(Curiously, as I sat in a small corporate worship environment, compelled to write these thoughts on a mobile device, at the same time a prophet friend of mine, a writer, was outlining the same topic, having been drawn into it unexpectedly in a private time with God.)
I also observe that when the church was meeting among the Jewish people, it used Jewish methods and settings (temple grounds), but when it met among the gentiles, it used gentile methods and locations (
My point is NOT that mass-producing Christian fellowship is inherently evil. My point is that it that it is equally not evil to choose a different model for fellowship.
Father, let us respond as Jesus did, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” and as Stephen did, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” The devil’s got more than enough followers anyway; I won’t add my name to that list.
First, reject the accusation that you're lukewarm. (Unless you are, of course.) Don’t even waste your time with the topic. You’re following God, and you’re pressing in, but it isn’t as scary as it used to be, because you’ve got history together. Keep up the good work!
This God that you and I follow is an interesting fellow.
Some time back, he went through a lot of work, starting with, “Let there be light,” and then using that light to make the sun and the moon, to make planets and stars, then to make plants and fish and antelopes and woodpeckers, and finally to make a species of beings – we call them “human beings” – in his own image. “And,” he said, “It’s really good!”
And God worked hard enough during those six days of creation, that when he was done, he – God – had to rest, for a whole day.
And when he had finished this amazing work of creation, what did he do? What did he do with this thing that took six days of God working to create?
Why, he went for walks with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, of course.
That was the
And God said, “It’s really good.”
And that’s been a priority for God ever since: that we’d be close friends with him, and we’d be close friends with each other.
And you know the story: Adam & Eve sinned, and our race fell out of close relationship with God, but God had a plan to deal with that – a good plan, but it was an expensive plan. And through Jesus, we have a way back to close friendship with God.
And God still says, “It’s really good!”
For thousands of years, humanity related to God through Moses’ Tabernacle, and later through a
Both tabernacles fell into disuse over the centuries. And God has not chosen Moses’ Tabernacle, the place with tradition and history, as the model for New Testament worship. He chose to restore David’s Tabernacle, the place of informal intimacy, and he specifically emphasized that this was the way we relate to him: intimately, personally.
In these New Covenant days, God has completely affirmed this value. When the Son of God stepped into space and time as a human, he called a some human beings and “He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.”
Clearly, their efficacy at preaching, healing the sick and casting out demons came from being with him.
I love how Jesus described our relationship from his point of view. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Jesus considers you and me to be so precious, so alluring, that he sold everything – in Bible terms, “He laid aside the prerogatives of his deity,” and became one of us: God became human – so that he could have that intimate relationship with us again. We are his treasure!
And that’s been our foundation for doing anything worthwhile ever since. We’ve been saying it this way: “Ministry flows out of relationship.” Relationship with God. Relationship between us.
Without that, the best we have to give, is just us. Without an intimacy with God, there’s nothing supernatural to give.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it happen, but you probably have seen it as many times as I have: someone, somewhere – let’s call him Henry – posts an opinion online. Fine. All is well and good.
Then some fundamentalist Christian sees that post! Far too often, the Christian ignores the heart of what they said, but finds some little detail that they don’t agree with, and they tell them why they’re so wrong. Others join in, and soon we have a feeding frenzy, rapid-fire accusations of all kinds of nasty things, all on account of a detail.
• We are on Facebook, not in theology class. The requirement of rigorously defending one's theology is different in a social environment, such as Facebook, than in an educational environment. I will not demand that someone quote chapter and verse, listing supporting papers for their position, while we're sitting at a dinner table among friends who have no idea what we're talking about.
• Some among us are teachers, and as such, they have a standard that we must live up to. Most people online are not teachers, though their post sounds a little like they’re trying to teach. I will not hold him to the same standard that I hold teachers to. The James 3:1 kind of thing. We don’t hold kids just learning to hear God’s voice to the same standard we hold a mature prophet, do we?
• I do not have my theology perfect. I don't know where it's wrong, and I work hard at correcting it where I find errors. But I am aware that I don't completely agree with ANYone's theology, including my own. Let’s quit arguing about insignificant theology. Who cares if it reminds you of some hated heresy of the past? That’s not the point of their post! Get over it! Move on!
• I tend to agree with
• Likewise: I'm far more interested in the fruit that comes from a your life than I am the doctrinal correctness that comes from your teaching. That is NOT to say that good doctrine is unimportant: it IS to say that good doctrine is not preeminent over living out that truth which we already know.
