject I have become more and more convinced that the Christian teachings about the Bible are quite possibly the main cause of condemnation and oppression in the body of Christ today. I don't believe that I have ever met another Christian brother or sister who is not under some sort of religious bondage when it comes to the issue of Bible reading.
The following article will either challenge you and set you free, or infuriate you and cause you to shut down. Some people who read this will copy it and send it to everyone they know, and others won't make it half way through the first page before tearing it up and burning it. Some will call me a hero while others will call me a heretic. All I ask is that while you read this; sincerely THINK ABOUT IT.Â Don't just shut down out of religious obligation to not listen to anything that doesn't sound like what you have been taught all your life.
I will separate this into three parts because it's unusually long. My hope is that this will be a blog that people will copy and email to all their friends and family members. If you copy the link and paste it to an email, you can send this too literally thousands of people who NEED to read this. Help me get this message out to the world!
Before we get started I would like to plainly state that I firmly believe that the Bible is inspired by the Spirit of God. I don't question it's authenticity for one moment. I have read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation at least 10 times, and in no less than 5 translations. I've spent hundreds of hours in Bible college classes and thousands more studying on my own. I've read commentaries on almost every book of the Bible and have personally taught on every single book in the Old Testament and New Testament. I've studied Greek and I've studied Hebrew. For many years of my life, I spent an average of about 7 hours a day doing nothing but reading and studying this wonderful book. I would even purposefully fall asleep listening to the Bible on tape so I could completely memorize entire books. I say all that to say this: I respect the Bible and I hold it close to my heart. There is no other book in the world like it; the content in the Bible is absolutely life changing.
What I am about to say in this article is strictly on behalf of PEOPLE. Though I love the Bible and all it has to offer; I love people even more, and nothing grieves my heart more than to watch people being hurt or condemned by what has been taught to them concerning the Bible. This goes out to everyone who just needs a break from the constant guilt they feel for not being as faithful to the Bible as people have told them they should be. I write this to the person who is riddled with insecurity every time a conversation comes up about particular stories or passages they feel they should know, but don't. This is for the one who has basically given up on hearing the voice of God in your life because you can't understand the Shakespearian dialect or the theological principals of the original Greek or Hebrew. More than anything I want to bring a breath of fresh air to those of you who feel like you're a million miles behind other Christians because you haven't spent the time that they have reading and studying your Bible.
The Great Exchange
At the end of Gideon's "deliverance career" the Israelites wanted to make him their king. Gideon refused, and said that instead of becoming their king he would like them to each bring him a gold ear ring from the plunder. Everyone brought a portion of gold and Gideon melted it down and made a "golden Ephod". The Ephod was the vest that the priests put on when they entered the Holy of Holies. In the pocket of the Ephod were the lots, which were used when they "caste lots" in order to determine God's will in a certain situation. When the priest entered the temple wearing the golden Ephod, he could actually hear the voice of God audibly. You might remember one time when King David told the priests to "bring him the golden Ephod". David put it on and went into the temple to ask God whether or not he should attack the Amalakites. David heard the audible voice of God tell him to attack.
The story of Gideon goes on to say that after the golden Ephod was made, "all of Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping the Ephod". Think of that for a moment. They actually worshiped the way in which to determine God's will over worshiping God Himself. The story later goes on to say that it became a snare to Gideon and his family.
So what does this have to do with the Bible? One of the things we are taught about the Bible is that it is the way in which to determine the will of God. I believe that just as the Israelites prostituted themselves after the golden Ephod, modern day Christians do the exact same with the Bible. We have prostituted ourselves after the Bible and there is no doubt in my mind that it has become a thorn and a snare to almost every Christian in America. In fact I think many Christians have actually traded God for the Bible. Many others have even come to the point where they think God IS the Bible! I truly believe that the Bible has become the "golden Ephod" of our time.
Who's Your Daddy?
