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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Internet Explorer 7 and Protection Against Heresy

Today, Tim Challies briefly mentioned Internet Explorer 7, which is available in beta form right now, and I went to take a look at it. I found a very interesting list of features, which caused two thoughts to immediately pop into my mind:
  1. Microsoft is a genius at copying other people's work (the features listed sound very much like the Firefox browser I'm currently using!)
  2. Microsoft's approach to creating a browser creates a striking parallel in my mind in the discussion about the institutional church and whether or not simple churches are more susceptible to heresy.

The nature of this blog is such that I'm not going to even spend time on point 1. But point 2 is something I wanted to flesh out for you and give you some food for thought. Conventional wisdom says (and some comments on my previous posts have touched on this) that without pastors, elders, and other "authorities" in the Church, a particular fellowship leaves itself more susceptible to heresy. After all, the thinking goes, who is going to be able to step in and say, "Wait a minute! That's not correct. If you look at the Greek word here, which I did in seminary, you'll see that it really means this, and therefore, this is the correct interpretation"?

Now, one of my usual disclaimers here: I am not bashing higher education in theology. I have a bachelor of science in Bible, and I also did about 30 credits toward a master of theology degree (including 5 semesters of Greek). So don't misunderstand my approach here. If you have studied theology at that level, I have nothing against that.

But let me draw the parallels that I saw with regard to Internet Explorer 7 (IE 7), and maybe you'll understand where I'm going with this. Take for example, the common internet problem of "phishing". IE 7 includes a new "Phishing filter", about which Microsoft writes:

[The Phishing Filter] proactively warns and helps protect you against potential or known fraudulent sites and blocks the site if appropriate. The opt-in filter is updated several times per hour using the latest security information from Microsoft and several industry partners about fraudulent websites.

Now, for months, we've been telling people, "Be careful about clicking on links in emails. If it looks like it is an email from a bank or some other financial institution, be extremely careful. That link may actually redirect to a malicious site which will then steal your password and account information." But now, what does Microsoft basically say? "Relax! We've got your back. We'll do the research for you, and every couple of hours, we'll update our list so that you can safely browse the internet. If you happen to click on one of those phishing links, we'll even block the site for you."

Instead of encouraging people to think for themselves, Microsoft claims to do the thinking for you. You don't have to be so careful now, because The Knowledgable One will watch over you and make sure you don't go off into danger.

Or, take the "Fix My Settings" feature. Again, Microsoft does all the thinking for you. Here's their description of the feature:

To keep you protected from browsing with unsafe settings, Internet Explorer 7 warns you with an Information Bar when current security settings may put you at risk. Within the Internet Control Panel, you will see certain critical items highlighted in red when they are unsafely configured. In addition to dialog alerts warning you about unsafe settings, you will be reminded by the Information Bar as long as the settings remain unsafe. You can instantly reset Internet security settings to the 'Medium-High' default level by clicking the 'Fix My Settings' option in the Information Bar.

So, if you happen to change a setting and it puts you at risk, Microsoft will warn you about it, and allow you to click an option that might as well be labelled "Let Microsoft Set My Security to Their Definition of Safety". That's their way of helping the internet community stay safe and out of danger.

Now, I want to clarify here (again!) that I'm not against these types of safety features in principle. In the same way, I'm not against the idea of people in the body of Christ having the wisdom and maturity to hold up a red flag and caution people about their doctrine, their behavior, etc. In fact, as you all probably know, that's a biblical function of elders! They definitely have their place in the body of Christ.

But, and herein is the rub, if this function of elders is presented in such a way that discourages or even stifles the maturing and development of an individual's own ability to listen to the Holy Spirit and seek discernment, it is not healthy. This is true, even if it is done unintentionally. And this is where my concern comes in with regard to too much institutional structure and heirarchy.

First of all, I do not believe that structure and heirarchy prevent against heresy any more than structure and heirarchy prevented financial fraud from happening in Enron. Who was John writing to in 1 John? Was he merely writing to the elders of the church? No. And yet John exhorts all believers to test spirits, to discern true teaching (even gives them a litmus test of whether or not a prophet is truly one of them), etc. It is the responsibility of each and every believer to become so fully rooted in the vine of Jesus Christ that they can spot heresy a mile away.

Ephesians 4 clues us in as to how that happens. Basically, to boil it way down, the more mature and gifted believers are to equip the newer and less mature believers -- with the stated goal of maturity -- to do the work of the ministry. What's the result of this: Disciples breeding disciples. Teachers breeding teachers. Maturity breeding maturity. If anything that we are doing, or any structure we create, or any heirarchy we define gets in the way of that maturing process, then we must very carefully examine whether or not we are doing the right thing.

