The joy of meeting together with other members of the body of Christ in a home setting is always refreshing and encouraging for me. I had the opportunity during my short stay in California on vacation to meet some new believers in their home. They are friends of another couple that I have known for a number of years now. I left the institutional church about 3 years ago. I have chosen to seek out fellowship in a more organic expression. I found it in home fellowship. In this gathering there was no agenda, no leader, and no Bible study. These elements are typical for a small group setting in many institutional churches.
But, in an organic expression of Church in a home setting is very different. Each person is allowed and encouraged to share what the Lord Jesus is teaching them. Each person is given the freedom to use their spiritual gifts with the rest of the group. Instead of a single individual or a select group of individuals only allowed to speak, in an organic church all can speak. We all shared what Christ was doing in teaching and doing in our lives. We met for over 3 hours and we didn’t even want to look at our watches to see if we were close to ending. I can recall many times in the institutional church service where I couldn’t wait for it to end. I was simply bored with this kind of gathering.
This is a very unique and different way of believers meeting together. This is the pattern laid out for fellowship and the gathering of believers in the New Testament. Yet, over the past 1500 years or so we have taken our western viewpoint of the New Testament over first looking at how these gatherings happened at the time it was written. The early church met in homes not in buildings. The early church didn’t have paid clergy. In fact, there was no distinction between leaders and regular believers. The early church also had no Bible to study. Most believers were illiterate in the first century. When they met together they shared Christ and what he was teaching them. There were no printing presses until the 16th century. Most house churches probably didn’t even have a single scroll of any Old Testament writings either.
Yet, in the western church today, we have become so Bible dependent that we have lost the simple joy of sharing Christ with one another each time we meet as believers. If you went to your church service over the weekend and the pastor said there is no sermon today, what would you and others do at the worship service? Could you simply talk about the Lord Jesus Christ the entire 90 minutes with one another? I could write further on this subject, but I will end this post here. I will however continue this topic in future posts.
The next step in this journey was to begin to meet with other believers that have also left the institutional church. Meeting with others in the body of Christ is very much part of New Testament teaching. We need one another. My wife knew an older couple that we could fellowship with. They had been out of the institutional church for several years. We began to meet with them on a weekly basis in the beginning. Our meetings were focused on sharing what Christ had been teaching us, or Scriptures that we were reading. These meetings also had some great food involved as well. We would sit and talk for several hours, and the time seemed to fly right by. There was no sermon or teaching given by one individual that would send us straight into nap mode. We all had the opportunity to share and use our gifts. Our gatherings weren’t run by any one person.
In meeting like this, we grew to have a close bond with not only this couple, but their family as well. In time, another younger couple joined our fellowship and made it even richer. The husband was a musician and would lead us in worship songs. This made our meetings even better. We had no leader or pastor to lead our meetings. Jesus Christ was our leader and we followed His lead. I would consider the older couple as elders, but this was only natural for them with their wisdom and experience. After experiencing this form of “organic church”, I cannot see myself ever returning to the institutional church.
I have recently relocated on my own to Arizona due to a change in my family situation. I have looked into finding an “organic church” meeting with the help of Milt Rodriguez of www.therebuilders.org. So far there aren’t any meetings in my area. Perhaps it is time that I should begin one, Lord willing. I still meet via Google Hangouts with the older couple on a weekly basis. While we aren’t in the same room, the rich fellowship is the same. I can see in my own life, how the Lord is helping me to know Him in a deeper way and to rely on Him for all my needs. He has shown me that He “is my life” as quoted in Galatians 2:20. Conventional thinking would say that I should be going backwards in my relationship with Christ by not being in the institutional church. I would say that it is just the opposite, and would invite anyone to step out of the institution and into a deeper walk with Christ.
For the next few years I was in a smaller mega church where I met my wife. After about 2 years both of us felt as if something was missing at this church. The sermons seemed to be the same messages from a few months ago. The outline changed a bit but it was the same stuff. I was tired of designing worship services to attract the unchurched. We both felt that we needed a change. We sought out a church that was closer to our home and we found one nearby. After attending there for a while, my wife began to volunteer in the office and worked closely with the lead pastor.
The pastor invited a “prophet” named Clint Glenny to come and speak each night for a week. Brother Clint shared a lot about the end times and the state of the church in the U.S. The messages resonated with me, and I looked forward to each meeting. We had the opportunity to have dinner with he and his wife and we were able to be encouraged by it. He suggested we read a book by Frank Viola and George Barna called, “Pagan Christianity?”.
Then my wife began to have some tension with the lead pastor. We scheduled a meeting with he and his associate to discuss matters and hopefully find some resolution. This meeting did not go well for either side. The pastor told us that if we could not submit to his leadership then we would need to leave. It felt to me like I was being kicked out of a church. I had never been kicked out of a church in all my life as a Christian. I felt totally out of my element.