It's interesting to me that we actually call the Bible "The Word of God". The Bible doesn't make that claim about itself. In the book of John it says: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God", but then it goes on to say, "The Word became flesh". The Bible outright tells us that JESUS is the Word, not the Bible! There wasn't even a Bible put together when this passage was written. When we teach people that the Bible is "The Word" we are flat out exchanging Christ for the Bible.
I want you to imagine what goes through the mind of Christ when he sees churches call themselves "Bible Churches". Think about that for a moment. Christ Himself said "I will build MY Church" and today we have "Bible Churches" in every city of America. The name alone gives our intentions and true feelings away. We are no different in this generation from the Pharisees in Jesus' day. They had a very similar view of their Old Testament scriptures. Jesus confronted them and said, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39-40). The Pharisees were making the same trade that millions of Christians have made today. Another point about this passage is that Jesus clearly makes a distinction between "studying the Scriptures" and "coming to Him".
Most Christians believe with all their heart that a person is not even saved unless they "believe in the Bible". Churches advertise themselves as being a "Bible believing Church". Toss that around in your head for awhile and truly think about it. Where in the Bible does it say that we have to "believe in the Bible" in order to be saved? It does say to believe in Christ, but for some reason we have raised belief in the Bible to the same spiritual level as believing in Christ Himself. In the New Testament times the Christians met together to study God, and today when we meet together in someoneâ€™s home it's for a Bible study. If the Bible isn't brought out and studied at some point in the evening the entire event is looked upon as an unspiritual waste of time.
I understand that most of us have never stopped to think about these things, but if you step back and take an honest look at the landscape of our religion, I think you'll be surprised at how right I am. The American Christian system has wholeheartedly exchanged God for the Bible! This is precisely why so many sincere hearted people go into a full fledged panic attack the moment anyone suggests that there might be errors or discrepancies in the Bible. Most Christians will outright tell you that to even entertain such a thought is blasphemy. Because we have made the "God exchange" we have to insist that the Bible now takes on the attributes of God Himself. This is why it is imperative that everyone believe the Bible is infallible. It is equally grieving to my heart when I hear people say things like, "If there is even one thing wrong in the Bible, our entire faith is worthless". Their entire existence as a Christian stands on the belief that there are no errors in Scripture. If they were to be shown a true discrepancy in Scripture that could not be explained away, it would literally cause their entire religion to come caving in on them. I've heard people openly admit, "If you can't believe it all, you can't believe any of it". Their entire faith stands on Scripture instead of Christ. Make no mistake about it, there has been an exchange of monumental proportions!
This is why so many Christians judge the strength and status of their Christian walk by how much time they spend reading their Bible. It seems to be a constant thorn in the side of every single Christian I know. They always feel guilty for not studying it every day of their life. They just know that God is upset with them for not reading it more. The cycle goes on and on until it becomes a permanent snare in their walk. The looming shadow of performance based Christianity is always there to put them in their place the moment they feel a shred of confidence, contentment or joy. What's worse is that every one of us are set up for emanate failure. We are constantly pressured to "be in the Word" but we are never told how much is enough. No matter how much time we spend studying it; it's never enough. If we read it one hour, we could have read it two. If we read it eight hours, we could have read it nine. No matter what we do, we're always left feeling like we fell short. It's almost like it was set up that way in order to prevent growth of any kind in our lives and to keep us down.
Let me be the first to say that I am sick of it!
I am quite honestly sick of all the manipulation and oppression that has been put on people in the name of religion. I'm sick of all the half truths and outright lies that have been made up about the Bible in order to force people to submit and serve their local church. I'm sick of the guilt and condemnation that so many people live with because they can't keep up with the rigorous demands of an impossible system. And most of all, I'm sick of the empty (and quite frankly the unbiblical) promises concerning what the Bible's purpose is in our lives. Most of the things we are taught about the Bible are found NOWHERE in the Bible; they come from a religious spirit that seeks to whittle people down to a spiritual nub in an effort to gain control over their minds. Without a doubt, this wonderful book has been used to cuff the spirits of millions of sincere hearted people who honestly want to connect with God's Heart.
