Church Differently - Pickled and Parsed

The other day I wrote and posted "Church Differently". It has caused somewhat of a stir among my local body. I have no desire to take away any of the statements I made in that post, but I have taken the time to clarify those statements.

Let us begin with an examination of what is sound doctrine?

Paul wrote to Timothy that people have an itching for teachings that suit their own desires (2 Timothy 4:1-4). That could be hearing messages that satisfy their legalistic tendencies or a message that justifies an immoral or unloving lifestyle. Nothing makes my carnal flesh feel better than hearing a sermon that encourages practices or rituals that I have participated in or harps against things I do not struggle with. That is legalism. People are also looking for churches to tell them they do not have to sacrifice, really sacrifice, and love their neighbor or that they can continue living in their destructive ways. Sound doctrine is not teaching legalism, justifying a life of selfishness or giving credence to a destructive lifestyle.

Sound doctrine might be unfavorable, but it is what always needs to be taught in order to convince, rebuke, or encourage people to surrender their whole heart to God. People do not like to hear that which they do not believe, but, more often than not, proclaiming those things is what sound doctrine is.

Jesus reiterated an Old Testament teaching when he instructed that God wants our whole hearts, not our traditions (Matthew 15:8-9). Pandering to anything less than that is itching people’s ears. Church is not something that we can punch a time card on Sunday morning and be. My article “Church Differently” deals with that misconception. We are to be Jesus’ family. We are to be friends with one another. We are to be the Church.

I dream of a different kind of church.

Many churches throughout the nation are struggling. The local church I am part of is no different. When I asked our church when was the last time that someone gave their life to Christ, they could not recall. As far as I can tell, it has been over seven years. Would I be Christ-like if I wanted that fruitfulness to continue? Who would want the fruitfulness of a church like that?

Churches, like ours, who have not manifested the fruits of the Spirit and have not been effective at reaching the lost would be foolish to remain who they were two years ago. God wants his church to be so much more than we are. God expects us to desire, yearn, and work to change our church from what it has been to what it should be. I dream of a different kind of church, not a moving away from the church God desires but a moving away from a church that does not produce fruit.

I want to gather together to worship God with friends, not strangers.

I wrote explaining fellowship in “An Examination of Fellowship”.

We are to be friends. Paul refers to the children of the promise (that’s us!) as friends (Galatians 4:28). We, fellow followers of Jesus, are to be friends. Jesus’ followers are referred to as Friends throughout the New Testament.

The parable of the dishonest manager concludes that we should use the money we have to make friends (Luke 16:9). If you are a person’s friend, they will listen to what you believe and take it to heart. Peter wrote, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1Peter 3:15) Why would they want to know that hope that is in you unless they have seen you live differently and love them?

I want to be able to be myself all the time.

A hypocrite was a person who wore a mask. It is taken from Greek theatre.

We know what Jesus thought of hypocrites. He railed against the Pharisees for being hypocrites (Matthew 23). A modern-day hypocrite, reminiscent of the Pharisees, is worried about looking good on the outside while being dirty on the inside. It’s appearance that matters to a hypocrite, not the state of their heart.

I want to drive by houses and not be able to resist the urge to stop in and say hi to dear friends.

This is not a scriptural command but it would seem to be the natural result of us loving one another. If I have time and I am driving by my parent’s house, I want to stop in and say hi and see how they are doing. That is a natural response to loving one another.

Church is not to be just one bubble of our life. We cannot have our church bubble, our family bubble, our work bubble, our friendship bubble. Compartmentalizing our life like that will lead to a life that is not God’s and self-centered. Church is to be part of our whole life. If you are my friend at church, you are my friend outside of church. If you are not my friend in church, then I have some issues and I have to learn to love you as a friend, brother, and/or sister.

I want to share meals together and learn together.

The early church did this. They shared meals daily (Acts 2:42, 46). What a fellowship!

I previously wrote at length on this in “The Disappearance of the Fellowship Meal”.

I want to go on vacation together.

This one is not scriptural. But it is also not unscriptural.

A core teaching of the non-instrumental Church of Christ, my church's spiritual cousin, is that Christian should not do things in the family gathering (that is any time the church gathers together in what is typically call the Sunday Morning Worship Service) that was not explicitly stated in the Scriptures. I am not a non-instrumentalist, nor do I have any desire to be one. I am just a Christian seeking to follow God. Where the Scriptures give a teaching, I follow. Where the Scripture is silent, I allow liberty. A non-instrumentalist would argue that where the Scripture is silent, we are to be silent. The instrumentalists do not adhere to that. One of founding statements of the Church of Christ/Christian Church was “In essentials, unity. In opinions, liberty. In all things, love.” Although this teaching is not original to our movement and reaches back to the early days of the Protestant Reformation, it is a statement we have taken to identify how we will have unity.

