Saturday, May 12

Once upon a time

Once upon a time 2000 years ago Jesus commanded his disciples to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. He instilled within each the full DNA to accomplish the task.

For many years his Church was on course for completing the task. Servants like Peter, Paul, and their companions pointed us in the way. The blueprint is clearly found in the pages of the New Testament.

However as the Kingdom grew, so did the desire to control and monitor all that was happening. Around the year 300 A.D. the spontaneous expansion fo the church led by the Holy Spirit was formalized into an institution largely governed by a professional clergy class. For 1700 years Institutional Christianity has shifted from being a priesthood of all believers to becoming one of the world's major religions.

God has certainly not ceased to work through His Church, but in a real sense, his divine methods and purposes have been substituted for man-made religion, programs, dogmas and a divided Body.

Instead of the simple obedience to the commands of Jesus--love the Lord your God, love one another, seek first His kingdom, abide in me, go make disciples, do this in remembrance of me, etc.-- the church has set up different standards for governing what it is Christ said to do. We have turned Christianity into a religion. Complete with hierarchy in our churches, organizations and institutions. We have added rules, regulations, expectations, and interpretations which govern the simple commands of Christ and the apostles. Isn't this the same kind of stuff Jesus condemned the Pharisees?

However, all over the world today, there is an emerging breed of believers ready and willing to exchange Institutional Christianity for a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation--a people for God's own possession (I Peter 2:9). A return to the reality that all God's children are empowered to be active participants in the Great Commission and the coming of God's Kingdom upon this earth. The only thing that differentiates us are the gifts each has been entrusted with by the Holy Spirit.

Today we get bogged down in a never-ending debate about who, what, when, and where, and how things can and should be done. Instead of just doing what Christ said to do, we now have formal written documents, clauses, guidelines, interpretations, and definitions for everything. Clutter.

Thom Rainer writes in Simple Church: Returning to God's Process For Making Disciples
"[Jesus] stepped into a complicated and polluted religious scene. It was cluttered with Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Zealots, and Essenes. He did not play by their rules. He could not stand their hypocrisy. He preferred spending time with tax collectors and sinners."
Is anything different today? How does Christ react to all we have made of his Church? His Bride!

Why can't we just get back to being the simple first-century, Spirit empowered disciples meeting in homes, by river sides, under Mango trees, spurring one another on to do those things Jesus commanded us to do?

11 comments:

Heather said...

All I can say is AMEN! Great post and I like the new header :)

Peace...
~Heather

Alan Knox said...

Guy,

Thank you for this post. I think you are right about the institutionalization of the church. I also think that there are many, many believers who are unaware of what God has called them and empowered them to do. They have been taught that taking their place in the organization is the same as obeying God. Even those doing the teaching are doing so because they feel they are obeying God. We have institutionalized the church and institutionalized the teachings of Scripture. I pray that God will continue to teach us what he desires from us. And, then, I pray that he will find us obedient.

-Alan

GuyMuse said...

Heather,

Thanks for stopping by! The header is a photo taken of one of our house churches meeting. I can't figure out how to make it fill the header box, any ideas?

Alan,

Good comment. I much prefer the idea of church as a living organism and not the structured organization it has become. These concepts are hard to communicate and get across to people unless they have been experienced personally. Keep up the good work with your excellent blog on these very issues.

Anonymous said...

Guy,
You're on it bro! Amen!
I believe God wants us to create an atmosphere in our churches with the least amount of obstacles (man's rules,traditions,professionalisms, and regulations) as possible so that the Holy Spirit can work as He pleases, and not as man thinks He should work. In the same way we must try to keep our lives free of sin in order for the Holy Spirit to work stronger and more freely through us. We must do the same in our churches with trying to create the least amount of obstacles as possibe so that the Holy Spirit can demonstrate His power and work more freely through us. Therefore the simple model of church that Christ had given us in the beginning is the perfect simple model as you had stated that we must return to if we are going to complete the task of reaching the nations because it does not have obstacles(man's regulations)to slow down His work.
BigBro Steve

Larry Who said...

Alan said: "...They [Christians] have been taught that taking their place in the organization is the same as obeying God..."

This is a profound statement.

Pogo stated it best: We have met the enemy and it is us!

GuyMuse said...

BigBro Steve,

While "simple church" models have their own set of problems, what I have learned to appreciate is the genuineness of being able to meet under the leadership of the HS. Friday night I visited one of the new house churches in formation. The informality, the rawness of it all, the freedom to ask the difficult questions, the open sharing--I find it so refreshing.

