About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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My Journey Through The
 Ecclesiastical Maze

                                                           

 

Contents

 

Preface

1  Ė Coming Into The World

2  Ė What Does Ecclesiastical Means?

3  Ė The Holiness Movement

4  Ė We Move To The Free Methodist Church

5  Ė Jesus Meets Us In The Basement

6  Ė Sunday Morning Meetings

7  Ė Youth Group

8  Ė Coming Of Age

9  - Gospel To Get

10 - The Sovereignty Of God

11 - Baptism In The Holy Spirit

12 - The House Of The Lord

13 - The Segregated Church

14 - The Community Of Christ

15 - Koinonia

16 - The Horizontal And The Vertical

17 - Introduction To Cults

18 - Healing Divides The Maze

19 - The Jesus People Movement

20 - The Last Big Purchase Of My Life

21 - Demons Divide The Maze

22 - Introduction To The Shepherding Movement

23 - Submission And Authority

24 - Obey Or Move On

25 - Let's Make A Covenant

26 - The Conservative Christian Right

27 - The Legalization Of Church  

28 - All Meetinged Out

29 - Friendships In The Midst Of  Disaster

30 - Super Apostles In The Apostolic Movement

31 - Distinctives That Divide

32 - Three Strikes And You're Out

33 - Home Groups

34 - The Fundamental Problem From My Perspective

35 - Jesus Wants His Church Back

36 - The Birth Of The Church

37 - Jesus, Head Of His Body

38 - The Institutionalizing Of Relationships

39 - Functional Relationships

40 - Three Men On A Relational Journey

41 - Christian Leadership

42 - Wrapping It All Up

Post Script

 

 

Preface

 

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 life in North America since 1950. 

      

 

1 - Coming Into This World

 

  

You may or may not recall it, but next to Ronald
Reaganís ďtear down this wallĒ statement the words ďI donít recallĒ were some of his most famous words spoken during the Iran-Contra hearings.  So, I borrow his words when I say that ďI donít recall itĒ, but Iím told that I came into this world on December 4th 195, in Belleville,
Ontario, Canada. I can only imagine poking my head out of the darkness into the light of day. Prior to this I would have only heard strange noises from without, echoing through an ocean that swirled around my head.  I wouldnít have had a clue what these sounds meant.  Some of my friends tell me that things havenít changed much for me since then.  Iím still as clueless as ever. Thanks a lot Tim, Robert, Reg, Jim and Ken. 

 

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 partially blind.         

 

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 Nashville if guitars werenít so sinful back then.  I canít quite figure out why the church thought guitars were bad when King David said that we should praise God with stringed instruments in Psalms 150:4.  Why could David play a stringed instrument and my dad couldnít?  Just to let you know, it took a few years but the church came around and let my dad play the guitar.  Proper exegesis of Scripture should always be a priority for us, but itís often not.            

 

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 quiet things. 

 

2 - What Does Ecclesiastical Mean?    

 

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 "ecclesia".  To 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.     

  

 

3 - The Holiness Movement

 

  

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 wasnít a Christian because he didnít go to church.  If was also obvious because he smoked.  Donít get me wrong, thereís nothing inherently good about smoking, but the Bible doesn't damn a person to the Lake of Fire because he smokes.  One Sunday school teacher actually told us that a person couldnít be a Christian if he smoked.  According to her logic, one is saved if he has faith and doesn't smoke.  That would make Jesusí death insufficient for our salvation.  We had to help Him out by adding our do not smoke rule.  Telling Jesus that His death wasnít good enough didnít sound very nice to me. 

 

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. 

 

Holiness people 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.

 

 

4 - We Move To The Free Methodist Church

 

  

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 - probable not.         

 

Talking about pews, I found myself jumping over some pews along with scores of others at a Kathryn Kuhlman meeting in Pittsburg , Pennsylvania , back in 1972.  After standing in line for seven hours the doors finally opened at 10 in the morning for a 2 in the afternoon meeting.  Hundreds of us pushed our way into the building, jumping over pews to get closer to Miss Kuhlman while others were stretched out on pews in hopes of saving a spot for a friend.  Now thatís laying down your life for your brother, especially when it was me jumping over pews.  I jumped over one very heavy-set woman.  If she had lifted her head while I was jumping over her I would have kicked it off her shoulders as if it was a football. Sheíd surely need healing then.  I suppose I could rationalize my behaviour by saying I was jumping pews in the Spirit, or, I was jumping by faith, but I canít bring myself to say that.  I was only 21 years old and caught up in the mob mentality of the moment.    

