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Church Drama or Christ Dogma?

There seems to be a great deal of drama surrounding the church today. It would appear that many Christians believe that more talk about church practice will lead to a fruitful end. Apparently, arguing over church forms and methods are going to lead us to unity in the Body of Christ, and that through pragmatism we will be able to obtain a church utopia on earth.

Many believers have been fooled into thinking that more emerging conversations will give birth to a glorious epiphany in our ecclesiology. I don’t have to defend my statements with statistics. Anyone paying attention to the church climate in this generation can see the ridiculous mess we have created for ourselves.

Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna is causing the much expected firestorm of debate. We are even seeing Christians persecuting Christians. It is proof that history does indeed repeat itself. In the middle of the conversations I am hearing the way in which the bruised up and world-intoxicated church should conduct herself when she gathers together.

Primarily, I hear conversations centered around “forms” and “models.” When bloggers and the occasional “anonymous” writers are not trying to make judgments against a book they have not read, they pull out old arguments to ease their conscience and defend their uncontested and undigested presuppositions concerning the church. I would laugh at some of the things I am hearing if I wasn’t so deeply disturbed in my spirit.

The church is torn and caught in a whirlwind of drama, and the one thing we should be talking about is being replaced with narcissistic ecclesiastical conversations perpetuating the feeling of utter despair.

In my review of PC and in all of my comments elsewhere, I have stated over and over that this book is not about “doing” church or about “forms.” This book is about returning to the person and work of Christ–it is about spiritual revolution, not religious reformation.

When we examine the New Testament without bringing the last 1700 years of church practice with it, we will see a church that gathered around Christ in simplicity.  We see a church consumed with all things Christ, not self-absorbed in a crazy array of emerging church practices.

When it comes to the historical research and work presented in PC, we must be willing to accept that the pagan origins documented in this book sound an alarm that should result in great concern from us. We must be open to a paradigm shift and be willing to lay aside many things before we will hear the clear exaltation of Christ in his Body the church. And this is the purpose of the book: “to make room” for Christ!

A person should not hear the authors as trading one church form for another. All readers should take a mature view of the message undoubtedly being presented in this book. There is a clear cry of spiritual revolution back to the centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in the church.

The way by which we are able to remove our preconceived notions concerning the church, is by a complete emersion and commitment into rediscovering the Christ of the Gospels.

Out of Christ is born the church. Out of Christ is born this house church “form” many readers see Viola describing. It is natural to first see this as strictly being forms, I know. I was distracted by the “doing” in the beginning. Nevertheless, if a person will continue to seek the Lord in spirit and in truth, in time, you should see things differently. In time, the Lord will bring more light that illuminates himself, not the church.

Many readers may not agree with the premise of the book because they ultimately have not taken the time to rethink Jesus’ words. Church history and its 1700 years of accumulating paganism speaks for itself. The reason for documenting these facts of history is to clear the stage for a narrative ecclesiology built upon Christ. In order to have a correct ecclesiology, we first need a renewed christology.

Readers must not confuse the thesis of this book with “doing” a different “model.” The book’s claim is that the “organic” church is born out of the natural faith of Christ (i.e. life and teachings) and the institutional church is born out of man’s wisdom in applying pagan models of leadership and acquiring all sorts of religious practices. 

I would rather people become even more upset by this, then they hear something else and be upset for the wrong reasons. Again, the purpose of PC is to spur us on to removing all church models and forms in order that our reactions to Christ would produce a church life that reflects his person and work.

This is the church that gathers in the “New Testament fashion”–the church gathered around the centality, supremacy, and headship of Christ.

I am now very cautious when recommending this book to people who have not already come to a place of total dissatisfaction with the Christ and the Christianity that is taught and practiced in America. The book could build up walls that prevent any real search for the authentic Christ from ever happening. And then again, it may be the shot in the pants that many professing believers need. Time will tell.