• Authority to teach comes from God. But my authority to teach YOU comes from YOU and nobody else. If
Brothers and sisters, please hear me. Unity isn’t about everybody agreeing with your personal pet doctrines. In fact, unity is not about doctrine at all. Unity is about us all having one father, and a very good heavenly one, and trusting each other to follow Him. Agreeing isn’t part of that equation, and agreeing with YOU is completely off the topic. If I’m following the same Father you are, then eventually, we’ll get to the place where you and I see the main things through His eyes, and we see the peripheral things through our individual assignments. We probably won’t ever agree on the details.
I am not saying that doctrine doesn’t matter. I’m saying people matter more.
It was late on a Sunday morning, and I was just waking up. I’d slept in, knowing that I wasn’t healthy and that I needed rest. I was thinking, “I’ll miss church if I don’t get up soon.”
For context, my Sunday morning “Church” is online and I attend by webcast. My “in real life” fellowship is another time during the week. This train of thought applies to both, really.
So I was thinking about what would happen if I miss church this morning, and that turned into an interesting train of thought. “What is my tradeoff? What am I missing if I miss church?”
The accusation crossed my mind that my online church is unnatural, not really what God has in mind for me, so I considered that for a moment. There actually is some merit in the argument that an online “fellowship,” where I am only an observer, not an actual participant, is not really what God had in mind as ideal for me. OK, let’s follow that thought for a moment?
But wait! Isn’t that what most Sunday morning gatherings are like? I’m an observer there, too. Oh, yes, I stand up when they say to, and sing the words they tell me to sing, and sit back down when they say to. But there’s no point during our time together at
Someone will say, “That’s not what Sunday mornings are for. That belongs in a home group.” [And here is where I’ll add my commercial: if you’re not part of a fellowship of believers that meets in an informal setting like a home, then they’re seriously missing out.] that kind of “sharing” is not an appropriate expectation for a Sunday morning gathering, though it would fit in the hallway or the lobby, maybe. There’s merit in that statement: Sunday mornings aren’t really designed for those kinds of things (which is rather a strong argument in favor of my online church – or for house church – but I’m going a different direction here).
So what are Sunday mornings for? What is the church gathering for, really?
Is Sunday Morning for worship? That can’t be right. My best worship is private, and I hear others tell me the same. I find that I believe that corporate worship is at its best when the worshippers have worshipped privately, and I know that I am a far better worship leader when I have worshipped privately. So while I affirm the value of corporate worship, I suspect that it is not the primary motivation, at least in God’s mind, for the gathering of the Saints.
I hear people talking about the value of getting fed at church; maybe the value of the church gathering is in the teaching. And I do value the teaching of my online church! But the Book is clear, and I’m fully committed to the concept that I must learn to feed myself first. The teaching there is good, but it is to supplement my own feasting on the Word. That can’t be the main value of church gatherings.
I’m going to be blunt here: It seems clear that the idea of “the message is the most valuable part of church gatherings” has come from those who preach. And it is from worship leaders that I most often hear that worship is the most important part of the service. (Please don’t assume that I don’t value a well-preached message from a gifted teacher, or that corporate worship isn’t glorious. If that’s what you’re hearing, you need to read this again more carefully!)
The thought crossed my mind, “What does the Bible say about the church coming together?” and as it did, a verse from Hebrews came with it:
It hit me like a freight train: God’s purpose for us coming together is to encourage each other. Specifically, it’s to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” which is how we are to encourage each other.
That’s the reason for coming together as a congregation: encouragement.
There is more extensive teaching on the church gathering together in 1 Corinthians 11, and it’s focused on meals together. Paul touches again on the topic in the midst of teaching about spiritual gifts in chapter 14, and in that context, he says, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” Same thing: encouragement. Apart from these passages, there is no definitive teaching on church meetings in the New Testament, though Acts shows that the early church met daily in homes and weekly for apostolic teaching.
We could take it all together and form this model: When the saints come together, let’s gather around the dinner table, and let’s encourage one another, and let’s use what God gives us to that end.
My recommendation: learn to worship by yourself, not dependent on a leader and a band, though worship with them when you can. Learn to feed yourself, though supplement that with good, inspired teaching sometimes. But choose the congregation you gather with by this: “Is this a place where we can encourage one another?” And then go there, prepared to encourage, prepared to encourage others.