The Irony of "Bible believing Churches"
The thing that perplexes me more than anything else concerning this subject is the fact that Churches who hold up the Bible as their ultimate guide in life, almost never follow a single thing in it. Every time I hear a pastor thunder that, "We do everything according to the Word of God in this Church.", I am always puzzled as to what exactly he is talking about. In fact, I've struggled to find just one thing that we practice in modern day Institutional Churches that coincides with Scripture.
Where in the Bible did they have "Worship Services" lead by a "Worship Leader"? Perhaps you might find a few places in the Old Testament where something similar might have occurred, however in the New Testament it simply never happened. Almost every church in America promotes "Corporate Worship" as though it's a Scriptural principal that we all must adhere to. This is simply not found in the New Testament Church.
Every mention of "Worship" in the New Testament was in reference to it being a private intimate matter between each individual believer and God. Paul said to "sing and make music in your hearts". Ironically, even worship leaders know that this is true. They will almost always tell everyone in the room to "forget about everyone around them and get alone with God" before the service even starts. They know this, however they insist that everyone meet together to do it.
Where in the Bible do we find "Youth Leaders" who are specifically paid to lead the younger people in the Church? For that matter, where in the New Testament did they EVER separate families the moment they walked through the door of a Church? The fact that we do this in modern day institutions is absolutely flabbergasting! This practice entirely defeats the purpose and picture of what Church is all about. Ironically the same pastor, who signs the paycheck of the Youth Leader and Child Care Workers, also preaches that "The Family is the most intimate form of Church". Separating those families before church begins is not only unbiblical, but it's down right destructive.
Did the New Testament Church have a stage? Of course they didn't. The Church experience in the Bible times was not a spectator sport. It was about participation, interaction and fellowship. Today, fellowship is that block of five minutes you might get to say hello or goodbye in the foyer once the show is over. Church in the New Testament was never a play. There was no stage with lights, video and sound systems. It's become so much of a "show mentality" that when we now start a new ministry within the Church we call it a "Program". That alone should cause us to stop and think about what we're doing.
The things we promote and encourage are also nowhere to be found in the Bible. When did the New Testament Christians do "Outreaches"? When was "Group Prayer" or "Prayer Chains" preached in New Testament times? What about "Tithing"? Did Paul tell the people to pay 10% of their income to the Church? NEVER! We have built an entire religion around the infamous "Sinners Prayer" that we try with all our might to get people to recite, however there is no "Sinners Prayer" anywhere in Scripture. Believe it or not, the word "Trinity" isn't there either. Most, if not all Christian Churches today won't even acknowledge your salvation unless you believe in that one. Many Churches have "Alter Calls" at the end of their service where they push and push everyone to come to the alter and meet with God regarding their problems. You guessed it; it's not in the Bible! What New Testament Church had a "Board" that the Pastor had to answer to? Where was "Associate Pastor", "Marriage Pastor", "Prayer Pastor", or any of our other new concepts of "Pastor" found in the Bible? Did the Pastors in the Bible preach a sermon every week? NO! In fact, the people met every day, not every week; and when they did meet, THEY brought songs to sing, and THEY spoke the word of the Lord to each other. Though I could go on and on, I'll finish this section with the big one: At what point did Sunday become "God's Day"? If anything, the Sabbath day was Saturday.
I am not saying that any of these things are wrong. In fact, I personally don't have a problem with most of them. I don't think God does either. My point is this: DON'T SAY YOU DO EVERYTHING BY THE BIBLE!!!! Very little of what we do in modern day church has anything at all to do with the Bible. Why should it? The New Testament Church didn't even have a Bible.
Acknowledging the Purpose of Scripture
Several months ago I took my wife and kids to Disney Land. Just before we left the house I used "Map Quest" to get directions. After typing in my home address and the address of Disney Land I was printing out step by step directions that even a monkey could follow. Together my wife and I followed the map to a "T" and in just six hours we were standing at the entrance of Disney Land with four ecstatic little girls.
