|« Priesthood - Part 2|
Over the last couple of weeks, I?ve come to the realization of the first non-negotiable building block that God honors in a church of any size. Like anyone involved in house church, I have argued the case against things like salaries for paid ministry, large buildings with huge mortgages, and carefully scripted worship services. But the truth is, I have seen the Father step right in and use all of these things at one time or another to bring people to himself and accomplish many of His purposes. These things are not specifically spoken against in the Bible even if I think there can be a pretty convincing case made to steer away from them.
But over the last few weeks, one of the pastors of the large church that my family has been loosely associated with has been delivering messages from the pulpit that have violated the central idea of the new covenant: the priesthood of each individual believer.
It started at the very beginning with a firm declaration that this church believed that tithing is biblical. That is hard to argue with; the tithe is definitely a biblical concept. However, even if it is a New Covenant concept, is it so easy to translate tithing into an obligation of the individual Christian to support his local organized church? When the time comes to call for a special offering for someone in need, the pastor is very careful to say that this offering is ?over and above? the tithe that each regular member is to bring for the ministry of the church.
Here is a clear attempt by the leadership of this large group to step in between a believer and God and play the part of priest. Assuming the role of the temple priest of the Old Covenant, he asks us to lay our financial gifts before him, where he can then take them and use his knowledge to best sacrifice them to the service of God. No thought is given to what the Father Himself may be speaking to the individual person about where his money should go, even if it is someplace completely outside this local church.
It is not difficult to understand how this comes about. In many cases, the big church starts out as a group of people building something in the only way they know how, hoping that it will glorify God. But as programs begin to be put into place, the large group begins to take the form of a machine, created to keep running under its own momentum. The machine requires enormous resources to keep it running: monetary resources, human resources. In the minds of the leaders, the needs of the machine slowly start to become more important than the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
At this point is where the leadership, with the best of intentions, begins to step in and call for the resources that the machine needs to run. The leadership will muster whatever biblical proof-texts needed to justify this call?though of course, there is really no convincing case to be made, since the perspective goes against the very nature of the New Covenant. Jeremiah had described the coming covenant so very well:
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.? Jer. 31:34
This is organic Christianity: each member of the new Kingdom walks with the Spirit, communes with God in a true parent-child relationship, and communes with the other members of the covenant based on that primary relationship.
Of course, the area of money is not the only area where the line begins to be crossed. More recently, the ?head pastor? has preached sermons on the unique spiritual gifts that God has given to each believer in the church, and the subsequent value each individual has to the body of Christ. These concepts are beautiful realities that show the incredible creativity of God and how He relates directly to each member of the body.
Again, with the very best of intentions, the pastor again crosses a line that the New Covenant specifically asks that he not cross: he begins to point out the many needs of the large church (machine) which those gifts should fulfill. Spiritual gifts surveys are suggested to help believers understand how they can better ?fit in? to the needs of the church?and it never occurs to the leadership that this sounds far closer to finding the right gears and cogs to fit the pre-designed spaces than it does to allowing the ministry to grow organically around the gifts of individuals.
There is a stage in life where the child of God really needs a little bit stronger guidance from other believers to grow in Christ: this is when they are new believers in Christ. Over time, growing maturity leads these new believers to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as they walk. But what happens when these maturing believers encounter the leader playing the part of priest?
I would suggest one of two things happens. One option is that their true maturity continues, and they recognize (often unconsciously) the conflict between the voice of the leader and the voice of the Spirit. This forces them to separate themselves from those goals of the leadership that violate their priesthood. This separation can happen in two ways: either physically by leaving to find a place where their maturity can continue, or mentally, where they continue on with the group but feel a constant separation from them.
Outside of separation, the much more tragic option is that the individual believer learns to listen to the voice of the quasi-priest over and above the voice of the Holy Spirit, and gives up his growth in maturity as a result.
Where does this process lead? A pattern begins to develop where younger and less mature believers listen to the leadership and throw themselves into the workings of the machine to keep the whole thing running. Meanwhile, those hearing the voice of their Shepherd but who stay physically with the group try and find ways to remain involved in the lives of people, though often they are asked to submit to the demands of the machine over listening to the Spirit. This can result in a feeling of alienation from the larger group.
The leadership recognizes that a large percentage of the people committed to the vision of keeping the machine running are less mature Christians, and has one more strategy to keep the mature ones engaged in the project: the paid or titled ministry position. A reward is given for time spent by more mature believers to engage the less mature within the framework of the growing machine. Often these positions come with the condition of signing a doctrinal statement, where once again the individual Christian may be forced to choose between and outline of the beliefs of the group over and above any voice of the Spirit in his heart.
I will be the first to admit that things are not so dark as I have been painting them in our large group. In pockets, believers are encouraged to listen to where God is calling them to follow Him, and new ideas for individual ministry are encouraged. There are numerous places (as in any organized church) where the Holy Spirit is alive and quite active. I can think of several very mature believers who are using their gifts to build the true body within the larger group. Also, the head pastor seems to have a very genuine excitement for the relational nature of the body of Christ.
But I do fear for this local church. The appearance of the quasi-priesthood within the confines of the worship service signals to me that the trust in the organizational may be winning out over the trust in the organic. For now, God appears to be calling me to remain engaged with them for the time being. This will become more and more difficult as time passes. I am exploring the possibility of leading a small group centered around the idea of understanding the true meaning of ?church?, but only time will tell if the leadership will be willing to let me question the wisdom of ?the machine? openly.
Jim, this is a great post. Partly it’s a great post because it is true, but mainly it’s a great post because it is the truth shared in a spirit of love.
