For about a year, I’ve prayed that God would miraculously help me lose weight. I often prayed with a Whopper in one hand and a Big Mac in the other, believing that God would transform the fat, carbs, and calories into some magical weight loss formula. Obviously, it didn’t work. Instead I received a call from the military doctor telling me I’m pre-diabetic and if I don’t revise my eating and exercise habits, I’m going to end up with actual diabetes and on medicine for the rest of my life.
Sometimes when you ask for a miracle, God gives you work. It’s been 2 weeks since I received my diagnosis and I’ve lost almost 20 pounds in that time eating like an anorexic rabbit and exercising like a hamster in its wheel. God answers prayers, and provides miracles, but it always requires obedience on our part. He doesn’t miracle away problems—He provides “a way out” and empowers us to get to work.
“The Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing…until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground” (Jos 3.15-17). The waters wouldn’t part until their feet got wet. That is, God often won’t provide His promised results until we step out in faith to do our part. Jesus provided the miracle of forgiveness but only after He suffered the shame of the cross. Peter was miraculously rescued from prison, but he had to go to prison for that miracle to happen. The path to God’s blessings calls for taking His yoke upon us and not simply laying all our burdens upon Him.
As is often the case, I’ve learned the hard way that God will answer all my prayers, but often those answers require me to do my part.
“Although he was a son, [Jesus] learned obedience through what He suffered… and became the eternal source of salvation for all who obey Him” (Heb 5.8). Jesus was trainable to God, learning obedience through the trials and tribulations planned for Him before the creation of the world. If the Eternal Son of the Creator learned from His sufferings, shouldn’t we also be willing to learn from ours?
When God disciplines us, He does so as a Father trains His children for adulthood. He’s forming us into His people, to serve as His ambassadors to this world; therefore, He needs people who are moldable both of action and of heart. Believing I know all I’ll ever need to learn about Christianity because I have a saving knowledge of Jesus is as silly as thinking I won’t drown when floating in the ocean because I know how to swim! Am I as willing to listen to Him and His people as I am for God to listen to me?
Being trainable means that I don’t just “go to Bible study” but study to share how God has trained me. I don’t just “go to church,” but should be open to opportunities to learn from anyone God places in the pew next to me. We don’t just HAVE faith, we are faithful, available and invested in the ministry of sharing our faith and training others to obey everything God has commanded us.
Jesus says, “everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Lk 6.40). Paul reiterates, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Phil 3.17). Training requires repetitious replication of the patterns established by those who have trained before us; whether that’s in the world of fitness, the profession of arms, or preparation for spiritual warfare. An unwillingness to follow a pattern depicts an untrainable heart.
A trainable person is faithful to God’s Word, available to those who wish to train him, invested in training and ministry, and willing to put into practice what God commands.
The Greek, elpis, means “waiting expectedly” and is typically always defined appropriately by Christians. The problem is that we often us our hopes as our definition of faith. “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and to give you a hope for the future” (Jer 29.11) is one of the most misused verses in the Bible for we believe that God promises to give us all that we hope. When read in context; however, we see a condition that hinges upon our willingness to put our faith in action.
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8.24, 25). There is a part of salvation that is not dependent upon either faith or obedience. It's the part upon which this whole idea of “rewards,” “crowns,” and hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant” exists. We believe in the promise of the resurrected Son, obey His commands, and hope that our eternal reaping will be better than what we deserve.
A great example of faith and hope working together is prayer. God has promised to answer those prayers asked in the name of His Son but He hasn't promised to answer them exactly as we desire. I know my God will work for my good but I do not know if He'll sell my house. I hope He will and believe that He loves me enough to hear my prayer; but my faith is not what leads to a buyer. Understanding how to pray in love will teach us how to put our faith in God rather than just hope He hears us when we pray.
Recently I reread the story of the “old and young prophet” found in 1Kings 13. I have thought about it again in light of the revelation concerning the improprieties of the now infamous Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias. I’d like to share my thoughts and would love to hear yours.
In case you don’t know, Ravi Zacharias (now deceased) was a well known Indian born, but Canandian-American citizen, who has shared the Gospel of Christ through apologetic ministries for over 40 years. He has been an influence on thousands (maybe million), and because of his messages, many thousands (possibly millions) have given their life to Christ or have had their knowledge of God and His Word positively altered by Ravi’s persuasiveness. But it was recently revealed, though evidently discovered and hidden long ago, that Mr. Zacharias was a sexual predator and used his position to manipulate people to please his flesh. This new revelation will likely cause those thousands who were influenced (probably millions) to now doubt the legitimacy of what they’ve heard, believed, or adhered to and has given the enemy and his countless minions the ammunition they need to shoot down our arguments with one simple phrase: “But aren’t you all hypocrites?”
You can read more about Ravi Zacharias’ debauchery in the letter written by his ministry and posted in February 2021: https://www.rzim.org/read/rzim-updates/board-statement?fbclid=IwAR0gPDD4iHaQtT0ntVOyKFxIl1QychU0SF-g1U7_V_5gtwRLTqspN1Jwa0ohttps://www.rzim.org/read/rzim-updates/board-statement?fbclid=IwAR0gPDD4iHaQtT0ntVOyKFxIl1QychU0SF-g1U7_V_5gtwRLTqspN1Jwa0o
As I stated before, I also recently read the story of the young and old prophet found in 1Kings 13 which has always stumped me with its odd “moral.” See a “man of God” preached against Jeroboam who had rebelled against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and took the northern kingdoms of Israel with him to fight against Judah and its king. Jeroboam built an altar with two calves of gold and “made priests from every class of people” and set up a holy day he “devised in his own heart” and told the Israelites, “this is your god.”
