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

Elders: The grownups in the church.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October
ELDER 'ɛld.ər adjective. Of a greater or advanced age.
2. [noun] A person of greater or advanced age.
3. [noun] A spiritually mature Christian, usually consulted as part of a church’s leadership, often entrusted with ministerial or priestly responsibility.
[Eldership 'ɛl.dər.ʃɪp noun.]

After Jesus was raptured, his church had to continue without him physically here. Which was fine, ’cause he’d already trained apprentices, and designated 12 of them as apostles. One was dead, so the other 11 picked a replacement Ac 1.26 and went back to 12. (It’s God’s favorite number, y’see.)

Running the church with only 12 leaders quickly became a problem, because the church immediately surged by 3,000 people, Ac 2.41 and soon after another two or five thousand; Ac 4.4 it’s debatable. In any event that’s a lot of people to train to follow Jesus; the food ministry alone was chaos, with accusations of prejudice against Greek-speakers. Ac 6.1 The apostles recognized they needed more leaders, and told the people to select their ministers based on their honesty, wisdom, and spirituality. Ac 6.3 In other words their spiritual maturity.

When Paul of Tarsus wrote to Timothy of Lystra about 20 years later, the apostle reminded the youngish bishop that spiritual maturity was still a requirement for leadership. Y’don’t just pick leaders because they’re friendly, popular, magnetic, and entertaining. (Or because they’re family!) You pick them because they’re fruity; because they’ve been letting the Holy Spirit develop their character and make ’em like Jesus. Only christlike people should lead and run Christ Jesus’s churches; nobody else is appropriate.

And arguably only people with Christ’s traits should run anything. Businesses, organizations, charities, campaigns; only they should be considered for public office. No I’m not saying only Christians should hold public offices; not only is that not constitutional, but it ignores the fact non-Christians can often be just as patient, thoughtful, gracious, kind, and self-controlled as any Christian. (More than many Christians, sometimes.) My point is the grownups need to be in charge. That’s especially true in Christ’s churches, but oughta be true everywhere.

The Christianese term for grownup is elder, which comes from the New Testament’s word πρεσβύτερος/presvýteros, “elder.” It’s where we also get our Christianese word presbyterian, “elder-run,” meaning a church run by elders, instead of by voting members or solely by the head pastor. Yeah, “elder” makes it sound like the church is being run by its old people (and yeah, such churches totally exist). But when the apostles who wrote the New Testament discussed a presvýteros, they meant the longtime, devout, spiritually senior Christians. The folks they could legitimately trust to give sound advice about following Jesus. The folks we should be able to trust.

The church café.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 July

Some churches offer refreshments before, after, or even during the service. My current church did, before the current pandemic made us suspend it. At one of my previous churches, one of our pastors’ wives who loved to cook (who became known as our “minister of munchies”) would have so much food available, you may as well skip breakfast at home, ’cause there was plenty of food at church.

But many churches—namely the churches which get so big, refreshment tables get cleaned out within minutes—have decided to go with cafés. They stick it somewhere near the front of the building, and sell coffee and doughnuts—and other drinks, and other foods.

A friend likes to sarcastically call them “concession stands.” To him, the church café is just a money-making scheme… kinda like the moneychangers Jesus had to throw out of temple ’cause they turned it into a marketplace. Mk 13.13-17 In some churches, that’s precisely what their cafés feel like.

But the purpose of this article isn’t to bash church cafés. It’s to remind us of the point of providing food and drink for the people of our churches: Fellowship. Food and drink mean fellowship, and fellowship grows God’s kingdom. In many cases it grows it a lot better than sermons and worship music. You know the saying the fastest way to a person’s heart is through their stomach? Works in church too.

Growing God’s kingdom… or not.

The first Christians used to eat together. It was part of their worship services: Read some bible, talk about what Jesus taught, pray, anoint the sick, have holy communion, and have lunch. Yeah, they were largely hanging out together for a few hours, with some formal parts of the service, and a lot of informal, interactive parts. When we moved out of the homes and into church buildings, we lost a lot of the informality. Particularly the meals.

