Thursday, March 19, 2009

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this...

...Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you?

I appreciate TCYK's courage to drive home a few points. I guess they've been around for a couple of years and I didn't know it.

Here's a sample link on "Attendance". Be sure to check out the other videos. They hit the proverbial nail smack dab on the head!

Jeff ("Yay - I'm not insane!")
BTW - go the their website and try to buy something at the store.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fantastic Quote!

I'm pasting a brilliant observation by a friend of Frank Viola's - Hal Miller. BTW I googled his name and only found the actor from Sesame Street and a square dance caller in the D.C. area.

This comes from FV's review of Michael Spencer's recent article: "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" published in The Drudge Report, The Christian Science Monitor and CTI.

The last three paragraphs are 1st, 2nd & 3rd base of the homer hit by HM.

Christianity is culturally relevant when it offers a qualitatively different society. Jesus called it “the kingdom of God.” Paul saw its first outlines in the gathered disciples of Jesus, and so he called them ekklesia - we translate it “church”- a Greek word denoting citizens assembled to attend to their common project, their city.

The evangelicals missed this. Evangelicalism sought to transform people and so transform the world. They did not see that something might be missing from this vision, something their assumption of American individualism would hide from them. The true Christian vision is to transform people, transforming them into a people, and so transform the world. The evangelicals missed that middle term. They could not see the church as a foretaste of the new society; it was a club for the new individuals. The evangelicals simply dressed American individualism in Christian clothing. They ended up with new isolated individuals, but in the old society. Since their expression of Christianity did not take form as a new society, it quickly became culturally irrelevant, even though it was admirably culturally open.

To be culturally relevant, Christianity must offer an alternative. God has indeed chosen to deal with persons as individuals- in this the evangelicals were right. Yet they are not simply individuals; they become members of a social reality called ekklesia, which is the entering wedge of the new society of God’s making.

Too often, for example, we assume that evangelism involves the simple aggregation of more and more new individuals. If enough people are “born again,” the world’s problems will diminish. But the experience of the last twenty years- in which we had more and more people “born again” as well as more and more marital tragedies, more and more international tension, and more and more bondage to the demons of our age- seems a perfectly contrived counter-example to this theory.

The Christian calling requires being reconciled with God, to be sure. But it also requires being a new, reconciling society characterized by forgiveness, acceptance, and responsibility in a common task- a society qualitatively different from its culture, yet engaged with it. Little gatherings of Christians for worship and mutual help in being disciples become the seeds of God’s coming new society.

Such a new society will be culturally relevant because it springs from God’s movement among God’s people. The persons who make up this new society live their faith in the face of day-to-day problems that they share with the world around them. They face the same questions as unbelievers: finding joy and meaning in work, living at peace both personally and globally, raising responsible and compassionate children. And in facing those questions, Christian faith becomes relevant even for unbelievers.

Imagine a group of people gathering to help each other in the common task of seeing God’s kingdom incarnated in their work, in their families, in their towns, in their world, in their midst, and (rather than only) in their individual lives. This gathering is ekklesia. It will be relevant to its world because it lives the life of the kingdom in the world, not apart from it.

I have to fight off that temptation of anonymously sending these words to a few people who need to hear them - those who are blindly "caught up." But I realize that pride and lack of humility that drives such proneness. I believe God is at work among those who desire to follow him and they will eventually "get it."

Suffice it to say that it is a widespread blindness in the institutional church to (my soapbox) perpetuate the sad stewardship of sitting in a "study" or an office away from the day-to-day rigor of the world - to prepare for one event that lasts an hour or so on one day of the week at one location - in hopes that a passive mass will carry out the mission beyond the walls. This pandemic malady does not require naming names.

Sunday, March 15, 2009



Now we have all this information about the origins of institutional church practices. So what? Is this merely (as my good friend Tom Lindholtz puts it) "cursing about the darkness instead of lighting a candle?"

