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Showing posts with label #Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Church. Show all posts

13 May 2019

The Holy Spirit’s temple: Multiple Christians.

God only has the one temple: His church.

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 1.13 He 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 people for worship and sacrifice; it was the one and only place they kept his ark, representing his relationship with Israel. It was the one and only his name dwelt Dt 12.11 —which was the LORD’s way of putting it, ’cause obviously the Almighty can’t be contained by a mere building.

But the Jerusalem temple wasn’t the only temple of the LORD on earth. Jeroboam ben Nabat, king of Samaria, feared losing subjects to the king of Jerusalem, so he built two more temples. They didn’t have arks, but Jeroboam put gold calf idols in them, figuring that’d do; and since there’s a whole command against idolatry in the Ten Commandments, God and his prophets condemned Jeroboam’s temples ever after. After the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, Egyptian Jews in exile constructed a temple to the LORD in Alexandria, and Samaritans constructed a temple to the LORD at Mt. Gerazim. But neither of these temples were commanded nor authorized by God. He had his own plans. Always had.

And once his temple’s veil ripped open, Mt 27.51 it signifies God wasn’t interested in being worshiped from Herod’s stone building any longer. He was gonna build a temple from entirely different stones: Living people. Christians. Every Christian.

I’m not the Spirit’s temple; I’m one of the stones of its temple.

As are you. As is every Christian. We’re parts of his temple. Because the temple us us—collectively. The Spirit doesn’t have billions of temples; he only has the one. Same as always.

03 May 2019

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

Sorting out what I (and we) mean by “church.”

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: Other Christians have to be in it. At least two or three. Mt 18.20 The more the better.

Typically “church” refers to a local group. But sometimes we use the word to refer to every Christian, everywhere: The universal church. The catholic church (as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church, which is only one church within the universal church, although frequently they forget this). Every human who has a connection with Christ Jesus and is part of his body. It’s hardly limited to one sect or denomination; Orthodox Christians are not the only Christians on the planet. Neither are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, Calvinists, charismatics, Fundamentalists, Emergent Christians, nor Purpose-Driven™ Christians. (Though sometimes we certainly act like it.) We aren’t saved by our affiliations or theology; we’re saved by God through Christ Jesus, and we’re in his kingdom because God adopted us and recognizes a valid, living relationship with us.

Of course, since many Christians are under the delusion we determine who’s a “real Christian” and who isn’t, we tend to limit the universal church to our definitions. If we’re pretty sure real Christians only vote the way we do, every Christian in the opposition party isn’t a real Christian, so they don‘t count as part of Jesus’s universal church. If we’ve got certain doctrines we feel every real Christian holds to, we figure everyone who believes otherwise is heretic, and by definition heretics can’t be in the true church. And so forth. Various Christians like to refer to the visible church, the 2 billion people worldwide who publicly claim allegiance to Jesus, and the invisible church, the unknown number of people whom Jesus really recognizes as his. Depending on how optimistic or pessimistic they are, either the visible church is way bigger than the invisible, or vice-versa.

Meh. I’ve no idea how many people Jesus actually intends to let into his kingdom. I’m an optimist, so I figure God’s way more gracious than we are, and is gonna save way more people than we expect. Not everybody; not that he doesn’t want to; he warned us there are gonna be holdouts. But he doesn’t limit his kingdom like we do. So I expect there’s significant overlap between the visible and invisible churches; and when I say “kingdom” I typically mean his invisible church, which is represented by the 2 billion professing Christians.

01 March 2019

Where your church meets, and where the needy are.

If the needy can’t get to your church, you’re doing it wrong.

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 same situation at one of my previous churches. (Still wasn’t a pastor; just a board member.) We met in the city’s community center. The building used to be a Lutheran church, so it was a really suitable place for a church to meet. Because it was centrally located, and pretty close to a bus line, sometimes transients would wander in to use the bathroom. And they’d notice we had a table with coffee and bagels and pastries on it.

THEY. “Is this for anyone?”
ME. “Yes. Help yourself.”
THEY. “Thank you!”
ME. “You’re welcome to stick around for the service too, if you want.”
THEY. [some excuse to get out of that]
ME. [shrug; well I tried]

But every so often one of the church ladies would come to me, scandalized: “There’s a homeless person over there. Eating our pastries. What should we do?”

“Invite ’em to the service,” I said. Duh.

But you know how suburban Americans are: We want our churches to accommodate us, not the needy.

19 April 2018

“It counts as church, right?”

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 KWL
Jesus 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 KWL
46 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 to make daily counts of their attendees:

Acts 16.5 KWL
In fact the churches were made stronger in faith, and went over and above their numbers daily.

