About Jesus Steve Sweetman
Journey Through The
The following is an
accurate portrayal of my life in relation to church.
I donít doubt for a minute that our lifeís experiences affect
what we believe and how we live. Iíve
seen this to be true. For me, since 1970, Iíve attempted to allow
Jesus and the Bible to mold my thinking and influence my actions.
In this process comes the conflict between the traditions of men
and the truth of Scripture. So,
this is my story - the search for truth in the midst of tradition.
This account could also
be seen as a brief historical account of parts of the modern day church
You may or may not recall
it, but next to Ronald
Little did I or anyone
know at the time that within a couple of years of my birth two major
physical problems would be detected in me.
One of these deficiencies would bring both fear and joy to my
parents, along with the salvation of my father.
One problem was noticed
when I was about two years old, and believe it or not, I do recall the
incident. My mother dropped
a penny on the carpet of similar colour to the penny.
She asked me to pick it up and when I fumbled around she got a
little irritated with me. I
was unable to see the penny against the penny coloured carpet. My
momís friend suggested that I should see a doctor who consequently
diagnosed me as legally blind, meaning, Iím not totally blind but
I grew up in a time where
our neighbour really did have a white picket fence, and women seldom
wore dresses above their knees, and next to never wore slacks. My mother
never wore ďmenís clothesĒ as she put it until she had a bad
stroke at the age of 75. Women dressing like men were sinful according
to Deuteronomy 22:5, which was one of 613 rules found in the Law of
Moses that my mom was taught to obey.
If I had been smart at the age of two I could have asked the
pastor why the church didnít promote all 613 rules.
How did it decide which ones to ignore?
As Christians we often fail to properly understand how to
interpret the Old Testament as New Testament Christians, but maybe that
was the light of truth my momís church had at the time.
I recall seeing toy tiger
tails flying out of car gas tank doors back then.
My dad got his tiger tail with the purchase of
twenty five cents a gallon gas.
I watched the Flintstoneís on a black and white TV, and
listened to hockey games on a little transistor radio. What I could have
done with a computer and internet back then.
My parents rented a two bedroom house for a grand sum of $45.00 a
month in the 1950ís. So,
when I say it was a different world back then, it really was.
My dad wasnít a
Christian. His love was
trains and country music, which kind of go together, donít you think?
Dad worked for the railroad and played steel guitar in a country
band. The band had its own radio show and played at dances, something my
mom detested since that was ďworldlyĒ.
I guess I got my guitar playing from my dad, although he had more
raw talent than me. I really
believe he could have made it to
My mother was a Christian
in the tradition of what was called ďthe Holiness MovementĒ.
This tradition equates being holy with following certain rules,
and by the way, the word holy in relation to God means to be set apart
just for Him. Some rules
could be found in the Bible while others were made up by the church.
If you werenít knowledgeable youíd have thought that all
these rules came directly from God because thatís the way they were
taught to people like my mom. So,
my mom couldnít wear slacks, and my dad couldnít play secular music.
This was the life I was born into. The Holiness Movement was my
introduction into what I now call ďthe Ecclesiastical MazeĒ, and a
maze it is.
A couple summers back a
little boy actually got lost in a large corn-field maze in our area. It
took two days to find the little guy.
His parents were terrified. My
heart goes out to people like this little boy who get lost in our
ďecclesiastical mazeĒ, and many do get lost.
When I was young there
were lots of things I wasnít allowed to do because they were sinful.
Other things I had to do in order to keep my salvation, like
attend church meetings twice on Sundays, and do quiet and restful things
Sunday afternoons since Sunday were the Sabbath.
My mom and dad usually slept.
That was a pretty quiet thing to do.
I never found out until later that Sunday really wasnít the
Sabbath and that Christians werenít obligated to obey Sabbath rules
found in the Law of Moses. ďChrist
is the end of the Law (Romans 10:4).
Iím not sure why my Sunday School teacher never told us that
the Sunday Sabbath rule was just a church tradition.
Maybe she didnít know that herself.
I wasted a lot of good Sunday afternoons figuring out how to do
Our English word
ďecclesiasticalĒ comes directly from the Greek word ďecclesiaĒ,
meaning, ďa group of people who are called and separated from a larger
group of people for a specific purposeĒ.
"Ecclesia" is used in a variety of ways in the Greek
New Testament. In Acts 21:35
itís used in reference to an unruly mob of people.
In Matthew 16:18
"ecclesia" is translated as "church" when Jesus
said, ďI will build my church". I
view our English translation of ďecclesiaĒ as church to be
misleading. The word
"church", as it's understood today, and as it was understood
when the King James Bible was written, does not properly represent
Jesusí understanding of ďecclesiaĒ.
To be precise, Jesus
would not have spoken the above statement in Greek.
He would have spoken it in either Hebrew or Aramaic, two closely
related languages. He would
have used the Hebrew word "synagoge", not
Jesus and those listening to Him, "synagoge" meant the
community of Jews who were in proper relationship with Yahweh and each
other. Jesus was simply
saying that He would create His own community of people, set apart in
proper relationship with Him and each other.
Whether you use the word
ecclesia, synagoge, or church, the emphasis must be on a community of
people in proper relationship with Jesus and with each other.
The emphasis should not be on the hierarchical organizational
structure we have today that resembles a Fortune Five Hundred Company.
For this reason, I prefer "ecclesia" to be translated
as the "community of Christ" instead of "church" in
the New Testament.
At least twice a week my
mom would take us ďto churchĒ. Of
course, Christians canít go to church because they are the church.
You can't go to a place when you are that place. Words
are important. In Matthew
12:34 Jesus said that our lips speak whatís in our hearts.
So, if you claim to go to church, I believe you think church is a
place you can go to.
Every Sunday Sabbath,
which by the way isn't the Sabbath as seen in the Ten Commandments,
weíd head off to the House of God, as it was called back then.
Of course, nowhere in the New Testament is a building called the
house of God. In Act 7:48
Stephen actually said that God does not live in building made by men.
Anyway, the building these Holiness Movement people gathered in
was a simple unimpressive wooden structure, nothing like the impressive
stone structure with a tall steeple across the street.
As a child I shared a
bedroom with my brother. I
always wanted my own bedroom. So,
it was only natural for me to think that God would prefer the big stone
building across the street over our simple wooden building.
There was, however, one thing we had that the liberals didn't
have in their fancy building across the street, and that was a sand box
for us kids. I liked that.
It was obvious to
everyone that my dad
My mom gathered with
those who were called ďholiness peopleĒ.
They were purposely unsophisticated.
Men didnít wear ties because ties were worldly.
Actually, I like that one. The
poor old liberal men across the street choked themselves with their ties
tied tightly around their necks.
couldnít wear rings. That
presented a problem for my sister years later when she asked our
holiness minister uncle to perform her wedding ceremony.
He declined because of the ring on her finger.
Her fiancť asked his Catholic priest to perform the ceremony but
he declined because my sister wasnít Catholic.
Such is life in the ecclesiastical maze.
Paul told women in 1
Timothy 2:9 not to wear jewelry, which was the reason why holiness women
couldn't ware jewelry. Paul
didnít want women to wear jewelry back then because prostitutes wore
jewelry to help lure their clients.
That's not exactly the case today.
Paulís point is simple. Women were not to dress like a
prostitute. A little lesson
in history goes a long way in understanding the Bible.
For the same reason stated above, in 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul told women not to braid their hair. In 1 Corinthians 11: 3 - 16 Paul encouraged women to have long hair. I could never figure this one out. Holiness women did have long hair as Paul suggested, but, they braided their hair, put it in a bun on top of their heads, defeating the purpose for long hair.
Thatís a brief glance at the Holiness Movement where I began my journey through the ecclesiastical maze. This particular denomination is called the ďStandard Church of CanadaĒ. I have no that those people were sincere, something I believe is lacking in many Christians today. I just question the emphasis on staying saved by following man made rules. It's not New Testament teaching.
- We Move To The Free
I will carry on with my
story, but Iíd like to explain something first.
If you think that pointing out negatives in our churches isnít
constructive, Iíd suggest you consider how negative God was when He
spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament.
If you were an Israeli
and took His words to heart, youĎd feel pretty bad, which was His
intention. In 2 Corinthians
7:8-10 the Apostle Paul said, ďIf I brought you sorrow Ö
I am glad Ö because your sorrow led you to repentance Ö as
God intended. Godly sorrow
brings repentance that leads to salvationĒ.
It is clear to me that God does speak negatively at times,
causing us sorrow that should lead us to repentance.
Jesus was negative at times too.
Just ask any Pharisee and heíll tell you that.
The Apostle Peter said
that ďIt is time for judgment to begin with the family of God (1 Peter
4:17). It's clear that God
does judge, or disciplines, His people.
Just read the seven letters to the seven communities of Christ in
Revelation 2 and 3 and you'll see that to be true.
Of course, many of us don't think it's us that need discipline.
It's the liberals, or maybe the Baptists or the Pentecostals, but
definitely not us.
Paul told the Corinthians
to ďexamine themselves to see if we are really in the faithĒ (2
Corinthians 13:5). If we can
bring about change because of self examination, Godís discipline will
be less severe. Such
examination forces us to deal with our negatives.
I donít write these
words out of bitterness. I
have many fond memories as I think about my journey through the
ecclesiastical maze, yet the truths of Scripture often conflict with our
traditions. Many donít
feel this conflict because they donít take Biblical truth seriously.
Now back to my story.
For some reason my mom left the Standard Church to be a part of
the Free Methodist Church that actually met in the basement of a house
at the time. I know why the
word ďFreeĒ precedes the word ďMethodistĒ, and itís not
because members didnít have to tithe.
Itís because they didnít have to pay for their pews as was
the practice with some other Methodist churches.
I wonder if the Apostle Paul ever thought about making pews -
Talking about pews, I
found myself jumping over some pews along with scores of others at a
Kathryn Kuhlman meeting in
In the basement of a
house my mom's Free Methodist friends built a little platform about six
inches off the floor and covered it with a dark red carpet.
Along the edge of the platform was a railing that they used as an
altar. As a child I recall
the word "altar" from Bible stories. It
was a place where animals were burned as a sacrifice to God.
I donít recall any burning animals on this altar.
A pulpit was placed on the platform to preach from.
I soon learned that a platform, an altar, and a pulpit, were a
necessity in order to be considered a real church.
Iíll keep looking, but Iíve yet to find supporting Scripture
for that one. To be honest,
I've already looked. There
is no Scriptural support for that one.
mother married my father he wasnít a Christian. I
donít know why a Christian would marry a non-Christian, or maybe I do
know why. Sometimes hormones
usurp our better Biblical judgment, or, there may be other reasons.
Still, it's not a good idea.
Whatever the case, my mom became "unequally yoked" as
her King James Bible put it, with my non-believing dad.
Apostle Paul told us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers in 2
Corinthians 6:14. One of my
Sunday school teachers interpreted Paul's statement to mean that a white
man couldnít marry a black woman.
That didn't sound right to me back then and it certainly doesn't
sound right to me today. Paul
was speaking specifically of not being united with unbelievers, not
those of a different ethnicity. Examples
of being unequally yoked would be in a marriage relationship or a
business relationship. No
wonder James 3:1 tells us that there shouldn't be many teachers among
I was the
second child born from my mother. Early
in my life I could be seen eating tons of sweets and drinking an
abnormal amount of water. I
used to take cookies to bed with me so I could snack during the night.
If I drank as much water today as I did back then, I'd either
require a catheter or spend most of the day in that bathroom.
abnormities suggested that
recall staying at Sick Childrenís Hospital.
I remember the sickening sweet taste of glucose they forced down
my throat. I recall blood
being taken from my thumbs, the kids play-room, and looking out the
window from high above to the street below.
would have ended at the age of five if not for Jesus visiting us in the
basement of the house where my mom's Free Methodist church friends
gathered each Sunday morning. I
vividly recall that day. My
mom ordered my dad to be there. My
dad complied. So, after the
sermon, I was asked to kneel at the little altar I previously told you
about. Our lady pastor
anointed me with oil and laid her hand on my head as it says in James
5:14. Another lady then
cried out to the Lord. I
mean she literally cried. It
was an emotional prayer, straight from her heart.
She told me later in life that she had always had a special
burden for me.
feel any kind of special sensation
hasn't drunk any water," she exclaimed to my dad.
"Jesus healed Stevie," she insisted.
with probably some skepticism, said that if I was really healed the
doctors would confirm it. So, once again, we boarded a train and headed
doctors were amazed. After a
thorough examination they could find no trace of Juvenile Diabetes
within me. They admitted
that a miracle had taken place. They
just didn't attribute it to Jesus, but that's okay. We all knew,
including my dad, who made me better.
My parentís fear turned to joy, but best of all, my dad gave
his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. This
miracle certainly had eternal implications.
meeting Jesus in a basement is what I call church. Can
you believe that? Well, I
certainly can. That's my
kind of church.
I met up
with this precious lady pastor who laid her hands on me about 45 years
later. She told me that the
time spend in that basement were precious days.
Her face lit up as she spoke of my healing, but her joyous
expression faded as she told me how things changed after the church
building was built. Fund
raising, the building project, and the maintenance of the building,
seemed to drain the life out of the people.
These words from a traditionalist spoke volumes to me.
left the sand-box in the
to me that ever since the
traveled my way through the ecclesiastical maze I estimate that IĎve
attended more than 11,000 church meetings to date.
Iíve certainly embraced the admonition of Hebrews 10:25 to not
forsake assembling with the saints.
That being said, nowhere in this verse or in the Bible does it
tell Christians when or where to meet. 1 Corinthians 14, however, does
tell us what to do when we meet, something much of the western church
ignores. It's thus clear to
me that which we call church in the west majors on what the Bible
doesnít say about church instead of majoring on what it does say.
process of replacing Biblical truth with tradition weíve Christianized
the Jewish Sabbath by moving it to Sunday, and just for the record,
nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to meet on Sunday.
One result of this shift is the prominence of the Sunday sermon.
1978 I preached one of these Sunday sermons to a Pentecostal
congregation. I asked them
if they had no regularly scheduled meetings and no building to gather
in, would they still be a church. In
traditional Sunday sermon fashion, I gave no opportunity for a response.
I've since learned that a good hermeneutical based Bible study
around a kitchen table is a more effective way to educate the saints.
provides no dialogue, no chance to ask a question, and no opportunity to
challenge what's being taught. However,
these things can take place when a preacher steps away from the pulpit
to build relationships with those he is supposed to be caring for.
When the preacher humbles himself and serves God's people in this
capacity he can effectively help implement the truth of Scripture in the
lives of the believers. It's
called discipleship. It may
be a little messy at times, and it's harder to do than simply preaching,
but if that's the route Jesus chose, it should be the route we choose.
Yes, Jesus did teach the masses, but He didn't commission the
masses to go into the world as His representatives.
That job was given to the disciples who He spent countless, and
I'm sure frustrating, hours, working out God's will in their lives.
brings me to the Greek word ďeuangelizoĒ that's translated as
"preach" in the New Testament.
This word simply means ďto proclaim or speakĒ.
Itís thus a mistake to understand preaching exclusively in
terms of a sermon. You can
preach, that is speak, Biblical truth to anyone in any place and at any
course, another reason for the Sunday service is the income a church
derives from it. Statistics
show that if people don't give on a Sunday morning, they just don't
give, and if they don't give, the administration of church affairs
becomes a financial frustration.
speaking, church is not meetings and buildings.
Church is the living Body of Christ where one individual body
part is personally joined in friendship to another as 1 Corinthians 12
teaches. Each body part has
a job to do on its own as well as a job to do with the body part to whom
it's joined. So, when we do
gather, wherever or whenever that may be, we all participate as 1
Corinthians 14 teaches. It's
a pretty dysfunctional and disjointed body when only a hand and a foot
do their job while the rest sit in pews watching. I
know many won't grasp the full implication of this because our western
tradition has hijacked New Testament thinking concerning church, but
that doesn't change the fact that church is the living Body of Christ
with individual body parts joined to other body parts in the service of
speaking of body parts in the Body of Christ I'm reminded of Gary S.
Paxton. He was a Christian
singer in the Jesus People Movement of the 1970ís with an
untraditional approach to his ministry.
He felt like a church castaway, or, an armpit in the Body of
Christ, as he put it. Being
from the same mold myself, I can appreciate his feelings, but that's
okay. The Apostle Paul spoke
about people like us when he said that those parts of the body that we
think are less honourable we treat with special honor.
The parts that are unpresentable, we treat with special modesty
(1 Corinthians 12:22-23). Being
an armpit in Jesus' body isnít so bad after-all.
stated in the last chapter, as a young armpit in Jesus' body I was
healed of Juvenile Diabetes in a Sunday morning meeting.
So you'll be relieved to know that I don't discount Sunday
meetings altogether. I'm
just saying that thereís more to church than meetings and buildings,
something the first generation Christians knew better than us.
