3 books I wrote years ago-
‘HOUSE OF PRAYER, OR DEN OF THIEVES’
a critical look at the modern prosperity gospel.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 ‘YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON’
CHAPTER 2 ‘TWISTING THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER’
CHAPTER 3 ‘WHAT IS THE ABRAHAMIC BLESSING ?’
CHAPTER 4 ‘WHAT DID JAMES SAY ?’
CHAPTER 5 ‘WHOSE MINISTRY, JESUS OR OURS ?’
CHAPTER 6 ‘1 TIMOTHY 6’
CHAPTER 7 ‘WERE JESUS AND THE DISCIPLES RICH ?’
CHAPTER 8 ‘COVENANT THEOLOGY’
CHAPTER 9 ‘SOWING INTO GOOD SOIL’
CHAPTER 10 ‘IS THERE HOPE FOR FALSE PROPHETS ?’
It all started a few years back when I was regularly listening to certain ministries who taught the prosperity gospel. Over the years I subscribed to a few of these ministry magazines and truly enjoyed their teaching, but every now and then while reading through the bible I would come across certain passages of scripture that seemed to contradict the themes of the prosperity movement. I also found it strange the way they interpreted certain passages of scripture, it was almost as if when they were done explaining them, that these passages meant the exact opposite of what they were plainly teaching.
During this season of learning, while the Lord was dealing with me about these various doctrines, I would find myself at times saying ‘something needs to be done about the extreme teaching coming from this camp’. I would also deal with some of the unbalanced teaching through the small avenues of influence I had through a local radio program and various speaking opportunities. I would even go through stages where I was so upset over some of the more extreme elements of this teaching, that I would avoid dealing with it at all because of the emotional baggage that comes with having to disagree with a brother in Christ.
Then why write this book? Each time I would determine to drop the whole matter and never deal with this issue again, something would happen, or be said on Christian television or radio, or be written in a new book, that was so off base that I would ask the Lord again if He wanted me to do more in bringing about a more balanced view of biblical prosperity. The most recent incident was while watching Christian TV one night, the preacher who was speaking is a well-known prosperity preacher. Before he preached he invited another prosperity preacher to share a ‘special’ revelatory word the Lord had given him, as the preacher came to the pulpit he began to lead the people in a series of confessions/actions that he told the audience to imitate in order for them to experience breakthrough in their finances. As he stood on the stage he then went through the motions of pulling down an imaginary lever on a slot machine while confessing in a very loud voice the words ‘MONEY COMING’. He did this three times while the audience followed. When they got to the last shout, the preacher emphasized the importance of this last shout, and as he led them in the pulling down of the lever they all shouted at the top of their lungs ‘MONEY COMING TO ME’
Well to say the least this was another one of those ‘incidents’ that caused me to ask the Lord if I should do more about such obvious abuse in the church. A few days later, while driving to work one morning, I remembered this incident and asked the Lord if he wanted me to write a book on this subject. Later on in the day during a lunch break, while reading through the bible during a regular devotional time, I just happened to be reading through the book of revelation, and when I came to revelation 1:19 where Jesus tells John to ‘write the things which thou hast seen’, it hit me like a ton of bricks. So here I am today, believing that this book will serve a definite purpose in the Body of Christ and cause us to return to a more balanced view of the ‘things of this world’.
CHAPTER 1 ‘YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON’
It has been said that the best way to spot a counterfeit is to know the real. So let’s begin with a biblical look at true prosperity. In the past, while trying to deal with this subject, I would often find people responding in defense of the prosperity gospel by saying things like ‘oh, but you don’t know how good the Lord is’ or ‘you don’t know how much God wants to meet our needs’ or, ‘the bible doesn’t say money is evil, but the love of money’. To which I would reply ‘AMEN’, I agree with you. But the bible also gives us many warnings against materialism, seeking to be rich, and living for material things.
So while trying to deal with the false prosperity gospel, I would like first of all to establish the truth that God is good, he does want to meet our needs and give us the desires of our heart, and yes, he even wants to bless us financially and materially. God promises not only ‘heavenly’ or ‘spiritual’ blessings, but also earthly or material blessings as well. If you go through the bible from Genesis to Revelation you will find instances of Gods people being rich, prosperous and blessed in every way. You will find many promises of Gods provisions for us, not only spiritual but also financial and material. There is no doubt that God can, and does bless His children in all areas of life if they are obedient to Him.
We also know that there are many warnings in the N.T. against seeking to be rich, living for material wealth, and the like. So how do we harmonize these two truths?
Let’s look at the overall purpose of God for his church. We are commissioned by Jesus to tell the whole world about His love for us, so we can make disciples of all nations. The message from our lips, [and hearts] is to overflow with who Jesus is and what He’s done for us. As a matter of fact, Jesus tells us that as we proclaim and talk about Him, and seek first His kingdom, that He will take care of all the other less important things. MATHEW 6:19-24 ‘ LAY NOT UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES UPON EARTH, WHERE MOTH AND RUST DOTH CORRUPT, AND WHERE THIEVES BREAK THROUGH AND STEAL: BUT LAY UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES IN HEAVEN, WHERE NIETHER MOTH NOR RUST DOTH CORRUPT, AND WHERE THIEVES DO NOT BREAK THROUGH AND STEAL: FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS THERE WILL YOUR HEART BE ALSO…….. NO MAN CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS: FOR EITHER HE WILL HATE THE ONE, AND LOVE THE OTHER; OR ELSE HE WILL HOLD TO THE ONE AND DESPISE THE OTHER. YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON. THEREFORE I SAY UNTO YOU, TAKE NO THOUGHT FOR YOUR LIFE, WHAT YE SHALL EAT, OR WHAT YE SHALL DRINK; NOR YET FOR YOUR BODY, WHAT YE SHALL PUT ON. IS NOT THE LIFE MORE THAN MEAT, AND THE BODY MORE THAN RAIMENT? BEHOLD THE FOWLS OF THE AIR: FOR THEY SOW NOT, NIETHER DO THEY REAP, NOR GATHER INTO BARNS; YET YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER FEEDETH THEM. ARE YE NOT MUCH BETTER THAN THEY? …… THEREFORE TAKE NO THOUGHT, SAYING WHAT SHALL WE EAT? OR, WHAT SHALL WE DRINK? OR, WHEREWITHALL SHALL WE BE CLOTHED? [FOR AFTER ALL THESE THINGS DO THE GENTILES SEEK;] FOR YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER KHNOWETH THAT YE HAVE NEED OF ALL THESE THINGS. BUT SEEK YE FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS; AND ALL THES THINGS SHALL BE ADDED UNTO YOU. TAKE THEREFORE NO THOUGHT FOR THE MORROW: FOR THE MORROW SHALL TAKE THOUGHT FOR THE THINGS OF ITSELF. SUFFICIENT UNTO THE DAY IS THE EVIL THEREOF’ Jesus is making a distinction between material things and the kingdom of God. He is saying if we seek first His kingdom, then all these material needs will be met. If the kingdom is about material things, then Jesus contradicted himself. The plain meaning and thought of this passage is that if we put God first, He will take care of us. Now say if the disciples took this to mean that the primary message of the gospel was ‘God will add all these things unto you’. And say if they went around teaching all nations to quote ‘all these things shall be added unto you’. And then all over Jerusalem and Judaea and unto the uttermost parts of the earth they had people quoting ‘all these things shall be added unto you’. And after a lifetime of ministry they taught the people how God would give them things if they kept quoting and meditating on the passages of scripture that speak about material wealth. What do you suppose Jesus would say when He comes back? First of all the plain teaching of Jesus in this passage is to get their focus [meditation, confession] off of material things. He plainly says that the ‘gentiles seek these things’, and that the disciples are not to be thinking about these things all the time like the gentiles. He tells us to focus on the kingdom as opposed to focusing on material things. He tells us that as we go forth by faith to proclaim his gospel, that he in turn will meet our needs. After all, the disciples left their jobs in order to follow Christ, and he was reassuring them that they would be taken care of materially if they forsook all to follow him.
I find it troubling that some teachers use this very passage in order to justify materialism, while the plain meaning of Jesus words are the opposite. Jesus says you cannot serve God and money. So we must take our minds and thoughts and meditations and focus them on God, not worldly things!
So true prosperity can be defined as God meeting all the needs of his children as they proclaim him in all nations. True prosperity is God meeting our needs while our focus is on him [not on our needs being met!]. True prosperity is being able to preach the word of God without a covetous motive [1 PETER:5:2].
I should make note that there are some who teach that this passage of scripture [MATT. 6:19-24] actually teaches that we have a bank account in heaven with real money credited to our account! And every time we sow [give into] the kingdom of God, that we are actually building a fund in this account. And that by faith you can claim a withdrawal on your account and receive your financial harvest now. But if this is what Jesus was teaching then the entire passage is twisted into turning our attention towards money once again! Jesus plainly warned us against focusing our thoughts on the material things in life, he told us not to be like the unbelievers who have all their possessions in this life only. Jesus told us to build up treasures in heaven, which meant a life lived for eternal purposes as opposed to temporary rewards. I believe that if we get our priorities right, that God will meet our needs, and we will be so excited about God and his kingdom that we wont even have time to think about serving mammon!
CHAPTER 2 ‘TWISTING THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER’
While a new Christian, enjoying that early honeymoon period with the Lord, I’ll never forget the joy I experienced while learning the bible for the first time. The clarity, pureness and unity of scripture were a sure foundation for a long road ahead. While working as a house painter and listening to Christian radio all day long, it was an early introduction to the various ‘streams’ of teaching that were being produced in the church. One day my job foreman, who often heard me listening to Christian radio, thought I would enjoy listening to a new tape series that he had just been given. So I popped the cassettes into my radio and listened with the excitement of a new believer in Christ. The cassettes were a new teaching on the parable of the sower. MATTHEW 13:1-9, 18-23 ‘ THE SAME DAY WENT JESUS OUT OF THE HOUSE, AND SAT BY THE SEASIDE. AND GREAT MULTITUDES WERE GATHERED TOGETHER UNTO HIM, SO THAT HE WENT INTO A SHIP, AND SAT; AND THE WHOLE MULTITUDE STOOD ON THE SHORE. AND HE SPAKE MANY THINGS UNTO THEM IN PARABLES, SAYING, BEHOLD, A SOWER WENT FORTH TO SOW; AND WHEN HE SOWED, SOME SEEDS FELL BY THE WAY SIDE, AND THE FOWLS CAME AND DEVOURED THEM UP: SOME FELL UPON STONY PLACES, WHERE THEY HAD NOT MUCH EARTH: AND FORTHWITH THEY SPRUNG UP, BECAUSE THEY HAD NO DEEPNESS OF EARTH: AND WHEN THE SUN WAS UP THEY WERE SCORCHED; AND BECAUSE THEY HAD NO ROOT THEY WITHERED AWAY. AND SOME FELL AMONG THORNS; AND THE THORNS SPRUNG UP, AND CHOKED THEM; BUT OTHER FELL INTO GOOD GROUND, AND BROUGHT FORTH FRUIT, SOME AN HUNDREDFOLD, SOME SIXTYFOLD, SOME THIRTYFOLD. WHO HATH EARS TO HEAR LET HIM HEAR………HEAR YE THEREFORE THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER. WHEN ANYONE HEARETH THE WORD OF THE KINGDOM, AND UNDERSTANDETH IT NOT, THEN COMETH THE WICKED ONE, AND CATCHETH AWAY THAT WHICH WAS SOWN IN HIS HEART. THIS IS HE WHICH RECIEVED SEED BY THE WAYSIDE. BUT HE THAT RECIEVED THE SEED INTO STONY PLACES, THE SAME IS HE THAT HEARETH THE WORD, AND ANON WITH JOY RECIEVETH IT; YET HATH HE NOT ROOT IN HIMSELF, BUT DURETH FOR A WHILE: FOR WHEN TRIBULATION OR PERSECUTION ARISETH BECAUSE OF THE WORD, BY AND BY HE IS OFFENDED. HE ALSO THAT RECIEVED SEED AMONG THE THORNS IS HE THAT HEARETH THE WORD; AND THE CARE OF THIS WORLD, AND THE DECEITFULLNESS OF RICHES, CHOKE THE WORD AND HE BECOMETH UNFRUITFULL. BUT HE THAT RECIEVED SEED INTO GOOD GROUND IS HE THAT HEARETH THE WORD, AND UNDERSTANDETH IT; WHICH ALSO BEARETH FRUIT, AND BRINGETH FORTH, SOME AN HUNDREDFOLD SOME SIXTY SND SOME THIRTY’. As the teacher taught through the parable he explained how Jesus was teaching us how to plant [sow] the word [scriptures] in our hearts [through confession, meditation, etc.] in order to receive a thirty, sixty, or hundredfold return. He then applied the entire teaching to reaping an hundredfold return of MONEY! He taught how that at each stage of the parable the devil tries to steal the word so we don’t receive our harvest. He then got to the part where Jesus says ‘THE DECIETFULLNESS OF RICHES CHOKE THE WORD’, I couldn’t understand how Jesus could be teaching us about reaping a financial harvest, and then say this! It almost seemed like a contradiction. Well the teacher then began to sound uncomfortable as he explained how the deceitfulness of riches was actually that old traditional teaching that says you cant be rich [or something to that effect]! Even as a new believer in Christ I just couldn’t accept this explanation, it was almost as if the teacher was trying to make Jesus words say the opposite of what he meant.
The basic plain meaning of the parable is self-explanatory. There are always obstacles and enemies of the gospel. Ultimately those who overcome these obstacles will bear good Christian fruit in varying degrees [30,60 or 100 fold]. The various hindrances to the word of God include the ‘cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches’. If you want to produce fruit for God you cant get caught up in the materialistic pursuits of the world [2 TIMOTHY 2:4].
Many times in connection with this parable is the doctrine of sowing for a harvest taught. Jesus often uses planting [sowing] and harvesting [reaping] illustrations in his teachings. The main focus is usually dealing with the spreading of the kingdom of God and the message of Christ to the nations. Sometimes the seed refers to believers themselves, and other times the actual message preached [MATT. 13: 20,38]. Sowing and reaping also refer to the works we do, as well as the money we give into the kingdom [1COR. 9:11, GAL. 6:8]. While there are many ways you can apply sowing for a harvest, I find it disturbing that some in the church have focused the entire teaching towards financial and material gain. This type of preoccupation with money is in direct opposition to the warning that Jesus gave in this parable, he told us that the deceitfulness of riches could derail us from being fruitful, and the distorted teaching that applies this entire parable to money is in itself a fulfillment of the warning that ‘the deceitfulness of riches’ can deceive you, because it denies the very warning of Christ and makes him say something that he never said!
CHAPTER 3 ‘WHAT IS THE ABRAHAMIC BLESSING’
I must admit that out of all the various portions of scripture used to teach a false prosperity gospel, this is one of the most deceptive. In order for us to fully grasp the concept of the abrahamic blessing, we must do a little history.
In GALATIANS 3, the apostle Paul makes one of the greatest N.T. arguments for justification by faith versus law. I personally believe this doctrine to be one of the foundational doctrines in the N.T.
The heresy that Paul is fighting against in Galatians is the heresy of legalism that was taught by the judiazers. The judiazers were the Jewish/Christian sect that taught that gentile believers needed to be circumcised and brought under the law in order to be saved. The main argument that Paul uses to refute this doctrine is in Galatians 3. In this chapter we find Paul going back to the O.T. books in order to show that God established, by covenant, the basis of justifying man by faith without the deeds of the law. The main argument Paul uses is ‘the abrahamic blessing’. Paul traces Gods promise to Abraham, made before the law was given, where God says ‘in thee shall all nations be blessed’ [GEN. 12:3, GAL. 3:8]. This meaning that God would bless [save] all nations through the promised child of Abraham [which would eventually be Jesus]. Paul’s point is to show that God already promised to bless all people through Abraham’s offspring [the abrahamic blessing], and not through the law. The abrahamic blessing referring to justifying the world by faith and giving us ‘the promise of the Spirit by faith’ [GALATIANS 3:8-14], this argument is also used in Romans 4.
Now here comes the tricky part, some teach that God covenants to make us rich trough the abrahamic blessing [or covenant]. They use this chapter to teach that Christ died so we can receive the abrahamic blessing. They then define the abrahamic blessing as the ‘things’ that Abraham had. But once again the abrahamic blessing as defined in Galatians 3 is referring to God justifying us by faith as opposed to the law. Paul was in no way teaching the Galatians that God was going to make them rich! He was battling for their very souls! The plain text of this passage shows us that Paul was dealing with the issue of justification, and not finances. And it would make absolutely no sense for Paul to begin to address money issues in the middle of this chapter.
Each time I came across this type of distorted interpretation, I honestly couldn’t understand how so many different teachers could so consistently apply the same passage in the wrong way. It almost reminds me of the O.T. passage that speaks of a conspiracy of the prophets [EZEK. 22:25]. A sort of network of false/distorted interpretations of the scripture that exist among certain groups of believers, and these same false opinions are then propagated again and again until after you hear them long enough they seem to become accepted truth in the church at large. We need to re-examine some of these doctrines and receive correction and make the proper adjustments in our thinking and acting [repentance!], so we don’t continue to spread these false opinions in the church.
CHAPTER 4 ‘WHAT DID JAMES SAY’
One of the strongest books in the N.T. dealing with poverty and riches is the book of James. Simply reading this book in context would give the modern prosperity gospel a strong rebuke! James contrasts both rich and poor, he says that God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God. The context also implies that these poor Christians will remain poor in this life! [JAMES 2:5] The prosperity message teaches that if you have faith in God that you will not be poor. It’s obvious that both James and the prosperity teachers of today have a difference of opinion!
Lets look at exactly what the word of God says; JAMES 2:1-6 ‘MY BRETHREN, HAVE NOT THE FAITH OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE LORD OF GLORY, WITH RESPECT OF PERSONS. FOR IF THERE COME UNTO YOUR ASSEMBLY A MAN WITH A GOLD RING, IN GOODLY APPAREL, AND THERE COME IN ALSO A POOR MAN IN VILE RAIMENT; AND YE HAVE RESPECT TO HIM THAT WEARETH THE GAY CLOTHING, AND SAY UNTO HIM, SIT THOU HERE IN A GOOD PLACE; AND SAY TO THE POOR, STAND THOU HERE OR SIT HERE UNDER MY FOOTSTOOL: ARE YE NOT THEN PARTIAL IN YOURSELVES AND BECOME JUDGES OF EVIL THOUGHTS? HEARKEN, MY BELOVED BRETHREN, HATH NOT GOD CHOSEN THE POOR OF THIS WORLD RICH IN FAITH, AND HEIRS OF THE KINGDOM WHICH HE HATH PROMISED TO THEM THAT LOVE HIM? BUT YE HAVE DESPISED THE POOR. DO NOT RICH MEN OPPRESS YOU, AND DRAW YOU BEFORE THE JUDGMENT SEATS? How were they despising the poor and being prejudiced in their thoughts? They were treating poor people with contempt while showing honor to the rich. This is exactly what we do in the church, by teaching that poor Christians have little, or no faith, we unconsciously treat them with contempt. We teach that the poor are under a curse and are therefore not living up to all their benefits in Christ. We actually set up a cast system in the church. James says the poor have great faith! He doesn’t portray them as having small faith. He warns the rich not to trust in uncertain riches. The bible flatly teaches that financial abundance is not a measure of ones faith! We must stop teaching that if you would simply believe God you would have an abundance of money. This is not true in every case. Sometimes the abundant supply from God is the grace and patience that he gives to the believer in the face of severe trials or lack. The N.T. clearly teaches that there are believers with lots of faith who are poor! You can’t deny the plain word of God. We should not suppose that a lack of financial abundance is a sign of weak faith!
Now to one of the most recent ‘new revelations’ that is being taught in the church. I first heard this from a very respected soul-winning evangelist. I then heard it taught from a variety of other teachers. As of this writing it seems to be accepted ‘truth’ in certain circles. Lets read JAMES 5:1-6 ‘GO TO NOW, YE RICH MEN, WEEP AND HOWL FOR YOUR MISERIES THAT SHALL COME UPON YOU. YOUR RICHES ARE CORRUPTED, AND YOUR GARMENTS ARE MOTHEATEN. YOUR GOLD AND SILVER IS CANKERED; AND THE RUST OF THEM SHALL BE A WITNESS AGAINST YOU, AND SHALL EAT YOUR FLESH AS IT WERE FIRE. YE HAVE HEAPED TREASURE TOGETHER FOR THE LAST DAYS. BEHOLD, THE HIRE OF THE LABOURERS WHO HAVE REAPED DOWN YOUR FIELDS, WHICH IS OF YOU KEPT BACK BY FRAUD, CRIETH: AND THE CRIES OF THEM WHICH HAVE REAPED ARE ENTERED INTO THE EARS OF THE LORD OF SABAOTH. YE HAVE LIVED IN PLEASURE ON THE EARTH, AND BEEN WANTON; YE HAVE NOURISHED YOUR HEARTS, AS IN A DAY OF SLAUGHTER. YE HAVE CONDEMNED AND KILLED THE JUST; AND HE DOTH NOT RESIST YOU. The first time I heard this ‘new’ truth, the preacher said that this passage was dealing with the end-time transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor. It was explained that in verse 3 ‘YE HAVE HEAPED TREASURE TOGETHER FOR THE LAST DAYS’ meant that the rich gathered together their wealth so it could be given to the church in the last days. While I have no problem with the idea of the world’s wealth being used for kingdom purposes, I do have a problem with distorting the word of God to prove our points! A simple reading of James 5:1-6 shows us that the reason the rich are being reproved is because they spent their lives building up financial fortunes without being rich toward God [LUKE 12:16-21]. This scripture also plainly says what is going to happen to their wealth. Is it going to be ‘transferred’ to us? Is it going to be given to the Christians in the last days? Is it going to be used at all? NO! It is going to canker, rust and corrupt! It is going to be destroyed! It will be of no help at all in the day of judgment [PRVB. 11:4]. It will be a witness against them for living covetous lives. The entire theme of James follows this line of thought. To read all the other things that James says about the rich and poor in this epistle, for us to then interpret this passage and say that James was now teaching the Christians that they would become rich through the end-time transfer of wealth, is ridiculous. Once again the plain meaning of scripture is being distorted in order to make it say the complete opposite of what it means.
One more thing before we leave James. The early Christian community did not equate poverty with being under a curse. They did not equate poverty with sin. There are many rebukes in the N.T. against sin in the church, but the poor in the church were praised, not rebuked! The very mindset of looking upon the poor as a lower class permeates this teaching. If the poor are cursed, not living up to their inheritance, don’t know how to apply faith principles or simply don’t know/believe the word concerning prosperity, then in essence we are despising the poor through our belief system. The N.T. plainly teaches that it is okay to be poor! We need to heed the warning from this N.T. epistle and stop despising the poor!
