Where does the money go?

On the FaceBook newsfeed I’ve seen several articles and videos about where the money goes in mega-churches.  It must be part of a capital campaign, or trying to answer questions since Mars Hill in Seattle is having cutbacks take place, and etc.  It is a great question because even though I’m a pastor, I can imagine having the same question if I was a member in the church too.

First I want to applaud some of the mega-churches for giving the statistics about where the money goes.  Openness is paramount in my opinion when dealing with money.  Many of these churches have been secretive in the past, but some are being transparent and that helps when ministry is being performed in a suspicious climate.

I would like to offer another idea about where the money goes from a small church pastor’s perspective.  I have been in ministry for a while now and I’ve seen various moves, or fads, within The Church.  I’ve learned that people are a bit fickle when it comes to commitment to a particular Body of Christ.  In fact, people are very migratory.  In other words, people seem to only commit to 2 to 3 years in one church.  Then, something better comes along and they are gone.

This really isn’t an article about church attendance as much as it is about commitment.  After all, there are consequences when commitments are broken.  While poor church attendance is frustrating, it simply just keeps things from moving quicker.  Therefore, I would like to share some of these consequences to leaving the small local community church.

For starters, when Christians become migratory by leaving their community church because of age on the facility, preferred style of music, because of problems with the people in the church, or because the pastor is not someone they want to follow, there is impact to the church that has been left.  In addition, there is impact on the community that the church is in.  Plus, it is helpful to remember that relationships and problems are easily worked out by those who love Jesus; but that is another article.

Consider that for whatever reason, someone simply leaves a local congregation and attends a church out of town.  When this happens they take their financial resources with them; not to mention their manpower.  Furthermore, they take their influence with them too.  In fact, they join the vision of the pastor who may be in another community that has nothing to do with the community they live in.  This causes the local church, when enough people un-commit, to go into a type of survival mode.  I am aware that many “super leaders” in The Church would say that this is poor leadership.  Yet, it will take time to re-calibrate the vision he had for the community; if he or she had one.  Besides, the people the pastor believed were behind him or her are now no longer available.  It takes time to for a small church to replace them.

This matters because we could assume that God has that church planted in its particular community so that church could be a blessing to the people in that community.  For instance, their ministries cannot be accomplished within the community that God has placed these local churches.  This leaves people to wonder, “Where does the money go?”  After all, the money shortfall stalls the ministry to the community from moving forward.  The answer may be that the money that God gave His people who live in their community to bless and finance ministries that meet needs of people has gone into the large productions of mega-churches that are in other communities.

I should note that often I talk to believers from the community who tell me how they desire to see God do something in the community that they used to attend church.  These people will encourage me and still have the expectation that I have an assignment, but these continue to be non-participants in God’s redemptive purpose for their community.  Yet, they will travel out of town on Sundays.

Recently, a non-denominational ministry that is designed to reach kids before they are 14, ran out of money because the churches within Liberty, my local community, were not able to give enough financially for the ministry to operate.  As of now, it is operating; thank The Lord.  Yet, why is it so hard to finance that ministry?  It seems it could be argued that God’s people refuse to remain committed to the Body of Christ, that likely, The Holy Spirit placed them in.  What is worse, the local Body of Christ that they left is now stumbling and cannot move forward in a way that benefits the community.  The resources were there to meet those needs until many Christians became migratory and went to a comfortable environment that was more pleasing.

Obviously, there are “experts,” or expert debaters out there who  may be able to dispute my observations.  Yet, the fact remains, as a small church pastor, I ask, “Where does the money go?”  Once I begin the process of speculating, as I am now, I can’t help but come to this type of conclusion.  Once I reach this conclusion my next question is, “Why do people blow off the local church for the mega-church setting so readily?”  Guess who is usually contacted to go see the sick and dying.  You guessed it.  The pastors who are left in survival mode.  Many do not realize that one day this service won’t be readily available if the migrations continue; but that is another article too.

I think what is amazing is that Christians have not stopped to ask, once they are part of their new churches, a couple of questions: “Where does the money I give go?”  And, “How does my giving at this new church help my community 15-30 miles away?”  It’s amazing how much vision a local community pastor can have.  It’s also amazing how little is accomplished in the community because the manpower and finances have left the community.

In my community it is not just my small church that experiences the consequences of migration from one church to another.  It actually is close to the same from church to church.  If my opinion is close to right.  then, what type of answer will many of these Christians have to the question Jesus will likely as about faithfulness with what He gave to so that they could bless their community?  Or, does it really matter?

This was not a scientific approach and very well may be mere opinion.  Yet, in the local church that desires to serve the community, one has to ask, “What is the motive for the exodus from small churches to mega-churches outside of the community?”  Somehow it seems Christians have an agenda and God has one too.  They don’t seem the same.