The first couple of Sunday mornings I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t feel comfortable with not going to church. I decided to purchase the book “Pagan Christianity?” This helped me to do something in the meantime. As I poured through this book, I began to see the origins of some of the traditions that we have accepted over the past 1800 years. Many practices and traditions of the modern western church do not line up with the New Testament teaching. Well, some would quote many a verse to prove that they are. But when you look at these same verses in context, they show that the modern western church is way off base.
(to be continued…)
This is a brief account of this man’s journey from being firmly rooted into the institutional church to leaving the institution and coming to know Christ in a real way for the first time in a very long time. It would seem to many that this concept of leaving “church” and truly finding Christ is backwards. Now, I didn’t leave the Church, because I am always a part or member of the body of Christ, thus I am the Church. But I did leave what is called the “institutional church”. Now I define the “institutional” church as those churches that are under the leadership of a pastor or priest and meet in a building on a weekly basis. The alternative, as I will explain later is “organic church”. This is a gathering of believers under the headship of Jesus Christ alone.
I have been a Christian since 1982. I was a sophomore in high school when I went to a New Year’s eve event at a small church I was attending. They were showing a Billy Graham film and I heard the Gospel message for the first time. Two days later I received the Lord into my life on a hill just off of a local beach in California. This is the very short version of my testimony. The pastor of this local church after interacting with me for a year told me he believed I was called to full time ministry. So after graduating high school, I set off for Bible college in Indiana. After one semester I decided it wasn’t for me and returned to California.
Then a few years later I returned to the same church and began my journey as a youth pastor. I volunteered and worked with junior high and high school students for a number of years. In 1999 I was given the opportunity to be a credentialed minister in the Church of God (Anderson, IN) and become the associate pastor of a church in San Jose, CA. I thought I was finally fulfilling the Lord’s call on my life by being an official pastor. This position also allowed me to team up with my former youth pastor and friend, who was the lead pastor of this particular church. It was a small congregation of about 150 people. The focus was on being a seeker sensitive church that modeled the principles of Saddleback Church, lead by Rick Warren.
After a few years at this church I came to realize that my own personal issues were getting in the way of effectively ministering to people, so I resigned. I attended a local seeker sensitive mega church for a few years. It was during this period that I decided to go back to school to finish my bachelors degree in Christian Leadership with the hopes of returning to vocational ministry. There was one course in particular that I can see was the catalyst for planting the seed of moving me out of the institutional church. It was a course of developing a Biblical worldview. The textbooks and discussions on this topic caused me to question how “church” was being done in the U.S. I had pastored in a seeker sensitive model, but I was coming to realize that this doesn’t line up with the model given in the new testament. I saw my need to repent of preaching messages and using scriptures out of their intended context. I was more interested in verses that fit my neat outline versus what those verses really meant.
(to be continued in Part 2)
Recently, there was an article posted on the blog of The Weekly Standard (http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/hhs-publishes-sample-church-bulletin-insert-promote-obamacare_852728.html) that was rather disturbing to me. The article focuses on how recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has partnered with churches and other faith based organizations around the country. The purpose of this partnership was to distribute bulletin inserts encouraging parishioners to sign up for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as well as an announcement from the pulpit.
Now, I have no problem with the HHS encouraging people to sign up for health care that need it. I do however, have a problem with the government (the State) putting their agenda into the bulletins of congregations that are supposed to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ alone. This to me seems a clear violation of what many deem the “separation of church and state”. Do you suppose that the HHS would allow a Christian organization to place gospel tracts into their literature to be given to people? I don’t think that they would. They would cry foul and claim it is a violation of church and state. So, why would congregations around the country allow themselves to be used by the state to push their agenda for health care? I would conclude that they have lost their focus on who they are and whose agenda they are to communicate.
Churches that are under the lordship of Christ are supposed to focus their message on Christ, and Christ alone. The Church is supposed to take care of the widow, the orphan, and the poor. These are ministries that the Church has continued to do for the last 2000 years. The Church is supposed to place their focus on the Kingdom of God and the purpose of God, not government programs. The gathering of believers in Christ for a service is to worship the Lord Jesus Christ and to share Christ with one another. He is to be the center of the worship service. Now I realize that announcements are generally given at these services, but they too must focus on the life of the Church and not on any state sponsored agenda. The Apostle Paul knew what his purpose and message was to be about. He said, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5 NKJV) What is preached today in many churches is also subject to debate, but that is another blog post entirely.
The government has spent enough money on television, printed media, and internet advertising to promote Obamacare. They do not need to place inserts into the worship bulletins of Christian congregations. The news media around the country has also given Obamacare quite a bit of publicity and coverage as well. Yet, in spite of this partnership, the government has banned pastors from publicly endorsing measures and candidates from the pulpit, but it is fine for the HHS to promote their agenda in a Christian church. I don’t think so. This is a double standard on the part of the government. Congregations under the Lordship of Christ should have no part of it.