 

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.     

 

5 - Jesus Meets Us In The Basement     

       

  

When my 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. 

 

The 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 us.       

 

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. 

 

These abnormities suggested that there was something seriously wrong with me, and there was.  The doctors at Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto , Canada , confirmed I suffered from Juvenile Diabetes.  At one point I'm told that I was in a coma like state.  My parents must have been saddened to see their little five year old boy so sick.        

 

I can 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.   

 

My life 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.   

 

I didn't feel any kind of special sensation at the altar.  There was no visible answer to the prayers that morning, but over lunch my mom noticed I had not touched my glass of water, which was very unusual. 

 

"He hasn't drunk any water," she exclaimed to my dad.  "Jesus healed Stevie," she insisted.

 

My dad, 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 back to Toronto .         

 

The Toronto 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.    

 

Now 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.

 

So, we left the sand-box in the Standard Church for an altar of healing in the Free Methodist Church that gathered in a basement of a house.  A sand-box for an altar of healing wasn't a bad exchange. 

 

It seems to me that ever since the Tower of Babel , humanity, including Christians, like building projects.   That reminds me of what Peter told Jesus after he saw Him talking with Elijah and Moses on the mountain of transfiguration.  In typical human fashion he said, ďLetís build three monuments to remember the occasionĒ (my paraphrase of Matthew 17:4).                

 

6 - The Sunday Morning Meeting

 

  

As Iíve 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. 

 

In the 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. 

 

Back in 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.

 

A sermon 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.     

 

This 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 time.  

 

Of 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.  

 

Scripturally 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 the Lord.       

 

When 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.                          

 

As I 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 personal relationships. 

 

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.

 

7 - Our Youth Group

 

       

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 graduate.     

 

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 disappointing.    

 

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 Free Methodist Church ís youth group.  I felt secure there, something that is important for those who are joined to others in the Body of Christ.  Like my physics teacher, there was one lady who went out of her way to show a personal interest in the youth.  Sheíd arrange activities for us, many of which were in her home.  Like my physics teacher, she was criticized for her efforts because they did not take place within the confines of the traditional view of church.  I recall one of her peers saying she was reliving her youth through us.  That was not the case.  She understood the need for personal relationships with those she was called to care for.    

 

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 from California .  He wasnít impressed with my message.  He warned me that if our group was to grow we couldnít have children involved in a Sunday meeting as they were that day.  Although in the world of tradition he was right, I didn't believe it should be that way.  I believe such segregation creates its own set of problems which I'll address later.      

 

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.                       

   

   

8 - Coming Of Age

 

           

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 America in the early 1800ís.  Prior to then, altar calls were unheard of.  Charles Finney (1792 to 1875) was a Presbyterian lawyer who came to personal salvation in 1821.  He proceeded to travel throughout the north east U.S. preaching to the masses.  He was a very controversial preacher because of his use of the altar call.  He ended his sermons with a highly emotional, very confrontational, hell fire, guilt laden, plea to come to the altar.  

 

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 we preach.  

                  

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. 

          

   

9 - The Gospel To Get

 

  

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 all about. 

 

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 Christian.    

 

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 in the Free Methodist Church I was raised in might be, and I do say might be, due to what was called a second work of grace known as Entire Sanctification.  The first work of grace as taught by the Methodists was accepting Jesus as our Saviour so we could go to Heaven when we die.  That second work of grace as taught by the Methodists was accepting Jesus as Lord.  This second work of grace was experienced subsequent to salvation and that's why it's called a second work of grace.  It was a one time experience that resulted in a spiritual state of perfection in the life of the believer.    

 

John Wesley (1703 - 1791), the hero of the Free Methodist Church , formulated the doctrine of Entire Sanctification.  His opposition accused him of teaching total human perfection in every aspect of life, but that really wasn't the case.  Wesley taught a spiritual perfection where the believer was so dedicated to the Lord Jesus that he no longer sinned.   He would still make mistakes, make wrong choices, get sick, among other human traits, but, when it came to sin, he'd be sinless.  Wesley admitted that such spiritual perfection would elude most Christians.  Even with Wesley's admission, I participated in many altar calls that encouraged us to be entirely sanctified.       

 

The word "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".     

 

10 - The Sovereignty of God And The Holy Spirit

 

  

My mom was not happy with me when in 1972, at the age of 20; I left the Free  Methodist Church.  When I visited the church for a Sunday service in 1986 the pastor preached on the sovereignty of God.  He was right.  God is God.  He can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, and wherever He wants.  The pastor continued by saying that God sovereignly chooses to visit His people from time to time in special ways.  Therefore, we should be ready for His next visitation, which Evangelicals hoped would take place during their yearly week of revival meetings.    

