Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Contemplating Christmas

During this sacred season, I often find myself wishing I could retreat from the "hustle and bustle" of the holiday, and spend some time just thinking about -- and being thankful for -- the reason we celebrate this time of year.

As humans typically do, we find a myriad of reasons to nitpick about the meaning of the season -- and we demean and defame it everytime we do.

Consider the Scrooges who just cannot abide a manger scene in a public setting. How about the Grinches who've forbidden school children from even speaking the name of Christ, much less singing about Him in school programs. And how about those stores selling "holiday trees?" They seem to have no problem with "happy holidays," and they have a Hanukkah section, even a Kwanzaa section -- but nothing labeled "Christmas."

Then there is the overt, often grotesque over-commercialism of the season, the emphasis on getting more than giving, the insane shopping sprees and tramplings in the wee hours of Black Friday in front of the Wal-Mart's.... As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief!"

But the secular world isn't alone in its defamation of, arguably, the second most holy day of the Christian year. The "church" is just as guilty.
Some on the more extreme fringe criticize everything from Santa Claus to the date we celebrate Christ' birth (or if we should celebrate at all) to whether or not having a Christmas tree is idolatry to...You get the idea.

Then there are those who go in the opposite direction. Christmas is on a Sunday this year. Some "megachurches" have decided that it's a "family day" so they won't be holding services. Excuse me? I realize crowds will be small. I realize family time is important. But, Jesus came for the church! To create it, build it... So, now we are too busy or selfish to worship -- on the Lord's Day, on the day we celebrate His birth??

When I observe all the ways humans tend to distort and abuse what IS the greatest gift ever given, is it any wonder that I'd rather contemplate the holiday alone, in solitude? I find a quiet time of reflection far more rewarding than the corrupt creation we humans have made this glorious holiday.

Still, on Christmas Day, I will be worshipping the newborn babe that became our sacrificial Lamb. I'll be with the few disciples who count it important enough to come. And if it's just Him and me, that'll be okay. That'll be just fine. The gift He gave to me is worth it....Every bit of it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Whew!...Glad that's overwith...

As a professor, that's about the only thing left to say when the semester ends, the papers and exams are all graded, and your evenings are now all your own (well, except for the Christmas shopping and the honeydo list...). I hope now to be able to post a little bit more during the Christmas break. I will update my reading for the last month, and comment on a number of issues I haven't talked about yet. Look forward to it...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ekklesia - Caveats

My last several posts have addressed - in an informal fashion - the subject of "The Church." I've tried to demonstrate what I see as the difference between the made with hands churches of our day (Most denominations, institutions, organizations, local churches, etc.) and "The Church" -- that is, the true, living, Biblical, Christ-centered "Church." The latter IS the Ekklesia of God.

I have been hard on denominations, institutions, organizations and (most unfortunately) the majority of local churches. I've called these made with hands churches for reasons I explained in earlier posts. However, I want to offer a caveat to the remarks I've made.

My condemnation -- or at the very least deep suspicion -- of these made with hands entities is not a blanket declaration. Among this majority of "organized Christendom," there are exceptions. There remains a small "remnant." This remnant, in my experience, actually does reflect the priorities of Christ. Certainly, while they are not perfect -- no body composed of humans is -- at least their understanding of God's purpose in His Body on earth stands out among other entities.

It isn't just the rare "local church" that achieves this reflection of God's intent. Quite a few "parachurch ministries" also stand out. After all, many of these ministries were created to work around the "dead weight" of do-nothing made with hands churches, denominations and the like.

I could name some of these rare exceptions -- the rare churches, parachurch ministries, etc. -- that are a reflection of Christ' will, a remnant for His witness, but I trust the leadership of the Holy Spirit to guide astute disciples to find them and work in them and with them.

A final reminder, though: "The Church" God birthed at Pentecost can come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and shades. A building with a steeple and a sign out front that says "...Church"
does NOT make it a church. "The Church" is the universal, invisible Body of Christ on earth. Unfortunately, we only catch glimpses of "The Church" God intended in the made with hands
entities of modern -- or postmodern --Christendom today.

J. Dale Weaver, M. Div.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Ekklesia -- Conclusions, part 2

The final element I think I should add regarding the "True Church" of Jesus Christ is the imperative of unity. This is in stark contrast to the ultrafundamentalist demand for "separation," which has become so distorted and abused as a Biblical teaching that in has marred the Gospel message to the world. (I'll comment more on this "doctrine of separation" championed by ultrafundamentalists in a later post.)

Yet, the imperitive of unity must also be differentiated from the water weak concept of ecumenical "unity" based merely on "love." Please understand what I mean. The greatest chapter in the Bible on unity is John 17. In this chapter, most appropriately called "The Lord's Prayer," Our Lord prayed a number of times, "that they all may be one; as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us..." (John 17:21). Yet, Jesus also prayed, "Sanctify them through your truth; Your Word is truth" (John 17:17).

