Theological Musings

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

What Is Simple Church? (part 2)

In part 1, I explained a bit about how I came to ask some tough questions about what we do in "church" and whether it is really what God had in mind. In this conclusion, I'll detail a bit more some of the things that came to my mind in response to some of those questions. This is by no means exhaustive, and some of these topics will be taken up in later postings here, but it's at least a start.

While I don't recommend doing this for everyone, I chose to take the approach of stripping away everything that I had associated with "church" and with "ministry" and build from the ground up the things that Scripture and the Holy Spirit seemed to indicate were important.

In searching the Scriptures, I quickly saw something in 1 Corinthians 14 that intrigued me. Verse 26 says that when we come together, everyone has something to contribute for the edification of the Body. Everyone? How can that be? Imagine during a church service in most of our churches if someone felt a word from the Lord to share. What opportunity would they have? Maybe a short time of "structured" sharing that is "policed" by the leaders. Or, worse yet, no opportunity whatsoever. So, the word that came to my mind immediately as an essential element to gatherings of believers is that it needs to be "participatory". It needs to be able to be open enough that everyone has the chance to contribute.

Additionally, in order for everyone to have the chance to participate, it seemed necessary that the gathering be small enough and informal enough for this to take place. This reminded me of "small group fellowships" in which I had participated in the past. Could this be what Paul was viewing in his thinking?

Another verse that jumped out at in me in 1 Corinthians 14 was verse 30. In this verse, Paul says that if someone is speaking, and a revelation comes to someone else, the first speaker must be silent and let the second speak! This definitely cannot happen in our structured church services, can it? But consider the casual conversation that takes place in any informal gathering. One has a thought about what someone says, and they are able to interject it. Was this what Paul was teaching?

In addition to seeing the benefits of informal, open, participatory gatherings, I also thought about the whole "church building" idea. There is no indication in the New Testament that these new communities of believers (especially the Gentile communities) built new buildings in which to meet. I could write volumes on this, but consider even the way in which this puts financial constraints on churches. If we assume that we need a special building, we build something that is only used for a few hours a week, yet costs thousands (or millions, even) of dollars to build and maintain. It has been estimated by some that as much as 85% or more of the money that comes into churches goes toward mortgage, maintenance, utilities, etc. Is this a wise use of funds??

Whether or not people come to meet in my home, I have my electric bill to pay. So, it doesn't cost anything additional to me for people to meet in my home. I'm not incurring a completely separate set of utilities just to have a place to meet. What purpose does the building serve except to confuse the issue of what the "church" really is? Jesus said that where two or more are gathered in His name, He is in the midst of them. What more do we need?

Then there was the whole idea of paid staff. In years of being paid to "do" ministry, it has occurred to me that while receiving that paycheck, I was in bondage to the very ones paying it. Ministry, while perhaps noble-intentioned, became a "job" for me, and became something that I needed to hold onto in order to pay my bills. Consider a pastor who is paid by the church to preach. If he feels led to preach something that "steps on toes" in the church, he puts his income and job in danger. And so, he feels trapped. I know, because I've been there! And I've seen others go through it, too.

In addition to the dangers of being controlled by the ones paying the pastor's salary, there is the expectation that it is the pastor's job to do all the ministry. Instead of growing in their faith and sharing the gospel themselves, people often feel like they just need to invite their friends to church and let the pastor "save them" through his preaching. I actually was part of a church that printed up "tracts" to hand out to people. This is not uncommon for jump-starting evangelism. However, these "tracts" were merely invitations to the church with service times and maps!!! That is not evangelism!! In 1 Corinthians 14, do we see an indication that one person was to do all the speaking and preaching? No! In fact, it is expected that multiple people will speak during the gathering!