 

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 America in the 1700's and 1800's, the Pentecostal Movement in the early 1900's, and the Charismatic Movement and Jesus People Movement in the 1960's and 1970's.   

 

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.  

 

Another sovereign 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, Kentucky.  Christ Centre was a product of the Jesus People Movement that swept across North America back then.  I was used to church being associated with a building with a steeple that I visited a couple times a week.  That wasn't the case at Christ Centre.  This building was a large old inner-city school with two floors and a basement.  People lived there, worshipped there, and ministered to the community there.  I was impressed that the building was in constant use.  I liked the coffee house ministry with its Christian rock band that reached out to the university students down the street. 

 

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." 

 

My Kentucky trip impressed me on many fronts.  The Christians at Christ Centre were dedicated to Jesus.  They carried their Bibles everywhere.  They freely talked about Jesus to anyone in simple conversational style.  Talk of Jesus wasnít relegated to a church meeting.  When they did meet, their meetings were out of this world.  Most importantly, they introduced me to the life in the Holy Spirit in a way that I had never previously experienced.  

 

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 Kentucky and it certainly influenced my life in a most positive way. 

 

Prior to meeting Jesus, the young people at Christ Center knew little or nothing about Jesus or church.  When they visited the traditional church they were often criticized for the way they were dressed and the style of their hair.  The church establishment, as they called it, didnít seem to recall Jesus saying that "people who dress in fine clothes live in kingís palaces" (Matthew 11:8).

 

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 criticized.  

 

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.   

 

 

11 - The Baptism In The Holy Spirit And Tongues

 

 

It was in a Tuesday night meeting at Christ Centre, in Lexington , Kentucky, when I first heard of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  For me, this meeting changed the direction of my life.  Thoughts of attending a Free Methodist Bible College soon faded.  I'd end up at Elim Bible Inst., Lima, New York, U.S.A..

 

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 book.  

 

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 Lima, New York.  To my amazement, he came home praying in tongues.  The same was true with my friend Dawn Brown who came with us to Kentucky.  I asked Robert how somebody like me might pray in tongues.  He told me that if I said the word halleluiah ten times real fast my tongue would flip over and Iíd start praying in tongues immediately.  Of course, he was kidding, and of course, I never did try his suggestion.    

 

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 Kentucky in 1971 I found myself in a prayer meeting.  While praying in the presence of the Lord two unknown words slipped out of my mouth.  Was this real tongues or was I just caught up in the excitement of the moment?  I believed, and still believe, these two words were valid tongues.  A couple weeks later, in another prayer meeting, two more words were added.  A week or so later, two more words were added.  I now had 6 words in tongues.    

 

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 in tongues.      

 

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 Free Methodist Church in 1971.  I don't think tongues are as divisive as it was back then.  That being said, which seems to often be the case for me, I'm caught between the two doctrinal positions on this issue.  I do pray in tongues.  That would make me a Pentecostal, but, I don't believe the Baptism in the Holy Spirit to be a second work of grace as Pentecostals believe.  That makes me a non-Pentecostal.  So there you go.  I'm Pentecostal by experience but not by doctrine.  If you're interested in knowing just what I believe on this issue you can click this link.

http://stevesweetman.com/books2/baptismspirit.htm

 

      

12 - The House Of The Lord

 

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 that one. 

 

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 Bethlehem in the Bible, it consists of the Hebrew word "beth", meaning "house", and "lechem", meaning "bread".  Bethlehem means "the house of bread".  Many towns and villages in the Jewish Old Testament were named after families.  If I had a large family back then I could call my town "Bethsteve", meaning the house of Steve.      

 

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 every Sunday. 

 

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

 

 

13 - The Segregated 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, Christ Center, the Christian community I visited in 1971 in, Lexington, Kentucky, was a large two floor inner city school.  Each classroom was converted into something useful for ministry, which included living accommodations for those who made the building their home. 

 

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 air.

 

Upon returning home, Jesus began to do with me and others what I saw in Kentucky .  He personally joined me to a few brothers in the Lord where age, economics, and social status, didnít matter.  While growing up, my best friends were my own age, but after my trip to Kentucky that changed.  When I was 22 years old my closest friends in the Lord ranged from 20 years old to 55 years of age.  Having a personal relationship with these older brothers provided a source of wisdom, stability, and maturity for me, something Timothy experienced with the Apostle Paul.  

