Christ Our Life
Just a few weeks ago I visited a church organization with my mother one Sunday morning (a rare occurrence for me these days). In case you’re curious, my mother doesn’t quite hold the same conviction about church world that I do. She sees glimpses of what I have expressed to her and she listens to my heart and often nods in approval concerning the things I’ve shared from my personal experiences, but church remains an important activity she enjoys participating in (and it’s often been important to her to experience it along with family). Recently, mom relocated from her home across the miles to move in with my wife and myself due to some health issues. You can imagine the challenge here as we are not “church-going folks” these days and here we are with mom who is and she wants to find a place to attend and we’re just not in that mode or mindset at all. I’ve suddenly found myself in a position where I’m taking my mom to church because this is important to her, though I (quite honestly) detest it myself. I share this because I know many of you have found yourselves in similar predicaments and I want you to know that I understand and I hope I can encourage you with something today.
I know the feeling of thinking that if you happen to sit in a pew after which the Lord has opened your understanding about the errors of churchianity, that there might be a concern that you’re somehow endorsing it and compromising by being there. If any of you are anything like me, it’s no longer an enjoyable environment for you, but there may be times when (for whatever reason) you find yourself back in that environment and it’s unsettling. Perhaps some of you have felt a conviction that churchianity is full of error and you’ve wanted to distance yourself from it, but (in the honesty of your heart) you still enjoy and crave the experience of fellowship with other believers, or singing the songs, and sometimes just being in an environment that (for the most part) seems to at least intend to encourage people to seek the Lord and you’re a little torn by these contrasting feelings about involvement with it. You’re not alone. Lots of folks have struggled with these same concerns, including myself over the years. These days the kinds of things I struggle with concerning it have transitioned a bit (quite a bit actually), but I still relate to the many letters I’ve received about this because I really have walked through this as well and my heart goes out to those who are working through this.
The whole thing reminds me a bit of the movie the Matrix; and the thought of the “Matrix” as being “church world”. Those of you who have seen the movie might know what I’m talking about. Church world (“the Matrix”) isn’t real Christianity, but for those still inside it, they don’t seem to know otherwise. Yet some are awaking and others will find themselves “plugging” back into it from time to time (though they are no longer a part of it). It can pose a real mind trip for some of us.
Would it surprise or shock you if I dared tell you that neither Jesus, nor His apostles ever told anyone to build a church, attend a church, or call others to go to church? Would it offend you if I dared suggest that when Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build My Church…” He never actually used the word church at all (but that this word was added hundreds of years later)? Would it bother you to discover that the word “church” NEVER appears anywhere in the entire New Testament?
As astounding as these claims may sound, they are absolutely true. Some of you, at this point, will be saying, “How can you say that Jesus and His apostles never used the word ‘church’ in the entire New Testament, when anyone can open a Bible and see it present, page after page?” The first response I have to this concern is to remind you that the Bible was not written in English. In fact the first hand-written English language Bible manuscripts were produced in the 1380’s (over 1,200 years after the last apostle had died)!!!! That having been said, it’s important to understand that the word “church”, or at least its derivative, is older than the English language… However, it still was never used by Jesus or His apostles!
There is certainly a lot of discussion right now in the “Christian community” over the issue of gay marriage, due to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriages in all 50 States. That having been said, as of the time of this writing, not all States have chosen to comply with the ruling and many Christian organizations are speaking out in anger over this decision, which essentially re-defines marriage and which many Christians fear will force them to make difficult decisions based on their conscience vs. the directive of Government, potentially leading to some folks losing their jobs or worse (e.g. being fined or imprisoned for choosing not to comply with the ruling on the basis of faith and/or conscience).
I do have my own perspectives on this issue, though I must say that I believe God’s Word speaks most adequately for itself and that anyone who is genuinely seeking Him, and who invites the Holy Spirit to lead them, will have to confront these decisions for themselves and I pray that they will find the strength to listen and obey the Lord as He directs them.
One thing that has caused me to shake my head in amazement when watching the general Christian community respond to this issue is the reaction of shock and surprise that this has happened in America. It makes me wonder where all these pew-warming people have been for the last 20+ years. While it’s true that gay marriage has not been officially legal on a national scale before today, it has certainly been endorsed by almost every outlet imaginable; from television and movies to department stores and banks. We see approval for it among political leaders, public speakers, college professors, and the general conversation of the public at large seems to indicate that almost everyone is supportive of homosexuality. Even if some don’t personally agree with it, few have been willing to speak out against it… so I am watching this unfold now with some curiosity as it appears that some of these “slumbering saints” are finding their voice all of the sudden… unfortunately, not necessarily with a positive tone.