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Trust in God from Genesis 12

In Genesis 12 we have the story Abram.  In my series Walking with God, I spoke about Genesis 12:1-9 because of the great promises made to Abram for following God by faith.  After all, Abram left everything he was comfortable with to follow Yahweh to a place that was still not clarified to him when he began to literally walk.  In fact, he was even able to get some people to go with him!

Genesis 12:1-9 is a great look into what it means to place all of your faith (hope, security, control, physical well-being, trust, and etc.) in an invisible God.  This is a great story since Abram lived in a time of great idolatry.  Yet, he heard God!  He heard God in contrast to those idols who cannot speak.

In Genesis 12:10-20 Abram doesn’t do so well.  In fact, all of that faith that he placed in God seems to be for a fleeting moment.  In fact, this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to actual faith.  A famine broke out where Abram was.  Here is one of life’s circumstances that simply occurs beyond our control.  However, Abram’s stomach begins to control him because he decided to move on to Egypt so that he, and those who were with him, could find food.

In contrast to the earlier part of this chapter, where I bragged on Abram’s faith, Abram was not told by God to go to Egypt.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  Abram left to go to the land that God would show him and for incentive God made great promises to him and those who were to come behind him.  In my mind, to leave in the first place, I would have to literally trust God to take care of me and my crew.  Yet, that is not what we are seeing here; at least from my vantage point.

Listen, if God was going to do all that He said He would do, then why didn’t Abram simply stay put?  Abram’s earlier trust should have come across his mind.  God had assumed responsibility for him.  He should have stuck it out, but he didn’t.  In fact, he told his wife to tell a half-truth that she was simply his sister.  Abram told her that since she was beautiful, he would be treated well and spared his life because of her.  Wow!  Where did the trust in God go?  He now seems to think that between the abilities of Pharaoh and Sarai that will be saved.

Even more troubling is that he allowed Pharaoh to take his wife to be his wife.  It is good to remember that God is Holy.  John Oswalt once said, “God is Holy! He is Holy for our good and our ill.”  Even though Pharaoh seems innocent, God is just and afflicted he and his people.  This seems to be God’s Holiness that brought ill on Pharaoh.  Further more, Abram is accumulating wealth at the expense of his wife being wife of Pharaoh!  So now we have innocent people being hurt since Sarai was born too soon for women’s rights to help her.  Likely, she didn’t have a choice in Abram’s decision; not to mention what was happening to the Egyptians people for not fault of their own in this situation.

Remember the promises God made Abram?  Since we know the story Abram, who later became Abraham, we know that God promised him and Sarai a son.  Yet, later since God seemed to be taking so long in fulfilling that promise Sarai she offered to Abram her servant Hagar.  So Abram impregnated Hagar and had Ishmael.  Nevertheless, this was not the Promised Son.  The Promised Son was to be born 14 years after Ishmael.

We have to consider how Abram’s decision to go to Egypt impacted this.  Is it possible that Isaac, The Child of Promise, could have been born sooner?  There is no way to know for sure, but consider that God would not want any connection possible between Pharaoh and Sarai.  After all, Pharaohs generally thought of themselves as gods on earth.  And for sure, I can imagine the talk among those in the camp with Abram and Sarai.

If this assessment is possible, then how much impact does a lack of faith have on God’s people?  It seems that we can prolong the good that God has in store for us by not following Him by faith.  In fact, it seems best to remain in the situation that brings you struggle until you hear from God.  Famines that drive us to make decisions irregardless of God are meant to be a time of testing our faith.  We may find that when we continually try to escape uncomfortable situations that we are demonstrating a lack of trust in God’s ability to maintain us in spite of what we face.  How much sooner would those in the camp with Abram have seen God’s power if he remained where he was?  And how much sooner would Abram and Sarai have received Isaac?  Thoughts to ponder.

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Doctrine

What I like about WordPress is that I am able to see how people found my blog.  Most of the time my blog is found it through the search engines.  One of the phrases that seems to show up often is “What do Wesleyans believe?”  Well, obviously we are Christian Protestants in the the Evangelical persuasion and should be thought of as believers who see themselves as part of the Holiness movement.  Therefore, I thought I would post our foundational beliefs along with the Calvinist viewpoint for a bit of comparison.