CHAPTER 5 ‘WHOSE MINISTRY, JESUS OR OURS?’
I’ll never forget the time I was watching ‘Christian’ TV and saw a preacher holding up his Rolex watch and then teaching the people that this was an example of his faith in action! He then went on to explain that when we use our faith to obtain things, we can then show these things to people as a witness of our faith. If this is what it means to go witnessing for Christ, I think most people would be standing in line to sign up!
Over the years I have heard it taught that the only way the world would be saved is if the church becomes extremely rich financially so she could send the gospel to the world. That the world would see our extreme wealth and would ask ‘where did you get all that money?’ and we would then say ‘from God’, and the lost would then want what we have and get saved! Convenient isn’t it. But is this a biblical picture of the N.T. church and her witness in the earth?
In order to answer this question, we need first to look at what the N.T. church is. The church consists of communities of believers scattered throughout the world. All over planet earth, right now, there are believers thriving and testifying of Gods grace in all types of circumstances and situations. The community of believers that Jesus launched 2 thousand years ago is still going strong. She answers to no man or human govt. She has outlasted empires, persecutions, false religions and every other conceivable attack that can be imagined. The prophecy of Jesus has been fulfilled ‘THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST HER’ [MATT. 16:18].
As of today there has been no other single institution upon earth that has had more influence in the history of the world than the church! Now, if the church truly consists of believers [seeds], planted [sown] all over the world under the lordship of Christ, with various giftings [Apostles, Prophets, etc.] operating under the administration of the Holy Spirit, this ministry [the kingdom of God] already has the potential of a worldwide witness to all nations. As a matter of fact this worldwide gospel of Christ has been prevailing magnificently throughout the generations. This wonderful kingdom, under Christ’s rule, has been active. It has been supernaturally deploying ministers from day one [ACTS 13]. It has even witnessed for Jesus Christ when its main ministers were broke! [ACTS 3:6]. The witness of the gospel has done extremely well throughout the centuries and will continue to do so, whether or not we all become rich!
The reason I say this is because there is a mindset in the church [American mostly] that equates the witness of the gospel with the success of American charismatic entrepreneurial ministries. We have been deluded into believing that unless we all become rich, we will never be able to reach the world. The overall success of the kingdom of God has never been dependent on any budget of any ministry past or present! Most of the modern day proponents of the prosperity gospel usually head up American ministry organizations and equate the sowing of seed [finances], with giving money to help support their organizations. They then sincerely believe that unless their organization makes more and more money, they will never be able to fulfill the great commission of reaching the world.
The N.T. clearly teaches the principles of our witness for Christ, and the focus has never been extreme wealth. But on sacrificial living, loving each other unconditionally, a sharing caring community of people who are known for good deeds of charity. In the book of acts the early church had a powerful witness, and they weren’t rich financially, yet they did reach their world for Christ. How? Through great sacrificial living, through miraculous signs and wonders, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and through a bold proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not one sermon in the book of acts focused on anything else than Jesus Christ and his great work for us. Their hearts and lips flowed with the message of Christ, not money!
I find it troubling that many of the ministries who teach the prosperity gospel usually do receive extreme amounts of money, not to proclaim the message of Jesus [speaking about him], but to simply propagate a money making gospel! You can tune into some of these ministries and find them talking about money all the time. What if a lost person tuned in? Would he hear about Jesus or money? What about when Jesus said out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks? [MATT. 12:34]. If someone is always talking about money where is his heart, what’s his treasure?
We need to shift our focus back to the pure N.T. message of Christ, and understand that his gospel is the power of God unto salvation! Jesus said the world would be saved when the truth is preached in all nations by a united church, not when we all become millionaires so we can finance our own ministries!
CHAPTER 6 ‘1 TIMOTHY 6’
I have often heard it said ‘if you’re happy with just enough money to get by, you’re selfish and living in sin, you need to believe God and have faith for increased wealth so you can finance the gospel’. Is this a biblical concept? Should we teach people that being content with what you have is a sin?
Lets look at the word of God HEBREWS 13:5-6 ‘LET YOUR CONVERSATION BE WITHOUT COVEOUSNESS; AND BE CONTENT WITH SUCH THINGS AS YE HAVE: FOR HE HATH SAID, I WILL NEVER LEAVE THEE, OR FORSAKE THEE. SO THAT WE MAY BOLDLY SAY, THE LORD IS MY HELPER, AND I WILL NOT FEAR WHAT MAN SHALL DO UNTO ME. This scripture plainly teaches us to be content with what we have! I even heard a prosperity preacher teach that this means to be happy with what you have now, while using your faith to obtain more. WHAT! When will we stop distorting the plain meaning of scripture?
1 TIMOTHY 6:1-12,17-19 ‘LET AS MANY SERVANTS WHO ARE UNDER THE YOKE COUNT THIER OWN MASTERS WORTHY OF ALL HONOUR, THAT THE NAME OF GOD AND HIS DOCTRINE BE NOT BLASPHEMED……. IF ANY MAN TEACH OTHERWISE, AND CONSENT NOT TO WHOLESOME WORDS, EVEN THE WORDS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND TO THE DOCTRINE WHICH IS ACCORDING TO GODLINESS; HE IS PROUD KNOWING NOTHING, BUT DOTING ABOUT QUESTIONS AND STRIFES OF WORDS, WHEREOF COMETH ENVY, STRIFE, RAILINGS, EVIL SURMISINGS, PERVERSE DISPUTINGS OF MEN OF CORRUPT MINDS, AND DESTITUTE OF THE TRUTH, SUPPOSING THAT GAIN IS GODLINESS: FROM SUCH WITHDRAW THYSELF. BUT GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT IS GREAT GAIN. FOR WE BROUGHT NOTHING INTO THE WORLD, AND IT IS CERTAIN WE CAN CARRY NOTHING OUT. AND HAVING FOOD AND RAIMENT LET US BE THEREWITH CONTENT. BUT THEY THAT WILL BE RICH FALL INTO TEMPTATION AND A SNARE, AND INTO MANY FOOLISH AND HURTFUL LUSTS, WHICH DROWN MEN IN DESTRUCTION AND PERDITION. FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL: WHICH WHILE SOME COVETED AFTER, THEY HAVE ERRED FROM THE FAITH, AND PIERCED THEMSELVES THROUGH WITH MANY SORROWS. BUT THOU O MAN OF GOD FLEE THESE THINGS………CHARGE THEM THAT ARE RICH IN THIS WORLD, THAT THEY BE NOT HIGHMINDED, NOR TRUST IN UNCERTAIN RICHES, BUT IN THE LIVING GOD, WHO GIVETH US RICHLY ALL THINGS TO ENJOY; THAT THEY DO GOOD, THAT THEY BE RICH IN GOOD WORKS, READY TO DISTRIBUTE, WILLING TO COMMUNICATE; LAYING UP IN STORE FOR THEMSELVES A GOOD FOUNDATION AGAINST THE TIME TO COME, THAT THEY MAY LAY HOLD ON ETERNAL LIFE. Paul is clearly teaching the concept of ‘you came into this world with nothing, you cant take it with you when you die, so be content with what you have’. I have heard prosperity preachers say that this type of mindset is a religious spirit, and has no foundation in the word of God. This passage of scripture teaches plainly against the mindset of the prosperity gospel. The entire theme and thought of the apostle goes 100 percent against the grain of the prosperity movement. Paul clearly says that some will equate gain with godliness, if he is not dealing with the distortions of the modern prosperity movement, then who is he speaking about? He says that some will equate godly living with financial gain, or they will teach if you’re godly you will gain much money. This is exactly what the modern prosperity movement teaches!
He says that those who want to become rich will fall into many foolish and hurtful lusts. The craving [coveting] to become rich can either be through confessing scripture, through meditating on abundance, through the sowing of seed into good soil or any other means imaginable. The scripture simply says that if the acquiring of money, for whatever purpose [even godly purposes], has become your goal, then your motivation is wrong and you have been sidetracked.
Now the ‘love of money’ verse. 1 TIMOTHY 6:10 ‘FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL: WHICH WHILE SOME COVETED AFTER, THEY HAVE ERRED FROM THE FAITH, AND PIERCED THEMSELVES THROUGH WITH MANY SORROWS’. I have heard it said ‘brother, this says the love of money, not money’ and then the preacher will go right past the warning and talk all about money, not even giving a second thought to the warning! These passages, read in their entirety, give a powerful rebuke against the prosperity movement. They teach us to’ be content with what we have,’ they tell us’ don’t desire to be rich’, they plainly state that the pursuit of material wealth will sidetrack you, and they even state that ‘you came into the world with nothing, when you die you cant take it with you, so be happy with what you have!’ I would exhort any person who is having difficulty breaking away from this movement to read 1 timothy 6 every day for a year and allow your mind to be renewed to the word of God!
One more thing before we leave this chapter, in verse 12 Paul exhorts Timothy to ‘lay hold on eternal life’. He says this in the context of comparing eternal life against materialistic living. He is saying in essence ‘live for eternal things, not temporary rewards [or money!]’. I just finished watching a minister on T.V. spend 30 minutes explaining how the eternal life that Paul is referring to deals with the abundance of God in the area of finances. He flatly said that Paul was teaching us to lay hold of an abundance of money! This type of extreme distorting of scripture actually takes the warnings in the word of God that speak against materialism and turns them around to teach the exact opposite! When our own interpretations of scripture go against the plain flow of the text of scripture, then we have usurped the word of God in order to teach our own traditions!
CHAPTER 7 ‘WERE JESUS AND THE DISCIPLES RICH?’
One day while listening to a preacher trying to prove that Jesus and the disciples were extremely wealthy, he used the common ‘proof texts’ to prove his point. He then went on to explain that religious tradition portrayed Jesus and the disciples as being poor [or average], and that the word of God teaches us that they were really rich. He also explained how important it was for us to know this ‘truth’, because if Jesus and the disciples were rich, and Jesus wants us to be like him, then we are in disobedience if we are not striving to become wealthy!
A simple plain reading of the N.T. portrays Jesus as someone who came with a radical message of forsaking all to follow him. He often approached people who were in business [fishermen], or were rich, and challenged them to leave all and follow him. He would reassure these followers if they forsook all for his cause and the gospel, that they would be taken care of. This same type of radical call continued into the book of acts, where the early followers of Jesus also told the people that to be a follower of Christ they had to forsake all to follow him.
If you look at the overall picture [not the prooftexts!], you see the early Christian community as a people who forsook all for the gospel. You find them living and sharing as a corporate community who took care of each-others needs [ACTS 2:44-47]. You find those who were wealthy [not all of the church, but certain individuals, ACTS 4:32-37] sharing their wealth for the needs of the Christian community. You can even trace the ministries of some of the early apostles and still find them many years later proclaiming Christ through much suffering and persecution. Not only does the N.T. portray the early Christian community in this light, but also church history confirms it. You find the apostles still learning to deal with financial lack many years later well into their ministries [PHIL 4:11-12, 2 COR. 11:27]. You see a beautiful picture of a people willing to suffer for the cause of Christ cheerfully. You also see a gracious Lord who met all their needs according to his abundant grace. You find stories where the material needs of people were supernaturally met [not by extreme wealth, but by Gods miraculous intervention [MATT. 14:17-19, 15:34-36].
Now what about the promise Jesus made to Peter in MARK 10:28-31 ‘THEN PETER BEGAN TO SAY UNTO HIM, LO, WE HAVE LEFT ALL, AND HAVE FOLLOWED THEE. AND JESUS ANSWERED AND SAID, VERILY I SAY UNTO YOU, THERE IS NO MAN THAT HATH LEFT HOUSE, OR BRETHREN, OR SISTERS, OR FATHER, OR MOTHER, OR WIFE, OR CHILDREN, OR LANDS, FOR MY SAKE AND THE GOSPELS, BUT HE SHALL RECIEVE AN HUNDREDFOLD NOW IN THIS TIME, HOUSES, AND BRETHREN, AND SISTERS, AND MOTHERS, AND CHILDREN, AND LANDS, WITH PERSECUTIONS; AND IN THE WORLD TO COME ETERNAL LIFE. Did Peter personally posses [inherit] more houses, lands, sisters and mothers? How was this promise fulfilled in Peter’s life? In the book of acts Peter became a part of the ‘Christian family’ who had all things common, they shared everything and had no lack [ACTS 4:32-34, 2:44-47]. They had no lack because of their membership in the family of God. The fulfilling of the law of love in their sharing of material things was the fulfillment of Jesus promise to Peter, not making him financially rich!
Look at all the apostolic ministries in the book of acts. Wherever they went, whatever city they ministered in, their needs were always met. Why? Because when they became part of the Christian community, the homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, lands and all the other resources were SHARED by all the believers. They ministered to each other’s needs, they supported one another, they truly fulfilled the law of love by bearing one another’s burdens!
This picture of Jesus and the apostles as extremely rich 20th century American evangelists who headed up big budget ministries is absolutely no where to be found in the plain reading of the N.T.! I just don’t find Jesus and the disciples as rich evangelists going into the world with extreme wealth, while at the same time telling rich people to sell all they have to come follow him! [MATT. 19:23-24,LK. 1:53, 6:24, 16:19-31, 18:18-25]
CHAPTER 8 ‘COVENANT THEOLOGY’
The early settlers [pilgrims] of our nation came by faith in God, believing their new nation to be a promised land of freedom that the Lord had given to them. One of the descriptions of the ‘belief system’ of these puritans is called covenant theology. They saw themselves as ‘new covenant’ people who were inheriting a promised land, much like the old covenant people [Israel] inherited their promised land. They claimed and believed the many O.T. promises of God concerning the inheriting of nations. They took God at his word, and it worked!
In a sense all believers are covenant theologians, whether they realize it or not. It is through our covenant with God [the blood of Jesus], that we are made right with God [justified], have forgiveness of sins and are made children of God. As a matter of fact, everything that God does for us, or that ‘we do for him’, is based upon the bedrock foundation of the covenant of the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now, it has been taught because of our covenant with Christ, we can go through the bible and find all the promises that are good and by faith hold God to his word and ’cause the things that are not seen [not manifested] to become seen [manifested]’, or to put it simple, to get the things that God has promised us by putting our faith into action. I believe this principle is both scriptural and profitable. But the covenant cuts both ways.
When people enter into covenant, the 2 parties have complete access to each-others rights and privileges. There are times were the Lord will require of the believer all that he has [leave your nets and follow me mentality]. There are even times where the Lord called people to lay down their lives in martyrdom in order to receive a better resurrection [HEB 11:35, ACTS 7]. As a matter of fact there are many examples of people of faith who have endured great sufferings even though they had great faith [HEB. 11].
So what does it mean to be a covenant believer? It not only implies going throughout the bible and claiming all the good promises and quoting them by faith [sowing], it also carries with it the meaning of laying down all that we have [in this world] for the cause of Christ [HEB. 10:34].
While the early puritans did claim and receive the promises of God by faith concerning their ‘promised land’, they also endured tremendous suffering and loss [many died in their pursuit!] in order to obtain a noble goal. The N.T. commands us not only to believe and teach the good parts [or the parts we like the most!], but also to heed the warnings [LUKE 12:15, ACTS 20:27]. If we reduce covenant theology to a belief system that only reads and quotes the ‘good’ promises, but never heeds the warnings, then we are failing to proclaim the full gospel and are presenting a distorted view of the Christian life [ACTS 14:22]. A simple overview of the N.T. shows us how the principles of the N.T. are supposed to work. For example, you never find Jesus or the disciples going around quoting the money verses in order to receive a harvest! As a matter of fact, if we teach people to ‘quote, meditate, memorize and only think on the money scriptures’, we would be doing the exact opposite of what Jesus said in MATT. 6:31-34. He specifically told us to take no thought [meditate, focus our minds, etc.] of what we shall eat, drink or wear [material things], the whole point of this passage was to teach the Christian NOT to focus on these things!
You also never find any of the suffering Christians acting like they ‘fell short’ of their covenant rights. Instead they counted it a privilege to suffer for his names sake [ACTS 5:41]. The entire flow of the N.T. goes contrary to the ‘picture painted’ by unbalanced prosperity preaching. The focus of the N.T. was Gods advancing kingdom throughout the nations! Their own lives and the things they could get to make themselves more comfortable ran 100% contrary to the fulfilling of their mission [2 TIM. 4:10, 1 JOHN 2:15]. A simple plain reading of the N.T. in context teaches us that the character of N.T. Christianity is one of self-sacrificial living, not a ‘get all you can by faith’ mentality.
CHAPTER 9 ‘SOWING INTO GOOD SOIL’
A simple reading of the N.T. gives us a broad picture of the life of the believer, which includes giving and receiving, Gods promises of funding the work of the ministry, the Christian concept of charity, and a basic overall view of finances and the kingdom of God. One of the most basic reasons of giving money in the N.T. is to share what we have with those who are less fortunate [JAMES 2:15-16, 1 JOHN 3:17]. As a matter of fact Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of his day for their willingness to tithe to the temple while neglecting to use their finances to meet the needs of people in need [MARK 7:6-13]. One of the most recognized passages of scripture used to describe the character of Christ is found in Luke 10:30-37, an example of someone ministering to the needs of ‘the down and out’.
Even in the book of acts the main focus on giving was to meet the needs of people [ACTS 2:44-46, 4:32-37, 6:1]. The very scripture that we use to exhort saints to put in their offerings on ‘Sunday’, is really speaking about a collection being taken to meet the needs of the ‘poor saints’ who lived in Jerusalem [1COR. 16:1-3].
This basic Christian principle of charity is a well-established Christian doctrine that most people would agree with, except for certain teachers in the prosperity movement! I remember listening to a certain teacher actually teach that in order to receive a good financial harvest, you must plant your seed [money] into good soil. He then went on to teach that good soil meant ministries, or individuals, who taught prosperity and were financially rich! He even implied that giving to prosperity ministries would make you rich, while giving to ‘poverty mentality’ ministries would make you poor [because you reap the same anointing from the ministries you so into]. The problem with this is that the bible teaches that giving to poor people [people with a poverty mentality] is good, and that the Lord will reward you for it [PRVB. 22:9,16,19:17,28:27, PSALMS 112:9].
While the N.T. does deal with Gods provisions for ministry [PHIL. 4:14-19,1COR. 9:1-14], this certainly in no way justifies perverting the gospel into a mindset of giving into wealthy ministries in order to receive a financial harvest!
Jesus, Paul and all the other N.T. ministers did receive finances and provisions from God in order to fulfill their callings, but at the same time they also warned the people emphatically against materialism. They spoke out against covetousness/idolatry, while at the same time believing God to meet their needs [LUKE 12:15, EPH. 5:3, COL. 3:5, 1 THESS. 2:5, HEB. 13:5, 2 PETER 2:3]. Were they being hypocrites? NO! They understood the difference between using the things of this world without abusing them [1 COR. 7:31]. There is a big difference between believing God to meet our needs, and twisting the entire character of N.T. Christianity into a money focused mentality! The Christian should have a proper understanding of finances, as well as physical exercise, balance in family life and relationships, dealing with the practical concerns of life. But to exalt anyone of these areas of life and to make it the message of Christianity, and then to reshape the entire image of Christianity in order to make it fit our ‘peculiar’ style of belief would be wrong.
The very fact that there are in existence today million dollar ministries [which in itself is not wrong!], that teach people to give into their ministries with the promise of a sure return, and even appeal to poor saints to give out of their lack [social security checks, etc.], while all the while propagating a false gospel, is wrong!
These same ministries use the funds collected by false pretense and then preach the gospel of money, instead of a clear presentation of the gospel of Christ! Many of these ministries sincerely believe that it is a witness for Christ to have extravagant salaries, wear Rolex watches, drive a Cadillac and be a millionaire. They actually justify this by their own belief in the message they preach. They do not see it as wrong in the sight of God to finance this type of lifestyle/ministry from the offerings sent in by poor saints and widows! Many of their supporters are average, or struggling financially, and they give out of a sincere desire to better their own lives while at the same time furthering the work of God.
I know some of these precious believers who are struggling financially while sending in their ‘widow’s mite’ with hope and faith that things will turn around for them. No where in the N.T. do you find rich preachers appealing to poor saints to give into their ministries in order to receive a harvest! This is 100% against the character of N.T. Christianity. The bible actually condemns the idea of ‘shepherds’ taking advantage of their flocks for personal/financial gain [EZEKIEL 34, MATT. 23:14, 1 PETER 5:1-2].
The very fact that we have poor Christians sending in sacrificial offerings to millionaire ministries, often times because the preacher is appealing by the ‘word of the Lord’ to them, is wrong! Many of these ministries are using these funds to propagate a false view of Christianity to the world. They are preaching an unbalanced gospel while they themselves are bringing in large amounts of money. I appeal to the church at large to finance worthy ministries who are actually meeting the real needs of people around the world [good soil!], and to stop financing a false gospel!
CHAPTER 10 ‘IS THERE HOPE FOR FALSE PROPHETS?’
Why write this book? Over the years of struggling with these issues I would often come across an article, book or some type of testimonial that would expose many of the errors that are dealt with in this book. Some of the books I read seemed to leave little or no room for repentance and restoration of the ‘prosperity preachers’. I not only believe that Gods ultimate purpose in exposing sin is for the restoration of the individual, but there are examples of former prosperity preachers who have seen some of these gross errors and have returned to a balanced presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What constitutes a false prophet? While there are many characteristics that we can mention, I would like to deal with one specific area relevant to our study. That area is motivation. In 2 Peter chapter 2, the apostle deals with covetousness as a motive for teaching heresy [2 PETER 2:1-3]. He states that Balaam was a false prophet who ‘loved the wages of unrighteousness’ [2 PETER 2:14-16]. Although balaam’s gift was legitimate, it was his motivation [the love of money] that caused him to use his gift in a wrong way. So you can have a true prophetic gift, and yet be a false prophet because of a covetous motivation [JUDE 11]. The early church even went so far as to brand someone a false prophet if they hung around more than a few days and charged for their ministry! [Read the Didache].
As mentioned earlier, Paul and Peter warned against being in ministry for financial gain [1 TIM.6, 2 PETER 5:2, TITUS 1:11]. Jesus himself laid down a strong warning against the hireling mentality [JOHN 10:12-13].
It is clear from these warnings [and the many others in the N.T.], that the early Christians were very aware of the dangers of the love of money. I have heard it taught that this ‘fear ‘ or ‘scared’ attitude towards money is just a ‘religious mindset’ that has no foundation in the word of God. This just isn’t true! The bible contains many warnings against materialistic living and covetousness that were the foundation of the ‘healthy fear’ that the early church had towards money.
