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...