I will start with what Calvinists generally believe, although there is some variance, taken from the famous TULIP:

  1. Total Depravity: The personality, mind, body, and soul of a person is totally depraved.  Devoid of any ability to will spiritual good toward salvation.  There is nothing in us that can bring about salvation.  We are born with Original Sin inherited from Adam..  Regeneration occurs before faith.
  2. Unconditional Election: God has chosen some for salvation.  He has done so without regard for the decisions of those who have been chosen (Elect).  God elects, chooses, some to everlasting life no matter how hard-hearted.  He also elects others to eternal damnation.
  3. Limited Atonement: Christ died only for those whom God has chosen.  Therefore, those who are elect received salvation through His shed Blood.  Through the Blood of the Cross, Christ has redeemed by cleansing from Original Sin and sin committed before and after receiving faith, chosen ones from every tribe, nation, and language.
  4. Irresistible Grace: The Holy Spirit gives an irresistible urge to be saved to those who are elect.  Basically known as effectually drawing them to Christ so that they come most freely to that which is good.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints: Those who are chosen, or elect, will persevere to the end.  They cannot fall away from the state of grace.  They cannot lose their salvation.

Wesleyans are Wesleyan-Arminian.  Our beliefs were greatly influenced by John Wesley and James Arminius.  Here is what we believe:

  1. Limited Depravity: People are deep in sin, but God has extended His grace to all so that everyone can be saved if they “will.”  Faith occurs before regeneration.
  2. Conditional Election: God has called everyone to salvation, though many whom He has called do not respond.
  3. General Atonement: Christ’s Blood was shed and is available for all.  It is applied to those who respond to His offer of salvation.
  4. Prevenient Grace: God has given prevenient grace to all, which draws them toward saving grace, but the individual is not forced to respond to God’s grace.
  5. Conditional Security: Once saved, a person will always be saved unless by defiant, continued, purposeful rebellion, they refuse grace and choose apostasy.

Here are some useful links: TULIP, Arminius’ Remonstrance. and The Wesleyan Church.

These beliefs are just two doctrinal points of view within the Protestant Church.  I suggest that if you are someone who wants to compare what people believe, then you need to go to their website.  Often mainstream denominations will have their Articles of Religion posted.  However, churches that are autonomous, meaning independant or associations, may not have websites.  This means that you would have to ask the pastor if you could see what they have printed about what they believe.

Often, many assume that everyone believes the same things.  Yet, many times Protestants only agree on a few things.  In fact, I caution you that if you ask a pastor, or someone involved in a different church, what a church associated in a different denomination believes, you should not expect total accuracy.  Sometimes people take liberty in turning what another church believes into something outlandish.

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I’ve given in

In an attempt to spur church growth I’ve decided to say that we are not going “mainstream,” but actually go mainstream.  We are going to replace are 1950’s picture of Jesus in our foyer for the Jesus that is more relevant and appeals to so many. hipster_jesus1 hipster jesus 2 hipster1

I have selected two pictures of Jesus to use and a better picture of His Disciples after one betrayed Him.  Peter snapped the pic.  Preaching  from the Bible with the 1950’s pic of Jesus just did not have the Instagram appeal that is needed to create an environment to find hope in.  It is likely that with these pics, preaching from the Bible will be more of an experience for those who want to find hope in the 21st Century.  What do you think?

Why I am hardcore about listing salvtions

For years I’ve struggled with churches who list salvations and “celebrate,” their victories.  As a pastor, I know that I already seem awful for writing this sentence.  Yet, it really isn’t my intention to take away joy.  My purpose is to question whether or not we, as pastors, are capturing the truth of the Bible.

Consider repentance.  Most agree that repentance is a requirement for salvation.  There are two different types of repentance in the Bible.  One type of repentance is worldly.  This repentance is illustrated by someone who is sorrowful about his or her situation.  This is much like Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ.  He was sorry because he had betrayed an innocent man.  So to escape his situation he was sorry enough to hang himself.  We may assume that he likely did not receive salvation since he did not adequately repent; and since Jesus said it was going to be bad for the person who betrayed him.

In the Bible, the repentance that leads to eternal life is known by many to be Godly repentance.  This repentance occurs when someone is sorry for his or her sin.  In fact, they are sorry enough to change his or her life from living a life of disobedience to a life of obedience.  This is foundational for salvation.  Paul, also known as Saul before his conversion, is a great example of this type of repentance since his life was completely changed on the Damascus Road.

Many pastors and theologians are now questioning “The Sinner’s Prayer.”  The concern is that many are simply hanging their hats on simply believing in Jesus and that phrase itself as if there is nothing left to do.  While I continue to use this phrase, since it helps me to explain to someone what salvation looks like, I also realize that many pray this prayer and do not really commit to the Lord.  Herein lies the problem for listing, or counting, salvations for everyone to see.  If these people never bear fruit and have nothing more to do with church, then they cannot be counted.  They are still in their old lives and not new life in Christ.

Let’s look at confession now.  Yes, I said confession.  It is biblical and not solely Catholic (Roman), but it is catholic (universal).  In fact, in the Bible we are told to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16).  But, in today’s modern church, we simply ask people to raise their hands if they want to receive Christ as their Savior.  I see reports on Facebook sometimes where members of a church talk about people receiving Christ in services and use numbers anywhere from 10-3000!  This is great news!  Yet, when you investigate what this might have looked like, these salvations were seen by a show of hands.  What about confession?