The Apostle Paul puts it most succinctly when he charges the Ephesians to "[speak] the truth in love..." (Ephesians 4:15a). The basis of the unity of the Body of Christ, The True Church, the Church Universal, Spiritual, both truth and love. Love void of truth is mere emotion and sentiment; Truth void of love is cold, hard, robotic. Neither one can produce unity -- true, biblical unity -- without the other. That is why Fundamentalism is so judgmental and legalistic; that is why Liberalism is so mushy and meaningless.

Is this easy? Clearly not. Look at how the church has failed fairly consistently at it over the past 2,000 years. But it is God's call to His true Body. Truth and love form a symbiotic relationship that, when balanced, can provide the type of unity God desires -- the kind that only His Spirit can produce. Anything less is the product of the made with hands churches, institutions, movements and men who lead them.

Doctor Robertson McQuilkin, past president of Columbia International University (my alma mater), has a famous saying -- one which has become a guiding principle and motto of my life and ministry. He said, "It is easier to go to a consistent extreme, than to stay at the center of Biblical tension." So true... Humans, believers, have an extremely difficult time finding balance at the center of Biblical tension. This is true on this key issue of unity -- and it's just as true with the other issues of Ekklesia -- the Church, that I've addressed in these several posts. Here's hope that you can strike a balance in your walk -- HINT: It can only be found in HIM.

A closing note for now: Some would read this and believe that I am condemning the current manifestation of "the church" wholesale. Some would conclude that I reject any form of local church, denomination, institution or organization other than "The Church" universal, invisible, and spiritual. That's not necessarily true -- if you've read past posts, you may have caught some clues of that. However, my last post on this subject will deal with "Ekklesia: Clarifications and Caveats." That, I hope, will deal with any lingering doubts or questions you might think to ask. Or at least it will prove to you once and for all that I really AM a heretic! :-)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ekklesia - Conclusions

The concept of the "Church" has been long debated. Good people differ on exactly what it means and how it is composed, what are its essential characteristics and who are its congregates. I certainly don't believe anything I say could end the arguments. I can only conclude with a summary of where I stand, of what I believe constitutes the True "Church."

First, "The Church" is the universal, invisible, spiritual Body of Christ. It is organic, born of the Holy Spirit of God, not of men.

Second, "The Church" as scripturally understood is to be differentiated from "the local church," a denomination, a sect, or some other man-made creation or invention. These entities are what I refer to as made with hands churches; they do not necessarily reflect the spiritual principles of God's Kingdom and true Body.

Third, Since the definition of ekklesia is "a called out assembly," any group of individuals meeting in Christ for worship, prayer, and study of Scripture in accord with the Spirit and in keeping with core Christian Doctrines, may be Biblically referred to as "The Church."

Fourth, made with hands entities called "churches," denominations, and other such institutiuons and organizations within "Christendom" were the creation of humans. In many cases, they were founded with great and good intentions, but they have become (or are becoming) useful tools to control and exert power, rather than to further God's kingdom. As such, these made with hands churches may only be regarded as "The Church" in proportion to how obedient they are to the Scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Many of these entities, unfortunately, must be discarded as apostate, or as a hindrance to the True Church and the True Gospel. This includes not merely liberal and modernist churches and institutions, but also evangelical and fundamental churches and organizations.

Fifth, the fundamental reason for the corruption of the institutional (made with hands) churches is the depravity of man.

MORE, shortly....

NOTE: Sorry I've been absent for a while -- I've been "under the weather."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Ekklesia - Congregations

A friend of ours that we've known for well over a decade came by to help us out after we moved back to Irmo, South Carolina in 2002. It was fall, and he'd been our HVAC man, installing our Gas Pack some years before. He had attended Columbia Bible College, where I went to Seminary, and we'd always looked to him when the unit needed servicing. Well, it was Fall that year, and there were some problems with the furnace, so he came by.

After fixing our unit, he stayed and chatted with Tammy and I for some time. It had been over four years since we'd talked to him, since in those years we'd moved to Nashville, Tennessee. As we talked, I asked him where he and his wife and children attended church now.

"We actually just meet in our homes with a group of our friends and families."

I was a bit surprised at that, but he went on to explain that "church" had become such a hassle, with its internal politics, and the sometimes plastic worship, that this group just began doing "church" in their homes. He said that they avoided all the "money issues," they were comfortable with people they knew and trusted, and they didn't have to put on a show for anyone.

The traditionalist side of me found this a hard pill to swallow. After all, if you didn't "go to church," how could you be a Christian, right? But the Biblical student within soon answered that question. The Word of God never tells us to "go to church." The scriptures DO say not to "forsake the assembling of yourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25). But what does that mean?