Larry,

If you haven't ever visited Alan Knox's blog, I would strongly encourage you to do so. He has a lot of great posts on ekklesia and how churches met in the NT. Just click on his profile above and at the bottom is a link to his blog.

jpu said...

i tired posting this yesterday...

i think it's the little foxes who ruin the vineyard and the birds that nest in the branches. it's arius and montanus and pelagius that cause an institution to rise up, to erect fences, to preserve the faith we have received and prevent the corruption. we benefit from Chalcedon and Nicea, products of institutional responses to heresy.

simple church is great but only as long as it remains relational. when the networks are so many degrees removed either by distance, time, or generations false prophets rise up to lead the flock astray.

"official" networks and training spring up. "official" schools or courses and ordinations too. all sorts of things to compensate for the inadequacy of a matrix.

structure provides strength in its rigidity. a matrix provides culture creep in its fluidity. they benefit from each other. neither is right or wrong. they just are.

and God the Holy Spirit continues his work.

God is good
jpu

Strider said...

You are a heretic Guy- which is why I love you. Thanks for this bold plain speaking post. I am not sure what JPU was talking about. The vast majority of heresies throughout history have come out of seminaries and established churches.
Yes, organization grows up to protect and it is not in and of itself evil. However, the organization of the Church has not protected relationships, it has replaced them. We need real, healthy relationships and then if we want to start an 'organization' to work together more efficiently or for mutual encouragement and accountability then that is fine. But we must never confuse the organization with the Body of Christ.

GuyMuse said...

John,

Thanks for dropping by and for sharing your thoughts with us. Structure has a way of taking on a life of its own. Before we know it the structure we have created becomes the norm and anybody doing things differently is looked at askew. There is a constant tension to allow our structures to become rigid and to institutionalize what it is we are doing. For us what is important is to not do anything to the point that people think the "program" or the "structure" or the "training" are what is important. As Strider points out in his comment, we must be careful to never confuse our organization and structures for the Body of Christ.

Strider,

You're certainly not the first to call us heretical! And yes, we love you guys too :) We've been dealing with misunderstandings now for several years. Gratefully, the tide is turning and people are finally opening up to seeing things through a different prism. I strongly believe we need to be working together in the Body of Christ. Yes, I am a convinced simple/house church practitioner, but that doesn't stop me from relating, loving, and working alongside my institutional church brothers and sisters. Together we are the Bride of Christ, His Body.

Charles said...

I think that you make some fine observations, but I am not sure what first century church you are reading about in the New Testament. Are you talking about being like the dysfunctional church in Corinth? Perhaps the lukewarm church in Laodicea is the better model. Surely, the church in Jerusalem led by Peter and James did not have any problems–but wait–there is that Ananias and Sapphira thing.

And at the risk of over-generalizing, aren't all the epistles of the New Testament in some sense an interpretation and commentary on the person, work, and teachings of Christ. So if you have problems with “formal written documents, clauses, guidelines, interpretations, and definitions” then you might have problems with everything from Romans to Revelation.

It must also be remembered that the seeds of clergy-laity were not planted in A.D. 300 but in the first century when deacons, overseers/bishops were established and indeed the first missionaries were called out from among the larger body (see Paul and Barnabas). I also wonder if such professional distinctions are wrong, why do you call yourself a missionary, which, sets you apart from the rest of us?

It is also ironic that you quote with apparent acceptance Thom Rainer’s book Simple Church, which is published by a denominational publishing house (Broadman & Holman), indeed I believe the largest religious publisher in the US (and part of the larger Christian institution that you appear to be railing ag

GuyMuse said...

Charles,

Welcome to the "M Blog". I am glad you stopped by and read this post. Your comments and observations are always welcome. The problem I have with formal written documents, clauses, guidelines, etc. is that they are additions to what we find in Scripture. I do not have any problem with anything from "Romans to Revelation." But many people think their interpretations of these Scriptures, and all the traditions and practices derived from them are what causes many of the problems I refer to. When tradition and practice is elevated to the level of Scripture, then I have a problem. I respect others who might differ from me in interpretation on various Bible passages, but when these interpretations are understood as "The Gospel", then I have a problem. You are right that the seeds of clergy-laity began early towards the end of the first century after the passing away of John. But that doesn't make them right, does it? As a missionary I do not feel "set apart" from my other brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all equal in God's eyes. The only thing that distinguishes us are the different giftings received from the Holy Spirit. But just because I am gifted differently than you, does not make me separate, or above you, or in a different class! Indeed the Thom Rainer book has some excellent material. Just because it is brom Broadman & Holman doesn't mean it isn't good stuff. There is a lot of helpful concepts in this book. My point is not to "rail against" anybody. What I am saying is that we have moved away from the simplicity of the first-century church and vastly complicated that which is laid out for us in the NT. I, for one, would hope to recapture some of those elements that made the first-century church such a dynamic and powerful entity in its day. Again, thanks for your sharing and observations. They are much appreciated.