Consider John the Baptist for a moment.  When he called on Israel to repent, he did not ask for a show of hands.  He asked them to come forward to be baptized.  What of confession?  Who did those who “received” Christ confess their sins too?  I guess we could say to Jesus, but what of “to each other?”  Who will hold them accountable so that it can be measurable, really, whether or not they were actually saved?

Consider the idea of believing.  Belief is a multi-use word in our society.  For example, I believe The Statue of Liberty exists; though I have not experienced it.  I have not shaped my life after it; but I do give it patriotic praise during wartime.  Again, I believe in air which has impacted my life because I can’t stay underwater long if I should choose and I know that I am sustained by it.  Yet, while on dry land I think nothing of it.  However, believing in Jesus goes beyond that of the demons since He does have my respect.  I now use the term believe to reveal that I have staked my entire being on Him and His ability to save me physically and spiritually.  When I use that term in that way it dwarfs when I use the word believe in the context of The Statue of Liberty.  Same word, but two different intentions and outcomes.

Do those who are counted as salvations really understand what it means to believe, and how it impacts your whole life with a simple hand-raise?  We haven’t talked about Vacation Bible School yet.

What about receiving?  Reception seems to look like transformation as the result of receiving.  I am amazed on a regular basis that fruit never seems to be measurable from those who raise their hands to be saved; except in attendance at church on Sundays.  Transformation often does not take place in such a way that fruit can be measured outside of a church setting.  I likely sound judgmental.  Yet, Paul and Jesus seemed to believe that we could see the results of someone’s salvation easily.

I write this so that we can get a discussion going about what real salvation looks like.  In fact, if my concerns are valid, then people need to reexamine whether or not they received Christ.  Further, this could mean that The Church in America is worse off than we realize since numbers may be skewed.  Again, I will say that if everyone, who we like to claim is really saved is really saved, then the impact of The Church in America would not have to resort to politics to change the country, but the country would be changed by transformed lives.

I feel more comfortable to say that my church had a certain amount of salvations when people are conquering evil in their lives.  I feel comfortable when these people are active in church, and out of church.  Often churches will record many salvations, yet their attendance numbers do not change.  My fear is that we are creating manipulative excitement in order to make our churches look wonderful.  And that we are competing church with church through these possibly skewed numbers.  This is why I’m hardcore about salvations listing.

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2014 Final Four game between Kentucky and Wisconsin

First, I want to say that Kentucky and Wisconsin played a great game and these teams did not lack in effort.  These teams demonstrated what good defense is supposed to look like.  March Madness is a great time of year for college basketball fans.  In fact, for those who love college basketball it is much like The Super Bowl for NFL fans.

While watching the game I realized how large of an impact officiating has on the flow of the game.  I am usually someone who complains about referees often, and frankly, I was just angry because things didn’t go well for the team I rooted for.  However, my college basketball team is Indiana.  Indiana wasn’t invited to the tournament this year.  Further, they were not invited to the NIT either, which is another rant for later.  Therefore, I really didn’t have a dog in the hunt in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

The problem in this year’s tournament has seemed to me that there has been a few blown calls, or non-calls.  I won’t list them here, otherwise it would cause me a great deal of typing to share what was wrong with each call. Click here for one article that addresses this problem.  These calls have impacted several games.

In the Kentucky-Wisconsin game, Traevon Jackson was whistled for three blocking fouls.  The last call was arguably a decent call.  But, the first two calls were ridiculous.  Now, the refs made, or did not make, calls that helped Wisconsin too.  Yet, I want to put for the idea of how those blocking calls, alone, impacted Wisconsin’s game.

When the referees blow calls on an impact player like Jackson, who was clearly in good defensive position to take those charges, and the Kentucky guards are allowed to drop their shoulders and dribble into the defender, Jackson, the ability to defend the lane is greatly diminished.  In fact, the result was Jackson taking an early seat on the bench for the two calls in the first half.  Not only did this impact the Wisconsin team, it empowered the Kentucky team to really hit the lane with drives from their guards.

There was a point when the feeling seemed to be that Wisconsin was going to go up 20 on KU, but taking Wisconsin’s good defense away, because of poor calls, kept the game close.  In the second half there were a couple of times when Jackson was back in that he backed up on defense to avoid getting his third and fourth fouls and allowed the Kentucky player easy access to the basket for a score.  Remember, Kentucky won this game by won.  It is easy to see how these silly calls impact the game if you simply take that one basket away because it would have been defended.

Calls were also not being made because often KU players were holding, out in the open, WU players cutting to the basket.  Imagine if these calls were made, and WU made their free throws how this changes the outcome.  It seems that KU’s guards, although Harrison made a great shot to win the game from way outside, would have rendered ineffective in the game.  Or, at least instead of Bo Ryan adjusting his game plan, then it would have been Calipari adjusting his.