Viola and Barna brilliantly open this epilogue with the words from Acts 2:37. They use the NASB, but I will substitute the NIV as I believe the word "cut" is more accurately translated there: "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'"

The critical review taken on should impact all who have been or are still "caught up" in many unbiblical practices of the institutional church. Our souls should be "pierced" (like Mary's) and our hearts should be "cut."

Reading this book takes courage. Such courage is required not because of what the book says, but because of what you, as a follower of Christ, should do in response to what you have read.

...Having read this book, you must make a decision" Will you act upon what you have read, or will you simply be informed by it?

It's a prudent urging by Viola and Barna for those who want to earnestly fall in line with God's intentions for the Body. This is a plea to indeed light a candle in the darkness rather than cursing it.

The organized church has moved down a crooked path over the past two thousand years. The only way to get it back on track is for each of us to begin prayerfully exploring the original plan that God had for His people and then be willing to respond faithfully to that plan. In this way, the Revolution that has begun to take root in our day will spread far and wide. And God will get what He has always been after.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 12


Last year at about this time, I was devouring the book of Luke. As I got to the last 1/3 of the book, I started to ponder deeply about how Jesus' principles would correspond today. I was somewhat shocked by some of the conclusions I was reaching - yet I could not shake them. Every time I thought "This can't be what it means today" the words reinforced what I was trying to deny. It is my current belief that Jesus would be directing some of his harshest words and even some condemnation toward the institutional church. Pharisaism lives!

Jesus warned that he came to bring "fire" and "division" with his purpose (12:49-53). He also stated (to those who considered themselves as spiritually upright) that many will attempt to enter the "narrow door...and will not be able to." He told them that "people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." (13:29 & 30). He proclaimed earlier (chapter 11 in reference to the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba) that those deemed as outside the fold would be in on the final judgment of all humanity.

I've said many times and it applies: "You can't read the words of Jesus as if you were reading Shakespeare!" It's not mere poetry and prose. They must (as Simeon prophesied to Mary and Joseph) reveal our hearts and pierce our souls.

Jesus Christ is not only the Savior, the Messiah, the Prophet, the Priest, and the King. He is also the Revolutionary. Yet few Christians know Him as such.

...In Jesus, we have a man who refused to bow to the pressures of religious conformity. A man who preached a revolution. A man who would not tolerate hypocrisy. A man who was not afraid to provoke those who suppressed the liberating gospel He brought to set men free.

...For most Christians, this is a side of Jesus Christ they have never known before. Yet we believe it explains why exposing what is wrong with the contemporary church so that Christ's body can fulfill God's ultimate intention is so critical. It is simply an expression of our Lord's revolutionary nature. The dominating aim of that nature is to put you and me at the center of the beating heart for God.
"Intention" is the banner over this whole book. I trust the authors' sincere concern and passion that the Body of Christ will function as God intended. The present form does very little to model revolutionary intention.

We believe this is God's vision for every church. In fact, we have written this book for one reason: to make room for the absolute centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in His church. Fortunately, more and more Revolutionaries today are catching that vision. They recognize that what is needed is a revolution within the Christian faith - a complete upheaval of those Christian practices that are contrary to biblical principle. We must begin all over again, on the right foundation. Anything less will prove defective.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 11


Barna and Viola know how to live dangerously. There are those (as I demonstrated with my review of chapter 10) who are willing to bend and flex on other ecclesiastical discussions, but "don't you dare mess with the bible."

I'm certain that the analysis offered in chapter 11 will draw the ire of many a critic, but the information presented is factual and objective.

Somehow the inspiration/canonization arguments throughout history shrouded the overall context of the early writer(s) and reader(s). So much so, that the institutional church has treated God's truth as a buffet table. "I'll take a little of 'women are not allowed to teach' and I'll pass on the 'slaves, obey your masters' because the last one is contextual."

The problem is not what the New Testament says. The problem is in how we approach it.

