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Showing posts with the label #Church

When Christians won’t even let you think.

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Some Christians get awfully dogmatic.Dogma is another word for doctrine, Christianity’s fixed ideas or official beliefs. It’s an old-timey word, so you tend to only hear dogmain older churches, or used to refer to that one movie about fallen angels who try to take advantage of a dogmatic loophole. But while the adjective doctrinal tends to mean “deals with doctrine,” dogmatic tends to mean “demands we follow doctrine.” Dogmatists are the doctrine police of Christendom.And while the older churches have a settled, limited, fixed number of dogmas… certain Christians kinda crank out a new doctrine every week.Fr’instance this one Texas pastor I know; I’ll call him Alfons. He has a newsletter called “These Doctrines,” in which Alfons goes over all the things he expects the Christians of his church—and really, Christians everywhere—to believe. For the most part they’re typical Fundamentalist principles: God’s a trinity, Jesus is both God and human, Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to hi…

Altar calls: Come on down!

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ALTAR'ɔl.tərnoun. A table or block used as the focus for a religious ritual, particularly offerings or ritual sacrifices to a deity.2. In Christianity, the table used to hold the elements for holy communion.3. In some churches, the stage, the steps to the stage, or the space in front of the stage, where people go as a sign of commitment.During our worship services, sometimes Christians are invited to leave our seats and come forward to the stage. It’s called an altar call.Thing is, we’re not sure how the term originated. ’Cause the stage, or the front of the stage, wasn’t called an altar back then. The altar was the communion table. My guess is people were originally instructed to gather by the communion table. In a lot of churches, that altar is front and center; in the church I went to as a child, it was right in front of the preacher’s podium.But when evangelists held rallies, whether at a concert hall, sports arena, outdoor stadium, theater, high school gym, or grade school ca…

Take notes.

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It’s Wednesday. So, assuming you went to church Sunday morning… do you remember what the sermon or homily was about?Some of you do, ’cause your memory is just that good. (Mine is.) You were paying attention. The preacher said something memorable, or entertaining, or particularly profound. Or perfectly relevant to your situation, or taught you something you’d like to try.Others of you can’t remember for the life of you.Nope, this isn’t a criticism. Hey, some people who stand up to preach simply aren’t preachers. They might be nice people, good musicians, great prayer leaders; they’re friendly people, and exactly the sort of person you want in your life when you’re going through tough times. Or they might have a lot of personal charisma—they’re people you naturally like, even though they might not have done anything to win people’s affection. (Some of them, like certain celebrities and politicians, might’ve done plenty to make you dislike them—but when you see ’em in person, all they go…

How do we fund our churches?

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Back in high school I invited a schoolmate to my church. After the service he confessed he was really bothered by the offering plates.Right after the worship songs, but before the karaoke (Christians call it “special music”—it’s where someone gets on stage and sings along to an instrumental track, i.e. karaoke), we passed offering plates. People put money in ’em. Sometimes in envelopes, so you couldn’t see how little they gave. Sometimes not, so you could.This bugged him: In the church where he was raised, they had an offering box in back of the auditorium, and if people wanted to put money in it (or, too often, trash), they could. He felt the box was way more appropriate than our ostentatious “Look what I gave” display, which reminded him too much of this story:Mark 12.41-42 KWL41 Sitting opposite the temple treasury, Jesus watched how the crowds threw money into the treasury.Many wealthy people threw in much.42 One poor widow who came by, threw in two coppers, worth a quadrans. [5¢]

“Church is SO BORING.”

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So it’s summer vacation, your kid wanders into the room, and complains, “I’m bored.”And if you’re anything like my parents, you’d throw up your hands in frustration: “Whatd’you mean, you’re bored? You got a room full of toys! A computer full of video games! A shelf full of books! How can you be bored?… You’re so spoiled rotten.”Okay, maybe you’re not middle class and can’t afford to give your kids any that stuff. Or maybe you’re like my dad and responds, “Bored, eh? Well I have some projects you could work on…” by which he meant chores, none of which were fun. But both kids and adults in our culture, on every economic level, have no shortage of options. “Spoiled rotten” is right. Boredom just means we don’t care about any of these options; at the moment we don’t care about, or can’t relate to, any of ’em. A “bored” kid with a roomful of toys simply isn’t interested in any of them right now. (Quick ’n dirty way to change that: Offer to get rid of any of them.)And sometimes we Christian…

Cults: When churches go very, very wrong.