At its most basic level, its fundamental core, the organism of the "Church" may be "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there I Am in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). That is all that is "required" of a group to constitute itself as "a church" biblically. Consider this issue from another perspective...

Is it necessary, according the Hebrews 10:25, to "go to church" everytime the doors are open to fulfill God's command? Is that what this verse teaches? Sunday School, 10AM; Morning Worship, 11AM; Sunday Evening Service, 7PM; Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting and Bible Study, 7PM? Not to mention youth meetings, choir practice, supper before prayer meeting, etc... Please understand, I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with these activities in a "local church." But they aren't necessary for a group of believers to be considered "Church."

Some would insist, particularly among Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, that these meetings are necessary, yea, that the abandonment of such meetings is a compromise of the Gospel, and that any group of "so-called Christians" that do so need "revival bless Gawd!" Sorry...You get the idea. Many Catholics would insist the same, even to the point of attending Mass everyday - for the same reasons.

But nowhere does the Bible EVER detail or demand we MUST meet this amount of times, in this way, according to this tradition! The Bible prescribes meetings "on the Lord's Day" (Revelation 10:1) more commonly referred to in Scripture as "the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2). The Bible also commands meetings "from house to house" (Acts 2:46). Incidentally, Church History records that no formal meeting houses were ever built for the Christian Church until the late third century -- mostly because the religion was illegal and meetings were held in homes or secret locations. Church buildings only became prominent afterConstantine made Christianity the state religion of Rome. Then, he gave them former pagan temples and converted them into "churches."

The concept of "going to church" was foreign to the Early Church. They didn't "go to church," nor did they "do church," ratherm the Apostles taught that they were to "BE the Church!"
The Biblical Church has Elders, and Deacons. They are "called" by God and confirmed in their call by "The Church." And yes, Scripture does give some outlines and guidelines of these offices and of how a local assembly should govern itself. The problem I've tried to point out is that, too often, we've ignored the teachings of Scripture, and adopted the traditions of men with regard to who and what "The Church" really is. We've surrendered the substance for the shadow. We've jettisoned the truth to swallow a lie. We've taken the Spiritual, living organism, the Body of Christ -- The Church -- and turned it into something more befitting us, our nature, our achievements -- made with hands. Depravity corrupts, tarnishing all it touches.

Was my friend wrong in assembling together with a small group of believers in homes for studying God's Word and worship? Shouldn't he have his wife and kids down at the church house? Maybe so, according to those in the made with hands churches of our day -- but NOT according to the Word of God.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Ekklesia - Conditions

I've spent the better part of my nearly 19 years of ministry in the "local church." I've pastored 3 churches in three different states. I've actually ministered in 3 different denominations: The Southern Baptist Convention, The Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, and the National Association of Free Will Baptists. I mention this just to establish that I've "been there," and I know whereof I speak.

In my last post, I ended asking the question, "Does the local church...have part in this [Body of Christ]?" Does any denomination, institution, para-church ministry, mission board or even local church participate in the "Body of Christ," and it's ministry on earth? And for that matter, why does it seem I'm so hard on the local church and other institutional Christian organizations?

In the past, I wasn't. From the time I first sensed God dealing with me as a rising Senior in High School, and at the World Congress of Fundamentalists in 1983, I've been involved in local churches. I've believed in local churches. I've even worn blinders for the sake of local churches. Let me explain...

As with other "made with hands" institutions, when humans are involved, even "believers" in Christ, their suppressed yet potent depraved natures cannot help but "leak out." In my experience, I've known Pastors and other ministers who were liars and cheats, I've known deacons who followed their examples. I knew a deacon once who was a drunk. One Pastor I was acquainted with was a serial adulterer -- he'd had at least two affairs in the church he served. I could go on, and I could reveal much worse. I'll spare you. I mean, "We're all human, right?"

God did not entrust His message to humans so they could shame it, smear it, and spit on it. Yet, too often, the actions of "church leaders" do exactly that. The actions of "church members" are as bad or worse. The testimony of "the church" is not a plus for the building of God's Kingdom.

But you might charge that I am basing my generally negative views about the "institutional church" and its subsidiaries on the actions of a few, or only on my own experience. Well, examine the Scriptures.

When we look at the New Testament, we find all the Apostles who write of "The Church" as the "Body of Christ," understand it to be very positive and pure. But when the term "the churches" is used -- or when a single local church is mentioned (Corinth, Laodecia, Thyatira, etc) -- it's usually in the context of the troubles it's having.