And when it came time to instruct non-Christians, new believers, and new students, it also took place daily:

Acts 5.42 KWL
Every day, in temple and at home, they didn’t stop teaching and proclaiming Christ Jesus.
Acts 17.11 KWL
These people were better-educated than the Thessalonians and daily received the word with all goodwill,
examining the scriptures to see whether they said these same things.
Acts 19.9 KWL
When some hardened and disobeyed, cursing the Way before the crowds,
Paul, backing away from them, took aside his students daily, discussing subjects in Tyrannos’s school.

So the fact the usual Christian practice is to only meet weekly for church? That means those of us who consider ourselves “regular” for attending every weekend, are actually meeting a seventh as often as the ancient Christians did. Less, considering those Christians would meet for hours-long services, whereas American Christians get antsy if the service lasts any longer than 90 minutes. We suck.

I know the polls say half, but as the last presidential election has proven, people lie to pollsters all the time. They’d like to think they’re regular churchgoers. But whenever I’ve pinned down some of these so-called “regulars,” and ask ’em the last time they set foot in a church building, they gotta think about it… and when they’re being honest, the last time was either Easter, Christmas, or for a wedding. “Regular” means twice a year. If that.

Heck, I’ve caught people claiming they were regulars at my church. After all, they visited for Christmas. Sometimes I’ll mess with them a little: “Oh, and how’d you like Pastor Dave’s message?” Oh, they’ll respond, they loved it. But our pastor’s name isn’t Dave. Four other churches in town have a Pastor Dave; we don’t. Still, a regular should know the pastor’s name, don’t you think?

Likewise if none of the pastors in your church know who you are, y’ain’t a regular. I’ll grant you some leeway if you attend a megachurch, where the pastors can’t possibly know everyone, but someone in your church’s leadership oughta be able to identify you in a police lineup. But no matter what people imagine, twice-a-year Christians aren’t regulars.

How about once-a-month attendees? Meh. I consider they’re doing the bare minimum to be considered “regular.” The standard in the scriptures is daily, remember?

But when I talk with strangers, and they identify as Christian, quite often they won’t bother pretending they’re regulars at any church at all. They’ll admit they have no church. At this rate, they’re not planning to find one either.

03 April 2018

Fearful churches.

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, that violence and discrimination and sexism are wrong, that evil needs to stop: We need to cheer them on, participate, and see whether the Holy Spirit uses these moments to bring people to Jesus. ’Cause he will, and does.

But of course we need to bear in mind pagans have entirely different motives than we do. They don’t do grace; they do karma. They’re trying to make things fair and equitable, not because it’s inherently good, but because it ultimately benefits them. And when it doesn’t, they don’t try to make things fair; they maintain the status quo and social order. Our motives have to be like God’s: Way higher.

So when we find ourselves on the same side as the world, it’s an opportunity for us to interact with pagans… and maybe draw a few of ’em to Christ Jesus and God’s kingdom. But not every church realizes this, and figures we’re to stay away from the world, lest “bad company ruin good character.” 1Co 15.33 Best to stay away from pagans, turn the kingdom into a fortress, and isolate ourselves from them with both spiritual and rule-based hedges of protection.

When you visit such churches, that’s the mindset you’re gonna find. A whole lot of anti-world rhetoric. Everything inside the church is good, pure, and holy; everything “out there” is wicked, corrupt, destructive. Dabble in it just a little, even unintentionally, and it’ll ruin you. Stay away. Touch not the unclean thing.

Ostensibly the goal is holiness. The real result? Fear and dark Christianity.

26 February 2018

Christian leadership and age discrimination.

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 KWL
Nobody 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 was in my thirties, I was asked to run the church’s preservice bible study. Our head pastor felt I was up to it. Others not so much, ’cause they wanted to run it. Yep, all the participants were older than me. But I had three advantages over them:

  1. I became a Christian in my childhood. The rest became Christians as adults. So set our physical ages aside: I’d been Christian about 10 years longer than most. There was only one fella who’d become Christian in 1975, same as me. Of course you can be spiritually mature at any age… but when you get so worked up over something as minor as the youngster leading the bible study, y’ain’t showing any such maturity.
  2. Trust me: When you’re leading a bible study, it helps when you can actually do bible study. I’d been to seminary, so I knew how. The others knew how to do bad word studies, and quote popular Christian authors. For all the good that does.
  3. Our pastor did after all ask me to lead the group.

Admittedly, I didn’t let their hangup bother me any. I figured if it bothered them badly enough, they’d quit the group. They didn’t, and stuck with me for a year and a half. So no, don’t get the idea I was wringing my hands over their disapproval, and constantly meditating upon 1 Timothy 4.12 to keep my spirits up. My spirits were fine. Studying to prepare the lessons was teaching me all sorts of useful stuff. Hopefully teaching them this stuff too.

But as Paul stated elsewhere in his pastoral letters, the main qualification for Christian leadership is good character. They gotta be trustworthy people. Hence his advice to Timothy: Become an example in word, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity. Be a solid Christian. Be of good character. If you’ve got that, age won’t matter to anybody but people who lack good character.