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. (Mark 16:14)
So here’s the resurrected Creator Son of God, freshly back from kicking hell and death in the teeth, sitting down with the eleven survivors of his intense 3-year training. Functionally, this is their graduation ceremony: he’s just about to commission them to go into all the world and represent him. So what does he say to them?
He rebukes them! And he rebukes them, not for what they’ve done, but for what they’ve not done. So what is this big sin that they’ve done, big enough that it needs to take center stage at their graduation? It’s not believing the testimony of others who had seen him.
The previous verse is one example: the apostles didn’t believe the boys who had encountered Jesus on the Emmaus Road: two guys have an experience of Jesus that is both outside the apostles’ control and outside of their understanding of how Jesus does things. Naturally, they’re cautious about a couple of country bumpkins stumbling in well after dark, shouting, “I seen ‘im!”
They had already rejected the testimony of the ex-prostitute who first discovered his empty tomb. And after they had rejected these testimonies, Jesus appeared to them personally. Their reaction was marked by fear and unbelief.
I do not say this to my credit: I understand why the apostles didn’t believe. I know that place of emotional weariness, where I really don’t want one more strange person telling me one more strange experience; I just want to process the grief I’m overwhelmed with. And I know that place of pastoral caution, where I’m thinking violent thoughts about the next freak that feeds my sheep lousy food based on screwball experiences, and I’m about ready to pull an Indiana Jones on the guy. I understand why they didn’t receive the testimonies.
Jesus, however, is not so patient. He clearly expects better of them. He rebuked them for not believing the bumpkins and the ex-hooker.
Our translation doesn’t do justice to the Greek word “oneidizo,” which is being translated “rebuked” in this verse. Here are some of the definitions for the Greek word:
- to reproach someone, with the implication of that individual being evidently to blame.
- to speak disparagingly of a person in a manner which is not justified - 'to insult.'
- to upbraid, to throw it in one’s teeth.
- In a more literal translation, the same word is variously translated, denounce, insult, insulting, reproach, reproached, reviled.
If Jesus is that serious about it, I probably ought to be. I observe a couple of principles from this verse:
- The Head of the Church expects me to believe the testimony of experiences with God from disreputable people. Since Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds and foreign astrologers, I guess we should not be surprised that he continues to use freaks and outsiders to tell his story.
- But freaks and outsiders have other stories to tell than just God’s story. There is nothing in this verse – or in the rest of Scripture, as far as I can tell – that suggests that we need to believe every story. We still need to discern. We still need to eat the meat and spit out the bones.
- I don’t like this one: If I reject the (true) testimony of freaks, then I’ll not recognize him and his work when it’s my turn for a powerful experience with him. The boys rejected Mary’s testimony, rejected the bumpkins’ testimony; it’s my opinion that this rejection led to their unbelief and fear when Jesus interrupts their grief-filled dinner party later.
- But Jesus doesn’t leave them in that cold, scary place. He breaks into the party and corrects their mistake, which leads to:
- Learning to learn from others’ testimonies appears to be preparation for fulfilling the Great Commission; note that verse 15 follows 14 in the same conversation in Mark 16.
I was reading through Acts 6, and my attention was drawn to verse 6.
The story is the appointment of the first deacons. Our verse:
2. Healing the sick. In fact, Mark 6:5 suggests that healing is easier if we lay hands on in the process.
3. Commissioning people to an office, or consecrating them to that service or office. This one appears to be more dangerous than others (see below).
4. Imparting an increased manifestation of Holy Spirit’s presence and gifts. See also 1 Timothy 2:8 and 2 Timothy 1:6.
The Danger of Laying on Hands
The Invitation to Lay on Hands
Multiplication From Laying on Hands
- Congregations and individuals who highly value the Word of God tend to functionally (not verbally) ignore the process of being either directed or instructed by the Holy Spirit. Some of them value counsel nearly as much as the Word; others overlook it. I find this attitude in congregations often; apart from the members of those congregations, I don’t often see this in individuals.
- Individuals and congregations who highly value being led by the Spirit tend to value that leading so highly that it is above questioning, either by counselors or in the light of the Scriptures. I see this attitude in individuals and home groups more often than I see it in whole congregations, and the unhealthy emphasis seems to come from injuries sustained by members of the former group.
- I am aware of a few folks who have difficulty making decisions without researching the opinions of everyone they know. They want the approval of every leader and as much prophetic input as they can find on the subject before taking action. To be fair, we’ve de-valued for so long this aspect of God’s input into the life of the individual and the congregation that there seems to be less of this error.