My sense is that a heirarchical structure of "leadership" and "authority" (not using those words biblically, mind you) does much more to prevent growth and maturity than it does to promote it. Is that anecdotal? Yes, admittedly so. I do not have statistics to back it up. However, I would encourage us all to look at the fruit that has been borne out of the institutional church and ask if there is something that is missing from the overall picture.

For example, as I take a very quick drive-by of history: The church developed very quickly from the NT time into an institution of bishops and priests and "leaders" that "watched over" the congregation. And very quickly, the idea of a congregation member being able to think on their own was squashed. This got to be such a problem (in the Roman Catholic Church) that finally, over 400 years ago, some men stood up and said, "Where did we get so off track?" And they sought to return Bible reading and common-language understanding to the people. Martin Luther spoke out about a "priesthood of believers" that was nowhere to be found.

But what did we end up with? Please don't find me too harsh in saying this, but what differences really genuinely exist between the structure of the RCC and our Protestant institutions? Oh, I know that no Protestant leader claims out loud to be a direct descendent of the authority of Peter. And I know that no one actually claims that what they speak as a Pastor or other leader is on equal footing with Scripture (cf. the Pope's ability to speak ex cathedra). But how does it all function? Frankly, my experience both as a pastor in the institution and as a lay member in the same doesn't show much difference.

With the exception of frequent commenter Ray, I know of very few pastors who handle questions from their congregation very graciously. I have, however, spoken with many, many pastors in my own ministry experience who have talked about people "questioning their authority", "undermining their ministry", etc. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I will share that on several occasions, I have been that person accused of undermining someone's ministry. But I can honestly tell you that I was not undermining anything. I was merely trying to ask questions about why certain things were being handled the way they were.

This is not, in any way, meant to be a rant against the Institutional Church. I am not anti-Institutional. And to the extent that many may have pure hearts and motives in the institution, I bless them. But at the same time, I continue to sound the question of concern. Are we really producing mature, able-to-teach, disciple-making disciples of Jesus Christ? Or are people merely encouraged (either directly or tacitly) to accept our word as God's word? Our interpretation as the right interpretation? Our maturity as their maturity?

Let me conclude by referencing a quote that Bill Streger posted on his blog recently. The quote is one by John MacArthur, so I realize I'm like a chihuahua yapping at a great dane in the eyes of many right now! (And to be sure, if anyone at Pyromaniacs stumbles on this, it will spell the end of my ability ever to interact on that blog, since Phil Johnson is an associate pastor with MacArthur!) I don't say this to criticize MacArthur (and I definitely am not criticizing Bill Streger), but to take exception to the perspective given here. This is what MacArthur recommends as the way a congregation member view their pastor. Or, maybe I should say how he recommends they treat their pastor. Rather than make you click over to Bill's post, I'll reprint the entire quote here:

Fling him into his office. Tear the "Office" sign from the door and nail on the sign, "Study." Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the flock of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.

Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he's bruised and beaten into being a blessing.

Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.

Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.

Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!

Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day-"Sir, we would see Jesus."

When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day's superficial problems, and manage the community's weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.

Command him not to come back until he's read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, "Thus saith the Lord."

Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he's back against the wall of the Word.

And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left-God's Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he's burned out by the flaming Word, when he's consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he's privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.

What message does this send? The only way you can get a good word from God is if you require your pastor to focus completely on God, deny him any access to anything outside the study, and basically beat him into humility and self-denial until all that comes out of him is the word of God. And when he reaches that point, sit at his feet and learn what God wants you to know.

I'm sorry, but I cannot accept that as God's design for His church. If what MacArthur writes is correct (and I see no biblical precedent for this kind of perspective), then we have no need for the Bible in our own language. Martin Luther wasted his time and his life. And putting a pastor in that sort of position is no different in concept (although much worse in result!) than assuming that I can browse the web safely without discernment or caution as long as I use Microsoft IE 7.

Respect the elders. Listen to them. Allow yourself to be persuaded by them.* But do not put them in the position of God in your life. Do not allow them to be the only voice of the Holy Spirit that you choose to listen to. And don't depend solely on them for preventing you from drifting off into heresy! If they happen to get off course, how will anyone know? But if all are doing their homework, a leader off-course will stick out like a sore thumb, and the whole group will remain on course by following the ultimate Leader.

Any group of believers, gathered in the name of Jesus, have access to the ultimate protection against heresy there is: the Holy Spirit. Let's not punt to human structure to create a false sense of safety and protection.

Until next time,

steve :)

* The link there shows the Greek word that has been translated as "obey" in Hebrews 13:17.

18 comment(s):

Go Steve!

