Category Archives: Restoration

Hodgepodge Evangelism

eyeseeyouI believe that one of the most beneficial changes any church could make is to correct their misunderstanding of evangelism.  We’ve made such a monster of it in our minds that very few of us do any of it at all.  We count on having user-friendly churches with seeker-sensitive assemblies featuring a great preacher, state-of-the-art equipment and methods.  We rely on doing Bible classes and assemblies so well that when people visit us to do their church shopping, we hope they’ll choose us instead of that other church down the road.  There are three things wrong with that.

·         First, it’s not evangelism it’s accumulation.

·         Secondly, people who have to be won by attractive methods and surface cosmetics will only last as long as those remain valid.

·         Third, it is a focus and emphasis unknown by Jesus, the apostles and the early church.

The church that won the Roman Empire knew nothing of “user-friendly” or “seeker-sensitive churches or spectacular methods of reaching the unconverted.  Mark Galli writes,

What it did have seems paltry: unspectacular people, with a hodgepodge of methods (so hodgepodge they can hardly be called “methods”), and rarely a gathering of more than a handful of people.  The paltry seems to have been enough, however, to make an emperor or two stop and take notice (Christian History, Issue 57, p. 8).

Without publicized campaigns or even an explicit evangelistic strategy, Christianity made its way quietly and effectively in an environment not wholly unlike that in the post-Christian West today. 

            Glenn Hinson writes, “Most churches had the same goal: evangelism.”  But it was not evangelism based on getting people into church buildings since it was nearly 300 years before the first one was built.  This was evangelism by friendship.  It was outreach through good works such as feeding the hungry and rescuing abandoned children (1 Peter 2:12).  It was the message of a moral and pure way of life (1 Peter 3:2).  It was seen in their keen pursuit of justice.  Each disciple was ready to tell their friends and associates the reason for their hope (1 Peter 3:15).

            Evangelism is the life-blood of any congregation of the church.  Only if it becomes our goal, we will truly become alive.

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Filed under "Worship Services", Advertising, Altruism, Assemblies, Christlikeness, church, Church Buildings, Churches, Community, Evangelism, Friendship, History, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Persuasion, Preaching/Teaching, Religion, Respect, Restoration

Edify or Amplify?

eyeseeyou

The Case for Rejecting Instruments in the Assembly

Churches of Christ (the a cappella segment) seem to be becoming very different very quickly.  Several larger congregations and a number of smaller ones (I have no idea of the actual numbers) have opted for adding mechanical (as opposed to vocal) instruments to their assemblies (I absolutely refuse to call them “worship services” as that description of assemblies of the saints is nowhere to be found in Scripture – and, when you think about it, it betrays an ignorance of the meanings of both “worship” and “service”).  For over a century, one of the distinguishing marks of churches of Christ was strong opposition to the use of instruments in assemblies.  Countless debates, articles and divisions occurred with both sides remaining unconvinced.

It will not be my purpose here to pile more verbiage on the tons of arguments by taking one side or the other.  I’m not sure it would serve any purpose except to put me in one opposing camp or another.  No, my point will be something different.  I want us to take an honest look at our motives.  WHY are we ditching our a cappella tradition?

The most common reason given is some variation on the desire to attract a younger, hipper crowd into our buildings.  One group is currently remodeling their auditorium to add a stage for the musicians.  If we build it, they reason, they will come.  Sound familiar?  Put simply, it is an attempt to increase attendance at their “worship services.”

At this point let me ask a question that seldom seems asked: what are assemblies for?  No…not what do you WANT them for but what are they REALLY for?  By that I mean what does Scripture say they are for?

·         Are they for “seekers?”  Can you show me a passage for that?

·         Are they for the entertainment of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the excitement of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the encouragement of the members?  Bingo!

·         Are they for the edification of the members?  Score!

Our purpose for assemblies and our conduct during them seems to be the focus of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapters eleven and fourteen.  He deals with several subjects but his emphasis; especially in chapter fourteen is edification.  Edification has absolutely nothing to do with attracting a crowd and blowing them away with sanctified rock (make no mistake, I like to rock as much as anyone).  To edify is to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge…promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example.  Look it up.  Paul goes so far as to say, “…let all things be done for edification” (I Corinthians 14:26).

So.  How do we instruct and promote each other’s spiritual growth?  One of the most important and effective ways is by singing to one another (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).  Notice that our singing is for teaching and admonishing one another.  Sorry folks, well-choreographed and orchestrated performances accomplish nothing assembly is designed for.  In truth, they hinder the process.  Inevitably, the volume gets louder and louder.  How can we edify one another if we can’t hear the singing of the one standing next to us?  Read lips? Not likely!

Could this be the reason we are commanded to sing to one another?  Singing with thankfulness is not assisted by a groovy drummer, hot guitarist, deft keyboardist and a soloist who’s been listening to a lot of contemporary Christian radio.  Save all that for a concert.