A man of God cried out against the altar and when Jeroboam sought to arrest him, the king’s hand withered, the altar split apart and then started to burn into ash. The king begged for restoration and the young man prayed for his well being and he was restored. When the king asked the man to eat with him, he replied, “I was commanded by the word of the Lord… to return the same way I came.” And so he obeyed God.
But then an “old” unnamed prophet heard about what happened and convinced the man of God to join him with this lie: “I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your home that he may eat bread and drink water.’” The writer of the Scripture even adds “He was lying” (1Kin 13.18). But the young man believed the old prophet and went to eat despite what he had heard from God.
While they were eating, God actually did speak through the old prophet and told the young man, “Because you have disobeyed the Word of the Lord…. Your corpse shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.” As he left the old prophet’s house, the young prophet was devoured by a lion and was thereafter known as the “man of God who was disobedient to the word of the Lord” (1Kin 13.27).
Sometimes we forget that God’s message is in His Word, not in His messenger. God used Balaam, the prophet hired to curse Israel, to let us know that “God is not a man that He should lie… does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” A man who murdered Christians as they professed their faith is the one who told us, “For it is by grace you have been saved… not of yourselves.” And even Satan himself quoted the words of the Psalmist after citing “For it is written!” And we already know about the murderer Moses, the adulterous David, and the “king who did evil,” Solomon! All messengers from which we have received the message of God.
There was only One who was both the Message and the Messenger, the Word of God who became flesh and lived for a while among us. Only One who was what He preached, lived what was written, and is forever what He claimed to be. (John 1.1, 14).
The rest of us are just like Moses, or Balaam, or David, or Satan, or Paul, or the dispersed demons who uttered before anyone else did what is now the Word of the Lord: “You are the Son of God!” (Luk 4.41). We, like Ravi Zacharias, and like the old prophet who first lied and then spoke God’s Word, are the tainted messengers through whom God has chosen to teach the untainted Truth of His Word. And we, like those who were swayed by Ravi’s persuasiveness, are also like the young prophet who when we hear God’s Word allow ourselves to be swayed by the messenger instead of the message.
Today, we care more about who said it than what is said. About who did it more than what was done. Who should we care about more than what should force us to care.
Like the old prophet, we should remember that God’s Word is not to be used as a means to please ourselves or it will lead to the detriment of others. Like the young prophet, we should remember to put our faith in the Message, not the messenger, and that we will be judged by whether we “obeyed the Gospel” and not alongside those who shared it with us.
You know, I’m glad God is nothing like me.
When I don’t agree with people, I just unfriend them, unfollow them, unsubscribe, turn them off, swipe left, or just tune them out when their lips are flapping.
I’m glad God’s not like me.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Rev 3.19, 20).
When someone says something I don’t agree with, I tell them to shut up.
When someone does something I don’t agree with, I forever disassociate with them.
When someone isn’t a person I like to be with, I’d rather die than have anything to do with them.
When I say something God doesn’t agree with, He rebukes me in love.
When I do something God doesn’t agree with, He forgives me as I seek repentance.
When I am someone God doesn’t get along with, He dies on a cross to give me everything from Him.
Sure there are those who will eternally perish separated from God because they do not agree with Him, do not live as He commands, or are not someone He gets along with but until that day, our God knocks on the door and rebukes.
The road is wide and easy for those of us too holy to associate with a fallen world. It’s hard and narrow for those who live as God commands.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason” (John 15.18-25).
Like me you’ve probably heard people—maybe even Christians—say, “There’s nothing to fear from this pandemic. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry” (Luk 12.19). Despite God’s command to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom 13.1) many churches, some Christian universities, and individual believers have defied logic and common sense claiming “The church is a hospital for the sick…. The way to handle a pandemic is through the healing hands of Jesus.” They even offer those with COVID to receiving public healing in the midst of the congregation. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article241431126.html, http://www.liberty.edu/news/index.cfm?PID=18495&MID=379034
I get it. We should “fear not” because we are in God’s hands. We shouldn’t be afraid of the virus, of the impending free fall of the economy, or even of what trials tomorrow might hold. We shouldn’t be afraid. But we are commanded to fear.
After promising destruction for His people because they “turned their backs to me… would not listen or respond to discipline” and lived selfishly and unlovingly towards others (Jer 32.31-33), God continues:
“[But after] I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them” (Jer 32.39-42).
God commands us to fear Him—He INSPIRES us to do so—in the midst of trials that may or may not come from Him. Fear Him amidst punishment for sin that may or may not be our own. Fear Him even when we believe we’ve done no wrong.
No matter how much a paratrooper trusts in God, they don’t jump without a chute. No matter how much I love God, I don’t say, “Jesus take the wheel!” while driving 100 and not wearing a seatbelt. We don’t trust God by testing Him with a gun to our head.