By Anonymous ded, at Tuesday, February 07, 2006 11:49:00 AM  

Steve -- Thanks for the kind words... not sure that I am the example to point too... I have plenty of foibles...

Anyway, I would like to say that part of the problem in our modern church is a LACK of Biblical knowledge, NOT a lack of elders... I am an 'institutional', (not sure if I am comfortable with that term), pastor, but I really believe that it is dangerous to function as the spiritual 'guru' of the people.

I take my position seriously, and study to show myself approved. I also am on the lookout for heresy and improper conduct, but I want to teach the folks how to recognize truth and falsity, not 'take care of it' for them.

I have been in two places where the pastor/leader was looked up to with too much 'awe', and people forgot to open their Bibles when he provided them with 'teaching'. And many were led astray by the very man set in place to protect the flock...

I look at it this way -- If Paul could be checked out by the Bereans (and commended for it), then I am pretty sure that I should be checked out by my folks....

We would not protect our children to the extent that we are driving them to college so they don't make any driving mistakes, or reading their textbooks for them, and taking the tests... Why should we 'pre-digest' everything in the most important area of their life?

I agree that new believers need guidance, and even mature believers, (including pastors), need a nudge once in a while, but Paul told the church that he wanted to be teaching them the meat, but they had not graduated from the milk. This assumes that he expected growth, not blind allegiance!

Steve -- I agree with what you are saying here; once of the biggest issues I have in the church today is the incredible Biblical illiteracy; people trusting what their leaders tell them without checking it out... I am not saying that I want to be questioned about my every move at the church, but sincere discussion/dialogue should never be considered insubordinate, or incorrect.

If one simply disagrees to be contentious, that is one thing, but I am really referring to sincere individuals seeking Biblical answers. I do not have all the answers, and I must be confident enough in God's Word to allow people to examine their faith! This does not mean setting the children loose with guns, it means different people in the church need different levels of guidance and we should be flexible enough to provide that.

Wow, sorry for the rant/ramble.... Anyway, as usual... got me thinking...


By Blogger Ray, at Tuesday, February 07, 2006 10:01:00 PM  

Ray, great thoughts in response. Thanks for always reading the spirit behind my strong words! :)

You have identified a major problem correctly: that of biblical illiteracy. And I think that an outgrowth of that problem results in a very insufficient understanding of the Christ Who lives within us.

Jesus told the Pharisees that they searched the Scriptures, thinking that in them they would find life, but that they didn't realize that the Scriptures pointed to Him. He is the Life.

Biblical literacy without a maturing, growing relationship with the Life to Whom the Scriptures point would be just as bad as biblical illiteracy. (I know you're not advocating this. Just wanted to take the point a bit further.)

However, on the subject of biblical literacy, I still have a strong hunch that the form of the institutional church (feel free to supply a different word -- it's not one I'm crazy about, either, but "traditional" seems to be a misnomer in these days of worship wars between "traditional" and "contemporary", so....) -- anyway, I feel that the form of the institution creates an impression that automatically leads to biblical illiteracy.

By that, I mean that, even in churches that teach that "cell groups" or whatever are very important, they still put so much emphasis on the Sunday morning service that subconsciously, at best, that still seems to be what is most important in the system.

Let me break it down a slightly different way:
1. Resources go toward a building for the express purpose of the large gatherings
2. Resources go toward a paid pastor whose "job" it is to bring the Word of God to the people every Sunday
3. In larger churches, staff are hired to produce other parts of the service (and in smaller churches, there are volunteers usually who do this), such as music, taking up the offering, etc., such that importance is still placed on that particular service as THE important thing in the life of the church.
4. The physical setup of the building/auditorium/sanctuary necessitates that people sit in "spectator" fashion, looking up at a stage or some kind of platform where the above-mentioned paid pastor stands elevated above them speaking in a lecture format which does not allow for interaction or questions at that time.

These all send signals (intentionally or unintentionally) that it is the "job" of the people to sit and listen to what the pastor has to say, and sends a signal that he is the "authority" when it comes to God's Word.

Now, Ray, walk with me while I put you on the spot a bit here. I don't mean this to be an afront at all -- I hope by now I've earned the right to ask you these questions sincerely. You've shared with us that you do allow and even encourage people in your congregation to ask questions, etc. Out of curiosity, what percentage of your congregation actually have taken you up on that offer? (I'm open to being pleasantly surprised here!)

