Thursday, May 26, 2005

Do Not Be Deceived

I read an interesting letter to the editor in World magazine the other day. While the topic of the letter isn't relevent to this article, the writer made a statement qualifying believers (those who claim to be 'born again') as "only those who are active in church and living out their faith." (italics mine)

Interesting distinction, I thought, and one of the greatest sources of confusion and deception in the body of Christ today. Now I'm not a biblical expert, but I can't find anything in Scripture that declares that one must be "active in church", to be a born-again follower of Christ. But being active in church seems like such a good thing that it surely can't be bad to use church participation as an indicator of a soul's spiritual state, you say. This logical error compounds one of the greatest deceptions that we struggle with as believers today. The deception is this - that being part of an organized church is what being a believer is about.

Now don't get me wrong - in itself the organization and structure we call the church is not a bad thing. But it has grown in complexity through services, programs, and ministries, until it consumes the lives of the church attenders. It is a tar baby that pulls you in, and sticks to you, each touch compounding the problem, until at last you and the tar baby are indistinguishable. At some point in this consumption, the average church attender comes to believe that these services, programs, and ministries are what being a believer is about.

Now I don't know how the average church attender would respond to my challenge that they see the organizational functions of the church as their calling as believers, because I haven't asked, for the most part. I suspect they would say that being caught up in the organization we call the church is not the main purpose of a believer. But their actions reveal and betray them. If you watch where and how their time is spent, it would appear that the chief end of an average believer was, in fact, the services, programs, and ministries of the church.

Here I must take a stand, here I must disagree. When I read the Scripture, I read that being a believer is about living the will of God, glorifying Him, and enjoying His presence. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself sums up the Law, as Christ said, not being active in church.

So, it comes down to this. Activity in church is no indication of being a follower of Christ. Can you be active in church and be a believer? Absolutely. But you can also be deceived. You can spend your life caught up in services, programs, and ministries, and somehow think that that is what being a believer is about, while your neighbor is consigned to hell because you failed to see the meaning in the declaration of God that you are to love your neighbor as yourself.

For those that are deceived by their involvement in the organization of the church, there will be no greater tragedy than standing before our Lord, protesting your service, your programs, and your ministries, as He says "depart from me, you who are cursed... for I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

Be cautious, fellow believer, and do not let your involvement in the organization we call the church mask your call to be the salt of the earth, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as your self.

Do not be deceived.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

WHAT OR WHO IS THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH? (aka - intro to Trickle-Charge Christianity 101)

The other day I received the following email:


Read through the ROT blog, and since I'm new at this blog stuff I figured I would just e-mail. I am impressed with your yearning for a church that will have a greater impact on our post-modern culture. I need a little clarity. What or who is the established church? How does rebelling against the established church translate into Christ's call for unity(Jn.17:20-23)? What is the injustice that you are rebelling against? How do you define tradition? Your ideas of your next church seem vague and abstract.

I replied to the sender that I would try to tackle each of their questions and concerns in a series of Blogs, so here goes...


In a couple of postings on the Rebellion of Thought BLOG the term "established church" is used. But what do we mean by this?

In my research I learned that back in history some would equate the "established church" with the official "state religion", but this is not the definition we are using. It may touch on our distinct brand of North American cultural Christianity, but since we have no "state religion" it certainly would not mean that.

A simple definition would be to say that the established church is the church which has been handed-down to the current generation. In all of it's varieties and flavors from Catholic to Anglican to Protestant and back again. But this definition would be too simple for our use.

I stumbled upon a website that offers this defintion: "An established church shall be defined as one which (1) has a baptized membership strong enough to be self-supporting, (2) meets regularly for worship, Bible Study and fellowship, and (3) has a natural leader." They go on to outline the church planting priorities, the work assignments and the methodologies of their mission in Taiwan. What's interesting about this is that they also write "no missionary will be permitted to remain in an assignment to work primarily in an established church." They can partner with established churches, but their main focus will not be working in an established church.

This goes hand in hand with what I consider to be the main calling of believers... to be missionaries in the culture around them. Some people get freaked by the idea of becoming a missionary. Visions of African jungles or ugly clothes from the "missionary barrel" invade their minds, but what becoming a missionary means is simply living out the two greatest commandments wherever you are. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind... and love your neighbor as yourself. We do the later through relationship and by attempting to understand the needs of our neighbor... whether we're in the jungle, the backwoods, the big city, or the small town.