Now the scripture teaches that there will be a time when certain teachers [false prophets] who are motivated by money, will teach false doctrines [Jesus and the disciples being rich, etc.] and that these teachers would connect faith and money [gain and godliness], as going hand in hand. Now if the current abuses of the prosperity movement do not fall into this category, then who does? We just can’t deny all the evidence pointing to this movement as one of the fulfillments of the ‘false prophets’ who teach that gain is godliness! We as a church must see this before there can be any true restoration of those involved, or more importantly a preventing of this false gospel from being taught to a whole new generation of believers!
The scripture says to rebuke false prophets sharply so THEY MAY BE SOUND IN THE FAITH [TITUS 1:13]. Even the false shepherds of Ezekiels day were promised restoration and usefulness in their latter years [EZEKIEL 44:10-14].
If we begin to renounce our errors and return to the Lord [repentance], there will be true renewal in the church. Jesus warned the church to repent because she had within her those that held to the ‘doctrine of balsam’ [REV. 2:14-16]. It is possible for those who have taught these errors to repent and be restored to a pure gospel of Christ.
Jesus dealt with the ‘money changers’ of his day just prior to the establishing of Gods kingdom. MARK 11:15-17 AND THEY COME TO JERUSALEM: AND JESUS WENT INTO THE TEMPLE, AND BEGAN TO CAST OUT THEM THAT SOLD AND BOUGHT IN THE TEMPLE, AND OVERTHREW THE TABLES OF THE MONEYCHANGERS, AND THE SEATS OF THEM THAT SOLD DOVES; AND WOULD NOT SUFFER THAT ANY MAN SHOULD CARRY ANY VESSEL THROUGH THE TEMPLE. AND HE TAUGHT, SAYING UNTO THEM, IS IT NOT WRITTEN, MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED OF ALL NATIONS THE HOUSE OF PRAYER? BUT YE HAVE MADE IT A DEN OF THIEVES. The moneychangers served as a sort of currency exchange for anyone wanting to bring any offerings or do any legitimate worship at Jerusalem, but needed to exchange their type of currency for the official currency that was accepted at Jerusalem. I find this interesting, because the function of the moneychangers themselves was a legitimate business function. But their business itself brought a type of merchandising to the temple that Jesus himself found highly offensive. I find a present day application to the moneychanger mentality in the modern prosperity movement. The movement teaches Christians to focus their attention on the return they will get on their investment into the kingdom. It causes Christians to give their offerings with the expectation of some type of return on their money. While this in itself is not wrong, for we know that God does reward his children [HEB. 11:6], the tendency of the prosperity message actually appeals to the covetous nature of people in order to make disciples of Christ! Jesus told people to forsake all to follow him, while the movement tells people if you follow him he will make you rich! I have heard it taught that as you sow your seed [money] into the offering basket that you need to ‘picture’ your harvest of what you are believing for in your mind [whether healing, a new car or house, the salvation of a loved one, etc.] and then your seed [money] will produce your harvest! The very idea of exchanging your money [or changing it!] into the visualized harvest of your own expectation is just as off base as the money mentality of the first century moneychangers. This is the only recorded incident in the N.T. where Jesus was visibly angry.
REVELATION 4:14-22 ‘AND UNTO THE ANGEL OF THE CHURCH OF THE LAODICEANS WRITE; THESE THINGS SAYETH THE AMEN, THE FAITHFULL AND TRUE WITNESS, THE BEGINNING OF THE CREATION OF GOD; I KNOW THY WORKS, THAT THOU ART NEITHER COLD NOR HOT. SO THEN BECAUSE THOU ART LUKEWARM, AND NEITHER COLD NOR HOT, I WILL SPUE THEE OUT OF MY MOUTH. BECAUSE THOU SAYEST, I AM RICH AND INCREASED WITH GOODS, AND HAVE NEED OF NOTHING; AND KNOWEST NOT THAT THOU ART WRETCHED, AND MISERABLE, AND POOR, AND BLIND, AND NAKED: I COUNSEL THEE TO BUY OF ME GOLD TRIED IN THE FIRE, THAT THOU MAYEST BE RICH; AND WHITE RAIMENT, THAT THOU MAYEST BE CLOTHED, AND THAT THE SHAME OF THY NAKEDNESS DO NOT APPEAR; AND ANOINT THY EYES WITH EYESALVE, THAT THOU MAYEST SEE. AS MANY AS I LOVE, I REBUKE AND CHASTEN: BE ZEALOUS THEREFORE, AND REPENT. BEHOLD, I STAND AT THE DOOR, AND KNOCK: IF ANY MAN HEAR MY VOICE, AND OPEN THE DOOR, I WILL COME INTO HIM, AND WILL SUP WITH HIM, AND HE WITH ME. TO HIM THAT OVERCOMETH WILL I GRANT TO SIT WITH ME IN MY THRONE, EVEN AS I ALSO OVERCAME, AND AM SET DOWN WITH MY FATHER IN HIS THRONE. HE THAT HATH AN EAR, LET HIM HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT SAITH UNTO THE CHURCHES.
[BOOK] ‘THE GREAT BUILDING OF GOD’ a prophetic look at the Church and her ministries today.
COPYRIGHT 2004 JOHN CHIARELLO
Chapter 1 the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.
Chapter 2 forbid them not, if they are not against us, they are for us.
Chapter 3 the building and its stones.
Chapter 4 the church Jesus built.
Chapter 5 bring all the tithes into the storehouse.
Chapter 6 the garden of God, authority in the church.
Chapter 7 the Babylonian captivity of the church, a contemporary look.
Chapter 8 the 1’st century church.
Chapter 9 the plural voice of ecclesia.
Chapter 10 trying to fit the building of God into the building of man.
Chapter 11 the tabernacle of Moses/David.
Feel free to copy this book in part or whole for free distribution, as long as you don’t sell it for profit!
Greetings in Jesus name. This second book is in some ways ‘part 2’ of ‘HOUSE OF PRAYER OR DEN OF THIEVES’, our first book. In our first book we dealt with the last part of this verse ‘DEN OF THIEVES’, in this book we will deal with the phrase ‘HOUSE OF PRAYER’. What is Gods house? The N.T. teaches us that Gods house, or habitation, is the church of God [the dwelling place of God, where God resides]. The church is the Ecclesia of God. This term not only speaks of a community of people, but also a called out assembly. The church therefore as defined in the N.T. are all of Gods people in any given community [city, region, country, etc.] at any specific time in history in any given location in the earth. This community of people is what Jesus referred to when he said ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against her’.
The church began as a community of people free-flowing as the Spirit led them with elders and leaders springing up in a natural atmosphere of community and family. She lost her family mentality and power when she became heavily institutionalized during the first 3 centuries of her existence. She then plunged into a state of lethargy of which church historians refer to as ‘the dark ages’. Over the past 2 thousand years God has been reforming and restoring her back to the original form of a free-flowing family of people once again. This restoration includes the restoring of apostles/prophets, which is a subject heavily written about and discussed over the last few years.
We will look at how the original apostles/prophets functioned as gifted ones in the midst of Gods prophetic community, as opposed to heavily handed authoritarian figures in the church! If we don’t see the church through a correct lens, then we will also misunderstand her gifted ones. If you try to place checker pieces on a monopoly board you will get a distorted and perverted game. You might be able to play something on this board, but it would not be the right game! So likewise when we try to place Gods unique gifted ones [the chess pieces] into a setting that isn’t the original design, you not only distort the game, but actually do more harm to it! So we will look at the proper roles and responsibilities that Gods gifted ones play in the community of God [I want to stress that all Gods people are gifted and the mindset that looks to the 5-fold and tries to place them as ‘pulpit’ ministers does more harm than good!].
As we examine and look at what the church is we will be tearing down mindsets in the church that have existed for more than 1700 years. This type of truth telling will obviously challenge many modern churches and concepts of ministry. Our purpose IS NOT TO COME AGAINST ANY PARICULAR CHURCH OR MINISTRY, but to pull down false opinions [mindsets], and to build what is true. This is what the apostle Paul spoke about when dealing with ‘spiritual warfare’, He was not talking about casting down territorial spirits from the sky, but about casting down false opinions and mindsets that come against the knowledge of God [Corinthians].
Lets therefore begin this study with an open heart and mind to what the ‘SPIRIT SAITH TO THE CHURCHES’.
CHAPTER 1; THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST HER.
The best way to understand and study any subject is to understand as best as possible the original intent and environment of its creator/founder when he first created it. This is why you will find political leaders and judges continually referring to past precedent and the original intent of the founding fathers when dealing with contemporary issues of govt. in the present day. This concept is biblical and helpful in trying to understand what the church is and how she functions. When Jesus told Peter ‘upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her’ he was responding to peters confession concerning Christ [Mat;16:18]. Much has been said about this verse and it has been used by both Catholics and Protestants to defend their mindset for what the church is.
The Catholic Church historically applies this verse to mean that Jesus was telling Peter that God would build his future church on the man Peter, that is on his apostolic office. This is also why you will find various people actually debate where Peters grave is located, as they believe if you could pinpoint the actual place where his bones remain that this would lend legitimacy to their institution. While this is obviously a silly way to literally interpret Jesus words, it is just as silly for Protestants to interpret the verse in rev. [Rev;21:14] to mean the actual physical city of God has the names of the apostles written in stone. Both of these ways of looking at church are simply a symptom that results from having a distorted view of ecclesia. When Jesus spoke these words to Peter, what did Jesus mean? Well if you look at Peter’s writings you will get insight into the way he understood it [1Peter;2:5].
He saw the church as a spiritual temple consisting of the community of believers that would exist in every generation for all time. His confession of Jesus as the Christ qualified him as a living stone from which Jesus would take and build with many other living stones to erect a spiritual temple for God to dwell in. As an apostle Peter also played a special role as a foundation layer in this spiritual building [Eph;2:20] apostles are foundation layers in this building, they carry a special gifting to ground and stabilize this building of God. They are not the foundation themselves, but simply relate to the chief cornerstone in such a way as to have special ability to present Christ and bring long-lasting stability to this structure. The foundation they lay is Christ himself. The building is erected not with brick and mortar, but with living stones. Brick and mortar symbolize the work of men’s hands, while stones symbolize a natural building material. This signifies that while apostles and prophets are builders, they are not creators of this supernatural structure.
Brick and mortar represent manmade institutions that men have built as opposed to Gods spiritual temple. In every generation these 2 structures co-exist and co-mingle at various times. There were even seasons where mans structure turned against and killed the living stones which helped build her. Some have attempted to write about this before [Augustine’s city of God and many other writers through the ages] though some of these books are insightful, many of them co-mingled the building of God and the building of man and actually came against Gods building without even knowing it. But thank God that the prophecy of Jesus has come true and the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against her!
Paul wrote the church at Corinth and rebuked them for not rightly discerning the lord’s body, he told them that because of this many were sick and some even died. What were the Corinthians doing that caused this? How were they not rightly discerning Christ’s body? They were coming together [ecclesia/called out assembly of people] for the Lord’s Table and some were getting drunk while others were being gluttons. They were disrespecting their brothers and sisters in the assembly and being selfish. They were sinning against one another as co-equal members in the body of Christ. There is a present day application to this when we question the legitimacy of our fellow brethren because they do not fit into the institutional church of our day. As I have taught on our radio show over the years that there have always been a remnant of believers in each generation that carried the witness of Christ who were not part of the institutional church. Often times the man made structure persecuted unto death those brethren who would not come under her authority. This was not only seen in the catholic system, but in the protestant one as well. No denomination had a corner on this market!
This in no way means that our catholic and protestant brothers are not Christians, nor am I advocating the destruction of any Christian denomination. But rather trying to present a true picture of what the church is for the benefit of the church at large. I am such a strong believer in the prophecy of Jesus [Mat;16:18] that I see the organic body of Christ overcoming in each of these generations and mightily prevailing to this very day! The body of Christ is so prevalent in the earth today that she finds herself being represented in all of these various denominations. No denomination contains all the church, nor are any void of true Christians either. Our seeing the church as a spiritual temple built together as a habitation of God transcends all human institutions without singularly targeting any one of them as the only ‘building of man’, because in a sense they all have a degree of brick and mortar in their structures [organizations]. Our purpose is not to tell believers to leave their churches and forsake meeting on Sundays, but rather to free them from a limited mindset of church and ministry and call them into seeing themselves as members of the church that Jesus spoke of when he told Peter the gates of hell will not prevail against her!
CHAPTER 2; FORBID THEM NOT, IF THEY ARE NOT AGAINST US THEY ARE FOR US [Mark 9:40].
I remember how in the early days of our ministry I enjoyed going to the local jails and preaching to the inmates, I also enjoyed the hands on aspect of getting together with the brothers and spending quality time with them when they were released from jail or prison. While at the same time working as a full time firefighter and pastoring our local church, which consisted mainly of the families of the guys who were in prison, the give and take between the brothers who were recently saved and the functions of ‘pastoral’ ministry meshed well together.
During this season of our ministry I would speak with other people who believed that I was wasting time by simply spending time with the brothers who were ex-cons. This same mentality was later expressed when I moved to Corpus Christi and started an outreach to the homeless guys. I would either speak or teach through radio or in person and those who were blessed through some teaching would later express a concern that somehow I was wasting time with the homeless people while instead I could be ‘honing’ my giftings for ‘true’ professional ministry. While I understood the brothers who expressed these types of feelings were viewing ‘ministry’ as being a non-profit corporate entity with a donor base and mailing list, which would build a financial support base which then could launch my speaking/pulpit ministry, I understood that true ministry takes place in a community atmosphere, without the prestige of professional ‘pastor’ or full time minister to interfere with true community friendships.
This brief example shows how viewing the building of God [the church], as opposed to the building of man [the manmade system of ministry] can deeply affect the way we function and see our roles in the kingdom of God. The pressure we put on young ministers to fit some type of expectation of what we see as ‘fulltime ministry’ versus what the N.T. actually teaches often derails Gods true desire for his people. The example above shows us how the building of man not only hinders true kingdom relationships, but actually fights against them by accusing the brothers of being illegitimate if they are actually spending their time with people, which after all is what building the church is all about!
The language used in the N.T. to describe Gods house is referring to the community of God in a symbolic way. While most believers understand that the buildings we meet in are not the church, they often overlook this aspect of it. We in the church often try to devalue others who are doing kingdom work by questioning their legitimacy. How often have you heard a para-church ministry [a misnomer] challenged on the grounds that it is not a local church, or its ministers are not under authority. If what there doing is a divinely inspired work of God [that is Gods in it] then who are we to say its not ‘church’. Often times we don’t realize that when we make judgments like this we are not rightly discerning the lord’s body!
The church isn’t the place where we meet on Sunday, most of us agree, but it also isn’t limited to the organized group to which you personally affiliate with. In each city she consists of all believers in your city! Some of these believers gather during the week with no Sunday service, others associate mainly with the people they are ministering to, still others have an apostolic call to work in an itinerant way. All of these various expressions are part of the church, even the ones who ‘belong’ to no outward organization at all! If they are truly believers they are part of the church! No such thing as para-church. It’s either of God or not! Now comes the tricky part, when theologians study the nature of the church and what she is, they often have some truth but sometimes use it to narrowly define and limit the true church [once again the building of God versus the building of man].
The term for church in the N.T. is ecclesia; this term has various applications in different settings. In N.T. times it could actually refer to what we would call today a city council or commission meeting. This term itself was not a spiritual word during the first century, but simply a practical term used to describe Gods called out assembly. While some theologians focus on the local aspect of this term [local church], others focus on the universal aspect [worldwide church]. Both are true. Where we often confuse the building of God with the building of man is in our application of this word. Because the word ecclesia means called out ones we often condemn those believers in our area who don’t ‘go to church on Sunday’ or ‘join the church’. While it is true that in the book of acts the believers were recognizable, and belonged to a called out assembly, this in no way resembles our 21st century American spin that we put on it. We condemn Christians who often times are right in the heart of Gods will [so called para church ministries or extra local ministries] all under the guise of ‘church’. Remember if any believer in your region is doing Gods will he is doing church! Simple isn’t it. He should and will associate with fellow believers as God wills, but we should not try to make everyone fit into our limited view of ‘legitimate’ ministry.
CHAPTER 3; THE BUILDING AND ITS STONES.
What I am attempting to say and show in this book is a different paradigm [that is the way we see things] concerning the church and the people who make up the church. The scripture says that without a vision the people perish [Prvb;29:18]. This does not only speak of vision in a motivational sense, but also in a prophetic sense. By this I mean a new way of seeing things. Prophetic vision is not only a gift that sees future events, but it also grasps the character of Jesus and reveals who he is [Rev;19:10]. As we look at the church through prophetic eyes we behold the nature of Christ in his body. We see Christ through our brothers and sisters. Because of this reality, when we do harm or mistreat our brothers we are disrespecting Christ. This applies to the way we ‘do’ church as well. When we limit ‘church’ to the 21st century American model of ministry we wrongly discern Christ’s body. When we label other believers as illegitimate because they do not fit the mold that we feel to be ‘true’ local church, we disrespect the body of Christ and its diversity [1Cor;12].
The N.T. church consists of all the believers in your city [or region, state, country, etc.] that are called out of the world and to God and each other [ecclesia]. This ecclesia may not meet in your church building or any church building, she might have no ‘pastor’ over her [in the modern sense], she might have no earthly organization at all, but this still does not make her illegitimate! We must see this bride through a prophetic lens if we are to rightly discern her. We must be careful that we do not classify her as illegitimate simply because she does not fit into our limited perspective of who she is and what we think she should look like. For when we do judge her through natural eyes we often come against her unwittingly and are lending ourselves as stones in the building of man who always comes against the building of God!
The spiritual stones that make up this temple are very diverse and special to the Father. The apostles and prophets relate to this temple in a special way as they lay the foundations upon which she is erected. These 2 gifted ones are NOT priests or kings in this temple, nor does the temple exist for their financial well-being or for a platform from which they can find success and fame in ministry. Oh no, this temple is very special to them and these are willing to lay down their lives [and have at certain times!] in order to see her built. The pastors, evangelists and teachers also play a vital role in her construction, in that after the foundations are laid they Labor to build her up in such a way so when she is fully established she will no longer be blown about by every wind and doctrine, but will stand strong during times of shaking and storm.
These 3 stones [evangelist, pastor, teacher] also labor in its construction unselfishly as co-equals in the temple. No one of them is more important than the other, and at times you will even find the same stone placed in a different wall of the building to fit interchangeably with each other. These stones do not see themselves as priests in this structure, for all are priests and can function in this temple equally. These stones are simply co-equals with all the other stones, but they bare a special burden and gifting from God to make sure the temple is constructed properly so its king can enter into to her and rule from her throne! Then when this beautiful building of God is fully developed with her king reigning and ruling from her throne all men will come and do homage at the feet of him who sits on her throne!
CHAPTER 4; THE CHURCH JESUS BUILT.
What pattern of church did Jesus leaves us? Did he leave us one at all? It would seem that a leader who told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven would at least lay down a rough blueprint on what to do in order to establish some type of structure for those who would later believe. Many books have been written on this subject and many learned theologians have spoken on this. W hat I will attempt to do in this chapter is simply look at what Jesus did and how the early apostles patterned church planting after his example. Remember the church is not an institution or organization in terms of our present mindset, but rather a community of free flowing believers. A family in spiritual terms. She has spiritual children and spiritual parents [we must be careful here because some have used this to lord it over the flock in a wrong way] who flow together as one entity with various gifts and abilities. The elders [more mature ones] in this spiritual community are not paid [salaried] priests who the children hire to perform ritualistic functions on their behalf [weddings, funerals, etc.], but rather mature believers who give guidance and direction to the flock in a voluntary loving atmosphere [1Peter 5:2].
As these communities of people have been a reality in every generation since Jesus left us, this body has often taken different forms and expressions as society interacted with her. Some of these forms have severely hindered her witness in the earth while others have sidetracked the main purpose of her existence from the beginning. Though these different expressions of church are not the ideal, we should not label them [that is those believers in them] as illegitimate or lost, but rather strive together for the unity of the faith found in Christ. The many groups who operate outside these organized structures often later fall prey to the frailty of man and create their own structures, not realizing that this is no different than the church systems they often criticize. Some refer to these movements as apostolic or post denominational churches. Others feel that the post-denominational churches are simply denominations at an early stage of development and therefore are post nothing! All of these brothers have taken hold of truth and I hold to the position that they are all fellow Christians, but this shouldn’t stop us from continuing to strive for the ideal while maintaining fellowship with all those involved.
Now what church pattern did Jesus leave us? Did he leave us any at all? If you simply read the 3 years of Jesus earthly ministry along with the book of acts you will catch glimpses of it. It exists in simple form beneath all the other activities going on around it. It is simply a pattern of people coming to the reality of the gospel and living out their lives in Christian community with each other. They gather around the great reality of the resurrection of their leader and joyfully witness for him through the way they live and speak. In this community of people [ecclesia, church, body, temple, etc.] there reside believers with various roles and responsibilities. Some are apostles; others are prophetic in their gifting, while others have gifts of giving, charity and a whole variety of different gifts. In this community there are no paid pastors/priests, though provisions are made for those that labor in the word [acts]. There is no concept of professional ministry at all. To the contrary those with apostolic gifts find themselves working regular jobs as they travel around speaking about Jesus.
When they do collect money it is for the purpose of sharing it with their brothers and sisters who are in need [Acts 6:1, 1Cor;16:1,2Cor;9:1]. They viewed themselves as the followers of Jesus in a simple way. The church at Jerusalem had structure, but that was primarily because they were still meeting at the temple and the leadership structure of worship and service was not totally abandoned after the Jews became believers. The gentile church in Antioch [acts 13] did not have a hierarchal system at all. There were apostles and prophets, but they were simply gifted ones in a voluntary society of believers. We must not read the N.T. through the paradigm of 21st century glasses. When they speak of ‘church’ and apostle and pastor [a term only found once in the N.T.] they are not speaking of them in terms that we see them today. But simply gifted people in a community of people of whom all are priests and kings. There is no laity versus clergy mentality! That didn’t exist! Jesus spent 3 years with his disciples and then left. Why couldn’t it have been 5 years or 7? While there is no magical number to it, he did say it was expedient for him to deposit truth into them and leave [John 16:7] The concept is if he leaves them, they by necessity will grow and mature!