While I certainly applaud you (and I wasn't trying to unnecessarily elevate you as an example, but just wanted my readers to understand that I do see you as trying to do things differently in your position) for being open to questions, I wonder a couple things about it:

1. If someone asks you a question after the sermon, is there any way for others to benefit from that question being asked? In other words, let's say someone shows you something that causes you to conclude that a point you made was in error. You may be able to correct that error the next time you speak, but it's possible that not everyone who heard you the first time will ever hear the correction.
2. Is it possible that people would still refrain from asking questions to you because they don't realize that others actually do ask questions in private? (I'm assuming that they actually have asked you, and that this isn't all theoretical discussion we're having here.) In other words, if the questions were being fielded in a more public way (a la 1 Corinthians 14), wouldn't that help others to see that you really are not above questioning?

I just fear that no matter how good your intentions are, the system itself still creates unintentional barriers to healthy dialogue and more rapid maturity.

And, to bring it back to the point of biblical illiteracy, I fear that those barriers cause people in large percentages, regardless of how much you remind them that you are not the sole voice of God, to be complacent and just listen to what you say.

I do believe that over time, as we recognize elders in our midst and come to see their lives lived out in front of us, there is a trust that grows. I think that's the force behind Hebrews 13:17 of allowing ourselves to be persuaded by those ahead of us in the faith. But, even in trusting the word of an elder, being persuaded by them still means that I have to do my homework and evaluate the issue for myself.

I dunno, Ray. Maybe I'm getting too personal here. I sure don't want to take this too far. I love your friendship here online, and I love the interaction you have brought to this blog. (For the longest time, it was just ded responding to me!) It's great to actually have dialogue here.

And please know that I have gained a lot of respect for you in the way you write, and the things that you have said here and on your blog as well. So I definitely don't want to push this issue to a point where it offends or causes you to feel like I'm judging you.

Please hear my heart on this: I believe your heart is right, and your motives are pure. And I'm not telling you that anything you are doing is wrong. I'm asking questions with the two-fold benefit (hopefully) of allowing you to be more convinced in what you do, and allowing me to understand a different side of it than where I'm at right now.

I may feel like, since I was a pastor for several years, that I have the right to challenge the institution. I've been "on the inside" and I know what I've seen. And I've seen it repeated in every church in which I've been. But I'm not closed to someone showing me what still is good about it! My "inside" experience really doesn't mean squat in all this. I'm just asking honest questions, seeking honest understanding.

If anything I have written here offends you, Ray, please, please let me know, and I will correct it right here.

God bless,
steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, February 08, 2006 8:01:00 AM  

No offense taken -- valid questions one and all... Some of these I have asked and still do... BTW, my numbering does not reflect yours, it is juts a way to delineate my thoughts...

1. A big problem with the institutional church, as practiced in the West specifically, is that SO MUCH of their resources go into feeding the beast (i.e. 'operating costs'). No argument there. BTW, currently I do not get paid by the church; would I like to? Of course, but today we simply cannot afford to pay me and continue to perform the ministries to the community and members. I believe that a pastor should not get paid until no other ministries are affected by it... That is just me, I am not dogmatic on it, and I am not stating that I derived this from a specific portion of Scripture... That is just my .02.

2. I believe that it is Biblical to have teaching in the manner that Sunday mornings facilitate. Coming from a Jewish background, I am familiar with the structure that would have been found in the synagogue during Jesus' and Paul's time. This would have been a more didactic approach. Does that mean that it is the sole manner, absolutely not, and if one believes that then they miss the many places in Scripture where sincere dialogue went on.

3. How many people ask me questions? :-) I will tell you that it is most of the people, and I have no problem, if you ever get here (to Big D) in you asking my folks. You see, I serve in a church where many have come from churches that spiritually abused them... Therefore, these folks ASK questions.

4. You are right about the interchange between me and the questioner. If it is a question regarding something I said on Sunday morning, then I will address it the first chance I get (from the pulpit, or even in a small group setting), but no doubt, you are correct, if one does not attend that service then they do not benefit from the explanation, however, to turn that on its head, that is true of any setting where one would have to 'get back to' the questioner. In other words, if I ask you a question in a small home setting, but you have to get back to me next week, but one of the folks cannot attend, they too miss the explanation. I don't have an answer for that one... :-)

5. Our Sunday service is a wonderful thing, but it in no way is the sole, or even center of attention for all involved. We are much more relational than churches that I have been a part of in the past. I regularly meet with members 3-4 times/week for dinner, or coffee, or a motorcycle ride. So do most of the other members. Also, I do not possess the SOLE authority to pray for others, visit them, call them, or get together with them. Our church has people who have a natural affinity for one another and when these affinities come together you will find people meeting and praying together without my direct involvement. I have one person who delivers little stuffed lambs to people that the Lord places on his heart -- he has not yet checked with me on that! :-)

6. It is about empowering the people to grow -- it really is... If you perpetuate the belief that somehow they are unable to understand the Scriptures without YOUR guidance, then you are creating an environment where they will shut down and wait for the 'anointed' word of the pastor. On Wednesday evenings, when we get together often times I will get asked a question that I have no answer to... I encourage the one who asked to lead us in their thinking, and if I believe they are off the mark, or misunderstand, I will say something. However, often I find that they are simply struggling with the same issues the church has struggled with for centuries/millenia. At that point we will usually all contribute something and at the end maybe have a clearer understanding.