So far, I have shared the following elements of "simple church":

  1. No formal building (and therefore no huge expenses)
  2. Open, participatory services where all can contribute
  3. No paid staff (cutting expenses even further)

Additional thoughts that troubled me had to do with our relationship with Christ, our possession of the Holy Spirit, and yet the very stifling of those very things in the Body of Christ. In other words, Peter calls us a "kingdom of priests", referring to the fact that we have direct access to God through Jesus Christ. Additionally, since Pentecost, believers have been filled with the Holy Spirit -- something that was only "hit-or-miss" in the Old Testament! So much of our structure and formality comes from the Old Testament. The building = the tabernacle. Pastors = priests. The people came to the tabernacle, because that was where God dwelled. But where does He dwell for believers now? IN US!! We have no need to "go" anywhere to meet with God. That's the beauty of Jesus' promise to be "in the midst of them" when we are gathered in His name. The people went to the priest because He represented God to them. He was the mediator. Who is our mediator now? Jesus Christ! Together, we can all come to Him directly without someone having to stand between us and Him.

If we really believe this, then we can believe and trust that the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish what He wants to accomplish in our gatherings. We have no need to "control" the flow, or "structure" the service, or limit God in any way.

Now, I know there will be many objections to this. And I have heard many, if not all, of them already. I will likely address some of those objections in future posts. But I ask you, before you strongly object, to ask yourself what the foundation of your objection is. We are so easily trapped by tradition. We don't even know it! Traditional views of things that we assume are biblical and godly, but sadly often are neither. I grew up assuming that to be a strong, good Christian, you needed to "attend church" and get involved in that church. But to what end? Now, I realize that so much time, money, and energy is spent on just keeping the machine rolling. Time that could be spent ministering to one another and edifying one another. Money that could be spent on meeting people's need -- feeding the poor, etc. And energy that could be turned outward into evangelism.

I could go on and on about these issues. But let me conclude this two-part post with a description of a recent gathering we had to illustrate just how this all plays out. This is actually not necessarily one particular gathering time being described, but sort of a combination of events that have happened in several gatherings.

As is our usual custom, we met in the evening for a potluck supper. There were only about 8 of us, and each one brought something to contribute to the meal. As usual, we didn't even coordinate the meal ahead of time. Yet nothing was lacking. Some had brought main dishes, others brought salad or vegetables, someone brought drinks and dessert. The Holy Spirit can even coordinate our physical food!

After thanking the Lord for the privilege and opportunity of gathering in His name, we enjoyed fellowship around the table as we ate. The conversation ranged through all kinds of topics -- some blatantly spiritual, others more "how was your week" type of talk. There was laughter, there was discussion, there were side was all very informal, just like a big family dinner (and that is, in fact, what it is)! At one point in the time of fellowship, someone in the group quietly slipped another person some cash. It was a response to knowing a particular financial need. The person receiving the cash warmly embraced and thanked the other, while consciously not drawing attention to the gift. No one else even knew this took place. (I only know this because I was the recipient of that gift in this particular situation.)

At some point, with no announcement but as everyone seemed to have finished eating, the group naturally moved to more comfortable seating in the living room. The conversation never really ended, but we gradually ended up transitioning (again without any human direction) to a central conversation where only one person was speaking at a time. Someone had a guitar, and he began singing a song at one point. Those of us who knew the song joined in. Anyone who didn't know the song just worshiped as they listened. When the song ended, someone began to pray. It was a simple, heartfelt prayer. Others responded with affirmation during the prayer. The prayer led to another song that came from someone other than the man with the guitar. It just came with no introduction, no announcement. The song followed up on a thought that had been expressed in prayer, and again, those who knew the song joined in.

A period of silence followed as no one was prompted to speak, but then someone broke the silence by saying, "This week, the Lord was showing me something in the Word that I would like to share." And they began to share very simply the truth that God's Word contained. While they shared, someone else had a correlating thought and piped up with that observation. There was even some discussion about whether or not the view presented was completely valid. Gradually, the group came to a consensus on the topic, and were able to encourage one another with their observations from the Word in support of what was being shared.