At the level of the NCAA Tournament, why is it that poor officiating takes place in such obvious situations?  At the high school level, one can see a few bad calls because those officials are working a regular high school game.  The Final Four is not a regular game and you expect to have the best of the best.  Announcers were seeing those calls and commenting on them much like they were in the rest of the tournament.  Is there not an official who can observe all of the officials during the game to hold them accountable?

When kids are giving great effort, especially defensively, it is unacceptable to see officials blow calls.  The fact is, it is not one or two bad calls during the game, but it is consistently inconsistent poor calls.  Someone should be holding these officials accountable because these are high stakes games.  In my mind, the Wisconsin team played near perfect and the game was taken from them by the officials.  Kentucky played great, but  WU was better.  This is just wrong.

This is why most believe that teams like Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky, seem to get extra benefits from the officials.  The only way that I can reason out how these bad calls continue to be made is that there are some schools that hold a certain amount of respect from the NCAA and the officials so that they are favored.  This unjustly impacts programs that have worked hard to get into those major games.  In the world of replay, and everyone watching their TV’s, how is it there is no serious discussion about this problem?  Let’s hope, at some point, someone will figure this out.

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Is it okay to make accusations against The Church?

The purpose of this article is to find out whether or not it is okay to speak against The Church.  In fact, is it okay to speak against a local church of which is a smaller part of the whole Body of Christ?  Often criticism against the Church is popular among secularists and Christians alike.  In fact, some pastors would seemingly speak in such a way to attract people to their church particular part of the whole Body.  Usually this type of attraction is levied in such a way to try to get Christians to leave their church, or to reach those who say they are Christians who have rejected church.  That might be another blog someday.  While those on the other side, meaning, those outside of The Church universal would criticize The whole Body in general.  Many of these are those who want nothing to do with Christ because they have rejected Him by determining to live their lives on their own without Him.  In other words, they do not want to live lives influenced by Jesus Christ.  In fact, this is God’s gift to them anyway because He allows them to choose freely to live without Christ.  On the other hand, there are those who want the gift of life which only is available through Jesus Christ.  Yet, these sometimes only want eternal life and, therefore, follow Christ in the way that they see fit.  Sounds very similar to those who reject outright, but only God knows the heart; yet, Jesus does tell us that we will know them by their love, while Paul says by their Fruit.  In other words, these do not allow Jesus to be their Lord, but will allow Him to be their Savior if such a distinction is possible.

When trying to put our minds around the idea of Church, the Bride of Christ, it is helpful to remember that The Church is both Human and Divine at the same time.  It is important to understand this concept in order to properly address the question at hand.  As a result, this simply means that churches can make mistakes and need correction from the Word of God as prompted by The Holy Spirit; hence, Human and Divine at the same time.  This is usually needed when the church has gone outside of the boundaries of what is written in the Bible.  In fact, when correction is needed, it is not necessarily from an individual who is not associated with The Church.  Therefore,  denominationally, there is usually supervision that comes from those whom God has placed in leadership and their charge is to hold a local Body accountable to operate within the boundaries of what is written in The Bible.  These leaders are overseers that we trust that God has placed in these roles.  If not, God will remove them.  In fact, when governing  a Body, leadership will seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, The Bible, and historically from the early Church fathers.  This should be a comfort for those who tend to be suspicious of churches.

It seems that many Christians in America, in particular, have not been discipled properly.  In other words, it seems that many fall into the group of people who want to be saved by Christ, but they do not want to follow and obey Him.  This may be the result of praying a simple prayer to receive Jesus as Savior and then believing that the finish line has been reached.  This is far from the truth.  In fact, receiving Christ is the starting point.  Yet, most churches, unfortunately, do not disciple young believers (not young by physical age, but still new in their belief) into a healthy relationship with Jesus as their Teacher for life.  Jesus is supposed to teach all believers not only how to live Holy lives, but also how to love and protect The Church while existing in a hostile world.  After all, He gave His life for everyone to be incorporated into The Church (God’s Kingdom; the New Israel).  In fact, Jesus said that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:24-25).  Further, in this same passage, some accused the work that Christ did as being the work of Satan.  This is blasphemy against The Holy Spirit.  Jesus warned them about this type of accusation.  Therefore, it only makes sense that Christians are not quick to make accusations against Christ’s Church and churches.  After all, if God is doing something unusual through The Church or churches, it is better safe than sorry.