Yeah, I know. Lots of Christians lack good character. That’s why young people aren’t often put in charge of things. Either they themselves lack character, or they have plenty but the other leaders don’t.

16 January 2018

Deacons: Those who serve the church.

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 12.26

Deacon 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 Philip did some very notable things in Acts.

A deacon means any minister in your church who’s officially or formally in charge of something. Not the volunteers who pitch in from time to time, who run one fundraiser, taught one Sunday school class once, or pitched in on the church’s work day. Deacons are actually in charge of stuff and people. They run the small groups. Lead the evangelism team. Lead the prayer team. Greet visitors weekly. Serve as ushers during the services. Handle the bookkeeping. Clean the building. Answer phones. Teach the classes. Run the kitchen. Preach sermons. Lead the singing. Run the website. Anything and everything: Deacons have duties.

True, many churches have made “deacon” an official title—and the only “deacons” are on the church’s board of directors. Yeah, board members do fit the scriptures’ definition of deacons. But in the scriptures, deacon is hardly limited to board members. Nor is it interchangeable with elders, even though deacons had better be mature Christians. Elders aren’t necessarily put in charge of things. Deacons are.

10 January 2018

What does your church believe?—your REAL church.

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 believes all kinds of godawful heretic things.

I live in California, not the Bible Belt. A bothersome percentage of Californian Christians believe in astrology and superstition. In Hindu-style meditation and energy forces. That they’ve had past lives, and are getting reincarnated instead of resurrected. That vaccines don’t prevent illness, but crystals and essential oils do.

Oh, the Bible Belt ain’t any better. The bulk of ’em might’ve said some version of the sinners’ prayer, but too many still believe the very same things pagans do—that God isn’t a trinity, Jesus is a lesser god but not the real God, and the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. That people get to heaven on good karma instead of God’s grace—and the reason they’re even going to church is to keep their karma points up.

So your church’s real core values? You’re not gonna find them on the website. You’d have to poll the church to find ’em out. And the poll results might really bother you.

12 December 2017

Why skipping church messes us up.

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 in their heads at least—and somebody’s assured them it counts if it only exists in their head. Or “in their heart,” i.e. their feelings, i.e. still only in their heads.

So to them, Christianity’s how they feel about God. Not what they do for him. They don’t do for him. Well sometimes they do; they’ll pray every so often, and it won’t entirely be prayer requests, but some actual sucking up praise. They’ll drop a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle.

As for going to church… well they don’t go. Just on the holidays. Rest of the year, don’t go. ’Cause Sundays are their time. Their one day off; the one day of the week they get to sleep in, or have no obligations, or can get drunk during brunch. “Sunday funday,” their weekly holiday.

’Cause nobody’s ever explained to them that if “Christians” don’t go to church, it means they’re heretic.

No, seriously: Heretic. No, not meaning they’re going to hell; that’s not what “heretic” means. It means they got God so wrong, it can be argued they’re not properly Christian. See, contrary to what they imagine, there are actual standards for what makes a person Christian or not—they’re called orthodoxy—and among those things is that we deliberately interact with fellow Christians in worship. It’s called “the communion of saints,” or the church. It’s in our creeds.

If we avoid this communion of saints—and it might sound like we have perfectly legitimate reasons—the cold hard fact is we’re heretic. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to go it alone. He ordered us to love one another. He made it a full-on command. It identifies us as his followers. Jn 13.34-35 And when we don’t follow it—when we figure we can love one another just fine without ever bothering to come together to formally worship Jesus—we’re not following Jesus either. We can call ourselves Christians, but does Jesus recognize us as such? I’d say he doesn’t. Lk 6.46 And if he doesn’t identify us as his, Mt 7.21-23 we’re not.

Hey, somebody had to warn you. Better you hear this now than when you stand before Jesus.

07 December 2017

Liturgy: A formula for worship.

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 one massive body of Christ, and that’s why they’re all saying the same things and praying the same prayers. When you’re off by yourself, having left the worship service, you’re entirely free to worship God as an individual: Sing what you like, pray what you pray, on your own. But once you’re together, you really are together. You, and every other Catholic on the planet. (Or every other Orthodox, or every other Anglican, or every other Lutheran.) It’s a powerful idea.

And it’s a comforting idea. For some Christians, churches which don’t do this are way too undisciplined.

Sure, the nonliturgical churches have a bit of a liturgy: Nearly every church follows an order of service of some kind, whether they print it in their bulletins or not. At my church, it’s three songs, announcements, offering, greeting one another, sermon, altar call, dismissal. But y’know, another church in my denomination might follow a whole other order. And sing different songs. Certainly pray different prayers. One congregation worships together, but not together on the level of a church where every congregation syncs up like Catholics.

But liturgical Christians feel there’s a little too much freedom in such churches. The music may not be theological enough for them. The extemporaneous prayers don’t do as good a job as rote prayers in teaching Christians how to pray. The preacher’s freedom to discuss any bible passage, means there’s a whole lot of bible which is never touched. (Fr’instance, when’s the last time you heard a message about one of the minor prophets?—and quoting one of their Messanic prophecies doesn’t count.)