For them, most church activities occurred outside of meetings and
buildings, and, when they did meet; their gatherings were based on
My dad lived outside of church when he married mom. He traveled the countryside playing steel guitar in a country band. When he gave his life to Jesus he quit the band. The sad fact of the matter was that the Evangelical church at the time didn't welcome his guitars. That left my dad's talent out in the cold, until for one reason or another the guitar got saved in the late 1950's. Finally my dad got to play guitar in church. So, he packed us all in the car and off we went. Many Sundays were spent in various churches as dad and his friends played and sang their hearts out. Everywhere dad went he'd tell the story of how his little Stevie, as I was affectionately called, was healed of Juvenile Diabetes, and, everywhere we went I felt like hiding under the pew from embarrassment.
I got to tell dad's favourite story on his behalf just minutes before he passed away. It wasn't in a church meeting this time. It was in his hospital room. Forty five minutes before dad went to be with Jesus a neighbour came to visit him. Dad was too far gone to talk, but I'm sure he heard every word I said as I repeated how dad gave his life to Jesus because of my healing. As I spoke, or should I say as I preached, one tiny tear slowly slipped down dad's cheek. I can only conclude that in his spirit, dad was overjoyed to hear the story one last time as he faded away into eternity. What a way to depart from this life. My wife and I then laid hands on dad and asked Jesus to take him away. Within five minutes dad was in heaven. Now that's some kind of church meeting.
Being legally blind made
my days spent in school difficult. For
example, in grade five a replacement teacher totally humiliated me.
When he discovered I couldn't see well he pretended to be blind.
He stumbled around the classroom and when he bumped into the
chalkboard the class broke out in hysteric laughter.
I dropped my head in despair.
From start to finish, school was tough, but I did manage to
The highlight of high
school was a Bible club led by my physics teacher.
During the first week of high school an attractive girl invited
me to attend the club. I
certainly couldn't refuse her personal invitation.
Iím sorry to report that my first day at the club was her last
day. That was a bit
My physics teacher was an
example of one who functioned as a member in the Body of Christ.
He was more than one who just attended church.
He mentored me and countless other young Christians, all of which
took place, not in what we call church, but in school and extra
curricular activities. He
was heavily criticized for his involvement in our lives because his
efforts at discipleship occurred outside the traditional church.
Although I was shy at
school, I wasnít shy in our
I too was criticized in
the early 1970ís for my involvement in what was called the Jesus
People Movement. My friends
and I would share Jesus in parks, bars, schools, colleges, street
corners, coffee houses, and wherever.
We'd have prayer meetings in homes, fields, and anywhere we could
find a place to pray. I used
to share these things in what was called testimony meetings in the
Sunday evening service of our church. One
time I was asked why I didn't do these things within our church.
I had one answer. The church wouldnít let me do them.
For example, one day a couple of us were praying in a Sunday
school room. When my friend
was overheard praying in tongues, our prayer meeting was abruptly shut
down. Besides that, going to
a bar, even if it was to preach the gospel, was certainly unacceptable.
Why preaching the gospel was relegated to a Sunday meeting was
always hard for me to figure out.
On another occasion a few
of us were harshly rebuked by our pastorís wife for playing cards in
the church building basement. As
I followed her to the door I persisted in asking her what was wrong with
playing cards. I really did
want to know. She really
didn't want to talk to me. I
kept walking with her to the door hoping she'd answer me.
She just told me that her husband would have a heart attack if he
knew we were playing cards in the church.
As she left me standing at the door of what she called church,
she missed a prime opportunity to reach out to me on a personal level.
As a youth, that didn't make me feel very good about church.
Ironically, the lady who
took a personal interest in us youth had a daughter.
It was at camp-meeting in July 1966 when as a fifteen year old
guy I fell in love with this lady's daughter.
That summer mini-skirts were all the rage among teen-age girls,
something she was not allowed to wear.
So instead of wearing a mini-skirt she'd roll up the waistline of
her skirt, effectively changing her skirt into a mini-skirt.
This all ended when her mother embarrassed her in front of me by
demanding she roll down the waistline of her skirt. I
felt so bad for her.
Things equaled out when
my mother found us sitting on a park bench around nine o'clock one
evening. ďStevie, get back
to the cottage. Itís way
too late for you to be outĒ, she said in a scolding tone of voice.
At the age of fifteen, Stevie wasnít my preferred name, and
nine o'clock didnít seem too late.
It all became irrelevant when the next day I discovered the joy
of my heart sitting with another guy in the evening meeting.
It was so disheartening. My
first female relationship lasted a grand total of three days.
In 1979 I spoke one
Sunday morning to the fellowship I was a part of concerning the
importance of our children. I
sang the Oak Ridge Boys song entitled ďThank God For KidsĒ.
The pastor who oversaw our local group happened to be visiting us
As far as I'm concerned,
we must view church in relational terms, not organizational terms. It
only takes one or two members in the Body of Christ to have a heart for
the youth. You really
donít need a building and a program approved by head office.
My physics teacher proved that to be true.
So, if you feel your youth need some special attention, itís
your job to provide the attention. Scripturally
speaking, the one seeing the need is responsible to supply the need as I
believe is part of the implication of James 4:17.
The thing that benefitted
me most as a Christian youth was the personal involvement with my
physics teacher. History
shows that not all participants in youth groups continue in the faith as
adults. From my observation,
however, young people who are personally mentored, or cared for, stand a
good chance of keeping their faith as adults.
Thank God that Glen Shaver, my physics teacher, showed such a
personal interest in me.
In the Evangelical world
in which I was raised the altar call was an essential element in
preaching the gospel. This
approach to leading people to Jesus was a product of the Second Great
Awakening that swept across
I believe that many
people have come to Jesus in response to an altar call.
However, I also believe that many people think they are saved
because they've repeated a short sinner's prayer at an altar when in
fact they may not have gotten saved.
One is only saved when he is compelled by the Holy Spirit, not
just the preacher, to repent of his sins, hand his life over to Jesus,
and receive the Holy Spirit into his life.
Upon entering the
Evangelical world when my dad gave his life to Jesus in 1956, he
experienced many altar calls that were accompanied by a legalistic style
teaching. A few years
after dad's conversion he became a secret smoker, which back then was a
sin that could send you to hell. One
Sunday school teacher actually told me that a smoker could not be a
Christian. To add to such
legalism, we were advised not to associate with Baptists because they
believed in eternal security. We
were also discouraged worshiping with Pentecostals because they prayed
in tongues. For this reason
mom got quite upset with dad when he accepted an invitation to play his
guitar in a Pentecostal church. I
believe such legalism accompanied by a poor understanding of the nature
of the Body of Christ didn't help dad's new life as a Christian.
Eventually dad stopped
attending Sunday meetings. He'd
drive mom, my sister, my brother, and myself, to the meetings and pick
us up when they ended. During
my dadís absence from church our congregation installed a sound system
in the sanctuary. If you are
familiar with sound systems you know they can do strange things at
times. One of these times
was during an altar call when a voice besides our pastorís voice was
heard over the sound system's speakers saying, "Breaker breaker
good buddy - got your ears on"?
To my momís dismay, the sound system picked up dad talking on
his mobile CB radio in our car during the most sensitive part of the
meeting. Although I thought
it was a bit funny, mom wasnít impressed.
A few years later, on New
Years 1975 while praying in my parent's bedroom the Holy Spirit
enveloped me in a powerful way. As
in a vision, my parentís bed became a casket.
Jesus told me that my dad was spiritually dead.
That I already knew, but what I didn't know is what He told me
next. Dad would return to
Jesus in the middle of June that year. Iím
not a prophet specializing in dates and times, but by the time the
middle of June came around, dad did return to Jesus.
The problem with
confrontational, emotional, Finney style, altar calls, along with
traditional legalistic teaching, is that they stir up unproductive
feelings of guilt, which both dad and I struggled with.
I now realize that guilt is not a feeling.
It's a position in which we stand before God, our Judge.
We are all guilty sinners whether we feel guilty or not.
From my experience, feelings associated with guilt only hinder
one maturing as a Christian.
Another thing I realize
now that I didn't realize in my youth is that thereís only one way to
get saved, one way to stay saved, and one way to get unsaved.
I got saved by trusting my life with Jesus.
I stay saved by trusting my life with Jesus, and, I lose my
salvation only when I stop trusting my life with Jesus.
It's that simple. All
the humanistic rules I was taught to obey in order to maintain my
salvation really don't keep me saved.
It's by faith from beginning to end (Romans 1:17).
Another thing I realize
now is that our job in the process of introducing people to Jesus is to
pray for them and preach the gospel to them.
The Holy Spirit's job is to speak to their hearts and convict
them of sin. We interfere
with the Holy Spirit by trying to do His job with our highly
confrontational and emotional altar calls. It's
not our job to dig around in their hearts to make them believe the words
One day all my confusion
over these things ended for good. It
was a Saturday night in mid February 1970 when I turned on our TV to
watch Hockey Night In Canada. The
TV was set on channel 8. The
hockey game was on channel 11. We
didnít have remote controls back then so I had to manually turn a dial
from channel 8, to channel 9, to channel 10, and thatís where I got
stuck. I never did make it
to channel 11.
I felt really let down
when I saw Billy Graham preaching away on channel 10.
I wanted to watch hockey, but how could a Christian pass Billy
Graham by to watch a hockey game. I
listened to Billy Graham expounding on being a luke-warm Christian from
Revelation 3:15 to 17. This
had to have been a divine appointment for me.
I'd heard many sermons like this before, but this was different.
The Holy Spirit, not Graham, carried the Word of God to my heart.
Upon going to bed that evening I knelt by my bed.
In a five second unemotional prayer, I simply asked Jesus to
forgive me, assuming I wasn't already forgiven.
Unlike all of the emotional trips to an altar, the results of
this five second simple prayer were evident.
I woke up the next day knowing I didn't lose my salvation over
night. From that point on
I've had no feelings associated with guilt.
I live the Christian life because I want to, not because it
relieves me of feelings associated with guilt.
I finally came of age, so
to speak. No longer was I
clinging to my parentís faith and their church.
I would find my own way through the ecclesiastical maze.
Whether right or wrong,
what I recall most about the Evangelical gospel message I heard as a
youth was its focus on having our sins forgiven so we could go to Heaven
when we die. I believe many
of the songs we sang prove that to be the case. Of
course, there were some hymns like "All To Jesus I Surrender"
that were both the exception and exceptional.
That particular hymn clearly states what becoming a Christian is
Since the primary theme
of the Evangelical gospel concerned getting our sins forgiven and going
to Heaven I call it the "gospel to get".
I'm not minimizing forgiveness of sins and Heaven.
Believe me, I'm not. If
we exclude other aspects of the gospel, new converts will enter
salvation with a "what can I get from Jesus" mentality.
Biblically speaking, salvation is just as much about what I give
to Jesus as what I get from Him. As
a matter of fact, what I give to Jesus is fundamental in becoming a
The Greek word
"pistis" supports what I've just said.
"Pistis" is translated as "faith" and
"believe" in the New Testament.
It simply means "to trust".
I suggest that if you replace the word "faith" with the
word "trust" as you read your New Testament you'll understand
Biblical faith much better. So,
"pistis", or "faith", as it's applied to Jesus means
that we give our lives to Him which results in our salvation.
One reason for this
gospel to get as seen
John Wesley (1703 -
1791), the hero of the
"sanctify" means to be "set apart".
When associated with Jesus it means to be set apart in total
dedication to Jesus. This is
why those embracing this doctrine say that you first accept Jesus as
Saviour and then you accept Him as Lord of your life at some later date.
For this reason, as a youth I felt that most of us would never
attain to such sinless perfection. I
felt stuck in a spiritual state of limbo.
I was saved and on my way to Heaven, but, being sinless, well,
that would always be out of my reach.
Therefore, I was glad to be saved and on my way to Heaven, which
by the way. I hoped would never take place before I enjoyed my honeymoon
night. That was the hope of
Christian youth like me who did not believe in pre-marital sex.
In Acts 2:36, the Apostle
Peter pointed out that Jesus is both Lord and Christ.
We all agree with that. As
Lord He is God Almighty. As
Christ, He is the Saviour for all who trust their lives with Him.
I believe it's an error to teach a first and second work of
grace. When it comes to
Jesus being both Lord and Christ, I suggest we think of it this way.
Because Jesus is Lord, He has become our Saviour.
That places the emphasis on embracing Jesus for who He is, that
is, He is both Lord and Saviour. That
means we cannot embrace Him as Saviour without embracing Him as Lord.
One is saved when he
hands his entire life over to Jesus.
That's not a second work of grace.
It's the first work of grace.
Salvation is more than trusting Jesus for your eternal destiny.
Salvation is trusting Jesus with your very life, right here in
the present. When we do
that, we are saved. From
then on, from one step of faith to the next step of faith (Romans 1:17),
from one stage of glory to the next stage of glory (2 Corinthians 3:18),
we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
In other words, sanctification is a process, not a one time
experience known as Entire Sanctification.
If all we understand
about becoming a Christian is what we can get from Jesus, we start out
on the wrong foot. Weíll
be trapped in the gospel to get, hoping for the next thing we can get
from Him. From my
understanding of the Bible, salvation is first and foremost a matter of
what we give to Jesus, not what we get from Him. What we give to Jesus
is our lives as the old hymn says. "All
To Jesus I Surrender".
My mom was not happy with
God is sovereign and He
does visit His people on certain special occasions.
On the other hand, He, by His Spirit, lives among His people all
of the time. This is one of
a number of dichotomies we find in the Bible.
God lives with us and He visits us, all at the same time.
One example of God
visiting His people was seen on the Day of Pentecost.
Other examples are, the Great Awakenings in Europe and
In the summer of 1970
Jesus visited a dozen of us Free Methodist youth in a lakeside cottage.
We expected to have a weekend of fun but to our surprise the Holy
Spirit visited us in a powerful way.
We were in joyous ecstasy for a couple of hours as we were
saturated with the presence of the Holy Spirit. For
me, this was amazing. I had
many emotional experiences at an altar, but I had never experienced this
kind of joyous ecstasy. This
was a sovereign visitation of our Lord.
visitation of God in my life was in March 1971.
My friends Jim and Marlene Williams took myself and two other
Free Methodist youths to Christ Centre, in Lexington,
Talking about rock music,
back in 1969 I bought the "Best of Tommy James and the Shondells"
album. I gave it to my
friend Rusty for his birthday. It
caused quite a stir in our church congregation because it was a secular
rock album. What made things
worse was that I gave it to Rusty in what was called the House of God
You might think that the
adults in the church would have preferred us listening to Christian rock
music instead of secular rock music, but that wasnít the case.
Rock music, whether secular or sacred, was sinful.
It's my opinion that any particular style of music is neither
good nor evil. I remind you
that many of the melodies of the old hymns of the church were borrowed
from popular bar-room songs of their day. Larry
Norman, a Jesus People rock singers/songwriter expressed my thinking
concerning Christian rock music in his song entitled, "Why Should
The Devil Have All The Good Music."
I believe the Jesus
People Movement was a valid visitation of the Lord.
Yes, like all visitations of God, humans tend to mess things up a
bit, but that doesn't disqualify the movement's validity.
If that were the case, you'd have to disqualify all revival
movements over the centuries. Christ
Centre was a vital witness for Jesus in
Prior to meeting Jesus,
the young people at
Iím now of an older
generation. Itís hard for
me to believe that my generation is on its way out.
I realize that I might be seen as glorifying the good old days of
my youth, but I'm not. The
Jesus People Movement brought a freshness to my life that just wasn't
there before, and by the way, it has never left me.
Church might not have been stale for my parents but it was for
me. For this reason I
believe each generation of Christians should be allowed to express their
love for Jesus in their own special way, that is, as long as their
expression of Jesus doesnít depart from Scripture.
For me and my friends our new expression of faith was heavily
God is sovereign. He can do whatever He wants, wherever He wants, and whenever He wants. He chose to reveal His Holy Spirit to me in a new and refreshing way in an old school building far away from home. That week in Kentucky was a life changing sovereign move of God in my life.
It was in a Tuesday night
meeting at Christ
There was a lull in the
singing. Then, quietly, a
few people began to sing in tongues.
Others soon joined in until this heavenly multi-language melody
filled the room. I had never
heard anything like this before. I
was used to singing from a hymn book.
Singing with one's spirit, as the Apostle Paul put it in 1
Corinthians 14:15, is something altogether different than singing from a
Whatever these people
had, I wanted it. I was told
they had the Baptism in the Spirit.
Once that was explained to me, those in leadership laid their
hands on me, praying that I'd receive this baptism.
Being a bit nervous, I was told that nervousness is normal when
one meets the Bride Groom, meaning Jesus, for the first time.
I was anticipating a
heavenly visitation, but it never arrived.
Nothing happened. In
my disappointment I was told to receive the Baptism in the Spirit by
faith. In other words, I had
to believe I received something when in fact I hadn't.
I've never believed in this kind of mental gymnastics.
Either you receive something or you don't.
One thing I realize now
is that my nervousness had nothing to do with meeting Jesus for the
first time as was suggested. I
had already met Him. I was
nervous because of the expectations of a heavenly visitation, and I just
didn't know what that would be like.