7. An anecdotal story -- Once when I was preaching, a young man sat in the front row and as I proclaimed the gospel, he stood up and said -- "But, how do you KNOW that this is true!" Talk about an incredible joy! I was able to walk over to him, and while the congregation took part, have a discussion with him regarding the truth claims of the gospel. Wonderful!

8. So bottom line -- Do I have the answers? Nope... Do I believe that our church is practicing Christianity in a manner where people are encouraged to grow, and ask? Yes, I do... Can the same thing happen in small/home church environments -- sure they can!

With all that being said -- I wonder if you are simply jaundiced about the institutional church? I know many on this side who are jaundiced about the home church movement. Both sides cite abuses (and there are several home church abuses that I am personally aware of as well). That is not meant as a shot, but as a true question... I believe that there are no absolute answers to home church versus institutional church. I do believe that both can, and have been, abused by unscrupulous men, and at times, by questionable practices that accrete over time.

However, I believe that our open and honest dialogue is the way to get past these barriers to a place where all in the Body of Christ can come together and come to a unity of Spirit.

I, like you, enjoy our conversations and do not take offense at these honest questions!

By Blogger Ray, at Wednesday, February 08, 2006 8:39:00 AM  

Ray, thanks for taking the time to respond. It really sounds like you and I are very much on the same page with all of this.

Something I would love to get more input from you on: The "didactic" approach to teaching in the Jewish culture. I actually was surprised to read what you wrote about that, because I had been intending to introduce some Scriptural accounts of both Jesus and Paul that showed questions being asked while they taught!! Am I way off on that? Since you have a Jewish perspective that I am not even close to having, fill me on in that. I need some more understanding in that area.

You are right that there are abuses in the house church movement, just as there are in the institutional church. And since you brought that up, I should probably make a clearer statement as to what I'm pursuing with all of this thought process and dialogue:

I'm not advocating a particular system of doing church. In fact, I fear that for some, the house church concept just becomes another "institution". (And the water definitely gets muddied by people who call themselves a "house church" when all they are is a church that isn't yet big enough to build/buy a building of their own, so they're meeting in a house! That would be akin to you calling your church a "strip mall church"!!! hehe) I'm not looking to institutionalize house church or codify it in any way. At least that's not my conscious intention.

That's why I really try to catch myself from saying "house church" too much and use the term "simple church" (if you haven't looked back through my archives and read my posts on Simple Church, you might want to. I believe they were back in July or August).

The question for me becomes "what best promotes maturity and growth?" and on that point, I think you and I are walking side by side.

The more you share, the more that I realize I can't even really view you as an institutional church pastor!! ;) Nothing you are doing (except for the very small exception of having a Sunday morning service where you preach) seems to be institutional. You aren't paid as a pastor. You don't own a building as a church. You actually interact a lot with your congregation. You're doing just about everything I would be comfortable with!! ;) So, maybe we need to recruit some hard-line IC pastor to come over to this blog and field my questions! ;) hehe

With regard to my experience with the IC, I acknowledge that there has been hurt in the past. I don't deny that. But rather than just walk away from it, I tried to work through a lot of these questions within the IC.

It's only been just a little over two years ago that I left my last staff position in the IC. In Austin, I was the "minister of music" at a service that had about 400 people regularly attending. (It was a smaller service that was part of a larger church, but that's a long story. That service has since broken off and become its own church entity.) My last service there on staff was the last Sunday in December, 2003. Prior to that, I had been active in IC ministry in various levels and roles since.....well, really, since 1982 when I first started playing the piano in church services as a teenager and occasionally leading the singing, directing the choir, etc. There were a couple periods of time when I was not involved on staff, but still continued to be a part of the churches as a lay person.

During that time, I served in a wide spectrum of churches: Non-denominational Bible churches, independent fundamental Baptist church, Conservative Baptist Assoc. church, Southern Baptist church, seeker-sensitive, seeker-driven, non-denom charismatic, United Pentecostal....and the things I've seen have been in every single one of those environments. So it's not just about being hurt. It's about observing trends, common problems, watching pastors abuse their position in the lives of others (not just me), etc.

The way I see it, the hurts I did experience only forced me to ask the questions that were beginning to burn inside. As I stood on stage "ministering" to people, I felt that something was truly missing in the ministry in that format. There was no opportunity to really help people grow. There was no opportunity for them to easily grow in that environment.