Hence liturgical Christians prefer liturgical churches. There, they feel they’re particularly worshiping God together—with other Christians round the world, with other Christians throughout history, and growing with them rather than growing on our own.

16 October 2017

Women and covering up. Or, frequently, not.

On covering one’s hair, and why many Christians don’t bother.

1 Corinthians 11.3-16

I 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. Those instructions we totally follow. But not the head-covering bit. Why not?

I’ll jump to the punchline right now: Because it’s cultural.

In the ancient middle east, men had shoulder-length hair, and women had floor-length hair. Women didn’t cut their hair; they let it grow. If you remember the stories where women cleaned Jesus’s feet with their hair, they didn’t have to bow their heads all that much for their hair to reach his feet. Their hair was plenty long enough.

Custom was for them to cover it with headscarf of some sort. Not burkas, but the custom of covering up did originate from the apostles’ particular part of the middle east. Go further east and it evolved into burkas. Go west and it became hats.

Originally these veils had practical purposes: Kept one’s hair clean. Kept it from getting snagged or pulled. Over time it became a modesty thing: Women who uncovered their hair would get the same reaction as if they uncovered their breasts—then and now. You can see why the women who cleaned Jesus’s feet with their hair got such a startled response.

So that’s how things were in the first-century middle east. But in the rest of the Roman Empire, women didn’t bother to grow their hair as long, nor cover it. They’d walk around with their heads exposed—startling middle easterners. Much like it startles westerners when we encounter a tribe where people don’t bother with clothes, or otherwise have very different standards of modesty.

For Paul and Sosthenes, their attitude about veils reflects the middle eastern standard of modesty. But to their minds, this wasn’t just a middle eastern standard. It was a universal standard. God himself had meant for women to cover up.

Hence this passage, where they try to defend the idea.

1 Corinthians 11.3-16 KWL
3 I want you all to know Christ is the head of every man,
the man the head of his woman, and God the head of Christ.
4 Any man praying or prophesying against his head, disgraces his head.
5 Any woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled, disgraces her head.
One may as well shave her: 6 If a woman isn’t veiled, cut her hair short.
And if it’s disgraceful for a woman to cut her hair short or be shaved, then be veiled!
7 A man isn’t obligated to cover his head—being God’s image and glory.
But a woman is her man’s glory, 8 for man isn’t out of woman, but woman out of man—
9 for the first man wasn’t created through the woman, but woman through the man.
10 This is why the woman’s obligated to exercise power over her head—because of the angels.
11 Still, neither a woman with no man, nor a man with no woman, in the Master:
12 Just as woman came out of man, likewise the man comes from woman. And all out of God.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it appropriate for an unveiled woman to pray to God?
14 Doesn’t nature itself teach us when a man has long hair, it dishonors him?
15 —and when a woman has long hair, it’s to her glory? That hair gives her a covering?
16 If anyone wishes to debate this…
well we just don’t have such a custom. Not in God’s churches.

Why’s this a controversial passage? Simple. All those Christians who ignore it, no matter what they claim to believe about the bible and its authority, demonstrate in practice what they really think: They get to pick and choose which parts of the bible they consider universal standards, and they haven’t chosen this one. Because uncovered heads don’t offend them. Now, homosexuality might totally offend them, so they’ll preach against it on the regular. Veils? Despite the clear and obvious teaching of the apostles? Meh.

Some of ’em will come right out and say it, and some of ’em will avoid ever saying it for fear it undermines everything else they teach about scripture, inspiration, and literal interpretation. Yet their practices expose all: Contrary to Paul and Sosthenes, they figure head-covering isn’t a universal, eternal, God-decreed standard. It’s merely the apostles’ personal cultural hangup. So it can be dismissed in the present day. Otherwise they’d have serious qualms about flouting this instruction—and they totally don’t.

This isn’t the only situation where they treat the scriptures as if it’s all relative. It’s just the most obvious. Use it as a litmus test if you like. I do.

08 September 2017

How we treat enemies—and how we oughta.

The “Matthew 18” principle—for when people sin against us.

Luke 6.27-36 KWL
27 “But I tell you listeners: Love your enemies. Do good to your haters.
28 Bless your cursers. Pray for your mistreaters.
29 To 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.
30 Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.
31 Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.
32 If you love your lovers, how’s this an act of grace from you?—sinners love their lovers.
33 When you benefact your benefactors, how’s this grace from you?—sinners do so themselves.
34 When 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.
35 In 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.
36 Be compassionate like your Father is compassionate.”

These are not words your typical Christian follows. Much less any typical human: We believe in payback. Reciprocity. Karma. And that’s on our good days: More often we’re okay with a wholly overboard response. A life for an eye, a life for a tooth, a life for an insult. Kill their whole family for good measure, just to terrorize people into respecting us. Shock and awe.