It also seems that this is what religion tends to produce on a regular basis; people that are quite comfortably outspoken within their four little walls and among their church cliques, but who are so disconnected from the world around them and the people in that world that they have no idea how to talk with them, and many don’t exhibit any compassion for them either. They (i.e. those who are not part of this churched crowd) are simply regarded as the sorry lost, while the happy Saved remain comfy and cozy in their little religious social clubs. Jesus is their superstar, but they don’t even emulate Him. They resist touching the unclean masses, forgetting that Jesus walked among them and ate with them, drank with them, visited their homes, shared His love and life and truth with them (and that these Saved ones were once one of those “unclean masses” as well). He is still doing this, touching the lives of people, through vessels that are willing to hear His voice and act. Vessels who share the same love that God has bestowed upon them and of which they are humbly aware.
NOTE: This article first appeared on the original TruthForFree.com site June 20th, 2005.
It was the proverbial Christian catch phrase of the 90’s and it’s still going strong. You see it practically everywhere you look: On bumper stickers, fish emblems for automobiles, t-shirts, banners, hats, bracelets, necklaces, Christian television and virtually everywhere else imaginable in church world. It is sounded over the loudspeakers of rock concerts, conferences, radio and printed in the religious educational materials of many churches and youth ministries. It is the question that almost literally fuels Institutional Christianity itself.
- NOTE: For those who may be unfamiliar with my verbiage here, what I mean by “Institutional Christianity” is, essentially, the modern day church system (which is largely identified by its buildings, denominational and clergy designations, programs, static routines and Sunday services – and the mission to advance the building of such organizations and structures as frequently and in as many places as possible). In other words, it is “Christianity” as most of the world recognizes it – a religious institution or a system comprised of religious institutions. Real, biblical Christianity (in this author’s perspective) is something far more simplistic and organic; it is a global, spiritual community of believers in Jesus who find their identity in HIM (not in meeting places, programs, denominational titles, and religious rituals). This is not to say it is wrong for Christians to meet in a building, but buildings and programs should never be the focus for they do not define, embody or validate true Christianity as the Scripture teaches it.
The reason I say that WWJD is the question that almost literally fuels institutional Christianity is because anyone who observes the institutional church system can easily and quickly recognize its flagrant fascination with titles, catch phrases, and externally imposed methods to invoke a religious response or action. Rather than the simple, inward motivation of the Holy Spirit and actions that flow purely and spontaneously from sincere love and faith, catch phrases like WWJD invoke people to take action based on the presumption that their identity and acceptance by God is wrapped up in religious activity. WWJD also leaves Christians to determine on their own what they presume Jesus might do, rather than recognizing that a living relationship with God reciprocates communication and activity based on love, faith and obedience to a living Lord. All in all, WWJD is something that involves an external regulation of conscience and does not require any influence by a living Lord.
Equally surprising is the fact that the Institutional Church’s thriving on the question of what Jesus would do, demonstrates as reality what so many who walk with the Lord on the outside of the four walls of institutional Christianity (i.e. traditional church attendance) have been saying for years; THE INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH SYSTEM CONCEPTUALLY SERVES A DEAD JESUS!
“What?” you say… “How can you dare say such a thing? WWJD is such a good, positive, righteous statement! Surely all Christians should intend to pattern their lives according to a consideration of how Jesus would do things… isn’t that what Christianity is all about?” Well… in a word… NO! That’s not what Christianity is all about. NOT EVEN CLOSE!
NOTE: The following article is taken from Chapter 11 of Peter Whyte’s book “The King and His Kingdom”, written in 1979.
The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). The name “Christian” means an adherent of Christ.
Today we have such muddled terminology that we apply the term to any church member, regardless of whether he or she is a dedicated follower, a disciple, of Christ.
We need to become disciples of the King and His Kingdom, and church membership can sometimes be a hindrance rather than a help. Loyalty to a man-made church will usually prevent total loyalty to the Kingdom of God. The claims of the organization usually take priority over the claims of the Kingdom when any conflict of interest arises. You cannot serve two masters.
- Becoming a disciple involves first AN ACT OF MY WILL.