Again, someone expressed a prayer to the Lord, and while praying felt led to pray for a particular need in the group. Others joined in again with affirmation, and hands were laid on the individual with the need. At one point during this time of prayer, yet another song came forward. This one was short, just a few lines, and only the one singing knew it. But we all were able to agree with the words being sung, and it seemed to represent many of the prayers being spoken.

At some point, the flow began to settle down. There was more silence. Almost as if on cue, we began to open our eyes and smile at each other. Some wiped tears. Others continued to silently pray. With no formal announcement, it was understood that our gathering was coming to a close. With more words of encouragement, we embraced each other and spoke praise to God for once again moving through us.

Gradually, people gathered their belongings and made their way to the door. Someone offered to host the gathering at their place the following week, and one-by-one the group dispersed. Yet another gathering of the Body of Christ had taken place, and all were edified and built up. I still had a wonderful peaceful feeling as I drifted off to sleep that night. Nothing was lacking this time. There was no emptiness. I had once again experienced the beauty of being a part of the Body of Christ. I think Paul would have been pleased. I know God was!

Until next time,

steve :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

What Is Simple Church? (part 1)

OK, in the absence of any other topics pressing on my brain right now, I want to take a few moments to define a term that I've already used in my blog, but may not be familiar to everyone who reads here. That's the term "Simple Church". You may know it as "Organic Church", "House Church", "New Testament Church", "Biblical Church".....there are many labels assigned to it.

I happen to like the term "Simple Church" in comparison to the others. "Organic Church" sounds to me like a bunch of Christian farmers! ;) "House Church" implies that it must meet in a house. While I do believe that a house is probably the best place for church to take place, it doesn't have to be limited to a house. "New Testament Church" is an attempt to say that we are doing things the way it was done in the New Testament. I'm not really opposed to this idea, but I do fear that the patterns in the New Testament are vague enough that we can't really claim to be doing things in the same way that they did. Hopefully, we're close to the same heart and goal, though! "Biblical Church" is unnecessarily antagonistic to the established churches all around us, by implying that they are not biblical.

So, I prefer "Simple Church". I started out using the term "House Church" and so often I verbalize that term. But in writing and thinking, I am trying to condition myself to be more consistent in calling it "Simple Church". Soooo, what is it, you ask?

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about how I got to this point. I grew up in church. My parents were always very active. My dad was always head of some committee, or a deacon, or an elder. And my mom always played piano or organ (depending on the needs -- there were several ladies who sort of rotated on the two instruments). At a young age, I began playing the piano, and by the time I was a teenager, I was playing the piano regularly for the services. Eventually, I went off to Bible college and got into ministry vocationally.

I held several positions in churches: Minister of Music, Associate Pastor, Pastor of Creative Arts... did a lot of "worship leading", preaching, teaching, counseling, etc. And there were many things that I saw in church that seemed to not make sense. But because "we've always done it that way", I just kept my mouth shut and went along with it, assuming it must be me who was wrong.

Several years ago, I reached a bit of a breaking point in this journey. A crossroads, if you will. One Sunday morning, I was standing on the platform looking out at the congregation before church started, and I felt a tremendous emptiness. Not emptiness in me. Emptiness in THEM. Well, it included me, but what I'm trying to say is that it wasn't that I was burned out. I wasn't disillusioned. I was just realizing that we were not really accomplishing much of lasting value in our efforts.

Every week, people came in, sat down, stood up when told to, sat back down when told to, sang the songs that I chose for them to sing (or some just stood there while others sang around them), sat there and listened to the preacher speak for a while, then got up, shared some nice pleasantries with those around them, and left again. I didn't know these people, and they didn't know me. I had no idea what their lives were like, and they knew nothing about mine. Unless I was able to get myself in a position near the right door to speak to them as they left, or unless they deliberately found me to speak to me, weeks and months could go by, and I wouldn't have a clue how they were doing spiritually.