I was told that I'd
receive the Holy Spirit when I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Now that I've studied this through, I realize why nothing
happened to me in response to our prayers.
If the expectation was for me to receive the Holy Spirit, that
could not have happened. I
had already received Him into my life when I gave my life to Jesus.
How could I receive Him when I already had Him?
The one thing I didn't have was the gift of tongues.
That would come later.
I was raised in a
non-Pentecostal Evangelical church where I was told that tongues were
not for me. It was devilish.
I was encouraged to seek the giver of the gifts, not the gifts.
I understood that, but, if Jesus was passing out gifts, I didn't
see any harm in standing in line, hoping to get one.
While I was in Kentucky, my friend Robert Bailey was at Elim Bible Institute, in
During my search for
tongues I noticed some abuses. One
time while at an altar of a church I overheard the pastor telling a man
kneeling beside me to repeat his words of tongues.
The pastor slowly spoke in tongues while this man attempted to
repeat what he heard. On
another occasion I was told to step out in faith by making up my own
tongues. If I would just
invent a few wacky words of my own, Jesus would acknowledge my faithful
attempt and give me the real thing.
To my credit, I never copied someone else's tongues and I didn't
invent my own by faith.
A couple of weeks after
coming home from
Throughout the summer of
that year no more words of tongues were added to my original 6 words.
I was disappointed, so I gave up on the whole matter.
Six words in tongues didn't seem to me to be valid tongues.
My friends could pray in tongues.
I'd stick to English. Everything
changed in September. While
alone in my room, playing my guitar and singing to Jesus in English, the
Holy Spirit enveloped me in a powerful way.
I began to sing in words I had never spoken before.
Paragraphs and paragraphs of tongues flowed freely from my lips
for an hour or so. It was
simply out of this world. Nobody
was telling me to repeat his tongues.
I didn't invent my own tongues.
This was indeed a valid visitation of the Holy Spirit.
I doubt if there has been a day since then when I haven't prayed
There has never been any
doubt. Jesus did give me the
gift of tongues back in 1971. I
might not have received this gift in the traditional Pentecostal way,
but I'm not the most traditional Christian on the ecclesiastical block.
I wish the church
wasnít split over tongues. My
praying in tongues caused controversy in the
While growing up in
Christian Evangelicalism I was taught to believe that the building I
visited every Sunday was the house of God.
In my childlike imagination, I understood that to mean God lived
in the building we called the church.
So, in respect for God's house, we could talk all we wanted,
about what we wanted, outside of God's house, but, once we entered its
sacred doors, we were to speak in a reverent whisper.
After I came of age in
the Lord in 1970 I became involved in what was called the Charismatic
Movement. Within this
movement were a number of Bible teachers. I used to listen to their
teaching on cassette tapes. For
those too young to know what a cassette tape is, I'll let you Google
Derek Prince was one of
my favourite Bible teachers. I
listened to his 28 tape series on Systematic Theology at least 5 times.
Then, there was Judson Cornwall.
I recall his teaching on how a Christian young person could find
a lifelong partner. Being a
21 year old guy, that topic was of utmost importance.
I wore that tape out. Among
other Bible teachers were Earn Baxter, Paul Petrie, Don Basham, Bob
Mumford, Graham Pulkingham, Maxwell White, Malcolm Smith, Charles
Simpson, and others.
The very first teaching
tape I listened to was by Charles Simpson.
The title of his message was "The House Of The Lord".
The text was Psalm 27:4. "One
thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the
house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of
the Lord and to seek Him in His temple (KJV)."
King David wrote Psalm
27. He would have understood
the house of the Lord to be the people or family of God.
The Hebrew word "beth" is translated as
"house" in our English Old Testament.
When you see the town of
As Charles Simpson
pointed out, Acts 17:24 states that God does not live in temples during
these New Testament times. He
lives in His people, the house or family, of God.
So there you go; God didn't really live in the building I visited
It is a mistake to call a
building the house of God because it emphasizes the building and not the
people who gather in the building. Nowhere
in the New Testament does it tell us to gather in any particular kind of
building. Nowhere does the
New Testament call a building the house of God.
The New Testament does, however, tell us how to conduct ourselves
when we do gather together (1 Corinthians 14), wherever that may be.
In 1971 I left the Free Methodist denomination to fellowship and serve Jesus with those to whom He had joined me in personal relationships. I didn't leave the house of God. I just moved to a different room within His house. Living among God's people became a strong desire in my life.
Psalm 27:4 tells us that David had only one desire. He asked God for just one thing, and that was to dwell in the house, or family, of God, forever and inquire of Him at His temple. If we had the same desire, and, if we understood the house of God as those to whom God has personally joined us, things would be drastically different, both in our individual lives and the church
The New Testament teaches
unity when it comes to the church, but it does not teach unity at the
expense of the truth of the gospel, as some teach today.
In John 17 Jesus prayed for unity among His followers.
That includes you and me. In
1 Corinthians 1:12 Paul shows his disgust with the Corinthian Christians
who had divided themselves into various factions.
In contrast to these factions in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul taught
that church is one unified body consisting of various people having a
varying spiritual gifts and ministries.
Our modern western church
is no different than the Corinthian church.
Besides being segregated into denominations, local congregations
are segregated into preschoolers, children, youth, college and careers,
singles, young married, old married, and seniors.
This was my experience while growing up in Evangelical circles,
but that would soon change.
As I stated earlier,
When I attended the Tuesday night meeting, the room was packed. It wasnít the number of people squeezed into the room that caught my attention. It was who was in the room that impressed me. There were businessmen dressed in suits and long haired hippie looking guys dressed in jeans. There were young people, middle aged people, and seniors, from all corners of society. I found this utterly amazing. I had never seen such a variety of people in one meeting enjoying both each other and the Lord. Age or social status didn't matter to these people.
I remember one heavy set
man sitting on the oversized windowsill.
Others were sitting on chairs around the perimeter of the room,
but the majority of us were sitting on the floor. That
was the first time I spent a church meeting on the floor, but I didnít
mind. Iím sure Jesus sat
on a few floors in His day. Coming
from a background of segregated meetings, this was a breath of fresh
Upon returning home,
Jesus began to do with me and others what I saw in
One such brother in
Christ was Virgil Earle. I
was a long haired hippie looking guy while Virgil was a balding Anglican
minister twice my age. We
spent lots of time together during any given week.
Then there was Gerald Williams who was about 15 years older than
me. He was actually my
dadís friend before becoming my friend and brother in the Lord. We
pretty much lived in his station wagon as we traveled the countryside
for Jesus. This is what I
call functional relationships in the Body of Christ.
Individuals who are joined together in friendship, and from
friendship ministry is born. It's
my position that that church structure should be built on personal
relationships, not on a fixed ecclesiastical system.
The age difference
isnít the only thing Iíve experienced within these functional
relationships. Those to whom
Iíve been joined over the years havenít always been of my social or
economic placement in society. Iíve
never been a wealthy or influential person.
In the late 1970ís I wondered why these brothers wanted to be
associated with me in friendship and ministry when I wasnít from their
social or economic world, but of course, those things shouldn't matter
in the Body of Christ.
Church should be about
being personally joined to individual people, and from this joining,
ministry evolves. Thatís
not the way it normally is in the ecclesiastical maze.
We like being joined to an organizational structure that is
segregated into various groups based on economics, social status, age,
and theological distinctives.
In 1 Corinthians 12:13
Paul says that weíve been baptized into one united body.
Paul isn't talking about water baptism here.
He's not talking about joining a church, going to church, or
church being a casual concern. He's
talking about being immersed into church, utterly saturated in
fellowship and ministry.
According to 1
Corinthians 3:10 to 15, all of our church building activity done outside
the will of God will burn in the fire of Godís judgment.
On the other hand, activity performed within the will of God will
be rewarded. Paul says that
we should be expert master builders.
He's not talking about brick and mortar contractors.
He's talking about building people together in the one unified
Body of Christ, something that we have not done.
In John 17:20 and 21 we
see Jesus praying for unity in His church so that all people will know
that God has sent Him into the world.
It's thus clear to me then that every time a church splits it
tells people that God has not sent Jesus into the world.
One thing that impressed
me when I visited Christ Centre in
I learned that church is
more than meetings and buildings. It's
about being joined in personal relationships in the Body of Christ.
For this reason, in 1972 I left the
One example of how
personal relationships worked for me in a practical way back then took
place in 1975. Glen Shaver
was twice my age. He was
influential in guiding many of us young Christians back then.
One day he suggested that I think about attending Bible college
after my friend Robert Bailey finished his time at Bible college.
Those to whom Jesus had joined me had financed much of Robert's
Bible college expenses.
I didn't think much about
Glen's suggestion when he first spoke it to me but over the next three
days I could not get his words out of my mind.
It was if the Holy Spirit was constantly reminding me of Glen's
If I was to attend Bible
college I wanted to
I'd have lots to accomplish in six short weeks. It
was the middle of July, 1975, when I decided that Bible
college was the will of God for me, but, actually getting there was a
matter of the American government. Being
a Canadian, I needed a student visa in order to enter the
My time in Bible college
was a life changer for me in many respects.
I have to thank Glen for his suggestion, the Holy Spirit or
putting Glen's words into my heart, and, my brothers in Jesus for their
financial and moral support that helped fulfill God's will in my life.
That's Christian community in action; brothers who have the
ability helping a brothers in need (1 John 3:17).
already stated that the Greek word "koinonia" or any of its
derivatives means to hold in common.
Acts 2:44 in the NIV states that "all the believers were
together and had everything in "common" (common -
Greek koinos). Acts
4:32 in the NIV states that "all the believers were one in heart
and mind. No one claimed
that any of his possessions was his own, but they "shared"
(shared - Greek koinos) everything they had."
Unlike most of us western world Christians today, the lives of
the first century Christians were transparent.
They were willing to share and hold in common whatever was
necessary for the welfare of their brothers and sisters in Jesus.
at least one exception to what these Christians shared.
Men didn't share their spouses as the Children of God cult of the
1960's and 1970's did. With
the defense of ignorance, the Children of God entered Canada
for the first time in 1971 at the invitation of me and a few others.
Their entrance into
I should mention at this point is that I'm not talking about everyone
sharing the same living arrangements that we called a Christian commune
in the 1960's and 1970's. That
being said, first century families, especially Jewish families, did live
communally in large extended families.
Community for them was much more of a part of their cultural
existence than it is for us in the western world today.
generation Christian seemed to have no problem sharing their material
blessings and holding them in common with those who had little.
Granted, some, like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) had ulterior
motives for sharing. Laying
them aside, the early church made sure that all believers were taken
care of, especially when it came to the necessities of life (Acts 6).
This isn't always the case in today's western world
ecclesiastical maze. I've
seen the needy go without because money had to be spent on buildings,
salaries, and other such things.
the sharing of material possessions, the most important thing the first
generation Christians shared was the ministry of spreading the gospel.
Everyone had a part to play in this ministry.
For this reason they lived in Christian community, not just for
the fun of fellowship, but to carry out their God given responsibility
to spread the gospel.
the 1970's those to whom I was joined in the Lord had the same
mentality. We valued our
relationships. This reminds
me of Emmy Lou Harris', comments on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Bandís CD
entitled ďWill The Circle Be UnbrokenĒ, volume 2.
She said that in the making of records, things have gotten so
technical and precise that the musicians and singers had lost the living
room experience in music. In
other words, the business of music choked the joy out of playing music
together in someone's living room. The
same is true with the business of church.
When we professionalize church to make it marketable to the
masses, we lose the living room experience in our gatherings, and by the
way, most churches find their roots in someone's living room.
We've exchanged the living room for the ecclesiastical maze.
I think I can safely say that Jesusí most important
relationships while on earth were living room type relationships.
They certainly werenít synagogue type relationships.
the early 1970ís when my friends and I were attempting to walk the
path of Christian community, or koinonia as we often called it, we
placed great significance in the horizontal relationships we had with
one another. Our horizontal
relationships were to be balanced with our vertical relationship with
Jesus. We emphasized the
horizontal because we felt the church was neglecting its importance.
According to our thinking, church seemed to be about me and
Jesus, to the exclusion of me and my brothers in Christ.
1 John 2:27 was often
quoted to support this me and Jesus mentality.
John told his readers that we don't need any man to teach us
because we have the anointing, which is the Holy Spirit.
John wasn't saying we didn't need teachers in the church.
If that was his intent he would not have written this letter of
instruction. In context,
John was saying that the Holy Spirit would warn his readers of false
teachers. They didn't need
false teachers. They did
need real brothers in Christ to teach them.
While at Bible college in
the mid 1970's one raging debate was between the me and Jesus students
and the shepherding/discipleship students.
I'll talk about the Shepherding Movement later.
Some students believed they needed their brothers while others
felt Jesus was all they needed.
One of my Bible college
teachers was called a wild boar for his fierce independence and
unbending allegiance to Scripture. Martin
Luther was one of his heroes. The
me and Jesus students imitated this teacher.
There was another teacher promoting Christian community.
He told us that if our Bible college actually lived out community
as he saw it in Scripture, it would be a drastically different place to
shepherding/discipleship students agreed whole-heartedly with him.
Myself, well, I liked both of these teachers, and as usual, I was
stuck between two polarizing groups, but that's me.
I'm always stuck in the middle, but as Bob Mumford from the
Shepherding Movement put it, "truth often lies between two
opposites." So maybe
I'm not in a bad spot after-all.
Bible college was a funny
place at times. Certain
students would imitate certain teachers.
Theyíd follow these teachers around like little ducklings
floating behind their mother in a pond.
The fierce independent teacher might come into class, plop his
coffee cup on his desk, put his elbows firmly on his desk with his head
in his hands, and while yawning say, "Iím so tired Lord."
The more spiritually orientated students cringed at such an
unspiritual way to open class. They
preferred another teacher who seemed to just float into class from
heaven. She'd be singing
praises to God as she walked through the classroom door.
Her opening prayer could easily turn into a worship service, and,
bringing coffee to class, well, that would have been out of the
The debate between me and
Jesus and me and my brothers split the Charismatic Movement of the
1970ís. The debate was
seen in Christian magazines and on Christian radio and TV.
I recall one radio host on the Christian Broadcasting Network in
upstate New Your saying, "I can take my brother in the Lord or I
can leave him." The
Apostle Paul would certainly disagree with that statement (1 Corinthians
Back then some of us
thought that having a personal relationship with Jesus was easy.
Relating to people was difficult at best.
I no longer believe that. If
you're honest, I think you'd agree with me; maintaining a healthy
relationship with Jesus takes time and effort on our part.
I now believe that the better our relationship is with Jesus, the
better our relationships will be with those to whom Jesus has joined us,
and to be clear, our horizontal relationships aren't optional.
In the spring of 1971
some of us met every week in the basement of a century old church
building to plan our strategy to share Jesus at an upcoming rock
festival. We called these
meetings the SMOTS. SMOTS
stood for the Secret Meeting Of The Saints. We pictured ourselves as a
youthful clandestine movement that would infiltrate the rock festival
and win the hippies to Jesus. We
invited Jesus People groups from across
We were concerned about
the Jesus People groups we had invited to the rock festival that was now
canceled. What would we do
if a bunch of Jesus People showed up and we'd have nothing to offer
them? Fortunately, or maybe
unfortunately, only one group showed up. At
our request, the cult known as the Children of God entered
The COG, as we called
them, didn't care about a cancelled rock festival.
They took their brand of the gospel to the streets.
Preaching on the streets impressed us.
We'd soon take up the practice ourselves.
One thing that impressed me was their memorization of Scripture. They
spoke Bible verses as if the Bible was their second language.
So, not to be outdone, I memorized about 2000 Bible verses over
the next year or so. I could
quote the book of Philippians in one sitting without stumbling over
words or making mistakes.
The message the COG
preached was forsake all to follow Jesus.
They quoted such Scriptures as, "if anyone would come after
me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew
16:24)." It didn't take
me long to learned that forsaking all meant selling all of your
possessions and handing the proceeds over to them.
Some of my brothers in Jesus did just that.
You have to understand
our mentality back then. We
were in our late teens. We
were influenced by the 60's generation.
We were searching for a spiritual reality that we struggled to
find within traditionalism. We
wanted to see the reality of Jesus outside the walls of church
buildings. At first glance,
the Children of God presented us with a dynamic alternative to
The COG pressured me to
forsake all, but I couldn't, and I didn't.
I valued my commitment to work with children at the
The COG caused quite an
uproar in our city for which they were quite proud of.
They reminded me that the Apostle Paul caused an uproar in most
cities he visited. Things
got so bad that a couple Pentecostal men got in a fist fight with these
guys in front of their church building.
I know that Paul spoke about our weapons of warfare in 2
Corinthians 10:4 but I donít think he had fists in mind as being one
of our weapons.
David Burg was an
Evangelical youth leader in a mid-western
As I mentioned earlier in my account, Moses David promoted the sharing of wives within the group. It was his way to express Christian community. He also used sex as a witnessing tool. On the streets of our cities in 1971 young seductive women with a tract entitled "Holy Holes" prostituted themselves as a means to win men to Jesus. Adherents of Moses David saw nothing wrong with this practice because, even though they claimed to value Scripture, obedience to their leader was ultimate.