The approach most commonly used among contemporary Christians when studying the Bible is called "proof texting." The origin of proof goes back to the late 1590s. A group of men called Protestant scholastics took the teachings of the Reformers and systematized them according to the rules of Aristotelian logic.

The Protestant scholastics held that not only is the Scripture the Word of God, but every part of it is the Word of God in and of itself - irrespective of context. This set the stage for the idea that if we lift a verse out of the Bible, it is true in its own right and can be used to prove a doctrine or a practice.

How often I have heard "You will know them by their fruits", "You reap what you sew", "Wives, submit to your husbands", "Do not throw your pearls to pigs" - - - many more - spurted out without reference to the context in which these words were written. It's true that they can be used as self-righteous buck-shot.

Because of the proof-texting method, a vast wasteland of Christianity behaves as if the mere citation of some random, decontextualized verse of Scripture ends all discussion on virtually any subject.
I highly recommend you read this chapter (as well as the entire book) to learn about how the New Testament was ordered and about the emphasis on the narrative story approach - rather than passage memorization.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 10


Be advised that this post will be dominated by my own commentary.

I've made many a "fundamentalist" blood boil and red-faced when I inform them that I do not believe in the "inerrancy" of the bible. Of course I mean one thing, but they hear and knee-jerk to another thing. Hear me out if I've gotten your dander up.

Most who stand by the concept of "inerrancy" will qualify what is meant. They have no choice but to. I will paste a very common statement that I copied online to demonstrate.

Inerrancy. I believe that the Bible is inerrant (Psa. 19:7-8). By this I mean that the original autographs were completely free from any error, contradiction, or human corruption.

See the qualifier - "the original autographs?" That means the very piece of papyrus or stone or skin that was used to scrawl characters in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, communicating what God revealed - all of which are now inaccessible to us. How ridiculous and narrow to hang your hat on something that is not available! This falls into the pagan influence of superstition noted in an early chapter.

Such a notion begs the questions: "Where are they? How did they get lost? Is it possible that errant human beings were responsible? Is it not amazing that despite frailty and brokenness, God's truth is still preserved and revealed to humanity?"

When I tell someone I believe there are errors in the bible - I also qualify it. I say: "Noah was in error to get wasted on wine and expose his nakedness after God judged the world, yet God revealed pure truth to and through him. Moses was in error to murder a man in a fit of anger and rage, yet God revealed pure truth to and through him. David was in error in being a voyeur as Bathsheba bathed and then having sexual intercourse with her and then conniving to cover it up by pre-meditated manslaughter of Uriah, yet God revealed pure truth to and through him." There are many others in scripture.

I have no problem using the word "infallible" as this term suggests the functional aspect of what God reveals.

This 10th chapter can be accused of being self-contradictory as it is analystic of our fixation on analyzing, but the criticism is aimed at training as a neccessary credential before one can function with certain gifts.

The idea that a Christian worker must attend Bible college or seminary to be legitimate is deeply ingrained - so much so that when people feel a "call" of God on their lives, they are conditioned to begin hunting for a Bible college or seminary to attend.

OUCH! There's no "or" in my life. I went to both - from 1978 to 1985.

Such thinking fits poorly with the early Christian mind-set. Bible colleges, seminaries, and even Sunday schools were utterly absent from the early church. All are human innovations that came hundreds of years after the apostles' death.

How then, were Christian workers trained in the first century if they did not go to a religious school? Unlike today's ministerial training, the first-century training was hands-on, rather than academic. It was a matter of apprenticeship, rather than of intellectual learning. It was aimed primarily at the spirit, rather than at the frontal lobe.

...The teaching of the New Testament is that God is Spirit, and as such, He is known by revelation(spiritual insight) to one's human spirit. Reason and intellect can cause us to know about God. And they help us to communicate what we know. But they fall short in giving us spiritual revelation.