What am I trying to convey here? Well, in my opinion, except for a handful of us who were paid to do things in the church service, and apart from a small group of volunteers who got recruited to do the things we "paid professionals" couldn't (or wouldn't??) do, there wasn't much for people to actually DO besides obey our instructions (sit, stand, sing) and listen to the Word. Is this what God intended "church" to be? A few doing a lot, while many do nothing? It wasn't their fault. If someone in that body had the gift of preaching, there was only one way for them to be able to exercise their gift: Leave and start their own church. There was no way for someone who had the gift of mercy to know that someone needed mercy unless it was announced from the pulpit. If someone had a song burning in their spirit that needed to be shared with the church, they had to come to me and "audition" in order to be "fit in" during some future service, if at all.

In other words, everything was being filtered through us: the staff. And if it didn't line up with "our" vision for the church, it didn't get addressed or allowed. And so we went on from week to week, month to month, year to year. But once I sensed that something was truly missing, I couldn't rest. The uneasiness ate away at me. The sense that there should be something different persisted in my thoughts. And I decided to search the Scriptures and pray.

What has come out of that is my understanding of "simple church". And next time, I'll explain what that means.

Until next time,
steve :)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Symphony or Cacophony?

Last night, I took my wife and son to a performance of the Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra. It was a great evening. As a classically-trained pianist, it is always a delight to get the chance to attend a concert of "serious music" here in the mountains of NC. This isn't a music blog, though, so I'll spare you my review of the concert -- my impression of the genius of Paul Hindemith in his "Symphonic Metamorphosis", or the adorable Ravel suite "Ma Mère l’Oye", or my amusement at the percussionist who played a rather loud cymbal crash a bar or two early in the Rossini "Overture to La gazza ladra", or my disappointment at watching famed piano soloist Peter Serkin use music for his performance of a Mozart piano concerto. But suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the evening (Mr. Serkin's use of music on stage notwithstanding)!

What I do wish to comment on, however, was a spiritual parallel that struck me while at the concert. As we sat in our seats, eagerly awaiting the appearance of conductor Michael Stern to begin the concert, the orchestra was on stage warming up. This well-known sound is as much a part of a classical symphonic concert experience as is the formality of the concertmaster entering the stage to applause as he cues the oboist to sound the tuning note for the orchestra.

Each orchestra member diligently practices, warming up their lips (or bows, as the case may be) and fingers, making sure they are ready for the start of the first piece. As one listens, it is sometimes possible to make out portions of the pieces that will be played that evening. A trumpeter pierces through the wall of sound as he practices tonguing a particular passage. The timpanist bangs on his kettle drums. Another percussionist practices his snare drum roll, flutes and clarinets soar above with runs and trills as they warm up.

As I listened to this sound -- certainly not "music" when taken as a whole -- I was suddenly struck with a thought that I leaned over and whispered to my wife. This is the current state of the Body of Christ. Individuals working hard at producing a great piece of music, but not in coordination with anyone else in the ensemble. Taken individually, the sounds coming from the concert stage were high-quality. They were exactly what the composer had written on the page. But taken corporately, it was nothing but cacophony. Noise. Chaos.

When at last the individual orchestra members ceased their musical meanderings and the conductor took his place on the podium, the individuals became one. Under the masterful guidance of their leader, what came to our ears was a beautiful symphony of sound. And although I was not uncouth enough to whisper this second observation to my wife during the music, I thought, "Ahh. This is what the Body of Christ is designed to be."

With unity, the mission was accomplished. With unity under one Leader, all of those seemingly random sounds we were hearing earlier were put into their proper place, and the big picture became clear.

OK, I know I'm not anywhere close to the first person to use a symphony orchestra as a picture of the Body of Christ. But so often, I get the feeling that the "leader" that is in the analogy (when it is given) is a human being other than Jesus Christ. And I also feel like the analogy is often used to get people to quit grumbling about their particular place in the Body. While it is true that we must all realize that the piccolo cannot (or at least, should not!) play the tuba part in the orchestra, there is more to be learned here than just "putting people in their place." It is the power of unity.

Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be one. That was what I saw last night in the orchestra. They were one. And they were only one when they allowed themselves to be led by the one who had the power, the capability, and the right to be leading. In the Body of Christ, that One is only Jesus Christ. Yes, there are "chairs" who head up each section. They are ones who have demonstrated over time that they have the qualifications and faithfulness to be recognized as such leaders. But that does not mean that they come between the other players and the conductor.

Those who have risen to the ranks of "elder" (that is, older in the faith, experienced in being a disciple, proven track record of faithfulness to Christ) are to be respected, but they are not the leader! Christ Himself is our only conductor. Our only leader. Our only "head". Every person in that orchestra looked to the conductor for their guidance. They may learn from those who are "ahead" of them in experience, but they follow the conductor. It should be the same in the Body of Christ.

Right now, the Body of Christ (at least here in America, but I fear it is probably similar in other parts of the world, as well) is very individualistic. And so many are polarized around mere mortals. Just look at some of the discussions on other blogs about Joel Osteen. Or Rick Warren. Or Chuck Swindoll. Or Billy Graham. These men and many others like them are elevated to the position of "conductor" when at best, they may only be section chairs. (Even that is doubtful in some, but I will leave that to other blog entries.)

There is so much more I could say on this, but I think the point is clear. It is high time that we stop the cacophony and begin to produce a symphony under the direction of Christ that will capture the world's attention. When the orchestra was warming up last night, many of us in the audience chatted with each other, read our programs, let our minds wander, etc. And when they finished their warm-up, there was no applause. No acknowledgement of the sounds that had preceded. But when they played as one under the direction of the fully-qualified Leader, it drew us in. And we enthusiastically applauded their music.

I hope that when we arrive in eternity, we hear the applause of the "cloud of witnesses" that currently surrounds us.

Until next time,
steve :)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Agreeing to Disagree

In the journey that my wife and I have been on spiritually for the last couple years, I have been blessed to have several people come into my life off of whom I can bounce thoughts and ideas without fear of rejection or condemnation. One friend in particular has become a great partner in this journey. (I'll call him David, if for no other reason than that is actually his name!) Yesterday, I had lunch with David and discussed an area of frustration for me -- how to disagree without breaking fellowship.

If you read the first post in this blog (Getting Started), you know that I subscribe to a very short list of "essential doctrines" for fellowship. This has come from many years of watching non-essential doctrines divide believers in unnecessary ways. And it's not even limited to doctrines, to be truthful. Just "issues" that come up. They may be:
  • Republican/Democrat (or American/non-American)
  • Calvinist/Arminian
  • Charismatic/Cessationist
  • Contemporary P&W/Hymns only
  • KJV-only/Other translations get the idea. Some of these issues become so passionate for people that they can't see past the issue to find the unity of the Spirit within the Body of Christ.

Already, I can hear the mouses clicking as people give up reading this and write me off as some ecumenical, one-world-religion heretic. But please! Hear me out on this! It's not what you think. Look over my short list again. Is there room for one world religion in that? Any room for "all roads lead to God"? Not remotely! But there is room for the other issues that currently divide us.

Here's the deal, with great thanks to my friend, David, for helping me talk through this topic and understand it better. We have an obligation, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, to attempt to preserve the peace in the Body. Now, notice a very key word there: "attempt". Paul said in Romans 12:18 that as much as it depends on us, we should do what we can to live at peace with each other. The link includes all of chapter 12 because the context is very important. It's instruction Paul gives right in the midst of a long series of comments with regard to how we get along as one body. One body. Not multiple bodies. One.

I confess that I am guilty, even with my short list, of finding it hard to continue to fellowship with people when we disagree on other areas of understanding. For example, there have been some who have misunderstood the simple church concept as merely "having problems with authority", being in rebellion -- you name it, it's been said to me! And so sometimes, in those disagreements, we find that we no longer hang out with certain people. We no longer enjoy their company. Oh, we smile and say "hi" when we see them, but there's no unity and fellowship there. That's sad.