Are there exceptions?  Of course.  Some of the new contemporary music conveys wonderful spiritual, edifying truths.  Even a cappella churches have adapted and incorporated some of these songs in our assemblies.  In my experience, however, the mechanical instruments overwhelm the potential edification as they play louder and louder.

Here is the crux of the problem as I see it: we have turned our assemblies into something they were never intended to be.  They are times of encouragement and edification.  When this is not accomplished, our assemblies are failures no matter how well choreographed they are.  When we leave behind principles and purposes taught by Scripture; when we replace them with innovations never envisioned by the Spirit; when edification and encouragement are no longer the focus of our assemblies; when synthetic externals take precedence over spiritual internals — we can expect to fail.  In the words of Hosea (8:7), we have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.

Here are a couple of articles that, while I don’t agree with everything they say, help make my point: http://churchformen.com/uncategorized/have-christians-stopped-singing/  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/afewgrownmen/2013/05/why-men-have-stopped-singing-in-church/

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Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, church, Church Buildings, Churches, discipleship, Edification, Ekklesia, Encouragement, History, Holy Spirit, Ignorance, Music, Restoration, Singing, Songs, Thankfulness

Preaching as Position

 

Foxworthy Preacher

Photo from Randy Boyd via Levi Sisemore

Generally, I love the comedy of Jeff Foxworthy.  This time I am both laughing and crying.  I was a preacher for a long time and I know the pressures of the profession.  When the congregation is not growing/happy/interested/involved/etc., the preacher is the first one blamed and, very often, sent packing.  Maybe a new preacher will be more dynamic/younger/pretty/gregarious/educated/entertaining/etc.  Sorry, Jeff, that’s not really his job.

Most of this pressure is because we have become assembly-oriented.  “Going to church” is the expected and almost exclusive activity of the majority.  Because of this, it had better be well-orchestrated (maybe even have an orchestra).  If “going to church” is not interesting/exciting/ entertaining, then attendees will drift to a more appealing (I almost wrote, “appalling”) venue.  Consequently, all kinds of shenanigans are pulled to draw the crowds away from one congregation to another.

It never seems to cross our minds that our purpose is not to have the biggest congregation, but simply to follow Christ with the strength and wisdom that God provides.  It doesn’t seem to occur to us that assemblies are for edification and encouragement.  If we restore assemblies to their scriptural purpose, we won’t need smoke bombs, rock bands and a new preacher to keep folks coming back.

The light that we are commissioned to bring to all the world has nothing to do with electricity.  It has everything to do with letting the light of Jesus shine through our words, actions and attitudes, bringing glory to God.

Nowhere in the instructions of Jesus and the apostles is there even a hint of having preacher as a position, much less heaping upon him primary responsibility for the state of the congregation and the quality of the “worship service” (a term not found in Scripture).

With church affiliation declining across the denominational spectrum, it is high time to take a fresh look at Scripture.  Are we truly following Christ into the world or leaving him in the uncomfortable streets while we attend another comfortable “worship service” in our well-appointed “church buildings?”

May God forgive me (us) for participating so long in something so foreign to Scripture and deviant to our purpose.

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Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, Change Agent, Christlikeness, church, Church Buildings, Churches, discipleship, Edification, Encouragement, Evangelism, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Restoration

The Preacher/Pastor System

Our struggles in our Western/European expressions of Christianity are due largely to innovations and inventions forming an inner and outer corrosive crust slowing down the flow of our faith.  Sects, denominations and cults are the portions visible to any observer.  As the layers of corrosion built up over the centuries, the major result is division and the inevitable infighting that follows. Trying to chip away or dissolve this inner and outer crust most often proves futile and downright dangerous to life and limb.  We love our respective crusts!  We love them in spite of the damage they do to our witness.

One of the major additions to this crust is the “pastor system.” Pastors, as revealed in the New Testament, were not paid professional public speakers in residence at each congregation under the supervision of, and answerable to, a group of men (and, in some instances, women) serving as a board of directors. In most cases, the “pastor” (“preacher” in some traditions) functions at the pleasure of this board.  He does all the preaching, teaches classes, and officiates at funerals, weddings, and fulfills other duties as outlined by the board. Predictably, it doesn’t work well in most cases. It doesn’t work because it is an alien concept not found in Scripture.

When I became a preacher, an older veteran warned me to remember that I was working with people with all their strengths, weaknesses, foibles, sins, joys, sorrows, crises, victories and failures. Here’s the problem: the preacher/pastor becomes the focal point of all these things. Who you gonna call?  The preacher/pastor, of course.  For a while he can cope. Eventual burnout, however, is inevitable. It would be different if it was understood that we are all priests. That would take a tremendous load off the “designated priest,” who really shouldn’t exist anyway.