This pattern is later seen with Paul in acts, he goes to areas and preaches the gospel of grace and then leaves! Sometimes he stays for a short time, and other times a few years. But he never stays for good! He doesn’t set up paid pastors over these communities, though he does tell his disciples [Timothy and Titus] to recognize elders in these communities [that’s what ordination is]. These communities of believers continue in the doctrines of the apostles and are left alone to grow up. None of these churches [communities] had leaders who functioned as pastors in the modern sense. It’s amazing how we can read the bible over and over again and never see this. There are verses speaking of leaders and elders in the N.T., but we often translate that to fit into our present mindset of ministry. Remember the example of Christ, the church he built [with the disciples for 3 years] was a community of people who lived, ate and experienced life together over a period of time and then sent into the great commission. This simple pattern is what Paul and others followed in order to spread Gods kingdom in the earth. The great building of God!
CHAPTER 5; BRING ALL THE TITHES INTO THE STOREHOUSE.
Over the years through various avenues of teaching ministry I have dealt with the area of giving. I have learned that the way we see ‘church’ affects how we see everything else, especially in the area of giving! While a new believer in Christ I soon was introduced to the concept of tithing to the storehouse on Sunday. The people who believe this are not bad people, but rather dedicated Christians who believe in honoring God with the firstfruits of all their increase. While practicing giving as a new believer I had no problem with giving 10% of my income to the Lord. Till this very day we give large amounts of money to the kingdom of God and I personally believe all the verses in the bible dealing with giving and receiving. I just believe that the New Testament storehouse/temple are the people of God [once again you see how we view ‘church’ affects everything we do!] and giving into the storehouse is actually giving to meet the needs of the Christian community all around you.
So true New Testament giving would consist of giving cheerfully to meet the needs of people around you as opposed to only putting money in ‘church’ on Sunday. All the verses that we use to justify putting money into the Sunday basket are truly speaking of meeting the needs of believers. Go check it out if you don’t believe me. The times when Paul talks about giving in 1st and 2nd Corinthians he is taking up a collection for the poor saints [Gods storehouse] in Jerusalem. The verses when he speaks on giving are not speaking about him receiving a tithe to finance his salary, but giving to meet the needs of people. When he speaks about giving to support those who labor in the word, once again this is meeting the basic needs of the leaders, and not speaking about a tithe system to support pastors [like a New Testament Levite, this concept is foreign to the New Testament].
Even when Paul speaks about giving to support elders in your community he speaks about not muzzling the ox that’s treading out the corn [1Cor;9:9]. Why not use a verse referring to the Levitical tithe? Because that would be the last verse you would use to convince a gentile church to give, while at the same time teaching them they were not under Jewish law and coming against the judiazers who were always trying to bring Paul’s churches back under Jewish law! Even the silly justification we use to teach tithing [like if its in Hebrews its New Testament] actually teaches the opposite.
The fact that tithing is mentioned in Hebrews in no way means we should tithe! Hebrews is simply showing the superiority of the new covenant over the old and this reference [Hebrews 7] is not speaking about New Testament giving at all, but about the new covenant being better than the old. When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of his day because they were giving to the temple and neglecting the needs of their fathers and mothers, he was giving us a prophetic sign that we should give with the focus on community rather than temple [Mark 7:11]. All the New Testament references dealing with giving as New Testament gentile believers speak about giving freely to meet the basic needs of the Christian community around them, even when dealing with support for the spiritual leaders among them.
The concept of tithing on Sunday to your church organization [American corporate entity] as telling people if they don’t they will be under a curse is ridiculous! Where free from the law and that’s It. Oh but some will say the tithe was before the law, which is true. The Sabbath was before the tithe and the law [God instituted the concept of the Sabbath in the first 7 days of creation], but yet we know that the New Testament gentile believers are not under the Sabbath [Col;2:16], but yet we use this argument to justify the tithe. LET ME MAKE MYSELF CLEAR, I AM NOT AGAINST CHRISTIANS PUTTING IN MONEY TO THE OFFERING ON SUNDAY, I am not even against supporting those who labor in the word among you. But I am against telling people if they don’t put 10% of their money in the offering plate on Sunday that they are under a curse!
The New Testament clearly teaches the concept of giving of your finances to advance the work of God. The New Testament also teaches giving to meet the needs of people. In all of these cases it is always taught in a way that is voluntary and without compulsion. I don’t have the time to reference all the various verses dealing with these issues, but invite you to either order our cassette teaching catalog, or if you live in the Corpus Christi area to listen to our radio program [currently on K.C.T.A. radio, AM 1030 every Sunday at 9:45 a.m.], either way you will find plenty of teaching on new testament giving that I’ve done in the past. I would encourage you to simply re-read all the verses you are familiar with on this subject and see how they always refer to meeting the needs of people [either poor saints or laboring elders] and never deal with actual building programs for ‘churches’. Don’t forget you will find Old Testament examples of giving for the construction of the temple, but like I said the New Testament temple today are the ecclesia! That’s why giving in the New Testament is always focused on meeting the needs of people.
I would also like to stress that no New Testament minister became rich off the ‘tithes’of the people, but rather trusted God to meet their needs. Either through the generosity of others or through manual labor [God forbid we teach this doctrine in 21st century Christendom!]. Today’s mentality of going into ‘ministry’ for the sake of becoming rich off the giving of people to your ministry is way off base of what the New Testament teaches. Young ministers going into ministry and telling people to sow into their ministry so they can reap a reward is a distorted use of the concept of sowing and reaping. Remember that even though Paul did use these concepts to appeal to Christians to give, and he also spoke about God blessing them in return, yet Paul himself was collecting money for poor Christians in these scenarios! He was actually supporting himself by manual labor at the time he penned these scriptures [tent making]. So for the modern day minister to go into ministry and use these verses to rake in a personal financial harvest is wrong! Get our first book [house of prayer or den of thieves] for a more in depth look at this subject.
When dealing with this issue in general there are lots of areas of manipulation that leaders use, often unconsciously, in order to get people to give into their visions for God. Many times the leaders are acting themselves out of a fear to compete and live up to the expectations of modern ministry. They are motivated out of a sincere, but misguided desire to fulfill Gods will and because of this they believe if people would be more faithful to God then surely the finances for their visions for God would come in. Thus the references to Achan [withholding that which is Gods] and other verses [Malachi] dealing with being cursed if you don’t give the required amount, actually become a means of unconscious manipulation in the hands of the leaders. When we do not rightly discern the Lords body [ecclesia] a whole host of wrong actions grow out of this. We bring guilt and oppression on Gods people that goes 100% against the spirit and intent of New Testament giving.
CHAPTER 6; THE GARDEN OF GOD, AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCH.
When God made man he put him in a garden atmosphere with the mandate to care for it. He put man over all of his creation and allowed him to rule it [steward it]. The only thing that God did not put under mans rule, was man himself! God instead put Adam as a husband, and later a father, in a family environment. Eve and the future children that they would have were not originally designed to be ruled by each other. The concept of submission and respect for authority were only to be seen in this type of family relationship. As the family of man would grow and eventually inhabit and have dominion over the earth [not each other!] they would then be fulfilling Gods desire for man, corporately, to rule together. Well as you know Adam blew it and basically everything got thrown out of whack, including the original design for man to rule together as Gods creation. This one area of perverting Gods original design is the root cause of all future problems including false authority and slavery. This one area of sin was the major issue of the most harmful war that America has ever fought, a war amongst ourselves [the civil war]! This false submission that Americans called slavery continues to exist in society in subtle, and at times not so subtle ways.
Even as I pen this chapter I am in San Antonio for a soccer tournament for one of my kids. We went out last night to a favorite buffet, while going up for my plate I was served by a young black man. It seemed as if he was in the minority of this mostly white business. Whether he has ever been mistreated or abused as an employee I don’t know. But I do know that when he served me my steak [I like to get my moneys worth at the buffets!] I simply said thank-you. You could tell how much he appreciated being recognized in a voluntary way like this. Every time I got up again to fill the plate [with fruits and salads of course] this young brother wanted to go out of his way to give me another steak! When people are not forced to serve, but feel appreciated for the service they do, they will serve and submit with joy most of the time. True servant leadership is what Jesus taught the future leaders of His church [John 13]. Jesus rebuked false authority when he said the Pharisees were blind leaders of the blind. He stated that they were leading all right, but it had nothing to do with kingdom leadership. True authority in Gods kingdom does not work like the worlds system. Jesus told us that his kingdom operated along different lines [Luke 22:26].
The garden of God was a natural environment that God placed man into in which man and God would commune together, man would love and honor God willfully while submitting to each other in love. The fall affected all of this and plunged man into a sinful state that would cause him to rule over other people instead of creation only. This tragic sequence of events has affected man since the beginning and still exists in man today. Through the great redemptive work of Christ it is being removed, but often at a slow pace. Man doesn’t see all the ways that false authority affects him, especially in the ‘church’ world. Because he yet doesn’t fully see how even our modern mindsets of leadership in the church are at times a product of this false authority, he therefore cannot repent of a sin that he feels is actually a service to God! When church leaders rule with the mindset that the people are simply tools who need to be motivated in order to fulfill the great vision of the leader, and when the people don’t respond properly that they are all rebels who if they were right with God would submit and help bring the vision to pass, this mindset is often a product of false authority.
There are times when leaders will inspire people to act and do great things for the kingdom, but it must be free from manipulation and hypocrisy. The Pharisees saw themselves as a ruling class in the religious community of their day. Jesus said they were hypocrites because they used guilt and manipulation to accomplish religious goals. They laid burdens on people instead of freeing them [an act of slavery]. True kingdom leadership is not the mindset or vocabulary of submission and authority. Though these concepts are taught in the New Testament they were intended to function in a family/garden environment. When we put them into the building of man they will have devastating results!
CHAPTER 7; THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY OF THE CHURCH, A CONTEMPORAY LOOK.
Historians have referred to the Babylonian captivity of the church in regards to the Roman catholic influence over the church in past centuries. John referred to Babylon in the book of revelation as a force that would come against the church and ultimately be judged by God himself because of her persecution of the church. While there are many ways you could apply the verses speaking about Babylon and how she is an enemy of the church, I would like to deal with one area relevant to ecclesia. When the children of Israel were captives in the land of Babylon they came up with the idea of starting synagogues as a way that they could encapsulate their culture and heritage in a ‘local place’ during their captivity so as to not forget their history with God. On the surface this would seem to be a noble goal, after all there intentions were well meaning. Well this ‘place’ that they set up later became a good way to administrate their duties as good Jews [Christians] and they eventually built their whole religious society around this well-meaning institution.
They set up their religious leaders [Pharisees] and began to use this well-meaning system to judge any one in their community according to the standards that surrounded this ‘place’ [sounds familiar doesn’t it]. They lost sight of Gods original purpose for them to be a kingdom of priests who would influence all society around them with the reality of Jehovah. They forgot their true calling as a holy nation and digressed into this small-minded society of religious people who were so hung up on the dotting of I’s and crossing of T’s that they didn’t even recognize their own messiah when he showed up in their midst! Well as you can see the culture of worship that they set up while captives in Babylon eventually became their plumb line that not only judged everyone else around them, but also was used to condemn the very messiah whom they were waiting for. Often times we establish systems of religion and worship that might have served a noble purpose in its beginning stages, but later it grows into a system that has a mind and voice of its own. This system [the building of man] can take on a life of its own and even get to a stage were it can persecute unto death the very one[s] that it was intended to benefit.
When we don’t see the true picture of what God originally intended [without a vision the people perish] we unconsciously persecute the very ones whom God sends to bring his original purpose to pass [Christ and those whom he sends]. When we view ‘church’ as only that which takes place in our buildings on Sunday [synagogue mentality] or even if we extend our view to that which is being accomplished through the society of people who we associate with in our group, this is still only a small limited view of what ‘church’ is. We often times cannot see that those who are part of the body of Christ in our communities are vital parts of ‘church’. Even those who have not technically ‘joined’ a church. Even when we use the term ‘joining’ church, we usually mean the group who meets on our block, or area of our city. While these groups of believers who meet in our cities on any given Sunday across this nation and the world are for the most part true Christians, this in no way is the only aspect of New Testament ecclesia. The gathering of believers is a scriptural element of New Testament Christianity to be sure, be we often perceive this to be the primary purpose of Christianity.
We have all heard of people being spoken of as in sin because they do not associate with any particular building in their city. We say that they don’t go to ‘church’. We don’t even realize what were saying when we judge people after the standard of our concepts of ‘church’. I believe it is o.k. for believers to meet on Sunday and worship and associate with other believers for a common cause [like sending missionaries to the world], but we must be willing to see the bigger picture and stop judging others according to a plumb line that at times is no different than the one the first century Pharisees used to condemn Christ!
CHAPTER 8; THE 1ST CENUTURY CHURCH.
When the ecclesia gathered in the 1st century, they did not have church buildings. They had no paid pastoral office. They did not take up offerings every time a minister was done speaking. They had no one individual who was considered the main leader of the congregation, who the people saw as their hired minister. There were no traveling evangelists or speakers who made a living by setting up a regular schedule of ‘churches’ in which he would hold meetings to finance his ‘full’ time ministry. There were certainly no big name teachers who would travel around to various cities and receive large 10,ooo dollar offerings from average Christians in order to finance their 200,ooo dollar and upward salaries, especially while appealing to poor saints and widows on a mass scale [through Christian TV.].
While all these practices [traveling, TV, meeting in buildings, etc.] are not in and of themselves bad, but if we use them to measure the faithfulness of other Christians [like always appealing for funds every time we meet or speak, and then insinuating that those who don’t give in this environment are backslidden or even lost!], then what we have done is elevated present day Christianity to a standard of how ‘faithful’ we are to tithe to a ‘church’ on Sunday and whether or not we give money to the speakers who visit our ‘churches’ on a rotating basis throughout the life of our ‘church’. Those who don’t operate in this limited perspective of ‘church’ are deemed in sin and rebellious, even the ones who are faithfully serving Christ in all other areas of life. I personally have given time, money and material goods on a regular basis to meet the real needs of people around me [like feeding homeless guys], I have given money into offerings on Sundays and have financed out of pocket our radio programs and book writing ministry. I have never received a salary from our ministry and don’t appeal for funds. I have supported myself as a fulltime firefighter for over 20 years, and have given many thousands of dollars into ministry.
My primary focus on giving has been patterned after Jesus teaching [give to him that asks of you, meet the needs of you brothers all around you mentality]. But my critics over the years have tried to look at a tithing statement from a ‘church’ to judge whether or not we give. I have even refused to deduct our giving from the income tax we pay [this is out of personal preference, its much easier for me to directly meet the needs of the people I work with, without having to justify and save receipts every time I take a homeless guy out to eat!]. Because of this people could read a ‘church’ record of our giving and judge us on a criterion that does not measure up to their understanding of giving. Remember Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for using their giving to a building [the temple] as an excuse to not meet the real needs of their family [the true temple made up of people].
I have found that those who give under law truly don’t take the words of Jesus concerning giving as serious as the words of Malachi. They feel if they don’t put 10% in the basket on Sunday they might be cursed, but whether or not they give to him that asks of them is sort of a little moral teaching from Jesus that we view with a take it or leave it mentality. The law always robs us of the true joy and intent of grace living. This very area [giving of money] is the area that Jesus was speaking about when he said ‘your traditions make void the commands of God’ [Mark 7:13]. Their dedicating of the tithe to the temple was a tradition that they used to by-pass true grace giving.
I understand that tithers will read these verses and say that Jesus never told them not to tithe, but that they should have done both [giving to their parents and tithe]. While this is true, you must recognize that Jesus also never told the 1st century Jew not to keep Sabbath, but we know now that Sabbath keeping is not for gentile Christians either . The mindset of Jesus was not to tell the 1st century Jewish community to stop all their religious traditions [tithing, Sabbath keeping, etc.], but to show them a better way through grace. Eventually the gentile church would grow into its own unique organism, not mimicking Jewish tradition [tithing, Sabbath, temple worship, etc.]. This was the tension you saw in the churches of Paul as opposed to the church at Jerusalem [acts 13,15]. The church at Jerusalem continued to meet at the temple and followed tithing and many other Jewish teachings [circumcision], while the gentile churches had none of this baggage at all [read acts 13 and 15].
The gentile churches established by Paul didn’t tithe, keep Sabbath or circumcise themselves. The church at Jerusalem did! We need to understand that the words of Jesus concerning Christian living have the highest priority for us today. While the whole bible is the inspired word of God, even the passages that speak about circumcision, Jewish dietary law, Sabbath keeping and tithing. Yet we don’t observe every ordinance we find spoken about. Just because you can find a subject spoken about in the law, before the law, and in the New Testament it doesn’t mean it applies to us today! The Sabbath was in the law, before the law, and in the New Testament as well. Yet Jesus never told the Jews of his day not to keep Sabbath, but we know that the Sabbath is not for us today.
The Sabbath even has more authority than the tithe because it is in the 10 commandments and is found in the 2nd chapter of genesis, long before the tithe and the law! But yet we know we are not under this law! So to be clear and consistent we must understand that it is o.k. to meet on Saturday or Sunday or any other day of the week. Its o.k. to give 10% on Sunday or any other day, but its also o.k. to meet on Tuesday and give 6 or 12 % of your money. Its o.k. to meet on no special day and to simply give as God leads and to commune with other believers from house to house on a weekly basis and never take an offering at all [you simply don’t find Jesus or Paul taking offerings every-time they preach!]. So while my purpose is not to condemn any one for their service to God, we certainly don’t want to condemn others because of what we judge to be their lack of obedience to ‘new testament Christianity’!
CHAPTER 9;THE PLURAL VOICE OF ECCLESIA.
The modern pattern of ‘American’ church not only silences the corporate voice of true ecclesia, but also gives a distorted platform/forum for individuals to have too much of a singular voice and influence in the local church. Because the church originally was to function in a community atmosphere, when she digressed into a ‘place’ where Christians meet on Sunday this silenced the corporate voice and exalted the individual voice. This is also why you see so many seminars and counseling courses on ‘pastor’ burnout. We are trying to fit pastors into a role of ‘C.E.O’ which was never intended from the start. This is also why you have so much immature teaching in the church [the prosperity gospel and other distorted stuff!] because this false way of seeing church allows for one man to have way too much influence and voice that the Lord never intended any one person to have.
While I’m not against teachers having a lot of influence [look at Paul’s influence on us today], I am against the concept that anyone who feels called into ministry begins a lifelong pursuit to raise money from people every Sunday with the intent on creating a bigger voice with bigger influence no matter who he is. God simply hasn’t called ministers to function as C.E.O’s who are in this type of rat race to see who could become more famous than the next guy! This false way of seeing church also stifles the true corporate voice of the believers in the congregational setting [when they meet!]. The only N.T. book that actually deals with ‘church’ attendance is Corinthians. The book is written by Paul to all the believers corporately. You will notice that he never addressed his letters to the ‘pastors’ of these churches, because there were none according to our present understanding of the word ‘pastor’. If there were such an office in the N.T. churches, it would be unthinkable for Paul not to directly address and rebuke the ‘pastors’ for what they’re ‘allowing’ to happen in ‘their churches’.
The N.T. simply doesn’t have the role of ‘pastor’ as we’ve come to define it today! When Paul does address the churches he writes directly to the brothers in Christ. In Corinthians he rebukes them for having disorderly meetings and tells them that when they get together they should all take turns speaking, one by one in order. What! You mean he doesn’t tell them to be quiet and submit to their pastor! Paul you must be in rebellion! Who do you think you are? Writing the brothers in the first place, and then you tell them they can all speak and prophesy and have a collective voice! Poor Paul just didn’t understand church etiquette! As you can see when we don’t ‘see’ the church as a community of people we distort everything else that we call ‘church’ in today’s modern setting!
The pressures of modern day ‘pastors/CEO’s’ are absent from New Testament thought. Paul and other New Testament ministers were under pressure to be sure, but the types of pressure were of a different sort. Paul was under pressure over his concerns for the spiritual development of the communities [churches] he was planting. He did not know the pressures of big budgets and great physical building programs. Absent from Paul’s vocabulary were fears of not raising enough money to complete the buildings, or the brothers showing up on Saturday to paint the ‘church’ and things of this nature. Paul’s pressures and burdens consisted mainly over the spiritual character and well being of the communities he planted. Never do you find him collecting money for his big project for God, or using scriptures on sowing to raise funds for his own financial empire!
While I know this type of language is strong, yet I believe if I don’t use it you guys might not truly see the depth of our wrong understanding of what the church truly is! The language of ‘church’ today is so far removed from that of the 1st century ecclesia. Today we are ‘building-centric’ instead of ‘Christ-centric’. That which flows from our lips and hearts is centered around modern day professional ministry. We speak of raising huge amounts of money to fulfill our leaders God given dreams. It’s all about high powered egos competing with each other to prove who is the most gifted or most anointed among us. The same spirit of the disciples when they were fighting over who would be the greatest in Gods kingdom. Much of modern day church is simply a means by which men with great egos manipulate the saints into doing things that God never intended, and much of it is simply fueled by a competitive spirit that is no different than climbing up the ladder in the corporate world!
CHAPTER 10; TRYING TO FIT THE BUILDING OF GOD INTO THE BUILDING OF MAN.
I recently picked up a copy of a Christian magazine, while briefly looking through it to see if anything would catch my interest, I saw that they were dedicating an entire year to the subject of apostles/prophets and the 5-fold ministry today. They explained how they were going to devote an entire year to the subject because of the various questions arising out of this teaching. Some of the areas they would cover included things like ‘how the 5-fold operates in the congregational setting’ and ‘should every church have the 5- fold operating in it’ and ‘how do they fit into the Sunday church service’. The ‘5-fold’ were NEVER INTENDED TO FIT INTO THE BUILDING OF MAN! Trying to restore gifts into a limited setting only creates more problems than it solves. All Gods gifted ones were meant to function in the community of believers [ecclesia] and not in a limited Sunday morning setting. If you don’t ‘see’ church in the true sense you will not ‘see’ the 5-fold in a true functioning way. All of Gods people were created to flow in community, the 5-fold are simply gifted people in your city who have a calling to relate to your community in effective ways. They are not to compete with each other on Sunday morning to see if we can have all the 5-fold operating in our ‘churches’. Our ‘churches’ are communities of believers in our cities! Not the Sunday morning service!
I have read articles on churches who saw the truths of ‘city wide church’ and have attempted once again to fit the building of man into the building of God. While most of these efforts are well meaning, the perspective is still flawed. Many modern movements have ‘started churches’ in more than one location and refer to themselves as one church in 2 or 3 locations. While there’s nothing really bad about this, it in no way is what the N.T. speaks about when referring to the church in your city! The church in your city are all the believers who reside in your city. The 5-fold operating in the ‘church’ are simply all the 5-fold carrying out fathers plan for the kingdom in your city. Trying to see the 5-fold restored or the ‘city church’ through the lens of the building of man only does more harm than good!
CHAPTER 11; THE TABERNACLE OF MOSES/DAVID.