And the reason churches put out refreshments is to give people a reason to stick around before and after the service… and interact. We gotta wait in line for the coffee urn, and make small talk about weather. We gotta take turns with the toaster, and make small talk about baseball. We gotta semi-sincerely tell one another, “No you take the last strudel… well here, we’ll cut it in half.” And so forth. We gotta talk. And at some part we might actually run out of small talk and get into deep talk.

Whereas with a church with no refreshments? Oh, they bolt for their cars right away. As soon as my current church stopped serving refreshments, people cleared out of the services almost as soon as they were over. Really easy to get ’em out of the building. We have a reputation as a friendly church… and once you take away the refreshments it is so easy to dissolve that reputation.

So do I recommend the practice? Heck yeah.

Doesn’t have to be anything special. Just please, for the love of God, don’t buy Folgers. I know it’s the cheapest coffee there is (unless you have a Costco membership; then it’s usually Kirkland) and there’s a reason for that: It’s not good. It’s what people who don’t drink coffee buy when they gotta buy coffee. Don’t do that to your people. Find out who all the coffee snobs are in your church, and get them to take care of it. They’ll do you proud.

Likewise with the food: Doesn’t have to be anything special either. Discount doughnuts, day-old specials, Little Debbie snack cakes, homemade coffee cake (if anybody likes to bake), finger sandwiches, deviled eggs, a big jar of Tootsie Rolls, whatever. Bring anything. Something is better than nothing, and somebody’s gonna appreciate it.

What if people spill coffee in the auditorium, or otherwise make a mess? Clean it up. If it doesn’t clean out, you’ve either got ineffective cleaning supplies, or inferior carpeting and upholstery. I drink coffee all the time; I’ve spilled a bunch; it only ruins paper. Everything else, it cleans right out of. (Yes, even laptops.)

What if homeless people start showing up to get at the free food? GOOD. Share Jesus with ’em as well as the food. See if you can help in any other ways, while you’re at it. Maybe you can; maybe they don’t want any help; either way, be good news to them.

Switching to a café, and how not to do it.

Now like I said, if your church has a lot of people, you’re gonna run out of food and coffee quickly. So you gotta put some brakes on them, and that’s where money comes in: People aren’t gonna casually swipe all the doughnuts and drink all the coffee when they gotta pay for it.

Churches don’t always realize this is when or why they oughta charge for food. More often they start charging because some church leader says, “What’re we paying for coffee and doughnuts every month?… That much? Why don’t we charge people for them then?” They wanna pinch pennies, or they wanna raise money. So they put up price tags… and in so doing, kill the ministry.

I visited a friend’s church a few years ago. They had a café. They charged $2 for black coffee (same as most places), $4 for mochas and lattés and other coffee drinks; $3 and up for pastries. Roughly the same prices as any other coffeehouse. Because that’s what they were mimicking: Other coffeehouses. Hey, if Starbucks can charge you $4 for a latté, why can’t they?

And I remind you: The point is fellowship. How many people are gonna buy church café lattés? How many are gonna buy church café pastries? (Especially once they ask themselves, “Wait… is that Kirkland coffee? Are those Kirkland pastries? Why am I spending full coffeehouse prices on Coscto food?”) Are the poorer members of your church even able to fellowship at your café? If not, you’re doing it wrong.

A few decades ago my church’s café shut down: It made so little money, and the volunteers didn’t last long, so the church let it go dormant. Then it handed the café over to the Christian elementary school which shared the building—where I was a teacher—so we could use it for fundraisers. We ran a fundraiser or two, but once the fundraisers were over, the café went back to being empty.

Then one summer I was put in charge of it for the school’s summer day camp.

Theologian that I am, I needed to know the purpose of a church café before I ran one. So of course I came to all the conclusions I articulated above: It’s about fellowship.

Not profits. Yeah, ideally you should cover expenses… but there’s no rent, barely any utility costs, you got an all-volunteer staff, so if you sell everything at slightly more than what you paid for it, the prices are gonna be ridiculously low. And they were. I slashed all the café’s prices to a dollar or less. Coffee was now 25 cents. Espresso drinks were $1. Bottled water was also 25 cents. Doughnuts were still a bit expensive, but at 50 cents they sold out fast… and we still had plenty of other, healthier alternatives.