So, I'm not saying that the house church concept is necessarily "the answer". But I do feel that simple church concepts would remove a lot of the barriers to true growth and spiritual maturity that the institution currently has.

I'm open to understanding the place of didactic teaching. But I guess I would still have to ask the question with regard to structuring it: Does didactic teaching have to take place every Sunday morning? Or is it something that we could use only in situations where it is deemed necessary or valuable? It's the kind of institutionalism that says, "This is what we do every Sunday morning" that concerns me. (Not saying that's where you're coming from, but just identifying the issues that are on the table.) There are people (iMonk, for example, if any of you ever read his blog) who believe that you must have preaching, didactic and expository, every time the church gathers, or it's not "church". The institution gives that belief legs to walk on. Reference the lengthy quote I gave by John MacArthur in this post.

Well, these comments are quite lengthy, and I probably need to write another post at some point in the next day or two to bring some of this into focus more.

I guess, in summary, I'm seeking to remove barriers to growth and maturity. And if putting someone on a stage to speak sends an impression that they're doing something we can't do, then I have a concern about it. If building a building and calling it "the house of God" causes people to think that is the best place to meet God, worship God, and hear from God, then I have a concern about it. These are things that we don't see in the New Testament.

RDA commented on the previous post about institutionalism showing up in Acts 6 with the appointment of 7 men to minister to the Hellenistic widows. I don't think that we need to see institutionalism in this, so much as the group recognizing a need and seeking to meet it. However, I know of quite a few churches who, based on that passage, require themselves (by constitutional definition) to have precisely seven deacons! That is institutionalism! It's form taking precedence over function. And that's what I'm concerned about in these discussions.

As I stated in this post, the stated goal in Ephesians 4 is maturity of the body, and specifically ministry being done by the members of the body. If our form interferes with, or presents barriers to that result, then I fear we are wrong in our form. Or, if we don't want to call it "wrong", at least let's acknowledge that it's not the best form.

Well, I tried to pull this comment to a close a while ago, and it's still rambling!! I better quit!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, February 08, 2006 9:27:00 AM  


If I were closer to Dallas, I would definitely visit your church. I would like very much to hear you teach.
I concur with, Steve. You seem to have overcome (or never been held by many) problems that develop or are the baggage of western institutions. Our Father is beautiful and He is reflected in your words in many ways.

By Anonymous ded, at Wednesday, February 08, 2006 9:44:00 AM  

Gents -- I thank you for your kind comments -- However, I am unsure that I did anything special. I probably did them the way I did because I was CLUELESS about establishing a church!

I would love to have both Steve and Ded stop by; I worry that I would not live up to expectations, but I would love to have you by anyway! :-)

We have been beset by many problems, and there is a definitive tendency for me to want to be more traditional, as it is easier than doing it the way we are. By establishing rules and regulations, it is easier to keep people in line... :-)

I am still learning, as are the other leaders in the church, and we will probably continue to learn until we are called home!

I have posted some additional thoughts at my place.

Steve, I so thank you for opening this discussion, it has caused me to examine a lot of aspects of our church, and hopefully I will improve upon some of these things!

By Blogger Ray, at Wednesday, February 08, 2006 3:57:00 PM  

Ray's link doesn't seem to work. The post to which he is referring is found by clicking here.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, February 08, 2006 8:00:00 PM  


Thanks for this post. After reading the quote from MacArthur, it makes me appreciate my pastor even more! He encourages all to bring their Bibles to church, to follow him in his sermons/teachings. I know he studies night and day, listens to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and I don't worry about what he teaches. But, he also wants us to be aware of the truth in scripture for ourselves, to be able to discern what is and what isn't truth. He wants us to be able to stand on our own. But, I don't rely on his knowledge to reach heaven. Nor do I rely on what God gives him for keeping me built up. If God speaks to one, then He can speak to all. It's just that 'all' do not listen or give Him time to speak to them.

By the way, I, too, use Firefox, because Internet Explorer had become a 'thorn in the side'! Thank God HE supplies our need, and not Microsoft! :)

By Blogger Barbara, at Thursday, February 09, 2006 12:22:00 AM  

Thanks for fixing the link Steve...

By Blogger Ray, at Thursday, February 09, 2006 12:33:00 AM  

Barbara, thanks for your comments, and welcome to the blog.

Ray, when you talk about being clueless as to what to do with the church, I am reminded of the Scriptural comment that God uses the "foolish things" to confound the wise. I would rather see your tribe increase than those who think they have "church growth" all figured out and structured into nice, neat acronymns and analogies (not to mention hot-selling books that tout their methods)!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, February 11, 2006 9:47:00 AM  

Thanks Steve -- it is funny that you reference that Scripture, I am using it this week! :-)

I am reminded of another Scripture -- 1st Corinthians 3:6, 7 "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."

