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Archive for August, 2008

A Quote To Reckon With

No careful student of the early congregation of believers can fail to be impressed with the simplicity of its worship and functioning. Imbued with a fervent zeal, motivated by a common purpose, possessed of a deep love for each other, “all the believers kept together” and “among all those who had embraced the faith there was but one heart and one soul” (Acts 2:44; 5:82). In such a company each felt under compulsion of spirit to do all he could to edify his fellows. None served for gain. Those who had personal property and real estate sold their possessions and distributed to all who had need; no one thought of threatening the needy with eternal destruction if they did not support a privileged class.

In the original church of God there was no distinction between clergy and laity. God’s clergy (portion or lot) consisted of God’s laity (people). Every member of the “laity” was a member of “the clergy” and vice versa. Every person in the divine arrangement was a minister of God. One “entered the ministry” by coming into the Christ. The holy and unblemished church can never be restored until those who love the Lord recapture in the fullest sense the picture of a “priesthood of all believers” free from the taint of a special caste.

The religious world in general has lost the pattern of the corporate worship of the original community of baptized believers. The early church gathered around a table; the modern church sits before a pulpit. The Lord placed the table in the church so it could remember its debt to him; the clergy placed the pulpit in the church to bring it in debt to them. In the early church they all spoke one by one; today all the speaking is done by one. Then the spirit was kindled; now it is quenched. Then they claimed to love each other and talked about Jesus; now they claim to love Jesus and talk about each other. In those days all exerted an effort to exhort; now all must be exhorted to exert an effort.

The primitive disciples did not ask the world to come and get the gospel, they took it to them. They gathered to eat the Lord’s Supper, then scattered to preach the Word. Wherever there was a Christian and a sinner, there was a gospel meeting. They announced the glad tidings to masters and mistresses, friends and neighbors. They did it simply but fervently. They told about Jesus, his death and resurrection. They testified of their faith in him. They preached him in chariots along the road, in prison cells, by river brinks, in private homes, in hulls and in synagogues. The whole earth was their auditorium, the thing at hand their pulpit.

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I guess there could  be many biblical reasons to leave a “church” (I prefer gathering). False teaching, immoral leaders, sin not addressed, or something along those lines. However, one reason is not because you “aren’t being fed”.  But for circles that I run in this reason seems to not only be a reason but a huge reason. It is a major player.

There a few misconceptions that I want to clear up.

1. You don’t go to church to be fed by the pulpit. If so can someone show me please?

2. You don’t measure a church by how good the “preaching” is.

3. The Pulpit is not the center of the Christian Church.

Here are reason we do gather:

1. To spur EACH OTHER on. Not for the “pastor” to do the spurring

2. We do gather to encourage one another, and admonish one another.

3. The reason we meet are for one another simply put. Not to be theological sponges, or passive participators.

With that said. I don’t believe “church” would be so boring if all believers were operating at full maturity and they were given opportunities to employ their gifts and not only that but also participate in the exhorting of one another. The weirdest thing to hear (and I used to hear it from myself) is that “this church is boring”. So in the evangelical pulpit centered churches, great oratory skills are needed to keep the people satisfied or they go elsewhere. I have heard “well he just isn’t a good teacher”.

Again I say, we don’t gather to be exhorted by one man but by the whole church. I believe this is why particaptory teaching is the key. I see this done a bunch over at www.ids.org and if you listen to their teachings, there is constant interaction and times where the teachers pause to ask questions. But it is beautiful to hear the body expound upon a certain point made by the teacher that day. However we want to be entertained and we are even taught now that if you aren’t entertaining a certain way (a specific way to present expository sermons) then you aren’t a good entertainer.

I say all of that to say this. We gather to encourage, exhort, edify, spur, love, serve, admonish one another and these are done when the gift that Christ gave to us through the Spirit are allowed to be employed when we meet. To hear someone say “I am not being fed” is a category mistake. It is like saying “I don’t like the way that music tastes”. When I talk like this to people they usually look at me as if I am weird. When I tell them to feed themselves or to meet with others over coffee or at a lunch bible study and get fed, they think I am crazy! Why? Because we are conditioned to believe that we are to go to church and get good music (performed for us) and a great sermon (performed for us) and if not then we didn’t have a good “worship service” (a phrase the New Testament never uses).

We must change the way we think if we are to function properly. We aren’t to be spoon fed, we are to prepare to bring something to the gathering not passively wait to get something from it. We are to prayed up to be used by God to exhort, encourage, admonish and spur, not wait for the pastor and worship leader to do this for us. Look at the picture above, we are not to function in such a way.