One of the most interesting studies I have ever done was on the tabernacle of David. When I first heard of ‘the tabernacle of David’ I thought it was referring to Moses tabernacle. I never knew that there were 2 tabernacles, and that both existed at the same time! What a contrast between law and grace contained right in the O.T. and we look right past it and don’t ‘see’ the significance of the pattern! I am not going to give you all the references to where these tabernacles are mentioned in scripture, because it would take too much time to look them up right now, and being I don’t make a profit personally from our ministry [NO SALARIES FOR ME BROTHER!] I’ll have you guys look the verses up for yourselves. It will take an in depth study to ‘see’ everything I am about to show you.
During Moses time as a leader of Gods people, God instituted the tabernacle system [the tabernacle of Moses]. This system of worship and service was simply a way to show a type of Christ’s future ministry and sacrifice on our behalf. The high priest and sacrificial system surrounding this tabernacle showed how hard it was for sinful man to approach a holy God without atonement and a priest to serve as a ‘stand in’ for man. Those of you who know the bible are familiar with this. The 2 tablets of the 10 commandments were contained in the ark [box] in the back room of this 2-room movable tent structure. The reason the tabernacle was moveable as a tent that would be set up and taken down as God led, was for a type of Gods progressive revelation for the ages to come. God was showing whenever the cloud by day or fire by night would move so like wise the people of God [a fluent group of followers as opposed to a stagnant place/ ecclesia verses temple!] would be able to move and follow the Spirits direction. The reason God wanted a MOBILE STRUCTURE AS OPPOSED TO A TEMPLE WAS TO SHOW THE ORGANIC NATURE OF ECCLESIA AS OPPOSED TO A STAGNANT TEMPLE CONCEPT!
Well later on in Jewish history the people blew it over and over again [a type of the laws inability to change mans nature] and eventually the ark of the covenant [the box with the 10 commandments in it] was taken captive by Israel’s enemy and what you had left was an empty tent, with structure and priest [pastor] and all the ritual of ministry without God! The ark also represented Gods presence because the law is simply a little glimpse of Gods character enclosed in an earthly vessel [which is a type of the incarnation of Jesus too!]. Well as you can imagine the system of ‘church’ continued to go on without a hitch. The fact that God left their tent a long time ago didn’t stop these ministry focused Jews one bit! They kept going strong for God even though He wasn’t in their tent [church] anymore. They had too much riding on the tent system of church in order to shut things down and seek God! After all the Levitical priests would loose their salaries and the tithers would have no were to put their tithes on Sabbath day!
Well as Israel managed to keep the tent system alive [absent God] The Lord would eventually raise up a new king after Gods own heart whose name was David. This king was different than all the others. He would be a type of Christ for all future generations. This king rose to power and wanted to know why the people were so willing to carry on church [tent] without that ark! After all God was in that thing [or so they thought]. Well king David would have none of this and quickly devises a scheme to return the ark back to Gods people. In his zeal he goes after the ark to recapture it again, and well you know the story, the poor brother who was picked to go on this ministry assignment accidentally touches the ark when it is about to fall and the brother is slightly rebuked by the Lord [he gets killed!]. Well much to David’s dismay the ark gets sidetracked at some brothers house for a while, and low and behold the brother whose house the ark is at is so blessed that all his neighbors think he hit the Texas lotto [its all right to joke a little, after all 99% of Christendom is still stuck with the tent and no ark and yet God hasn’t killed us yet].
So after David sees this he goes back to the scripture and realizes that God only killed poor brother so and so because he didn’t follow the right tent carrying procedure that is supposed to be used when retrieving a captive ark from hostile territory [wow, who would have known that there was a manual on that one!]. So David calls the ministry team together again and explains to them that the reason old brother so and so died was because he messed up on some little technicality and David’s willing to give it another try! Well as you can imagine the brothers weren’t fighting over this ministry opportunity. Hey send me to the nursing home or something. Well lo and behold they get a team together and go get that ark and no one gets slain in the Spirit.
David now builds a brand new tent to put this ark in. I never saw this before. This tent [Davids tabernacle] is set up by David and is a complete violation of the entire system regulating tent-etiquette! You would think they would have learned not to stray from that rule anymore! But bless God this new tent system is greater than the old mosaic one by 1000 %! David sets up his worshippers and praisers who even start their own worship ministry, writing famous music and all [where did you think psalms came from!]. This tent [church] is way better than old Moses tent [church]. All the people in town cant wait to go to David’s tent, and he even picks up some members from Moses tent and as you can imagine there is a little tension between David’s ministry and the tent Moses started way before this David ever came on the seen [who does David think he is starting this new tent in town, doesn’t he know that the Moses tent people were here long before him!].
Well David goes ahead anyway and has the most successful tent ministry in the region. He has the coveted ark, no formal worship service, just free flowing access to the ark! No 2-room system anymore brother, and the praise and worship service, well you cant beat it with a stick [or should we be scriptural and say rod]. Well this new tent is so daring that David even thinks he’s a priest. He has the nerve to put on an ephod! This is something only priests can do! [That’s if your under law, but in this new tent all are priests, and after all David is a type of Jesus and if I remember I think he has something to do with being a priest and king, doesn’t He?]. Well this new tent is so good people started calling it a mega-tent. It’s definitely the tent to be at. If they had Christian TV back then you would be able to pick this tent service up 7 days a week. Things are going so good David’s not about to change things now. WRONG! David is so excited about the great success he’s finding in ministry that he comes up with this great idea. Lets build a temple for God. Surely God would like this permanent structure, after all I’m doing it to glorify Him. Well just to be sure let me call old brother Nathan [he has a great prophetic ministry you know! Very accurate]. Well old Nathan finds time in his very active ministry schedule to meet with David. David floats his plan, and lo and behold Nathan prophesies some great sounding words and the deal is done! Surely a prophet as accurate as Nathan cant go wrong?
Well Nathan goes back to his international ministry headquarters and God tells him he was wrong! What, I’m a national level prophet! I can’t go back on what I said, it will ruin my ministry! Old David already went and told everyone about my great sounding prophetic word and this will utterly ruin my income! I must prosper so I can finance my prophetic ministry or else I wont be able to keep up with the big boys! Nevertheless Nathan does God this one favor and tells David he was wrong. The Lord actually tells David that He never wanted a temple in the first place! Could it be that the tent David was ruling over was a better picture of the NEW TESTAMENT community of believers who were yet to come [I think so!]. Could it be that David’s rule as a king and priest over Gods prophetic community would have been fulfilled better if they stuck with the moveable [organic] tent system than a permanent building? Well the rest is history. Let me get a little serious here. I am not saying your church building is wrong. I am saying God is more concerned with the organic nature and growth of ecclesia than he is with your church building program!
The church continually is in a state of reform and restoration until we all come into the unity of the faith and maturity in Christ. During each generation of church history God had people and groups of believers who were flowing in greater truth than those around them. This is not to say they were a special or elite class, but simply a remnant who were moving ahead of the status quoi! God will only allow the church to recover so much truth and experience as much change as she can handle in any one generation. This principle is found in the story of the children of Israel only being able to take so much land at a time as they were entering their inheritance [Deut;7:22]. God told them if they took too much at one time the wild animals would overtake the land faster than the children of Israel could settle in it.
So likewise the Lord allows certain amounts of truth and restoration to take hold in each generation of church history. The reformation of the 15th/16th century restored the lost truth of justification, but Luther didn’t deal with the truth of ecclesia being a community as opposed to a place of meeting. The Lord allowed Luther to go so far and then stop. You can see this pattern in all areas of Gods restoration of truth in every generation of believers. The Protestants moved into truth concerning justification by faith, but they simply replaced the concept of the catholic priest with the role of pastor. They never dealt with the ‘way’ we do church, but only with certain doctrines concerning church. The old tradition of a priest/pastor mentality never changed. This mentality is not found in the book of acts or the gospels, but was introduced sometime around the 4th century when the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. The well-meaning emperor wanted stability for his realm and slowly introduced the ‘church’ building concept with the role of the ‘priest/pastor’ as the person in charge who is ‘hired’ to perform certain functions for the people whom he works for. The pagan concept of funerals and weddings and so forth were now the responsibility of this new office instituted by Constantine.
This is not to say that weddings and funerals are wrong, the bible contains stories dealing with weddings and funerals, but to simply show how the church began to loose the community mentality and digressed into a professional clergy/laity mindset. Over the generations the Lord has been in the process of restoring us back to a family mentality as opposed to an institutional mindset. All the things I’ve dealt with in this book are open and free for anyone to see while reading through the New Testament, but we overlooked them because of the grid that we all view scripture through. We all approach scripture with certain preconceived mindsets that cause us to read the word in order to justify our own preconceived prejudices!
We have a tendency to read past the story and find the ‘jots and tittles’ of truth to fit into our mindsets of church and ministry. We unconsciously read verses on ‘how to behave ourselves in the house of God’ and apply that to how we act in the ‘church building’ on Sunday! We look right past the family mindset. We don’t realize it really means ‘how to behave ourselves in Gods family’. We see church as a place we go on Sunday and this mindset unconsciously interprets everything we read in scripture! We cant ‘see’ church as a family of people who live in our city. We see church as the ‘church’ we attend on Sunday. Then those around us who don’t fit into our mindset are looked upon as in rebellion. We see church as a place where our ‘pastor’ preaches to us every Sunday forever, world without end. We don’t realize what a co-dependency we developed in the church.
No New Testament minister was ever supposed to be the ‘life-long’ minister of a ‘congregation’. They were all to speak and share and love in an atmosphere of community. No paid ministers, no hired pastors, no church buildings, no co-dependant Christians who vote on who they will hire to perform religious functions on their behalf! Radical isn’t it! Can you handle truth! We often think we can until it challenges us to our core. There is always a cost involved in true reformation. To some you will have to go back to your bibles and do some real soul-searching, it will cost you prestige, a salary, respect amongst fellow clergy and many other unforeseen ‘costs’ involved with going on with new truth. To others you are now released into the reality of being and doing all that father has called you to.
The apostles and prophets can go and function in their callings today! Go and be witnesses, if father has called you your free to do his will! To the evangelists, pastors and teachers you are now released to bless and build the body around you. You mean John that we don’t have to raise a lot of money and rent a building and go to college and get ordained and marry and bury and visit the nursing home and everything else associated with professional ministry? You got it brother, that’s EXACTLY what I mean! You are all free to fulfill father’s call where you are at right now. Don’t live up to the expectations of men. Simply please father and find contentment in his will. You will know the truth and it will set you free! God bless you guys and may I meet you one day in the simple setting of ecclesia!
‘FURTHER TALKS ON CHURCH AND MINISTRY’
TABLE OF CONTENTS
HOLY SITES AND HOLY PLACES.
AUTHORITY IN THE KINGDOM, WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
KINGDOM BUILDING OR LEGACY BUILDING?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE UNDER THE LOCAL CHURCH?
BUILDING THE CHURCH AROUND THE PERSONA OF CHRIST, NOT MEN!
ORDINATION AND THE BIBLICAL MODEL OF ACCOUNTABILITY.
EXAMPLES FROM PASTORS AND BELIEVERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.
ARE CHURCH BUILDINGS EVIL? [OR THE GUY WHO WANTED TO CAST DEMONS OUT OF ME!]
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS ‘THE LOCAL CHURCH’?
THE SPIRIT OF COMPETITION IN THE MODERN CHURCH.
GODS PEOPLE ARE NOT SIMPLY ASSETS TO AN ORGANIZATION.
WHAT MODEL OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT DO I ESPOUSE?
THE CAT CHAPTER. [I DID THIS FOR MY KIDS!]
Welcome back! I hope those of you who are reading this booklet have read our other 2 books first. Though it’s not necessary in order to understand this book, I prefer to think of these little booklets as an on going conversation with our friends in the kingdom. Those of you who are familiar with our ministry know that we view ‘ministry’ and ‘church’ in an unconventional way. I see church as the people of God who are gathered together by Christ in various and unique ways. I see the people that we associate with and minister to as a legitimate expression of church. Therefore those of you who have been in conversation with us through our various areas of ministry [radio,outreach,etc.]are a unique and vital expression of Christ’s body. Our goal is to simply relate to you in such a way that the end result would be for you to be built up in Christ and to find fulfillment in him. In this book I hope to share a lot of personal thoughts that the lord has communicated to me over a period of time. I feel that if I can simply communicate to you the biblical idea of church/ministry and how we all fit into this picture, that I will have in some small way accomplished the goal of writing this third little ‘letter’ to the ‘churches’ that the lord has called us to speak into.
HOLY SITES AND HOLY PLACES
I recently have been studying and speaking on the issue of church and ministry as seen in the New Testament, as opposed to the way we as 21st century believers view it. In this ongoing conversation [primarily through radio] I have been talking about our tendency as believers to fall into a pattern of seeing ourselves as spectators/funders of the work of professionals. We settle into roles that relegate us into a nonfunctioning position of hearers of truth. We generally believe that if we attend the church meeting on Sunday and give financially to the church that somehow this has fulfilled our Christian obligation and that we are free to do as we please with our time and resources the other six days of the week. In this conversation there are those who feel this whole ritual of Sunday church is wrong and should be totally abolished, but there are others who are not quite that extreme but still see a need for a radical rethinking of this whole process. I consider myself to be in the more moderate class.
I personally don’t find anything inherently wrong with ‘going to church on Sunday’ but the general theme of New Testament Christianity is against the idea of believers simply being hearers of the word only. Because of our limited understanding of the word ‘church’ [ecclesia] in the New Testament we usually do not view ourselves as Christians in a proper way. One of the main themes in the New Testament is the idea of the church as community. That God intended for there to be a body of people who would actually be the place where God would dwell. He really lives inside the people who believe in Christ. Because of this the old idea of God manifesting himself only at a certain location [like the temple] is done away in Christ. If you remember the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman [John 4] she asked Jesus about the legitimacy of the religious locations of her day. She wanted him to speak to the issue of which physical location is the proper one in which people should go to worship. Jesus reply was there is going to be a change in the whole system of so-called ‘holy sites’. He tells her that the true worshipers of God will be accessing him in spirit and truth. He is looking forward to the reality of the body of Christ being a living temple of people who will be able to be in Gods presence all the time regardless of there physical location. While most Christians believe this truth, in practice we often deny it. We look to the religious activities that surround our church day as some how being a more spiritual site or day of worship. We gear up for religious meeting and then experience ‘coming down’ from the religious high point of our week.
Now this is where I take a more moderate view than some of my brothers. I too enjoy the day of worship and fellowship that takes place on Sunday; I just wish that we could break the mindset that sees the doing of this as the primary role for Christians. I wish we could see that God is really with us on a daily basis as we interact as believers with each other. There are many times in our focus of going to church on Sunday that we unconsciously transfer the mindset of the Samaritan woman into the present day. We tend to view both the place and the day of church as taking place at a set location at a certain day. Jesus specifically told her that the day was coming that true worship would take place at a temple in a set location, but that temple would be the corporate people of God and that place would be wherever 2 or more are gathered together in his name!
AUTHORITY IN THE KINGDOM, WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Not only are we hindered in our thinking by seeing church as something we go to on a special day, but the whole idea of ministry being some kind of a corporation that exists as a 501 c3 entity. Over the years of ministry I have personally come to rethink this whole issue. I’ve come to view ministry primarily as the kingdom works that God produces through his people when they are in right relationship with him. If you think about it this goes right to the heart of the issue of church being a living society of people. A functioning nation of Christ followers. When Jesus commissioned his followers to go out into the world and be witnesses for him, he told them to do kingdom works and to say to the people that the kingdom of God has come near to them. The actual presence of Christ in his people carrying out his works is true ministry. Later in the book of acts the Spirit falls on a bunch of people and they go forth both speaking and doing things in the name of Jesus. Ministry is primarily a function of God working through his people while bypassing all the technical loopholes of religion. There are certain basic standards that Christians who want to serve God should live by, but the whole idea of ministry being this 501c3 entity that exists as a separate thing is really unscriptural. Jesus not only challenged the idea of holy-sites being a special place, but also the idea of God’s authority/legitimacy existing in certain religious offices or institutions of his day.
The religious class challenged the authority of Jesus. They were saying you have no right to function as the Son of God. Who gave you this authority? Jesus answered in an interesting way. He asked them who gave John the Baptist the authority to do the things he did. Was it from heaven or of men? Well the Pharisee’s didn’t answer. But Jesus showed us that there where 2 types of authority, or ways of being legitimate in what you do. One way is that God directly gives you the right to function as a kingdom person, or you derive your authority from other people. You somehow seek legitimacy by going through the procedures of men. One of the main truths of the New Testament is the incarnation. God becoming man in the person of Christ. The very fact that Jesus was sent by his father, and being God incarnate in planet earth was all the legitimacy that anyone would ever need to do ‘ministry’. Any attempt from the religious mind to try and denigrate his character, or de-legitimize his right to function was directly challenged by the fact that he was sent by God. The works themselves were proof that he was legitimate! Now when we in the church seek to become legitimate, or to derive authority to do ministry through all sorts of natural procedures, we are in essence saying ‘we get our authority through man’. Its o.k. to become a 501c3 organization if it’s simply a matter of necessity [you need it to accomplish mission] but if it becomes a means whereby we feel ‘more legitimate’then we’ve simply jumped thru a hoop that will become a hindrance down the road.
The pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was more than an event by which the church would enjoy charismatic gifts. In the Old Testament the Spirit of God would come upon certain individuals at certain times to give them authority to function in their offices [kings and prophets]. The fact that the Spirit came upon them was proof of their legitimacy to function in that office. The day of Pentecost was a ‘pouring out’ of the anointing on a whole body of people as opposed to a particular office. God was fulfilling the words of Jesus when he said ‘all authority is given to me go ye therefore’. Jesus was ‘legitimizing’ a whole society of people to go forth and do his works. No special class or office, but the whole body would now have this priestly/kingly anointing. If anyone would question their authority, or right to do what they were going to do, they would respond by saying we derive our authority through Jesus. They understood that their ordination came by the very fact that Christ poured out his Spirit upon them. Any challenge to who gave them the right to function was seen as a direct challenge to Christ’s authority. In the Old Testament when you challenged an emissary of the king you were directly challenging the king, so likewise when we question the legitimacy of fellow believers because they don’t seem to fit the ‘normal’ way of doing things, we’re unconsciously saying ‘who gave you this authority’. Now I am not saying that every Christian has the right to do anything he feels like doing, but there is a difference between seeking the legitimacy of man and simply doing the works of Jesus!
KINGDOM BUILDING OR LEGACY BUILDING?
I just finished doing a teaching on the radio on the book of Exodus. We covered the story of the children of Israel as they progressed in time from a few people into a whole nation of people. If you remember your bible well, you can follow the original desire for God to have a family of people who would inhabit earth and live in fellowship with him. As man sinned and rebelled against God he became separated from God, but the desire to build and make a name for himself still existed within man. The story of the tower of Babel speaks of this. Men tried to come together as a corporate group, and even were willing to have unity [as opposed to ‘doing their own thing’] but it was for the purpose of building to the glory of man. It was ‘legacy building’. A desire that’s in all men to ‘leave a name for myself’. In the corporate world of business you find this mindset existing in a very strong way. In 21st century American society we call it ‘keeping up with the joneses’.
There is a popular commercial on TV at this time that shows an average Joe living high on the hog in order to keep up a certain image in the community. It shows ‘Joe’ as possessing a lot of things in order to live up to the image of the people around him. At the end of the commercial the question is asked ‘how does Joe manage to live like this?’. The answer is ‘he’s in debt up to his eyeballs’. This little commercial captures in a nutshell the attitude of trying to create an image of ourselves so others would think more highly of us, or so we can feel vindicated in the sight of our critics. Now many times in modern ministry and ‘church’ building we give in to this desire without even realizing it. We build facilities or large organizations in order to prove to those around us that we can really do this thing [tower building mentality]. We seem to loose sight of the great reality that Gods ‘institution’ or ‘organization’ which he uses to carry out his will is the church. It is a family of people [a holy nation, temple, city, body] that God freely dwells in, in order to advance his ‘cause’ throughout the earth.
When we unconsciously develop systems of ministry that we feel are the ‘church’, that is if we follow certain patterns and models of ministry and then begin to build these entities with the belief that these models are actually ‘the church’ then what we’ve done is transferred Gods true desire to build his kingdom [a rule in the earth that would give glory to his image] and replaced it unconsciously with a natural desire to build something that gives testimony to our image [i.e.: ‘look what I’ve done, look at the big legacy I will leave when I’m gone’]. Jesus warned the disciples that this desire to have authority and be ‘in charge’ of people would not be acceptable in true kingdom building. He was showing us that this desire for success was nothing different than what already exists in lost society. Many men sacrifice a lot in order to build institutions or businesses. People regularly sacrifice their time and resources in order to get their business going. Often times they even work in unity with many other people [staff, employees] to accomplish their goal. Now I’m not saying this is wrong in and of itself, there are many good businesses and institutions that have started this way. But when we transfer this mindset into the church we can confuse the energy and excitement that naturally comes with any true adventure and begin building ‘at all costs’. We can loose sight of the ‘entity’ that God is building and get caught up in the natural desire to ‘image’ build and become sidetracked.
In extreme cases this actually leads to abusive church situations where the leader[s] are so focused on building the ministry that they begin to unconsciously manipulate people in order to fulfill the vision. This is why it’s so important to see that the church exists as a community of people in the earth whom God lives in and interacts with in various ways in order to build his image in the earth. God wants the knowledge of the glory of ‘the lord’ to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. The ‘tower’ that all men will see is the ‘Cross’. God will draw all men to the image of his Son as opposed to some great edifice of man. Gods Spirit wars against the natural desire in man to ‘legacy’ build to his own image. We as believers need to reevaluate the motivations behind our outward enthusiasm to ‘press ahead’ at all costs. When we examine ourselves and make adjustments in our thinking I believe God will allow us to participate in great works for his name.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE UNDER THE LOCAL CHURCH?
Over the years of seeing the freedom that we have in Christ, especially as it pertains to functioning in church and ministry, I have met other believers who have seen and grown in the same understanding that the lord has given us. I believe this to be a natural process of the body of Christ coming to maturity. When the head [Jesus] is communicating with the body [the church] you often find different members seeing and functioning in the same truths, though they have never personally met each other. Some of these experiences are lessons for the whole church. Many times in trying to express truth there is a natural tendency for fellow believers to respond in a unified way in defense of a wrong [or misguided] way of seeing things. I remember sharing with a missionary family how the New Testament teaches a greater freedom for the functioning of missionaries/apostles than what we put on them today. I showed how Paul simply operated under the spirits guidance and practiced giving and receiving in a voluntary way with all the believers he was spending time with. I showed how even though Paul was an apostle sent out of the church at Antioch [acts 13] that this didn’t mean he was under some type of 501c3 entity at Antioch that he was sending his tithes to in order to be in obedience to the ‘New Testament pattern.’ If you read the story in acts all the apostles and believers functioned as citizens of a heavenly city and saw themselves all equally as part of this new community of Christ followers.