We get this way towards fellow Christians too. First thing we do is justify not treating them as sisters and brothers in Christ: “Somebody who does that can’t be a real Christian. True Christians don’t act that way. They’re Christians in name only; they’re pagans who only think they’re saved.” Then we justify not forgiving them: “They’re just gonna do the evil again. They won’t learn their lesson. They have to suffer consequences. I have to make them suffer consequences.” Emphasis on the “suffer” part.

The average American usually picks one of six responses to enemies:

  1. Get them arrested, if possible.
  2. Sue them, if possible.
  3. Ruin their career, ruin their business, get them fired.
  4. Ruin their relationships: Turn their friends against them.
  5. Harass them and exact petty revenge.
  6. Shun them and stay away.

And of course there’s the criminal stuff… assuming they don’t find criminal ways to do the previous six things.

Obviously none of this behavior is Christian. By “Christian,” I mean Jesus actually came up with a procedure for his followers to go through when we get offended, insulted, or wronged. That’s what he expects us to follow. Always applies to fellow Christians.

Evangelicals like to call it “the Matthew 18 principle,” as if it’s the only thing Jesus teaches in that chapter. He also taught a lot about forgiveness, so maybe that should be what we mean by a “Matthew 18 principle.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

People correctly point out Jesus’s procedure applies to fellow Christians. So, they argue, we needn’t follow it when we’re dealing with pagans. When a non-Christian offends us, we can feel free to leave a burning bag of dog doo on their front porch: Jesus’s procedure doesn’t count.

Here’s the flaw in that reasoning: In the United States, four out of five of us consider ourselves Christian. Even if they’re really kinda pagan. Statistically we are dealing with a fellow Christian. Yeah, we might’ve tried the tack of rationalizing they’re not really, ’cause they don’t act Christian enough for us. (And we might not be acting Christian enough for them either.) But our duty is to answer evil with good. Love your enemies.

Any excuse for not doing so, is simply an attempt to get away with evil.

25 August 2017

Do you trust your church’s leadership?

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 5.21

But 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 first sign of trouble. Heck, at the first sign of discomfort.

Sometimes for good reason. If you’ve been burned by church before, I don’t blame you at all for being slow to trust your new church. But just as often it’s for entirely selfish reasons: We don’t wanna recognize any church leader’s authority in our lives. We don’t wanna be accountable to anyone. We don’t wanna submit to one another out of reverence for Christ Jesus. Ep 5.21 Easier to never recognize ’em as authorities in the first place, and disguise our fear of commitment as “discernment.” Well, I call rubbish.

15 August 2017

Telling your pastor you’re leaving.

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 the church’s fault. What can they fix? What can they do to prevent people from leaving in future?—to “close the back door,” so to speak?

And yeah, sometimes it’s not at all for noble reasons. Sometimes pastors want the chance to defend themselves. “You’re leaving because the church does [a bothersome behavior]? Well, we’re meant to do that. God wants us to do that. We’d be compromising the gospel if we quit doing that. It’s wrong of you to object to that.” Really, the discussion’s not gonna do a whole lot to convince you to stick around. It’s just to make the pastors feel vindicated and self-righteous; to feel they did nothing wrong, and you’re in the wrong for leaving. If that’s the sort of meeting you suspect you’re gonna have (’cause that’s the way the pastors tend to defend themselves every other time a problem comes up), definitely skip it. It’ll be no help to anyone.

Worst case: The pastors wanna do nothing but browbeat you for leaving. Or threaten you with hell, because they’re convinced their church is the only outpost of God’s kingdom there is, and everyplace else belongs to Satan. Don’t go to those meetings either.

If you really do want them to know your reasons for leaving, write them an email or letter. You needn’t read what they send you in response—especially when you suspect it’ll be hurtful. That too is optional. You needn’t send them anything.

What if your church made you sign a contract, when you became members, which required you to have an “exit interview” before you leave? Simple: They can’t legally enforce it. At all. (Contrary to popular belief, employers can’t legally enforce exit interviews upon their employees either. So your church definitely hasn’t a leg to stand on.) If they persist, tell ’em to either get a subpoena or leave you alone. And of course no court will grant them any such thing, ’cause separation of church and state.

Such churches may insist, “You promised us before God,” and hope this argument convinces you to attend any meeting they deem necessary. And yeah, when we swear to God, we oughta abide by any such promises, because God holds us accountable to them. But let me remind you that marriage vows are also a promise before God—yet Jesus permits people to divorce those who cheat on them. Mt 5.32 There’s a significant difference between promising God, who never goes back on his word; and promising humans, who regularly do.

So if your church mistreats you—and in so doing, defies God—you’ve been cheated on. You can divorce your church. Insisting you can’t, or that you must only do it on your church’s terms, is just more mistreatment. All of it manmade. None of it biblical.