Perhaps you are aware, as I am, of churches where it seems to work well.  The preacher/pastor has a long tenure, is loved and appreciated and, from all appearances, all is well.  Not only are such congregations the exception, but seem to have a handle on the priesthood of all believers. Furthermore, the group that in other places functions as a board has become shepherds of the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3). May their tribe increase!

In most other cases, however, in addition to the expectations of the board and the congregation, the pastor/preacher becomes the primary target of disgruntled constituents. For those who have not served in this capacity, it is hard to imagine the insults, injuries, disparagement and humiliation that can come with the territory when things go wrong.

All this hinders and hamstrings our mission: to be a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). So what can be done? A giant first step would be to acknowledge the problem. For those who believe solutions are found in words inspired by the Holy Spirit, the second step would be to open the Scriptures and compare what we do with what we should be doing. The third step requires that we love our Savior more than our traditions and apply the solutions.  Hard?  Yes it is. What seems harder would be to face the returning Christ with mission unfulfilled.

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Filed under Change Agent, church, Holy Spirit, Preaching/Teaching, Restoration, Scripture, Unity

The Answers for Everything

Two questions: Why did the number of disciples explode in the first three centuries after the establishment of the church on that wondrous Day of Pentecost? And, why isn’t similar growth occurring now? Once we have answered these questions, we will have the answers for everything. So what are the differences between then and now and us and them?  I can think of a few:

1.      They were Holy Spirit motivated and driven. Too many of us are ignorant of the Spirit’s provision, power and His primary legacy: inspired Scripture. It is within these God-breathed words we will find the answers we seek, not in some book on church growth.

2.      They were not building-oriented. We are. We spend millions on structures we mistakenly call “churches” with a “sanctuary” and classrooms. Try finding that in Scripture!  What a classic misappropriation of time, energy and money!

3.      They did not have a “professional class” or clergy. We do. We spend millions on their salaries and benefits. Then we work the hound out of them. This too is alien to Scripture. As Lisa Sells has written,

…the pastor (“preacher” for us restorationists-DW) is expected to both nurture the mature and win the lost through a one-way monologue (i.e., the weekly sermon-DW).  Then through the week the pastor is expected to satisfy member needs for personal love and concern.

“The result is often a membership that watches the pastor try to do all the ministry as well as a pastor that is overextended and skating on the edge of burnout. (Lisa Sells, “Avery Willis’ Last Dream,” Mission Frontiers, USCWM, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 626-7971111, www.missionfrontiers.org. January-February 2011, p. 9)

4.      They were not assembly-oriented. We are. Assembly has been called, “The Sunday Morning Show.” It has replaced The Great Commission as the focus of our resources and energies.  Assembly an essential part of our Christian walk but it must not become our major focus.  As Steve Smith wrote,

The Great Commission says we are to go, not invite people to come to us.  We must go to where the lost are, and train the new believers to also go to the lost, into factories, homes, shops and neighborhoods (Steve Smith, “Training for Trainers Process,” Mission Frontiers, January-February 2011, p. 11)

5.      They understood what “making disciples” was and how to do it.  We don’t.  They proclaimed the word, lived the gospel, baptized those who came to belief and taught them to observe all that Jesus commanded.  Those disciples made more disciples who could make disciples and multi-level discipling was born.

6.      They knew that their mission was to follow Christ.  We know it too, but we get distracted by stuff that has nothing to do with our primary mission. They didn’t get involved in peripheral diversions.  Since Jesus came to seek, serve and save the lost, they knew that was their job too.  It’s all right there in the Gospels and the Letters.

It is time to dump the ineffective inventions, innovations, diversions and distractions that have gummed up the simple process of seeking, saving and discipling the lost. It is time to stop wringing our hands in despair and to fill those hands with a copy of Scripture.  It is time to quit looking around wondering what to do and to fill our eyes, mind and heart with the teachings and examples of Jesus and the apostles. There we will find what to do. There we will find the answers to everything.

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Filed under church, Community, conversion, discipleship, Evangelism, Faith, History, Holy Spirit, Ignorance, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Preaching/Teaching, Restoration, Salvation, Scripture, Uncategorized

Who Owns Israel?

Due to all the “saber-rattling” going on recently, plus a post from the “Fellowship of Christians and Jews,” I thought it might be time to re-run this article.