The idea that Paul [or any other New Testament minister] had some type of structural relationship with his ‘home church’ in the sense that he was sending tithes back to his ‘home church’ on a regular basis is simply reading 21st century American patterns into the story that doesn’t exist. You would think that the missionary family would have rejoiced to have seen this truth, as it would have given them freedom in moving forward in new ways in the kingdom. But contrary they were offended in a sense because they truly felt the role of tithing to a specific group of Christians who meet in a building in there area was a New Testament pattern that must be adhered to. While its ok to give to groups of Christians in this way, but to see this as a pattern that if violated would bring the curse in Malachi upon a person is ridiculous. These are ways that we confuse the spiritual temple of believers with the entity/501c3 structures that exist in ministry today. While the obtaining of the 501c3 status, or the purchasing of a building for believers to meet in is not inherently wrong [remember, if its needed for mission it’s o.k.] but to then view that as ‘local church’ which the missionary needs to tithe to in order to be in obedience to the ‘local church’ is confusing the spiritual entity of Christ’s body with the physical entity of American ministry.
When we view ‘ministry’ as a separate organization, we sacrifice the freedom to directly build into people. I was driving through town one day with a friend and as we passed by a certain business I mentioned that I needed to go in at a later time to purchase some equipment. My friend asked why I needed it and I explained I felt the Lord wanted me to buy it for a friend in order to help him in ministry. He questioned why I would spend money on someone who had no type of relationship with us, like a ‘part of our church/ministry’. I explained how believers should be willing to spend time and money for the benefit of others regardless of whether or not they are ‘part of our organization’ [by the way we have no ‘organization’ that someone ‘joins’]. I should mention that the person I wanted to spend the money on was one of our original friends/converts that we worked with in the early days of ministry. So the benefit would be purely spiritual, that is I would receive a reward from God in the sense that one of ‘our disciples’ would benefit directly from this purchase. Paul told the Corinthians that he would gladly spend and be spent for them. He said the fathers spend for the children, not the children for the fathers. He was showing the attitude of building people up for their sole benefit, not simply building staff or employees but giving yourself away solely for the benefit of ‘spiritual children’.
Many times people will unconsciously do the things I advocate, without realizing it! Recently there have been many examples of God working supernaturally in the area of finances. Many people who disagree with my teaching on grace giving have actually been blessed by doing it the way I teach it! People have been giving testimonies of how God would move on them to freely give [apart from the tithe concept] and how after they obeyed his voice to MEET THE NEED OF ANOTHER PERSON, versus ‘paying the tithe’ that the Lord would move supernaturally on their behalf by another person [not institution] being moved to give to them in return. I have been teaching this for years! How when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for ‘corban’ giving that he told them their mindset of dedicating money to the temple [institution] caused them to neglect giving directly to people [their parents]. So the recent breakthrough in giving that people are experiencing is what I have been saying all along. God wants us to give spontaneously to directly meet the needs of people! I realize this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also give regularly, but the point is sometimes we reject what a persons saying [like me!] without realizing that what their saying is right!
I should note something here; over the years I have consistently taught and believed in the concept of giving as God leads. There have been many times where the Lord would move on me to meet the needs of people. Just a few days ago one of my homeless friends asked me if I was still buying tents for people, I said sure. There was really no second thought or feeling of ‘I already gave the required amount this week, and this is going out of the way’. I simply felt it to be in keeping with the New Testament to give to someone in need. A few weeks back I ran into one of the original homeless friends that I met many years ago. The first thing he remembered and couldn’t stop talking about was how when I first met him I was giving away clothes in the winter to him and a bunch of other people. Theses simple acts of charity are in keeping with the teaching of Jesus on giving. The New Testament says ‘give to him that asks of thee’ ‘if you have the ability to help your brother and don’t how dwelleth the love of God in you’ ‘if someone comes to your door in need and you don’t help, it profits nothing’ ‘let him who is not working get a job so he MAY HAVE TO GIVE TO HIM THAT NEEDETH’.
All these verses [which I just paraphrased off the top of my head, you’ll have to look them up for yourself] speak clearly to the issue of God wanting us to give to meet the needs of others spontaneously and freely. No sense of ‘I already tithed this week to the church’. This legalistic mindset actually works against the spirit of New Testament giving. I am not saying Christians shouldn’t give regularly for the functioning of Christian ministry, I put aside money on a bi-weekly basis in order to fund Christian works. It is because of my priority of doing this that enables me to meet the needs of people when they come up.
I believe Christians should regularly give to the work of the kingdom, I also believe that many people would experience breakthrough in their giving if they truly practiced the New Testament doctrine of grace giving. All the communities of the New Testament [churches] gave this way. There simply was no tithing concept taught to the gentile believers. The scripture says the Corinthians gathered on the 1st day of the week and gave Paul an offering to BRING BACK TO THE POOR SAINTS AT JERUSALEM. Do you see this ‘THE POOR SAINTS’. They were giving to meet the needs of people here. We use these verses to tell Christians if you put in the required amount on Sunday then you’ve met your obligation. We distort scripture to fit into our way of seeing things. I believe its O.K. to put money in the offerings on Sunday, many times the work of ‘building based’ churches is good. Supporting missionaries, planting churches and many other good things. It’s just that we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to by pass all the other instructions in the New Testament to freely give to others in need!
I want to note something here, this is a good example of how are ‘seeing’ church as the Sunday meeting as opposed to the corporate group affects us. The issue of ‘how much should I put into the basket on Sunday’ was a NON ISSUE in the New Testament. There were times where all the believers in a community [the church] gave in a corporate way[ Acts 6, 1 Cor. 16] but there was no ‘Sunday church offering’ that all the ‘New Testament’ churches gave into. Why? Because the New Testament churches are all the believers in any given community. The focus wasn’t ‘going to church on Sunday’ that is our ‘thoughts’ or ways of seeing things [it’s O.K. to go to church on Sunday] but the focus was a community of people living and sharing on a daily basis. So when Paul writes these churches, or when Jesus tells us to give to him in need, they are addressing people directly. It’s not like the focus was on an institution. This is why ‘how much should we give, or should Christians tithe?’ is not seen in the New Testament like we see this question today. The bible speaks of ‘churches’ as communities of people; we speak about them in terms of ‘the church I go to on Sunday’. This basic misunderstanding of church causes us to hold onto a less than ideal view of Christian giving.
BUILDING THE CHURCH AROUND THE PERSONA OF CHRIST, NOT MEN!
In the early days of ministry I remember listening to some tapes on apostles and how they build Gods church. Later I came to see ‘church planting’ as apostles [or evangelists, or just Christians] going to areas and simply preaching Christ to groups of people. After the people believed there was a natural development of family and community that took place as Christ’s Spirit develops the body of Christ. So the New Testament churches are simply bodies of believers in these location’s who came to know Christ. God’s authority and the works of his kingdom are simply a natural expression of Christ’s Spirit through his body. As time progressed in church history people later developed all sorts of offices and institutions that they incorporated into the church. Eventually people began viewing the institution or 501c3 entity as a separate thing called ‘church’.
With this mindset people began seeing apostles and ministers and people who plant these entities as ‘CHURCH PLANTERS’. Church planting then began to be looked at as C.E.O.’s who are starting corporate entities with all sorts of projects to do. The entity itself became the focal point of all ministry and authority in any given community. The actual people [the real church] simply became servants to the entity’. The 501c3 itself became the thing that we saw as having the actual conferred authority of God upon it. The people who did not conform to the ‘system’ in many different generations of Christians were seen as being rebellious or not coming under the authority of the church [system separate from the people] though many of these people were truly Gods corporate community [church] they were looked at as in opposition to the church because the understanding of church evolved [or devolved] from the original meaning. We then put expectations on church leaders to build big facilities and to try and fill them up.
I want to make a note here; I am not against the modern phenomena of mega churches. If they are growing as a natural outgrowth of healthy evangelism it is a good thing. Where we often miss it is when we begin seeing the goal as having the big thing and then pressuring the flock because they’re not helping us obtain the big thing. Well the original tapes I listened to from the brother who was teaching on apostles eventually visited Corpus Christi and he spoke on his vision to build a 7 thousand seat auditorium and having 100,000 dollar faith and then a million dollar faith and having faith to build it and that people will want to hear him speak [the money stuff was spoken at a different time, but this is the context]. While this minister meant well he simply was not speaking New Testament language. True apostolic church planting is the natural outgrowth that takes place in communities of people when they come to know Christ. When we as leaders begin seeing the entity [501c3] as the goal, and the people as the tools, or fellow helpers and financial supporters of the entity, we’re then relegating the body of Christ to simple servants of the system. Sort of like the children of Israel in Egypt. They were multiple [big numbers] but they were under constricting styles of leadership that caused them to build the cities of man [Pithom, Raamses]. God raised up prophetic leadership [Moses] to bring them out of bondage so they themselves would become a self functioning society on their own, without being subservient to another system.
The unhealthy focus of ‘church’ that centers around the high-powered personas of men is in direct violation of the spirit of the New Testament. Church today too often has become a community of people whose ‘common bond’ is found in the personality of the pastor. All healthy groups of people in society will have stages of growth where they go through the process of leadership bringing them from dependence to independence and finally to interdependence [the stage where I don’t need you to survive or find my identity through you, but I need you as a coequal member in order for us both to function in a healthy way]. The New Testament ecclesias were groups of believers whose leadership [elders] functioned as mature guides and facilitators of this corporate experience. This leadership style is far removed from the present mindset of church leadership, which patterns itself after the predominant personality of one individual. While its O.K. at certain stages of group development to have periods of time where one person is the main influence in an individuals life [like a mentor/big brother], but if this relationship between mentor [pastor/leader] never grows to a stage where the ones being mentored do not eventually develop to the point where they are no longer dependent on the mentor, then you have the danger of the leader and his personality becoming the central figure that the disciple organizes his life around. We unconsciously repeat this cycle in the church without realizing it.
The simple truth of the churches of the New Testament having no central office where a person [no matter how well meaning he is] is the primary figure of the community should cause us to rethink our present mindset of church and ministry. It is inherently dangerous for any group of people to hear and see and be centered around the giftings of one person [the exception being Christ]. The gifts of the Spirit that freely operate through all of Gods children are powerful. God designed a safety mechanism in the church [body] to prevent the power of these giftings from causing people to become to oriented around one individual. The method God chose was ‘body ministry’. That is Gods pattern of all the people of God corporately sharing and giving to each other would prevent the unhealthy focus on one persons personality. Any group of people, no matter how well intentioned they are, put themselves in an unhealthy position when they violate this principle. We often confuse the New Testament doctrine of leadership and replace it with the charismatic individual. We don’t realize that we are violating the intent of scripture when we do this! All biblical leadership should bring people to a point where ‘He must increase and I must decrease’. Leaders need to be the ones who take the bold initiative to ‘wean’ people off of our personalities.
Children in a natural home environment will go through stages in their relationship with their parents that hopefully bring them to a point of independence. Though they are your children when there 12,25,or 55 yet the way you relate to them will be different as they mature. The mistake we make in present models of church leadership is we think it’s healthy to relate to the people the same way throughout their entire lives. If you hear me preach or function in some prophetic gift week after week for 30 years, and my primary relationship with you is this way, then its only natural for you to develop an unhealthy view of me. It’s inherent in the gift of the Spirit to cause people to be drawn to the persona of Christ, when we violate the principle of body ministry [that is where all the people give and receive from each other] we unconsciously set up an unnatural environment where people are eventually drawn to the wrong persona [the person who they see functioning in the gift all their lives]. Many well-meaning pastors do not realize what a basic violation of scripture this is. Our goal should be bringing people to a point in their lives where they need us less and less as they develop a greater trust in God.
I know that it’s difficult to embrace these truths, even if they are true! I myself had a hard time seeing the reality of the present day mindset of ‘pastor/minister’ as a basic violation of the intention of God for the church [body] to be an environment where people are centered around the persona [identity] of Christ. Many times well-meaning pastors become the central personality of the group in an unintentional way. Out of a sincere desire to ‘protect’ the flock they unintentionally become the central attraction of the local community. They feel that if there were too much freedom the people could go off track. This possibility does exist, but the primary method of preventing people from going off track is to allow them to develop into mature saints who need not be dependent upon us. The example of the parent/child relationship. It would be ‘safer’ to allow the child to never leave the home and for you to always be the child’s main source of comfort and identity, but it would not be right! So likewise in the church leadership needs to re-examine our proper roles and responsibilities. If we have embraced roles of ‘pastor’ that truly violate this most basic principle, then it is incumbent upon leadership to recognize this and to make the proper course corrections as God would direct.
I really want to emphasize the truth that the church is a community of people whose environment tends to the exalting of the personality of Christ at the expense of the personality of the individual leader. God intended the Church to be a place where gifted individuals WOULD NOT come to the forefront in the minds of the group, but would recognize the fundamental nature of servant leadership and willingly take the position of humility. [John 13, 1Cor. 12:22-25]
We don’t seem to understand that the way modern Christians relate to leadership in the present day is in many ways a violation of the spirit of the New Testament. Today it is common in any city to have many churches who all have their own pastors with believers attending the church of their choice. While all of these people [both the pastors and believers] are for the most part well intentioned, they unconsciously develop a mindset that Paul rebuked in the Corinthian church. The church at Corinth [all the believers living in the city!] got to a point where they began identifying themselves by the people they followed. Some said they followed Paul, while others were following Apollos. The actual seeing of the individual leader, and identifying around him was rebuked by Paul.
Now I know that we don’t realize this, but for us today to have many thousands of believers in many cities actually saying ‘he is my pastor’, to the point where all the believers have one main personality that they look to and identify with is not the intent of leadership in the New Testament. The biblical model of believers in any location is to have a plural group of elders that are viewed as trusted community leaders; this is more in keeping with the intent of the New Testament. If you later were to visit these New Testament communities and found them saying ‘he is my elder, or I go to elder so and so’s church’ this would be seen as division resulting from having too high of a view of Christian leadership. I know it’s difficult to realize we have done these things, and I’m not advocating getting rid of all the good men who serve as pastors today, but if we begin to see the basic violation of scripture in our present models of leadership this will allow us to take a more humble approach and hopefully facilitate a greater spirit of unity in the Church.
What I want you to see is how we in the church have a view of ‘local church’ that causes us to have a misplaced loyalty that is inherent in Christ’s brotherhood. Because we view ourselves as ‘members’ of so and so’s church, as opposed to truly being one body in Christ, this breeds a spirit of disloyalty to our fellow brothers in Christ. We tend to hold to the view that if your not a part of ‘my local church’ [meaning the individual meeting I attend] that somehow I am truly not responsible to you. While in reality I really am supposed to have the same care and concern for you as my brother in Christ, regardless of whether or not you attend my ‘church’ [group I meet with]. In the New Testament there are references to the ‘church in your house’ and things of this nature.
Where we usually ‘miss it’ is when we think that somehow these statements violate the concept of our oneness in Christ. When the bible speaks like this, it is not saying that all the believers in one location have separate ‘churches’ that they belong to. It is simply saying ‘that part of Christ’s body that meets in your house’. It would be wrong to view statements like this and then develop an ecclesiology that ‘sees’ a hundred different independent ‘churches’ [entities] in your city. While there very well might be a hundred different groups of believers in your city, you should be committed to these believers just as much as the people you meet with every Sunday. While God recognizes different groups of believers in each city, He also lays down guidelines for our mutual care and concern that we are all to have for one another. Our dividing over ‘who’s church I attend’ creates a false mindset of a lack of loyalty to our brothers because ‘they don’t go to my church’.
I just read a verse in Isaiah [55: 8] ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord’. I want you to see that when we view things from our own perspective [our thoughts] we often violate Gods ways [his thoughts]. Many times when dealing with issues that would personally affect an individual’s present mindset, or the lifestyle that he’s living [like when I deal with the subject of tithing, or the lack of the full-time paid minister in the New Testament story]. People will often reject the truth of scripture [Gods thoughts] simply on the grounds that they are already practicing ‘church’ in a certain way [their thoughts] and have no desire to ‘give up’ their present practice of doing things. Many times it’s simply a matter of personal survival. ‘If you are right John, then it will affect me too much, and I am not willing to ‘die to the way I see things [my thoughts] because it will entail too much pain [I think they used to call this ‘bearing our cross’]’.
So while I don’t want to personally condemn any brother for his views on church and ministry, I want us all to see how we are subject to preferring our own views to Gods [even me!]. It’s a natural tendency of the sinful nature to presume ‘our thoughts’ [our way of seeing things] are ‘Gods thoughts’. It’s when we take this presumption to the extreme that we get into trouble. We get to the point of seeing others who don’t hold to ‘our thoughts’ as violating scripture [Gods thoughts] and then we unconsciously fall into the category of the Pharisees where we condemn those who don’t ‘see things our way’.
ORDINATION AND THE BIBLICAL MODEL OF ACCOUNTABILTY.
In the 1st century Jesus showed up in the midst of a religious system that had a voice of its own and refused to acknowledge anyone who did not submit to its authority. This system [religious Judaism] not only resisted Christ and the disciples, but would later resist the freedom and growth of the New Testament churches established by the apostle Paul. The leaders of this system actually said that they feared loosing the influence they had in society if the young church continued to experience success. They were already showing signs of the kingdoms of men resisting the kingdom of God. The Pharisees had their position that religion gave them and they were unwilling to give it up, even if it meant their rejection of messiah. The Pharisees used the law and religious protocol as a means to de-legitimize those who would not jump through the hoops of their day. Many of our modern concepts of church and ministry unconciously produce the same results. The very idea of ordination in the new testament was simply the public recognition [through the laying on of hands] of those leaders [elders] in the Christian community [not some non profit entity] who were deemed grounded in the person of Christ and could be looked up to as spiritual guides in a voluntary society of believers.
Over the years ordination has evolved into a ritual of licensing and certification from a religious institution in order to be legitimate to function in church circles. So the simple concept of all believers having the ordination of God [John 15] has now developed into a system of approval that one must have in order to function in the church [as a full time minister]. Now while I personally have no problem with ordained ministry, we must see that what we call ordination today is a more developed concept than was originally intended in the New Testament. It can become wrong when we begin to limit the function of all believers as ordained priests under God and use the modern concept of ordination to de-legitimize those who don’t have it. The 1st century Pharisee saw Jesus ministry as a direct violation of their understanding of legitimate ministry. They were using law and religious regulation to exclude people from feeling accepted in Gods society. Jesus way of doing ministry not only violated the current standards of the day, but also opened up a whole new realm of people who would be able to function in Gods kingdom. All who would simply accept him and become a follower were now given legitimacy to spread God’s kingdom despite their unwillingness to submit to the system of their day. This is what offended the religious mind of the 1st century Pharisee. They spent years jumping through the hoops of religious protocol in order to function as religious leaders, Jesus comes on the scene and bypasses all their procedures and vests authority to do kingdom works to the common people.
There was a spirit present in both the mind and religion of the 1st century Pharisee. They had an intellectual knowledge of scripture that focused on particular aspects of scripture while never being able to comprehend the ‘body of truth’. Their religious position in society gave them a greater degree of responsibility to be able to understand that Christ himself was the goal and result of all religious learning. In essence they were guilty of possessing a special position in society and because of there unwillingness to loose the ‘honor’ that came from this position they committed the worst type of offense that leaders could commit. They actually rejected the person of Christ in order for there own personas to continue to be at the forefront. If you remember when Paul speaks of antichrist [I am not saying here that present Christian leaders are antichrist!] Paul says that ‘he sits in the temple of God showing HIMSELF to be God’ 2 Thes.2: 4]. There is an aspect of ‘anti-christ’ that rejects the development of the person of Christ in the Church [body] in order for mans persona to remain at the forefront. He sits [antichrist-not wanting Christ to be seen!] in the place of God taking the glory [adulation/honor] to his persona that belongs to Christ.
I want you to see that no matter how well we know scripture, we really know nothing until the actual person of Christ is at the forefront [Jesus being Lord]. When man persists in his pride to continue to hold on to a position of attention in the Christian community that rightfully belongs to Christ, he unknowingly is violating one of the most fundamental truths of the church. What I want you to see, without getting too much into the whole subject of antichrist, is that he wants the place that rightfully belongs to Christ. In the Christian community Christ’s rightful place is the center of our attention. True worship is Him actually being the focus and center of attention. The unhealthy attention that we often see given to people’s personalities is a subtle way the enemy uses from keeping Christ’s image and person from being the center of community.
Recently there was a Christian brother who fell in a very public way. It was a situation where he admitted to certain sins [adultery] and it was very public. While I wont use his name, he was a very influential leader in charismatic circles. He held the title of ‘arch-bishop’ [I don’t understand why we do this stuff!] Well as usual when word got out about his fall, people began to expound on why this happened. Some explained that they thought it was because he wasn’t ‘accountable enough’ [he was archbishop to more than 200 churches!] We never seem to think that if we allow individuals to be exalted above measure, that this itself is a violation of the principle of New Testament leadership. Jesus said whoever exalts himself will be humbled. Many times in Christian circles we don’t realize that we are doing this!
We often blame the fall on ‘lack of accountability’. True accountability is submitting to each other in love. It is not some unnatural structure that we create. I have heard it taught in the way that if some outside person is our ‘covering’ and they call us once a month and yell at us, that some how this is being humble and being accountable. You can’t be accountable without true friendship and relationship. We often jump to the conclusion that when one of our brothers fall that it’s a result of a lack of accountability, when it just might be that we allowed them to be lifted up to a place where the Lord had to humble them. [I don’t want to judge this man, I didn’t even realize I was going to share this but during my prayer time early this morning I continued to pray for him and some other brothers who have fallen, and then I felt the Lord permitted me to share this!] When we allow leaders to attain honorific titles in violation of scripture we are unknowingly placing them in a position where Christ must humble them.
Let me mention here the interesting phenomena of Christians [charismatic and others] seeing the ‘need’ for believers to revert back to ecclesiastical structures. During the Jesus movement of the 70’s, as well as the charismatic movement, there were well intentioned brothers who felt like the freedom of ‘simply following Christ’ and the working of the Spirit were not enough to keep the movements from going off track. They sensed the need to have ‘structure’ for the new believers. Jack Sparks, a brother who felt this way, eventually reverted all the way back to Greek orthodoxy and is an orthodox priest today in California. Others like Bob Mumford and Ern Baxter became involved in the discipleship/shepherding movement which placed an overemphasis on the concept of covering and being in submission to authority. These men were well intentioned, but it is my feeling that there is a degree of arrogance and elitism that causes people to believe that somehow through establishing ‘structure’ that they can safeguard the new Christians who where coming to Christ at this time.