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CULTkəltnoun. A religion centered on one particular individual or figurehead.2. A group (usually small) whose religious beliefs and practices are outside the norm: Too controlling, too strange, too devilish.3. A misplaced devotion to a particular person or thing.4. A heretic Christian church.[Cultic 'kəl.tɪkadjective, cultish 'kəl.tɪʃadjective, cultism 'kəl.tiz.əmnoun.]I throw this word “cult” around a lot, so I’d better define it. First, what other folks mean by “cult,” all of which are included in the above definition:Sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists whose job descriptions end in -ist, tend to use definition #1: A cult is any religion with a guru in charge. And technically Christianity falls under this definition, ’cause we got Jesus.Popular culture leans towards definition #2: A cult is a creepy religion. If it weirds them out in any way, they call it a cult. Even if it’s Christianity. If we trust Jesus a little too much for their comfort, they…

The Holy Spirit’s temple: Multiple Christians.

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From time to time Christians talk about how you, singular, individually, are the temple of the Holy Spirit.’Cause the Spirit is sealed to every individual Christian. Ep 1.13He lives in the heart of every single believer. And whatever God lives in is, properly, his temple. If he lives in you, it makes you his temple. If he lives in another Christian, it makes that person a temple. Dozens of Christians are dozens of temples. Billions of Christians are billions of temples. Get it?But it’s not accurate. God has one temple.As was kinda emphasized in the bible. Moses built the portable temple at Sinai, which English-speaking Christians call the tabernacle, and that was the temple for 4 centuries till Solomon ben David built a permanent one of gold-plated cedar in Jerusalem. The Babylonians burnt that down; Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel built another of stone; Herod 1 and his successors renovated it; the Romans eventually destroyed it. It was the one and only place the LORD intended to meet peopl…

Churches, “the Church,” and God’s kingdom.

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Whenever people say church they either mean a building where religious activity happens, or the hierarchy which runs the religion.Which is way different than what I mean by it. Or what Jesus and the bible mean by it. When Jesus says ἐκκλησία/ekklisía he means a flock of Christians; a group, assembly, crowd, congregation, collection, bunch, congress, whatever term you wanna use for many of us. People like to take apart that Greek word, and note its word-root is καλέω/kaléo, “to call”—and then analyze the significance of Jesus calling Christians to meet together. Yeah, whatever: By the time people used the word in Jesus’s day, it just meant a gathering. And that’s still what it means.Still, even Christians tend to use it to mean a church building, or the church leadership. Which is why we tend to forget we are the church. Church isn’t a separate thing from us; it is us. It’s us collectively; it’s why I can’t say “I am the church,” because I all by myself am definitely not the church: Ot…

Where your church meets, and where the needy are.

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My church (I’m not a pastor; just a longtime member) meets in a strip mall. We’re next to a Walmart Neighborhood Market. We moved in during the recession, before Walmart moved in and the building owners drove up the rental prices. The higher rent was part of the reason we had to give up our Fellowship Hall; there’s a carpet store there now. It’s next to a junior high school, next to a 7-Eleven, across the street from a health club. It’s not a good neighborhood. We got crime. We got homeless people. Which means it’s a really good place to put a church. Needy people and sinners need Jesus!So occasionally homeless folks come into the building. Usually it’s because we have coffee in the hall. They see free coffee; they want free coffee; I don‘t blame ’em. Come in and have some coffee! Sometimes we also have pastries, doughnuts, muffins, or other baked goods; they’ll eat those too. The hope is they’ll also stick around for the worship service. And every once in a while they do.We had the s…

“It counts as church, right?”

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When Christians figure their various spiritual activities are equivalent to “church.” Though four out of five Americans identify ourselves as Christian, only one of these five actually go to church.Nope, not kidding. Yes, the polls indicate half of all Americans are regular attendees. That’s because they play mighty loose with what “regular” means: They think it means once a month or more. Once a month counts as “regular.”How often are Christians expected to go to church? Well check out the standard expectation found in the scriptures:Luke 9.23 KWLJesus told everyone, “If anyone wants to come with me, disown yourself.Take up your cross every day. Follow me!”Looks like the first Christians took Jesus’s “every day” idea and ran with it:Acts 2.46-47 KWL46 Daily they stuck close together in temple, breaking bread at home, sharing food in joy,with uncomplicated motives, 47 praising God, having grace with all the people.The Master daily added to them those whom he saved.They were even able …

Fearful churches.