20 July 2017

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

When leaders try to evade accountability by the very verse which makes ’em accountable.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15

Today’s out-of-context scripture is found in two places in the bible, ’cause either Chronicles is quoting Psalms or vice-versa. (Hard to tell, since they were written round the same time.) To get the full effect, you gotta quote it in the King James Version.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15 KJV
Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

The way it’s typically quoted is in the third-person form of “Touch not the LORD’s anointed!” But it doesn’t take that form in the bible.

I’ve seldom heard preachers quote it. More often I’ve heard it from people in church leadership, or people who are defending church leadership. Usually it’s to discourage us from questioning, critiquing, condemning, or otherwise interfering with those leaders. ’Cause they were anointed by the LORD—and look, it says right there in the bible you’re not to touch the LORD’s anointed.

It was written by King David ben Jesse, and you remember how he could’ve totally killed the insane King Saul ben Kish time and again? But he wouldn’t dare, ’cause Saul was the LORD’s anointed?

I should remind you the word which gets translated “anointed” is mešíakh/“Messiah”—one of the king’s titles, so I translated it appropriately. (I would hope you’re not using the title Messiah for anyone in your church leadership but Jesus.)

1 Samuel 24.4-7 KWL
4 David’s men told him, “Look, it’s the day the LORD told you of!—
‘Look, I put your enemy into your hand. Do whatever pleases your eye.’ ”
So David rose up and secretly cut the corner of Saul’s robe off.
5 Afterward, David’s heart struck him over this—that he cut off a corner of something of Saul.
6 He told his men, “By the LORD, I should never have done this thing to my master, the LORD’s Messiah;
to raise my hand to him, because he’s the LORD’s Messiah.”
7 David persuaded his men with such words and didn’t let them confront Saul.
Saul rose from the cave and walked to the road.

Yeah, it’s totally weird thinking of Saul as a Messiah, huh? Just goes to show you how much Jesus has redeemed that title.

David wouldn’t dare another time:

1 Samuel 26.8-9 KWL
8 Avišai told David, “God placed your enemy in your fist today! Now please—
I can smite him to the ground with a spear in one heartbeat. I needn’t repeat it.”
9 David told Avišai, “Don’t destroy him.
Who can raise their hand to the LORD’s Messiah and be clean?”

Get the point? Even though Saul was an absolute beast of a man towards the innocent David, he was still God’s anointed king. David had no business killing him—or even overthrowing him, or doing anything other than remaining in exile to await his king’s death. Beast or not, Saul was still Messiah, and David was never gonna depose God’s anointed king. (Now, Saul’s successor Ishbaal was another deal; David never recognized him as Messiah.)

But once we incorrectly apply the idea of an anointed king to Christian leaders, you might notice it gives ’em a free pass to be just as bad as Saul. ’Cause “touch not the LORD’s anointed.”

Now way before I ever get to the proper context, I should point out how absolutely insane it is to use Saul as an example. For Saul was insane.

The scriptures describe Saul as plagued by evil spirits. We’d nowadays call the guy demonized. The critters were only driven away when other anointed ministers worked on him, like David with his music. 1Sa 16.23 So “Touch not the LORD’s anointed, ’cause Saul,” is effectively saying, “Even if Pastor’s possessed by Satan itself, he’s anointed, so leave him be!” It’s probably the stupidest defense in Christendom.

23 June 2017

False teachers and agitated students.

If you’ve got an ax to grind, it didn’t come from Jesus.

James 3.13-18

Before James went off on his tangent about the tongue, he was writing about teachers and spiritual maturity

James 3.1-2 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.

So, tangent over; we’re back to the sort of mature behavior we oughta see in a proper Christian teacher.

Christians love knowledge. Heck, humans love knowledge: Everyone wants to believe they’re not dumb, gullible, nor ignorant. But Christians especially like to imagine we’re in on the truth. ’Cause Jesus is the truth, right? Jn 14.6 And we have Jesus. So there y’go.

Trouble is, Jesus is right, but we aren’t. We took shortcuts or made presumptions. We don’t know him as well as we assume. And Christians get into serious denial about this fact: We insist we’re right because Jesus made us that way. Once the Holy Spirit got into us, he fixed our thinking, so now all our thoughts are godly ideas. All our impulses are divine urges. All our prejudices are holy “checks in our spirit.” And we’ll take on anyone who says otherwise. We’ll fight ’em.

Which betrays the problem. The aggressive attitude which wants to take on all comers, James wrote, does not come from God. Comes from instinct and selfish human nature. Comes from clever human ideas. Comes from devils. But not God, ’cause God’s wisdom produces good fruit. And if any would-be Christian teacher produces argumentativeness and picks fights—i.e. bad fruit—don’t let ’em teach!

James 3.13-18 KWL
13 You who are wise and understanding: Show it—
by a good lifestyle, their good works, in wise gentleness.
14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:
15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.
16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.
17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.
Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.
18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

If there’s no peace in your church, this’d be why. Your teachers aren’t teaching religion, the acts which further a true relationship with God. They have ulterior motives, and they’re teaching that. So of course the Christians are erratic.