The whole phenomena of reverting back to previous church communities is nothing new. You had the ‘oxford movement’ after the reformation where many Anglican scholars became Catholics after studying the church fathers and other early sources and felt that the earliest Christian witness was Catholic. You had cardinal Newman later on also becoming catholic, or a Frances Schaffer jr. leaving evangelicalism in order to become eastern orthodox. In all these scenarios these are good men who are finding refuge in ‘structure’. While I consider all of these faiths to be Christian, I believe the error of this type of thinking is we seem to believe if we add structure to new believers this will keep them from going off track. The ‘structure’ of the New Testament churches was nothing like this. Their safeguard was in keeping Jesus pre-eminent in their lives and living together in Christian love and brotherhood. When a Paul or other Christian leader saw them getting off track [Galatians/Corinthians] the answer was not more structure, but simply refuting the error and re-presenting Christ. It was ultimately being able to trust God to finish the work that He started in them.
EXAMPLES FROM PASTORS AND BELIEVERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.
I recently did a study on the whole phenomena of the house church movement. Many of the stories I encountered while doing research went along theses lines. You would find various groups of believers who felt disenfranchised with their roles in modern church systems; they felt like they were professional spectators. The whole concept of church became to them a place where you go to hear lectures. The only one who finds fulfillment in expressing themselves are the professional clergy [and a few rebellious prophets who could muster up the nerve to stand up and speak!] but the overall sense was these people were simply filling roles of listening to preaching week after week without ever truly functioning. Many of these people left their churches to form house/cell type churches. There were also many traditional pastors who saw this same restricting style of contemporary church and also left the whole concept of professional pastor and simply became a bi-vocational leader in a voluntary based movement of believers.
Some of the movements I studied were tremendous in their ability to rapidly spread throughout regions without the drag of salaries, buildings and all the other usual things associated with full time ministry. I find these movements to be exciting and biblical. The whole idea of average believers advancing the kingdom of God without all the trappings of modern religion is truly getting back to the heart of New Testament Christianity. Many of their stories shared a common theme of being seen as rebellious or not willing to submit to authority because of their willingness to break out of restricting mindsets in order to advance the kingdom. Many of the pastors who also left traditional church roles found freedom in not having to raise huge amounts of money for salaries and buildings, they testified of a freedom that came with their not having to sermonize on tithing and other money raising efforts. There was a real sense of effectiveness in the reality of the ‘church’ being vibrant groups of believers who can rapidly expand across a region without having to stop and build structures and set in order clergy and all the other trappings associated with modern day church. While I personally don’t advocate one form above another to the degree that some house church enthusiasts do [it can be just as bad to focus on the ‘house’ in house church as in the building in modern church] but I do see in this movement a return to the simple reality of Christ moving and expanding through his people [true church growth].
As you read the New Testament you never get the feeling that Jesus or the apostles were going to areas to start some type of meeting that they would get people to attend. They were being sent out to spread the great message of Gods kingdom. All the sermons in the book of acts focus on Jesus and his great work for us. After people in these various regions came to the reality of Christ they were then considered to be the church. The actual reality of Jesus living in them through his Spirit is the entity that God recognizes as legitimate to carry out his works. There was no magical element of organizing under a particular form that would then become the ‘church’. They were church by virtue of the fact that Christ dwelt in their hearts by faith.
As these communities spread throughout the earth they would have more mature leaders in their midst who gave guidance and direction to the flock in a voluntary way, but the concept of one professional minister who was hired to perform religious functions for the community was absent from these New Testament ecclesias. The whole mindset of ‘church-planting’ was simply the natural outgrowth of people coming to know Christ. There wasn’t a separate calling to start churches apart from the great commission to go and tell all people about this great gospel of Christ. Apostles had a special gifting to help build these communities, but in no way is this separate from the calling to preach the gospel. It is simply the proclaiming of Christ to communities of people that holds the power of ‘church planting’. And the thing that we’re planting is Christ in the hearts of people. I think if we can get back to seeing things on these terms there will be less of a pressure to go and make something happen, and more of a balance on Christ in us, the hope of glory!
ARE CHURCH BUILDINGS EVIL? [OR THE GUY WHO WANTED TO CAST DEMONS OUT OF ME!]
Many years ago before I really understood the truths of ecclesia and the communal aspect of the church, I was introduced to the belief that the ‘church building’ itself was wrong. I don’t personally adhere to this belief, but let me share the story. While ministering as a new believer in Christ and learning ‘the ropes’ of ministry, I remember driving past a brother who was a street minister from Mexico. It was unusual in the way he was conducting his street meetings. He would get permission to use an empty lot and then set up actual church pews in the lot without walls or any type of cover over it [even if it rained!]. Well one day on my daily rounds of visiting people and witnessing for Jesus [because this is what ministers are supposed to do, right?] I stopped by this brother’s lot and figured I would bless him with some lunch and listen to him preach [I felt sorry for the brother because no one else was attending his meetings]. After he spoke I had a chance to fellowship with him. After hearing his thoughts I realized it was on purpose for him to have no walls or cover over the pews [these were actual church pews that were out there in the open!].
He shared with me the verse in Hebrews [13:10] where it says that those who worship at the sanctuary have no right to partake of the altar of Christ [the cross]. He saw this as meaning that all Christians who meet in buildings [the sanctuary] were lost! Well, even as a young believer in the lord I was smart enough to know that this verse had nothing to do with ‘church buildings’. I showed the brother that in context the verse simply meant that those Jews [remember who the book of Hebrews was written to] who were not willing to leave the old covenant system [the sanctuary] could not move on with the new covenant truth of Christ and his cross. The sanctuary represented the whole concept of law and Judaism. This verse had nothing to do about the inherent nature of church buildings! Buildings themselves are neutral ground; it’s the style of one person functioning [the pastor] at the expense of the rest of the body that I see as less than ideal.
Well after seeing the obvious error of the way this brother was reading this verse, I began to ‘expound unto him the way of God more perfectly’. When he finally understood what I was saying [you could tell by the look in his eyes that he saw the truth] instead of repenting of his distorted view, he became irate and began to cast demons out of me [hey, I didn’t think there were any in me!]. The reason I share this example is because there are those in the house church movement, while not as extreme, seem to view the church building itself as an evil thing.
My personal view is the church building can become a hindrance when we view it as part of a system that makes up ‘church’. We seem to see the whole concept of the church building and the pastor as the weekly speaker and all the other things associated around this structure [like tithing to the storehouse] as ‘the system’ that God instituted to carry out his work in the earth. Remember Gods inherent authority resides in no human system or mode of religious worship. His authority resides in the church, the actual people of God in any given community on earth. So if there are believers carrying out Gods purpose, whether they have the whole system that we deem ‘local church’ or not, is irrelevant. Remember what we said about Jesus and the 1st century religious mind? They were finding fault with Jesus and his disciples because they were not following the religious protocol of the day. When we embrace certain mindsets that see ‘local church’ as the limited system of Sunday worship and all the other usual things associated with it, what we’re unconsciously doing is vesting authority in a style, or form of religious worship while by-passing the true legitimacy of Gods people. Its not to say that Gods people who function in the whole system of Sunday church are illegitimate [that would be making the same mistake as the brother who wanted to cast the demons out of me!] but this shows us how we unconsciously make the same mistake as the 1st century Pharisee by seeing as illegitimate those who don’t follow certain protocols.
It was a common thing during the 90’s to speak about the ‘changing of the wineskin’ in order to receive the new wine [the new move of God]. Many of theses thoughts were helpful in causing us to re-think the way we ‘do’ church. I also remember a common theme being ‘God wants to pour out his Spirit, but the wineskins are not ready’ in some of these examples the ministers actually meant that we don’t have big enough buildings to put all these new converts so God is ‘withholding the new wine until the new buildings go up’. At this point you should begin seeing how once again this is confusing the reality of Christian community with ‘the church building’. I find it interesting that the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was not delayed because of the lack of facilities to put all the new converts in.
Also the great missionary journeys of Paul were not delayed ‘until the new wineskins were in place’. This shows us how we’ve come to view the people of God as being dependent on the present system. Could it be that God withholds His Spirit because the ‘new wineskin’ could refer more to believers seeing themselves as the actual church that God wants to fill? If we are not rightly discerning Christ’s community as a self-sustaining society of people then the church really isn’t able to contain the new wine. If we are so limited in our thinking to view the new wineskin as larger facilities, as opposed to a rethinking of what it means to truly be Christ’s body, then maybe the holdup has more to do with a change in the way we view ‘church’ then it has to do with bigger church buildings!
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS ‘THE LOCAL CHURCH’?
Growing up as a catholic boy [though not a good one] I remember when I came to know the lord I started reading through the bible and found how the bible contradicted many of the religious beliefs I held to as a boy [this is not to say Catholics are not Christian]. Later while attending a good Baptist church I naively believed that good Baptists must have it right because they do read the bible! Well now I see that none of us have everything right [including me!] but some of us are closer to truth than others.
One of the traditions I saw with my Baptist friends was their whole concept of ‘local church’. They seemed to see it as the actual process of ‘going to church on Sunday’ and all the things associated with that particular form of worship. Many of them found fault with the Catholic Church and her traditions, but could not see how their own limited view of ‘local church’ was just as religious as some of the Catholic teachings that they so often criticized. Till this day I still cant see how so many of my brothers in Christ view a particular form of modern church service as ‘the local church’. Some brothers view it to a degree where they really do harm to the rest of the body of Christ.
When any system of church or worship is embraced to the degree of seeing others who don’t embrace it as lost or in rebellion, then we unconsciously are saying that all others are illegitimate. While the practice of Sunday church and the other expressions of it are o.k. with me [to a degree], I still couldn’t see how bible believing Christians could view this form as ‘the’ legitimate form of church that Jesus established 2000 years ago. The ‘church’ in the New Testament are all the communities of believers in any area where they reside. She is not some limited form of worship or specific social group that someone joins. How arrogant would it be for me to teach that the meetings or expressions of my own ministry were ‘the’ local church, and then tell people if they do not put 10% of their money into this expression that they would be under a curse! This really is wrong at the heart of it. Its o.k. for Christians to associate in this Sunday church way, but its not o.k. to view this form as ‘the local church’ to the exclusion of all the other varied forms of ‘church’ that exist in a living organism [the real ecclesia].
I recall reading an article from one of the leaders of ‘youth with a mission’ [ywam] this is a great organization. This leader is seeing many of the truths I’m expressing in this book. He went on to explain how in the early years of ywam that they would lead many college students to Christ, and these students would naturally form on campus Christian associations/bible groups that would flourish naturally as any living organism should. But they would then tell their students that in order to not be in rebellion they needed to be ‘part of a local church’ [not realizing that they already were ‘part of the local church’ by virtue of the fact that Christ was dwelling in them and having expression through them as they met together]. Well the brother explained how they would then send them into ‘the local churches’ [which really meant lecture hall/church building environments in order to hear sermons]. And how these young groups of students would stagnate by being told to be under this type of authority. So what they viewed as being in submission to authority and being ‘under a local church covering’ was really a violation of the true expression of church that already existed in the on campus meetings. The brother also shared how they felt constrained to send the students to ‘the churches’ in order to appease the egos of the men who led the churches. This little example shows us how the mindset of viewing one form of religious expression as ‘the local church’ can actually hinder ‘the local church!’
One night I attended a fellowship group where a bunch of Christians ‘unofficially’ met together to eat and share and just have a good time [much like the early atmosphere of the Lords supper/love feast]. During this time of fellowship everyone just shared, sang and enjoyed themselves in a very relaxed atmosphere. The place we were at is a beautiful environment out in the country that is dedicated to the body of Christ. This place is not considered ‘a local church’, though every aspect of our meeting fit the criteria of ‘local church’ to the tee. On our way back to Corpus Christi the friend I was with had recently read some of our books and sincerely asked me about my views on the ‘local church’. This brother is a mature older prophet in the Corpus Christi area with a proven track record of faithfulness to the Lord.
He couldn’t understand why I saw very little distinction between the ‘local church’ and para-church ministries. Well as we were driving back into town it was late in the evening and all the lights of C.C. could be seen, it was a great view of the city. I explained to my friend how what we just experienced at the ‘para-church’ ministry was a real expression of ecclesia and Christian unity. Two or more were gathered together and Christ was present. As we drove back into town I explained that today [it was Sunday] many various groups of believers met in many different locations and that this was also an expression of the Body of Christ. And as we looked over the city I told him that my understanding of all the various ‘churches’ that met together in all the different locations were in Gods eyes one church. That the New Testament doesn’t show them to be 100 different separate entities that we call ‘local church’, but that all the believers who gathered in this day were ‘local church’ [ecclesia] even the ones who met at the Christian camp [actually the style of meeting at the camp was more in keeping with the 1st century model].
God sees his church as one entity, not as many different entities all with their own separate identities. There are many church buildings going up in our city [nothing wrong about this], while driving to work not to long ago I noticed how one of the churches is building within a few hundred feet of another church. They are both good churches, but God simply doesn’t see these brothers as separate entities. It would be like the kids living in your home, they might be in different rooms right next to each other, but they don’t ‘operate’ as unique entities apart from the other siblings [at least I hope not!].
I was fellowshipping with a friend and sharing with him some of the thoughts in this book. During our discussion he was struggling with the concept of ‘the church’ being a free society of Christ followers [a brotherhood] as opposed to the normal way we see church today [the whole concept of Sunday church as the ‘church’ we go to]. While trying to explain myself [or should I say ‘defend’] I noticed that there was a picture of the last supper on the wall. I then used it as an illustration of ‘local church’. I showed him how this ‘supper’ was one aspect of Jesus sharing of his life with the disciples. Jesus lived and walked daily with his disciples for three years and is now going to leave them for their benefit [even though they don’t see it yet!].
During this final meal he rightfully is the center of their attention. He has already taught them the principle of calling no man on earth ‘father’ or ‘master’ or ‘rabbi’, because they are all brothers and their master/rabbi is Christ himself. So the atmosphere of them all being equal at this supper with him being the focal point is an intentional lesson for them. He then does the unthinkable, he gets up from the table and puts on a servants garb [towel] and begins to wash their feet! He tells them he is giving them an example of what it will mean to be a leader in the church. He shatters the gentile idea of leadership [being at the top] and once again shows them that the last will be first is a real mindset that is to be lived out in Christian community. True ‘local church’ is the common sharing of the life of Christ [the Eucharist is a picture of this] in Christian community where we all are equals [this means all, do you see how there was purposely no man or office that was predominant here, apart from Christ] and where leadership is identified by a servant’s heart!
THE SPIRIT OF COMPETITION IN THE MODERN CHURCH
Over the years while working with brothers who were addicts or ex-cons we would spend a lot of time just fellowshipping and spending time together as friends. Jesus was actually accused of being a friend of sinners. This accusation seemed to imply that it was all right to view people as a thing to be ministered to, but to actually befriend sinners was a violation of the religious world of separation between sinner and saint. The religious mind views people as a resource pool to accomplish ministry goals. People are viewed as being expendable. I have often seen the example used where if people are in the way of accomplishing religious goals then you must avoid them. While the principle of not allowing critics to stop us from accomplishing God given goals is important, yet we must put in perspective that the actual city/building that God desires to build is the community of people herself. Many times while working with these friends of mine we would run into or have experiences where other pastors would interact with them in efforts to ‘get them into their church’. Some would visit one church or another and then later tell me how the one pastor would be offended that they went to the other ‘church’. They seemed to be able to see right through the church games that these men were playing.
The goal of these well meaning pastors was to get people to go ‘to their church’ which in many of these scenarios simply meant attending a building to listen to someone preach. If the many ‘churches’ are simply competitive lecture halls from which men find personal fulfillment by having people come and listen, then in these scenarios the struggle or guilt that we put on people to make them come is an actual violation of the true church, which after all is made up of all these various believers in our communities. I am not saying that in all of these types of situations that there are never legitimate expressions of church, but the actual spirit of this type of thing goes on a lot in the average city. The people can fall into mindsets of where their simply being viewed as tools to accomplish religious goals. In the New Testament the mindset of ministry and ‘church planting’ had nothing close to this sort of attitude. The New Testament Churches were simply communities of people who gathered around the reality of Jesus. In these communities church was a daily way of life, it was not focused around meetings at all.
This is why I take issue with the strong house church emphasis that actually sees a pattern of ‘house church’ as the only legitimate expression of church. This is the same mistake as the building centered approach. They are both focusing on the wrong thing, where the people meet. The focus in the New Testament is not on where or even how they meet, but the emphasis is on the reality of all the believers in any given location as being the corporate expression of Christ in all types of situations. The fact that Christ lives in all of us is the great mystery. It’s really insignificant in my thinking on exactly how we meet. Now I know that some styles are better than others. For instance a meeting where all the believers function by sharing and caring for one another is much more edifying, but the daily reality of Christ manifesting through us as we interact in community is the true church. This obviously includes our meetings, but like I said earlier the New Testament thrust was preaching the gospel to people. It wasn’t on setting up meetings at all. The meetings were a simple outgrowth of true church life. When we loose the reality of this we digress into this competitive approach that causes pastors to compete with one another in a childish way. Paul told the Corinthians that their sectarian attitude to gather around the personas of men was a sign of their immaturity.
I can’t believe how immature we are in our thinking. I was having a discussion with a mature leader in the church and when I shared some of these truths he actually said ‘my pastor knows how to spot wolves who try to come in and harm us’ [or something to that effect] the feeling I got was he was feeling threatened. Now this was a mature believer in his 50s[I’m 43 as I write this book]. The reason I say this is because it seemed so unnatural for a mature saint to even use the term ‘my pastor’. In the body of Christ there are many different gifts, some are apostles others prophets, some evangelists, but out of all these gifted ones it would be highly unscriptural to refer to any of these in this way. Just try it, do you feel comfortable saying ‘my prophet’ or ‘my apostle’ then why do we think ‘my pastor’ is not indicative of our immature thinking. I am not advocating the doing away of this term [pastor] but this language should cause us to rethink our immature ways of seeing church. Church is not an endless series of religious meetings whereby people ‘attend’ in order to listen to bible words being spoken. The practical instruction and teaching that are operating in any healthy group of people will allow there to be room for the functioning of all the people in the group. This codependence that we’ve developed with the emphasis on one persons persona is in direct violation of the function and flow of New Testament thought.
The phenomena of one person being the primary voice and expression in the group [ecclesia] are an immature result of not rightly discerning Christ’s body. When people are together at social functions there is usually at least one person who has had a few drinks. You can identify that person by the way he acts. He wants to dominate the conversation, if you try and talk back he’ll cut you off because he derives enjoyment when the conversation centers around himself. He actually feels good about being the predominant voice in the group, to the exclusion of every other voice! I don’t know if we realize it or not, but in many modern church scenarios this is what the world sees. They frankly don’t want to ‘go to church’ because it has become an environment where one person is doing all the talking, and a lot of times it’s about him! People are tired of this. Our conversation [more than one person speaking] should revolve around the person of Christ as opposed to the persona of any one person.
Grasping the biblical truth of leaders choosing between effective ministry or ministry for the honor of men is a hard pill to swallow if you are involved with the ‘honor of men’ mode at the present time [if you are now reading this and it describes you!]. What I want us all to see is that it takes true courage to walk in truth in every generation of believers from the 1st. century until today. There were many well-meaning Christians during the time of the reformation who were serving God as priests in the Catholic church. Many felt it to be a disruption to go on in the new truths of the reformation [justification by faith] and simply remained faithful to God in the majority position of their day. These priests were still Christians [for the most part] and many of them sincerely followed Christ to the best of their ability without embracing the new truths that God was bringing forth in their day. I mention this because there are many well-meaning brothers in Christ who see the things in this book as truth, but choose to stay in the majority system of contemporary church and will continue to be used by God to a degree. The real question for us is do we want to be a part of ‘modern reformation’ or just be faithful to the system [after all our brothers have been doing it this way for years!].
GOD’S PEOPLE ARE NOT SIMPLY ASSETS TO AN ORGANIZATION!
Getting back to the story of the children of Israel in the book of exodus. If you remember the story God took his society of people, who were many [big numbers] and he brought them through stages to lead them into a place where they would become a self-sustaining entity on their own [with God as their king!]. They were living in Egypt and being ruled over by taskmasters. The bondage they were under was an expectation to produce a certain amount of building materials in order for the cities of man to be built. The cities represented the images and personas of men. In the process of God delivering them from this bondage of image building he raises up Moses [a type of Christ]. Moses God given prophetic authority begins to confront mans authority [pharaoh] and begins a process of freeing the people from this mindset of being ruled over in order to produce things so the images of men would be glorified [ouch!].
As Moses confronts mans authority, he at the same time leads the people on a journey. The journey is exciting and life changing, but it also has many risks and pitfalls. The children of Israel’s response determined how long this journey would take. The more they complained about this new walk and all of the difficulties involved with it, the longer it would take before they could enter a place of rest and true self rule [under God]. During this season of testing and trial in the wilderness they actually longed to go back into a system of being ruled over because the old system provided a sense of stability and structure that they were comfortable with, despite the fact that they were slaves in it! In process of time they [their children] eventually do enter into the promised land of self-rule.
They obtain their own national identity [the nation of Israel] apart from simply existing under another’s identity [Egypt] and God begins leading them with the assistance of prophets and judges and elders [a type of plural leadership flowing freely in society]. During process of time they reach a stage where they see how all the other nations are ruled [watch out!] and decide that they too want a king [man] to rule over them. Wow, after all that God brought them through to deliver them from mans control you would think they wouldn’t have done this! Well God actually says that by doing this they are rejecting his leadership for the leadership of men. He even warns them that this type of ‘mans rule’ will take of their best men and use them for the self-advancement of his dynasty. God says this king will even demand the tithes of the people in order to fund his kingdom [wow]. I guess when God says that the things that happened to Israel were for a sign for us so we don’t make the same mistakes; he really means it [1st cor.10]!
Many times in our present understanding of church we view people as assets to our ‘organization.’ ‘Wow if I could just get that talented person as a staff member in our church’. This way of viewing people as things that can help our organizations grow is the ‘Saul’ mindset ‘he will take of your best men’ mentality. People have intrinsic value, they are valuable in Gods eyes because of the simple fact that Christ died for them and has purchased them with his blood. People are not objects or tools to be looked upon as assets to an organization. If you were to adopt a child [a very noble task] hopefully you would do it because you loved the child and wanted to be with them. If this child later found out that you did this in order to gain some type of benefit [like a tax deduction or something of this nature] your child would be devastated. So when we view Gods children [the true church] as objects that will help advance our ‘churches’ [organizations] we devalue them.