When people discovered bottled water was 25 cents instead the $1.50 they expected, they’d buy multiple bottles. Same with a lot of the other items. And if our 25-cent coffee was Folgers, they wouldn’t care or complain; they’d just be thrilled there was someplace on earth 25-cent coffee still exists.

My principal was worried the café couldn’t possibly make any money with those prices. We did volume business: We made way more money than before. So much so, the church took it back over the next year. (And didn’t learn from my example, hiked the prices back up, and did just as poorly as before.)

During that time, there was a crowd round the café every Sunday. Not just in line: Seated at the tables, eating together, drinking with one another, interacting. Fellowshipping. Talking about the service, talking about life, talking about what God’s done in those lives—being the body of Christ together.

Goal achieved.

Unexamined priorites.

To a point Starbucks tries to encourage fellowship too. Their vision is more secular: They want their coffeehouses to be a “third place,” other than home and work, where people gather and share life together… and while they’re at it, buy Starbucks products. They get the point. Churches don’t. And of all people, should.

Instead, too many of us think of the church café as a side business. Something that’ll raise a little money for the church, to make up for the fact our members aren’t putting enough in the offering. Or because they covet the business coffeehouses get: “Why can’t they hang out at church the way they hang out at coffeehouses?” So they try to duplicate the coffeehouse experience. Poorly.

More often, it’s just because the leadership thinks it’d be really cool to have a coffeehouse in the building. Saves ’em the trouble of going elsewhere for their caffeine fix. So their motive is convenience. Not fellowship, not profit. Hence it encourages little fellowship… and isn’t all that profitable either.

How does a church café grow God’s kingdom? That, and that alone, should be the only thought in mind when churches decided to create a café. How does it help Jesus? Or does it?—’cause in some churches they really don’t. They’re simply a dividing wall between the wealthy, who can afford it; and the poor, who can’t, and feel pushed outside because of it. Would Jesus encourage it as another means of spreading the good news, or would he get the whip out and overturn its tables?

When Christians won’t even let you think.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 June

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 dogma in 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 him, the bible’s infallible. But Alfons mixes in a lot of other beliefs he considers settled and fixed and non-negotiable. Divorce, in almost all circumstances, is sin. Alcohol is sin. Women who aren’t subservient to men is sin. Hip hop is devilish. The pope’s an antichrist. And so on.

Speaking of the pope: Like a lot of Fundies, Alfons loves to mock Roman Catholics for believing the pope to be infallible. (Which they do only under certain circumstances. But Fundies don’t always know this… nor care.) Yet Alfons claims papal-level infallibility in every sermon and newsletter: He’s right, these are doctrines, and don’t you dare challenge him or you’ll find yourself fighting the God who anointed him pastor. It’s not so much about the pope being wrong, and more about professional jealousy. But I digress.

What’s the difference between Alfons’s church and a cult? Enforcement. How gracious is the leadership of a church when you respectfully disagree with them? (Emphasis on respectfully. If you disagree with them, don’t be a dick.)

  • If they figure okay, you don’t agree; they’ll be patient and over time, win you over: Not a cult.
  • If they figure it’s not okay, and you have to leave before your heretic stank gets on ’em, and they banish you to hell: Totally a cult. Just be glad they let you go, and don’t drag you to the basement to reprogram you. (’Cause some cults will. I’m not kidding.)
  • Letting you attend their services, but debating you every chance they can: That’d be proselytism. It’s not cultish… but it’s not fruitful either. Argumentativeness isn’t of God, and a Christian who thinks they can win you over by wearing you down, still has some maturing to do.
  • Letting you attend, but your beliefs disqualify you from membership and leadership: Not a cult. It only makes sense for churches to have expectations and qualifications for their leadership, and make sure you’re all on the same page. If you’re on a different page, you really shouldn’t join or lead ’em. (But if their qualifications defy the bible, i.e. they’re racist, or you gotta pay membership fees: Cult.)