Now I want you to read this next part slowly and think about it.
If you were to come looking for my family inside of Disney Land about an hour after we entered the park, what are the chances you would find us all sitting on a bench by the Dumbo ride, studying the map? This is exactly what the Christian world looks like today. It's a day at Disney Land were thousands of people have filled the park. However, all the rides are empty, there are no lines at the restaurants, no one is paying attention to the characters walking around and the light parade goes unnoticed. Why? Because everyone is sitting around in clusters studying the map and going over how they got there.
The purpose of the Bible is to lead us to Christ, who is LOVE IN THE FLESH. For some reason however, we have gotten the idea that once we have found Christ, we must continue to study the map. To take it a step further, we have even taught people that their entire relationship with Christ is now lived out through reading the Bible! If this were true, you would think that in all of Jesus' teachings and preachings, He would have at least ONCE stopped midway in one of his sermons and said, "Oh and by the way, in about forty years from now a bunch of guys are going to write letters back and forth to each other and in about three hundred and fifty years from now those letters are going to be bound in a book, and if you don't read it everyday of your life YOU WILL NEVER KNOW GOD".
Why didn't the Apostle Paul tell the churches he wrote letters to that they had to read and re-read and study and meditate on those letters over and over for the rest of their lives in order to grow in the Lord? If our daily Bible reading were as important as we have been told it is today; why wasn't it mentioned even once by one of the authors in the New Testament? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Jude, James, Paul, never once told us that we had to make the reading of their letters a daily religious ritual. You would think that someone would have written about it if it was really as important as we teach today.
What did all those Christians after Paul's time do to have a relationship with God? After Christ returned to heaven, there were almost fifteen hundred years worth of Christians who didn't have a Bible in their home. How in the world did they keep their heads above water without a Bible to study every day? Why would God send His only Son into the world to live a perfect life, die for our sins and be raised to life again almost fifteen hundred years before the printing press was invented if the Bible was the route we humans were to take to have relationship with God? How is that a better covenant than what Moses had? God spoke with Moses face to face and now after Jesus was crucified, we have to relate to Him through a book. Does that sound right to you?
It's interesting to me that we tell people that the way they get close to God is by reading their Bible regularly. The Pharisees not only did this, but they went on to memorize large portions of Scripture and even wore articles of clothing to remind them daily of what they had read. However, when God stood right in front of them in the flesh, they didn't recognize Him from Adam. Jesus later told the people that the two most important commandments were to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul" and that "the second commandment is like the firstâ€¦â€¦â€¦Love your neighbor as yourself". Then he said, "All of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments". He was literally saying that if you love, you will BECOME the Bible! You can put it down and walk away from it forever because LOVE is the embodiment of the entire Bible! Once again: the purpose of the Bible is to lead us to Christ. Who is Christ? Love in the flesh!
I do not need a "post it note" on my refrigerator reminding me not to murder my wife and kids. Why? Because I love them and that law is so far beneath me, it doesn't even apply to me. THE LAW IS FOR PEOPLE WHO DON'T LOVE. When you know Christ, you know love and when you know love, you are no longer a "spreader of the message"; YOU BECOME THE MESSAGE.
The Consequences of the Trade
Our teachings about the Bible and it's purpose in our lives have basically made us a generation of dead people. Since we don't believe we can hear God on our own without the Bible, we find ourselves searching the Scriptures to find out whether something is right or wrong and we don't even stop to look into our own heart and ask ourselves.