By Blogger Ray, at Sunday, February 12, 2006 2:56:00 AM  

Just found this. Thought I would see what's up.

You're prolly right about the pyros...

Umm... let me ask a sideways question about this post... how do you think MacArthur imagines that the congregation member is going to know that his pastor is preaching only the words of God? Wouldn't that necessitate an informed and knowledgeable congregation? Perhaps, since I haven't looked at any context for the quote, he is assuming a dedicated disciple who is holding the preacher to account according to the Word?

Just sayin'. Maybe I'm wrong. (I have found MacArthur to mishandle Scripture from time to time... not that we aren't all guilty of that)

By Blogger Darel, at Wednesday, March 01, 2006 12:12:00 PM  

Darel, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Glad to have you here.

You actually raise a very good question, and one I hadn't thought of with regard to the MacArthur quote. I'll have to really ponder that!

Be blessed, and once again, welcome to the blog.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, March 01, 2006 7:58:00 PM  

Hey, Steve. I tracked down that quote from MacArthur. He's spent almost 330+ pages of text trying to get across his point about the importance of expository preaching, and then in the Frequently Asked Questions section, he answers a few questions. In context, here's the question & answer:
"What is the ultimate key to effective preaching?
Very simply, stay in your study until you know that the Lord will gladly accept what you have prepared to preach because it rightly represents His Word. Let me close with an unforgettable plan suggested by an unknown parishioner as to how to accomplish this."
followed by the quote you gave.

There are certainly a lot of ways we could go with this, but (for the sake of brevity), I'll suggest two. #1) I don't think the point MacArthur is trying to make is that Preachers need to do their homework, and they need to keep working until they know it cold. (For another example of this, I recommend his sermon Insights into a Pastor's Heart, Parts 1 & 2.) #2) What he's not doing, and what I don't think he would ever do, is try to do the thinking for the people. He is committed to expositing God's word, but he's also committed to people experiencing it for themselves (for a cross-reference, you might check out his book "Unleashing God’s Word in Your Life," (formerly "How to Get the Most From God’s Word"), or you can go here, and read his series "How to Get the Most from God's Word."

With all of this said, let me compliment you for a great illustration of the unintended consequences of IE7, and the illustration is valid--despite the hedges the "authorities" set up in our lives, the only way that we can know for sure we are safe is to have firsthand knowledge. And whether we're talking 'net safety or spiritual safety, that's a message that we don't hear often enough.

By Blogger Gummby, at Saturday, March 18, 2006 1:34:00 PM  

Matt, thanks for your comments. I especially appreciate the spirit of the tone with which you wrote them.

I don't necessarily disagree with your comments about MacArthur. Perhaps I should be extremely clear in saying that I believe most pastors are very well-intentioned.

My main point is that, even if the pastor has the best of intentions, and even if the pastor expects the people to check his teaching with Scripture, and to get into the Word for themselves, there are still inherent dangers in the way that the setup sends messages to the layperson that they are 1) somehow less spiritually than the pastor, 2) somehow unable to fully learn God's Word without the pastor's teaching, and 3) somehow meant to absorb what the Pastor has been studying regardless of where they are in their spiritual walk.

I still contend that a monologue-style, physically-elevated preacher, to whom people are expected to be loyal and attentive on a long-term basis, fosters long-term immaturity in the people.

The only acceptable reasons for ever moving away from a pastor's weekly monologue in one's life are: 1) physically moving away, in which case one is expected to find another pastor under whom to sit, 2) if the pastor himself teaches false doctrine, in which case one is expected to find another pastor under whom to sit, or 3) if one finds themselves receiving a "pastoral call" to ministry, in which case, they then become the one under whom others are expected to sit.

I dunno...I'm not gonna fight this point to the death, because I do believe it is not a "primary doctrine", but I think that we could stand to see people encouraged to maturity in such a way that they then become disciple-makers themselves, teaching others, instead of just soaking up the teaching of one person week in and week out.

I recognize that many disagree with that, and that's ok. I'm just sharing my perspective on it.

Thanks for stopping by to comment, and please feel free to add your thoughts on any posts here. You're always welcome here!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Monday, March 20, 2006 12:51:00 PM  

< i post as stairwayoflight on :-) >
What is the ultimate key to effective preaching?

I think this question is very important, and the answer to it equally important. It also has bearing on the original blog discussion, because all believers have our access to God in one Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord. How do we know anything? How do we grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

An interesting illustration will show the fundamental difference between the life of God in a believer, and an example of someone involved in dead religion.