Alfons’s church isn’t a cult. He’ll totally let you attend his church even when you disagree with him. He will debate you, though; he lacks maturity. He thinks he’ll win you over with clever arguments. He doesn’t let up though. So what really happens in his church, is when the people of his church disagree with him, they hide it. They never let it get back to him. And kinda mock him in private for some of the dumber stuff in his newsletter.

It may not be a cult, but it’s definitely a breeding ground for hypocrites.

Secular debates.

While quite a lot of Americans aren’t control freaks when it comes to religious opinions, quite a lot of us absolutely are when it comes to other opinions. Might be about favorite teams, brand names, or music. Definitely true of politics.

I’ve heard Christians claim this is because these other things—sports, possessions, politics—are the control freaks’ idols. They’re what people really worship; if only they were as zealous about Jesus! Thing is, overzealousness of any sort—even in the defense of Jesus—is fleshly. Paul specifically listed hostility, strife, partisanship, and division. Ga 5.20 Standing up for Jesus with such behavior is wholly inappropriate, and we’d better not see any such behavior among Christians. But when it comes to secular interests, it stands to reason we’ll see a lot of fleshly behavior.

Unfortunately, we bring a lot of these behaviors into the church with us. I regularly, regularly, hear Christians trash-talk one another’s baseball and football teams. They claim they’re doing it in jest, as friendly rivalry, but I’ve seen it cross a line here and there.

I’ve watched Christians debate, sometimes angrily, politics. Or preferences: Which computer is better, which truck is better, which restaurant is better, which phone is better, which Christian worship band is better. Come election years, some Christians straight-up stop talking to one another. I have Christians friends who refuse to be my social-media “friends” because they can’t abide my politics.

And Christians can be just as dogmatic about these secular things. Alfons is convinced you can’t be a legitimate Christian if you don’t support the president like he does. And he jokes he’s not so sure about you if you’re not a Dallas Cowboys fan… but considering his devotion to the team, y’gotta wonder whether he truly is joking.

It’s downright uncomfortable when you’re in a church where everybody, leaders included, loudly praise people you think are awful human beings. People switch churches over this sort of thing. Not that any partisan church is a good thing; the only kingdom a church should ever support is God’s. Anything else is treason to King Jesus. When he returns he’s gonna overthrow those other kingdoms, y’know.

But even well-meaning Christians slip up and treat their idols as if they’re mandatory expectations for fellow Christians. And if anyone says otherwise (or dares rebuke ’em for the obvious idolatry), they’re not welcome in church any longer. ’Cause teams, bands, parties, candidates, and affiliations are among their dogmas.

Freedom in Christ.

Christianity does have certain fixed beliefs. I’m not saying we don’t! I’m not saying Christians are totally free to believe whatever we please, yet still call ourselves Christian. If we’re not Christ-followers we’re not Christian; if we don’t make any effort to reform our thinking so we think like he does, bear fruit like he does, and walk like he does, 1Jn 2.6 it doesn’t matter how we brand ourselves.

And churches are right to encourage Christians to follow Jesus. Absolutely right to go digging through the bible, find out what Jesus teaches, find out what Jesus expects, and hold the attendees (and especially members and leaders) accountable to that. That’s kinda why the church exists! We help one another follow Jesus better.

But does it help when we police one another?

Only to a point. Fr’instance children and newbies: They don’t always know what’s appropriate. I had a newbie friend who swore a lot. I had to remind him more than once: His colorful metaphors were freaking out certain Christians who lack the grace to forgive such behavior. “You gotta watch out for weaker Christians,” I reminded him. “You and I can hear such things and think nothing of ’em, but it’s horrifying them.” Ro 14.13

But I never threatened to penalize him for swearing: That’s not for me to do! He’s gotta learn to govern himself. We all do. Fining him for swearing, or threatening he might lose his salvation over swearing, is cult territory. At most, I can ask him to leave a group till he gets control of himself. That’s it.