Being stupid and disobeying the commands of our “governing authorities” does not mean we trust God more than we fear the pandemic.
Trust God by trusting that He will do as He says if we do as common sense, intellectual investigation, and pragmatism dictates.
PRICKING THE BODY TO HEAL
After 27 years in the Army, I have become what we call “broke.” I can’t run, can’t march, and can barely stand in formation for more than a few minutes. So I’ve been seeking physical therapy to help with my ailments. One day they recommended “dry needling,” which “works by pinpointing these trigger points in both peripheral and spinal areas, causing local bleeding and inflammation which the body will eventually heal by itself.” https://www.oaidocs.com/2019/03/08/hat-is-dry-needling/
I was wearing my uniform the first time the needle pricked my feet, so I tried with all my might not to whimper like an Army Private getting chewed out by the Sergeant Major. But I yelped like a hurt puppy, which startled the therapist as he inserted what felt like a 6 foot long steel spike into my heel and then proceeded to prick me with a dozen more, each as painful as the first! Luckily, they weren’t interrogating me or I would’ve told them everything.
All that to say, it hurts like God’s eternal punishment to get pricked!
But it works. Why? Pain forces the body to focus on a problem area and then invigorates it to work toward healing. All healing is preceded by pain.
WHAT A PRICK!
When I first started following Jesus, I didn’t want to read my Bible—seemed silly to read a book of fairy tales. I also showed up to Bible study but didn’t actually study it myself. I “memorized” the Scriptures everyone knew, but didn’t want to make it a habit of being a “Bible thumper.” Then one day an older Christian chastised me for being “stuck in first gear,” claiming that I’d eventually either “peter out” and forsake the One I called Lord or I’d be a lukewarm Christian spit out on the day of God’s judgement.
“What a prick!” I thought. That’s not a very loving thing to say. But it was what I needed. It’s always been what this lazy follower of Jesus has needed time and time again. Little or big pricks to needle me where it hurts, to pinpoint my problem areas, and to motivate me to either heal or suffer the pain of a thousand continuous pricks.
GOD’S BIGGEST PRICK
God has made it His habit of sending pricks to His Body: from Moses chastising those chagrin at the miracle of mana to Elijah ridiculing those who called a sleeping god named Baal, “Lord,” to Jesus who rebukes Simon for “petering out.” Every time God sends a prick, it’s with the promise of healing.
As a matter of fact, when you think about it, God sent His biggest prick to eternally condemn the conscience of every living soul to Hell for our undying devotion to the god we call “self.” But instead of entering our bodies that prick pierced the hands, feet, and side of His own Son who bore the pain so we might receive eternal healing.
Jesus was pricked for our transgression so that we might find healing through His pain.
BETTER IS OPEN REBUKE…
Pricks bring healing and though we ought to be open to receive them, we should not be eager to become them. God says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Prov 27.5) because, as He continues, “wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
Friends “tell you like it is,” but should always do so with the desire to remain “friends,” not just to wound us like an enemy would. Where a friend pricks us to bring us healing, an enemy will prick us simply because they want to be a prick.
When those needles pierced my foot I looked back behind me expecting to see the therapist laughing maniacally as he enjoyed my suffering, but he wasn’t. It was like his pricks were “spurring me on to love and good deeds” while his words were encouraging me as the end of the pain was approaching (Heb 10.24,25).
GIVE A PRICK, DON’T BE ONE
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’” (Jon 4.1-3).
God sent Jonah to prick the collective conscience of the Ninevites but the prophet fled, not because he was afraid of the message, but because he was peeved knowing God would heal the people Jonah was sent to prick. Jonah wasn’t just giving a prick, he was being one.
When we rebuke, chastise, correct, or warn another without the desire to bring them to repentance, we’re not just providing a prick—we are one!
I think a lot of us are Christian pricks (I’ve been one of them) who love to tell others they’re going to Hell if they don’t believe as we do or live as we approve. But the Church doesn’t need more people acting like pricks. Instead, the Church needs more loving disciples willing to cause pain through pricking and healing through maturation.
Give a prick, don’t be one!
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2Tim 2.24, 25).
Why do you write this crap?
Probably one of the most snide, yet introspective questions asked of me by someone who has actually read one of my Bible studies is “Why do you write this crap if no one reads it?” It’s honestly a question I’ve asked myself several times always with the same answer—“real writers don’t write for recognition or fame or notoriety…. They write just to write” (https://goinswriter.com/writers-dont-write-to-get-published/). Or as Mark Twain once said, “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay.” In other words, write whether people read it or not. It’s a proven fact that the act of sharing one’s ideas or thoughts through writing or speaking serves as a catalyst for better comprehending one’s ideas or thoughts. As one of my favorite Latin phrases says, docendo discimus, “by teaching we learn.”
So I write to learn, but why is it “crap?” Let me explain:
Sh***y First Drafts
I taught writing for a number years and would often start with an article written by Anne Lamott wherein she uses a scatological term far less acceptable by Christians than “crap” to describe “first drafts.”
For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really [crappy] first drafts…. Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. (https://wrd.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/1-Shitty%20First%20Drafts.pdf)
Because writing students always like to say “Writing only takes a minute if you do it in the last minute,” I warned them that unless they were the reincarnation of Mark Twain himself, their first draft, just like mine, would always, always be an F effort.