Jim, Thanks for this post. You have spoken how I have felt for years, locked into a megachurch. I never heard it expressed like you did, but it was well said. This is yet another confirmation that the Lord is doing a new thing in this day, and is moving his people to see through the “machinery” for what it is and to take a fresh look at what His Kingdom was meant to be.
Jim, Given your thoughts on the “organizational machinery” of the megachurch, you might find the article entitled “God’s Ways are Not Our Ways” in the latest edition of the Common Ground Journal (www.commongroundjournal.org) interesting.
Jim: You have written some good observations. I have been doing small groups most of my Christian walk, although much of it was confined within a large, organizational setting. It has been about five years that I finally had the courage to step out of the organization and into organic relationships. One of the seminal books that I read which spoke greatly to my heart and may to yours is a book by Wolfgang Simson, “Houses that Changed the World.” This book, although a couple decades old by now, may help to crystallize the process God is taking you through to bring you to where he wants you to be. By the way, there are currently millions of Christians in America who are going through this process. So, be of good cheer, as Paul would have said, the Lord is in the middle of all this.
I am agreeing with your thoughts - I am experiencing the same thing - I am feeling, however, the big change this would make in my life and activities. If I truly believe smaller, more personal groups of service and worship are more scriptural and more effective, I need to make a lifetime commitment to opening my home and my life to the needs of those who come in. This will mean giving up much of my privacy and freedom, now that I am an empty nester, working hard in a family business and having no retirement, just paying the bills. I trust the Lord completely, but is it complete enough? I don’t want to discourage brothers and sisters in my present fellowship of about 300, by leaving the tri-weekly gatherings at a building which even now is being considered for sale in order to build a bigger one. My “tithes” are not meant to go to bricks and asphalt - that is what the spirit thru scripture is telling me. After 47 years in a non-denominational church, it is hard to break away from what I have always thought was “THE truth". It is wonderful to have resources for searching and learning at our fingertips on the net. Thank you for your posting - God help us find a way and build a hedge around all seekers to protect us from wiles of Satan.
Very astute and objective post. The way you describe how a pastor tries (consciencely or unconsciencly) to be the “priest” of their flocks money is spot on; I had never quite thought of it that way, kudos. I have sacrificed mine and my wife and stepkids own spiritual well being by staying out of church, purely because I KNEW that what is going on in the new trendy Christianity today is poisonous and better to be cold than lukewarm. Thanks for the post.
Whatever character qualities a church demonstrates organizationally its members will adopt and demonstrate individually.
Any church must act out of the character qualities of Christ, that is how it will accomplish anything of meaning for God. Instead the conventional church often acts out of an “ends justify the means” strategy and then wonders why its members are selfish and greedy.
Nice seeing you here in addition to all the other places. Good words about tithing. I don’t hear about how and were home church folks give their gifts. I have been blessed these past six months of being out of the IC of giving as the Lord leads. Sometimes to organizations and sometime to individuals who have pressing needs. I give as I am lead and experience the blessedness of that. I hope it is a common understanding that if we are going to be like God, we will give. I would like to hear how others have been lead to give. Thanks,
I’m new to this arena, but felt compelled to respond nonetheless. I currently attend a non-denominational mega church, but have never felt “at home” there. No pun intended. While I believe that this particular church is doing a great many things right, I have held back from deep committment for some of the same reasons you identify. My study of the tithes in the old testament conflicts with the way tithes are collected by most churches. While my current church applies no pressure to tithe, they do insist that giving it to the local church is Gods intention. That is not how I read Deuteronomy. Furthermore, the tithing of the old testament is part of the old covenant (under the priesthood), not part of the new covenant with Christ. Perhaps this is not the forum for this discussion, but the area of tithing happens to be one of those areas where I see so many churches and denominations trying to blend the old covenant with the new covenant - as it is so convenient for the institution of giving.
I do have a question for you. Although I have considered leading or attending a home church for some time, my passion and gifts revolve around corporate worship. My husband and I have produced, directed and lead worship using arts, media and music for years. It’s just what we were made to do. Our passion is to create those worship experiences where each person “connects” and allows the Holy Spirit to grow and lead them. We’ve considered creating a “Worship Arts” community into our own “home church” and using our talents to provide worship experiences in our area - but outside an organized church. A pastor friend of ours (who leads and trains home church group leaders in his area) suggested we connect with other home church groups and open up the idea. The question is this: Do you believe that a regular worship experience (perhaps like a camp meeting) is something that home-church groups would appreciate and attend? Are there home churches out there who would appreciate corporate worship venues they could attend without being attached to a church? Just thought I’d ask!
P.S. I also recommend Wolfgang Simson’s book!
Heidi … if you were in my area I would certainly be interested!
Home (or Organic) church is a wonderful experience and there can be nothing better than to worship and mature and “be fruitful and multiply” as God planned from the beginning.
But once in awhile it would be nice to sit among 250 like-minded people and listen to the praises of God swell into a mighty song!
A sort of “YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THIS BELIEF” thing.
You’ve nailed it (again)..!
Yes, God can use the “big system", just as He used kings in Israel, but neither is His first choice for us, His best for us. His BEST is that He leads us Himself, without the human mediators.
We, like the Israelites, just don’t seem to trust Him, or want to know Him that intimately, and so, we, like the Israelites, clammor for our “kings” to lead us. May He speak to your heart, and lead you as to your affiliation in this particular corner of His Body … I know you hear Him, and I trust that you will follow Him, as you have been doing. Bless your heart, which is full of love and integrity!! I am honored to know you as a brother and a friend!