It was because of my own experience with church drama and the discontentment I felt with the Christ presented in the traditional church… that I was even open to a renewed Christology.  It is by the mercy and grace of God that I found Christ instead of latching on to forms, methods, and movements, and being distracted by them.

It is quite a thing, I know, to claim that the reason people react harshly to the message presented in this book is because they are not “hungry for more of Jesus.” However, I have given this a great deal of thought. I am certain that this is the case.

If a person can quickly pass off the Christ-centered message presented in PC, or any Christ-centered book for that matter, then it is apparent that there are things coming before Christ. These things, whatever they may be, are keeping people from their heart’s desire. These people may find that Christ is not the sum of all spiritual things wherever they are at in life.

The truth of the matter will only be found in discerning with the Spirit of Christ that indwells the spirit of man. When all is still and quite within a man’s soul, a person can know if Christ is truly first in the matter.  The Holy Spirit longs to exalt the Lord above all other pursuits and things that stand in the way of his absolute centrality and supremacy.

The purpose of this article is not to defend PC or the authors who are but mere men. The purpose is to sound a call for all believers to be consumed with Christ dogma instead of church drama.  It is a plea for the church to see the need for spiritual revolution (i.e. return to Christ), instead of religious reformation.

Before anything else is said or written, we must be aware of the fact that we are so easily misled into hype and drama with talks of methods and movements.  It is time to trade in our methods and movements dialogue for a renewed understanding of Jesus.

I’m afraid that much of the talk today about the church has little to nothing to do with Christ’s headship.  It would appear that many believers are taking the devil’s bait.  The evil one has the church talking about everything but Christ. He can’t keep us from noticing the problems, but he can keep us busy trying to solve those problems with some “new” way of “doing” church.

There is a revolution rising. The men and women who make up this revolution want to give the church back to Christ. However, if we do not concern ourselves with the centrality and supremacy of Christ, we will no doubt continue the drama that has lasted for over 1700 years.

The drama is evidence that there are many who have not concerned themselves with the centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in the church.  If Christ was central and supreme, we would be patiently discussing his person and works with each other instead of debating forms and methods.

Where will the church go from here? What voices will she listen to in this generation? Will she settle for reform and be persuaded by man and his movements or will she press on to her Lord and aid in the tearing down of the kingdom of hell?

There is only one road that leads to Christ, that is the way of the cross. If the church is willing to press on to Christ, she must ready herself for a major shift in the culture. For when the church is founded on the rock of Christ, the mighty winds of persecution will blow. And in the storm we will find peace.

May the Lord give us a continual hunger for his centrality and supremacy in all things. May Christ be our primary pursuit, the centerpiece of our conversations, and the subject of our personal meditation and reflection. Let us set our hearts to learning Christ, and we will be led to a normal “organic” church life that is born out of knowing the person and work of Christ Jesus our Lord.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

Paul, Letter to the Colossians 1:15-18

D.D. Flowers, 2008.

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Jim Caviezel to the Church

james-caviezelI had the wonderful privilege of hearing Jim Caviezel speak last night. No, he was not greeted with chants of “Hosanna!” and the waving of palm branches while riding in on a donkey. Yet, I must say that that would have been funny.

He walked on stage in a black leather jacket and black jeans sporting a new hairdo. He was given a warm welcome and no one pressed the stage to be healed. Jim began by sharing how he came to play Jesus in the 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ.

He spoke on the making of the movie and the many trials he went through while playing the part of the Suffering Messiah. His words were honest and inspiring as scenes from the film played on the big screens behind him. The entire audience was moved as Jim shifted everyone’s focus off of himself and onto Jesus of Nazareth.

Jim is a very serious and sincere man. If you have watched any of his films, especially behind the scenes, you will know this to be true. He is very serious about his work as an actor—not for acting sake—but in order to portray good versus evil and judgment versus redemption. I was thrilled to be able to hear his heart as he spoke of his own faith in Christ and how that faith is to be lived out in all the dark places in our world.