Abuse of authority isnít relegated to cults. It has been a problem throughout church history. Heavy handed authoritarianism; "it's my way or you're out of here", isn't New Testament thinking. Yes, there are New Testament passages that encourage us to submit to our leaders but those bent on dictatorship misunderstand how the New Testament understands the word "submit". I'll talk about this later in more detail.
Parts of ecclesiastical
maze believe that miraculous healing isn't for today while other parts
believe it is. I believe
Jesus still heals people today because I would have been dead at the age
of six if He had not healed me of Juvenile Diabetes.
Some quote 1 Corinthians
13:9-10 to say that healing isn't for today.
"For now we know in part Ö but when perfection comes, the
imperfect will disappear (NIV)."
The controversy stems over the word "perfection".
Some say perfection is the Bible, and since we have the Bible,
the gifts of the Spirit, including healing, have passed away.
That makes no Biblical sense.
With all the various
Bible translations, which one is perfect?
The orthodox view of the doctrine of Biblical inspiration states
that only the original writings, not any copies or translations, are
inspired by God, and that includes the King James Bible.
The only thing that is perfect is God Himself.
The logical Biblical fact is that the only perfect thing is
Jesus, and, when He comes back to earth again the gifts of the Spirit,
including healing, will no longer be necessary.
It's that simple.
As I've previously
stated, I am legally blind. If
you see something forty feet away, I need to be two feet away to see it
with the same detail as you. Those
with good vision can read a one inch letter from twenty eight feet away.
I have to be three inches away to read it.
As I type these words on my twenty eight inch monitor with words
enlarged to three quarters of an inch, my nose is one inch from the
monitor. I read books with
the use of a pair of glasses with a magnifying lens in my right eye.
My nose turns black as it scrapes the printed page.
While at Bible college in
1975 I asked a friend where my fiancť was sitting in the cafeteria.
He told me exactly where she was sitting but I got his
instructions mixed up. As my
fiancť watched from the other side of the table, I started sweet
talking to the wrong girl with the same colour of hair.
Although I was embarrassed, everyone at the table found it quite
When I was in my twenties
a couple of friends enjoyed embarrassing me in public.
We entered a high class art gallery in
My dad believed that
Jesus could heal me so every time he had a chance he'd drag me to an
altar for prayer. That got a
bit embarrassing too, but I continued the pattern as I grew older.
I tried every healing formula I could think of.
I went to two Katherine Kuhlman meetings in
Every year at the Free
In 1972 I stood in a
Jerry B. Walker healing line in
Iíve been told by hyper
faith folk that I need more faith. They
tell me that I need to believe and act as if I'm already healed.
So, I purchased myself the smallest print Bible I could find.
Every day I'd pick that Bible up and acted as if I could read it,
but every day I couldn't. After
forty eight years I still can't read it.
I've long since forsaken
the hyper faith teaching. If
Jesus heals you, you are healed. You
don't have to trick yourself into thinking you're healed when you're
not. Jesus isn't into
playing games with our heads. What
I should have said to these hyper faith folk is that if they gave me the
keys to their cars, I'd gladly drive them home from church, because of
course, according to them, I was already healed.
Weíd soon find out who had faith then.
The Bible doesn't set
forth one specific formula for healing.
We tend to take one example of Biblical healing and turn it into
a formulized doctrine. I'm
sure you remember the time when Jesus spit on the ground and put that
muddy mess into a blind man's eyes.
Does anyone want to formalize that into a doctrine?
Hyper faith folk tell me
I need more faith, but they don't understand faith.
Faith is not a commodity that you can get more of.
Faith is trust. One
can't get more trust. Faith
is surrendering to Jesus. Faith
is relaxing in the presence of Jesus.
I agree with Martin Luther, faith is passive, not aggressive. Because
faith is trust, one can't get more trust.
He can only trust more.
The three Hebrew men in
the book of Daniel demonstrated real faith.
In Daniel 3:16-18 they said; "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not
need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is
able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.
But even if He doesnít, we want you to know, O king; we will not serve
your godsÖ" These
menís positive confession of faith included the words "but even
if He doesnít Ö." Hyper
faith folk would cringe at these words because to them, they suggest
doubt, and no one who doubts has faith.
These men didn't doubt. They
resigned themselves to God's will, whether He saved them from the fire
1 Peter 1:3 to 9 tells us
that those who have faith will have their faith tested.
These tests might well include sickness.
If you're not tested, that tells me you have no faith to be
tested. In that sense, hyper
faith folk may not actually have the faith they claim to have.
I stand with the three
Hebrew men of Daniel. I
trust Jesus no matter how He responds to my prayers.
Christian revival is one that begins in church and works its way out
into the community. For
example, the Great Awakening that spread across Europe and
People Movement began in
which were hippies who had never dawned
1970's were exciting days for me and my brothers in Jesus.
We shared Jesus on street corners, in coffee houses, in bars, in
parks, in schools and colleges, and in church buildings.
We led three members of a rock band to Jesus during their stint
at a local bar. They quickly
learned a few Christian songs to sing while the patrons of the bar were
drinking their lives away. When
their set was over weíd go upstairs to their hotel room to pray and
instruct them in the Word of God.
like to say that I suffered persecution at the hands of a violent sinner
when I went flying over a table and onto the floor after being kicked in
the head, but I canít say that. After
getting re-orientated from my fall, I got up, only to be kicked again.
I wasnít being persecuted for my faith.
I was just trying to stop a drunk from beating up on a friend in
our Christian coffee house.
walking the halls of a local high school, my friend got talking to a
student about Jesus. Within
minutes a large crowd gathered around him.
He opened his big black oversized Bible and began preaching
Jesus. The resulting
commotion was noticed by the principal who told my friend that he had to
stop preaching. My friend
responded by saying that he could not stop him from preaching in the
name of Jesus. The principal
conceded and gave us a classroom to preach in when the school day was
over. The gathering was
announced over the public address system and the room was packed with
students and teachers alike.
teacher scoffed at us. Being
full of boldness, mixed with some naivety and stupidity, my friend
quoted 1 John 1:6 to the scoffing teacher.
It states that if you claim to have fellowship with God and walk
in darkness, you lie. The
teacher didnít appreciate being called a liar.
As he stomped out of the room my friend quoted 1 John 1:8 to the
teacher. It states that if
you claim to have no sin you deceive yourself.
The teacher's anger was aroused and the room became chaotic.
Another teacher stayed behind and asked us to talk further in her
history class. We were
overjoyed to preach in a history class.
sharing Jesus with a girl on a street corner she asked us if we could
speak to her college world religions class as part of her assignment.
Her teacher was a Jew who aggressively refuted all we said.
Two weeks later this teacher was killed in a car accident, but
not before hearing the gospel.
I was in Florida
in 1972. I met up with a
Jesus Person from
another occasion we shared Jesus at another high school.
I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as we spoke.
One student came up to me and asked what drug I was on.
According to him, I looked spaced out.
I told him I wasnít stoned.
I was filled with the Holy Spirit, which reminded me of the
Apostle Peter who was accused of being drunk on the Day of Pentecost.
in my account I said that the Children of God entered
after we notice the police cars driving by our house we were asked to
appear before a local immigration officer.
He figured we were members of the Children of God who in his mind
entered to the
government official. He
wasn't impressed. Again, you
might fault us for our naivety but you couldnít have faulted us for
our boldness. Feeling a
little like the Apostle Paul before the Roman authorities, we left with
joy in our hearts being privileged to preach Jesus to a government
government official. He
wasn't impressed. Again, you
might fault us for our naivety but you couldnít have faulted us for
our boldness. Feeling a
little like the Apostle Paul before the Roman authorities, we left with
joy in our hearts being privileged to preach Jesus to a government
reminds me of the time I was interrogated by the U. S.
immigration and custom officers. Attempting
to enter America
via a bus I was taken off the bus and questioned for almost an hour.
My long hair and my Bible seemed to arouse suspicion.
They did release me and those waiting on the bus were glad to see
me back on the bus.
reminds me of the time my two friends and I were also stopped at the
boarder entering the U. S.. Again,
our long hair and our guitars didn't help matters.
A boarder guard asked us why we were entering the United States. My friend told him that we
were going to worship the Lord Jesus with our brothers in Christ.
That did it. We were
hauled off for more interrogation as they ripped our car apart.
Finally figuring out that we were harmless, we were set free to
worship Jesus with our American brothers.
felt like Paul when he was questioned before the Jewish Sanhedrin.
It wasnít only the government that was on our case.
The local church community was keeping a close eye on us.
One pastor who was convinced we were secret agents for the
Children of God visited us and rebuked us harshly.
We had become a divisive factor in the local church community.
I was about to quote Matthew 10:34 to this pastor in support of
the division we were creating. The
text states the Jesus didn't come to bring peace but a sword that would
divide. As I was ready to
quote the verse I changed my mind. I
didn't think it was very nice to use a Bible verse as a sword against my
brother. I was dumbfounded
when this pastor used that very same verse as a sword against me.
the pressure from both the ecclesiastical maze and the government, but
that only strengthened our resolve to preach Jesus everywhere and
anywhere. We may have been young and naÔve, but we were certainly
experiencing a fresh visitation of Jesus in our lives which was being
felt throughout our community, which was a testimony to the fact that
this was a valid revival.
It was 1973.
I had recently read Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet
Earth". I just knew it
was all over. The end of the
age would crash down on us by 1975.
There was no time to waste. There
was no sense spending money on stuff that I'd leave behind in the
rapture or have taken from me by the anti-Christ after he executes me.
The simple life was the way to go, and for that reason, at the
age of 22 I decided to make the last big purchase of my life.
Being a lover of music I
had my eyes on two stereo speakers at our local Radio Shack store.
Upon entering the store with a Larry Norman and an Andrea Crouch
album in hand, I blasted everyone in the store with my Christian music.
I figured that if I was going to test out these speakers I might
as well use the test as a witnessing tool for Jesus.
So there you go. I
left the store $250.00 poorer thinking I had just made the last big
purchase of my entire life. I'd
certainly enjoy my Christian music as I waited the return of Jesus and
the end of this age.
Once 1975 had come and
gone I realized that the ecclesiastical maze was divided into various
prophetic corners. In one
corner I was told that the anti-Christ was alive and well somewhere in
It took me a few years,
but I did settle down in the corner of the Prophetic Futurist.
I believe the book of Revelation is yet to be fulfilled.
I believe the anti-Christ will dominate world politics at some
future point. I believe that
Just to let you know, my
last big purchase of my entire life in 1973 wasn't my last big purchase.
I'm now 42 years older and I have to admit that I've made more
than a few more purchases since 1973.
One thing hasn't changed though.
I still believe in a simple uncluttered life. Hebrews
12:1 admonishes us to throw off all that clutters our lives so we can
run the race that Jesus has asked us to run.
As I get older, and as the end of this age gets closer, this
admonition seems more important to me than ever.
Can a Christian have a
demon? That was one big
question in the early 1970's. My
friends and I read a little red covered book entitled "Out In The
Name Of Jesus", written by Pat Brooks. Brooks
explained how to drive demons out of people in a few short and simple
steps. So, we attempted to
cast out every demon we thought we found lingering around in each
One day I woke up sick
with the flu. Of course, I
had a demon of flu. After
finding a private place down by a nearby river I had the demon of flu
cast out of me, or so we thought. I
did recover from the flu. It
just ran its course as it usually does.
We supposedly drove 118
demons out of one girl. We
followed the formula set out in the little red covered book.
We'd ask the demons for their names.
They'd tell us their names, and then we'd cast them out.
It took four of us to hold this girl down on the floor because of
the violent reactions when the demons left.
I was holding her by the ankles to minimize her violent movement
when she threw me onto the floor.
To make a two hour story
short the last demon we cast out of this girl was a lying spirit, or so
that's what he told us. I
was confused. I asked the
lying spirit if he was telling us the truth about being a lying spirit.
It's hard to know if a lying spirit is capable of telling the
truth. I donít know if we
drove 118 demons out of this girl or if we drove one lying spirit
pretending to be 118 demons out of this girl.
I wander if we actually drove any demons out of her.
That being said, there did seem to be more than something human
going on there.
At the risk of losing any credibility I might have left, I'll tell you one more story. We chased a girl possessed y a demon down the street. We tackled her to the ground in the outfield of a baseball game in progress. We got her back to the house where we were meeting where she picked up a butcher knife and hid under a bed. We finally coaxed her from under the bed and delivered her of her demons, or so we thought.
you know why the deliverance ministry divides the ecclesiastical maze.
I look back on those days and still wonder.
I know we went overboard. I
know we relied too much on that little red covered book and not enough
on the Bible. On the other
hand, I know there are demons, and they donít all live in
Charismatic Movement emerged in the 1960ís in non-Evangelical
Many people came to know Jesus in a real way by receiving the
Holy Spirit into their lives.
I was heavily involved in Charismatic circles during the 1970's
Many of those who had been touched by the Holy Spirit no longer
felt comfortable in liberal churches that were forsaking essential
They met everywhere and anywhere, much like
these para-church groups were forming among
Christians, certain Bible teachers were emerging
as leaders in the
They would often
teach at conferences around
Fort Lauderdale Four, now five, emphasized discipleship as being normal
Jesus told the twelve apostles to disciple all nations in Matthew
simply means that Christians are responsible to help people to become
true followers of Jesus.
So, in the early 1970ís the Discipleship Movement was born,
which by the way, has had a profound influence on the Evangelical church
time went on the Discipleship Movement morphed into the Shepherding
It was a natural transition.
Although there is a distinct difference between discipling and
shepherding, there are a few similarities.
It's my thinking that the distinctions between discipling and
shepherding weren't clearly understood, thus the lines were blurred
between the two.
the early 1970ís my friends and I were following the Fort Lauderdale
1977 we joined ourselves to the Shepherding Movement when Jim Covert
moved his family from Northern Virginia, U. S. A., to our town, thus bringing the Shepherding Movement in to
was all about providing personal pastoral care for the believer.
Inherent in the teaching was the fact that a pastor of a large
congregation could not effectively provide proper personal care for
those he was called to care for.
To solve this problem, each local shepherding group would have a
He would care for a limited number of families, normally no more
than ten or twelve families.
That leader would have another leader care for him who usually
resided in another city.
That's called trans-local authority, something that caused some
controversy while I was at
pastoral care would be personal in nature.
It wasnít just theological teaching.
It included helping families with their finances, with parenting,
and with husband and wife relationships.
personally enjoyed those days.
I benefited mostly from the relationships I had with those in the
That being said, I didn't fully embrace the shepherding teaching
as being Biblically accurate.
In order for me to justify my participation I considered
shepherding a solution to a present day problem.
Charismatics needed to be cared for.
They needed to be grounded into a local, close net expression of
the Body of Christ.
Shepherding seemed to solve this problem, or so I thought.
disagreement with the shepherding teaching was that everyone was
encouraged to be a shepherd, or a pastor.
This effectively made everyone a shepherd or a pastor, and that's
Not everyone in the Body of Christ is a shepherd.
The result of this misappropriation of Scripture was that many
so-called shepherds weren't qualified to care for people as stated in
They weren't qualified because many of them weren't mature
Besides that, many of these so-called shepherds weren't called to
that ministry by the Lord.
We're all called to disciple.
We're not all called to shepherd.
problems arenít exclusive to the Shepherding Movement.
Pastoral abuses can be seen throughout the ecclesiastical maze
and throughout history.
Some pastors are dictators, not servants.
Some pastors are administrators, not care givers.
Some pastors view their ministry as a career, not a calling.
Simply put, much of what is called pastoring in the
ecclesiastical maze isn't Scriptural.
attempt at shepherding began in earnest in 1977.
It ended in 1988.
after we got acquainted with the Shepherding Movement, I headed off to
Elim Bible Institute in Lima,
debate at Elim and elsewhere was over the concept of being under the
care and authority of your shepherd.
The theological term is called submission and authority.
For a detailed explanation of submission and authority you can
visit my web site.
months after returning home from Elim I was married.
My wife and I submitted ourselves under the care and authority of
a man named Jim Covert, who, with his family had moved from
one's life in this fashion might sound scary to you, and I admit,
because of abuses in some cases it did become scary.
Despite some well publicized abuses of submission and authority
that took place in other localities, we didn't experience them.
Granted, there were a few minor irritations that I found
disturbing in my case but I never made a big deal about them.
Jim and his family decided to return to
back on our move to
the years I've done much historical and Biblical study concerning the
nature of church.
I conclude that much of western style church is not based on New
As I've studied the New Testament I do see submitting to church
authority as being taught within its pages.
The words "submission" and "authority" are
Biblical words with a specific Biblical meaning, but they're are not
understood by most.
short, the Greek word translated as "submit" in the New
Testament was a military word in the first century
it comes to the word "authority", the
New Testament does teach ecclesiastical authority, but once
again, it's not a worldly style of authority.
Jesus specifically told us that the rulers of this world lord it
over their citizens, but that should not be the case with those who
follow Him (Luke 22:25 - 26).