...God's thoughts belong to the world of spirit, man's to the world of intellect, and while spirit can embrace intellect, the human intellect can never comprehend spirit.
It is fitting to conclude this chapter with 2 morsels of God's truth:

"...then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it."
-Eccl. 8:17

"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."
-1 Cor 2:14

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 9


These two have yet to be resolved among those who practice them. "Sacrament/Ordinance" "Trans-substantiation/Con-substantiation/Mere symbolization"; "Sprinkle/Pour/Immerse" "Infant/Believers"........... Now PC throws a new twist into the ecclesiastical controversy. Way to go boys!

Having been raised "whiskey-palion" and since then pondered and adapted several other Christian expressions, I have never stopped wondering if these 2 were really ever mandated to be practiced for several generations. The contextualization in this chapter has finally given me a more simple view rather than the complex one that church history has refined and attempted to present in such fragmented form. (I've always been curious as to why "foot-washing" never made the bill in practice)

In the early church, converts were baptized immediately upon believing. One scholar says of baptism and conversion, "They belong together. Those who repented and believed the Word were baptized. That was the invariable pattern, so far as we know." Another writes, "At the birth of the church, converts were baptized with little or no delay."
What? No mandatory classes with the required sponsor, paper-written testimony, "please wear a swim suit under your clothing," reception afterward plus the videographer to make a movie to show at a subsequent service?

This next observation will provoke some angst among more than one or two.

In our day, the "sinners prayer" has replaced the role of water baptism as the initial confession of faith. Unbelievers are told, "Say this prayer after me, accept Jesus as your personal Savior, and you will be saved." But nowhere in all the New Testament do we find any person being led to the Lord by a sinner's prayer. And there is not the faintest whisper in the Bible about a "personal" Savior.

Instead, unbelievers in the first century were led to Jesus Christ by being taken into the waters of baptism.

This puts in mind the illustration I read in another book last year ("Organic Church" by Neil Cole?) where a gathering of believers had a tank where new brothers and sisters were baptized. The setting was a courtyard of an apartment complex in a notorious neighborhood. The awesome part of the story - people watching from windows and balconies above... some came down asking questions and ended up being baptized.

The Lord's Supper also has a far less complex initiation.

For the early Christians, the Lord's Supper was a festive communal meal. The mood was one of celebration and joy. When believers first gathered for the meal, they broke the bread and passed it around. Then they ate their meal, which then concluded after the cup was passed around. The Lord's Supper was essentially a Christian banquet. And there was no clergyman to officiate.

...With the abandonment of the meal, the terms "breaking of bread" and "Lord's Supper" disappeared. The common term for the now truncated (just the bread and the cup)was the "Eucharist."

...The mystique associated with the Eucharist was due to the influence of the pagan mystery religions, which were clouded with superstition. With this influence, the Christians began to ascribe sacred overtones to the bread and cup. They were viewed as holy objects in and of themselves.

Sounds like just high-church sentiments? Not from what I learned early in my "pastoral" "career."

In between my 2nd and final year of seminary - the curriculum required that we spend a year of internship training at a local church. One Wednesday night as I was leading a bible study in the tiny "sanctuary" I stood at the floor level and began to teach. As people relaxed and engaged in questions and observations, I leaned back on a piece of furniture centered behind me. As the conversation involved more people I actually sat on that piece of furniture. All of the sudden the demeanor of 2 older ladies on the front row turned to shock. The abrupt change created total befuddlement on my part.

"What's the matter?" I asked.
"You're sitting on the altar, Pastor Jeff."
"Oh. I guess I am. I didn't realize it.

I apologized and the rest of the meeting continued with my energy and motivation totally zapped. In a manner of seconds - form had squashed out function.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 8


Whenever anyone asked me about "tithing" (back in the "pastor/layperson" days), a demeanor of guilt was most often the prompting force. My answer was consistently that it was never commanded in the bible, but used as a minimal portion by example. I would inform them that the only standard for giving in scripture was out of cheerfulness and not out of compulsion.

