As I’ve thought on simplifying my faith down to applying the most central of commands; love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself; it’s left me with the question; is the way we do church a direct outgrowth of those commands, and is the traditional format even related to Jesus’ commands?
I was reading last Friday’s Wall Street Journal (6/8/07) article on Bill Gate’s commencement address at Harvard, where he had dropped out years before. Though he talked on the changing of nations with wealth, he made one point that struck me as being very true. He said this: “The more complicated things become the harder they are to change.”
In thinking through the simplifying of my faith, I’ve observed that the current church structure has been in place and remained unchanged for 1700 years, is certainly complicated, and therefore it’s not very responsive to change.
That’s right, the familiar church format of pastor at the top, songs, announcements, offering, then sermon is unchanged in 1700 years. The USA is 231 years old this summer, but the basic church structure is the same they used back then, and had already been using for 1500 years. Only they pushed to get out of church and to the buffet before the Pilgrims got out of their church and beat them to it – ha!
In 2004 Barb and I visited the castle that used to guard Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It was built in the early 1300′s. We saw coats of armor and actual swords used at that time. But the basic way of conducting church had already been in place for 1,000 years when that castle was built. The castle had a church/chapel with, pews, central walkway between them, an altar/platform down front in place just like today’s format.
Things of man naturally become more complicated over time (remember when McDonalds offered ONLY a hamburger or cheeseburger?) and as such church became (for me) like a spiritual whirlpool threatening to pull me into it’s vortex. The trouble was that somewhere in the spiritual gymnastics I was starting to forget who I was and what I believed – I was starting to become the mirror image of the formulas espoused by the church, and it’s politics.
Like a stay-at-home mom who watched her kids for 20 years then suddenly one day they’re gone, and she has discovered that somewhere along the way she lost site of who she is as a person, so too can a person lose track of who they are and what they believe in Christ when their identity becomes one with the church ‘stream’ of belief in the body, structure, vision, or mission.
I didn’t want to wake up and look in the mirror and only see a formula of how to touch God – I wanted to see Christ in me when I looked into the mirror, unmasked, moving from glory to glory as II Corinthians 4:18 says – not Jesus masked by formulas and regulations and the politics of the church world.
I have to examine the Word and let that be my guide because there are times when the traditions of men become so much a part of culture that those traditions become equal in people’s minds to scripture itself. When that culture moves inside a person, they think they are serving God, but are in reality serving the traditions of men.
This is of course the issue Jesus had with the religious leaders of his day; their rules and regulations had over the years become equal to or greater than the law of Moses, but they thought they were serving God in the highest and best way possible.
Jesus was using the same words and scripture they knew, but they understood those words within a different context, so he was not understood by them.
Often a tradition of man can become a part of a person because that person has never stopped to examine the Word of God on the subject; they don’t intend to be following a tradition of man, it’s just cultural and no one has ever challenged them to consider what scripture actually says on the matter.
In my self-examination I scrutinized the mindset I had grown up with; 1700 years of church culture, and had to stand that up next to the Word of God and let the chips fall where they may.
Let me present a New Testament truth I had to confront, and then examine the Word on the matter and think it through:
Here is the truth as presented in the New Testament: God doesn’t live in a (church) building.
God used to live in a building; from the days of the Tabernacle of Moses through Solomon’s Temple all the way until the day of Pentecost, he lived in a building. If you wanted God you had to go to the temple in Jerusalem to meet him. That is exactly why those thousands were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
But Peter’s message that day was that God has moved out of the building and is pouring his Spirit on all people of all ages, of all races, of both genders everywhere, as many as would receive Him.
“Do you not know your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” (I Cor 6:19) is the New Testament reality.
This current and ever present reality of Christ living in us and NOT a building is restated many times throughout the NT by various writers: Christ in you the hope of glory (Col 1:27); Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world (I John 4:4) ; You are a living building, a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:5,9) ; The anointing which you have received of him lives in you, and is the truth and not a lie…” (I John 2:27) and many more passages state this truth.
God moved out of buildings and into people, making them portable temples, by which God can now take his temples all over the planet, giving any who will, the chance to become temples of God too.
Let that sink in – God doesn’t live in buildings anymore – he lives in people exclusively. When 2 or 3 come together he is in their midst because he is first in them individually, and in their midst by sheer numbers of participating temples brought together to seek him.
The reason the early church met in homes was because they did not need to go to a building anymore to see God manifest Himself once he left the temple, not because they were persecuted at times. They went to living rooms to meet with multiple temples of God – His people.
When you strip away church culture down to the fact that the teachings of the apostles, that Christ lives in you and you are a temple of God (not a building), you’ll be amazed how much of what we hold near and dear to our hearts is nothing more than 1700 year old culture that isn’t even found in the Bible, nor was it practiced by the apostles.
What you’re left with is a simple faith that sees Christ in others, not in a building or program-dependent faith
Below I’ve listed some elements of our church/temple mentality that I’ve thought through in my journey, followed by the New Testament truth after it. Test yourself and see if what you think is actually scriptural. With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy and “You might be a redneck if…”
You might have a temple mentality if:
…You think church is a building. (as in, Which church do you belong to?)
NT reality: Church is the people Christ dwells in, buildings are merely buildings.
…You must go to God’s house to express your love and adoration for God.
NT reality: You are God’s house and must take responsibility to express your love and adoration for God first and foremost individually, then with family, and then with others. In the Bible they met in homes with other temples to express love to God.