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David Black posted this a few days back. His caption was:

I’m still looking for it. A very unique church marquee, that is. If you see one, please snap a pic and send it to me. I promise to post it here.

I wanted to elaborate on that some. As I was driving through Dallas yesterday evening on the way and to football game in the Oak Cliff area, I began to observe the “church” billboards and sings. I immediately thought back to this and started to discuss it with my wife. I asked her, why is that every-time you see a billboard, or a sign, or even the Internet, you see a slew of pictures of the “staff”. With that staff is a resume of the “successes” of the pastor and what he has accomplished in whatever he has done.

You can probably get 10 pages of information about the staff and a half of page of what they believe about Jesus. I see how “they” grew the church from a meeting in the basement to a church of  whatever number of your choosing. Usually there is a resume with a list of the “success” they have had. The attitude displayed in the marquee above is rare. There are a few and I am excited but again these fellas (Alan Knox and a couple others) are rare. I am not saying it is good or bad but here are some questions for dialogue over this gorgeous (but warm) Labor Day weekend.

1. Why is it important to list the pastor and his acomplishments and the staff and their accomplisments on a website?

2. Why is important that the “pastor” or staff even be mentioned?

3. What do you think this causes  rather good or bad?

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I will say this again with all the humility I can muster. We are all submitted to each other but we are under the authority of Christ alone.  This may be a radical statement to some and a normal practice for others; however, I want to convey this clearly. If we are to take the Priesthood seriously then we must embrace this statement recklessly.

Let me explain. In most church relationships there is an authority and there are those that submit. However mature the believer this relationship never becomes reciprocal. We continue in these relationships perpetually and the only way to get out of the perpetual submitted is to become a leader yourself; however that works in your specific assembly. Here are the imperatives by Paul again (I believe there is someone smart enough out there to write an entire book on this passage and still not scratch the surface Alan? Kieth? Hutch? Phil Fletcher?)

6 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

(You know what is odd. In Ephesians, Colossians and Peter, each books talks about submission to leaders and bosses. What makes this odd is that both Paul and Peter never mention that the congregation was to “SUBMIT” to their leaders? Each believer was to submit to the other believer. That strikes me as odd especially when compared to our current church practices. Has anyone followed this theme throughout the New Testament?)

Again if we are to obey these imperatives when we gather, something must functionally change in our local congregations. For the life of me I don’t understand why we just don’t. I talked to a good friend of mine and I asked him about this. I was asking why are we slack in fighting for and pursuing mutuality recklessly. He really couldn’t answer. I am saying we should equip all of the saints to function at a level where on any given Sunday a man could get up and address the assembly. I am not talking house church, lets take for example a nice sized evangelical biblically sound nationally know church. There are at least 2000 members. Are we saying that we don’t have at least 50 gifted individuals who could “preach” thus the church be known by its body not by its “pastor”? Can anybody tell me why we couldn’t function that way?

That’s preaching now lets take to what I am really getting at. In the typical church the leaders drive the church, while the members are passive passengers. All of the exhortation, encouragement, rebuke, edification, admonishment and teaching flows from the top down. I am proposing that we flow from the middle out. Where Christ is the center piece and we all equally stand eye level around Him. Christian leaders should be willing and even encouraging their members toward this type of priestly ministry and function. Women should function within these imperatives above, young children should function in these imperatives, parents to children and children to parents, husbands to wives and wives to husbands and ultimately leadership to congregation and the congregation to the leadership. This is nearly impossible in our celebrity type churches where if you are only lucky will get to meet your pastor in any real way and if you do meet him mutuality will never ever be established.

I say that to say this. When we meet we are to be under the authority of Christ and submitted to one another. Everyone! Everyone is to function this way. We are all priests and though priest have different functions the end goal is mutual edification and mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21 anybody)? Leaders are to take instruction just as much as they give it if the body is equipped properly and the priesthood is functioning as I believe it should (again my premise could be wrong). If I am doing all I can to ensure that those God place in my life is functioning at their best capacity eventually we should sharpen one another. It is funny that when we talk about sharpening it is usually pulpit to pew or pew to pew but never pew to pulpit or very rarely anyway. 

Now most may think I am crazy but as God opens doors for leadership this is my pursuit and goal. I want every priest who was brought into priesthood by Christ and not a school, or some human element to function at the level of their greatest potential. That means that they should be given to opportunity to instruct me, they should be given the opportunity to function freely in their gifts as God has so sovereignly given them by the Spirit and finally they should be given the opportunity to fulfill the imperatives found in Colossians 3. Not pew to pew but pew to pulpit.  I want to teach them everything I know so that eventually I don’t have one up on them but that we are walking hand in hand side by side not four steps behind and two steps to the right.  I will end that maybe I got this thing all wrong and I have a false premise but as I read all of the epistles the only one that has a hint of leader/non-leader submission is Hebrews and Alan Knox has broken this down in every way possible. and specifically here.