There were also times when I wondered about why I was compensated for exercising a gift. There might not be a direct correlation, but I couldn't help fend off the thought of Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8. You know the dude that offered money so he could receive a gift given by God's Spirit? And Peter blasts him with: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart."

Viola and Barnes make interesting and very challenging observations about tithing and pastoral salaried in this chapter.

First tithing. There is obviously an overuse (perhaps abuse) of one particular passage (Malachi 3:8-10) when the institutional church approaches the "need" for all participants to fork over 1/10 of their income. There also seems to be a classical and unbiblical superstition promoted as well.

This passage seems to be many Christian leaders' favorite Bible text, especially when giving is at a low tide. If you have spent any time in the contemporary church, you have heard this passage read from the pulpit on numerous occasions.

...What is the result of this sort of pressure? God's people are persuaded to give one tenth of their incomes every week. When they do, they feel they have made God happy. And they can expect Him to bless them financially. When they fail, they feel they are being disobedient, and they worry that a financial curse looms over them.

PC points out that the context of the Malachi passage was provision taken for the sake of those who were in need (widow, fatherless, stranger) and that they were the rightful recipients. This point segues into the unbiblical practice of paid clergy. Ownership of property appears to be the historical culprit.

Charting the history of Christian tithing is a fascinating exercise. Tithing spread from the state to the church. Here's the story. In the seventh and eighth centuries, leasing land was a familiar characteristic of the European economy. The use of the tithe, or the tenth, was commonly used to calculate payments to landlords. As the church increased in ownership of land across Europe, the 10 percent rent-charge shifted from the secular landlords to the church. Ecclesiastical leaders became the landlords. And the tithe became the ecclesiastical tax.

...As far as clergy salaries go, ministers were unsalaried for the first three centuries. But when Constantine appeared, he instituted the practice of paying a fixed salary to the clergy from the funds and municipal and imperial treasuries. Thus was born the clergy salary, a harmful practice that has no root in the New Testament.

...Giving a salary to pastors elevates them above the rest of God's people. It creates a clerical caste that turns the living body of Christ into a business. Since the pastor and his staff are compensated for ministry, they are the paid professionals. The rest of the church lapses into a state of passive dependence.

...No wonder it takes a person of tremendous courage and faith to step out of the pastorate.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 7


A good friend of mine responded to one of the chapter posts (I believe it was chapter 4) saying: "Criticizing a church's worship service is on a par with telling a mother she has an ugly baby."

This chapter covers an area of responsibility that has proven to be quite a volatile issue - namely the music part of worship. It's either too loud, not loud enough; too old, too new and unfamiliar; too slow, too fast; too much of it, not enough of it.... Therein lies the ancient problem. Music possesses a huge consumerist factor.

Leading up to the sermon, those who "lead worship" select the songs that are to be sung. They begin those songs. They decide how those songs are to be sung. And they decide when those songs are over. Those sitting in the audience in no way, shape, or form lead the singing. They are led by someone else who is often part of the clerical staff - or who has a similar stature.

This is in stark contrast to the first-century way. In the early church, worship and singing were in the hands of all of God's people. The church herself led her own songs. Singing and leading songs was a corporate affair, not a professional event lead by specialists.

...Much like oratory (professional speaking), the Greek culture was built around an audience-performer dynamic. Tragically, this trait was carried over from the temples of Diana and the Greek dramas straight into the Christian church. The congregation of God's people became spectators not only in spoken ministry, but in singing as well. Regrettably, the spirit of Greek spectatorship still lives in the contemporary church.