In leadership, we always gotta consider grace. The goal is never to punish the wicked and kick people out; it’s repentance and restoration. What’ll get ’em to follow Jesus better, and get back into our group? That should be our only consideration.

And yeah, we also have to give grace to those weaker Christians—the snowflakes who insist we can only share their teams, their politics, their dogmas; that “no good Christian” would wear makeup, drink beer, watch R-rated movies, play cards, listen to rap, or other Christianist taboos.

If Christians can’t practice grace, they’re wholly unsuitable for Christian leadership. Christ is nothing but gracious, and his church should be so too. If your church is led by graceless Christians, who pick apart every stray word which comes out of your mouth, I don’t blame you for not wanting to go to that church. I don’t wanna go there either.

Altar calls: Come on down!

by K.W. Leslie, 24 October
ALTAR 'ɔl.tər noun. 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 cafeteria, or any venue where there is no communion table, they’d say “Come to the altar” anyway. Force of habit, I guess. So people came forward… and assumed something around there was the altar. The stage, perhaps.

You realize when we don’t clearly define things for the people of our churches, people just guess. And guess wrong. It’s why so many Christians don’t know what a soul is. Hence many new Christians have guessed the stage is the altar, so the word has evolved to mean a stage too. As if the people on stage are our ritual sacrifice to God. (Considering how some of them mangle the scriptures, some butchering is apparently still part of our services. But I’ll stop the ranting there.)

Anyway, altar calls used to generally be for people who wished to become Christian. The evangelist would invite ’em forward, and a pastor or elder would lead ’em in the sinner’s prayer. In many churches this is still true; it’s the only reason they have altar calls. “Come lay down your life at the altar,” is the idea: Submit to God, accept his salvation, let Jesus be your Lord, and let him make your life more abundant.

The altar call began as a dramatic way for people to visibly demonstrate they repented and were turning to God. They didn’t do altar calls in the bible though. John the baptist and the first Christians preferred baptism. But nowadays, churches expect you to go through some sort of baptism class first, so the altar call became an acceptable Evangelical substitute: Wanna give your life to Jesus? Come forward. One of our prayer team will pray with you.

Not every church does it, of course. In really large churches it’s not practical to move masses of people to the front of the auditorium. Some churches don’t approve of the public display. Show-offs will act like they’re publicly repenting, and really they’re just trying to get attention. Certain emotionally unstable people will come forward to every altar call, and go through the whole ritual time and again: They’ll repent, they’ll get prayed over, they’ll have a nice cathartic cry… and they’ll come back next week and do it all over again. Do they ever actually repent? Maybe. But really they’re there for the emotional release.

So if they don’t do altar calls, they do something like it: “If you haven’t yet received Jesus, meet us in the fellowship hall after the service,” or “Come talk to me about it later.” It’s a lot less emotional… which they prefer, ’cause it means people put some thought into turning to Jesus, instead of letting their emotions sway them. Speaking for myself, I don’t care whether it’s an emotional or thoughtful response; either can take. Likewise people can rethink, then turn their back on, either response. The important thing is we have some venue where people can turn to Jesus.

Take notes.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 October

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 gotta do is smile at you, and you’ll forgive them everything, ’cause they’re just that kind of person. That’s how they get away with so much evil.) But for whatever reason, Sunday mornings they’re the ones on the dais, at the podium, talking at you. And they use a lot of words… yet say very little worth remembering.

Some preachers are confusing. Instead of three points, they preach 20. Or every time they touch upon a good idea, they go off on a tangent, and never return to the initial idea. Or they speak nothing but Christianese and platitudes. Or they speak nothing but elementary, new-believer stuff—the stuff you know already, so why bother to listen?

Then there are the distractions in the service. There’s a hole in your sock, you can feel it, and it’s bugging you. There’s an argument on Twitter you had to pause for the service, but you so wanna dive back into it. There’s a guy behind you who smells like he’s taken holy communion about 20 times before the service. There’s a woman in front of you whose hat is blocking your view; who’s wearing a ton of perfume to cover up the fact she hasn’t drycleaned this particular set of Sunday clothes in a few months… but you can smell the stank anyway. There’s a crying baby. The kids are fidgeting. Isn’t there a game going on?… What’s the score?