 

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.  How sad!     

   

14 - The Community of Christ

 

 

One thing that impressed me when I visited Christ Centre in Kentucky in 1971 was the communal atmosphere among those I met.  Yes, some of these people did live communally in the old school, but, most of them didn't.  To make it clear, when I speak of Christian community I'm not talking about Christian communes that were popular among those in the Jesus People Movement back then.  I lived in one of these communes in 1971 and 1972.   

 

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 Free Methodist Church to attempt to live in Christian community with those to whom Jesus had recently joined me.  Just for the record, I do appreciate much of my Free Methodist upbringing, but Jesus was leading me in a different direction in that period of my life.     

 

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 words.

 

If I was to attend Bible college I wanted to attend when Robert was there, and he still had one year left.  If that was to be, 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 United States .  To get that visa within six weeks would take a miracle.  The miracle came my way.  I left Canada the week before Labour Day, 1975, and ended up at Elim Bible Institute, in Lima , New York , U. S. A. . 

 

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).   

 

 

15 - Koinonia

 

I've 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.   

 

There was 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 Canada caused quite an uproar, but Iíll talk about that later.  

 

One thing 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.   

 

The first 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.

 

Besides 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. 

 

Back in 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.  

 

 

16 - The Horizontal And The Vertical  

 

In 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 live.  The 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 question. 

 

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 12).

 

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.   

  

17 - Introduction To Cults  

 

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 North America to come and help us out.  As the excitement and anticipation mounted for the big weekend we were informed that the festival had been cancelled.  In the vernacular of the day, that was one big downer. 

 

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 Canada for the first time from Michigan in their green van.  We knew absolutely nothing about this group but that would soon change.

 

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 traditional Christianity.    

 

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 Free Methodist Church ís children's camp that summer.  I couldn't back out on my commitment, despite heavy handed pressure to do so by the COG.  I stood true to my word.  I took youth camp over the Children of God, now known as the Family. 

 

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 U. S. state.  He claimed that if he had one hundred young people on fire for Jesus he could change the world.  David Burg became Moses David, the prophet and supreme leader of the Children of God.  His group grew to thousands of young people around the world.  The  COG didnít change the world, but it did change David Burg.  As is often the case in the ecclesiastical maze, unchallenged authority turns a leader into a dictator, something Jesus warned against in Matthew 20:24 - 25.  He told His disciples that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their people but that should not be the case with them.

 

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.    

                                          

 

18 - Healing Divides The Maze

 

 

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 humorous.    

 

When I was in my twenties a couple of friends enjoyed embarrassing me in public.  We entered a high class art gallery in Ottawa one day wearing our street clothes.  Apparently there was something special taking place that day since there were a number of men dressed in tuxes and women dressed in gowns.  Attempting to embarrass me in front of these high class people my friends told me to get close to one particular painting so I could see it.  Their trick worked.   My nose ended up six inches away from the navel of a naked woman in the painting.  I turned around to hear the laughter and to see those in tuxes and gowns.  "Like smelling women's navel?" my friend asked.                 

 

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 Pittsburg , Pennsylvania .  I stood in many healing lines.  People lay hands on me, cast demons out of me, and prophesied over me.  I fasted.  I pleaded with Jesus in prayer.  I tried everything.   

 

Every year at the Free Methodist Church ís family camp there'd be a special healing meeting.  In 1970 some of us young people fasted and prayed for my healing.  We had lots of faith for me to be healed, but I wasn't.     

 

In 1972 I stood in a Jerry B. Walker healing line in Toronto .  If were you to look at me you wouldn't know that I had a visual problem, so it had to have been the Lord when Walker put his hands over my eyes and laughed a laugh that seemed to be a laugh of victory.  He then proceeded to the next person in line as I went to my seat still not healed.  Two years later I stood in another one of his healing lines.  This time he looked at me and just said, "Lord, help my buddy."  Iím still in the dark about all of that. 

 

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 or not.  

 

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.

 

 

19 - The Jesus People Movement

 

 

A valid 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 North America in the 1700's not only affected the church, it affected the community. For this reason I believe the Jesus People Movement of the mid 1960's and 1970's was a valid Christian revival. 

 

The Jesus People Movement began in California among the youth, many of which were hippies who had never dawned the doors of a church building. The movement arrived at my home town in southern Ontario in 1970.  Although I looked like a long haired hippie, I wasn't.  I was a straight laced church kid who had never touched a cigarette let alone drugs. 