...At the front of the stage is a simple podium, some plants, amplifiers, speakers and lots of wires. In such churches, worship means following the band's prescribed songs. The praise and worship time typically lasts from twenty to forty minutes. The first songs are usually upbeat praise choruses. The worship team will then lead a lively hand-clapping, body-swaying, hand-raising, (sometimes dancing) congregation into a potpourri of individualistic, gentle, worshipful singing. (Typically, the focus of the songs is on individual spiritual experience.) First person singular pronouns - I, me, my - dominate a good number of the songs... ...a reform, but not a revolution.
I have discovered the last statement to be true - but only recently. The shifting of my own mind-set is fairly fresh. When "Purpose-Driven Church" by Rick Warren came out in 1995, I read it and read it, then read it again. It was refreshing for RW to lead the way (along with Bill Hybels) in transforming the methods used for music and message. Little did I realize that it is still music and message "driven" by the cultural malady of the audience/performer dynamic.

So now I understand and use the term "caught up" because I was and still am in some ways - as many, many are. As much as I challenged those while being in that context, it was like herding cats. Those in leadership were very dependent on the performer aspect and those who attended were likewise dependent on the audience aspect. All the while, very little was and is accomplished on a daily basis in putting the principles and teachings of scripture to practice.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 6


At the beginning of the twentieth century, many clergymen wore white collars with a tie. In fact, it was considered highly improper for a clergyman to appear without a tie.

Don't I know that? How vividly I recall the day in the early 1990s when I decided to take a huge risk and not wear a tie one Sunday. I made sure that I wore the best pair of slacks I had, a shiny pair of shoes, a powder blue expensive Polo shirt and a wool tweed jacket.

Monday morning (my "day off") I received a call from the "Church Chairman." He wanted to take me out for lunch to "touch base."

The primary issue of our conversation was the missing piece of about 16" of pressed cloth hanging from the middle of my neck to just below the navel. My effort to reason with him by reviewing God's choosing of David through Samuel at Jesse's house (you know "God doesn't look on the outside...") was futile.

So I apologized and assured him it would not happen again. Oh, He did buy me lunch.

Being the rebel I am, the following Sunday, I put on a pair of worn khakis, my casual shoes, a yellow button-down shirt and one of those 1990s "relaxed" knit ties and no jacket. To my astonishment there was no call on Monday or (NC lingo) "nary" a word said about my wardrobe. Amazing what the presence/absence of 16" of pressed fabric could do about 15 years ago!

But things have changed, haven't they??? This brief chapter details how "dressing up for church" evolved. But read it carefully. It's not just about clothes.

The proliferation of the textile industry in the 19th century made "fine clothes" affordable and available to common people. Before that time only the rich could dawn exquisite apparel for social events.

In 1843 a Congregational minister named Horace Bushnel published an essay called "Taste and Fashion."

In it, Bushnell argued that sophistication and refinement were attributes of God and that Christians should emulate them. Thus was born the idea of dressing up for church.

So what's wrong with it? What's the big deal about "dressing up" for church? It is hardly a burning issue. However, it is what dressing up for church represents that is the burning issue.

First, it reflects the false division between the secular and the sacred. To think the God cares one whit if you wear dressy threads on Sunday to "meet Him" is a violation of the New Covenant...

...Second, wearing attractive, flashy clothes on Sunday morning screams out an embarrassing message: that church is a place where Christians hide their real selves and "dress them up" to look nice and little more than image management... Dressing up for church violates the reality that the church is made up of real people with messy problems... It is a study in pretense that is dehumanizing and constitutes a false witness to the world.

...Third, dressing up for the church smacks against the primitive simplicity that was the sustaining hallmark of the early church... the early Christians made concrete efforts to show their absolute disdain for social class distinction.

It is tempting to raise an argument that the "seeker-sensitive" influence of the last 10-15 years has allowed congregants to dress down. That may be true but the nature of the institutional pretense still exists inside the walls of the distinguishable edifice. I have observed first-hand how the "sophistication and refinement" have been transferred from attire to aesthetics and production.