John 17:3 in the "New World Translation," used by Jehovah's Witnesses, says, "This is eternal life--that they may TAKE IN KNOWLEDGE of You, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." A proper rendering of the Greek reads "THAT THEY MAY KNOW YOU, AND JESUS CHRIST whom You have sent."

Those two truths are miles apart. One fault of the "institutional church," is to know man according to the flesh. In the world system, the abilities of your flesh (body & mind) are rated through degrees and honours earned, certificates, acquired skills and training, etc. This enables companies to calculate your worth and give you a job.

In the church, we do not peddle the world's wares. We have tasted "the powers of the age to come," and everything that comes from the Christian is to be God-born, from that heavenly state where the believer is seated triumphantly in the heavenly places with Christ. In the inner man, you have a picture, a vision of God. It may be dim. It may burn brightly with holy fire. It compels you to live out of Christ, and to minister Christ to those around you.

In the "IC," they don't always teach people how to connect with Christ. Our right to a holy encounter with God is reduced to "taking in knowledge" of him--the 5 principles, 10 ways, 3 points and a poem. They don't know how to tremble before a holy God, to rejoice in the joyful sound of his forgiveness. The Spirit's fire within them has all but gone out.

Yet the IC continues to turn to the flesh, to know man "according to the flesh." They send potential leaders to a gym for the mind, the left brain. Many backslide in seminary, making "cemetary" a tragically appropriate nickname. What happens is the believer is slowly but thoroughly coached away from his inner spirit's vision of Christ, into a delight in the abilities of the mind.

Add to knowledge of biblical languages a few courses on preaching and rhetoric, and you have a leader who knows what to say. I don't think the apostles knew what to say. Paul didn't know what to say to God. He had no clue how to pray at all. A man used to establish countless churches, experienced "extraordinary miracles," wrote much of the New Testament and visited the third heaven--he didn't know how to pray? No, he relied on the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:26-28) Paul didn't offer spirituality as an option to the Christian. Oh, you can become spiritual and intimate with God if you want, or just be a leader and operate and lead out of your own understanding and intellect. No, all ministry is to be of Christ, from Christ himself, ministered through the conduit of the believer's life to another by the Holy Spirit.

Now, you can't assign marks to that can you? You can't put a number on the convicting power of God's holy presence, for example. But you say, "Yes, they are graded on their mind, but many schools pray for students to know Christ by the Spirit as well." In the end, I believe that to acknowledge the power and presence of God, and to lean on left-brain abilities for ministry training, is an ox-cart. "Uzzah" means strength, and we are using human strength to "stabilize" the ark of God's glory within this "ox-cart" system. We are asking for the convicting power to be added to what we presently have. Well if you know the story, God struck Uzzah and he died. God wanted the ark carried not on some ingenious device, but on the humble shoulders of some levites. Yes it takes time. Yes it is hard. No, if you resist Christ in the inside of you, you will not have much to give away. There will be no anointing, no holy fire igniting your quiet words.

But God's power doesn't work like that. Some will never see the power until it is too late. Jesus' one power is the power he has even to subject all things to himself. Thy will not mine, be done. His convicting Spirit is to be the foundation and substance of all we do, all gathering, bible study and preaching. And he uses the foolish things to shame the wise.

Its interesting, nowhere does the Bible tell the believer to use "common sense," or reason and intellect, to discover truth. We have the bible but we are not told to study the bible. We are to meditate on the bible, which includes singing, chanting the scriptures like poetry or rap. Praying the scriptures. Prayerful reading, looking to the Spirit for understanding, is key. Jesus instructed the disciples during the 40 days after his resurrection. He was raised from the dead, and taught them. Yet he taught them through the Spirit, because otherwise they would have had to absorb the experience and draw conclusions in only the power of their flesh, their mind. No, the mind must be anointed, and so for their benefit Jesus ministered to them in the Spirit. Of such encounters with the Lord of scripture, we could say, "were not our hearts burning within us...while he was opening the scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32) These disciples were conscious of spiritual transmission, not just a regurgitation of facts Jesus had in his mind.

So let us study to become fools, children who know nothing and can boldy enter the kingdom and learn from God, knowing and experiencing God first-hand. If God will make me a prophet, I will not be a parrot. I want God's holy fire, and thats it!

Oh, btw--I don't know if I mentioned I enjoy preaching from time to time :-)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thursday, August 10, 2006 4:33:00 PM  

< still stairwayoflight >

i must qualify my comment by saying i in no way endorse "the new world tranlation" of the bible. it is a heretical perversion of the scriptures, stripped of much of the truth in the original manuscripts, and to follow it will lead to legalism and spiritual death.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thursday, August 10, 2006 4:40:00 PM  

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