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Love casts out fear. But if your church doesn’t love, fear’s all you have left.We Christians are meant to consider ourselves separate from the rest of the world.No, this isn’t because we’re better than them. We’re so not.No, this doesn’t mean we’re to move into little gated communities where nobody but Christians live, isolate ourselves from everybody else, and drive out anyone we might consider sinners. That’s how cults start—assuming the cult hasn’t already started, and the compound is just another symptom of how we’ve gone astray.It’s because God called us to be holy. Which means we gotta follow him, not one another. Not popular Christian culture. Certainly not the wider culture.So as the rest of the world does its thing, we’re to ask ourselves, “What would the Father rather I do?” or “What does Jesus do?” Then do that.Believe it or don’t, sometimes that means we do as the rest of the world does. If the culture suddenly gets it into their head that society is institutionally unjust…

Christian leadership and age discrimination.

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If your church lacks young people in leadership, it’s gonna lose all its young people. Just you wait.Arguably Timothy of Lystra first met Paul of Tarsus when he was a teenager; old enough to come along with the apostles on their travels, but young enough for Paul to think of him as a son. Pp 2.22 When Timothy became the leader of a church in Ephesus in the 60s of the Christian era, Paul would’ve been in his 50s and Timothy in his 30s—certainly old enough to lead, but certainly not the oldest guy in that church. Quite possibly not even the one who’d been Christian longest, since Paul had evangelized Ephesus years before he ever met up with Timothy.In any case being in your thirties meant it was necessary for Paul to make this comment in his first letter to Timothy:1 Timothy 4.12 KWLNobody gets to look down upon your youth!Instead become the faithful Christians’ example in word, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity.Because people will look down on your youth.I know from experience. When I…

Deacons: Those who serve the church.

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As described in the scriptures, the church’s workers—whether we give ’em the title or not.DEACON /'di.kən/ n. Minister. Might be the leader of a particular ministry, but not the leader of a church: Deacons are nearly always subordinate to the pastor or priest.[Diaconal /di'ak.(ə.)nəl/ adj., less properly deaconal /di'kən.əl/ adj.]The word diákonos/“deacon” originally meant “runner,” like someone who runs errands. You know, someone we’d nowadays call a gofer—as in “go fer coffee,” or run any other errands. Deacon first shows up in the bible when Jesus said if we wanna become great, we need to be everyone’s servant. Mk 10.43 Or when he said if anyone serves him, the Father values them. Jn 12.26Deacon is used to describe the folks appointed to run the early church’s food ministry. Ac 6.1-6 The Twelve didn’t give them any more responsibility than that. But they picked mature Christians, and as a result people recognized these servants as leaders in their own right. Stephen and…

What does your church believe?—your REAL church.

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Some Christians do better in a church with more structure.Recently a pastor friend of mine posted on social media, “One of the core values at our church is…” something. I don’t remember specifically what. Some virtuous practice. All I remember is immediately thinking, “No it isn’t.”Because it isn’t.Oh, I’ve no doubt it’s one of his core values. A virtue he no doubt wants his church to have. Probably preaches it in his sermons, includes it in his vision statements, sticks it on the church website. Likely practices it in his personal life.But as I keep reminding Christians, the leadership of a church is not the church. The people are.Your pastor’s core values are not your church’s core values. Your leadership team’s convictions are not your church’s convictions. Your statement of faith and official doctrines are not your church’s theology. Because the church is people. And your people believe all sorts of things. And if your people aren’t solid, growing Christians, your church likely be…

Why skipping church messes us up.

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Treating it as an optional practice blinds us to the fact we’re going heretic.Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian.In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do ’em. They figure they believe in Jesus, and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right?So by this metric, they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary—’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s…

Liturgy: A formula for worship.