The premises of the building and the "Worships service" are now "dressed to kill." The new garb is parking lot attendants, banners, color, lights, aroma, nursery pagers, sound, musicians (who have survived a rigorous process akin to American Idol) - all for the purpose of giving the presentation an "excellence" and "quality" so the audience will not be "distracted."

I personally started becoming lost in aggravation with this when I had flesh-colored ear set microphones fastened with surgical tape to my neck and face and people in the production booth waving me to get back in the field of the stage lights when I spoke.

"This can't be what Jesus intended!" I thought more than once.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 5


I was recently let go from a temporary job I had putting together a very impressive robotic conveyor system at a new Target Distribution Center in the area. Since it was temporary - I was thrown in with all kinds of men who needed work and income to sustain their lives/families.

As I got to know them through the work involved (heavy pieces of equipment that needed cautious handling as they were assembled), I was able to learn about their place and journey in life.

Len (not his real name) was probably a few years older than me (pushing 60?), but he looked to be in his 70s. He had this prospector look - short, protruding jaw, which was enhanced by his rapid gum-chewing habit, and wiry. He was well-seasoned in the area of general labor and I found him to be a major resource in helping me learn the techniques of going about the duty given us.

One morning (each day started at 6 am and ended at 4:30 pm) as we were working, I made a passing comment about the irony of my extensive education landing me in a $9 per hour situation. "8 years of school for this..." He replied: "Well, I went to 9." Naively, I asked, "You have a graduate degree?" "No - I only got through 9th grade."

At the time I smugly thought - "He doesn't know who I am and what I am and where I've been...BLAH BLAH BLAH!"

As the job continued over the weeks, I looked to him as a major leader - a shepherd. Others facetiously called him "boss-man" because of his expertise. I learned to have a deep Godly love for him and learned that he was a Follower. We had some great conversations about our mutual walks in obedience to Christ. I met others as well who loved God - two of them ex-convicts and one a recovering alcoholic. My spiritual growth jettisoned through this community. I would have never sought this out by structural design.The giftedness of others was functioning on a daily basis - almost like the early church.


The word is used in the plural. It is pastors. This is significant. For whoever these "pastors" are, they are plural in the church, not singular. Consequently, there is no biblical support for the practice of sola pastora (single pastor).

The Greek word translated pastors is poimen. It means shepherds. (Pastor is the Latin word for shepherd.) Pastor, then, is a metaphor to describe a particular function in the church. It is not an office or a title.

...With the Fall came in implicit desire in people to have a physical leader to bring them to God. For this reason, human societies throughout history have consistently created a special caste of revered religious leaders. The medicine man, the shaman, the rhapsodist, the miracle worker, the witch doctor, the soothsayer, the wise man, and the priest have all been with us since Adam's blunder. And this person is always marked by special training, special garb, a special vocabulary, and a special way of life...

...Up until the second century, the church had no official leadership. That it had leaders is without dispute. But leadership was unofficial in the sense that there were no religious "offices" or sociological slots to fill.
Is there a possible correlation in the history of God's people between what happened when Israel requested a king and the second century of the church? It seems that both were under the direct headship of God/Christ functioning by humble obedience with humble leaders until form was lofted above function.

Human hierarchy and "official" ministry institutionalized the church of Jesus Christ. By the fourth century, these elements hardened the arteries of the once living, breathing ekklasia of God - within which ministry was functional, Spirit-led, organic, and shared by all believers.
This is an appropriate nutshell statement to end the excerpt. I could easily copy more, but that would deprive you of doing what I think you should do in purchasing and reading yourself.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Interview with Barna and Viola

Got an hour to "kill" ? Dare you to go to this website and click on the link to the left "New Interview with George and Frank." Listen and see if you're not provoked in SOME way.