 

The early 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.

 

Iíd 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.    

 

While 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.   

 

One 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.   

 

While 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 Brooklyn, New York.  While driving down Interstate 75
he noticed some hippies in a Volkswagen in the passing lane.  So, he drove as close as he could to the Volkswagen; motioned to the hippie in the passenger seat to roll down his window; and, with one hand steering his van he passed a track down to the hippie with his other hand, all awhile going 60 miles an hour down I 75. You might fault us for our stupidity but you couldn't have faulted us for our enthusiasm. 

 

On 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.

 

Earlier in my account I said that the Children of God entered Canada from Michigan in a green van.  A green van became significant after my friend bought one after escaping the Children of God.   Shortly after his purchase, he, his wife, I, and a couple others moved into a farm house.  We soon saw police cars slowly driving by our house.  We later learned that the police suspected us as being the Children of God because of the green van.   

 

Shortly 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 Canada illegally.  We had nothing to hide.  We answered all his questions, and when it was all said and done, I slid a Jesus tract across his desk.  I proceeded to preach Jesus 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 official.  

 

That 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. 

 

That 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.    

 

We also 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. 

 

We felt 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.       

 

 

20 - The Last Big Purchase Of My Life

 

 

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 the Middle East .  In another corner I was told that we were actually living in the millennial rule of Christ.  In another corner I was told that the book of Revelation, including the coming of the anti-Christ, had already taken place prior to 70 A D.  I got weary of bouncing from corner to corner and so I decided to sit on one of the fences that divided the maze.  I watched the various corners battling things out.  Even though I was resigned to fence sitting, there was always a nagging feeling inside to get to the bottom of this prophetic barrow of Biblical truth. 

 

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 Israel is the centerpiece of Biblical prophecy.  For the rest of my beliefs you can visit my web site at  http://stevesweetman.com/topical.htm

 

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.             

 

 

21 - Demons Divide The Maze

 

 

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 other's soul.    

 

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.  

 

Now 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 Africa as one pastor friend told me.  That being said, I donít believe a Christian can have a demon living inside of him.  I do believe he can be influenced by a demon if he opens his life to him.   Ephesians 6:12 says it clearly.  Our fight is ultimately against this demonic world.  We need to take this battle seriously.  We need to live and be guided by the Holy Spirit, and not by humanistic ways disguised as being Biblical.

 

 

22 - Introduction To The Shepherding Movement  

 

The Charismatic Movement emerged in the 1960ís in non-Evangelical churches.  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 and beyond.  Many of those who had been touched by the Holy Spirit no longer felt comfortable in liberal churches that were forsaking essential Biblical doctrine.  They met everywhere and anywhere, much like Lydia and her friends in Acts 16 who gathered on the bank of a river.  Many of the new Charismatic believers in the 1960's and 70's found themselves in para-church organizations like the Full Gospel Christian Businessmen.  I was the youth representative to this organization for a few years in the early 1970's.   

 

While these para-church groups were forming among
Charismatic style Christians, certain Bible teachers were emerging
as leaders in the Charismatic Movement.  They would often
teach  at conferences around North America.  Four of these leaders were based in Florida.  They were nick-named the Fort Lauderdale Four.  They were Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Derek Prince and Don Basham.  A couple of years later Earn Baxter joined them.  Beyond teaching in weekend conferences these men taught through their cassette tape ministry, books, and a magazine called New Wine.  Through these teaching formats they attempted to bring order and continuity to the Charismatic Movement that had little of both.  Many Charismatics weren't grounded into a real expression of the Body of Christ.  They just floated here, there, and anywhere.       

 

The Fort Lauderdale Four, now five, emphasized discipleship as being normal Christianity.   Jesus told the twelve apostles to disciple all nations in Matthew 28:19.  Discipling 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 since then.  

 

As time went on the Discipleship Movement morphed into the Shepherding Movement.  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.      

 

In the early 1970ís my friends and I were following the Fort Lauderdale Five.  In 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 Canada.   

 

Shepherding 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 leader.  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 Bible College in the mid 1970's.  Each family that the local leader would care for would also have families under their care.  Those families would have families under their care, and on it would go down the line.   

 

Such 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.    

 

I personally enjoyed those days.  I benefited mostly from the relationships I had with those in the movement.  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.

 

My 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 Scriptural.  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 the Bible.  They weren't qualified because many of them weren't mature enough.   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. 

Pastoring 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.       

 

Our attempt at shepherding began in earnest in 1977.  It ended in 1988.  