Those in authority within the church must exercise their
authority in a loving and caring way, as a father would care for his
children (1 Timothy 3: 5).
13:17 says, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority
This verse needs some thoughtful exegeses.
Our English versions say "Obey your leaders."
The word "leaders" is a noun, but, in the original
Greek, there is no corresponding noun.
The Greeks says, "obey the one's leading".
"The ones leading" is a participle, half noun and half
verb. The verse doesn't really say "obey your leaders" as in
the ones who hold the office of a leader.
It says "obey the ones leading" as in the ones who are
actually carrying out the Biblical responsibility of leading.
Just because someone holds the office of a leader doesn't mean he
is actually carrying out his leadership responsibilities in a godly
New Testament teaching concerning obeying leaders is that you
obey those leaders who are actually called by God and leading in the way
the New Testament teaches.
Our modern church puts way too much emphasis on the office of a
leader and not enough emphasis on the New Testament responsibilities of
The Bible doesn't view leadership in terms of an office.
It views leadership in terms of fulfilling leadership
We, thus, have too many career leaders and not enough called by
talked about submission and authority as it applied to the Shepherding
Movement of the 1970's and 1980's, but we can't blame all of the abuses
of domineering authority on the Shepherding Movement. It's
been problematic since the formation of the church as seen in the book
Acts 20 the Apostle Paul said his final and sad goodbyes to the elders
of the community of believers in Ephesus. Part of what he said is as
follows. "I know that
after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare
the flock. Even from your
own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw
disciples after themselves (Acts 20:29 - 30 NIV)".
"To draw disciples after themselves" is the key phrase
here. That's abuse of
Acts 20:28 Paul admonished the Ephesian elders to shepherd the
Luke wrote the book of Acts church leadership consisted of a body of
elders, with no one man in charge. The
progressive evolution from this body of elders to the hierarchal
Catholicism of the dark ages is easily documented in history.
In and around 100 A D one man began to rise as a leader among
this body of elders. In and
around 150 A D that one man began to be seen as God's spokesman or
representative to the church. In
and around 200 A D this one man began to be seen as the church's
representative to God. This
one man had become a middle man between the believer and God, thus the
foundation of Catholicism was born and the priesthood of the believer
doctrine of the priesthood of the believer states that all true
Christians have free access to God.
This is how it works. There
is only one middle man between God the Father and the believer and that
is Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus
represents us to God. The
believer has free and constant access to Jesus through the Holy Spirit
who lives within him. No
man, whether priest or pastor, stands between the believer and Jesus.
We are all priests. This
is where Catholicism went very wrong.
This was a clear abuse of ecclesiastical authority.
The legitimate role of a leader in the church can be seen in what Paul also told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:26 to 35. "I have not hesitated to proclaim the whole will of God." Paul proclaimed God's will, not his will. "I commit you to God and His grace." In the long run, even though Paul proclaimed God's will to God's people, he left God's people to God's grace, not his own abilities. "I have not coveted anyone silver, gold, or clothing Ö these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions." This, among many other things Paul wrote, shows that he was not a dictator. He was a servant of God. He served those to whom God asked him to care for. Leadership is all about serving, not dictating. That's not always the way it is in the ecclesiastical maze.
I will speak to this later, but during the 1990's and what was called "The Apostolic Movement", I was deleaderized from the community of believers of which I was a part. I didn't fully embrace unquestioned submission to authority as it was taught. It was their way or no way. Obey or move on. With great reluctance and a good measure of sadness I moved on
Around 2005 my friend
attended a gathering of worship leaders in our city.
The lady in charge presented those in attendance with a covenant
that they were expected to sign if they were to continue to be a part of
this group. My friend kindly
suggested that making such a covenant between Christians wasnít New
Testament thinking. He
declined to sign.
In the mid 1990's my two
friends were scolded by their pastor when they left his congregation.
According to this pastor, they were breaking covenant.
In the late 1970's while
I was a part of one Shepherding Movement fellowship I was told to make
covenant with a particular shepherd. After
being slow to respond I was literally cornered in a room and told that
it was now time to make covenant. I
respectfully said that such a covenant was not New Testament thinking.
Instead of making the covenant I appealed to a higher authority
in the shepherding stream I was involved in.
It was confirmed that the Shepherding Movement wasn't into making
such personal covenants. The
practice of personal pastoral covenants thus ended in that fellowship.
The simplest definition
of the word covenant is "a contract or an agreement between two or
more people." Examples
of covenants today would be a marriage covenant or a mortgage agreement.
The Old Testamentís
Jewish concept of covenant can be briefly summed up as follows.
Two or more people would come together and make an agreement.
The agreement would have various stipulations.
Each person was responsible to live up to these stipulations or
else suffer the stated consequences.
The covenant was then confirmed by a ceremonial ritual that often
included the blood sacrifice of an animal.
Those who believe we
should make similar covenants today often point to the covenant that
David and Jonathan made between them as an example for us to follow (1
Samuel 20). To suggest that
we make covenants with one another today based on David and Jonathan's
covenant is bad Biblical interpretation. Their
choice was their personal choice. The
Bible does not say that their choice was a Biblical mandate for us to
follow. If two believers
feel the desire to make such an agreement today, like David and
Jonathan, thatís their personal choice.
They can't, however, make a Biblical doctrine out their choice
and teach others to follow their example of making covenant.
The Abrahamic Covenant of
Genesis 15 is foundational to New Covenant thinking.
If you read Genesis 15 youíll note that God did not make a
covenant with Abraham. After
setting forth the stipulations of the covenant, God put Abraham to
sleep. God then performed
the sacrificial ritual with Himself; not with Abraham who was asleep.
He agreed or covenanted with Himself to bless Abraham.
Abrahamís part in the covenant was to simply embrace it and
believe that God would do as He stated in His covenant.
The Abrahamic Covenant is
significant when thinking of the New Covenant in Jesus (Galatians 3, 4,
Romans 4). Like the
Abrahamic Covenant, the New Covenant in Jesus was not a covenant made
between us and God. Like the
Abrahamic Covenant, God covenanted with Himself to bless us with
salvation. Our part of the
covenant, like Abraham's part, is to simply enter into God's covenant
and believe that He will do what He has promised in the covenant.
Once we enter the New
Covenant we are joined in covenantal relationships with God and with all
Christians, past, present and future.
We don't make personal covenants with each other because we are
already in covenant relationships. Obviously
the practical out-workings of our covenantal relationships can only be
realized with a few others to whom Jesus has joined us.
It's impossible for me to have a personal relationship with a
brother in Christ who lives in
The New Testament doesnít mandate that we make personal covenants with each other. It does mandate that we enter God's covenant confirmed in the blood sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you and your brother in the Lord feel that you'd like to make such a covenant, that's fine. Just don't teach others to do the same.
In 1980 my wife and I
moved to Vienna,
I visited the White
House, Capital Hill, and other buildings of prominence.
I sat in the U. S.
senate chamber listening to Senator Edward Kennedy expounding his view
of what was called "the Peace Movement", a view that differed
greatly from that of then President Reaganís view.
One can't escape American
history when living in Virginia, especially in Richmond, the capital of the Confederate South, where we moved to in 1981.
After visiting the capitol building in downtown Richmond, I left with the impression that the Civil War had just ended.
It seemed that fresh in the minds of our tour guides.
I became involved in the
Conservative Christian Right during the 1982 congressional election.
I was a canvassing coordinator for the Republican candidate in
our precinct. I and others
evangelized our community with Republican style conservatism.
One thing I intentionally excluded from my Republican gospel was
the fact that I was a Canadian and could not vote for the candidate I
was encouraging others to vote for.
Upon returning to Canada
in 1984, I brought my new found conservativeness back with me.
I became a member of the Christian Heritage Party.
Ern Baxter (1914 - 1993)
was a prominent Bible teacher in the Charismatic Movement back then.
I asked him about Pat Robertson's attempt at the presidency.
His answer began to temper my political enthusiasm. According to
him, if Robertson became president he would be demoting himself from his
position as preacher.
Iím not opposed to
Christian involvement in politics. Many
of us live in democracies that presently allow Christians to run for
political office. Still,
Iíve come to understand that all governments, including western
democratically elected governments, are to one degree or another opposed
to Biblical values. That's
becoming more evident as the west departs from any Judeo/Christian
influence it once might have had.
We're no different from the corrupt culture the Apostle Peter
warned his fellow countrymen to save themselves from (Acts 2:40).
Jesus said that the
gospel of the Kingdom would be preached throughout the world before the
end of the age comes (Matthew 24:14).
The gospel of the
It's interesting to note
that God called the Apostle
Western society is well
passed the point of embracing Biblical mandated Christian values.
It would be nice to have godly prime ministers and presidents,
but what we need most are godly prophets proclaiming the soon coming
Kingdom of God to earth.
In 1973 my friends and I
decided to become a real church in the eyes of the Canadian government.
We drafted a constitution which included our legal name, mission
statement, and our organizational structure that included the names and
addresses of our board of directors.
We opened a bank account in the name of Quinte Fellowship.
Quinte is the name of the geographical area in which we lived.
Although we became an official church, we still struggled with
putting the word "church" in our name.
Once we were legalized we were authorized to issue income tax
receipts to anyone contributing to our cause.
If we had a building, which we didn't have and didn't want to
have, we would be exempt from paying property taxes.
In the early 1990ís a
group I was associated with went through the same legalities to become a
real church in the mind of government.
Becoming legal seems to be the thing to do in the ecclesiastical
maze. Historically speaking,
and it didn't take long after the first generation Christians died off,
church structure began to be organized along the lines of Roman style
government instead of its family orientated Jewish roots.
By the fourth century legalizing church was firmly cemented into
the mindset of what we call church.
Becoming legal may have
had its benefits in the past, but that's changing.
As each year passes our atheistic secular governments are
restricting the legal church from practices it deems to be intolerant,
thus inhibiting what was once our legal right to freely express our
The day is approaching
that unless the legal church submits to unbiblical government demands it
will lose its legal status. When
that day comes I hope we can say as the Apostle Peter said to the Jewish
authorities in Acts 4:19; "Judge for yourselves whether it is right
in God's sight to obey you rather than God."
The choice will be ours; submit to a godless government and keep
the government perks, or submit to Jesus and keep His perks.
You may think there's no real choice to be made, but Christians
throughout the centuries have made the wrong choice because submitting
to Jesus comes with a price.
During the midpoint of
the second century Christians in the
Submitting to Jesus and
losing legal status will undermine the traditional legal church as we
have known it over the years. It
will be a financial disaster. The
traditional church will have to pay property taxes and will no longer be
entitled to issue tax receipts which will sadly but surely reduce its
income. This may well result
in the loss of property because of lack of funds.
Ministers will no longer be permitted to perform a legal
marriage. On and on it will
go. Personally speaking,
none of that bothers me.
I hesitate to say this
because I know life will be difficult when that day comes, but I look
forward to a day, assuming I'm still alive, when our culture brings that
which we call church to this point of decision.
I welcome the day when church becomes what Jesus meant church to
be. I look forward to the
day when Christians living on the same street can function together in
relational harmony without being separated by denominational
differences. I welcome the
day when individual Christians are joined in functional relationships in
a vibrant community of believers that is spread across the land.
I look forward to the day when we're joined in ministry by the
Holy Spirit instead of being joined in ministry by denominational
organizations that look more like a Fortune Five Hundred Company than
the Body of Christ.
The tough fact of the
matter is that when that day actually comes the western church will be
an underground community of vibrant believers that we see in
"Let us not give up
meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage
one another - and all the more as you see the Day (return of Jesus)
approaching (Hebrews 10:25 NIV)."
As I write these words
I'm in my mid
By the mid 1980ís my
boredom with the excessive number of meetings intensified.
Along with that feeling was the feeling that being a good
Christian required lots of money; money I didn't have.
The pressure was always on to attend another conference in
another expensive hotel in another big city.
Just mentioning the "Kansas City Conference" of the mid
1970's will conjure up both good and bad memories for many of my
In 1979 I attended a
men's conference in one of those expensive hotels located 3 blocks from
Capital Hill in Washington D C. My
friend took an elevator up from the underground parking lot into what he
thought was the lobby of our hotel.
When the elevator door opened he saw a number of husky and hefty
looking women that looked nothing like his brothers in Christ.
When he glanced up at the billboard he realized he had taken the
wrong elevator. Instead of
being in a Christian men's retreat he was in the midst of the National
Transvestite Convention. It
didn't take him long to cross the street to the right hotel.
By the mid 1990ís I was pretty well "meetinged out" for good, especially when it came to these expensive weekend conferences that were advertised to change your life for good but seldom did. What changed my life over the years was the ongoing interaction with Jesus and those to whom He had personally joined me in the Body of Christ.
In the church I was
associated with in the 1990ís we were expected to attend all of the
weekend conventions. It was
just part of being in covenant community, or so it was taught.
A couple of us families didn't have the money, or didn't have the
faith for the money as we were told, for another weekend.
We stayed home. When
it was all said and done our pastor scolded us for none compliance to
our covenantal commitment.
"So where do you go
to church these days?" I was once asked.
The question assumed that it's routine for Christians to have no
lasting commitment to one particular Sunday meeting, and that's a
correct assumption these days. Besides
the fact that "going to church" isn't a Biblical concept, just
take a look at the average Sunday meeting.
Take another look in two years and you'll see an entirely new
crowd of people. Loyalty to
a meeting is not a high priority these days because loyalty to your
brothers and sisters in Christ is not a high priority.
To be honest, I haven't
attended too many Sunday morning meetings for a few years now.
That doesn't mean I'll never attend one again.
It just means that I find many Sunday meetings boring, especially
if there is no heart felt expression of worship to Jesus.
Simply sitting in a pew and watching a performance on the
platform does little for me. The
fact that I don't, at least at the moment, attend a Sunday meeting
doesn't mean I'm not in compliance with Hebrews 10:25.
I do gather with those to whom Jesus has joined me, but not on
Sunday mornings. Besides, there is more to Hebrews 10:25 than simply
attending a meeting.
Nowhere in the Bible does
it tell us when or where to meet. What
the Bible does teach is what we do when we meet, something that's almost
always overlooked in today's church. Read
1 Corinthians 14 and see if Paul's teaching on Christian meetings looks
like the meetings you attend.
Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we should gather together for mutual edification. The historic reason for this admonition was because the believers were enduring great hardship from their anti-Christ culture. They needed encouragement in a corporate setting. Once in this corporate setting, Paul's teaching of 1 Corinthians 14 would be experienced. All those in attendance would participate as a vital member of the Body of Christ. No one was to sit and watch the show.
The foundation of New
Testament teaching concerning meetings can be seen in Romans 12:5.
Paul, in the context of the Body of Christ, states that each
member of Christ's body "belongs to each other".
You might want to think about that for a while because it's
seldom thought of in today's church.
Paul's statement speaks of close relationships, functioning
together, both in the context of a meeting and without.
Do you believe that you actually belong to your close brothers
and sisters in Christ?
Hebrews 10:25 encourages
us to gather as a community of believers who belong to each other,
especially as the day of Jesus' return draws near.
We're obviously closer to Jesus' return now than when Hebrews
10:25 was penned, but like those days, we're beginning to feel the
pressure from an anti-Christ culture.
Hebrews 10:25 presupposes that we belong to each other and are in
functional relationships with those to whom Jesus has joined us.
During 1991/92 I was
buried in a depressing pit of despair that was not of my choosing.
What got me through those disastrous days was the support from
Jesus and two of my close brothers in Christ.
Every day during that
heart wrenching year Iíd meet with a friend of 23 years.
Jim provided the needed
direction and encouragement during this time of turmoil.
He helped me maneuver through uncharted and rough waters.
Organized church can be cold and clinical at times.
Sitting in front of a pastorís desk in a counseling session can
be beneficial, but nothing beats a warm, friendly, and Holy Spirit led
brother's shoulder to cry on.
I suppose I could have
found a warm shoulder and even more at the local bar, but that
wouldnít have produced the results the Holy Spirit provides through a
brother in Christ. It's the
Holy Spirit in our relationships that makes our relationships unique.
It was the third Sunday
in March 1992 when I finally heard the bad news. I
knew it was coming, but that doesn't soften the blow.
I just didnít know exactly when it would come.
Strangely enough, it came an hour after a Sunday morning church
service that we attended. Even
though I knew the reality of the situation it was devastating.
My head was in a daze, and my heart was void of emotion.
I sat speechless on our love seat where no love could be found.
Nothing could have been said that would have made a difference,
so I said little. It was all
over. My life stood still.
I was stuck in suspended animation, completely numb of any normal
human emotion. I might as
well have been a wooden statue or a corpse void of its soul.
Little did I know that
Jesus was working behind the scene on my behalf, and this is where the
divine aspect of personal relationships comes into play.
It was the evening of the day I received the bad news.
It was in a Sunday night church service that my friend Jim
didnít normally attend. As
he was leaving the building he was stopped by an elderly lady I knew 15
years earlier. She asked Jim
if he was
The lady proceeded to
tell Jim that just the evening before she had opened an old box from her
attic that she hadnít seen in years.