I honestly believe that out of this zombie and lifeless belief system, we have no other option but to blindly stumble throughout life clinging to our "WWJD" bracelet in hopes that we can survive yet another day. It's a very depressing time we live in when we have to stop everything and analyze what Jesus would do in this situation or that before we act. It's fake. It's scripted and it's from the head. Even Charles Manson can do that. Do you think that Satan worshipers need to wear a "WWSD" bracelet so they'll know how to act in certain situations? Of course not! If you cut a Satan worshiper off on the freeway, he doesn't need to ponder how Satan would react. He literally BECOMES Satan right there in the middle of the freeway! Yet we have Christians today who only know ABOUT Jesus because they read about Him in a book. He's a character in the Bible that they've been told to do their best to study and mimic.
When tragedy or hardship comes into their life they have no other choice but to "STAND ON SCRIPTURE" and hope for the best. Because there is no real relationship established beyond what they read in the book, they can only quote the book to the Author in hopes that He will recognize the passage and honor what He said. I personally know hundreds of Christians who spend their entire life standing on this Scripture or that in an effort to get what they want. It's all they have. There is nothing beyond the words they read in the book. Their relationship is not with God; it's with their Bible.
This teaching about the Bible ultimately causes people to retreat from relationship with God. If you think it through you'll find that a personal relationship with Him isn't even needed anymore. In fact, if some people could have their way, they would just have God pack up and leave Heaven altogether. The Bible is basically "Auto Pilot" for Heaven. God doesn't even have to think anymore. If it's in the Bible He has no choice but to do it. And He has covered everything in the Bible so Heaven should pretty much run itself from this point on. And we wonder why people today have no real intimacy with the Father. Listening to many Christians "witness" in today's age is perhaps the most grueling experience I can think of. So often it seems that their entire witness is based on what they have read in a book. Just because you read about a crime in the paper, doesn't mean that you can go to court during the trial and be a witness. Sadly, that's what our religion has produced in recent years. A bunch of well read people who haven't really witnessed a thing.
Know Your Bible People!
I had a friend several years ago who was browsing through a book store when he noticed a young lady thumbing through one of my books on relationships. As he walked by her he leaned in and said, "Get that book, it will change your life". She smiled and thanked him for the tip. About three months later, this lady showed up to my church. She had read the book and found out that I was teaching locally, so she thought she would come to my group. She was excited to see my friend who had told her about the book, and immediately approached him and thanked him for telling her to buy it. He was terrified and embarrassed because he had not yet read the book himself. He didn't have the guts to tell her, so he just decided to act as if he had read it. After the service she wanted to stay and talk about relationships with my friend. Instead of just coming clean, he decided to just let himself go and talk about relationships from his heart. He was surprised that she didn't seem to catch on that he hadn't read the book.
Immediately after service he ran to the bookstore and bought a copy for himself. When he got home and started reading it he was absolutely amazed to find that during his conversation with this young lady, he had actually quoted entire sentence structures of my book, word for word, without even knowing it!Â How could he do that?
HE KNEW THE AUTHOR!
The problem with thinking we can know anyone personally through a book is that it's downright impossible. Books can only record what was said and what was done. If we try to define the inner Heart of God based on those things, we will be left with a heartless vending machine God who acts and responds the same way to everyone every time. His very personality and individuality gets lost in the translation.
If you were to follow me around for twenty years and write down everything I said and did during that time you would end up with a book the size of the phone book. If you looked on page 1339 and saw that I did this or that, and then turned to page 897 and found that I said this or that, you could come to the conclusion that if one of my children got out of bed after I put them down, I would break their legs. If you know me personally however, you'd know that I would never do that.
It's interesting that I have some people who have read every book I've ever written and listened to every teaching series I've ever taught, but they don't know me from Adam. If they were to try and enter my house I would call the police and slap a restraining order on them. Just because they've read my books and listened to my teachings, doesn't mean they know me personally.
I have other friends who haven't even opened ONE of my books, and have never listened to even thirty seconds of any teaching I've ever recorded, however they know me personally and I know them. My house is their house. My possessions are their possessions. How can this be? Simple; they love my children. When you love my kids, you will have found the quickest and most direct route to my heart!!