For example, after Pentecost the young church in Jerusalem boomed. They rode a wave of blessing and growth hard to conceive of in our day. Yet, within three years or so, "there arose a dissension between the Grecians [Hellenistic Jews] and the Hebrews [Palestinian Jews]..." (Acts 6:1). This lead the young church to appoint "Deacons" -- the seven men who would meet the ministry needs of the Grecian Jewish converts, and thus solve the problem. Though necessary, this indicates a pattern that continues to this day -- when there is a problem, let's start a committee, or two.... So the institution grows, but how long before the cure to the original disease become a disease in itself?

Divisions within a local church, or in larger Christian institutions, are notable and numerous. Consider the split in the Church in 49 AD regarding how one becomes a Christian (Acts 15). Or, consider the Corinthian Church -- of all the Apostle Paul's "church" plants, this one was the worst. "Now I beseech you, Brethren...that there be no divisions among you...For it has been declared to me that among you, my brethren...that there are contentions among you" (I Corinthians 1:10,11).

Time and space forbid me to explore the myriad examples in the New Testament of "local churches" that were corrupt -- whether in outright immorality, divisions, deviant beliefs, etc.. And it is no different today.

Consider that of the seven churches named in the book of Revelation 2-3; only 2 were not judged or criticized by the Lord. Smyrna was too busy being persecuted to be unfaithful or untrue to the faith; Philadelphia is portrayed as having "a little strength" because they "kept the word of [God's] patience" (Revelation 3:8). It is debated why Philadelphia had "little strength," but it is clear that they were faithful -- and just as clear -- they were the exception.

Today, the "local church" that reflects faithfulness to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, to the Purposes of God, and to the principles of His Word, are rare. Certainly, there are exceptions. But, "local churches" are only exceptions to the rule of the failure of the "made with hands" institutional churches to the extent that they are loyal to -- and diligent in -- faithfulness to God and His Word....No matter what the denomination, Bishop, Session, hierarchy, Canon Law, the World or the Devil Himself says.

So, is "The Church" in a given area only found in a "local church," or is it manifest in different places, under different conditions and circumstances, without the made with hands structures, bureaucracies and consequent corruptions?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Ekklesia - Composition pt. 2

Let me state this idea of "The Church" versus "the church," or "Universal Church" versus "local church," another way.

Local churches -- like the one I referred to in my last post, Time Square Church -- as well as many "fellowships," denominations, parachurch groups -- are human organizations. They are institutions with their origin found in this world, based on the things of this world.

I do not argue that many were founded with the best of intentions. Many were founded by good, "Godly" folk who wanted to deliver an uncompromising message of truth. Many wanted to demonstrate a true, Christlike spirit of love. Yet and still, even Jesus states rather clearly that "the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth" (John 4:23). And Steven, a deacon in the Jerusalem Church angered the Jewish legalists of his day when he declared, "The Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands" (Acts 7:48).

Often, I get the distinct impression -- no, let me be honest -- I am absolutely certain that many of those of various denominations believe that God Himself is the author of their own particular brand of church, denomination, sect, whatever. But these institutions, these organizations, are merely "made with hands." These institutions, while they may hold to a form of godliness, while they may adhere to noble and in some cases ancient traditions, lack at their core true worship, in spirit and truth.

Of course, not every person within these traditions are deceived or arrogant enough to believe they have all the answers -- but many are. That's why the real nature and composition of "The Church" is so vital.

The real, true "Church" of which the apostles and Our Lord Himself taught, is this "Universal Church" to which I've referred. This is the true Church because it is a "spiritual" Church. It is the true Church because it is founded on truth (Matthew 16:18); it is purified by truth (John 17:17); and it worships in truth (John 4:23).

"The Church" of Scripture, "The Church" of Spirit and Truth, is not an institution or organization "made with hands." Rather, it is an organism -- a living thing! (I Corinthians 12:12-20). It is not manifest in things "made with hands" -- certainly not exclusively, anyway. In fact, many times, the true Church is manifest despite the institutional church.

How is the church composed? Well, in the structural sense, "The Church" is the Body of Christ on earth. It is a living, it's members work together to accomplish God's will as lead by the Holy Spirit, based on truth -- which is God's Word.

So, does the Local Church -- or any other "made with hands" entity have part in this? If so, how?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ekklesia - Composition

In my last post, I discussed the conception and birth of "the Church" of Jesus Christ. In this post, I want to briefly address the composition of the church. By composition, I mean, who populates the church? And necessarily, that question leads us to consider its nature or organization.

"The Church of Jesus Christ is the universal, spiritual body of believers from every tribe, tongue, kindred and race of peoples, and is indwelt by God through the Holy Spirit and divinely empowered to fulfill ministry and her Great Commission on earth" (Statement of Fundamental Truths, Times Square Church).