That was about 17 hours before I received the depressing news.
In the box was my wedding invitation that I had sent her in 1977.
Jesus told her to take the invitation out of the box, place it on
her mantel, and pray for Steve. During
prayer Jesus told her that He would make sure I always had a place to
live, and that I would always have shoes on my feet.
In other words, Jesus would look after me despite the upcoming
loss and uncertainties that would follow.
Jim was amazed at what he
heard. He was especially
amazed at the timing. Again,
Jesus spoke to this prayer warrior just hours before I received the
devastating news. Now she
was relating these things to Jim just hours after I received the news,
and Jim just happened to be in the same meeting with her that he seldom
attended. He then explained
why Jesus had her pray for me.
Two days later I sat on a
bench at our local mall. An
elderly lady sat down on the bench behind me.
In a soft and frail voice she asked me if I was
In a spirit of gracious
concern she told me that just three days earlier she discovered my
wedding invitation buried in a box in the attic.
She told me that Jesus had her take the invitation out of the
box, place it on her mantel, and pray for me.
Right there in the mall she spoke the word of the Lord to me.
"Jesus told me to tell you that He would always provide a
place for you to live and that He would always make sure you have shoes
on your feet." I took
that to mean Jesus would look after me despite my loss and my uncertain
future. Right there in the
mall, I began to cry. Iím
not sure if anyone saw my tears, but I didnít really care.
When Jesus speaks to you in such a miraculous way you don't care
who sees you cry.
This prophetic word came
from a dear old sister in Christ who I had not seen in 15 years, in a
place where I least expected. It
was exactly the appropriate word for the appropriate moment.
This is the community of Christ in action.
Thanks to Mrs. Fisk whose heart was so right before the Lord that
she could hear His voice. One
thing is clear; we should never relegate the gifts of the Holy Spirit to
just meetings. As in the
book of Acts, they are for every day use.
It was about a month
later while in a small gathering when a brother in the Lord from
When I talk about church,
Iím not talking organizational structure.
I'm talking about being properly joined to a few other believers
in divinely appointed, Holy Spirit led, friendships.
That's church. The
clinicalization found in many parts of the ecclesiastical maze just
In the mid 1990's my
pastor and friend took it upon
I knew the change was
coming. I had talked this
issue over with the pastor a number of times.
He had always opposed the Shepherding Movement of the 1970ís
because of its emphasis on submission to authority.
I told him that the same emphasis was found in the Apostolic
Movement that he had just submitted us under.
The only difference was that we were now submitting to an apostle
instead of a shepherd.
This particular movement
taught that each apostle preached his own gospel. This idea was based on
Paulís use of the words "my gospel" in Romans 2:16 and
16:25. This meant that our
apostle had his own teaching emphases and we were to submit to it.
I believed that parts of his teaching was unbiblical, which
included what I thought was a dictatorial view of apostolic leadership.
Because I could not fully embrace the apostle's teaching I was
deleaderized and squeezed out of the picture.
Within 8 months of my departure in 2001 the congregation folded.
I considered much of what
this particular apostle taught to be secondary issues that could be
debated but not worth separating over.
He and our pastor considered all of their teaching to be primary
issues and worth splitting over. It's
my opinion that we should be able to maintain fellowship and ministry
with one another even though we may differ on such topics as
eschatology, but that's not always the case in the ecclesiastical maze.
I think there's much
misunderstanding about apostles. The Greek word "apostolos" is
transliterated into English as "apostle".
"Apostolos" simply means "one who is sent". An
apostle is one who is sent out from the local community of Christ upon
the understanding that it is God's will. I
know of one pastor who considers himself to be an apostle, but he has
been in the same location for 20 plus years.
He only arrived there because of a church split.
He wasn't actually sent. He
simply left. The word
"apostle" implies movement.
If you're not on the move, you're not an apostle.
It's not difficult to figure out.
I do believe that the
apostolic ministry is a valid ministry for today.
Iím not of the opinion that this ministry died once the first
generation church passed away. Apostles
are one of four ministries of Christ that Paul mentions in Ephesians
4:11. That being said, I do
believe that today's apostles are on a lower level of importance than
the 12 Apostles and the Apostle Paul.
In 2 Corinthians 11:5 and
12:11 Paul makes reference to what he calls "super-apostles".
Apparently there were some men who were billing themselves as
being real special supermen of God. Paul
was disgusted with these supersized apostles and their super superior
Paul's calling was to
preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as a servant.
"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle
and set apart for the gospel of God (Romans 1:1 NIV)".
Paul considered his apostleship in terms of being a servant, not
in terms of being a super-apostle. He
preached the gospel of God, not his own special gospel, as we were told
in the 1990's.
The fact that Paul and
the other apostles were called to preach the gospel tells me that church
planting was not their main goal. The
salvation of men and women was the goal.
Once a few individuals came to salvation Paul and others would
help the new believers to live within the confines of the community of
Christ. The idea that
apostles are church planters in my thinking is putting the cart before
the horse. Apostles are
first and foremost soul savers.
In 1 Corinthians 9:2 Paul
says, "Though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to
you." Paul was an
apostle to these Corinthians because he led them to Jesus.
It was now his job to care for them.
How he did that is a study unto itself.
One thing is sure. Paul
never exercised his apostolic authority in a dictatorial, super-apostle
fashion. Instead, as God's
servant he cared for God's people.
Our modern western world
church is heavily influenced by the prevailing worldly thinking of the
day, including the super-star world of entertainment mentality.
This intrusion into church has created super-apostles,
super-pastors, and super-preachers.
That's just not Biblical. If
the church is to be effective in the days ahead we must return to the
In the last chapter I
mentioned that I could not fully embrace all of the teaching of the
apostle our pastor submitted himself and our congregation under.
I considered these teachings to be secondary issues.
The Apostle Paul called them disputable matters in Romans 14:1
that we should not separate over. However,
the apostle and our pastor considered them to be primary teachings that
were worth separating over. For
that reason I was slowly but surely shown the door.
One teaching I couldn't
support was Replacement Theology which is a sub-doctrine of Restoration
or Covenant Theology. Replacement
Theology teaches that the church has replaced
I won't explain why I
reject Replacement Theology here. I've
done that elsewhere, including the following;
I don't believe we should
separate ourselves or be forced to leave a congregation simply because
we don't agree with every theological issue.
As a matter of fact, I believe that within any assembly of the
saints different views on secondary issues should be taught so people
can decide for themselves where they stand on these issues,
but this is not the case in the ecclesiastical maze.
If my pastor was teaching
that the Deity of Christ is not Biblical, or, if he wanted to unite in
worship with Muslims, I would protest as I found my own way to the door.
We should never compromise on the essentials of salvation
Believe it or not, there
will come a day when doctrinal distinctives won't divide the church, but
that won't come until Jesus returns to create the unity He prayed for in
In August 2001 my wife
and I followed through on our pastor's suggestion to move on to another
congregation. Moving on
wasn't as easy as you might think.
Each year from 2003 to
2005 we attended three different traditional congregations.
One might call that church hopping, but it wasn't.
Up until 2001 I had been a part of 3 church streams.
From birth to age 20 I was part of my parents expression of
church, that being the
In 2002 my wife and I
began to attend Sunday morning meetings at a Pentecostal church.
Upon our arrival the congregation was in the process of splitting
apart. A political style
battle was raging between a group who insisted the pastor must go and a
group who insisted he must stay. Like
most political battles there were secret meetings with a guard at the
door, gossip, manipulation, and people seeking prominence.
I was asked to join the church so I could cast my vote.
I refused. "Whatever
happened to not being conformed to this world (Romans 12:2 and 3)?"
I asked myself.
The dispute came down to
a vote after a Sunday morning meeting. When
the votes were tallied and the score announced, the pastor lost by a
fraction of a percentage point. I
couldn't believe my ears when one disgruntled parishioner stomped out of
the sanctuary. As he stomped
by me he yelled out "enjoy the fire and brimstones you
this is church?" I asked myself.
In 2003 we attended
Sunday meetings in a Charismatic style church that was formed from
another split from the church I just mentioned.
The meetings were vibrant but those in attendance were far from
friendly. At the time I was
leading a home Bible study group around a kitchen table with no
traditional church affiliation. For
this reason we were invited to attend home group leaders meetings.
We attended 4 of these meetings and on each occasion no one, not
even the pastor who sat in front of us on 2 occasions, talked with us.
It wasn't until the 4th gathering when my friend
dragged a few people over to make conversation.
By then it was too late. "I'm
ready to look elsewhere," I told myself.
In 2004 we attended
Sunday meetings at an Evangelical church that one friend coined a
"Charismatic Light" style church.
I played guitar in Sunday morning worship.
It didn't take long to note the same old relational problems.
The pastor's wife refused to speak to me and my friend on the
worship team. I'd say
"good morning" to her prior to worship and she'd walk away
without acknowledging my presence. "How
could she in all honesty worship with me and ignore me at the same time?
I asked myself.
"Three strikes and
you're out" is an old baseball saying.
Well, we had our three strikes and I certainly felt out of the
game of church, but that would not detour my relationship with Jesus as
it has with some I've known.
As Christians we're often
outraged by the sin we see in the world around us.
I suggest we shouldn't be so outraged.
Sinners sin. That's
just what they do. We should
be outraged by the sin we see in that which we call church.
Jesus wasn't outraged by the behaviour of sinners.
He was outraged by the hypocrisy of the religious establishment
of his day.
It was in 2002 when I was
asked to lead a home Bible study group.
After some prayer and thought we began to meet Tuesday evenings.
I suggested we start with Romans, my favourite book of the Bible,
and once finished we'd see if we wanted to continue.
We're now on the brink of 2016 and we're still gathering for
Sitting around a kitchen
table where everyone is relaxed and feels free to say anything, whether
right or wrong, is the best way for a person to learn, and that includes
learning the Bible. This
assumes that the leader is qualified with sufficient Biblical
understanding to instruct, guide, and keep everyone on the right track.
This also assumes that the leader doesn't do all of the talking.
It's called participation, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 14.
The leader asks one simple question; "What do you think the author
is saying in this phrase or word?"
You don't ask, "What are your thoughts about this phrase or
word," because our thoughts are not really relevant in matters of
I know that Jesus spoke
to thousands on the side of the mountain, but those who were committed
to Him and were being prepared to take His place, He taught in a small
group or one on one. He
interacted with them on a daily basis. He
took the daily experiences of life and turned them into teaching
sessions. His instruction
was not based on organizational structure but on personal relationships
He had with His disciples. We
call that discipleship, and discipleship does not occur during a
traditional Sunday sermon.
Note what the Apostle
Paul said about a meeting of the saints.
"When you come together, everyone has a hymn, a word of
instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.
All of these things must be done for the strengthening of the
church Ö Two or three prophets should speak Ö You can all prophesy
so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged (1 Corinthians 14:26 -
33 NIV). Effective meetings
are participatory. People
don't position themselves in pews and watch a performance on the
platform or behind a pulpit.
The least effective way
to learn anything is to just sit and listen to someone talk.
As the church, we've taken the least effective way to teach,
which is the Sunday sermon, and turned it into the centerpiece of the
church calendar. According
to 1 Corinthians 14, we've got it all backwards, but that's the way it
often is in the ecclesiastical maze.
For the first 20 years of
my life church was all about meeting in a building that we called a
church but Biblically speaking couldnít be a church because we all
knew church wasnít a building. Sometimes
we called the building the House of God but according to Acts 17:24 God
doesn't live in buildings made by man.
So, if we know church isn't a building and God doesn't live in a
man made house, why do we still call a building church or the House of
God? Maybe we don't know
these things sufficiently enough to live out what we claim to know.
From what I've been
saying, you might think that I believe the New Testament teaches home
groups or house churches to be the only valid expression of church.
That's not really the case.
When I grew of age in the
Lord and left the comfort of my parent's expression of church in 1971 my
friends and I met in homes. That
was only to be expected since we had no other place to meet.
It was a matter of practicalities, not a matter of a doctrinal
position about church. Over
the next 2 decades we also gathered in parks, schools, hotels, motels,
community centres, and wherever seemed convenient at any given time. Where
we gathered wasnít important. Getting
together was the important thing. Jesus
had joined us together for a reason and it wasn't just for the fun of
fellowship. We had a job to
do. We were to function as
vital parts of His body, much of which took place outside of meetings,
which by the way is New Testament thinking.
Think back to when you
were first captivated with love for the opposite sex.
You didn't care where you met up with the love of your life.
You just wanted to be together. It
wasn't about location, location, location, as a real-estate agent would
put it. It was about
relationship, relationship, relationship, as the Apostle Paul would say.
This wasn't the case in
1973 when I sat beside a man on a train who I discovered to be a
Christian. I was overjoyed
to meet a brother in Jesus that I'd never met before.
I extended my hand in an expression of joy and brotherly love.
His limp hand shake and his nonchalant response spoke volumes.
Meeting a fellow believer for him was no big deal.
I wasnít used to such a response. My
friends and I were always excited to meet a brother in Christ.
A personal relationship with Jesus and others in the Body of
Christ was foremost in our hearts and minds.
That didn't seem to be the case with this man, but that's the way
it often is in the ecclesiastical maze.
Although it was common
practice for first generation Christians to meet in homes, the New
Testament does not specifically teach home churches to be the only valid
expression of church. Besides,
home churches can be just as routine and traditional as church building
churches. I visited one home
church that had a pulpit, chairs arranged in rows, and an offering
plate. The service began
with a few songs, followed by the passing of an offering plate, a
sermon, and a closing prayer.
Clearly, the room in which you meet is not the issue.
Century old church
buildings that might once have been an expression of faith and worship
are now often seen as a testimony of man's artistic talent and
ingenuity. Many of the newer
mega church buildings tell us lots about the organizations that own
these buildings. These
organizations look more like a Wall Street Fortune Five Hundred Company
than an expression of the living Body of Christ. For
the average middle income church group buildings are increasingly
becoming a financial burden. The
time, effort, and finances directed towards these buildings often
inhibit the task at hand.
It's interesting to note
that for the first couple of centuries of church history Christians were
often criticized for not having a specific place of worship like other
religions had. This was the
case because the early church understood itself to be a vibrant
community of believers joined together in the service of the Lord.
It was a counter-cultural community of the redeemed who
functioned in unified fashion. Church
for them, and it should be for us, was not about meetings or buildings.
Church was, and always should be, about the individual being
baptized or submerged into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13) and
having a sense of belonging to those to whom he has been placed beside
in Christ's body (Romans 12:5).
Over the decades the Lord
has gifted me from time to time with a word of prophecy or a word of
knowledge to encourage and instruct others in the Body of Christ.
You can see these gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12,
which by the way I don't believe abruptly fell off the face of the
spiritual universe once the first generation believers passed away.
In one meeting I watched
a brother in Christ lying prostrate and weeping before the Lord.
Jesus told me why he was weeping and it had nothing to do with
the prayers being prayed over him at the time.
The word of knowledge I received was far too personal and
sensitive to be shared in public so I asked Jesus for an opportunity to
share this word in private. Later
that day this brother invited me out for coffee.
Without any manipulation of the conversation on my part he just
opened an area of his life that few would dare to share.
I was amazed at how Jesus swung the door wide open.
With ease I spoke the word of the Lord.
It brought immediate and needed relief into his life.
For the record, I view
prophecy as a serious matter. Iím
very careful what I speak, where I speak, when I speak, and to whom I
speak. Iíve seen far too
many abuses of this gift to do differently.
I actually got to the point where I told the Lord I didn't want
anything more to do with prophesying.
Maybe the abuses of this gift was why the Apostle Paul told us
not to despise prophecy (1 Thessalonians 5:20).
I was especially frustrated after a mid-week meeting in my home
where I felt I had a word of prophecy for a sister in the Lord but in
the process of debating with myself whether to share it or not I waited
too long and the meeting shifted directions.
"That's it", I told Jesus after everyone had left.
"I'm through with prophesying," but the Lord thought
differently. Within 10
seconds of my assertion the phone rang.
It was the sister in Christ to whom I was to speak the word of
the Lord. Again, without any
manipulation of the conversation she confided in me, and I spoke the
word of the Lord to her. After
hanging up the phone it didn't take me long to apologize to Jesus for
There was another time I
was more than hesitant in sharing the word of the Lord.
In a very large gathering Jesus gave me a prophetic word to
speak. During an appropriate
quiet-time in worship I knew I was to stand and speak, but I didn't.
My heart was beating hard and fast.
The room was silent. Everyone
knew that someone had a prophetic word.
That someone was me, but I chickened out.
Eventually someone else spoke the same word of prophecy I refused
It was in January in the
early 1970's. While kneeling
by my parent's bed in prayer Jesus told me that my father was
spiritually dead. That I
knew. He was in a
backslidden state. What I
didn't know was that according to Jesus dad would go through a tough
period in his life in mid June of that year.
This would drive him into what Jesus called a valley of
decisions. While in this
valley Jesus would draw dad to Himself and dad would return to Him.
My dad had what we used to call a nervous breakdown in the middle
of June. Jesus was right.
Dad returned to the Lord that very week.