Actually, Mark Twain writes, “The time to begin writing… is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.” Meaning, our first drafts help us figure out what we are actually thinking so that when we finally share our thoughts with others, it’s not a pile of manure. https://www.onlineuniversities.com/blog/2010/07/12-timeless-writing-tips-from-mark-twain/
3 Reasons everything but the Bible should be a Rough Draft
For me, I begin with the Christian premise that only the Bible can serve as God’s final draft: what we call Sola Scriptura—by Scripture alone. The 66 books of the Bible relay God’s ideas written by prophets and apostles through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2Pt 1.20,21; Eph 2.20). It is the final draft, everything else—that sermon by Spurgeon, the book by Olsteen, the audio recording of Billy Graham, your favorite pastor’s podcast, or even your own Bible study, are all crappy first drafts in comparison.
Here are three reasons I think Christians should see everything but the Bible as “crappy first drafts”:
1- I am not writing Scripture (I can be wrong)
When we complete our studies, and especially when we plan to share them with others, we often believe they are “inspired by God.” We (or someone else) even prays before we begin, “May God speak through [this guy or gal].” We, like the Pharisees who challenged the “final draft” Jesus with their “crappy draft” critiques, become convinced that what we studied, what we gleaned from Scripture, what we think we heard God Himself speak through the whispers of the Holy Spirit is the final copy, the very words of God.
Jesus rebuked them, as He rebukes us, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Mt 22.29). Obviously, the Pharisees, the Bible scholars of Jesus’ time, “knew” the Scriptures, but they didn’t seem to know that their thoughts, their ideas, their “Mishnah” of people’s traditions and doctrines.
2- I am not reading Scripture (they can be wrong)
Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your traditions” (Mk 7.9), because they believed the doctrine of their beliefs judged the accuracy of God’s Scriptures. There have been times I’ve shared my beliefs about God’s Word and have heard someone say, “What scholar backs up your beliefs?” Well, this is literally what it says in Scripture, so I guess God?
Unless we are reading the final draft, God’s Word, then we are always reading someone’s crappy first draft.
3- Scripture should inspire us to research questions not solidify answers.
“You diligently search the Scriptures,” Jesus begins His rebuke of the Pharisees with a compliment, but then adds, “Then testify about Me, yet you are unwilling to come to Me to have life” (John 5.39,40). They study the Scripture but didn’t ask questions of He who inspired it.
I think we too often use the Scripture as commentary for our beliefs, citing it secondary to the beliefs of those who agree with us because we think the Scripture exists to provide answers to our questions. When in reality, God’s Word exists so we might question who we are, how we ought to live, and why we believe the crap we write is more inspired than the truths God actually speaks.
Write, preach, teach, share only first drafts
So my approach to studying the Bible and sharing what I’ve learned with other is to always see my efforts as a crappy first draft. I don’t refer to previous crappy first drafts (my Bible study notes) but instead start afresh with just the Scripture—God’s authorized final copy. Although I will use commentary, doctrine, and other teaching of far smarter Christians than me, I always view them as other people’s crappy attempts at understanding God’s unfathomable wisdom. Like reading the drawings of a five year old trying to explain the laws of physics.
That’s my approach: what’s yours?
Part the Last
CHOOSING THE BETTER
“Which is better, modern home church or more traditional church homes?” I started this series because I’ve been asked that question by some well-meaning friends who’ve wondered my opinion. But I also wrote this series because many well-meaning fellow disciples of Christ do not ask this question of themselves: they just simply assume that what they have chosen to do—have church in their home or in building—is better without considering how they came to their conclusions.
The problem with the word “better” is that it can mean different things: let’s discuss 2 of them here. Life is better than death means that one is far superior to the other to the degree that “death” would never be preferred. “Life” exposes what is “wrong” with death making it better than its comparison. Contrarily, Paul tells us that it is “better” to be single than to be married; however, a person hasn’t done anything wrong by being married, it is simply more “profitable” to be single than married. Sometimes when we say “better,” we mean the thing compared is unacceptable. Other times, we simply mean we would take the latter, but prefer what we deem “better.”
BETTER THAN THE CHURCH OR BETTERING THE CHURCH?
From my experience and studies, the majority of Christians who attend a church home would be willing to endorse that those in home or house churches are simply “worshipping another way.” They might even admit that for particular reasons like intimacy, security, or interactivity it is “better” to have church in a home than a dedicated edifice.
However, those who attend home or house churches tend to “form directly as a result of dissatisfaction with specific doctrines. Too many house churches are filled with people who got burned by the more institutionalized church. Thus, house churches tend to attract dissatisfied people—sometimes the angry children of evangelical megachurches.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/may/house-churches-good-or-bad.html.
In other words, those in home/ house often gather together because of a dislike for “the church” (traditional churches) not because they believe the house church methodology is better for accomplishing the commands of God.
Listen to this common opinion among those who attend house churches: “There is nowhere in Scripture where Jesus commands us to go to a building called ‘Church.’ It was always about sharing life with people. All that existed in the New Testament were house churches where people were already living together in deep, relational community. The idea that we need to travel to sit in a space with strangers and consume religious entertainment is not at all Biblical. So while it may be helpful (and to many it is), it is not necessary. If people try to make you feel guilty for not attending a church building, know that they have missed the point, not you.” https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/articles/does-god-care-if-i-dont-go-to-church.aspx
Believing that Christians who “do church” in buildings are disconnected, hypocritical, superficial, and ultimately, wrong, does little to build unity in the Christ’s Body, His Church. Not only is it dissenting, it is also based on erroneous “feelings” and not on pragmatic, proven, logical truth.