This statement, written by the church pastored by renowned evangelist David Wilkerson, is perhaps the best expression of ecclesiastical truth I've read. Succinctly stated, ALL those who have received Christ and repented of Sin are members of "The Church." There are no rituals that erect a barrier to "church" membership. One does not have to be baptized (in water) to enter "The Church." No catechisms, no tests or exams -- only true faith and repentance. In principle, few evangelicals or fundamentalists would argue with this.

The rub comes when we try to define what a "church" actually is. You see, for humans, we can't settle for a definition which leaves this "body" invisible. No, humans MUST have a visible, tangible, reliable organization -- or institution -- to govern, control, order....

This leads to further definitions which differentiate between the "universal church" and the "local church." Consider these:

"A New Testament an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel; observing the...ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes..." (Baptist Faith and Message, Article VI, The Church).

Or howabout this:

"A Christian Church is an organized body of believers in Christ who statedly assemble to worship God, and who sustain the ordinances of the Gospel according to the Scriptures" (Treatise of the Faith and Practice of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Article XV, The Church).

These definitions, on the surface, are not in error -- well, with the exception of the "democratic processes," but that's for another post. However, these words seek to make tangible, and to some degree controllable, what God intended to be a spiritual reality.

I liken what the "institutional church" has become to what Ancient Israel had become in I Samuel 8:6,7: "But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, 'Give us a king to judge us.' And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, 'listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you: for they have not rejected you [Samuel], but they have rejected Me, that I should reign over them.'"

The institutional church - denominations, organizations, para-church ministries, televangelists -- MOST of these entities -- have rejected the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and created their own structure; a structure they can control, manipulate, lord it over. This was not God's intent for His Body (cf. I Peter 5:3).

Many Protestants -- and certainly Roman Catholics -- have made an institution of their own creation to replace God's creation and intention for His Body on earth.

So, if what the current, visible manifestations of Christendom are do not match the designs of Scripture nor the desires fo God, what does? Is there ANY visible manifestation of the Body of Christ? More next post...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ekklesia -- Conception

"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

Whenever this verse in the Gospels is discussed and debated, it's usually over the meaning of the "rock" upon which Christ pledges to build His Church. Today, I actually want to ask, "what," or "who," did Jesus mean when He used this term "Church" (Gr. ekklesia)?

I'm sure when the disciples stood around Jesus, and heard these words, that many of them scratched their heads and thought to themselves, "what's a church?" That pondering aside, we must consider why Jesus chose this time to introduce the idea of the "church," and what it meant.

I like to think about this in these terms -- if Pentecost was the figurative "birth" of the church, then Matthew 16:18 was the conception of the church. It was during this time, as Jesus was in His last year of earthly ministry, and He'd already begun to look to the cross, that He opened this subject to His followers.

As I mentioned earlier with regard to this subject, the Greek word ekklesia means "called out," or "assembly." We can first conclude, then, that this "church" that Jesus introduces to His somewhat confused disciples must refer to a group of people who are called out.

That's right. People. Not buildings. Not denominations. Not institutions or organizations. Not even parachurch ministries or 501c3's. People. The implications of this word, ekklesia, which we understand to be "the church," are profound...and will be controversial.

My next post, I'll beginto explain from my perspective the true meaning and nature of the Church.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Recent Reading

I thought I'd take a break tonight from my ekklesia posts and take a few minutes to recommend a couple of books that I think would be interesting and informative to you. I've read these book over the last several months, and enjoyed them. Tonight, I'll just mention non-fiction books, generally on spiritual topics.

First, I would highly recommend that you read When Bad Christians Happen to Good People by Dave Burchett. Unfortunately, "Christians" have too often done great damage to others in one way or another. Burchett seeks to deal with this very real issue in a Biblical, witty and at times very sarcastic way. (And I can SO appreciate someone who is gifted with sarcasm.) The fact is, betrayal, hurt, embarrassment and disillusionment all result from "bad Christians" we run across in church, or beyond the church walls. For this reason, many who count themselves Christians these days are "Churchless" -- perhaps for good reason. For those who've had that kind of experience, I recommend this book. Burchett suggests new ways to experience good relationships, and heal the wounds of the past. Best if all, I like his honest approach -- YES, "The Church" has problems today!

A second book I think all Christians should read is The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a 17th century Carmelite Monk in a French (I believe) Monastery. He was, believe it or not, a cook. Yet, during his life, people recognized him as someone deeply connected to God. This book is short, but classic. Lawrence didn't recommend new, different methods of prayer, or meditation. He didn't command certain "hail Mary's" or outline a program to dedicate yourself to prayer, fasting, etc. so that god would take notice of you. Rather, his "secret" was this simple: "Do not always scrupulously confine yourself to certain rules, or particular forms of devotion; but act with a general confidence in GOD, with love and humility." His words are powerful, and I hope you'll read them.