I am not saying here that all present models of leadership in the church are ‘mans rule’, but a large degree of it is. There is so much image building that goes on in the church that it’s not even funny. Much of the collecting of tithes is simply a process where one leader is in competition with the other in order to ‘out build’ him, and a lot of times the people begin to simply be weekly attendees of our meetings who we deliver messages to and then hope to bring in a huge offering so the image of ‘our church’ can gain a degree of respect in the community. Like I said before, there is nothing inherently wrong with ‘big churches’ or ministries, but we must be careful that as we build we are not doing it at the expense of Gods true heritage [the people of God!].
If we can grasp the concept of Gods people actually being the vehicle that God uses to express His image and purpose in the earth, then we will stop viewing them as being simply a resource pool to accomplish ministry goals. My own prayer time has evolved as I began to see these truths. I used to spend a lot of time praying for the success of ‘my ministry’ but as I’ve come to see these truths I focused my prayer time more on the actual purposes of God to be made manifest through all the people we relate to. I began praying for God to accomplish and activate his purposes directly through his people. I began viewing ministry as not so much ‘something I am building for God’ but as the expression of his Son being developed and manifested through the people I relate to. If the people you influence over your life are truly impacted by the person of Christ, then in essence you have had a successful ministry. Many of these approaches to ministry will obviously not have the same amount of outward ministry things to look to [like buildings] therefore the concept of not building for the honor of men must be fully grasped by those who take on this style of ministry. This way of seeing and doing ministry also allows you to be free from having to raise large amounts of money in order to accomplish ministry goals. God truly can and will use any believer to expand his kingdom in the earth as you begin to see ministry this way.
Jesus simple way of sending the disciples out and telling them not to worry about purse or scrip [money. I like the way the message bible puts it ‘don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this, you are the equipment. No special appeals for funds, keep it simple’ Mark 6] shows us the simplicity of all believers being able to carry out ministry by virtue of the fact that Christ is in us. This is what I tried to stress earlier, that as you begin to view ministry as a simple function of Christ revealing and manifesting himself through his people, then this is something we all can do all the time. No big process of raising money [no special appeals for funds] but simply being a Christian in society and interacting with God and fellow believers in all types of situations makes the presence of Christ manifest [where 2 or more are gathered there am I in the midst]. It is common today to view ministry as a function of professionals and the need for them to raise money for projects causes there to exist in the Christian community a mindset where good Christians are always appealing for funds in order to accomplish some project. This actually projects the image that ministry is some type of a separate function apart from us. This really violates the whole concept of ministry being a natural outgrowth of believers being in right relationship with God [John 15].
WHAT MODEL OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT DO I ESPOUSE?
Over the years when dealing with these types of issues I have found it difficult to break through the ‘normal’ way and pattern of thinking that most Christians have. For instance some times people will ask me the question ‘what type of church government do you believe in’? Most Times in their minds they’re really asking me ‘what type of order, or pattern of Sunday church do you espouse’. While I also understand that they are including the concept of government that applies to the broader association of the various denominations, to me they are still ‘seeing’ church government as a particular order imposed by the ‘separate entity’ of their denomination. Let me try to make this a little clearer [hopefully].
If I were to explain to someone the reality of natural human life, I would go through the process of showing how life starts between a healthy relationship of 2 people coming together by Gods design [I hope I don’t have to get to detailed here!]. As children are born they will go through various stages of development and life. They will encounter many different situations as they proceed along this thing called life. One of the many things that most children will have [though sad to say, not all] is a home environment. This home environment is just one of the many things that make up their lives. In this home/house they will at different times and in different settings be taught all types of things, both by example and through actual instruction [I thought I told you to clean up your room! 2 days ago!].
In this home environment you might have a special day where you all come together in the family room for devotional time [this day varies with my younger girls but I try to do this on a weekly basis]. While this devotional time is important, it is only one small aspect of their entire lives. If you were to refer to this one day of teaching as ‘the life/the church’ I would correct your thinking and say this small area of Christian activity, though important, is only one aspect of their lives. Life itself is the actual organic reality of them being human beings who were birthed and grew up as real human beings. The sum total of all their experiences have shaped them, but they themselves, by virtue of the fact that they were born and actually [really] exist as human beings, is life. Life does not describe the home/house environment only. Or just one specific way in which we do our devotion time. It consists of the fact that they are truly alive!
So getting back to the question of ‘what type of church govt. do I believe in’ I often answer ‘none’, to the surprise of the person asking the question. I then go on to explain that I view ‘church’ as the actual living/organic entity of Gods people. God’s people are Gods people by virtue of the fact that they were born into his family; they are children of God, really! They are ‘church’ because of this fact. They will experience many good [and sometimes bad] things along the way. Most of them will find a ‘home/house’ environment to go to in order to associate with other believers [what we often describe as church] during these times of fellowship there will be certain days in which instruction is given [normally Sunday]. And they will experience many other types of situations throughout their Christian experience. So when someone asks me what type of church govt. do I believe in, I usually see the question to mean ‘what type, or style of Sunday church meeting do you espouse’. I try to make an effort to explain that I believe in the ‘actual church govt.’ that is I believe that all the people of God, all the time make up the church everywhere they are [remember Jesus answer to the Samaritan woman].
As God is daily communicating and interacting with his people by his Spirit this is an actual real existence that we share both with our creator and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This type of ‘church govt.’ is what I espouse. The ‘ordaining’ of elders in the New Testament was simply the recognition of more mature/grounded spiritual leaders who the early Christian communities could look to for guidance and direction [or correction] as they experience and live out ‘church life’. We have such a legalistic mind that as Christians we have changed church govt. to describe a certain form, or way of doing religious meeting while it originally referred to God ‘governing’ His people through the ‘govt.’ of Jesus being at the right hand of glory!
THE CAT CHAPTER [I DID THIS FOR MY KIDS!]
Whenever I have this type of discussion I usually receive different responses from well meaning Christians in defense of the old way of seeing church. Some feel it is total rebellion to even dare question the system [my pastor knows how to spot wolves mentality, which usually means me!] sometimes people try to devalue this message by saying ‘oh, that brothers one of those theologian types’ which I assure you I’m not! [never been to bible school, never been ordained [by men]]. Some feel that this way of seeing ‘church’ is impractical. I believe that seeing all of Gods people as the actual entity in earth that God has ordained to advance his kingdom is the most practical thing you can do. I personally have been active and involved as a believer in all sorts of practical charitable outreach. I do this by virtue of the fact that I’ve been ordained by God to go into all the world and make disciples. Whether you realize it or not, so are you!
All the ‘ministry’ stuff I do is not some higher calling that I have in which others need to recognize and support in order for them to get some type of reward simply because they support me [by the way we do not accept financial support]. This mindset creates a false barrier that causes Christians to see ministry as something separate from themselves, that somehow relieves them from their own personal responsibility to spread the kingdom. We sort of give the attitude that if the ‘average Christian’ simply supports the pro’s that he’s fulfilled his obligation. I often tell people that I am no different than them. God requires all believers to reach out and touch society around them in real practical ways.
No one is to simply be a book writer, or radio speaker or any other ‘thing’ we see as ministry. But we are all responsible to reach out in real practical ways, touching the lost world around us. Our real message as Christians is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. The message that the world needs to hear from us is that God is not mad at them, or trying to make them conform to some church standard. But God has already embraced and accepted them through Jesus Christ. Our message is one of total reconciliation and forgiveness. We all bare a responsibility to give our lives away for the sake of others. This whole book is to emphasize the reality and responsibility we all share in the great commission. The great truth of God ‘legitimizing’ all of us bares with it a great responsibility to touch the world. Jesus said to whom much is given much will be required.
This book hopefully opened your eyes to some degree to how much has been given to you. Much is now required. All the ‘ministry’ things that I personally do, working with homeless people, ex-cons [or present ones!], doing radio, personal outreach/evangelism, all of these areas are a natural function of trying to hear God and respond. I’m not saying I do everything right, I’m sure I don’t [really sure!] but I try to view ministry as simply hearing and doing the works of Jesus. If the verse in Mark says to ‘make no special appeals for funds, travel light because you are the equipment’ then my first reaction to God calling me to do something in ministry is to simply act. This is a forgotten doctrine of the old traditional church; I think they used to call it ‘obedience’. So my response to God should be ‘Lets go’.
Now I realize practically there are many contemporary building based churches that are hearing and responding to God, and that many of these pastors are obviously not going to personally fund everything they do. But I’m trying to show how we often respond to God’s call on us by perceiving that ‘God wants me to start a ministry’, once again falling into the trap of seeing ministry as some type of entity [usually a 501c3] that God wants us to start. God isn’t telling the ‘entity’ to do it, He’s telling you! [Or me] do you see this? So all the ministry stuff I do is without a board, no 501c3, and no separate entity at all. Just do it! [I should make a note here, in the early days I did incorporate and had a name, Corpus Christi outreach ministries, but this now is simply the name of our radio program. It’s more humble to leave it like this then to tell everyone ‘you’re listening today to John Chiarello’]. Now the principle of team work is important, after all this book is about the Church, Gods corporate people, but what I want you to see is you are free to do kingdom works without starting some ‘thing’.
I have also sensed at times that when I share this simple approach I take concerning ministry, that it will offend others who have gone the more traditional route. Sort of like a feeling of ‘how dare you think that you can just do these things on your own, who is your covering!’. This attitude is what I was trying to express earlier when I shared how the mindset of the 1st century Pharisee was offended at both Jesus and his disciples simply doing kingdom works because they were sent by God. There seems to be a lack of understanding of the true nature of our sonship in Christ. While God doesn’t want Christians to be rebellious or out of order, we often use this type of language in order to challenge true believers who are walking in the will of God.
If you think about it all of the commands in the New Testament are given to believers in order for us to actively participate in kingdom works. Jesus says when he returns that all nations will be judged on whether they fed him when he was hungry, or visited him when he was in prison [actual things that Christians should do]. He gives instructions on when we invite people for a meal to invite the down and out because they cant repay us [no political lobbying here!] but how many times have we actually done these things? We seem to read the new testament and confer the responsibility of these things on ‘the church’ as in if she were some type of separate institution that if we just give money to that we will be relieved of our responsibility to act!
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for this type of thinking. Jesus also taught that there would be people who at the judgment would be rejected because they never knew him, these people primarily focused on ministry as being ‘performance’ [have we not prophesied in your name type mentality]. This shows us that true ministry are the works done as a response of the compassion of Christ being expressed through us. Ministry is primarily not a function of religious performance. In American Christianity we often view ministry as a time were someone will be performing in an audience type atmosphere. Either a great sermon or fantastic singer, while there are times where these types of gifts edify, we often view ministry in these ways not realizing that for the most part this is simply ‘performance’. [I don’t want to sound mean here, but I really don’t know how else I could say this!]
A few weeks ago I took a trip to the New York City area, before I left I gave specific instructions to my kids to not bring home any more cats! I told them that they all ready had enough pets and I didn’t want them to have any more. My daughters have been involved with a lot of pet rescues where they find strays and get them fixed and get all their shots and find them homes. The only problem is some times the home they find is mine! To be honest they have done pretty well. I also now have two dogs living with us [it’s a long story]. So when I arrived back from my trip I was greeted by the whole family and I noticed there was a strange looking kitten, I wasn’t really sure if it was new or one that I just didn’t remember. Well as the puppy is playing with the kitten my daughter says ‘oh, daddy did you see the new kitten, she belongs to the puppy’ in essence they were telling me that they really didn’t get any new pets, but that one of the pets got a new pet! This is what you would call living up to the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the law. This is what we do in our understanding of church and ministry. The whole intent is to build and edify people. They are the valuable object to God. In our efforts to ‘build ministry’ we often devalue them [most of the times unconsciously]. As we re-examine our ideas and concepts of church it is my goal to lead us to a place where people are valued again, even if it’s at the expense of the institution!
Let me end this chapter with one more ‘cat’ story. One day one of our cats was killed by a car. My kids were upset so I violated the rule of not bringing any more cats home and went to the local shelter and adopted this real cute kitten. Well being I was the first voice that this kitten would hear [from my family] she became closer to me than normal. After a few more bad experiences with cats getting out my kids took 3 new stray kittens [recently rescued] and put them all in their room for months. The litter box, food and everything they needed was in this little isolated closed environment [watch out], well they stuck my little kitten in there too!
After a few months I told my kids that this isn’t right. I haven’t seen my kitten for so long, she used to play with me and really liked me a lot, being I was the first voice she’d grown accustomed to. Well my kids warned me that she isn’t like that anymore, she’s been with the little scared strays in the room for so long that she’s picked up the scared attitude and is afraid of people. Well I couldn’t believe that she would have forgotten my voice, I know its been a long time since she’s heard it, but after all I am her ‘daddy’ and she was a special kitten to me. Well I finally broke this little secluded environment that they were living in and went into the room. Sure enough all the cats were scared of this type of forced intimacy. I was just to close! They all had this scared look and ran under the bed. I couldn’t believe that even my little kitten was so affected by the natural fear that these strays had, that she too thought it necessary to hide from the face of her father.
Well after a few seconds my little cat came running out from under the bed and into my arms, as if to say ‘yes I remember you, your that first person that rescued me that day a long time ago, Its been so long since I saw you that I had forgotten your voice. I have been living with these unwanted strays for so long that I was afraid to approach you anymore’ well I think this is what happens to Gods kids sometimes. They start out at ‘the day of rescue [salvation]’ with the joy of hearing His voice, but after living our lives out in unnatural environments [closed rooms] for so long we forget what it was like to truly hear his voice and to commune with him. Often times there needs to be an intrusion into our closed environments before we can recognize the voice of our father once again. [NOTE; when I told my girls I was going to put a story about our cats in the book, they said ‘wow, our cats are going to be famous’ we just cant seem to get away from this desire to legacy build!]
Leadership is primarily the function of helping people ‘get out of their rooms’. It is the process of leading people away from feeling content and satisfied in our little rooms of fellowship and doctrine, which cause us to feel superior to our brothers and sisters in Christ. The end result of this little book shouldn’t be ‘now that I see these things I have found a ‘new’ room to dwell in [the room of the doctrine of ecclesiology/house church] but the result should be seeing ourselves as free in Christ and being built up as co-equal members of Christ’s body, Paul said knowledge puffeth up but charity buildeth up [edifieth]. As we all come out of our peculiar rooms of various doctrines [some of which are true!] we don’t advocate the belief that doctrine is not important but want to bring people to a place where we find our identity in the person of Christ as opposed to the doctrines of men.
I would like to end this little booklet in an unconventional way. I want to simply share some thoughts from my own personal mission statement. Also I want to speak directly to all of our friends who either listen to us on radio or who I relate to in some way in the kingdom. Over the years of sharing these truths I would often have people who have heard us or read one of our books and after seeing certain truths would express their concern about their church, or so and so’s church. I without fail have always defended the church or pastor. The reason is I feel that the truths in these books are not to be used to personally come against a particular church or pastor. I do believe we all need to examine our motives and readjust our thinking when it comes to why we do the things we do ‘for God’. Its possible to be involved in church building and without realizing it, to be building monuments that will burn up in the day of judgment. All true church building consists of unselfishly depositing into other people for their growth and benefit. Ministry is not a ‘career choice’ as if someone were choosing between auto mechanic/fire-fighter/pastor. Ministry is a gift that God deposits in all his people for the mutual edification of the whole body. What we fail to see in many present forms of church is how we are simply empowering a few individuals at the expense of the people in the pews.
I have seen many well-meaning men go into ministry and immediately feel a sense of fulfillment because they are flowing and speaking and giving out of themselves to others. The writing of this book as well as the radio programs I do give a sense of fulfillment in that we are all created to give ourselves away. But in many current situations the main speaker is finding fulfillment at the expense of the rest of the body. God designed the church to be a place where all of Gods people would find fulfillment in giving themselves away. The unnatural act of submission that we often teach is not true biblical submission. We often tell people if they are not satisfied with their passive role as listeners that they are in rebellion. While in reality true rebellion is not developing into the mature functioning person that God wants all of us to be. My purpose is not to give Christians excuses to ‘not go to church’.
The mindset of ‘I can worship God on the golf course’ mentality. But to cause us to radically rethink what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. The Pharisees of Jesus day were involved in all types of religious activities, but Jesus said their main motivation was to simply attain a certain status amongst their fellow peers. He said that’s what they were in it for and that they already received their reward [the honor of men]. Why do we want to build big ministries? Is it truly for the glory of God or are we unconciously enjoying the natural success that comes with the adventure of any big project? I’m not against big projects in and of themselves, but we must examine our motives for doing the things we do. True New Testament Church planting is simply depositing Jesus image into the people we relate to over our lifetime. What legacy did Paul leave behind? Was it some huge earthly institution? We find him at the end of his life living in a rented house, receiving visitors and declaring the kingdom of God [Acts 28; 30-31] he left behind a legacy of gentile communities who believed in Christ!
Here are some of my own personal thoughts from my mission statement.
1 spend time making quality friends, all ministry takes place in this type of atmosphere.
2 true leadership is relating directly to groups of people in cities, not starting some type of organization.
3 the apostle Paul had relationship with believers in different locals, but he didn’t own them.
4 don’t try to produce only one type or way of church, but allow Gods natural process to work in various ways.
5 relating to areas/groups of people regularly is building the body. Either a church building, home or any regular place of contact can be the format for building the house of God.
6 planting churches in the New Testament sense was not the concept of setting up regular meetings in which Paul would preach to them week after week as a pastor, but planting churches was an apostle going to a location and making believers of the gospel of grace, and then trusting the Spirit in them to continue his work. Paul did speak of recognizing and ordaining elders in these cities, but it wasn’t a weekly church concept.
7 in the book of acts the focus wasn’t on setting up meetings, but sharing Christ with groups of people and relating to them as a family of children of whom you will always have relationship with, but allow them to mature and grow up on their own and eventually become independent.
8 the focus isn’t meetings but ecclesia. That is the actual people you disciple. when Jesus sent them out 2 by 2 it wasn’t to start home groups, but to bring the kingdom to regions. Don’t sacrifice the freedom of touching people directly. Jesus and those he sends simply speak, do, share and communicate with people. His great commission to go and make disciples and baptize. Direct authority to do kingdom without having to start or set up a movement. The movement itself is ‘Jesus family’ [ecclesia]. You will meet with people, but the focus is the people not the act of meeting. Learn to relate to people without having an agenda. Simply be free to love people.
9 look at Jesus and the 12. Later in acts, even Paul when going to a region, he holds meetings for a limited time [though the longest was around 2 years] preaches Christ, has a give and take with the community and then leaves. No ‘starting’ of anything, but a revolution in the hearts and minds of people. Later when re-visiting these communities, these are the ‘churches’ of the New Testament. We must see and operate in this simple way. This simple way is New Testament church planting.
10 his yoke is easy and burden light. Go into all the world and preach the gospel. Don’t loose the simplicity of doing Gods will. He requires nothing more than to go and touch and share and love. The people you touch are the ecclesia.
11 in these friendships the main truth will be Jesus and his grace, these friends will be encouraged to continue in Jesus and his grace. Prayer, bible study, fellowship and their journey with God. Be available to baptize and communicate with them, but allow God to grow the seed.
12 you never get the sense/feeling from Jesus or Paul that they were going somewhere to recruit people to their ministry. The sense was bringing this great message and kingdom to people! The people continued in the apostles doctrine and fellowship with each other and later Paul would come back to see how they were doing, not to start some type of ministry, but true long term friendships in the kingdom.
13 the freedom isnt ‘house church’ or ‘temple worship’ but the kingdom being amongst us now! Obeying Jesus command to love! This command is free from all forms and structures of ministry, and allows us to daily love in action, always sharing in word and deed Jesus. A willingness to baptize those who believe and share and love and relate on a friendship basis. Jesus style.
I would like to note here that at the present time [2000’s] there are many worldwide Christian movements that are actually doing many of the things that I mentioned in this book. There are many ‘ex-pastors’ who have left their former roles as the central figure of the people they were pastoring and have continued to serve the body of Christ in a bi-vocational way [not getting paid to pastor!]. While I am not advocating this for every pastor who might read this book, I share this to emphasize that these thoughts are presently being practiced on a large scale worldwide [I do a lot of research!]. When people are confronted with new truth there is a tendency to discredit the messenger, so I wanted you to see that there are many thousands of believers who are walking this path right now. There are also many brothers who have seen these things before I did and I appreciate the role they played in helping me to see new truth. In many cases the believers who have left there former churches to live in simple community have been ostracized and looked upon as backslidden rebels. This has created in some a resentment in those who are technically correct in their seeing the church as the community, but many wont hear their voices because of the barrier of resentment that they pick up from them. So you have some who remain in the old way of seeing church and justify it by the fact that some who moved on have a bad attitude. We are all responsible before God to respond to truth when confronted with it, regardless of how much we resent the messenger! I personally believe that after reading this little book that your level of responsibility has gone up. You must ask God how He personally wants you to respond to the truths presented to you.
A few weeks ago I had a dream that I felt was prophetic, over the years I have had many interesting dreams and visions. I have never shared any of them in book form, but have spoken about them through our radio program. I dreamt that I was going to a Christian university, when arriving at the university there were many scholarly people dressed in suits and ties. There were many classes going on and discussions taking place about theological subjects. As I continued on my tour of the university there was a classroom where all the professors were gathered in a circle examining something. As I got closer I saw in the middle of these scholars there was what looked like an Indian warrior, he was crouched and just sitting there as something to be examined. He was severely scarred, not just normal scares but sort of a grotesque mutilation. He was there as something to be examined [I thought of the verse in Isaiah where it says he was marred more than any man, that he was wounded to beyond the point of recognition]. Later when I woke up I felt part of this dream spoke to the danger of us as Christians being able to learn and study truth, while never fully embracing the mystery in Christ. We have a tendency to build people up with all sorts of doctrines and never arriving at the point of fully grasping Him. My goal is after reading this book that your focus will not be ‘now I am going to go do the things in this book’, but that you would be able to see Him to a greater degree. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
Let me close with this, the apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he was given authority by God to build them up and not to tear them down. He actually regretted being so hard on them in his 1st letter, but later said he was glad he made them sorry for a season because it would later bear good results. While I’m not comparing myself to the apostle, I do see a similar situation in some of the teaching we do. Its seems to upset people initially but after a while it will produce good fruit. My intent in examining our whole idea of church and ministry is not to give people ammunition to fight against their church, but rather to cause us all to embrace a more biblical concept of church and ministry. I personally do not advocate the total deconstructing of all present day church practices. I personally believe there is room for both building based churches [the church building] and the house church movement. My appeal is for us to look at all these issues and come to our own conclusions on how to embrace these truths at our own pace. I thank the lord that he has been patient with me as I walk this journey and I want to give you all the same room and grace he has extended to me. May God bless you guys until the next book!