…You are cursed at 9.9% giving and blessed at 10.01% giving
NT reality: Giving is directed by Christ within individuals as a person purposes in their heart, and the blessing of God on your life is because of the blood of Jesus and being a part of God’s family, not how much you give.
…You think all you have to do is believe in Jesus, ‘raise my hand I’m born again’, and just go to church.
NT reality: Jesus came to make disciples – constantly growing, changing people who have first in their heart to be Christ like, and are willing to make whatever changes in their lives, thoughts, and actions as needed to accomplish that goal, through a network of relationships with other disciples.
…You believe God gave offices to be honored above others who don’t hold 5-fold or other ‘offices’.
NT reality: God gave gifts which make all people equal, because all gifts came from God; only functions differ. (Rom 12:3, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:7-8)
…You believe “not forsaking the gathering together of yourselves” means to come into the temple for church.
NT reality: For the first 300 years Christians met informally in homes, and this is the context the NT was written in. Therefore the context of gathering together was in the context of home based churches.
…You consider that friend or co-worker you’ve been trying to witness to and think, “If only I can get them to come to church with me.”
NT reality: You have Christ in you. You are empowered accordingly. Your testimony, life experience, and knowledge are enough to lead that person to the Lord and help bring them along in the discipleship process in the midst of relationships with other disciples.
…You should take problems to the leadership of the church, the professionals are more qualified.
NT reality: Each individual takes responsibility for themselves and the problems in people they are associated with. Issues are handled through relationships found in home based churches. (In the temple mentality you do have to kick the problem on up the line to the professional priests, because that is the 1700 year old structure.
…You believe the building called church is sacred, “but I work a secular job.”
NT reality: Because you are the temple of God, all you have and are is sacred. Your job is sacred, your car is sacred, your home is sacred, Paul even said in an unequally yoked marriage your children are sacred – all because Christ lives in you, therefore in him you live and breathe and have your being. All is sacred in your life.
…You believe a single pastor is to present the Word each service.
NT truth: “When you come together every one of you has a Psalm, a doctrine, a revelation, a tongue/interpretation (gift of the Spirit) (I Cor 14:26)
With the exception of personal letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, not a single book of the New Testament was written to leadership. Each problem presented was expected to be handled by church members as a body, never was an elder/pastor instructed to step in and handle a situation. When a man in Corinth had an immoral relationship with his step-mother, Paul told them the whole body should have handled it – he never said for leadership to deal with it. Ditto for the next chapter when 2 brothers are suing one another. (I Corinthians 5 & 6)
Furthermore, Paul taught that the older women should teach the younger, older men the younger, and so forth. He didn’t say take a class on parenting, he said find someone to develop a relationship with and let them teach you and train you in how they walked out their life and salvation.
Truth about the temple structure: The temple requires weak and anemic Christians to maintain itself.
In the same way the Israelites rejected their priesthood in Exodus 20, telling Moses to talk to God and just tell them what he said, so too people in traditional churches are allowed to sit like baby birds with their spiritual mouths open, taking in whatever the preacher says, with no expectation of growth nor accountability, nor relationships, other than the relationship expected by the pastor for you to be there when the doors open. The only accountability thus being how often you are there for a service and how much you give, and possible what program you are involved with. They know you by your attendance cards or offering envelopes only, because they don’t actually know you.
When Peter preached his message at Pentecost, he told the hearers they could have the Holy Spirit. He was telling them the Holy Spirit no longer lived in the temple in Jerusalem, but in them. For 300 years the church taught and preached the truth that God no longer lives in a building. The whole of the New Testament teaches this basic truth.
As a result, in the first century when they would ask where church was, they would point to a group of disciples who met in homes.
(For those who would reference Acts 2:46 which says they met in homes and in the temple, remember the temple did not have a big meeting area, but as Jesus utilized, there were porticos and porches in which 20-50 people could gather to hear a person. Also remember that going to the temple porches in these small groups only lasted 18 months. Acts 8:1-2 says that Saul’s persecution after Steven’s death was so great ALL the disciples left Jerusalem except for the apostles. After that 18 months, they never again went back to meeting regularly in the temple grounds though some returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 12:12)
I am not saying it is a sin to go to a large congregational meeting. I am saying the mentality of the temple keeps us in those buildings and therefore makes for an overall weak and anemic group of Christians.
In the effort to simplify my faith, there came a point I realized I could not live a simple faith in the midst of an archaic, unchanging, unresponsive, and complicated structure that couldn’t adapt to where the Lord was leading me. I was no longer willing to adapt to it.
I discovered that what I had been believing about church, thinking it was straight from the Word of God, was in fact a tradition of man.
Christ lives in me, not in a building. I gather together with those I am in relationship with, and we are accountable to one another as we mutually grow in Christ, just as Paul practiced it.
Peter preached Christ in people on Pentecost and the whole of the New Testament was written centered around that single fact. But 300 years later man thought it would be better to call people out of relationships with other disciples and instead return to the temple mentality of the Old Testament, who had their distant relationships with priests.
Faith became complicated. For me, I’ve returned to the faith of the New Testament. Simple, relationship rich, learning the depth of Christ in me and others. I’m still learning what it means to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and my neighbor as myself, but I’m applying it through people, not temple based programs.
It’s that simple. I don’t need a building. I need a living room full of people who are like minded, and that is what the Bible calls ‘church’.
Some thoughts on simplifying faith,
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