I could go on, but I
won't. What I will say is that if I have any ministry at all in the
service of the Lord it's what I call teaching with a prophetic edge.
By that I mean I don't merely teach Biblical facts just for the
sake of knowing facts, even though facts are important.
I teach what I believe is Biblical truth that has prophetic
implications in our lives right now and into the future.
For this reason, some of what I teach may sound too negative for
some, but that's just the nature of prophetic teaching. A
casual reading of the Bible shows us that God often speaks a negative
Think about it this way.
Your house is in need of repair.
Before you begin to renovate you first admit your house needs
fixing. You must then
identify the problems and proceed to rip apart the defective parts.
Only then can you begin the needed repairs.
The same is true with the western church, which I believe is in
need of repair. Unless the
negatives are exposed there will be no positive change.
Unless we recognize what needs to be torn apart, nothing will be
I believe the word of the
Lord for our western world church is to repent of our humanistic ways of
doing church. We must return
to the Biblical blueprint. If
not, we can expect judgment, and that won't look pretty.
It appears to me that we are bent on judgment.
The Apostle Peter put it
this way. "Do not be
surprised at the painful trial you are suffering Ö for it is time for
judgment to begin with the family of God (1 Peter 4:12 and 17
NIV)." This prophetic
word is appropriate to our western world church today.
Painful trials will purify the church as our anti-Christ culture
puts the squeeze on us. Historically
speaking, persecution always purifies.
The fundamental problem as I see it is that church, even the Evangelical expression of church, is Biblically illiterate. That being the case, our western church is more a product of humanistic tradition than it is of Biblical teaching. In the next few chapters I will briefly attempt to state some foundational New Testament concepts about church. You can consider what I say as you study the Scriptures for yourself.
It was in 1992 when a
Bible teacher told me of the time he was invited to speak to a large and
prosperous congregation in Chicago. Everyone had been
anticipating his arrival, so when he approached the pulpit they were
caught off guard when he apologetically announced that Jesus had just
told him to set aside his prepared message.
Everyone wondered what he was about to say.
"This is the word of the Lord for His church," he said
wants His church back." With
that he sat down and gave way to the Holy Spirit who poured out a spirit
This prophetic word has
stuck with me over the years. If
it was a valid word from the Lord, as I believe it was, then the western
world church must return to Jesus what it has hijacked.
In Matthew 16:18 our
English Bibles states that Jesus will build His church.
Clearly, church belongs to Jesus.
There's just one thing to remember.
Jesus never uttered our English word church.
Matthew recorded Jesus' words in Koine Greek, the common street
level Greek of the day. Our
English word "church" is translated from the Greek word
"ecclesia" in Matthew 16:18.
Ecclesia means a group of people who has been taken out of a
larger group of people for a specific purpose.
For example, a camera club is an ecclesia.
A trade union is an ecclesia.
Church is an ecclesia. It
consists of those whom Jesus has taken out of the general population for
a specific purpose.
Even though Matthew wrote
Jesus' words in Greek, Jesus didn't speak them in Greek.
He would have spoken Aramaic or Hebrew.
If He spoke Aramaic He might have uttered the word "krista",
if Hebrew, He might have spoken the word "hakneset" or
"beth k'neset". We
just can't be certain exactly what word Jesus actually spoke.
Whatever the case, Matthew, being inspired by the Holy Spirit,
believed the Greek word "ecclesia" best fit what Jesus meant.
Whether it's Greek,
Aramaic, or Hebrew, the bottom line is pretty much the same.
Jesus predicted that He would take certain people from the
general population and make them vital participants in His community of
believers. I use the word
"community" because the New Testament teaches that church is
more of a community, a family, than a hierarchical organizational
structure. When Jesus said
that He would build "His" ecclesia, His ecclesia would be in
stark contrast to the Jewish ecclesia, a religious organization that had
become static, legalistic, humanistic, and full of the traditions of
The Greek word that is
translated as "build" in this verse is "oikodomeo".
It's made up of two Greek words meaning, "to build" and
"a house". The
house in this instance is best understood in Old Testament Jewish terms.
It's a family household, as seen in the house of Micah (Judges
18:2), the house of Eli (1 Samuel 3:14), and the house of David (1
Samuel 20:16). Jesus' house
isn't a brick and mortar building that houses an organization.
It's a family, and like a family it reproduces itself through
spiritual births from one spiritual generation to the next.
The Greek verb
"oikodomeo" (English verb build) in this verse is a future
indicative Greek verb. This
means that at some future point from when Jesus spoke these words He
would in fact, in no uncertain terms, build His family, His household,
His community of believers, who would belong to Him.
This verb tense makes Jesus' prediction an absolute certainty.
So, if we have indeed hijacked Jesus' church in the western world, somehow, somewhere, and at some point in time, you can bet that Jesus will get His church back. It's my belief that He will accomplish this in the western world through pressure and persecution from the anti-Christ culture in which we live because historically and Biblically speaking, that's often how it works when the church refuses to voluntarily hand back what rightfully belongs to Jesus. See Revelation 2 and 3. Jesus wants His church back.
I believe the fundamental
aspects of church in our thinking should be based on the Bible.
We can build on this Biblical foundation in such a way that best
meets the needs of the culture in which we live.
That being said, there are certain New Testament teachings that
cannot nor should not be set aside in our attempt to make church
relevant in today's world. Such
attempts have been made in past centuries which have devastated the true
nature of church. Such
attempts are being made right now as I write these words.
These too will devastate what the church is meant to be.
We drive cars today.
We use computers and the internet in the service of our Lord.
We play electric guitars with various styles of music. We have
these kinds of things and more at our disposal to use in the service of
the Lord, something the Apostle Paul never had.
We don't have to trade our computers in for Paul's parchment
paper, but, we must not trade in the fundamental aspects of church that
are not meant to change from one generation to the next.
One thing Iíd like to
make clear is that the fundamental truths of Scripture concerning church
are cross-cultural. They
work in all cultures and in all generations.
The secondary aspects of church, like electric guitar playing in
worship, arenít necessarily cross-cultural.
Styles of worship vary from place to place, from culture to
culture, and from time to time. My
banjo playing certainly fits into worship in the hills of
My dad couldnít play
his acoustic or steel guitar in a church meeting back in 1956 when he
became a Christian. Guitars
were considered worldly and sinful back then, but a guitar canít be
sinful in itself. Iíve
never seen a guitar commit a sin; have you?
This was a cultural issue, not a foundational issue, even though
it was taught to us as a foundational issue.
This was clearly a disservice to my dad as a young Christian.
He had forsaken his locally popular country band when he gave his
life to Jesus. The sad fact
is that he had nowhere to play his guitars other than at home until
years later when the church finally got around to sanctifying the
The fundamental aspect to
church is the Holy Spirit. He
came into the lives of the believers at Pentecost (Acts 2) giving birth
to the Body of Christ, otherwise known as the church.
Godís intent in birthing the church was for Him to live among
his people, thus giving a reputable representation of who He is to the
Have you ever noticed how
many times God has poured out His Spirit to various parts of the church
over the years? It appears
to me that this is necessary because we continually replace the Holy
Spirit with our manmade traditions.
What else can God do but keep pouring out His Spirit to bring us
back to His original intent for church.
Well, there is another thing He can do, and that's to bring
severe judgment to the church that rips all humanism from within its
walls. He has done that
before and I'm convinced He will do that again to the western world
church. I believe a careful
study of history and especially of Revelation 2 and 3 makes that clear.
The Holy Spiritís
activity in the lives
Romans 8:9 tells us that
anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ.
Paul makes it clear that the Spirit of Christ is essential to
personal salvation. In like
fashion, the Holy Spirit is essential to the life of church.
There is no church without the Holy Spirit.
Jesus didnít just die
on the cross to forgive our sins. Our
sins have been forgiven so God can see us without seeing our sin.
At that point, and only at that point, can the Holy Spirit come
to live within the repentant person.
Forgiveness of sins is not the end of the matter.
Itís the beginning of the matter.
Forgiveness of sins is the prerequisite by which we can receive
the Spirit of God into our lives that enables us to function as we were
meant to function in the Body of Christ.
The most basic Biblical
truth concerning church is the presence of the Holy Spirit in its life.
His presence in the life of the individual and the life of church
is irreplaceable. Without
the Holy Spirit there simply is no church.
In 1 Corinthians 12:27
Paul says, "You are the Body of Christ." He
repeats this phrase in Ephesians 4:12 and alludes to it elsewhere.
Should we understand the term "Body of Christ"
metaphorically, figuratively, or symbolically or should we understand it
to be literal, as in a literal body?
To ask it another way, is the term "Body of Christ"
descriptive of what church is or is the church Jesusí literal present
day physical earthly body?
I donít believe Paul
understood the term "Body of Christ" metaphorically,
figuratively, or symbolically. I
believe he understood it to be a literal body.
John 1:14 says that the Word (pre-incarnate Jesus) became flesh
in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When Jesus ascended into the clouds in Acts 1 He no longer had
the same physical presence on earth that He once had.
To make up for this loss the miracle of Acts 2 took place.
Acts 2 describes the
scene as the Holy Spirit entered the lives of the believers, something
Jesus predicted would take place in John 14:15 to 22.
The same Spirit that lived in Jesus now lived in the believers,
both individually and collectively.
As Jesus' earthly body was the human physical body of God on
earth, so the church is the literal human physical body of God on earth.
In this sense of the word, the church is the literal physical
human Body of Christ on earth. We
are His flesh, blood, and bones.
John 20:21 says that as
the Father sent Jesus into the world so Jesus sends us into the world.
We represent Jesus in the same way Jesus represented His Father.
As God was in Christ, so Christ is in us.
The Apostle Paul says something similar.
"God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself Ö
and He has committed unto us the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians
5:19 - KJV)." Since we
are now Christís physical presence in the world, it is important for
us to view ourselves in this light.
We are more than an organization called church.
Collectively, we are a body in whom the Spirit of Christ lives.
We are the literal, flesh, blood, and bones replacement body of
All bodies consist of
body parts. Jesus' body is
no different. Each believer
is a vital part of the Body of Christ.
Of course, all bodies have a head.
Ephesians 5:22 and 23 says that Jesus is the head of His body.
He's the brain. He
calls the shots for all that takes place in His body.
He sends the signals to all body parts to carry out His will.
This is another fundamental truth about church that is not
evolutionary in nature. It's
sad to say, but in many parts of the ecclesiastical maze the headship of
Jesus has been forgotten, ignored, and simply dismissed.
Weíve taken charge of Jesus' body, and we fight each other for
prominence in the process.
Just imagine if your own
body acted in the same way the ecclesiastical maze acts.
Your right hand thinks it is in charge.
Your mouth claims to be the dominant body part, while your nose
claims to be a mouth. What
if your left foot goes one direction while your right foot goes the
other direction? This is
what church has become in many respects.
No wonder the world laughs at us.
We are the present day human physical body for the Spirit of Christ to live in and Jesus is our Head. As parts of His body we follow His lead. We all have a specific job to perform in Christ's body. No one is unemployed. Itís all about individuals being joined to a few other individuals, working alongside of each other in functional friendships. Itís not a matter of finding a church to go to. It's a matter of being joined in personal relationships with a few other believers for both fellowship and ministry in the Body of Christ where Jesus is the Head.
Unlike other so-called
religious leaders in history, Jesus didnít promote buildings of
worship, hierarchical ecclesiastical structures, or complex liturgical
confessionals. As a matter
of fact, for the first couple hundred years of the history of the church
Christians were often criticized for not having buildings and images of
worship. Both Jesus and the
early Christians promoted personal relationships among themselves, not
an hierarchical organized structure that institutionalizes these
relationships. This was seen
throughout the ministry of Jesus.
Once Jesus was baptized
by John He set out to call certain individuals unto Himself.
"Jesus went up onto a mountainside and called to them those
He wanted, and they came to Him (Mark 3:13 NIV)."
For the next few years Jesus devoted Himself to those He called
to follow Him. It was all
about building relationships with those He called until the day He was
taken to Heaven, but it didn't end there.
"I will not leave you as orphans: I will come to you Ö
(John 14:11 NIV)." Within
days of passing through the clouds into Heaven Jesus returned to those
He called by entering their lives in the form of His Spirit.
During the last 40 days
of His earthly existence in a physical human body Jesus strengthened the
personal relationships with those He had called.
It was still all about personal relationships.
One example of this is when Jesus told the women standing by His
grave to tell His brothers (the eleven) to meet Him in
Once in Galilee Jesus
told the eleven to go into the entire world, baptizing and teaching
everyone to obey Him (Matthew 28:16 - 20).
Unless they had a powerful hose that could spray a large crowd at
one time, baptizing is a personal activity.
It's one individual baptizing another individual.
That speaks of personal relationships.
As these disciples went
throughout the world Jesus promised to be with them (Matthew 28:20).
In fact Jesus, by His Spirit, would work with the eleven
confirming their preaching with miracles (Mark 16:20).
This speaks of personal relationships.
On one occasion Jesus
rebuked the disciples for not trusting Him (Mark 16:14).
Trust is a relational issue.
One day Jesus walked with
two men to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 - 39) a distance of seven miles from
commissioned the eleven by saying,
Jesus asked Peter if he
loved Him (John 21:15 and following).
That's a pretty personal question.
Then He told Peter to care for His sheep.
Caring for people is a matter of personal relationships.
I could say more but I'm
sure you get my point. Most
all that Jesus said and did throughout His ministry, was all about
personal relationships. Yes,
he did speak to the masses, but that was not the main focus of His
ministry. His important work
was done on a personal level. The
institutionalizing of relationships never entered His mind, but that's
the way it is in much of the ecclesiastical maze today.
Jesus criticized the
Judaism of His day for its hypocritical bureaucracy. I
wonder if He'd make the same criticism about today's western world
church that in many cases has institutionalized personal relationships
out of existence.
If each individual
Christian is a specific part of Jesusí earthly body, then like our own
physical body parts, we are not all the same part (1 Corinthians 12:14).
You might be an ear. Someone
else might be a tongue. Then
thereís me. Maybe I'm an
armpit. Some people may not
like being an armpit but the Apostle Paul says that such undesirable
body parts should receive special honour (1 Corinthians 12:23).
Thanks Paul. Some of
us need to hear that. You
are inherently different from me, and Iím inherently different from
you. Your job in the body is
different from mine, and no job is less important than another.
We should have mutual respect for one another and the job we
perform in the service of our Lord.
As parts of Christís
body, weíre not all personally joined to every other body part in the
body. Your big toe on your
left foot isn't joined to your mouth, even though some of us do put our
feet in our mouths at times. If
you're like me, your toes never touch your mouth, but of course, not
everyone is like me. Your
big toe on your left foot is joined to other bones on your left foot.
Your big toe works directly with these bones so your foot can
My point is simple.
I'm personally joined to just a few specific people in the Body
of Christ. Iím not joined
to everybody. That's Bible
biology. I believe that
Jesus personally joins you and I to other individuals in functional
friendships. Our friendships
form joints in the Body of Christ.
Look at the bones in your
finger. They are joined to
one another for two reasons. They're
joined to support one another. That
is to say, the connection between bones prevents the bones from falling
to the floor. These bones
are also joined together to function.
That is to say, these bones are meant to function together for
the health of your hand. Each
body part in your body, no matter which part, has its own job to do and
a job to perform with a couple other body parts to make the body
Have you ever considered
that Jesus has joined you to your Christian friends for a reason?
We tend to think in terms of being joined to an organization.
There is validity in that, especially in our western world, but
first and foremost we are joined relationally to individual people in
the Body of Christ.
Maybe you've never
thought of this, but most Christian endeavors in western world
Christianity are performed in conjunction with an organization that
creates the endeavor, monitors it, provides the material for it, and
chooses those to participate in it.
Everything centers around the organization, and again, I
understand the need for organization.
I also understand we can organize the Body of Christ out of
I believe Jesus has
placed individuals into Christian friendships for a reason, and it's not
just for the fun of fellowship. Friends
in the Body of Christ are meant to support one another as they serve
Jesus in some capacity. So,
donít always think organizationally when you think of church and
relationally. Think in terms
of working with those friends Jesus has placed you alongside, whether
they are in the particular organization you are in or not.
Don't neglect those brothers or sisters to whom Jesus has joined
you outside of the organization you are a part of.
Jesus might well want you to work with them in His service.
What Iím speaking about
here is what I call "functional relationships". Our
relationships in the Body of Christ have an element of functionality.
Our Holy Spirit led friendships involve work.
I know if we all thought relationally instead of organizationally
most church groups would undergo a welcomed transformation.
One problem I see in the
ecclesiastical maze is that weíve lost the relational aspect of
church. Weíve replaced relationships with organization.
Emmy Lou Harris once lamented that in the making of music weĎve
lost the living room experience in our music.
Emmy Lou Harris and her friends once sat around in their living
rooms or kitchens enjoying each other as they played musical instruments
and sang songs. Once the
business of music set in, the making and selling of records, the living
room experience was lost. The
living room was replaced with the studio and the industry's board rooms.
Thatís the way it is in much of the ecclesiastical maze.