I WILL TO DO THE WILL OF GOD.
I WILL to be a disciple of King Jesus and His Kingdom.
Becoming a disciple means I STOP TALKING AND START DOING.
It may not be difficult for us to see the truth of the Gospel of the Kingdom, but we are an unholy nation of scribes and Pharisees. Our normal reaction, if we accept the truth, is to agree with it Then we study it for ourselves in the Bible, read books and hear teachings on the King and His Kingdom.
We then make the fatal error of talking about it, and NEVER become TOTALLY COMMITTED TO DOING IT PERSONALLY.
NOTE: The following article is taken from Chapter 17 of Peter Whyte’s book “The King and His Kingdom”, written in 1979.
The gates of a city in Bible days were the seat of authority. The elders and rulers of the city sat in the gates, and the people came there to hear the reading of the law. The judges gave out judgments and the king’s place of audience was in the gates.
The word Hades means “not to be seen.”
The term “the gates of Hades” therefore denotes the rulers, the powers of the “not to be seen;” the spiritual powers of darkness.
Jesus was saying, “I will build My people that I have called out (My Church), and the ruling powers of the kingdom of darkness from the unseen realm (the gates of Hades) will not overpower them.”
A while back I was having a conversation with a business associate when the subject of relationship with God came up. While it was apparent that she considered herself a Christian, I wasn’t entirely sure what her perspective was on things like religion, church, and so on, so I just began to offer some of my own perspectives and the ball started rolling.
My friend from work quickly told me why she could no longer stomach church in general and why she was not a regular attender by any means. It wasn’t because of false teachings. It wasn’t because of abusive leadership. It wasn’t because of judgmental Christians. It wasn’t because she didn’t like the music or the pastor or tithing or some program. What she said to me was simply that she gets enough “organization” at work. This was a simple yet quite impressive statement to me, especially coming from a non-church-goer that isn’t likely even aware of an “out of church movement”. I could tell this wasn’t her trying to wax eloquent by expressing observant contradictions between the Ecclesia and man-made church, or even with any intention to complain in general. There was no attitude of complaint in her voice whatsoever. It was just a simple response… “I do all that stuff at work, all day long, day after day… why would I want to do that at church too?” It struck me that, while most of us have realized this problem with churchianity (the incessant infatuation with organization and all the legalism that comes along with it), I don’t often think of this as a response people normally give for why they don’t go to church. Some express exhaustion with the lifeless routines. Some talk about false teachings, abuse by leaders, arrogant or hypocritical people, boring sermons, etc… but few simply point out the obvious reality that church today looks almost exactly like the corporate world.
There was no attitude of complaint in her voice whatsoever. It was just a simple response… “I do all that stuff at work, all day long, day after day… why would I want to do that at church too?”
This was a statement I certainly related to, since my job involves plenty of organization (since I work at an organization). One of the most refreshing things about my relationship with Jesus is that it bears no semblance of some kind of corporate structure at all. It is, after all, a RELATIONSHIP! Generally, people who attempt to approach their friends with the same attitude as their job, don’t usually have those friends for too long. Certainly God is much more than a close friend. Why on earth would someone presume He can be organized into a clever little program (as though He were a product to be packaged and marketed)? This is GOD we are talking about!
When I first made my exodus from organized religion, I remember talking with someone online about aspects of the Christian faith and the term “orthodoxy” came up. Now, up until that time I had always presumed I held to orthodox Christianity, because my understanding of orthodoxy was with regard to the doctrine established by Jesus Christ and His apostles in the first century. I still hold to that ideal; However, as I began to re-examine the actual definition of the term orthodox, I found that embracing this concept was not as simplistic as I once presumed.
Here is this literal definition of orthodox from Webster’s Dictionary:
1. accepted as true or correct by most people : supporting or believing what most people think is true.
2. accepting and closely following the traditional beliefs and customs of a religion.
This is the dictionary definition of “orthodox” and was a bit of a shocker to re-read… “Accepted as true or correct by most people…” What? I could care less about what “most people” think with regard to the Christian life. What the Lord Jesus says is true is the only truth I desire to accept! Orthodox refers to “supporting or believing what most people think is true…” What they THINK is true? Since when has the Lord Jesus called anyone to support and accept what most people THINK is true? If you don’t mind me saying, that’s likely one of the major reasons why we have so many church organizations today that are all over the place with doctrine. It’s not that there is a problem with doctrine; The problem is that they are basing their doctrine on orthodoxy – what most people think is true… rather that drawing the truth from out of the Scriptures as plainly as Jesus spoke. We have pastors and teachers everywhere, giving their twist on doctrine and these become divisions apart from the sound doctrine once delivered to the saints, as we read about in Scripture.