IT’S NOT US VERSUS THEM
Church homes are better than home churches for the reasons I’m going to share below, but let’s first consider the point previously made. Those in church homes do not think they are better than those who meet in houses while those who meet in homes often believe they are far better than those who do not follow the same practice. God commands us to “consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2.3, 4). If I’m always believing I’m “better than them,” then how can I ever be united with them?
3 REASONS CHURCH HOMES ARE BETTER THAN HOME CHURCHES
- THE PURPOSE OF CHURCH
The entirety of this series rests in the complex question: what does the church do? What’s her purpose? Can a house church accomplish God’s purpose for the Church or does it also require church homes to obey God’s command for His Bride?
In part 4 of this series, I discussed defining the Church by its purpose, why it exists, as found in Ephesians 4, what the Church needs in order to function (clergy, logistics, etc), and lastly what the Church is commanded to do (tasks) summed up in the W.I.F.E. acronym (Worship, Instruct, Fellowship, and Evangelize).
In every part following, I presented a study that explained how the church home and home church compares according to the tasks, purpose, and requirements. And in nearly every part, I explained how the church home is more apt to accomplish the tasks God commands the Church to perform than a house church made up of only 10-15 Christians ever feasibly could.
A Church Home with a full-time clergy, a worshipping body of believers made up of varying gifts and callings, and a facility large enough to house them and resources enough to send them out into the “mission field” will always be “better than” a house church of committed, devoted followers of Jesus limited by the constraints of time, logistics, and resources.
Which brings us to the second point.
2. Church homes are inevitable.
The Church began when one Carpenter shared His knowledge with a small group of men and women, from house to house, then from synagogue to synagogue, until that Man was crucified and others rose in His place. They carried the Gospel to “temple courts” and from “house to house” (Act 5.42) until it eventually became the religion of the modern world. Then one man nailed some complaints to a wall and the Church was reformed again from house to house and within the confines of “temple” walls until it spread across the seas into huts and homes and eventually missions which expanded into cathedrals. Because community is inevitable, and Church is a community, and community requires organizations; therefore, organized church is inevitable https://careynieuwhof.com/a-response-to-christians-who-are-done-with-church/.
The Church began and continues in homes and houses but because the Church is the people of God and not some edifice, when the people of God grow beyond the confines of a home, larger meeting places are needed. They are not “the church,” but they simply house the church.
As I highlighted in part 10-12 of this series, church homes are the inevitable product of a growing body of believers. Even if we are in a house church today, it will inevitable grow into something unable to be sustained in a house.
3. Church isn’t about what’s best for me but what’s better for God’s Church
Whomever you wish to call “church” is between you and God, but I do know that God will hold us to account for not loving those whom He calls His Church. We’d be wise to ensure that whatever is “church” to us, is also “Church” by God’s definitions.
In my opinion, many of the activities performed in “church,” whether that’s in a home or building, are ritualistic, dogmatic, and impractical. But I have learned that it is NOT my opinion that ought to shape what God says and other’s believe, instead, I, just like everyone else, should consider whether what is important to God and other brothers and sisters ought also be important to me, if for no other reason than that God or other Christians deem it significant.
Many in home churches choose to church in a house because it best “fits me” or it “helps me to grow” or it “helps me achieve God’s calling on my life.” Similarly, many of us choose our church home based upon what best suits our tastes in worship, or demographic preferences, or the teaching and doctrine to which we most agree. We pick a church because we believe it best helps us.
Maybe we’ve got it backwards? Maybe we should say, “Here I am, Lord, send Me” and then see if the direction of His Word, His people, and His prompting through our conscience leads us to call our home a church or to find a church to call home.
THANKS FOR READING
Anyway, thank you to those who have read thus far and let me know where you think I’m off and how I can improve my thinking. May God bless you as you minister with Him in a home you call church or a church you call home.
Church Task Eight
Evangelism*: GROWING THE CHURCH THROUGH MISSIONS, CHURCH PLANTING, AND SPIRITUAL REPRODUCTION
When I first got involved in discipleship, I was taught that we were “born to reproduce”—God commanded us to “be fruitful and multiply.” I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with this fact; however, what I eventually grew to understand was that my beliefs about “multiplying laborers” was synonymous with the medical definition of cancer. Let me explain.
Paul warns, “And their message will spread like cancer… who have strayed concerning the truth… and overthrow the faith of some” (2Tim 2.17-18). Cancer is defined as the “uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body… old cells do not die” but instead reproduce out of control, forming new, abnormal cells that eventually form tumors and could metastasize to the rest of the body (https://www.cancercenter.com/what-is-cancer). What is an abnormal cell? It does not “mature into very distinct cell types with specific functions,” which is one reason why cancer cells “continue to divide without stopping.” (https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/what-is-cancer#cell-differences)
God calls “the Church,” His Body; however, what is “Church?” We’ve discussed the definition in this series—it’s kind of the point of the study—but to summarize, Church is defined by its purpose—the why—not just the what. God’s Church consists of ALL believers, not non-believers who “go to church,” and not traditional buildings or living rooms. But the people themselves who are doing the “works of service” for which they are equipped (Eph 4.16).