I pray that you are encouraged and you enjoy the Labor Day weekend.

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Reach Records has released 3 songs for preview from Lecrae’s upcoming album “Rebel”. The tracks are:

1. Don’t Waste Your Life ft. Cam, Dwayne Tryumf
2. Live Free ft. Sho Baraka, Jai
3. Got Paper
Listen here purchase here
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Deuce AKA The Ambassador AKA a living Hip Hop legend for those of us in the “hip hop generation” (LOL) will be releasing his final project. Mr. Branch is also an assistant pastor of Epiphany Fellowship an Urban Church in the Philly. The Ambassador is also a member of the all time great Cross Movement who paved the way for “sound, releveant biblically faithful” Christian Hip Hop (yes there are gapping differences folks). Anway you can listen to the tracks here.  The release date is 9/23 and you can get a little more information about the album here.

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After some very nice comments and working this thing out with friends on the phone and onlinethrough email, I think I have figured out my problem. Now my problem could be right or wrong and I guess that would depend on the responses of many who read here and have been a daily challenge. I will say that I have kept most if not all of this away from my local church. That is why I blog honestly. I don’t want to cause a stir or be looked at as divisive so here there is a vast marketplace of ideas and I can work out a lot of issues while not overstepping any boundaries in my local fellowship. I am thankful for you all who have challenged me and allowed me a voice and have responded to many of these posts. I may write like I have the answers but really I am thinking out loud. I told Tyris maybe half the stuff I write should be left unpublished, but it is good to have people interact with your ideas.

Anyway my problem is in the title of the post. I am not saying I am right or wrong, I am telling you what I believe or at least what I think I believe. That is I believe leaders should be equipping themselves our of a position. What I mean is found in these verses that we all know very well.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

As I read the Epistles these letters are addressed to the Church. Not the leaders and not the laymen. They are addressed to all who meet in a particular locale. If this is the case and this imperative is to be practiced plainly then I have no other conclusion but to say, my ultimate goal as a leader/elder/pastor/shepherd is to equip the saints that they may fulfill this command. That means that I too am taught, encouraged, admonished and built up by the saints.

I believe the statement above is where this imperative breaks down. I have rarely and I do mean rarely seen this played out. Maybe I am imagining this wrong or reading a wrong context into this but this is where I lose touch. Most churches are ran like pyramids with the senior pastor the pinnacle or capstone. Rarely do I see saints teaching and definitely not admonishing their “pastors”. I believe this is where the chasm begins and where it is perpetuated. And I believe most of modern church settings contribute greatly to this.

But if I am to take my equipping serious. I am to equip them to something. I believe that something mutuality. That mutuality is defined by maturity and I believe this is much of what Paul refers to in Ephesians 4. This equipping seems to be that of which would allow the saints to be self-sufficient and even allow them to teach you. But for some reason the position of elder/pastor always remains a step ahead of the congregation. Thus the position is entrenched perpetually.

I believe that some have the gift of teaching but all are to teach. I believe that some have the gift of shepherding but all are to Shepherd. I believe some have the gift of evangelism but all are to evangelize.  I believe some have the gift of giving, administration, encouragement, mercy but all are to be doing these things. However for some reason some gifts dead end on themselves and again this is where I struggle.

I believe that as a group gathers there will be some mature and some immature. The mature are the elder/shepherds. If you were to walk into this congregation you will see this quite easily. You do a case study. You come back three years later, I think what you should see is the lines much more blurry than the first time. There should be many teachers and many people operating in their gifts so freely and with such ease that it may be difficult to discern who the leaders are. However as we keep pulpits and clergy/laity distinctions this will not and can’t ever happen. Again I could have this wrong but I believe this should be the aim of every ministry.

Craig, if you read this, this is where I struggle brother. My job isn’t to stay one step ahead of the sheep but to usher them into maturity and that maturity should lead to mutuality. I really believe this is impossible in our current system. I have nothing against building per se, or pastors, or elders, or anything else. I struggle (again maybe wrongly) with the perpetual infancy and these chasms that never ever get thinner they stay the same if not get worse. This again produces more of the same type of churches in which another gifted teacher goes to school and plants another church just like the one they came from with the help of that church. So we continue to build these perpetually chasimed churches.

My favorite teachers are all in this setting. However I don’t agree with their ecclisology. I think we can get it right in a lot of places and get it wrong in some. I believe this has been greatly missed in our current churches and it isn’t taught properly in our seminaries. I have not seen a class offered on the Doctrine of the Priesthood of Believers.