Weíve lost the living room experience in the Body of Christ and
have replaced it with the business of church. We've institutionalized
Here are a few pertinent
questions to ask yourself. Who
are my closest friends? Do
I believe Jesus has joined me to these friends?
Am I maintaining a good relationship with these friends?
Are my friends and I doing anything in the service of our Lord
together? I suggest that you
think of your friendships as avenues in the service for Jesus.
Your friends might well
be in the church group you are a part of, and you might well be working
for Jesus with them. If this
is so, great. My heart goes
out to the growing multitude of Christians who are no longer satisfied
with a traditional church that has lost the living room experience.
This message is especially for them.
If you are one unhappy church-goer, I hope and pray you donít
leave the Body of Christ. You
might leave traditionalism, but you must never leave those to whom Jesus
has joined you in His Body. It
is with these friends that you can find your place in the Body of Christ
in what I call functional relationships.
If you have no such relationships, for your own good, seek them
If youíre confused
about functional relationships, let me be a story-teller for one
Emery had been part of a
traditional church for years but of late has been discouraged and
frustrated over what he calls political maneuvering and corporate style
management of church affairs. He
has a mid-management job with a mid-size corporation.
He now concludes that modern-day church life looks more like his
world of business than the pattern set forth in the Bible.
He stepped down from leadership at his church a few months ago
and was saddened that no one in the congregation seemed interested in
knowing why he handed in his resignation.
Emery has two close Christian friends named Ralph and Jack.
Ralph has been outside of the traditional church for five years
now, and enjoys his day of rest every Sunday.
Jack on the other hand is a part of a community church and is
quite happy where he is, and unlike Ralph he is very busy every Sunday.
One Monday these three
men met at a local coffee shop. Emery
told the others that the previous day was his last meeting at the church
he had attended for years. Ralph
placed his coffee cup on the table while his heart sank to the floor
when he heard Emeryís words. He
and Jack knew what that church once meant to Emery, but Emery was no
longer happy with the business of church.
Jack was the first to
respond. "So whatís
Emery hung his head while
answering, hoping no one would notice the tear that was attempting to
slip from the corner of his left eye. "Iím not sure Jack.
Church has always been a big part of my life, but I just seem to
have a hard time with it when I read something altogether different in
It was obvious to Ralph
how Emery felt. "You
feel pretty bad about this, donít you Emery?"
With his eyes focused
downward on his coffee cup Emery replied.
"After being there for two decades I'm very relieved from
the stress of it all, but still itís breaking my heart."
"Theyíre going to
miss you around there Emery," Ralph said.
"You did a lot for that church."
responded Emery in a sad tone of voice.
Ralphís heart was
heavy. He felt for Emery.
He had experienced all this a few years back.
As he glanced at his fidgeting fingers, he said, "Emery,
there are two thoughts that come to people's mind when someone leaves a
church. They're whoís
going to fill his job and weíll miss his tithe."
Emery shook his head and
sighed, "Maybe thatís why no one was interested in why I stepped
down from leadership. Their
thoughts were consumed with my replacement and the loss of some church
income. Nevertheless, even
though Iíve left the organized church, I still want to serve
Ralph was glad to hear
that. "Many people
simply fade into obscurity at this point Emery, and you never see them
again, but thatís the worst thing they can do."
Jack wondered what Emery
might now do. "So if
you still want to serve Jesus, how will you do that since youíve left
Even though Jackís
question was directed towards Emery, Ralph jumped in with the answer.
"You can still serve Jesus outside of traditionalism.
Thereís absolutely no doubt about that."
Jack turned from looking
at Emery to catch Ralphís eyes and asked, "Howís that
"Itís all about
functional relationships," answered Ralph.
Both Emery and Jack were
curious. Jack asked,
"Whatís that? Is it
the latest Christian fad, or is it new age stuff?"
Ralph got a laugh over
that one. "No, itís
not new age and itís not the latest fad, although I do recognize that
many churches like chasing the latest Christian fad.
Itís actually a pretty old way of thinking.
Itís New Testament thinking, something many churches have
neglected and thatís why many Christians have never heard of it.
The three of us have been friends for years.
Weíve done lots of things together.
Weíve gone on countless fishing trips.
Weíve golfed together. Weíve
done a bunch of stuff together. Weíve
been a great support for each other, as is the case right now, but
thereís one thing weíve done little of together.
Weíve left that to the organized church."
Emery wasnít catching
where Ralph was heading so he asked, "So what havenít we
Ralph didnít leave his
two friends guessing. "We
havenít done much in the way of serving Jesus as three friends. Like
most people, weíve served in our local church groups in jobs they have
created for us. So this is
my suggestion. Letís get
together next Saturday and ask Jesus if thereís anything the three of
us can do for Him together. It
doesnít have to be a big deal, although if Jesus asks us to do
something, Iíd consider that a big deal."
The three met together
the next week. They
werenít sure if they heard anything from Jesus so they got together
two more times. After the
third session of prayer they felt Jesus had something for them to do as
Now six months later the
three men were out for coffee again talking about the journey they had
been on together over the last few months.
All three men felt Jesus asked them to reach out to a poor family
in town as well as providing a weekly Bible study for a few people who
wanted to understand Godís Word.
Unlike their coffee time
before their three sessions of prayer, Emery was now smiling.
"I canít believe how good I feel now. Six
months ago I felt so down and out and now I actually feel like Iím
doing something meaningful for Jesus.
Iím glad you came up with this idea Ralph."
Ralph couldnít let that
comment pass. "Emery,
Emery, you know that wasnít my idea.
Itís New Testament thinking.
Weíre all individual parts of the Body of Christ.
We all have our own specific job to do as well as working with a
couple other body parts to whom we are joined.
The traditional church hasnít joined us to each other.
Jesus has. Itís the
Holy Spirit that unites us in both friendships to be supportive of one
another as we function in the service of Jesus."
"Oh yes, Ralph.
Youíre right as usual," replied Emery.
"Ralph is always
right, Emery," added Jack.
"I sincerely doubt
that", responded Ralph as he laughed off the compliment.
Emery looked over at
Jack. "So what about
you Jack?" Youíre still a part of the traditional church.
How do you feel about what weíve been doing?"
Jack responded. "I
think itís great. Iím
still involved in the organized church, but itís clear that I have
this special bond with you two guys and what weíve been doing is very
rewarding for me, although there are some at the church who wonder why I
need to be involved outside of our church group."
typical," chuckled Ralph under his breath.
Emery spoke up by saying,
"I feel so much closer to both of you and at the same time I feel
our friendship is functioning in the Body of Christ."
A huge grin flashed
across Ralphís face. "Youíre
so right Emery. Thatís
what the Body of Christ is all about.
Remember, it's functional relationships."
brother," responded Emery as he pounded his fist on the table as if
the table was a pulpit and he was an old fashion preacher.
"Jesus has joined us together, not just to go on our fishing
trips, but to do something for Him. We have been joined together in
"By the way,"
interrupted Jack, "when are we going on our next fishing trip, or
will Jesus still let us do that?"
"He'll let us go.
There's no doubt about that," answered Ralph. "Jesus
went on a few fishing trips Himself. We
are joined to one another in friendship just as much as weíre joined
in service to Jesus." At
this point Ralph picks up the bill and goes to pay the cashier.
As the three men leave to
join their wives who were shopping next door, Emery says,
"hopefully I have some money left after my wife is finished
"Well at least you
donít have to give money to the church anymore," laughed Jack as
he patted Emery on the shoulder.
answered Emery. "I
still plan on putting aside the same amount of money each week.
Iím just giving elsewhere, to individuals and groups who need
it most, and I really donít care about the tax receipt anymore."
This story explains the
meaning of functional relationships. Each
one of these men had a friend that the other two men didnít have in
common. Ralph had a friend
named Brian. Emery and Jack
really didnít have a close friendship with Brian although they knew
him. Ralph and Brian visit
an elderly man in a nursing home. Emery
has a friend named Peter. They sing Christian tunes along with a few
secular songs together in a local pub.
Jack and his friend Paul joined a small art gallery with the
hopes of inspiring budding artists and sharing Jesus along the way. Thus
the chain of functional relationships extends outward throughout the
Body of Christ as it was meant to be.
For those who are happy
in the traditional church and see no need to change anything, thatís
fine, but Iíd suggest this. The
time might soon come that outside pressures will close many traditional
church doors. If this
happens, the story of this chapter will become very meaningful and
relevant to you. Jesus
functioned relationally with His disciples.
So did Paul, Peter, and the rest of the early church.
You might be forced to live this way at some point as well, and
if you are forced to live this way, consider yourself fortunate and
blessed to be a functioning member with your friends in the Body of
Leadership provides the
atmosphere for those being led. If
youíre an employer, the way you conduct yourself and corporate
business will directly effect your employee's productivity.
Itís therefore leadershipís responsibility to provide a
healthy atmosphere for those they lead.
Christian leadership is no exception to this rule.
The book of Malachi shows
how upset God was with the Jewish leaders in that era.
He was so upset that He said that He would rub the faces of the priests
in animal manure (Malachi 2:3).
That doesnít sound very pleasant.
From the days of Malachi, a span of four hundred years had
elapsed before God spoke to Israel
again. It wasnít until
John the Baptist appeared on the scene that God spoke to Israel
once again. Then, when He finally did
speak through John, the message was, "repent if you want to find
harshest words were directed towards the Jewish leaders.
Jesus showed the same frustration with leaders who had evolved
into an elite class of people with a "look at me because Iím
In many respects
Christian leadership over the years has looked very similar to both the
Jewish leaders of old and business leaders in todayís corporate world.
This can be seen in the many and various attempts over the
centuries to maintain this elite status of leadership.
I grew up in a denomination where pastors were transferred every
three to five years so their congregations would not get too familiar with
them. Once familiarity sets
in the people begin to lose respect for the pastor, or so we were told.
Your pastor could not be your friend.
That sounds more clinical than relational to me.
The Apostle Paul's relationship with Timothy
should soon strike that thinking down.
The Apostle Paul's relationship with Timothy should soon strike that thinking down.
Christian leaders are to
be servant leaders (Luke 22:25).
My wife and I found
ourselves in a hotel elevator with a world famous Charismatic Bible
teacher and his friend in 1985 while attending a weekend conference in
Christians were relatively simple in their approach to faith, to church,
and to leadership. Iíd love for us to return to such simplicity, but the
evolutionary spirit of church has overtaken us long ago.
Itís killed this simplicity and has choked the life out of the
Body of Christ. Iím told
we live in a much different world now and things just arenít that
simple any more. Well, maybe
Iím just showing my age in this respect, but I don't believe that for
I know this is debatable
by many Bible teachers but I believe thereís evidence the New
Testamentís model for leadership is plurality of leaders.
This means that leadership consists of a body of caring men, not
just one man. You can read
my detailed explanation of this elsewhere on my web site.
Plurality is based on
trusting relationships between leaders who work together for the common
good of the Body of Christ. Decisions
arenít made unilaterally based on one manís whims and wishes.
Beyond these leaders was a group called deacons who helped these
leaders care for Godís people.
There was a definite
departure from this model that
Whether you know it or
not, church today, including our leadership style, looks more like
The New Testament sets
forth certain qualities for a Christian leader that is not evolutionary
in nature. Paul, in 1
Timothy 3, lists some of these qualities that must be inherent within a
leader. These qualities are
formed deep within by the Holy Spirit.
If you look at the list, these qualities are fairly relational in
nature. For example, a
leader needs to be a caring husband of one wife.
Leadership is all about who you are, not just about what you
bring to the job by way of education and job experience.
Now that Iíve mentioned
the word "job", leading Godís people is not a job.
Itís not an office one holds either as the
King James Bible suggests in 1 Timothy 3:1 when it uses the word
"office" in reference to elders.
The word "office' is not found or implied in the Greek text.
Leaders lead, and the word "lead" is an action word.
The New Testament speaks more about doing the work of leading than being
called a leader. If a leader
fails to lead in Biblical terms, he should not be leading.
Sometimes I think there
are more real leaders in an average congregation than there are in
official leadership capacity in our churches today.
Some of these official leaders should be in the congregation,
while some in the congregation should be leaders, but thatís the way
it is in the ecclesiastical maze.
Again, if you go to the
topical section of my web site, I've written extensively on the nature
of the church. I've only
briefly touched on it here.
This has been a brief
look at my 6 plus decades of association with church, or as I call it,
"My Journey Through The Ecclesiastical Maze."
Iíve tried to link my story to my understanding of Biblical
truth, and I do say my understanding.
You might view things differently than me and that's fine.
I canít be right on every issue I have presented, although
Iíd like to think I am. Of
course, there are many more events in my life and Biblical issues I
could have addressed but I have to stop somewhere, so I stop here.
Iíve concluded my story
with certain Biblical teachings that I believe are not evolutionary in
nature, that should not changed over the years.
The nature of the Body of Christ and its implications should be
fundamental to our approach to church.
I think in much of western Christianity we have departed from
this aspect of church over the years.
Weíve allowed extra-Biblical thinking to shape our approach to
church. Therefore, I also
conclude that how we view the Bible is one of the basic problematic
issues we need to address. In
many instances weíve adopted a post-modern stance.
We want to experience the gospel without understanding its
details. That wonít work.
Youíll eventually depart from the gospel of Jesus if you ignore
its details. Experience and
understanding must be in proper balance.
Over the years Iíve
struggled with the idea about church being evolutionary in nature.
I once believed it was.
For those who believe church should evolve in all aspects over
time, Iíll help you out with a few points you might want to use in
your argument against me
You might suggest that
you might want to use against me concerns the Apostle John, one of the
original Twelve who lived
longer than the rest, although that is
debatable by some scholars. If
he in fact did die around the end of the first century and if he was
indeed the lead elder at
You might suggest that
John, whoever that John was, simply departed from Paulís Gentile
approach to church. I might
suggest that we donít have enough information concerning what Johnís
leadership style really looked like.
From what we know of John the disciple of Jesus, I donít think
he would have been an overly authoritarian leader, even if he was a one
man leader over other leaders.
Then thereís James.
Lots of people say James was a one man leader
in the first generation church. You
might be right on this point, although Iím not fully convinced.
I think there are some hints in the book of Acts that might lead
you to this conclusion, but no hard evidence to fully convince me.
Besides, there was a slight tinge of evolution in the early
church leadersí thinking concerning allowing Gentiles into the church.
James appears to have maintained his Jewishness more than Paul
and others. For this reason
he could have patterned the
Speaking of the Jewish
nature of the early church, some feel the need to return to this
Jewishness. They feel that
the slow departure from this Jewishness which was pretty well cemented
into tradition by 140 A D was evolutionary in nature and should not have
taken place. I do believe
the church began with the Jews. The
Scriptural principle is to the Jew first and then to the Gentile (Romans
1:13). I also believe that
the church beyond the second century departed too far from the church's
Jewish heritage. The anti-Jewishness that entered church thinking has
done much harm over the centuries.
Iíve concluded that
there are basic Biblical truths that are not evolutionary in nature. Beyond
these truths we can express our relationship with Jesus to the world
around us in ways that best meet the needs of society at any given time.
The only caution I have is that these expressions should not take
the place of non-evolutionary truths of Scripture.
This has been my journey.
This part of the story is now over.
I pray that great strides will be made in representing Jesus to a
world that desperately needs Him. Sometimes
I think that weíre not much different than
I like what Larry Norman
sang in his song entitled "A Small Circle Of Friends".
Concerning his friend Randy Stonehill, he sang, "I love you
as we both crawl towards the Lamp".
We may think that weíre blazing a triumphal trail straight to
the Lamp, meaning Jesus, but I think in reality weíre crawling more
than anything else. I do
like Larryís choice of words. Some
of us are reluctant to take the next step towards Jesus.
Some of us go kicking and screaming.
Some of us fall, get up, and fall again.
However weíre getting there, it seems to be "A Long Hard
Road" for all of us, which just happens to be another Larry Norman
song. I guess the 1960ís
have risen up within me again and can be seen in my affection towards
Larry Norman, who many call the father of Christian rock music.
Now that Iíve mentioned
the 1960ís I just have one last thing to say to my contemporaries.
I hope youíve maintained the fervor you had for Jesus decades
ago. From my
standpoint, many of us have traded in our fervor for Jesus for
freshness of finding Jesus and being related personally to Him and
others in His body has been replaced by the routine of church thatís
found in the ecclesiastical maze.
So as I end my account, I
repeat what the apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:7.
"Consider what I say and the Lord give you the understanding
in all things." May
Jesus help us all. We
canít do it without Him, and we should stop trying to do without Him.
I originally wrote this
in 2008, edited it in 2014 and 2016.
What lies ahead for me concerning church is uncertain.
After being away from the traditional church from about 2006 to
2016 it appears I may be heading back into it.
Where this takes me I'm not quite sure as yet.
One thing I do believe though, as our western world becomes more
anti-Christ in nature, church will be purified because of persecution.
It is in this way that I believe Jesus will restore the true
nature of the church in the western world, that being, the Body of
May our Lord Jesus Christ
direct you in the days to come.