Tag Archives: Ekklesia

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

Getting Them “In”

eyeseeyouChurch leaders are lamenting declining attendance and seeking creative ways to get people into their buildings.  Preachers are even going to where the people are…imagine that!  (Sounds suspiciously like something Jesus did.)  But the goal appears to ultimately get people into their “worship services.” (We seem to forget that we are the “called out” not the “called in.”)

I hate to break it to you, but that’s not going to work.  People have better things to do with their time than to file into an auditorium, sing a few songs, listen to a few prayers, observe a few rituals, pay homage to a few traditions and listen to a monologue that may or may not be relevant…all the while staring at the back of the heads seated in front of them.

Some pin their hopes of getting people into their auditoriums on hiring a hotshot young Osteen-like preacher and a rockin’ band led by a highly talented choreographer/director/producer.  Unfortunately, without a large membership and a large budget, small congregations are left out in the cold.

The only way to increase attendance in assemblies is something any church of any size can do: fulfill their intended purpose namely, to build up our fellow disciples.  What we are doing now is just not cutting it.  When our assemblies become focused on encouragement, enlightenment and stirring up one another to love and good works…our assemblies will be packed.

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Filed under Discussion, Garlic and Onions, Heart, Motion Pictures, Science, Uncategorized

10 Things Christians Must Do Now

Do we want to be taken seriously?  Do we want to overcome misconceptions about our faith and practice? Do we hope to ever fulfill our mission and make an impact on our culture?  Then here (in no particular order) are a few things I believe we must do:

  1. Refuse to let public lies (false teachings) stand publically unopposed.  When someone lies publically, someone needs to publically expose and oppose that lie and tell the truth no matter what it costs.  That is part of our job as the called-out of Christ.
  2. Refuse to be lulled into the toleration and acceptance of immorality.  Think about what we tolerate which would never have been accepted twenty years ago.  If it was truly wrong then, it is truly wrong today.  If it was ever a sin, it is a sin now.
  3. Ignore those who equate Christianity with established religious groups…no matter how ancient.  Foolish and ignorant critics will blame Christ-followers for the excesses of those who, over the centuries, falsely labeled themselves “Christians.”  True followers of Christ were never involved in the exploitation, suppression, torture and/or death of any person or group.
  4. Rise above the prevailing gloom and hopelessness of today’s culture.  We enjoy and offer the world a way of hope, abundant life, joy (not the same as “happiness”) and an eternal end of suffering.  We are “light-bringers.”
  5. Renounce materialism and greed.  We must recognize the love of money and “stuff” for what it is – the source of evil.  Christians must learn to be content with what is needed for life.  Food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and transportation are all we need.  The overflow needs to be shared.
  6. Combine good deeds with good news in holy symbiosis.  One without the other will not accomplish our mission.  Very few will be persuaded by a failure to combine these initiatives.  This is what Jesus did…this is what we must do.
  7. Renounce citizenship of a country in favor of citizenship in God’s kingdom.  Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world.  Political parties and their candidates have serious flaws and faults; the Kingdom is perfect and flawless.  We are not mere Americans, Germans, Poles, Russians, Australians, etc.  We are citizens of a nation with no boundaries, no racial, linguistic barriers.  Thy kingdom come!
  8. Get out of our meeting places and into the streets.  Quit expecting people to come to us and do what Jesus did: go to the people.  Do good deeds!  Proclaim Christ!
  9. Quit “going to church.”  Restore the true purpose of assemblies.  Assemblies are a means to an end, not an end.  “Faithfulness” is far more than attendance.  Assemblies are for edification and encouragement.  If they fail in that regard, they are useless.
  10. Think and act as the counter-culture we were meant to be.

“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

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Filed under Altruism, Christlikeness, church, Culture Wars, discipleship, Edification, Ekklesia, Encouragement, Evangelism, Good & Evil, Integrity, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, morality, Politics, Preaching/Teaching, Quotations, Religion

From Service to Service

We read recently of a church that transitioned from primarily serving themselves to serving others as the result of a natural disaster.  I thought, “Hooray!  That’s one!”  Regrettably, this kind of change is outstanding because of its rarity.  Why is understanding and practicing the principle of serving so difficult for those who are followers of the One who said He came to serve and not to be served?

It’s ironic that we have come to call our times of assembly “services.”  Really?  Who are we serving?