The Apostle Paul addressed the importance of The Church in the world, by dealing with the Corinthian Church which was part of the whole Body, in 1 Corinthians.  In fact, contrary to popular belief, churches exist to hold members accountable according to this book.  In this church, Paul said that there were those who were not Spirit-filled and seemed to build the church from the foundation of everything but the Cross.  They did so because they operated under the influence of the world’s wisdom and not under the Spirit’s wisdom which is not of this world.  Therefore, when listening to those who would criticize The Church, one needs to decide whether or not someone is has a unifying spirit or not.  God desires that His Kingdom be united here on earth.  If not, then it is usually because the person may not be filled with the Spirit. This means The Church should not listen to someone who fits this mold.  In fact, if someone is not filled with The Spirit, The Bible seems to classify this person as someone who is part of the Kingdom of this world.

In answering the question of whether or not it is okay to make accusations against The Church, or part of the whole Body, one needs to see what The Bible said about it.  In fact, Paul talked about the dangers of someone who believes he or she is wise.  The issue he dealt with was that unity had been challenged by those who followed certain leaders and their particular teachings.  Division was brought about because worldly wisdom seemed to help shape the Corinthian Church.  Paul believed that those who created division and operated under the influence of worldly wisdom were actually destroying The Church.  Here is his reply, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple  is sacred and you together are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16-17, NIV).  This is usually a passage that some like to use to discourage Christians from drinking and smoking.  But, in the context that it is found, and the plural “you” that is used, it is obvious that God has a major problem with those who are destroying His Church whether knowingly, or unknowingly.

Therefore, creating division and making accusations seems to be dangerous.  It is true that people can have an opinions.  Yet, those opinions must submit to the authority of God’s Word.  At least if these who say they are Christians would desire to please the Lord.  According to The Bible, Satan is one who accuses the Saints, those who belong to The Church, and with that knowledge it is a very serious thing to bring accusations against The Bride of Christ.  Moreover, it seems that these Scriptures, along with others not listed, seem to exist to cause one to consider carefully what he or she says.  In my opinion, it is best not to bring an accusation unless the accuser has had a Burning Bush experience.  Yet, even then, signs and wonders would accompany such an individual.

 

 

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Me and my mother’s favorite songs from the 70’s

Here is a list of songs that my mother and I enjoyed back in the 1970’s.  These songs are not listed in order of personal preference or in popularity.  These were simply songs that we would turn the radio up on while riding in the car taking trips to the local mall or for various other reasons.  These are likely 8 track  tape classics.

  1. Thunder Island
  2. Rock and Roll All Night
  3. Tiny Dancer
  4. Celia
  5. Shake Your Booty
  6. Bad Moon on the Rise
  7. Surf City
  8. Dead Man’s Curve
  9. Right Back Were We Started From
  10. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
  11. Love will keep us Together
  12. Jackie Blue
  13. Car Wash
  14. Shop Around

These are just a small list.  When I hear these I think of good times.

A Pastor in a Duck Dynasty impacted world

Evidently Phil Robertson shared what he believes with GQ Magazine.  I read the story on CNN’s website and was a little concerned for some of the colorful language about body parts he used.  In fact, I was struck with his presentation of his beliefs and felt that he could have been gentler about it.  Nevertheless, he quoted Scripture and what was quoted is what the Bible said.  In my opinion, Scripture is truth.

While reading through some posts on blogs and Facebook, I continue to notice that each Christian has an opinion.  In fact, as I read through what each Christian post I found myself agreeing and disagreeing.  Sometimes I just didn’t like how they presented their view even if it was, in the end, right.  As a Protestant, I am reminded that our basic background is that we believe we can read our Bible and develop our view point of Scripture.  In other words, we do not have someone setting doctrine for us because we, as individuals, do that for ourselves.

As a result, I listen to other Protestant pastors from time to time and I think that they are just wrong on their interpretation of different passages. Yet, in Protestant churches this is what makes us unique as groups.  I always caution my congregation where I serve about my sermons too.  I encourage them to read the Bible themselves to hold me accountable.

As a pastor in the United States, I also hold Constitutional rights.  My dilemma is that I’m a citizen of Heaven while a citizen of the US at the same time.  This means that I am accountable to be as civil to others as expected by God first, then by the Constitution. The problem for me, as a pastor, is that I am supposed to share biblical truth when asked.  This is where those in The Church and those outside of The Church need to give a little understanding to Phil in my opinion.  As a minister, he was asked a very touchy, because of our political climate and culture, question.  As a pastor I have been asked these very tough questions.  Questions much like Phil was asked so I can imagine the tension that was in the interview because I feel it too.

As a Christian I am called by God to love Him and others.  In fact, that is what I want to do.  I think the possible result of my answers can be abrasive from another pastor’s, Christian’s, or citizen’s point of view too.  While my answer would have been hopefully less colorful, it would have had to be the same if I want to stay true to Scripture.