But I come to this issue now with a fresh understanding that it is my obligation to which I'm responsible. If they don't want to fellowship with me, then that's their issue between them and God. But as much as it depends on me, I want to make sure I'm not the one putting the wall up. What would happen if we all took that approach?

So, I'm starting today with a new resolve to try to live this out practically. If you have a different sense of what "church" should be, we can still be brothers and sisters. If you have a different idea of what "trials and tribulations" mean, then we can still walk together -- provided that we agree on the essentials. Anything apart from the short list has to be allowed to be up for debate. That means agreeing to disagree on those things without separating over them.

Do you believe Jesus Christ is the only possible way to the Father? And have you put your trust in Him for that salvation? Then we are one. Let's live it!

Until next time,
steve :)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Joel Osteen's new church building

I wasn't sure if I wanted to address this topic right out of the gate, but it's getting some press and other bloggers are talking about it, so I thought I would weigh in with my thoughts...

The Internet Monk (Michael Spencer), one of the blogs I read, had
this article the other day in which he compared Charles Spurgeon's "inaugural sermon" in a new building to Joel Osteen's first service at Lakewood Church's new stadium home. (If you're not familiar with Joel Osteen or Lakewood Church, you might want to read this NY Times article for as long as it's accessible on the web.)

Here is a guy (Osteen) who calls himself a "pastor", who runs a "church", and "preaches" to millions world-wide. But if you've ever watched Joel Osteen's TV show (I've never visited his church in person, but I have watched many times on TV), you would eventually have to agree that his messages are no different from most motivational speeches you might hear at a business seminar. Last summer, I attended a one-day motivational seminar that included speakers such as Zig Ziglar. Mr. Ziglar is actually quite open about his faith in Christ, and I almost felt like I heard more Gospel coming from that speech than from Joel Osteen's "sermons" on TV! And yet, Joel Osteen is touted as the "pastor of the nation's largest church", etc.

Already, I can see this blog entry is going to be too long, and I'll probably have to take it in chunks if I want to say everything that's on my mind. But for now, let me touch on two points:

1. If we are going to go to all the trouble of organizing a "church" and having a church building, etc., then the least we can do is present the Gospel clearly in our messages, and take the time to disciple believers into true maturity in their faith. This does not mean merely telling them how to "be successful" in their life. It means teaching them through word (and THE Word) and actions exactly what it means to have Christ living in to walk in the Spirit...that kind of "stuff"! :)

2. Some of the responses to Michael's post defend Osteen's "ministry" by pointing out that many have "come to Christ" through Lakewood Church. I'm not going to try to deny that point, because the reality is, I just don't know the facts. But, my burning question is, what is the definition of the phrase "come to Christ" in Osteen's terms? And another burning question: Do the ends really justify the means? Do conversions (even if they are honest-to-goodness salvation conversions) mean that a preacher can't be criticized for what they are doing?

I used to wonder about Paul's statement that, even if Christ was being preached out of selfish ambition, "at least Christ is being preached." I thought for the longest time that meant that I shouldn't criticize any selfish, wrongly-motivated ministry because "at least Christ is being preached." A dear friend of mine recently made a very good point, though. Paul was glad when Christ was actually being preached. Are ministries such as Osteen's preaching Christ? From my perspective, I would have to say no.

Making people "feel good about themselves" is not preaching Christ. Christ actually being preached will ultimately help people find out who they truly are in Christ, and that will naturally (in my opinion) result in a sense of what we may define as "feeling good about themselves" (because they will see themselves through God's eyes, and there's a lot to "feel good" about in that!), but if the goal is to make them feel good about themselves apart from the truth about Christ, then we have put the cart before the horse.

Until next time,
steve :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Getting Started

OK, I've finally decided to take the plunge into the "blogsphere" and add my voice to the thousands (millions?) screaming to be heard! The irony is that I'm not sure who will hear me, if anyone, and yet I feel compelled to write.