In the next week or two I'll mention several more good books that will help you in your walk, or at least inspire and entertain.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


The Church. How is it defined? Who makes up its members? Is "The Church" what we see every Sunday morning -- people scurrying off to their little fellowships for Bible Study, doughnuts, coffee and some hymns and preaching? Is the Church a place? Or a people? Or maybe, a pipedream?

Since my parting of ways with Free Will Baptists, this is a subject I've given a great deal of thought, study and prayerful consideration. Honestly, what I've seen in my almost two decades in ministry convinces me that most of what we observe today that calls itself "The Church," or "Christianity," simply isn't. So far removed from Scriptural moorings and foundations are most "local fellowships" and "denominations," that they don't qualify to be called "The Church."

Allow me to lay the groundwork for my next several posts by first explaining the origins of the word church. Our English word "church" comes from the Greek term ekklesia which is used 115 times in the New Testament, and is always translated "church" with one exception -- Acts 19:32-41, where it is translated "assembly." (Note: I am here referring to the KJV, simply because this is still the most common and recognized English version of Scripture. Ekklesia may be translated slightly differently in other versions).

The term ekklesia literally means, "Called out," or "assembly." In the same way, "The Church" is a "called out assembly." But, what does this mean? In what context does this "called out assembly" constitute a church? How simple -- or complex -- is the concept of "The Church?"

In my next several posts, I will labor to give this concept of "The Church" another look -- a "revisioning." Why? Because, the current paradigm of what constitutes "The Church," has failed, is failing and will fail. This is true because it is largely unbiblical in several crucial ways. Stick with me and see if you don't agree.

And if not, feel free to comment!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Formations - End Note

The previous five entries entitled "Formations" are from a forthcoming memoir of my spiritual journey. My travels have allowed me to witness the great strengths and fatal flaws of "Fundamentalism," the missionary achievements and egregious errors of "Evangelicalism," and the foolish denial of faith in theological "liberalism" or "Modernism," that largely make up 21st century "Christian Protestantism."

These observations are not mere conjecture. I gleaned what I wrote here (and more) from personal experiences, denominational politics, Biblical Principles and just plain observation of the world around me and the people who populate it. By God's grace, I've managed to keep my faith. That's the most amazing aspect of my story.... I'm making it so far, and I know He'll see me home -- despite whatever the Enemy can throw at me.

Formations (pt. 5)

The final formative event that launched me into ministry -- and into the Free Will Baptist Church, occurred during that summer of 1987. I served from May to the last day of August, and in those four months or so, I learned a lot. Paul Sizemore was probably the best preacher I'd ever heard in my life. He certainly was in the top 3. No one taught me more about the art of preaching than he -- not in Seminary, no one, no where.

Still, it only took a couple of weeks for me to discover that Paul and I had very different personalities. He tended to be spontaneous, whereas I liked to plan ahead, map things out. There were days when I had my time planned out -- study, preparation, visiting, appointments with a youth in the church -- and Paul would walk into my office first thing and say, "Let's ride to so-and-so today." We'd get in the car and go.

When you act spontaneously like that, it can be a sign of faith and reliance in God. In Paul's case, that's what it was most of the time. But I wasn't there yet. It didn't work for me. It clashed with the way I was made. But it certainly stretched me.

The real "event" that sent me in a different direction of ministry involved Paul. When I'd come to serve as youth director, Paul had given me "carte Blanche." He'd told me he trusted me, and that I was free to work with and counsel the youth of the church as the Lord lead me. In early July, that promise was put to the test.

A young woman in the church -- she was just 17 -- met with me to talk about her upcoming marriage. She was engaged to a young man from South Carolina who was a Free Will Baptist. Since she was born and raised in the Southern Baptist Church, she had no idea what FWB's believed or practiced.

During the course of our discussion, I gave here some literature from Free Will Baptists. My paternal Grandparents were FWB's. as were a number of other family members. In fact, I've since learned that my "FWB heritage" runs at least 5 generations back. Since I'd corresponded with men such as Dr. Robert Picirilli of Free Will Baptist Bible College and Floyd Cherry of the Carolina Bible Institute -- both well known leaders in two different FWB groups -- and studied their beliefs, I felt the literature I'd given them was balanced, clear and informative.

Later that day, Paul busted into my office. "Did you give out literature about another denomination to one of our youth?" He was red faced, clearly angry.

"Yes," I responded, "She asked for information about her fiance's church, and I gave her some so that she'd know more about them."

"You never, ever, give out any literature promoting other denominations," Paul exclaimed.

"I didn't," I insisted, by this time becoming angry and flustered myself. "I gave her information about the denomination she is going to join when she marries, I didn't give her 'promotional literature!"

"Tell you what," Paul continued, "from now on, you give out no material without approval from me."

"Paul, that's not what we agreed to when you asked me to serve here," I said.