  

 

23 - Submission And Authority 
 

Shortly after we got acquainted with the Shepherding Movement, I headed off to Elim Bible Institute in Lima, New York.  The year was 1975 and shepherding was a controversial topic of hot debate at Elim.  While we were in the midst of the debate, something Bible college students enjoy doing, my friends back home committed our group to shepherding under the stream headed by Charles Simpson, one of the Fort Lauderdale Five I've previously mentioned.    

 

The 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. 

 

Two 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 Virginia to lead our small band of believers in Canada .  Being under Jim's care meant that I gave him permission to "speak in our lives".  That was a popular term back then.  He, therefore, had free access to talk to us about whatever issues he felt was necessary.  These issues could include such things as our finances, sex, or whatever.   

 

Opening 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.      

 

When Jim and his family decided to return to Virginia in 1980 he encouraged my wife and follow them to Virginia .  Following one's shepherd from one locality to another back then wasn't uncommon.  He was our shepherd.  He felt this move would be good fore us.  We could have said no, but we didn't.  We followed his lead because he was our shepherd.  We eventually returned to Canada in 1984.

 

Looking back on our move to America , I can't honestly say for sure if it was God's will or man's will.  I do know that I met some great brothers in the Lord in Virginia .  I learned much and benefitted from my time in America , but whether our move was really God's will is still questionable in my mind. 

 

Over 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 Testament thinking.  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. 

 

In short, the Greek word translated as "submit" in the New Testament was a military word in the first century Roman Empire .  That being said, the New Testament doesn't use this Greek word in its common military usage.  In Biblical terms, submission is not mandated over one as a general in an army would mandate strict obedience to him.  In Biblical terms, submission is a gentle, well thought out,  yielding to another, whether a church leader or a brother in the Lord.  It's based on a loving and caring relationship. 

 

When 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).  

 

Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority (NIV)."  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 Biblical fashion.  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 a leader.  The Bible doesn't view leadership in terms of an office.  It views leadership in terms of fulfilling leadership responsibilities.  We, thus, have too many career leaders and not enough called by God leaders.   

 

 

24 - Obey Or Move On  

 

I've 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 of Acts. 

 

In 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 authority.   

 

In Acts 20:28 Paul admonished the Ephesian elders to shepherd the church of God.  From this phrase we note that the church is the church "of God".  The church belongs to God, not to the elders.  Elders are caregivers.  They care for God's people.  They don't steal God's people and keep them for themselves.  They don't have their own disciples.  They care for Jesus' disciples.  They don't dictate their will.  They dictate God's will.    

 

When 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 died. 

 

The 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

   

   

25 - Letís Make A Covenant

 

  

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 Africa as I do with a brother Jesus has called me to stand beside in my geographical locality.    

 

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.   

 

 

26 - The Conservative Christian Right  

 

While visiting Northern Virginia in 1977 on my ministry placement from Elim Bible Institute I gazed up into the sky to see Air Force One fly overhead.  Gerald Ford was flying home to Michigan after losing the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.  As the Republicans lost the election the Conservative Christian Right was emerging as a political force to be reckoned with.  Jerry Falwell and Pat Roberson, both from Virginia, led the fight for Christian conservatism.  I visited Falwellís Liberty University and Robertsonís Christian Broadcasting Network while living in Virginia.  It was in this climate of Christian conservatism that I was baptized into American politics.

 

In 1980 my wife and I moved to Vienna, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D C.  Washington was exhilarating; nothing like our sleepy little city of 32,000 people in Canada.  I quickly embraced American politics and Washington Red Skins football.  I had little choice.  My friends were addicted to both.

 

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 Kingdom of God is the proclamation that the Kingdom of God will replace the kingdoms of men when Jesus returns to rule the nations with a scepter of iron. 

 

It's interesting to note that God called the Apostle
Paul to evangelize the Roman Empire , which included 
Emperor Nero himself (Acts 9:15 - 16).  Paul fulfilled his heavenly calling, not as a politician but as a preacher.  Ern Baxter was right.  A preacher is more important than a politician.  Christianizing culture by means of government has never worked.  Our Biblical mandate is to Christianize culture by leading individual people to Jesus. 

 

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.

   

27 - The Legalization Of Church

 

  

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 faith. 