God is NOT in the Bible; He is in his Children. "If you love, you know God and you are known by Him. If you do not love, you do not know God, nor have you ever seen him".
Once you know the Author of the Bible, you have the Word living inside your heart! We have basically taught an entire generation of people that they have received a deaf, dumb and blind God. He's like a computer. When you get him home, you have to load Windows and a hundred other programs on Him before He's of any use. That's ridiculous! When you receive God's Spirit into your heart, you not only get Him, but you get all His Words as well.
The Truth Within You
Think about it. Have you ever had something in the Bible literally explode of the pages and blow your mind? The reason that happened is because it exploded from WITHIN you! It was already living inside of you. That's why your heart almost leaps out of your chest when you come across a truth in Scripture.
Sadly we subscribe to a religion that pretty much encourages people to have a relationship with their Bible over God Himself. It's like there is something within all of us that would rather spend time with an inanimate object then with a living being. This is why so many people don't have a problem making the trade. Real intimacy is intimidating to us.
Could you imagine a wife on her wedding night coming out of the bathroom dressed in a beautiful negligee ready to present herself to her husband for the first time, and he is sitting on the edge of the bed reading a letter she wrote to him ten years ago? She says, "Honey here I am, come over here", and he doesn't even look up because he's too busy reading the letter. That is exactly what I see in modern day Christianity! We have access to the real God and we insist on reading the letter over and over instead of actually connecting with Him.
Our teachings have turned the Bible into a spiritual walkie-talkie between us and God. We say things like, "The main way God speaks to us is through the Bible". When I became a Christian I was personally told that when I pray; it's me talking to God, and when I read my Bible; it's God talking to me. For the most part we have all been taught that unless we are reading the Bible we will never hear from God.
This raises a whole series of questions for me. First of all I would like to know where the Bible even says that. It's interesting that Scripture doesn't even make that claim about itself, yet we preach it like it's an age old truth that God Himself set up thousands of years ago. Most of us have heard it so many times that we don't even stop to question whether or not it's true. We have learned to just accept it as truth and do our best to keep up.
I am not suggesting that God can't speak to us through the Bible. He can speak to us anyway He chooses to. I'm just debating the mindset that believes that this is the PURPOSE of Scripture, and the main way He chooses to talk to us.
I heard one Pastor teach that God won't even tell us something if it's already written in the Bible because we can read it for ourselves. Hummmmâ€¦â€¦..What if you're illiterate? What if you're illiterate AND deaf, so you can't even listen to the Bible on tape? What if you're a prisoner of war without a Bible? What if you're a child and haven't learned to read yet? What if you're an elderly person and can't see the words? I know this sounds amusing, but if you really think about what we have been taught, it's absolutely comical.
Many people who are reading this are likely to say to themselves, "What about King David who said that he meditated on the Word night and day"?
First of all, when David meditated on the Word, he was meditating on THE LAW (the first five books of the Old Testament, otherwise known as the Pentateuch). Believe it or not; the Bible as we know it today does not refer to itself as "The Word of God". Any place where the term "The Word" is spoken about in Scripture, it's referring to THE LAW. That's what David meditated on night and day. He had too; David was not like you and me. He didn't have the Holy Spirit living inside of him. In our time, "The Word became Flesh" and now dwells among us. JESUS is the Word, not the Bible. If you have Jesus living in your Heart; you have the Word living in your heart. David's "Word" was only a shadow of what was to come. Imagine if all you were given was a shadow of something. You would have no choice but to study it from every possible angle in hopes that you might find out what was casting that shadow.
We have been given the very One who casts that shadow! Why in the world would we ever be tempted to study the shadow when the one who casts the shadow is standing right before us? Our teachings on the Bible have turned us into shadow chasers who refuse to acknowledge the Shadow Maker.
It is interesting that although David had to meditate on the Word night and day (and he clearly had a deep love and respect for it) when David needed to hear from God, he didn't turn to the Scriptures. He walked directly into the temple and confronted God himself. In fact, I have not found a single place in all of Scripture where anyone turned to Scripture in order to hear from God.