An abnormal “cell” would then be a person who considers themselves a part of the Church but does not mature—doesn’t fulfill God’s purpose for the Church—yet reproduces (makes disciples) anyway creating an ever increasing mass of non-productive “cells” that will eventually kill the Body if it is not cured.
I believed my purpose was to be a disciple of Jesus and to make other disciples of Jesus, but to do it as quickly as possible by helping others rapidly grow from being new believers who didn’t know Judas from Jonah to makers of disciples planting churches in every home across America. But was I reproducing healthy cells within God’s Body or creating a cancer that would harm it?
Surveys vary but most say about ~30% of the earth’s population is “Christian;” however, under the category of “Christian” is everything from Catholicism to Mormonism to Jehovah Witnesses and the large umbrella of “Protestantism” that includes those who preach the prosperity gospel or a Christianity without any consequence to sin (https://www.indexmundi.com/world/religions.html). There are many “churches” but not all of them actually belong to God’s Church.
Therefore, those who do belong to God’s Body, His Church, seek to reproduce actual “cells” by planting churches either in people’s living rooms or constructing sanctuaries for Christians to gather in larger groups than a home could support. In other words, we are born to reproduce disciples of Jesus and the planting of churches is how we do it. But how do we ensure we aren’t simply spreading cancer?
Francis Chan’s “We are Church” network of home churches espouses what many home churches believe about reproducing churches: “We multiply to preserve the healthy number of 10-20 people in a church…. Multiplication is not something we force, but we do push for it.” They urge for “regular multiplication” that should occur according to “target dates” as goals and not ultimatums; however, they are milestones established based on logistics and not always maturity—a need for space, not necessarily because others are mature enough to “make disciples.”
In other words, more often than not, home/ house churches “reproduce” by splitting apart a “cell” and creating additional churches, not because the leaders are mature enough to train disciples of Jesus, but because more room is needed to “have church.”
According to missiologist, C. Peter Wagner, “Planting new churches is the most effective methodology known under heaven.” Tim Keller, who quotes Wagner, continues, “New churches best reach the unchurched-period.” New churches are planted because people are always searching for what is “newer” and thereby “better.” According to Keller, “60-80%” of a new churches members are “from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-15 years old gain 80-90% of new members from transfers” (https://www.acts29.com/why-church-planting/).
In other words, church planting is needed because it helps God’s Church grow and reproduce. When a “traditional” church (one with a dedicated facility and ministerial staff) is planted, it is usually designed with growth in mind—not how many people are attending, but how many people will attend. Similar to house/ home churches, new church homes might be built because of a “need for room;” however, this “need for space” is not as significant a reason as it is for those crowded into a living room. Most church homes are planted because another church home has sent out “missionaries” to reach the “unreached” by planting churches were none already exist.
“Missional” is a word that has become in vogue lately, particularly as it relates to “church planting,” be that in a home or a traditional building. What we usually mean is that those who start these churches are akin to historical missionaries who carried the message of Christ from the “civilized” world to the rest of mankind. Today, most American Christians would consider “missionaries” those who go “abroad” (other countries) to share God’s Word; however, there are those who would also consider starting a church in a home or an abandoned store front synonymous with missional work.
The Gospel Coalition, who define “church” the “traditional”—Church Home—way (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/what-is-the-church/) explains “missionary” work in 3 parts:
“Evangelism, discipleship, church planting—that’s what the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to do, and these should be the goals of all mission work. Missionaries may aim at one of these components more than the other two, but all three should be present in our overall mission strategy. The work of discipleship and church planting cannot take place unless some non-believers have been evangelized and some of them converted. At the same, we cannot leave new converts on their own once they come to Christ. They must be grounded in the faith and taught what it means to turn from sin, flesh, and the devil and follow Jesus. And if our missionary work only focuses on evangelism and discipleship, without a vision for the centrality of the local church, we are not being faithful to the pattern we see in Acts where conversion always entails incorporation. Missionary work is a three-legged stool: if we are missing any of the legs, the ministry will not be healthy, stable, or strong.” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/goal-missions-work-missionaries/
Missionaries may start in homes, but they inevitably, and historically, grow into “traditional” church homes. When you consider that every missionary requires training, support, and supervision, it’s easy to surmise that the Church Home is far more capable of sending missionaries into the harvest field than those who call their house church.
HOME CHURCH OR CHURCH HOME?
I once asked one of the men who God first used to train in me discipleship how long it would take to “make a disciple-making disciple?” He told me that it took Jesus, God in flesh, 3 years to train 12—and one was Judas. After Paul’s conversion, he spent 3 years alone in the desert and 10 years training with Barnabas in Antioch before he started “planting churches” across his known world. If it took Jesus 3 years to make a disciple, and Paul 13 years to become a laboring disciple, then how long do you think it should take before a Christian should become the leader/ pastor of his own church?
Out of necessity, home churches are far more likely to speed up the process of reproducing church leaders than traditional church homes. It takes years to educate a pastor or missionary, many more to construct a building, and even more to fill it with followers of Christ. One of the benefits of home church is that they can be “raised” in days, or even months, but it’s also one of the pitfalls.