I believe what stuck out to me the most about what he shared was what I would call a prophetic message to the church. Jim mentioned the increasingly hostile world that we live in and how persecution and suffering was coming to the church. He referred to this as God’s way. If I remember correctly, he said, in reference to suffering, “This too is from God.”

He reminded the audience that all of the saints who have gone on before us were all acquainted with this one thing: suffering. He went on to encourage the audience to be the Lord wherever they are at and to not be concerned about what others think. He said:

“We may never win an Oscar or be known by men, but we are known by God and that’s all that matters.”

I met Jim after the talk to have him sign something. Relax, it was the only way to speak to him. 🙂  Since I’m aware that he is serious and that he seemed to be tense from all the attention, I thought I would break the mood with some humor.

I shook his hand and said, “Jim, I just want to know one thing… how hard was it not to laugh in your interview with Ron Burgundy?”  (If you don’t know what I am talking about, you can watch the interview on You Tube.)  He laughed and replied, “You know… you didn’t see all of the outtakes. It wasn’t easy.”

I laughed with him and shook his hand one last time.  As I shook his hand to leave, I said, “Keep being a light in a dark world.” His serious look returned with an expression that conveyed appreciation and at the same time a hopeful brother in an evil place; a brother who understands what it means to be in the world, but not of it.

Finally, I just want to say that I was moved by the Spirit of Christ in the hearing of Jim’s words. I was moved enough to stay up until three in the AM to tell you about it. I truly believe the Lord spoke through Jim Caviezel in a powerful way. I just hope that the Christians in the room and those reading this blog are receiving the “heads up” on what God is getting his people ready to endure.

Soon we will have a new context in which to live out our Christianity. Soon and very soon, Christians living in the empire will experience the purification of God’s people on earth; to bear the marks of Jesus on our bodies and identify with him through suffering. May those of us who have long enjoyed the security of the world be ready for what is to come.


The Sermon on the Hill

WARNING: RELIGIOUS SATIRE!

The Sermon on the Hill (The American Beatitudes)
Matt. 5:1-16

One day as he saw the politicians gathering, Jesus went up the steps of the capital and stood behind a podium with The Statue of Freedom looming overhead. The Senate gathered around him, 2 and he began to address them.

 

The American Beatitudes

 

3 “Blessed are those who have a military-industrial complex and realize their need to secure their economic interests in the Middle East, for the kingdoms of the world are theirs.

4 Blessed are those who are hedonistic, for they will be satisfied.

5 Blessed are those who are proud and arrogant, for they shall rape and pillage the whole earth.

6 Blessed are those who lust for power and prosperity and call it “justice,” for they will have comforts.

7 Blessed are those who show no mercy, for they will never be in need of it anyway.

8 Blessed are those whose hearts are peacefully wicked, for they shall be gods.

9 Blessed are those who kill for peace, for they will be called the “good” children of God.

10 Blessed are the persecutors of evil men (i.e. those who threaten Pax Americana), for the kingdoms of the world are theirs.

11 Blessed are you when people burn your precious flag and curse you because you destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones.  These evildoers simply have not understood the power and salvation of redemptive violence.  My followers must understand, when we talk about war… we are really talking about peace.

12 Be happy when people curse you for this!  Be very glad!  For great is your reward on earth.  And remember, every empire before you was cursed for the same things.

13 You and you alone are the salt of the earth.  But what good is salt if it has been corrupted by dirty Mexicans from the South and cave-dwelling Muslims from the east?  They should be shot like the Indians and dumped in the sea like slaves.  They are worthless!  This is your manifest destiny!

14 You and you alone are the light of the world—an idolatrous city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.

15 No one buys alcohol and gets drunk alone.  Instead they share their maddening wine with everyone in the world until everyone has had their fill!

16 In the same way, let your American ways spew out for all to taste, so that everyone will embrace carnal living and let freedom ring!”