This will serve as a nice interlude between reviewed chapters.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 4


A cold splash of reality hit me late one Sunday morning about 12 years ago as I stood at the back doors of the sanctuary performing my obligatory pastoral handshake/hug. The dependant - er uh rather "parishioners" were leaving the premises to go out into the world and put principles into practice. One of the faithful (an elderly man in his mid-70's) shook my hand, looked me in the face and said: "Nice sermon pastor." Normally I would be flattered and humbly tip my head with a gentle "Thank you." But I couldn't do that. Why? Because that was the week I forwent my habitual duty (week after week after week after week....) of pontificating the week-long research accomplished in the confinement of my "study" well away from the rigor of a broken world - you know - the place where Jesus was on a daily basis when he "made his dwelling among us?" We had a guest speaker that morning and he was in the restroom at the time when the affirmation of what I didn't do was rendered.

At the time, I thought that this was a careless gaffe on the part of the man who merely uttered a convenient platitude. But in retrospect it serves as an emblematic indicator to me that there is something wrong in how the church operates in form.

The insight provided in this chapter is of the nature that helps me realize that I am not insane in pondering and asking the questions I do - and arriving at the conclusions I have observed.

The sermon is the bedrock of the Protestant liturgy. For five hundred years, it has functioned like clock-work. Every Sunday morning, the pastor steps up to his pulpit and delivers an inspirational oration to a passive, pew-warming audience.

So central is the sermon that it is the very reason many Christians go to church. In fact, the entire service is often judged by the quality of the sermon. Ask a person how church was last Sunday and you will most likely get a description of the message.

Every week since 1985 (or every Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend, Sunday after Easter, or Sunday after Christmas in my last context), I would wake up Sunday morning with this ball and chain fettered around my ankle. Its presence was brought on by the pressure to bring 20-35 minutes of exegetic excellence and homiletic brilliance to those who were willing to sacrifice a morsel of their weekend. So it better be good. I would often ask my wife afterward (since she was horrible liar), "How was the message?" More than once, her answer would be "Okay, I guess. My mind was wandering." So why did I sit in the confines of about 120 square feet all week leafing through published works and parsing Hebrew and Greek so that she could tell me that it was "OK?"

Chapter 4 provides the historic backdrop.

...The stunning reality is that today's sermon has no root in Scripture. Rather it was borrowed from pagan culture, nursed and adopted into the Christian faith. That's a startling statement, is it not? But there is more.

...there is a world of difference between the Spirit-inspired preaching and teaching described in the Bible and the contemporary sermon. This difference is virtually always overlooked because we have been unwittingly conditioned to read our modern day practices back into the Scripture.

...Yet for the last five centuries, most Christians have never questioned its origin or its effectiveness. Though revered for five centuries, the conventional sermon has
negatively impacted the church in a number of ways.

First, the sermon makes the preacher the virtuoso performer of the regular church gathering. As a result, congregational participation is hampered at best and precluded at worst. The sermon turns the church into a preaching station. The congregation degenerates into a group of muted spectators who watch a performance. There is no room for interrupting or questioning the preached while he is delivering his discourse. The sermon freezes and imprisons the functioning of the body of
Christ. It fosters a docile priesthood by allowing pulpiteers to dominate the
church gathering week after week.

Second, the sermon often stalemates spiritual growth. Because it is a one-way affair, it encourages passivity.

Third, the sermon preserves the unbiblical clergy mentality. It creates as excessive and pathological dependence on the clergy.

Fourth, rather than equipping the saints, the sermon de-skills them. It matters not how loudly ministers drone on about "equipping the saints for the work of ministry," the truth is that the contemporary sermon preached every week has little power to equip God's people for spiritual service and functioning.

Thus the typical sermon is a swimming lesson on dry land!

The authors don't condemn the need for spiritual leadership within a community of Followers, but rather chastise the dependence on one person (or a few people) to shepherd and teach. This robs the body of its full capability to function by every member exercising the gift(s) which they have been given by the Spirit.

Therefore, the church needs few purpiteers and more spiritual facilitators...the Christian family needs a restoration of the first-century practice of mutual exhortation and mutual ministry.