Another concern that I have right now, and it seems to be a big one,  is that many Christians and non-believers are saying that this is not a freedom of speech issue, but a contractual issue between Phil and A&E; in other words, a business issue.  My thought is that if true, then a small church pastor like me who is bi-vocational may be at risk to lose his job too.  After all, I may be under contract with my other employers who hold a different point of view of sin than I do.  Unlike Phil, I and many other pastors, have to work another job to provide for my family.  I’m not a millionaire like Phil.  I’m just trying to make ends meat.

Now I’m protected, for now, by the Constitution to have free speech.  Yet, the bigger issue seems to be that the government isn’t going to protect me from losing my job for practicing my rights as a citizen of the US if people I’m employed by do not like what I say.  So now do we as Americans want to introduce this type of discrimination into the conversation?  The LGBT’s say that this is who they are.  Can I not say that a Protestant Christian is who I am?  Thankfully, homosexuals have been able to make Americans aware of discrimination that happens to them.

So can we really say that this is not an issue of free speech?  I find it alarming that CNN ran a story about a sermon that Phil preached.  A lot of the terms he used came out of the Bible.  CNN interpreted it as a type of hate speech and wondered if A&E, Phil’s employer, heard this before he was hired.  Just consider what I just said for a moment; especially in this digital age where we find ourselves as pastors on Internet media.  As a Protestant he can preach his interpretation how he wants; or can he in the US?  So what is next?  Are the news agencies going to start pointing to those who preach against certain types of sin as hate mongerers and fight to have our employment taken from us?  If so, how dangerous is that for America?  Is it okay for what happened to Phil to happen to me and others?

Right church, wrong church and division

Small churches become aggravated at megachurches because many leave the small church for the megachurch.  On the other hand, megachurches have a way of defending themselves that seems to lash out at small churches who criticize them.  Both groups have stereotyped the other side.  One side will say that the other only entertains, while the other side will say that the other is old and is not a church that people want to attend. This is counterproductive to the Kingdom building that is supposed to be taking place.  After all, people leaving one for the other is not an increase in God’s Kingdom.  In fact, this back and forth between these two sisters has brought much confusion to many believers.  What is more, it has brought confusion to those who find themselves in a place where they are not committed to a church, but may actually be in the process of  looking for a church.  What I mean is that they have heard the echo from those in both camps of this issue.  So this means that they are hearing this discussion between the two sisters, and I would argue it is a negative discussion, which is aiding people who are not committed to Christ choose the church in which they worship and serve at that may not be the Spirit’s leading.  With one side pointing out the imperfections of the other, it seems appropriate to outline those characteristics of what aright church looks like.  There are four universally, historically, marks that someone should look for in a church so that he or she may decide whether or not they have found a right church or a wrong church.

Those who are looking for a church should be looking for distinctive marks that seem to help define church on whether or not it is a right church, or wrong church.  Of course this type of discussion is nothing new.  In fact the Early Church set forth The Marks of The Church, which can be observed from the book of Acts.  You may recall that the book of Acts is a book that describes the birth of The Church as a result of the Holy Spirit coming to indwell those who receive and follow Christ.  According to H. Ray Dunning, in 381 B.C., The Marks of The Church were stated formally for the first time in the Creed of Constantinople” (529).  Four Marks were named in the Creed, Unity, Holiness, Catholicity (which means universal), and Apostolicity.  Dunning further pointed out that these marks are produced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  “They are not the result of organization or administration but are the creation of the Spirit” (529).  This last statement is another discussion for later, but it certainly should cause one to pause at the role of leadership, and administration, in many Protestant churches today.  Since these marks are understood to be the creation of the Spirit, this means that people, both inside and outside, of the Church, should be able to see these traits as reality.  If these traits are not seen as reality in regard to a group, then it is possible that group may not be a right church.  Here is a little more clarification to aid understanding these marks.

The first mark in our list of four is Unity.  This mark is one that both small churches and megachurches need to consider again.  Remember the discussion in my intro of this article.  Each side tends to point out what the other side believes to be wrong with the other.  Jesus’ teaching to His followers should be applied in this situation, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out your eye, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).  If both sides rightly understood this, then each could be beneficial to the other which would glorify Christ.  Consider a statement that makes a great point, and should be a rule that is kept in mind,  James B. Chapman said, “The Christ in me will never be at variance with the Christ in you” (Dunning 531).  This obviously should demonstrate the unity of Christ’s Church.  These two statements are important for each side to consider because these were made in reference to what leads to disunity, and what should help to create unity.  Christ is not divided against Himself.  The Holy Spirit should be aiding to keep this from happening.  Our goal as those who are part of The Universal Church is that we be united as part of, and by taking part in, God’s Kingdom.  When we work against each other it creates disunity and this means there is no benefit to the Kingdom.