21 June 2017

Wanna teach? Get ready for criticism.

The position of teacher comes with a whole lot of opposition.

James 3.1-2

Historically, the way Christians have chosen to interpret the following passage has been, “If you become a teacher, God’s gonna hold you accountable for every single thing you ever taught. And judge you harshly. If you ever taught the wrong thing, ever led anyone astray, God’s putting it all on you.”

What about grace? Nah; forget about grace; doesn’t apply to teachers.

That’s how we know there’s something screwy with this interpretation. So let’s look at it again. The passage du jour:

James 3.1-2 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.

See, according to James, everybody stumbles. A mature Christian is gonna stumble way less than a newbie, but everybody stumbles. Including James, who wrote this book.

The perfect teacher—other than Jesus—who’s never ever gonna make mistakes? Doesn’t exist. At best we can have long stretches where we’re doing a great job of following Jesus, and make way fewer mistakes than average. We’ll get better and better at bridling the whole body, as James phrased it. But before we achieve perfection, we’re gonna need resurrection. Till our self-centered, sinful nature is finally deleted from our bodies, we’re gonna trip up.

If God actually judges his teachers as strictly as people claim—where every single mistake we make, means we’re in massive cosmic trouble—we are so screwed. And why should anyone bother to become one of the church’s teachers? Who’d dare to tackle the job of discipleship? We’d have even fewer instructors than we do now—and in a lot of churches there’s definitely scarcity.

I’ve seen plenty of churches where the pastor’s the church’s only teacher. In some cases that’s because the pastor wants to be the only teacher… ’cause whether he realizes it or not, he’s starting a cult. But a lot of pastors aren’t in that boat. They’d love to see teachers in their churches! It’s just they’re surrounded by unqualified people, who never bother to get qualified ’cause they know great knowledge means greater responsibility.

And if we continue to read this chapter with this idea in mind—that Jesus ordered us to teach new followers, Mt 28.20 and that though we should strive not to go wrong, if we do there’s still grace 1Jn 2.1 —we’ll start to realize this is actually a very different warning from James. That if you wanna be a teacher, go for it! But be prepared, not so much for the wrath of God, but the wrath of people.

31 May 2017

Sheep-stealing: “Hey, those were our sheep!”

Since all the sheep belong to Jesus, what’s the real problem?

Sheep-stealing /'ʃip stil.ɪŋ/ vt. Getting a Christian to leave their church and join yours.
[Sheep-stealer /'ʃip stil.ər/ n.]

My sister and I live in the same town. I’m a member of a small church. She’s a member of another, larger church.

When people hear this, sometimes they respond, “Aww. Why don’t you go to the same church? You should be worshiping together.”

Well, sometimes we do. Sometimes I visit her church. Once, she and her family visited mine. Our churches aren’t in competition, y’know. Mine may be in a denomination and hers isn’t, but both churches belong to Jesus: They’re both outposts of God’s kingdom.

Why don’t we go to the same church? Various reasons. Initially it was because I was giving the churches in my denomination a try before settling on one… and this one fit. (Once it wasn’t, so I hung with the Baptists a few years.) If I had to switch churches, I don’t think it’d be too big a stretch to switch to hers, but I fit better here.

And my church lets me minister. Whereas her church already has plenty of ministers. They don’t need me. Don’t need her either. She and her husband used to help in their area of expertise, music. They were eventually told their help wasn’t wanted.

If I were told that, I’d go find someplace I was wanted; but that’s me. I told ’em my church was looking for musicians. Of course my church, being small, would definitely try to rope ’em into ministering every week, and they’d prefer once a month. (That’s what they’re currently doing: They help out at a friend’s church.)

Now, some Christians would definitely take offense at my inviting them to help at my church. They’d see it as “sheep-stealing.” Because my sister and brother-in-law already have a church, already have a shepherd, and how dare I try to swipe them out from underneath their shepherd?

Um… ’cause we all have the one shepherd.

John 10.14-16 KWL
14 “I’m the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me,
15 just as my Father knows me, and I know the Father. I prioritize my life for the sheep.
16 I have other sheep who aren’t from this pen. I have to bring them here too.
They’ll hear my voice and become one flock, with one shepherd.”

Churches have shepherds, or pastors; lots of ’em. But all these pastors work for the head of every church, Christ Jesus. And when they’re jealous of one another, or compete with one another, or try to hoard resources which are meant for the whole kingdom and world, it’s wholly inappropriate. So this idea of “sheep-stealing”? Doesn’t come from the bible.

Still, some pastors get downright territorial.

11 May 2017

Church-shopping. ’Cause sometimes you need a new church.

Know what to look for when you’re considering a move.

Church-shop /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp/ v. Look for the best available church.
[Church-shopper, /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp.pər/ vt., church-shopping /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp.pɪŋ/ vt.]