"Well, I'm the Pastor, and I have the authority to change that policy."

"Yes, you do," I responded, "but you're wrong, and this decision is wrong and unfair."

"And as pastor, it's my decision to make. When you are a pastor, you can make those decisions in your church."

"Fine," I said. By now, I was red faced, angry. I felt betrayed, and I still believe with good reason. Oh, Paul was right, it was his decision. But he didn't listen to me, and he went back on a promise. Shortly, I went to the office of the Church Secretary, Ellen, and told her I was taking the afternoon off. As I walked to my car, there was, fittingly, a storm coming up.

I didn't eat lunch. I spent a good while praying that afternoon. As the storm raged outside, a storm was raging within me as well. I'd talked to Paul about licensing and ordination, but I no longer had any peace about it. I couldn't serve under a pastor who was so different than me -- who'd so quickly withdrawn his trust, and not even tried to listen or reason with me.

Just then, as I prayed, I sensed the Lord telling me, quite clearly, that I was to minister in the Free Will Baptist Church. That's as close an experience to actually hearing God's voice that I've ever come. And this leading was punctuated by a loud clap of thunder.

Now, I'd been born and raised in the Southern Baptist Church. I had no desire to leave, even though, quite honestly, I agreed more with FWB doctrinal distinctives. I remember thinking, "God, I don't know anyone personally in the FWB church. If you want me to go there, you provide the place and the means." It's not always smart to challenge God, but in this case I honestly think God laughed at me and said "okay."

Two days later I was perusing at a small Christian bookstore in downtown Wadesboro, and met the proprietor. We struck up a conversation, and I learned his name was Thomas Parrish, and he just happened to be an FWB pastor in the nearby town of Hamlet, NC. I confided in him that I thought God might be leading me into the FWB church, and to keep his eyes open for the possibility of a youth ministry position in a FWB church in the area.

A couple of days later, he called me and asked that I come to his bookstore and see him. When I arrived, he sat down and offered me a position as Minister of Youth and Education at Highland Pines Free Will Baptist Church, where he was Pastor. Furthermore, he'd gone to the church and asked that they cut his pay and pay me from his salary, so that I could minister part time at the church. I was amazed.

As overwhelmingly generous as Thomas Parrish was, I was even more blown away by how God had intervened, answered my challenge, and opened doors that I never even knew were there -- and all in less than a week! I knew then, and still believe now, that this was God's hand. He was guiding me into the place He wanted me, to mold me and form me according to His will.

I was licensed to the Gospel Ministry in November of 1987 at Highland Pines, and in October of 1988, I was ordained, just a few weeks following my marriage to Tammy, and my call to be Pastor of Mount Tabor FWB Church in Creswell, NC. At the time, I thought I was going to become the Pastor of a growing church, and one day I would break attendance records somewhere in some great, thriving fundamentalist ministry recognized as a model get the picture.

I had no clue where God was really leading me. But for the next 17 years, God would put me through school continually as I attempted to serve Him in two different FWB denominations, Pastoring three churches, across three states, throughout Seminary, as a church planter, and as a professor in the denominational Bible College. Oh, the lessons I learned....

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Formations (pt. 4)

The whole of my college experience was formative for me. It was, without exception, the best time of my life. Being "on my own" allowed me to study not just for class, but to learn for myself who I was, what I believed, what I was all about.

But by the end of my college years, I'd reached another painful time of transition. A long term relationship that I'd thought would lead to marriage was broken. I was facing new challenges with the approach of graduation, including the "what now?" syndrome. I had written for a local paper, and sent a few resumes, but I couldn't get any peace about pursuing a journalism career, and it was very frustrating.

In March, 1987, many of those questions were answered, as I again sensed the Lord leading me into full-time ministry. This didn't occur in a vacuum. I was taking a special seminar class on Prayer taught by Dr. Leon Smith of Wingate College. He is one of the most spiritually sensitive men I've ever known. The class had been praying for and with me about the future, and in March, God confirmed his calling on my life.

To further solidify that call, Pastor Paul Sizemore of North Wadesboro Baptist Church in Wadesboro, NC, another student in the seminar course, asked me to be his summer youth director. God used Paul and the work at North Wadesboro to initiate me into His calling on my life. That first summer was eye-opening -- in some ways good, and in others, not...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Formations (pt. 3)

A year later, the summer after my high school graduation, I was preparing to go on to Wingate College. It must have been the perfect time in my life for a change in direction. Everything around me was in transition.

During that summer, I'd been betrayed in a very painful way by a couple of people in my youth group at Parkwood Baptist Church. Additionally, my parents were building a new home and preparing to move away from the community in which I was raised. I'd just completed high school at C.E. Jordan in Durham -- and I had honestly hated it. I'd become quite fond of the philosophy of existentialism during this time, and it was no wonder. Life did indeed seem absurd. Yet, I sensed that there was something more.