Or you’re just tired. Or your mind is otherwise elsewhere. Or any of the personal reasons why you weren’t able to follow the message as well as you wish. Life happens.

But it’s important to remember what’s been preached at your church. For more reasons than these:

  • It helps you grow closer as a church body: You’re on the same page, topically. You have a common goal, a common subject to analyze further.
  • The preacher is likely discussing an issue many of you do need help with. Elementary or not, maybe you need to look at it again, or in depth.
  • Likely the Holy Spirit wants this subject preached upon, because you’re gonna need this information in the near future. Like, say, this Wednesday.

So if you’re struggling to remember the sermons, notetaking can help.

“Church is SO BORING.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 August

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 Christians are the very same way with our churches.

  • The songs? Heard ’em a thousand times. And I’m not just talking about how the worship pastor loves to repeat them: They’re on the radio; they come up all the time on Spotify; we own the CDs; we grew annoyed with ’em months ago.
  • The sermons? Heard those lessons a thousand times. Heard ’em in children’s church when we grew up. Heard ’em again in youth groups, young-adult classes, on church TV shows and from radio preachers; in Sunday sermon after Wednesday night sermon after Saturday night sermon.
  • The people? Same old people. There’s nothing new in their lives… or at least nothing new we care about. They only talk small talk, or they only complain, or they won’t stop bragging about their kids, or they only bring up sports and weather. Or worse—the opposite of your politics.

Eventually we Christians all reach a saturation point with our churches: We’ve heard it all. Seen it all. Done it all. And we’re bored.

So we don’t wanna go.

Cults: When churches go very, very wrong.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 July
CULT kəlt noun. 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.tɪk adjective, cultish 'kəl.tɪʃ adjective, cultism 'kəl.tiz.əm noun.]

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’ll call us cultish.
  • And popular Christian culture leans towards definition #4: A cult is a heretic church.

The popular Christian definition originated when Charles S. Braden used it, in his 1949 book These Also Believe: A Study of Modern American Cults and Minority Religious Movements to mean

any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture. Braden xii

And that’s the definition Walter R. Martin went with in his popular book The Kingdom of the Cults. It’s a book I oughta plug, since it’s mighty useful: It explains how certain churches deviate from orthodox Christianity.

But thanks to these guys, when an Evangelical Christian says “cult,” they mean “heretic.”

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals don’t believe in the trinity: Cults.
  • Latter-Day Saints say Jesus (and for that matter the Father) is a created being: Cult.
  • Christian Scientists claim death is an illusion, and therefore Jesus didn’t literally die: Cult.
  • Muslims and Buddhists don’t believe Jesus is God: Cults.

Yep, doesn’t even matter if these groups don’t consider themselves Christian. Evangelicals will freely stick that label “cult” on any religion they consider heretic. Depending on how Fundamentalist they get—by which I mean how narrowly they define orthodoxy—everything can be a cult but their group. I grew up in such churches: If they strongly believe women shouldn’t wear makeup, yet your church lets ’em, they’ll call you a cult. Because their religion is so strict, makeup is orthodoxy, and you aren’t orthodox. Today it’s foundation, eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick; tomorrow you’re denouncing God and kissing Satan with tongue.

Of course if your church is that strict and controlling, the cult is sorta on the other foot. (If you don’t mind me mixing a few metaphors there.)

The Holy Spirit’s temple: Multiple Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 May

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.

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

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

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.

Where your church meets, and where the needy are.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 March

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.

Christian leadership and age discrimination.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 February

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.

Deacons: Those who serve the church.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 January

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.

What does your church believe?—your REAL church.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 January

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.

Liturgy: A formula for worship.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

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.

Women and covering up. Or, frequently, not.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 October

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.

How we treat enemies—and how we oughta.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 September

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.

Do you trust your church’s leadership?

by K.W. Leslie, 25 August

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.

Telling your pastor you’re leaving.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 August

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.

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 July

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.

False teachers and agitated students.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 June

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.