  

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 Roman Empire were presented with this very choice.  Confess that Caesar is Lord and live or confess that Jesus is Lord and die.  Many Christians confessed that Caesar is Lord.  They rationalized their decision in order to live another day to serve their real Lord.  They believed their confessions were just words.  They still believed that Jesus is Lord in their hearts.  Others could not verbally deny the Lordship of Jesus.  They publically confessed that Jesus is Lord and lost their lives because of their confession.  These men and women were known as confessors.  May we be such confessors when our day comes.   

 

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 Iran and China .  It's often been correctly said that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ thrives under pressure, as we will surely see in the days to come.    

 

28 - Iím All Meetinged Out

 

     

"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 60's and have attended more than 11,000 Christian meetings in my life to date.  I guess that's why I began to be a little "meetinged out", as I call it, after I returned home from Bible College in 1977.  You might say Bible College was one continuous meeting.  It's not that I didn't benefit from the meetings, but what I really appreciated were those impromptu gatherings with my friends in our dorms.  That should be expected since our relationships in the Body of Christ are fundamental to what church is all about.

 

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 friends. 

 

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.  

           

 

29 - Friendships In The Midst Of Disaster

 

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 Steve Sweetman ís friend.  Jim said he was indeed my friend.          

 

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 Steve Sweetman .  I said I was.  She told me her name and I recognized it from the 1970ís.  We had not seen each other since then.  

 

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 Kentucky spoke to us.  He had never met me before, but after he had finished his message he walked over to me, laid his hands on me, and began to pray.  His prayer turned prophetic.  It was as if he knew everything that had transpired in my life over the previous year.  I could not believe what I was hearing.  I was definitely in the presence of Jesus.  It was as if Jesus had invited me into His personal office, sat down beside me on His couch, put his arms around me, and spoke to me words I needed to hear.  One thing He told me was that I wasnít washed up as a Christian as I thought I was.  There was still more for me to do in His Kingdom.  He said much more, more than I can repeat in a sentence or two.  My visit with Jesus through this brother lasted about 10 minutes.  If we are in tune with Jesus, we can certainly be His spokesperson, which Ben Moore was that day

 

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 isnít church. 

   

30 - Super Apostles In The Apostolic Movement

 

 

In the mid 1990's my pastor and friend took it upon
himself to submit himself and our congregation under the authority of an apostle from the United Kingdom.  Although I knew about this in advance, most in the congregation didn't.  They were shocked and surprised when this change of direction was announced.  They were simply told to take ownership for the new direction.  Being told to take personal ownership and responsibility for something that was surprisingly handed to you without warning or without any input is unfair.    

 

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 attitude. 

 

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 servant leader.   

 

31 - Distinctives That Divide  

 

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 Israel in prophetic history.  Israel no longer has special significance in the mind of God as it had in Old Testament times, thus, all Old Testament promises and prophecies directed to Israel are now being directed to the church.  This means the restoration of Israel to greatness found in the Abrahamic Covenant and the prophecies of the Old Testament now apply to the church, not Israel .  As a result, Jesus will have no other choice but to return to earth once He sees the church perfected as Replacement Theology teaches.    

 

I won't explain why I reject Replacement Theology here.  I've done that elsewhere, including the following;  

http://stevesweetman.com/books2/AbrahamicCov.htm

 

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 (Galatians 1:8). 

 

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 John 17.    


32 - Three Stikes And You're Out

 

  

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 Free Methodist Church .  From age 21 to age 39 my friends and I organized ourselves into what we called Quinte Fellowship.  From age 40 to age 50 I was part of the above mentioned church the we left in 2001.

 

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 bastards".  "And 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 Bible study. 

 

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 the Bible. 

 

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.             

 

33 - Home Groups  

 

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).

 

 

34  - The Fundamental Problem From My Perspective

 

  

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 despising prophecy.    

 

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 to give. 

 

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 word.

 

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 rebuilt.   

 

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.         

          

35 - Jesus Wants His Church Back  

 

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 prophetically.  "Jesus wants His church back."  With that he sat down and gave way to the Holy Spirit who poured out a spirit repentant prayer.      

 

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 men.        

 

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.        

            

 

36 - The Birth Of The Church  

   

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 West Virginia but probably not in a sophisticated New York City congregation.    

 

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 guitar. 

 

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 world.

 

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 of Christians is essential to Godís plan for church.  The Holy Spirit is the foundation for both the individual and the church.  Without the Spirit, there is no salvation, and there is no legitimate church. Thatís why I view some so-called churches in the ecclesiastical maze as not being a valid Biblical church.  Itís bad enough that some Evangelicals reject the gifts of the Spirit as seen in 1 Corinthians 12, but to reject the Holy Spirit Himself, well, that is blasphemous.  This rejection nullifies the reason why church exists, and that's to be a reputable representation of Jesus to the world.   