Do Israelis have a divine right to what is now called Israel?  Who does the land occupied by the modern state of Israel belong to?  Should Christians support Israel’s right to exist as a divine right?  Are the Jews still God’s separate chosen people?  Consider the following points:

  1. The promise of the land of Palestine (Canaan) to the Jews has been fulfilled (Joshua 21:43-45; 23:14; Nehemiah 9:7,8).  The Jews received what they were promised in full.  The occupation of the land by modern Israel has nothing to do with God’s promises.  It has to do with modern Israel’s alliances and the fact that the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world can’t get along with each other and get their act together.
  2. The Jews were originally deported from the land for their disobedience just as God promised (Leviticus 26:33; Nehemiah 1:8,9).
  3. Any restoration to the land was predicated upon their returning to belief and obedience (Deuteronomy 30; Ezekiel 36:22-38; Nehemiah 1:8,9).  Most of those who now occupy Palestine are not believers and are certainly not obedient.  Many, in fact, are atheists.  How can modern Israel be the fulfillment of any promise of restoration?
  4. God has not rejected His people but only those who become believers in Messiah Christ are the “Israel of God” (Galatians 3:29; 6:15-17).
  5. Only those Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah can continue in covenant relationship with Yahweh (Romans 9-12) and receive any promise.
  6. Because Christ has fulfilled the Law of Moses, there is no longer a division between Jew and Gentile…we are one in Christ and Abraham’s spiritual offspring (Ephesians 2:11-22; Galatians 3:28,29).  So, who will be restored to the land?
  7. The Old Covenant given to the Jews alone has been superseded by a new covenant (Hebrews 8:7-13) made by God with all who believe.  Since there is no separation between ethnic Jews and believing Gentiles, who will receive the alleged promises of restoration to the land?

The truth is that modern unbelieving, disobedient Israel has no more right to the land that belonged to the Palestinians than European Americans have to the land that belonged to the Native Americans.  Throughout history, one group has driven out another and occupied their land.  If we are going to restore all of earth’s lands to those who originally possessed it, absolute turmoil will result.  Let me make a few alternative suggestions:

  1. Leave the Israelis alone.  They fought for the land they have and they won.  It is not the fulfillment of prophecy; it is the work of the United Nations and the spoils of war.
  2. Palestinians and Arabs, get your act together and be nice to your neighbors.  The world will be a much better place and nobody will have to blow up themselves and others.  You think God likes what you’re doing?  Neither do I.  And, while you’re at it, do something about this madman dictator of Iran.  He’s not helping your cause at all.
  3. Israelis, quit bullying the Palestinians and give them a homeland.  One of the reasons they hate you is your mistreatment of them.  They will probably never love you, but they might learn to abide you.  One thing for sure, killing children and leveling houses will not win you any points.
  4. Christians, you’re not helping anything with your misinterpretation of prophecy.  Instead of this ridiculous “Christians United for Israel,” and “Christian Zionism” put your efforts into preaching and modeling Christ to both Jews and Arabs.  Are you doing what Jesus would do?  I don’t think so either.  Start preaching the peace that only the Prince of Peace can give.  Instead of lobbying with the Jews, preach Christ to them.  And don’t you want the Arabs to be saved?  Well, you don’t act like it.

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Filed under Bigotry, Current Events, Islam, Israel, Jesus Christ, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Politics, Prophecy, Religion, Restoration, Scripture

Out of the Ghetto…into the Real World

In his book, The Cultural Church, (20th Century Christian, Nashville, 1992) F. LaGard Smith writes:

The world around us today is not interested in what rituals of worship may or may not be authorized by Scripture.  Most modern Americans have no intention of worshipping God either one way or another.  Nor do they perceive any need for a Savior, because with every advance in moral relativism, they experience even less and less moral guilt.  Many (if not most) do not even understand that they have a soul which is accountable to God.  If they have no soul and commit no sin, what need do they have of a Savior?

If the above is true, what makes us think that we can reach out through more appealing worship rituals? Will people come to realize their need for a Savior because we tell them they need one? Will people become aware of an eternal soul just because we tell them they have one? Not very likely!  And yet, this seems to be our strategy for reaching the lost.  Do you think maybe its time to wake up and smell the coffee?  Hello?  Anybody home?

We can preach, teach, sing, pray and plead until our throat caves in and never touch one with a locked-up heart.  Many people heard Jesus preach but only the ones who had “ears to hear” responded.  Even miracles (I mean the real ones…not the fakery of today) cannot pry open the oyster of self-satisfied or self-righteous hearts.  So where does this leave us?  Only with the example of Jesus.

Jesus did not travel about slapping up tents, doing some advertising, and holding gospel meetings.  His insights on worship had to do with attitude not magnitude. Jesus entered people’s lives. He ate dinner with them.  He partied with them.  He met them on the streets.  He spoke their lingo and used stories they understood.  But, most of all, he loved them and they knew it.  When they heard it in his words and saw it in his deeds, they opened up their hearts to him.  If we will become Jesus to our world, the same thing will happen again.

The day we finally decide to do things Jesus’ way instead of “the way we’ve always done it,” will be the day the true Restoration Movement begins.

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Filed under Change Agent, church, Community, Evangelism, Ignorance, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Preaching/Teaching, Restoration