I think that understanding the purpose and value of a thing is extremely important. If I bought you a new car, and you thought that a car was to be used as a house, it wouldn't take more than a few days for your car to start stinking to high heavens. Until you understand that cars are made for transportation, you will never truly experience it's blessings. The same is true with the Bible. We have made declarations about it that have nothing to do with it's real purpose and value. This false understanding of what the Bible is for has caused us to become a spiritually retarded generation. Christian chat rooms and forums are filled every day of the week with people machine gunning Scriptures back and forth in heated debate. Some of us can't even talk normal anymore because our vocabulary is filled with King James quotations. Authors can't even make a spiritual point without having to "back it up" with Scripture. It's pretty sad when Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit have to have a Scripture verse to back up a spiritual principal that even a child can understand. Unfortunately in today's Christian world we have been taught to think in Bible verses. We've become as soulless as computers.
The Deadly Blow
The nail in the coffin to all of this dysfunction and chaos comes the moment we swallow the equally devastating and destructive teaching that says, "Don't trust your heart".Â It comes from that Bible verse where Paul says "the heart is deceitful above all thingsâ€¦.."Â So now in addition to teaching us that we can't make one spiritual move without the Bible, we're also taught that we are supposed to shut ourselves down from our heart and refrain from any future consultations with it. This is preached all over America and it's a lie from the pit of Hell! I honestly believe that these two teachings together are a recipe for spiritual death.
Those who preach that we are not supposed to trust our heart have effectively sealed the fate of their listeners. Make no mistake about it; this is an extremely dark teaching that has nothing to do with the truth of God. To even entertain such an appalling idea is like swallowing a cyanide tablet into your soul. I believe that this terrible mentality is what has ultimately turned the Christian religion into a spiritual veal farm. The moment you buy into this absurdity you can NEVER know the Heart of God. All future possibilities of intimacy with Him are annihilated completely. It seals the separation between man and God and ultimately catapults us back to Old Testament times.
Come now, let us reason together. If we are not supposed to ever trust our hearts, how in the world can we ever know Him? Think about it for a moment. When you became a Christian; where did you ask Jesus to live? Your heart of course! What good would it be for the Spirit of Christ to live in your heart if you aren't allowed to "go there"? How could we ever forgive someone from our heart if we can't trust it? Why would God write His laws on the hearts of men if they were not allowed to consult that part of their being? Whey would the Bible tell us to "sing and make music in our hearts" if they were not to be trusted? We couldn't even fulfill the commandment that Jesus said was most important, "Love the Lord you God with all your heart, mind and soul". Jesus also said that "the Kingdom of Heaven is within you", and there is no doubt that He was speaking about our hearts. The irony of this is that this popular teaching tells us that we must rely only on the Bible and not on our hearts. If we can't trust our hearts, how will we ever be able to read and interpret the Bible properly? Wouldn't our deceptive hearts mess everything up and interpret it all wrong?
Trust me in this, the only part of us that is eternal and connected to God, is OUR HEARTS! It is a conspiracy from Satan himself to try to get every Christian person to deny themselves access and completely stop trusting their hearts. The very birth and life of a believer is lived out through the heart. This is why the Bible says "if you confess with your mouth AND BELIEVE IN YOUR HEART that Jesus Christ is Lord, you will be saved". The next time someone quotes that "The heart is deceitful" verse in an effort to get you to think from your head, you just remind them that when you believed in God's one and only Son, your heart was resurrected with Christ and you are a new creation.
Â These two teachings about the Bible and the heart of man completely rely on one another to survive. You MUST be heartless in order to buy the things you have been taught about the Bible and if you deny your heart; you definitely need the Bible in order to survive. A good friend of mine told someone he was ministering to, that "The very pipeline through which God intended to touch the world and reveal Himself to mankind is the very pipeline you have shut down to keep you from sinning". If you abandon your heart because you think only bad things come from it, keep in mind that you are also closing the door to things like, Love, Compassion, Relationship, Spirituality and a thousand other things you were created for.