If you haven’t been going to church, or never did go to church, it’s time to start.

And at certain times in a Christian’s life, we’re gonna have to go to another church. Sometimes for good reason; sometimes not. In my case it’s usually because I moved to a new city, although twice it’s been because the church went wrong.

In any event, Christians decide to begin a process we Americans call “church-shopping.” We visit a new church and try it on for size. If we like it, we stick around. If not, we move along and try another.

It’s not a complicated idea. It only gets complicated because certain Christians are extremely choosy about their churches. And there are other Christians who are convinced church-shopping is fundamentally wrong. Even devilish.

Devilish? Yeah; it’s because they read C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Namely where senior devil Screwtape advises a junior devil to encourage what sounds an awful lot like church-shopping. If a person must go to church, “the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him,” which “makes the man a critic where [God] wants him to be a pupil.” Letter XVI We’re no experts on what makes one church better than another. We’ll wind up using silly, superficial criteria to judge. How dare we?

Well, here’s how dare we: You’ve got a brain, don’t you? You can learn how to gauge a church on meaningful, weighty criteria. Ain’t that difficult. Those who insist we leave all the thinking to experts, have a really bad habit of doing very little thinking, and as a result fall prey to a whole lot of false teachers and legalists. Ignore them; they have their own problems.

For most Christians, church-shopping isn’t at all complicated. There’s a church in town they’ve either visited, and wouldn’t mind visiting again; or a church they’ve never tried, but they’re curious about it, and would like to give it a shot. They go. They like it. They stay. Simple.

For other Christians, church-shopping is an incredible trial. They go to a church for a few months: They get involved, get to know the people, even try to minister or join or get into leadership. Then they discover the dealbreakers. And they’re just heartbroken, and leave. They’ve been church-shopping for years, and haven’t found a church home yet. Just about every church in town—heck, the county—has met these folks: “Yeah, they went here for five months. So they’re at your church now? Well, glad they’re somewhere. I always wondered.”

I gotta tell you, though: If you’ve gone through 25 different churches in the area and can’t stay in a single one, it’s not the churches which are the problem. It’s you.

01 May 2017

Simony: Christians who wanna make a buck off you.

Shades of Elmer Gantry.

Simony /'s(a)ɪ.mə.ni/ n. The buying or selling of religious things which are meant to be given freely, or given only to qualified individuals.
[Simoniac /saɪ.mə'naɪ.ək/ adj., n.]

One of my bigger pet peeves are churches who forget a significant part of our job as Christians is to preach good news to the poor. Mt 11.5, Lk 4.18, 7.22 They kinda forget they even have poor among ’em. Consequently the poor find church a surprisingly expensive place to go.

Certain churches don’t want you in their Sunday services unless you’re in your “Sunday best.” I’ve actually heard a preacher justify this idea by pointing to Jesus’s story where a king throws out a guest for not wearing his wedding clothes. Mt 22.11-14 He figures Jesus is the king, and you better show up for his church in your Sunday best. Can’t afford the clothes? Try the thrift stores. Keep looking till someone finally donates a suit or dress in your size. ’Cause the people of the church won’t offer you any help, and people never think to ask; they just assume they’re not welcome there. Which ain’t far wrong.

Once you can finally dress for church, you’ll find many churches have hundreds of activities—but nearly all of them have a fee. It’s $100 to go to the men’s retreat. It’s $50 to register for the women’s conference. It’s $40 per couple for the couples’ dinner. Childcare’s an extra $5. There’s a six-week class on spiritual gifts, and the book is $18.95. There’s an out-of-town speaker, and people from the church will carpool to hear him, but gasoline and parking will be about $10, and afterward they expect to have dinner at a nice restaurant, which’ll set you back another $15.

And I haven’t even touched on simony yet. Now I shall.

There’s a growing trend in revivalist churches: They wanna open a school. Nothing wrong with that; a lot of great Christian colleges began as revivalist schools. (I graduated from one.) Now, if we’re talking a regionally accredited school, with educated faculty, transferrable units, and recognized degrees, that’d be one thing. We’re not. We’re talking about Sunday morning bible studies, now taught five days a week, and now people have to pay $1,000 or more to attend. Same variable content and quality as those conference speakers I just mentioned. I once visited such a school and sat in on such a class: It’s basic information which every church should teach every Sunday. But at this church, they have no Sunday morning classes. All their classes are behind a paywall.

Bigger churches tend to have midweek services, like on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights, to supplement the Sunday morning services, or accommodate people who couldn’t make ’em. One large church in my area put them behind a paywall too. Now they hold regular conferences: One of their pastors, or some visiting speaker, picks a topic, speaks two evenings plus Sunday morning, and the church charges $50 or more for the evening meetings. For some speakers, this (plus pushing their books) is their bread and butter. Content varies. Some of it’s actually good. Others are clearly winging it, and quote scripture out of context more often than not.