* This article was published in Christian Ethics Today (Winter 08/ Issue 068). See more of my satire “John Calvin 3:16-21” and “Romans 13: The Patriotic Version” at CET: www.christianethicstoday.com


The Unnatural Nature of Religion

religion1What is normal Christian Body (i.e. church) life like apart from religion? I submit to you that it is not found simply by moving the church from one venue (e.g. the religious building) to another (e.g. the home). Yet, I would say that the religious building sets the stage for religious thinking and practice.

We must know that religion can be seen lurking around in any meeting of God’s people. So, the issue is not so much with where the church meets as much as it is with whether or not the destructive practice of religion is found there. Obviously, the home is the most natural place to gather in familial community.

The best way I have been able to describe the difference in the religious and the non-religious… and the difference between what God is doing in a biblical ‘house church’ versus the institutional ‘religious church’ and her buildings… would be by pointing to the natural vs. the unnatural.

Religious activities are unnatural. Religion can be seen in man’s devising of an unnatural means to approach God in worship and to do the work of God in practice. Religion can only function by the unnatural ritualistic order invented by man. This order is accompanied by the religious hierarchal order of leadership (i.e. clergy, priesthood).

Outwardly, things appear to be running smoothly in religious activity. The tithes and offerings are plentiful, the religious building projects are in full bloom, thousands have repeated the ‘sinner’s prayer’ at the crusade, and one more staff member was added this month. Surely this is beneficial to the Kingdom of God… the church has a new billboard, my preacher was on Larry King Live, and our attendance has now reached into the thousands!

In religion… a person can measure their work and make a human decision about whether or not they have been successful. After accomplishing a ‘ministerial’ task of some kind or attending a religious gathering of outward expressions of the flesh… they can step back with a feeling of worth and accomplishment.

Man’s religion can be measured. The undercover work of the Kingdom is not visible with man’s eyes. It is something Christ measures. He has not given man the ability to measure it. Man has the promises of God on which to rely, not a measuring stick by which to judge his work. The promise ought to be enough. Specifically, “I (Jesus) will build my church… and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18 )

Christ’s work was primarily done in the dark corners of the Empire. If Jesus were to walk the earth today… I’m sure the religious leaders of the day would have plenty to suggest in order for him to have a successful ministry. I can hear them now. They might say, “For starters… you have to write a book, Jesus. The title should contain the words ‘purpose’ or ‘better life.’ Also… you need a large building.

We can put your face on books, magazines, and the Internet. We are emerging, Jesus. Question everything, but offer little answers. And of course, the larger your audience… the greater your influence, Jesus. You must travel all over the world and sell your books and preach crusades. Don’t concern yourself with investing in twelve men. Go to the masses! What do you think, Jesus?”

I believe Christ’s response would be similar to the words he spoke to Peter and his disciples for suggesting that he choose a different path other than Jerusalem. Jesus rebuked them saying, “Don’t you understand… not only must I walk this road, but you too must take up your cross and follow me. You too. Not just me… you too.” (Matt. 16:24 paraphrased)

Religion is not satisfied with the simple foolish message of the cross. (1 Cor. 1:18 ) It reaches for worldly power and influence. Dying on a cross is fine for Jesus, but participators of religion seek other means to win the hearts of the people. And they will use any excuse not to follow the primitive ways of Jesus.

These religious people have forgotten that the means by which we attain the end (i.e. Thy Kingdom come!) is important to the Lord. He purposely chose his method in order to communicate the divine message. When the method is tampered with… the message is lost.

I must say that the crowd did eventually gather round… but it didn’t take long and the Lord turned to his closest followers to say, “Will you now leave me too?” Only those who have surrendered to the upside-down ways of the King shall see his Kingdom. Only they will want to see it… the rest will leave.

Religion is rooted in the pride of man finding worth in himself. The purpose of this religious Christianity then becomes about doing things for Christ instead of being Christ to all we come in contact with. The pursuit is no longer Christ alone… it is about what I can do for Christ. Religious Christianity is about doing the work of Christ instead of knowing the person and work of Christ.