So many thoughts are swimming around in this head of mine that I wish I had an outlet to share. And so, now I do!

At first, I thought of doing a blog specifically related to simple church (house church, organic church...insert your preferred label here), but there are topics I would love to write about that really have nothing to do with that topic specifically. So, I am making this a more general "Theological Musings" blog, realizing that many of my posts will head in the simple church direction.

I realize that "Theological Musings" is not only a stuffy title, but is largely inaccurate, too. Well, the "musings" part is accurate. But "theological"? Theology is technically the "study of God." While I'm sure some of my posts will actually discuss the character and nature of God, it is more a collection of thoughts about how we relate to God, not about Who He is. In my opinion, Who He is is rather simple. He is God -- the eternal Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer..... But in the course of what we know as human history, God has chosen to reveal Himself in a way that allows us to have a personal relationship with Him. It is the outworking of that personal relationship that interests me the most. But, when it boils down to it, wanted me to give this a title, and I couldn't think of anything that would really identify it without ending up with a URL like! And who would remember that URL to type it in the first time?! :)

So, for now, at least, "Theological Musings" it is, with all of its flaws. During the lifespan of this blog, I intend to talk about topics that interest me in addition to the aforementioned simple church topic. Topics such as worship, American patriotism, holiness, end-times name it.

A couple ground rules, though, if you choose to read and respond:
  • Please understand that these are merely my musings, and I am not trying to judge anyone else. While at times, you may find me very passionate about a topic, I do not in any way claim to have all the answers, or even to fully understand the things about which I write.
  • If you choose to respond, please do so without judging me or others. I am not interested in flame wars, name-calling, finger-pointing, gun-pointing, threats, labels......can't we all just get along? ;) Seriously, I love discussion, even passionate, lively discussion. But if you're just responding to call me a heretic, you might just find your post being deleted! Unless, of course, you say it in love...... ;)
  • From time to time, I will touch on some "sacred cows". It is not my desire to offend anyone, and these thoughts are solely representative of my own thinking. Do not assume that anything I say represents any other person, organization, or group.

OK, you're probably at this point wanting to know about where I fit into the current series of labels assigned to various Christian groups. Well, get used to disappointment!! ;) hehe I'm not very big on labels. I can, however, confidently share with you my "short list" of essential doctrines to which I subscribe and which I believe are absolutes. Everything else, in my opinion, is "up for grabs" and can be discussed without questioning if someone is truly saved. You ready? This list may seem a lot shorter than you are expecting, and it may upset some that I have left certain "pet doctrines" of theirs off this list. Well, so be it. These are the things I believe are absolutely essential for one to call themselves a Christian, and for me to recognize them as my brother or sister in the Lord:

  1. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh
  2. Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind, was buried, and literally rose from the dead to live forever.
  3. Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, and there is salvation in no other person, doctrine, or belief.
  4. Each individual's eternal destiny will be determined by their relationship (or lack, thereof) to Jesus Christ.

That's it. No insistence on any particular translation of the Bible. No particular statement about the end times. No dress code. No checklist of appearances or actions. No particular style of music. Those all have more to do with your personal relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit living inside you. They are not required for entrance into my "club" ;)

My motto is paraphrased from one that is attributed to the Moravian church: In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In everything, love. (They use the term "charity" in order to keep the flow of "-ty" endings, but I think the word "love" means so much more. "Charity", in our modern American culture, almost seems to be a look down the nose at someone "less" than ourselves.)

So, with that, let the fun begin. Perhaps we will learn something from each other. Perhaps I will find that I'm too far outside "the box" on some things. Or, maybe I'll help you to get outside whatever box you may be in. But above all, I pray that you will be encouraged in your relationship with Christ. If you don't have a personal relationship with Christ, I pray that something I say or express here may cause you to seek that for yourself. If I can be used in any way toward that end, I will be most humbled and grateful! To God be all the glory!

Oh, and if anyone is actually reading this, please drop me a note or respond to the posts and let me know!!

Until next time,

steve :)