Unfortunately, we sometimes broaden the meaning of essentials so much that it makes it almost impossible to have unity. We begin to not have true, authentic relationships with those in our families, in our church, and in the larger body of believers because they disagree with us on some idiosyncrasy that we strongly believe in. That is a poor reflection of the unity Christ said we should have. Jesus prayed that we "may all be one" so that the "world may believe" in Jesus (John 17:21). Sometimes we are a pathetic example of that oneness.

Family and friends do go on vacations together. If we are family and friends in our church, what is stopping us from vacationing together? It just seems a natural offshoot of real fellowship. Maybe the reason we do not travel together is that we are family in friends in name only.

I want to enjoy life fully, with friends in Christ.

Paul wrote to Timothy and said that everything has been provided for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17-19). He also wrote that we are to “rejoice always” (1 Thes 5:16)

The Christian life needs to be one that is full of joy even in the worst circumstances. Unfortunately, Christians have the reputation for being sticks in the mud. We need to extinguish that rightfully held belief by being full of joy. This is one way the light of Christ can shine through us. Even people that are not followers of Jesus enjoy good things and savor life when it is going well. What makes us different is that we are a little crazy and will find joy in all things, all of the time.

I want Christ to be in every part of my life, transforming me and those around me.

The only way that I can possibly live out the tough teachings of Christ (being joyful always, loving my enemies, changing my life from sin, etc.) is to totally surrender my life to Christ. Through modeling Christ to those around me, I open up an opportunity for Christ to transform them. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). It is Christ working through us that will bring God glory. Our goal is to give Jesus our whole lives. By doing that, he can use us to transform the world. There is no greater joy than realizing that you have been used by God to bring people into a right relationship with Him.

I want to see Christ in my friends and let it transform me.

If I am to be Jesus’ servant, I need to deal with others in humility and gentleness (Ephesians 4:2, Galatians 6:1). This means that I am not always right. Sometimes, my friend and brother or sister that I disagree with might be right. So when I go and talk to them about something we disagree on, I might be the one transformed.

We have a tremendous pride problem when we think we are always right. That makes my friends become projects who need to become more like me. Nobody wants to be a project; we all just want to be loved. A loving friendship is one of give and take. I have heard it said that if nobody disagrees, then nobody is thinking. We are going to disagree with our friends. It is healthy to disagree with our friends. We are going to help them grow and they are going to help us grow. The Spirit that dwells in them is trying to perfect them while the Spirit that dwells in me is trying to perfect me. And that Spirit is the same. We are one in the Spirit.

I want to share my needs and know they will be met. I want to hear friends’ needs and for them to know they will be met.

The early church was amazing! They sold their possessions in order to meet one another’s needs (Acts 2:25). Have you ever seen that? Has someone you known ever sold their nice house, moved into a mobile home, in order to meet someone’s needs? What a witness that would be. John said that those who do not love each other, are lying when they claim that they love God (1 John 4:20-21). Love is not just a feeling but manifests itself in real, tangible actions. That’s some great and challenging teaching. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

I want to be transparent and to be surrounded by others who are transparent.

Nobody likes a fake person. And despite what fake people think, people can see right through the charade. In order for Christ to be glorified, we need to live in grace, allowing Christ to shine through all of image of God in us and the tarnishes we have made on that image. He works through the willing, not the perfect.

I want to share my beliefs and not be ostracized or condemned because they might be different.

There are some beliefs that are core to making us a Christian. Those are the essentials. There are other beliefs that are beneficial for us to have in living the Christ-like life. We have an unhealthy tendency to broaden the essentials so much that we become judgmental toward others when they are not living out the Christian life like we live it out. The church (that is the people) needs to be a safe place to disagree and iron out our faith. We cannot grow in the faith if we are scared of making mistakes or saying “wrong” things. We need to be able to be real all of the time. Gathering with believers is not the time to put on our mask and be hypocrites. It is time to reveal our true selves, with all of our flaws, and improve one another in love and gentleness.

I want to kick back and have a drink once in a while with friends in Christ without feeling like someone will judge me. I want to be myself without being judged.

In Matthew Jesus claims that he came “eating and drinking.” in contrast to John the Baptist who came “neither eating nor drinking.” Obviously, John drank liquids or he would have been dead. What he is saying is that he came drinking, in the way that people claim to go down to the bar and have a drink (Matthew 11:19). Jesus was a drinker.

Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding in which they ran out of wine. If John, the writer, wanted to emphasize that it was non-alcoholic grape juice, there was a word that he could have used to describe it as such. Instead, he used the word to describe wine. So we see that Jesus had no problem going to a wedding where they were drinking. Nowadays, unless you can turn water into wine, you would have to run down to the store and buy more alcohol, but Jesus took the barrel of water and turned it into wine right on the spot so that the hosts would not be humiliated for running out of wine (John 2:1-11).