Though a church may begin in a home, if it is reproducing and growing it will either morph into a network of house churches, many indubitably led by immature, untrained followers, or it will grow into a local church home lead by a few experienced, mature disciples. Though a cancer can be small or it can be huge, it’s the small ones that are hard to find. The big ones are easy to identify.
Lewis blows our mind in Book 4 of Mere Christianity wherein he discusses a question most of us simply presume to be true: God is triune. In Chapter 4, “Good Infection,” Lewis explains that God did not first exist and then from Him came forth Jesus. That is how most Christians understand it, especially since God provides for us a Father and Son motif concerning Jesus and Yahweh. But the problem with this view is that Jesus cannot BE God if He does not exist simultaneously with God. The Son cannot “exist” because the Father “first” existed if the Father and Son are One.
This is what some call “simultaneous causality.” Most of us understand causality quite simply: I type on the keyboard and these words appear on my screen and then yours. But consider the moment before all that happened when I heard the idea presented by Lewis and worked through my understanding. Hearing caused the understanding, sure, but the understanding came as I worked out the concept in my mind. They occurred simultaneously. Lewis explains it by imagining 2 books floating in the air with book B resting on book A for all eternity. You could say that A causes B for without book A, B would not be resting on A. But A also exists because it causes B: the cause and effect are conjoined. Think about how we imagine those 2 books floating in the air and how a mental image was conceived. “The moment you did it, the picture was there. Your will was keeping the picture before you all the time. Yet that act of will and the picture began at exactly the same moment and ended at the same moment. If there were a Being who had always existed and had always been imagining one thing, his act would always have been producing a mental picture; but the picture would be just as eternal as the act.”
Stephen Hawking once argued, “You can’t get to a time before the Big Bang, because there was no before the Big Bang. We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me, this means that there is no possibility for a Creator, because there is no time for a Creator to have existed…. Time didn’t exist before the Big Bang. So, there is no time for God to make the Universe in.”
“Philosopher William Lane Craig explains that this argument rests on a pseudo-dilemma, since the argument does not “consider the obvious alternative that the cause of the Big Bang operated at t, that is, simultaneously (or coincidentally) with the Big Bang.” Simply put: the Law of Causality allows for simultaneous causes.” Immanuel Kant explains, “The principle of the connection of causality among phenomena…applies also when the phenomena exist together in the same time, and that cause and effect may be simultaneous.” http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=9&article=687
In other words, atheist like to remove the “cause” (what existed before the big nothing) from the equation by saying “something can’t be caused by nothing.” The “something” is the cause itself. The Christian argument, which Lewis’ Mere Christianity represents, is that God was the something which caused something simultaneously (Jesus and the Spirt) and something else as a result of A, B, and C coming together: creation. Jesus “exists” because He, God, and the Spirit are One. Our existence is a result of that causation.
Why’s all this matter? Like God, we are triune beings existing as bio (body), zoe (spirit), and psuche (soul) (1Thes 5.23), simultaneously knit together by God in our mother’s wombs. We do not “receive eternity” when we believe in Jesus. We are born into eternity. Where we spend that eternity (in life or death) is dependent upon our relationship to our Creator. Eternal life is not an effect we later achieve after we first believe. Rather, eternal life is achieved simultaneously with the rebirth of the “zoe” in the body and souls of those who are eternally resting on Jesus.
Like a book eternally resting on another.
Church Task Seven
Evangelism*: RECRUITING THE SAVED, REACHING THE LOST
Like you, I’ve visited church homes (traditional edifices) where it was so empty a married couple could have a pew to themselves, but I’ve also visited churches where we had to sit in an “overflow” and watch the band, pastor, and early risers on a screen like we were being punished for being late. Sure it might be selfish and sinful of me, but in each occasion my thought is, “This isn’t the church for me.” How can I invite someone to an empty service or to stand in the corner with me because they are too full!?
Similarly, like you, I’ve also lived in a small house where my living room was so packed that people had to sit on the floor, and in contrast lived in a large home but had 10 times more chairs than people to show up. In each circumstance, the worry was “Why would people come over when apparently no one else will or why go to your house church if I can’t even sit comfortably?
As much as Christians like to sound “spiritual” by talking about reaching the lost for Christ or recruiting the saved to discipleship, we still have to literally find them a seat!
Once I invited a friend to a home church and when I told the fella who ran it that he was going to show up, the leader asked, “Does he have a family?” When I answered in the affirmative, I was informed he could come alone but not with his wife and kids. There simply was not room. I shouldn’t have been mad, it made sense, but how could I recruit to discipleship or invite the lost if there was no room for them in our church?
Sometimes when we talk about saving people for Christ or discipling future laborers to minister in God’s fields, we forget that God doesn’t miracle the logistics to do so.
Most Christians simply do not “do evangelism.” There are a lot of reasons. Thom Rainer provides 15, of which I’ve picked a few: we don’t spend time with the lost, we are lazy or apathetic, we have no sense of urgency, we believe it’s the “pastor’s job,” church is about building up Christians and not reaching the lost, and lastly, the belief that “they will come, we do not have to go get them.” https://thomrainer.com/2015/02/fifteen-reasons-churches-less-evangelistic-today/
Ironically, the number one reason a person will “go to church,” whether that’s in a home or a building, is so obvious it reeks of simplicity: they must be invited. Most, the statistics vary between 25-75%, will go if someone asks. So what’s keeping us from inviting them?