The second mark is Catholicity.  This term is not about being a geographical location, or part of any particular tradition of doing church.  It means that it is universal by embracing Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you (Christians who have been saved by the Blood of Christ and have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them) are all one in Christ Jesus.”  This again seems to be another way of saying unity too (532).  Clearly, this is what Paul had in mind here, and in his other epistles.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit ties us to all who are in Christ.  This means that those who have the Spirit are part of The Universal Church.  This is important because this means that there isn’t a worship style, or a particular way of being the church.  Instead, it is an outer reality, that exists on the basis of the inward reality of the Spirit that makes the church be the church.   After all, there is only one Savior; and He is not divided in Himself.  We are “doing” church right, when we are being the Church through the aid of the Spirit.

The third mark is Holiness.  Holiness, unfortunately, sometimes is understood in a variety of ways.  For example, does one become Holy simply because Jesus automatically gives it to those who He calls His?  Or does Jesus offer Holiness to those who surrender themselves totally to Him so that He they can receive another helping of Grace?  This is a debate without end.  Yet, as a Wesleyan, I believe that Holiness is imparted by Christ.  From John Wesley’s point of view, “Holiness of the Church is attributable because of a real, rather than imputed, holiness” (532).  It should be pointed out that the Church does have within her those who are babes in Christ.  In fact, we are becoming Holy by allowing the Spirit within to mold and shape us.  We also are learning from the Great Teacher, Christ.   This means that each person is walking in the light they are given at that particular point of their new life in Christ.  If this be so, there will be issues each church will have to deal with because of the universal impact of sin in our world.  Further, corporate Holiness also involves accountability within the church.  I recognize that writing this some might say that this leads to judgment and condemnation and more legalism in the church.  By the way, both sides of this discussion have this element to contend with.  On the contrary, I believe it is about motivation.  Holiness that comes from the Spirit is centered on love for God and others.  It is not involved in lording over other people.  Instead it is driven by the heartfelt need to keep a brother or sister from sinning.  This in turn helps to keep the purity of the Church’s witness.  In fact, this is why Covenant Memberships exist in many churches.  This, too, will be a topic for another discussion.  Holiness, as Dunning puts it, is “the conscience of the church” (533).  Moreover, it is time that we Christians understand that we are Saints; and that we should no longer be sinners.  This is the common cry of many Christians today.  It is important that we remember that God still has expectations of us.  Therefore, right churches will remain aware of this.

The final mark in this list is Apostolicity.  This is not to be understood as an office what one can seek.  Instead it is what should be present within the Church through her members.  Members who are empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells within.  This is the same Holy Spirit who dwelt within the Apostles.  In other words, in regard to Apostolicity, “It is the truth of the gospel proclaimed in the power of the Spirit” (534).  In fact, this is why each person receives spiritual gifts.  These gifts are meant to build up the Church.  If we localize this by saying build up the church, which is part of The Church, then we realize that it is not about one person, or a few, who have the ability to attract.  It is about the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who dwells within the corporate Body, and in individuals who make up the Body.  Therefore, it is not really about the greatness of the speaker, singer, or leader.  It is more likely that it is about the greatness of God who is present in His believers and among them as well.  With this type of understanding it easy to see that each person has a gift, or gifts, which they bring to the local church so that they too can help build up that particular church.  In turn, if the church being built up has these marks, then the Kingdom is being built up.  In fact, The Bible said that the Holy Spirit places in you in a church to do just that.

The purpose of writing this is to help those who may wonder whether or not their church is a right church.  At some point, All churches who claim Christ as their Savior must stop acting as if they are the only church who is really right.  Beware of that type of rhetoric, whether it comes from large or small.  It seems more likely that God uses both megachurches and small churches.  As a small church pastor, I want people to know that I understand these marks.  In fact, I wanted to write this because my church is small and can easily be labeled as a church that doesn’t get it.  Therefore, if Christ is in me and in those who attend my church, then it is dangerous when other pastors make blanket statements about churches who are not right or productive, in their opinion, because of a certain tradition that may seem to be out of touch with this new age.  Likewise, it is dangerous when smaller church pastors preach against what God is doing in larger churches.  The damage that is being caused is only to the mission of Christ to make disciples by using His Church.

There are more developed Marks of The Church, for example Mark Dever wrote a book called The Nine Marks of  a Healthy Church.  I have looked though this book, and it looks to be a good read and teaching tool.  However, I elected to stick with what I see as the earliest work on this subject.  I say this because I am aware that there are other variations of The Marks, but each should be developed from The Creed of Constantinople in my opinion.  I believe Dever’s is.  But his is a book, and this is only article that is meant to be basic.

Once one establishes whether or not a church is a right church, and there doesn’t seem to be division of Christ taking place, he or she needs to seek and hear from God whether or not that is the place to serve.  This should be helpful for those who are wondering what a good church looks like.

Works Cited

 

Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace Faith and Holiness.  Kansas City,

MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1988.

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