 

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 Jesus.  

 

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.  

   

38 - The Institutionalization Of Relationships

 

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 Galilee .  Jesus called His male disciples His brothers, not His board of directors (Matthew 28:11).  This speaks of personal relationships.

 

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 Jerusalem .  Jesus took a couple of hours out of the few days He had left to converse with these men.  He then sat down and ate a meal with them, and back then, eating a meal together was just as much about fellowship as it was about getting fed.  This speaks of personal relationships.

 

Jesus personally commissioned the eleven by saying,
"As my Father has sent me, so send I you (John 20:21)."  This personal commission certainly speaks to the importance of personal relationships in ministry. 

 

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.

         

39 - Functional Relationships

 

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 function properly.   

 

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 healthy.   

 

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 existence. 

 

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 ministry.  Think 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 our relationships.    

 

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 out. 

 

   

40  - Three Men On A Relational Journey

 

 

If youíre confused about functional relationships, let me be a story-teller for one chapter. 

 

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 next?"

 

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 the Bible."

 

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."  

 

"I suppose," 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 Jesus." 

 

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 your church?"

 

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 Ralph?"

 

"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 done?" 

 

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 friends.                    

                         

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." 

 

"Thatís 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." 

 

"Preach it 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 functional relationships."

 

"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 shopping."

 

"Well at least you donít have to give money to the church anymore," laughed Jack as he patted Emery on the shoulder.

 

"Not so," 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 Christ.    

 

 

41 - Christian Leadership

 

 

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 forgiveness."  Johnís 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 special" mentality. 

 

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.   

 

Christian leaders are to be servant leaders (Luke 22:25).  
That means they live and work alongside others in the Body of Christ, no matter how lowly those others are.   Leaders arenít meant to be set apart as a special elite, and the work they do is no more important than the work done by those they lead.  As I see it, the ecclesiastical structures of today's church often tempts pastors with pride.   

 

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 Alabama .  An elevator is a pretty small space for four people to be in.  So picture this.  My wife and I who were a bit shy back then were standing a foot or two from this famous Bible teacher known around the world.  To my astonishment, this very eloquent speaker did not speak a word to us, not even a simple "hi".  That was a bit elitist in my thinking.

 

First generation 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 a minute. 

 

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 
began at the end of the first century.  Plurality of leaders gave way to one leader who led this group of leaders.  This one leader evolved into being Godís spokesman to the people.  After this became the norm, this one leader became the means for people to approach God, something Jesus was meant to be.  At this point the priesthood of the believer was lost.  Leadership separated God from His people, and people from their God, something that Pentecost had once ended.  The church had returned to the Old Testament model of leadership.  Then came Constantine and his buddies in the fourth century.  They cemented this thinking into the very fabric of church life, and even though the Reformation brought some theological changes, it made little change in Constantine ís church.  Not much has changed since Luther, and even since Constantine in respect to the structure of the church. 

 

Whether you know it or not, church today, including our leadership style, looks more like Constantine ís attempt at church than the Scriptural model.  Many Christians today think our churches are just fine the way they are.  They see no need for change, but like the Jews in Malachiís day, weíre so far removed from Biblical thinking on this issue that we donít even know we are removed in the first place. 

 

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.   

 

 

 

42 - Wrapping It All Up

 

         

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 the choosing of seven men to help the leaders distribute food to poor Greek Christians in Acts 6 was an evolutionary action.  The choosing of these men did not necessarily come about because of Biblical teaching, even though the concept might be found in Judaism, but it came about by a need that arose in the church.  Therefore, as other needs arise, the precedent to adapt church structure to the needs of the day has been set.  I could counter this by reminding you that I do believe there are some aspects of church that do evolve over time.  Still, the fundamentals should never evolve.    

 

Another point 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 Ephesus , then it's clear that John himself departed from plurality of elders as I believe is taught in the New Testament.  Again, this all depends on whether John the elder, as some historians call him, is John the gospel writer, the disciple of Jesus.  Many believe we have two different John's here and John the disciple of Jesus died much earlier in the first century.    

 

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 Jerusalem 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 Jerusalem church structure after Judaism where there was a high priest. 

 

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 Israel in Old Testament times.  We wander and stray just as they did, even though most of us would deny that.   

 

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 traditionalism.  The 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.      

 

 

Post Script

 

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 Christ.    

 

May our Lord Jesus Christ direct you in the days to come.

 

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