My best friend at the time, Phillip Knight, had just returned from his freshman year at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. He'd invited me to get away from the turmoil I lived in that summer, and attend "The World Congress of Fundamentalists" held at BJU in August, 1983.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. I now look at my attendance at that event as a mixed blessing. But there is no denying that attending that "congress" changed my life. First, though it may seem odd, it was at that congress that I truly discovered the power of the Holy Spirit to guide my life. Before, I'd just bumbled about, making it -- or not -- by my own wits. But at this conference, I actually sensed His presence. I understood where I didn't understand before. No, this wasn't a "pentecostal experience" as such. There were no tongues -- not at Bob Jones!! But I felt as though I'd been introduced to the Holy Spirit in the truest sense at this time.

But I also heard, for the first time, that the Bible was true -- that it was authoritative, and perfect. That it was inspired, and "inerrant." In my church experience, I'd never heard such before. I'd never been taught, for instance, that creation was actually true -- even in church, it was allegorized, and evolution was assumed. Now, its important that I note, my parents certainly believed in the Scriptures, but they never engaged me in deep theological discussions. As a teen, they just wanted to be sure I had down the basic salvation message -- with good reason.

The theme at the World Congress that year was "The Authority of Scripture." I'll always be thankful that God used BJU to introduce me to this truth. It has made all the difference in my spiritual walk up to this present moment. When I consider that God used BJU to teach me these things, I think its a wonder, because there are so many things I've come to regard as less than Christian about the type of "Fundamentalism" such schools espouse. But certainly, this was another step in God's work of forming me into the person he wanted me to be....

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Formations (pt. 2)

The youth group of Parkwood Baptist Church went every year to Fort Caswell, an old Confederate Civil War fort that had been purchased by Southern Baptists earlier in the 20th century and converted to a camp/retreat. I went three times during my high school years. It was the summer after my Junior year that I sensed, during that week, a leading from God -- it was unlike any sensation or contact I'd ever experienced.

It seemed God was saying to me, "I've got a work for you to do -- wait." By nature I am very impatient. But, what else could I do? So, from the time I was "saved" throughout high school, I lived like a high school student. I dated, I did things high school students do -- some good, some not -- and I generally lived like everyone else around me.

My experience in the church at that time was generally what I would see in churches ever since. I saw a great deal of emotion within my peer group. I saw the whole confession, the "forgiveness," I saw kids getting baptized...I'm not sure very much of it was real. The next week they'd be out doing far worse that I ever did -- and I wasn't an angel. It was all emotion -- which meant that vast majority of it, from my perspective, was hypocrisy.

Perhaps that's too harsh. After all, I can't know the hearts of my peers at the time. The fact is, a few of them were very sincere, and truly, I believe, followers of Christ. But many just played the game. Still, I won't sit in judgment. I do claim myself to have truly believed -- yet I did things after my salvation that were certainly not right.

But this "calling," if that's what it should be dubbed, was different than anything else I'd experienced. I knew something was coming -- I just didn't know what.

At the point of this experience at Fort Caswell, I'd never really considered that God did anything more for me than take me to heaven when I died. I didn't even think about Him being interested in my life -- or in my service to Him. I didn't even believe that the Bible was real or true beyond what it said about salvation and living a good life. And the Holy Spirit? Exactly what, or who, was that?...


It would probably help my readers if they knew something of my background. I'll try to shortly fill in those blanks so that you may at least try to understand some of the things I write about in later posts. I don't want to bore you, but its important to know where someone is coming from in order to understand what they say and why they're saying it.

Put simply, I grew up in A Christian home, with both parents, in relatively good circumstances. We were not rich, but we lacked for nothing. My Dad was probably the most influential person in my young life. He was a very dedicated Christian, but also a very independent thinker. I would inherit at least some of that! He was also the best Sunday School teacher I ever had. No one ever shared the love of Jesus with me more than he did.

From the time I was 12 to the time I was 15, I became aware that I needed something more spiritually. Having been raised and influenced in a Christian home and attending a Christian church, of course, I perceived it was a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Some would conclude that all that was just my culture and environment -- and you're welcome to your opinions. I consider it the work of God, The Holy Spirit. When I was 15, I finally surrendered my life to Christ, and was baptized in Parkwood Baptist Church in Durham, NC. From there, my spiritual journey took on a distinctive direction that, undoubtedly, was guided by providence.....

Monday, October 03, 2005

Life as a Journey

Low profiles are never easy for me. I'm an introvert, but I feel compelled to write, or comment, or sometimes shout, about certain important subjects and issues. I'll be doing so every now and again on this blog -- and I look forward to your comments and correspondences, on my journey (Mygration) along the way...