Today, the most virtuous things are those things which are measurable (e.g. religious activities, services, programs, etc). Yet, Christ’s work largely went unnoticed and misunderstood. He never wanted to draw attention to his work alone, but his person… who he was (and is). The signs and wonders did not bring salvation… he did. His work was only to serve as evidence that he was the Messiah promised by the prophets. Should our work not be done in the same manner: working only that we might introduce others to the person of Jesus Christ?

The religious men of Jesus’ day did not approve of his methods or of his ministry. In the same way, many will disapprove of the upside-down ways of the ‘house church.’ To the worldly minded person, it would appear that it does not do much for the Kingdom. Where is the outward visible evidence of its influence?

Religion is not satisfied with undercover ways of the Kingdom of God. It must have results. It must maintain the unnatural. It must keep the machine oiled. Therefore, when times get rough, a religious person can rest in a false peace of knowing that everything has been done that can be done. How does the religious person know this? They have their religious work by which to measure the depth of their faith and commitment.

For example, it is simply unnatural to set a time aside to have a “quiet time.” Do you tell your family and loved ones you will only give them certain times in your day to meet with them? Of course not! They would be offended and be left to feel like your love is given out of obligation instead of free loving will.

Is it not the same with God? Yet, a religious “quiet time” can be measured. I am right with God today because I had a quiet time. Is this not how man thinks? What really proves that this kind of “quiet time” is simply religion… is when a person asks you to keep them accountable to doing it regularly. Are you kidding? Now we need someone to ask us if we are loving the one who saved us? Do we really need someone to encourage us to set time aside to talk with the Lord? Religion is unnatural to say the least… and it shows.

Would it not be natural to have the freedom to meet with the Lord at anytime of the day instead of chaining yourself to the bed until you have met with the Lord? Please understand that I am not discouraging quiet moments with the Lord. But I am accusing the religious habits as being contrary to the freedom we’ve been given in Christ.

This unnatural religious activity is only giving us a false confidence before God. It causes us to view the privileges of meeting with the Lord and his people as being a burdensome thing. When we have to be coaxed into spending time with the Lord and his people… there is evidence that we are living unnatural religion instead of the natural faith of Christ. It is not just this way with the little things. All things religious will follow this same pattern.

Is it any wonder why you constantly hear the institutional pastors pleading with their people to get involved and do something… just do something for the Lord, please! Reason: religious people need to be coaxed into loving the Lord and doing the right things.

The worse part of this religious Christianity… most of its leaders wouldn’t even care about the motives and reasoning behind why the congregation is having their “quiet times” or why they signed up for VBS. The important thing to the religious leader is that they do it… regardless of the reasons why. The machine must continue to run. The success of the ministry depends on it. See anything wrong with this picture?

Christianity should be a natural expression of personal relationships intertwined into community. As family gathers for a reunion or a weekly meal… the church gathers around Jesus Christ to share him with everyone in the fellowship. Everyone brings something to the table of fellowship (1 Cor. 14:26 ). A bulletin would be unnatural, therefore, religious. Who hands out an order of service and activities at their earthly family gatherings? When you are with people you love… there is no particular order. Yet, there is order.

There is order… still there is freedom. Freedom to naturally express yourself… be yourself… and enjoy the company of the family. How much more ought the church to be expressing herself naturally? Religion chains the bride up. It bounds her by needless rules and destructive rituals that cage up the free moving Spirit of Christ. Religion is unnatural. Wherever religion is found… you will find bondage therein.

I am reminded of what the Chinese missionary said to his people upon returning from the United States. They asked him, “What impressed you most about the church in America?” His reply… “What the church in America can do without the power of the Holy Spirit.” The machine has been oiled and it runs fine… even without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

This is the way it is in religion. You can observe the religious by human wisdom and logic. You can organize and publicize and deputize others into doing your religious bidding. It would appear that a great deal is happening in institutional church work… yet the statistics reveal something very different. The great machine is running… but the product is counterfeit!

Religion stinks. Christ is everything!

D.D. Flowers, 2008.


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