Hebrews 10:25 (William Tyndale’s Translation, 1526)
The following was taken from a letter I wrote to someone a long while back about the subject of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25), which is a common verse cited by many Christians who believe that if you’re not attending weekly religious meetings of some sort or plugged in to a church organization that you are somehow out of sync with Scripture and, for all practical purposes, “backsliding”. Some refer to the “out-of-church” crowd as isolationists, rebels, or walking wounded and this verse is often given as the prescription. But is “attending church” really what the author of Hebrews had in mind here? I don’t think so. For those interested, I thought I’d share my (not so) little rant.
P.S. Much of the information in this letter is drawn from other articles I have written as well as books and resources from other researchers and friends who have written on this topic.
My desire is to embrace God’s truth (not just for truth’s sake, but because I love Him and desire to grow evermore close to Him) and I, quite honestly, do not care if the traditions of men (even my own) are offended by His truth. If a person is honest, they will have to admit that when flesh is confronted by the Spirit of the Living God and the truth of Scripture it often resists submission and humility. But my response to that conviction of Christ and His Word must be to repent and yield, otherwise I only end up hardening my heart and increasing in stubbornness as well as blindness. I want to see clearly with spiritual eyes and walk full in the grace and liberty of Jesus Christ whose precious blood was shed for me.
We Christians tend to throw around a lot of terminologies as well as operate under a lot of religious mindsets that are, quite honestly, the primary product of human tradition and not biblical design. This is not to suggest that all organization is “evil” but sometimes it is counterproductive to true and essential spiritual growth. Sometimes our traditions can make God’s Word to seemingly have no affect and can even move us to actually reject His commands. Jesus Himself noted this reality. Just as we read in Mark 7:5, so are there “Pharisees” today who are asking the question of those who refuse to follow erroneous traditions at the expense of biblical truth: “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders?” You know well, I’m sure, Jesus’ bold reply:
Mark 7:6-9 – He told them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites. As it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is empty, because they teach human rules as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your own tradition!”
Before I can answer the question of what I believe Hebrews 10:25 specifically has in mind concerning “assembling”, I feel it is important to look closer at what “assembly” is all about in the body of Christ as Scripture presents it. Too many Christians have been raised with a traditionally-inspired definition of some of these terms and this has served to make them embrace many Biblically-inaccurate concepts. First I would like to look closer at the popular concept of the word “church”as it is understood today in comparison and contrast with the biblical meaning.
David Wilkerson went home to be with Jesus in 2011. The following is a message he gave in January of 1993 about the love of God and I really like this one, so I’m passing it along. David was not like so many of the cookie-cutter variety preachers out there today. He was a man broken by God, in love with Jesus, and loved people. While so many pastors in traditional churches today are preaching about prosperity and money and serving the church program, David preached the Gospel of Jesus, the love of God, and the joy of knowing Christ as Lord. I remember one message he gave where he said the following about money:
- The Holy Spirit has laid on my heart something I need to share with you. It is a loving warning from the very heart of Jesus, who said: Take heed, and beware of covetousness (Luke 12:15)… Peter warned that false prophets would arise and through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you (2 Peter 2:3)… Peter warned us to beware of covetous ministers who would use the Word to exploit believers — greedy preachers who would develop a false doctrine of avarice and greed… God’s Word says of these rich, greedy preachers: Their judgment is near, and their destruction will not sleep (see 2 Peter 2:3). They have become blatant and arrogant in their greed. They now preach that you cannot receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit until you prosper. That’s blasphemy! Beloved, do not listen to this false gospel. It is satanic. It comes from the heart of men who are light and frivolous, jokesters, greedy for more. Isaiah the prophet has their number: Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain (Isaiah 56:11). I thank God that he has promised to supply all our needs. And I do not want any believer’s money to make me rich. We are rich when we have His peace and can live without fear all the days of our lives in holiness before the Lord! Thank you for your prayers and support for this ministry to the masses in New York City.
I just wanted to share that in preface to show the heart of this man who wrote the following article. I hope this encourages you! -Dave