Reasons to Read
I believe that there are many wonderful reasons to read the Bible without having to add to them in an effort to manipulate or control people.Â One of the greatest things that happens when you read it, is that it helps to connect your heart with your head. If the Word is living in the heart of a Christian; reading the Bible can cause the mind and the heart to become one. In other words, it will remind you of what already exists in your heart. Getting your head in line with your heart (for some people) is a full time job. When you read with your mind the words that exist in your heart, you become more and more aware of heart things, and you gain experience at being able to determine the difference.
I also think that knowing the history of our faith is extremely important. Understanding how it all happened and why you needed to be saved in the first place is absolutely essential. Scripture also gives us hundreds of accounts of different people's interactions with God from the beginning of time. It explains so much about our nature and what we are inclined to do on our own. The Bible really prepares us in many ways for life. It's full of heroes that inspire and motivate us. It's like watching a Rocky movie. When you come out of the theater, you're ready to conquer the world. Let's face it; we all need examples to rouse us into action.
There are also times in our lives when we just don't love. Even though the author of love Himself is living in our hearts; sometimes we purposefully decide to not go there. When we do this, the Bible is great because it sets us straight. The bottom line is, some of us go through moments in our life where we just need things written out in black and white. I can tell you that I'm so glad I've studied the Scriptures as much as I have. It's given me parameters in which to open my heart and live my life. On my off days when I'm not consulting my heart about a matter, I'm glad I have the black and white word for word passage that sets my momentarily blind self straight.
Many of us have a worldly view of what love is. Scripture is wonderful in this sense. It clearly draws a distinction between man's idea of love and the truth. When you read about the truth of what love is, you'll find little explosions taking place in your heart, and your head will immediately come into alignment with it. I think the Bible is great at teaching each and every one of us how to locate and find treasures within our heart. It's also a great corrective tool for us when we're just off our rocker and thinking purely human thoughts. It's great to know that in those moments, we have a safety net that's set in place to catch us and gently guide us back on the right path.
In a lot of ways, I look at the Bible as the teacher's manual. I think we are all supposed to do the work on our own, but it's great to know that when we come upon a problem or issue where we can't find the answer within us; we have the answers written down somewhere. I DON'T believe however, that we are supposed to live our lives carrying the teacher's manual around, just to get the answers without even searching our heart first.
I'll be completely honest with you. I understand why most Christians haven't read the Bible all the way through. We have made it a law. It's natural for humans to do the exact opposite of anything that becomes law. The moment we turned the Bible into something we HAD to read, we lost interest. With that in mind, I would like to say that I am still a bit mystified to find that there are millions of self proclaiming Christians who still haven't "read the book". I get why that happens, but it's still mind blowing to me. In the back of my mind I think that the reason why so many Christians don't seem to have the desire to read the Bible is because they were tricked into Christianity in the first place. I think many of us were shoved into it by manipulative fear tactics or religious emotionalism. I'll have to write about that in another blog.
I think that because we have made it such a SPIRITUAL thing, people start reading and then begin to wonder why they aren't getting the spiritual goose bumps they were told about; so they quit. Perhaps they feel like they're doing something wrong. My advice is this: read it anyway. Just sit down and read it from beginning to end. Read it like you would any other book. Don't expect a spiritual experience. It may or may not happen. If you are a Christian, read the book about Christ. If for no other reason at all; read it to say that you have. I think every Christian should read the Bible all the way through at least once. With so many crazy preachers out there, doesn't it make sense to have read the book so that you'll know for yourself whether or not what they are saying is right? Why put your life in someone else's hands? Wouldn't it be nice to know for sure if someone was pulling your leg or misquoting Scripture to get you to do something?
Here is a great verse that pretty much says it all in terms of why you should read your bible:
Â 2 Timothy 3:14 NIV