This is what has been motivating me to write. I have an opportunity to function as a leader in my local congregation, but if this (what I am arguing against) is the goal of my congregation, I think I am going to have sit this one out. I really love the people and I will stay there into the Lord tells me to leave (I tried to leave twice before and the Lord sat me down) but I can’t function as a leader if the goal is to perpetuate this. I have been praying and praying about seminary but every-time the Lord throws a road block. Maybe this has something to do with it.

Anyway this is my struggle and what I have spent a great deal of time praying and studying about. I think this is what I desire. If I were to plant a church my ultimate goal is to see the church function free of me and other leaders. I would want someone to walk in and not know who is who unless something got out of line. I would want the younger brothers and sisters (non-positioned) to be able to bring a word of encouragement and exhort the assembly with something they have been studying and applying in their daily lives. I would want the children to speak freely about what Lord was doing with them on their sports teams and schools and what the Lord has been teaching them throughout the week. I would want a church free of pulpits but saturated with sound biblical, orthodox theology. Christ centered and priesthood heavy. I would want a church that all saints are equipped to minister to one another without fear. I would want a church that if all the elders died tomorrow there are enough mature man and women who could step up and ensure it functions biblically and wouldn’t skip a beat.

Again maybe I am wrong or a hopeless romantic but as I read this is what I see and I think anything short of it robs the saints of their gifts and cripples the doctrine of the priesthood. I hope this clears up anything that sounded to forceful or condescending. God bless. And I would ask that you pray that God would give me wisdom and an ear to hear His voice.

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Jesus says this to the Pharisees:

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

In Mark 7, Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They came up to Jesus attempting to punk him over eating with “defiled” hands. In other words Jewish custom was to wash your hands before eating and it was consider unclean to do the opposite. This isn’t a matter of a husband changing oil then grabbing a cup of water without first running to a sink and getting scolded by his wife. The Pharisees took this uncleanliness and pretty much made it a sin to violate such a tradition. They were very popular for that.

So Jesus flips a tradition they were holding against them. It was the tradition of giving. The Pharisees would teach their disciples that if you gave to the “church” (religion) then you were free from giving to your parents. However Jesus uses the Law to expose their hyprocrisy. He says “you have a fine way of rejecting the commandments of God in order to establish your tradition”. That statement is priceless. I could imagine the faces of the Pharisees, I bet if their was a brick near by they would have tossed it at Jesus. This is the epitome of “pie face”. LOL.

But seriously Jesus was bringing an undeniable charge to them. Not paticullary the money but the fact that their traditions had taking precedent over the commands of God. I will spend time with this a little.

James says this:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Now let me ask again. I am not trying to be forceful but are what we doing today in our traditions somehow infringing on the direct commands to meet the needs of others? Are our multimillion dollar facilities, state of the art equipment and other such things preventing us from properly meeting the needs of others. Now let me clarify. I am not saying you can’t have these things. But what I have a problem with is:

1. The manipulation that goes on to raise funds for these things

2. The legality of tithing that is taught with little to no regard of the gracious New Covenant

3.The traditional teaching of giving to a “church” (which typical means a building or entity not a group of believers) that can’t be found in the scriptures (unless that giving is to another church examples are Macedonia and Corinth giving to Jerusalem)

With that I believe we must be careful with our traditions that we don’t ignore the clear commands to properly provide for the the needy. Many Chrisitans that I know personally believe they must tithe or give to their local church versus helping a neighbor who is about to lose their home. We are taught that are giving priorities start with our local church. This maybe true if the funds are being used properly. But if the majority of the money goes to utilities, staff, video equipment, landscaping, and surplus, then I would probably disagree. If we are building youth wings so our children can have video game rooms and a place to play basketball away from the “world” then I would probably say no. Again I am not against these things but when 80cent on a dollar of charitable giving never leaves the hands of those it is given to then I struggle. 

I believe by greatest obligation is not to be build a state of the art building with all the amenities but to ensure that my neighbor can take his son to the doctor, or that my grandmother or elderly aunts and uncles can have both food and medicine. Not only that when the janitor at my job is working 3 jobs and have poor English, maybe I can slide them a few hundred bucks. When we give as a “church” we should be looking at ways to be blessing to others, praying that God would open doors for us to give to the less fortunate, to help fund missionary work. But again that typically takes “special fund raising” and also “missions week”. After you here the story another plate is passed around. While what you have given rather it be 5, 10, or 20% you only need to look up to see it.

I will say again I am not giving to the local church, but first there is no command in scripture and second when your local church looks more like an Entertainment Complex then I struggle. This is my personal conviction so I mean no harm.

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