Paul wrote Timothy and told him to drink some wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). We see that Jesus drank alcohol, that he provided alcohol at a party, and that Paul followed that up by recommending alcohol for medicinal purposes. Wherever the prohibition attitude started, it was not through an honest reading of Scripture

Do not indulge in much wine or get drunk is sound doctrine. It is also sound doctrine that it is okay to drink. What is not sound doctrine is saying that drinking is forbidden; that teaching is a precept of man birthed out the early twentieth century and is not sound doctrine from Scripture. We often confuse sound tradition with sound doctrine.

I want to eat curly fries with friends in Christ, be messy on my face and hands and not be afraid to kiss others and make them messy.

Okay, I concede that this might be a little outrageous. But if I let loose and have fun with the people I love, these types of things happen. I like to hug a dry person when I get out of the water. I like to be a little rascally. Maybe that is not your personality. That is fine. But don’t be surprised if I give you a kiss on the cheek while I have a disgustingly, dirty face. It’s just my way of showing that I love you. We need to be able to show our love to one another in ways that are natural for us. But this can only happen if we truly love one another.

I want to get together with my spiritual family, not strangers, every Sunday.

This does not mean that I do not want strangers to come to our church. It means that if we are the church together, then we will not remain strangers.
Eventually, we will grow large enough that we will have people in our midst that we do not know. That is fine in that larger context. Our context is one of forty people gathering together on a Sunday morning. Not knowing one another and remaining strangers is not fine in this context.

A larger church needs everyone to be plugged into a small group in order to have community. In that setting, the family gathering on Sunday has a different purpose than a ministry meeting the needs of the poor, which has a different ministry than small groups. Each one plays an important role in being a healthy church. Every church needs to strive to be in fellowship with believers in such a way that they will view each other as family and friends.

I want the church I am part of to be so much more. I want us to be friends in Christ.

What do you think Jesus wants the local church you are part of to be?

Our local church’s focus for the next few years is community, passion, love, transformation, and more community. We want to be a Christ-like community that nourishes each individual's passion for Christ in the hope that through our loving actions God will transform those around us and add to His community.

Real, transparent friends reflecting Christ’s glory.

This illustration comes from Dissident Discipleship.

Long ago in a distant land, a prince dreamed of creating more than a geographical or political kingdom. He dreamed of establishing a community in which all persons were committed to each other in loyalty and equality, where every person sought the welfare of the neighbor even at a cost to the self. So the prince called a great meeting of all the heads of clans, all the wise and trusted people of the land, and dared to tell his dream. Each chieftain and his clan were invited to join in the foundation of a new society. As part of the community's inauguration, each was requested to search his cellar for the best wine produced from his ancestral vines. These treasured bottles would be uncorked, poured into a great communal vat, and blended, as the true community it represented, into a common vintage.

"How can I mix my exquisite wine with that of my neighbors?" asked one of the winegrowers invited to this covenanting. "I would sacrifice the unique variety of grape, the special climate of the year, the sweetness of a late harvest, the indefinable magic of bouquet, and I would violate my art as a winemaker. Impossible! Give up my distinct variety? Lose my separate self? I will not be adulterated in such a common cup."

So he corked a bottle of tap water, affixed his most beautiful label to the bottle, and at the time of the ritual poured the water ceremoniously into the vat. When the covenanting was solemnized, all filled their glasses for the communal draft, the toast that would seal commitment to community. As the cups touched their lips, all knew the truth. It was not wine. It was water. No one had been willing to pay the cost of community.

I want to be part of Christ’s church.
I wrote on this a while ago: “One Faith, One Body, No Lines”.

Now it’s time to wake up from this dream and make it a reality. Let’s be the church rather than just continue pretending and doing “church”.

All the teaching we can do does not matter if we do not actually go out and live the truth we know. Intellectual truth, although helpful, does not save anyone. We are saved by grace, through faith, for works (Ephesians 2:8-10). James wrote that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17). God wants us to be a better church than we are. He has already paid the price to make that happen. The question is, “Are we ready to work to make that happen?” It starts with prayer, followed by God’s direction, and ends up with God doing a good work through us. Grace, faith, works. Prayer, God’s leading, God’s good work through us. Being the church is not easy; we need to be willing to make the sacrifice to allow Him to work among us.

Church is not about me or what I want – it’s about what God wants. I want to want what He wants. Writing "Church Differently" was about what I felt God wanted. It was not a selfish expression of my desires. I am sorry if my feeble words made it come across as such. It was about what I felt God wanting the Church, and my local church in particular, to be.

What do you think?