This is where I think an understanding of post-modernism can be helpful. Post-Modernism is the language of many of our neighbors and for us to effectively reach them we must be able to speak their language. Just as the missionaries in Taiwan will be more effective if they can speak the language of the people.

My roots were grown in Protestant soil and evangelical Protestant soil at that, so I recognize that my definition of the established church will be influenced by this background. But I strongly believe it to be more universal in nature, reaching across denominational bounderies and into the hearts of believers everywhere. Please remember that this is a working definition, so your input through replies to this post can help shape it. Here goes...

The established church is any church whose focus of it's faith is on it's coming together rather than on it's going out. This is a simple definition that attempts to address a more complex issue which may or may not include your church or the church down the block. But the philosophy that "church" has become about Sunday mornings and perhaps Wednesday nights has invaded our cultural mindset.

I liken the believer to a rechargeable powertool. A cordless drill, for example, is designed for a purpose... to drill holes, or to install, tighten, loosen, or remove screws and nuts, and depending on the attachment it can even stir paint, etc. The drill is also designed to be plugged into a power source to have it's battery recharged. Why? So that it can once again fulfill it's purpose. It's purpose is not to remain continually plugged into the recharging source. But often times isn't this what believers tend to do? They find a church, they get recharged, they get "plugged in", and then they stay there, continually receiving the trickle-charge that the church provides through it's programs, services, and pot-lucks, all-the-while forgetting the purpose for which they've been created and called.

Pastors across the country and around the world are guilty of promoting what I call trickle-charge Christianity. We build bigger sanctuaries, add more programs, more services, additional opportunities to "plug in" and then we stand around and scratch our heads as to why we are not relevant to the culture around us?!?! All of the programs, services, etc. combine to create churches whose mission is to "come together" with other believers, but few church calendars allow or schedule time specifically to "go out" to spend time with non-believers.

The culture around us doesn't care if we have two or three services on Sunday morning. They don't care if we have traditional or contemporary worship styles. They don't care if we have the latest "insert Christian celebrities name here" Bible Study. Post-Moderns want authentic relationships and experiences. They don't want sugar-coated or plastic-smile anything. They desire realness and they deserve realness... which can only be given through true relationship... through us followers of Christ authentically loving them as ourselves. This is how the gospel message will spread in a post-modern world. The challenge will be to keep converts from becoming Trickle-Charge Christians.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Brad, Sam, Matt and I were recently in Oklahoma premiering our dramatic motion picture When Love Walks In at the Bare Bones International Film Festival. It was cool... we won 4 awards. On the way home we took a detour to Selma, Alabama and filmed a couple new segments for Rebellion of Thought.

The first one we filmed in Live Oak Cemetary, a great location with old headstones emerging from the earth and spanish moss hanging from the trees throughout. Brad made a great correlation between the denial of absolutes within our culture and reality of absolutes so evident in the etchings on the headstones... death happens (don't that cheer you up!)

The second segment we filmed was very powerful for me, personally. We shot at the bridge which crosses the Alabama River heading out of Selma on the road toward Montgomery. As you may recall, Selma's Edmund Pettis Bridge was the sight of the 1965 march that became known as America's "Bloody Sunday."

A group of 350± (mostly blacks) were marching to try and secure the right to vote, a privelege that had been granted, but was being denied by the white-slanted voter registration tests (there were blacks with PhD's that couldn't "pass" the same tests as uneducated white folks). The marchers were met at the bridge by Sheriff's Deputies and Alabama State Troopers with billyclubs, bullwhips, and teargas.

Two days later the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led 650± marchers to the bridge to pray, then two weeks later after receiving a judicial decision which guaranteed their safety, MLK, Jr. and 3500 others started marching the 50 miles to Montgomery. They slept in fields along the way and four days later the crowd had swelled to 25,000 who marched up to the state capital. It was 5 months later that congressed approved LBJ's Voting Rights Act which secured the right for all American's to vote.

Back at the bridge the sun was beginning to set as we began filming our piece on movements. What is it going to take to begin a revolution of faith within our culture? I don't promote violence, I don't advocate civil disobedience, but I do believe there will be significant events that mark the turning points of this emerging movement. So I have to ask myself a few questions... Am I willing to march four days and 50 miles for the cause? Am I willing to face teargas, billyclubs, and bullwhips? Do I believe in it enough to put my own life at risk?

All I can say is, "bring it on..." How about you?