Less ironic, but very true, the majority of visitors to a church are already “churched.” They are what some call “switchers” (http://www.churchmarketingsucks.com/2015/10/by-the-numbers-guests-attendance-and-the-back-door/). Like me, many of the “switchers” are “movers,” those forced to change cities, states, or countries and therefore churches.
Lastly, and to the point I initially made, when we finally do get around to inviting someone to “church,” whether they are a Christian “switcher” or a “seeker,” we still have to help them find a seat and feel comfortable surrounded by a congregation, or a small group, of strangers.
Walking into someone’s home is about as different from walking into an auditorium as watching a game with some friends on TV or sitting next to a friend surrounded by thousands at a stadium. It is inherently more intimate and personal and for some this is more comforting, for others, far less. My first memory of a Christian sharing their faith with me was as a small child being invited to a friend’s house and their parents talking to me about some man-sacrificing God, a fiery punishment if I didn’t say a prayer, and then said prayer uttered fearfully so I could leave. Obviously, he wasn’t my friend after that experience.
Others have far more positive “first-time” experiences with “house church;” however, from my experience and study, it isn’t non-Christians who are attracted to having church alone or with only friends and families in a home, bar, outdoors, or anywhere other than a traditional “church” building—it’s those “switchers” previously mentioned who are simply tired of finding the “right” church, or are disgruntled or offended by “that church” or who are simply “the angry children of evangelical megachurches.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/may/house-churches-good-or-bad.html.
Ironically, Christianity has historically been birthed in “unchurched” nations through house/home churches (more on that in the next task), yet in areas where brick and mortar churches are prevalent, and dying, it is the house church that becomes filled not with the seeking lost, but with the disgruntled churchgoer.
Listen to this commonly given advice: “There is nowhere in Scripture where Jesus commands us to go to a building called ‘Church.’ It was always about sharing life with people. All that existed in the New Testament were house churches where people were already living together in deep, relational community. The idea that we need to travel to sit in a space with strangers and consume religious entertainment is not at all Biblical. So while it may be helpful (and to many it is), it is not necessary. If people try to make you feel guilty for not attending a church building, know that they have missed the point, not you.” https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/articles/does-god-care-if-i-dont-go-to-church.aspx
Believing that Christians who “do church” in buildings are disconnected, hypocritical, superficial, and ultimately, wrong, does little to build unity in Christ’s Body, His Church.
Contrarily, “Christians sometimes get more attached to our buildings than we do to our mission. Christians should … be willing to give up their buildings to reach more people.” https://careynieuwhof.com/8-things-christians-should-give-up-to-reach-unchurched-people/ The word “church” is synonymous to a building for most, just as “home” is erroneously defined as a place and not as the movies always remind us, “where your heart is.” We “go to church,” because we do not believe that “we are the Church.” We can see it in the advice provided to pastors: “Church guests are highly consumer-oriented…. If your church building is too hard for newcomers to navigate, if they have to park in the back 40, if your people are unaccepting and unfriendly, another church down the street may have what they’re looking for. Or worse yet, they may decide getting into a church is not worth the effort and give up their search altogether.” https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/153325-5-important-facts-about-first-time-guests.html
“Going to church;” however, wrong a concept that might be, is something non-Christians understand. However, they cannot understand that God’s people are His Church in the same way that Unitarians can’t understand how Trinitarians can believe in a triune God. Christians need to understand that when we are inviting a person to “church,” we are really inviting them to our “home,” because we are asking them to be involved with us—not simply to sit with us.
HOME CHURCH OR CHURCH HOME?
Church homes are designed to grow. No one ever says, “We have 20 parishioners so let’s build a space for 20 people.” Inviting someone, whether they are a Christian or not, to church is expected, encouraged, and easy for those who attend a church home. If you run out of chairs or pews, then you build an overflow or a larger sanctuary, or you plant a new church.
Houses are not built to grow. If your family increases, then you find a new home. Inviting someone, whether they are a Christian or not, to a house church is probably encouraged, but limiting due to logistical constraints or the ministry limitations of the group. If you are bible scholars, do you want to invite a drug addict? Do you want children if there are only adults? Do you want a Christian if you are only trying to reach Muslims?
Bottom line, church homes are built to attract the masses—Christian or not—and provide opportunities for attenders, members, and the clergy to meet the needs of those visitors. House churches are not bound to buildings but are bound to be unable to meet the needs of the vast majority of those who would visit. It’s simply impossible for a group of 12 to do what a congregation of hundreds can.
The logistics that accompany “having church” should not be the reason we “have church.” It is, however, the reason we actually can have a Church.
* Evangelism may be considered the primary purpose of the Church—preach the Gospel to all the world—however, it is not “the Church.” The Church is comprised of Christians who are sharing their faith with others. Evangelism is one of the components that make up the Church—some might say it is the most important; however, it alone is not Church. Evangelism can be many things, but we are limiting it here to recruiting the saved, reaching the lost and spiritual reproduction through church planting and missions.