  • Are we serving God?  Exactly how are we doing that passively sitting in a building?
  • Are we serving our brothers and sisters?  How? By sleepily listening to a preacher or singing to the back of their heads?
  • Are we serving our community?  Is that remotely possible segregated from the community with our butts planted in a pew/chair in one of our edifices?
  • Are we serving our world? How?  It is a stretch to gather into the rarified atmosphere of some auditorium going through motions of minimal meaning and claim we are “serving.”

Our times of assembly can be times of service if we turn them into times of edification and encouragement.  If our preaching, singing, partaking of the wine and bread bring us closer to each other and our Lord then mission accomplished.  If, however, we continue to lethargically linger to lifelessly go through the routine “exercises of this service” (“exercises” is an interesting way to put it), then, at the end of the closing prayer rush to our cars, who will be served?

True service will be accomplished in the world…not out of it (those who isolate themselves in monastic solitude need to understand this).  Our service must be taken out of our comfortable retreats and into our uncomfortable world.  Let’s lift up our eyes.  We are surrounded by suffering and need.  If Christians responded to these realities, there would be little need for a “Nanny State.”

There is no power greater than the words and works of the Holy Spirit as we blend the gospel with service.  One without the other is like faith without works: dead and useless.  Put them together and people will be saved physically, emotionally and, most importantly, spiritually and eternally.

To pin our hopes for national and international salvation on electing the right president, senator or congressperson is misguided and a striving after wind (and, we are getting a lot of “wind” at the moment).  Taking the same energy expended to get our favorite candidate into office and turning it to serve our world and save its lost would truly answer the prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”

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Filed under Change Agent, Christlikeness, church, Community, Kingdom Growth, Religion

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 O’Malley Method

“But Mr. O’Malley, you already drilled five wells on your property and they’ve all been dry.  Why do you keep drilling?”

“I keep drilling, hoping for different results.”

“But isn’t that a waste of money and time?”

“Not if I strike water.”

“But how will that ever happen if you keep doing it the same way?”

“Maybe if I use a different method, drill deeper, use better equipment…maybe then I’ll strike water.”

“Have you thought that all that money and time could be spent on piping water from another well or, maybe, a good rainwater harvesting system?”

“I don’t recall asking for your opinion,” said O’Malley.

So many churches use the “O’Malley Method.”  Just keep doing the same things over and over, hoping for different results.  Our “drilling” is our assembly or, as it is mistakenly called, “The Worship Service.”  It is the method of choice for outreach.  “How do we get them to ‘come to church?’  Oh, I know, let’s make assembly better!  Better singing, exciting sermons, the latest presentation technology, nicer buildings.  Everyone should invite someone to church (assembly).  Okay, I know, it hasn’t worked so far, but maybe we should just try something new…something different.  Let’s have a worship team leading the singing.  Let’s try some dramatic lighting.  Maybe we should get rid of the pulpit and let the preacher wander around.  Maybe he should dress in jeans and polo shirt.

Somehow we have been deceived into thinking that the most important part of Christianity is the assembly.  We focus on what happens when we come together.  It becomes the major event…the “be all and end all.”  Churches fuss about what can and cannot be done in them.  It’s how we judge other churches.  It’s what we divide over.  We measure success by warm bodies in attendance and how much they give in “the offering.”

Here’s the irony: we claim to follow a man who never spoke of an assembly and spent precious little time in them.  Aside from some work in a synagogue or two, he did all his work outside, among the people.  It was not easy or comfortable but it was what he came to do.  He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19) not merely preach to the saved.

If we don’t change our focus from assemblies to following Christ, we are in danger of fading into obscurity.  The church in Australia, America or anywhere else, cannot survive by doing the same ineffective things the same ineffective way and expect effectiveness to magically result.

No one asked for my opinion, but Mr. O’Malley had better change his focus or he will remain dry.  We had better change ours or we will dry up and blow away.

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Filed under Christlikeness, church, Community, discipleship, Evangelism, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, South Pacific

Lessons from Iran

From a book review by David Mays of Iran: Open Hearts in a Closed Land by Mark Bradley, Authentic, 2007

While the Iranian government is actively strangling the established churches, the underground churches are growing.  Its continued growth is likely for three reasons.  One, it is very secretive and hidden from authorities.  Two, the churches are very active and vibrant.  Most have never been in a church building, so Christianity grows up around the Scripture, spreads by relationships, and takes on natural cultural forms.  Three, new members recognize the urgency of telling others and take on a sense of ownership very quickly.

While Christianity fades in the West, it is flourishing elsewhere…including very difficult places such as Iran where the law stipulates execution for Muslims converting to other religions.  Do you see the lessons Iranian disciples can teach us?

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Filed under church, Islam, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Middle East, Missions/Evangelism