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Some Christians do better in a church with more structure.LITURGY /'lɪd.ər.dʒi/ n. Detailed order of service for (Christian) worship.2. [capitalized] The eucharistic service in an Orthodox church.[Liturgical /lə'tər.dʒə.kəl/ adj., liturgist /'lɪd.ər.dʒəst/ n.]Some churches—namely the older ones—are liturgical: They have a very particular order of service, and all the churches do it the same way. Go to nearly any Catholic church anywhere on the planet, and you’ll instantly find it familiar, because all of them use the very same prayer book, the Roman Missal. True, it’s been translated into all the local languages, but whether the service is in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, or Italian, it’ll be the very same order. Same bible readings. Same prayers. Same songs. Same everything. Everywhere.Some Christians are bothered by this level of conformity. They don’t get it: The point isn’t conformity, but unity. All these Christians are worshiping God together, as …

Women and covering up. Or, frequently, not.

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On covering one’s hair, and why many Christians don’t bother.1 Corinthians 11.3-16I was asked to say a little something about this controversial passage, so what the heck.I’ve gone to Protestant churches all my life. Visited Catholic and Orthodox churches too. In most of the churches I’ve visited, American Christians utterly ignore this passage. Our women don’t cover their heads.Now yeah, there are parts of the bible which the bulk of Christians figure no longer apply to us. Like the curses upon humanity, Ge 3.16-19 which we figure Jesus undid. Or the commands about ritual cleanliness and sacrifice, which we figure Jesus rendered redundant. Or all the commands in the Law, which we figure Jesus nullified—which is absolutely not what he said. Mt 5.17 In general, Christians tend to assume Old Testament commands (except maybe 10) are out, and New Testament instructions are in.Yet this is totally New Testament. Comes right before the apostles’ instructions on how to do holy communion. Thos…

How we treat enemies—and how we oughta.

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The “Matthew 18” principle—for when people sin against us.Luke 6.27-36 KWL27“But I tell you listeners: Love your enemies. Do good to your haters.28Bless your cursers. Pray for your mistreaters.29To one who hits you on the jaw, submit all the more.To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them.30Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.31Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.32If you love your lovers, how’s this an act of grace from you?—sinners love their lovers.33When you benefact your benefactors, how’s this grace from you?—sinners do so themselves.34When you lend from one from whom you hope to receive back, how’s this grace from you?Sinners lend to sinners so they can receive an equal payback.35In contrast: Love your enemies. Do good. Lend, never expecting payback.Your reward will be great, and you’ll be the Most High’s children:He’s kind to the ungrateful and evil.36Be compassionate like your Father …

Do you trust your church’s leadership?

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If not, you need to do something about it.Either you trust your pastor and your church’s leadership structure, or you really don’t. Ain’t no third option.You may claim there is so a third option; that I’ve made this sound like a black-and-white issue when there are plenty of shades of gray. Y’see, we trust everyone up to a point—because everyone but Jesus is fallible. So we trust the leadership of our church to a point. After all, the devil’s constantly on the prowl, 1Pe 5.8 tempting church leaders to fumble and fail, so we gotta be on our guard constantly, lest we crash and burn right along with ’em.Okay, in principle I have no issue with this reason. Makes sense. Seems consistent with the Christian principle of testing everything. 1Th 5.21But in practice, it becomes an excuse for holding a church at arm’s length. In practice, it’s not that Christians trust their leaders for the time being, yet stay vigilant lest they slip up: They stay disconnected. Uncommitted. Ready to bail at the…

Telling your pastor you’re leaving.

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Are we obligated to give our church an exit interview before we leave?Got a question from a reader: “Last year my pastor preached about the steps you need to take before you leave the church. One of them was you first have to go to your pastor and talk it over with him. But most of the reason I’m leaving my church is because of him. Do I really have to talk with him first?”No. You don’t have to say a word. You can go to another church immediately.This “You gotta talk to the pastor before you leave” idea doesn’t come from bible. It comes entirely from pastors. They wanna know why you’re leaving.Ideally, it’s because pastors wanna help. People leave churches for all sorts of reasons. And the pastors are hoping maybe, just maybe, they can help you work out some of those reasons, and change your mind. (I think it’s naïve of them to hope so, but many of them will try it just the same.)Often, and more realistically, they’re troubleshooting. They wanna know why you’re leaving in case it’s th…