DON’T CRITICIZE! That’s the encouragement–and criticism–against those who have discernment (you might call it a gift). I read a comment recently that those who criticize evangelical “leaders” produce rotten fruit. Well, if that’s true, the fruit I’m about to drop off is long overdue.
Let’s ease into this like an old person wading into a cold pool, shall we? Growing up as a missionary kid I heard this phrase OFTEN: “I heard the call to go minister to ….” fill in the blank. Of course, we have the bitingly funny John Crist lampooning this on YouTube with his Millennial Missionaries:
It’s only funny because it’s true. Granted, no one in their right mind would be so brazen as this … yet.
It points out the quirk, if you will, of evangelical-speak where we ask, “What is God calling you to do?” “Where has God called you to go?” It supposes that God is actively appearing to, or speaking with Christians in some mystical way outside of Scripture (I’ve yet to find ‘Bryn, here’s where I want you to go’ in the Bible).
However, I clearly remember being challenged in youth group to ask God where He wanted me to go. Maybe he’s calling me to the jungles of Africa, or some impoverished area behind the iron curtain in China. Maybe I hoped it would be as a windsurfing instructor in Aruba! This “call” would be some internal prompting, some “still, small voice” to rob a phrase out of context from scripture. The idea is that you will just know. Or you won’t be able to relax until you go there.
Unfortunately, these tests for hearing God’s voice are not tests used in Scripture–not at all! In fact, we’re not supposed to rely on the desires of our heart–EVER! Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?”
That verse is taken from a chapter regarding the sin of Judah. It describes how the people of Israel have put their trust in man, forsaking their trust in the Lord. While verse nine is a nugget of truth that we can use to describe the human heart, it is followed by this answer: “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
The way we know where God is sending us is to see what opportunities are open while living morally before Him. For me, I wanted to be a screenwriter in Hollywood. I wrote ten screenplays. I had some agents interested. I got to the quarter finals of a screenplay competition. But, the doors were closed at that time. And, frankly, my stories were …. well, they were on par with what Hollywood produces every day, but that’s not a recommendation.
Doors opened for me to work as a claims adjuster. I enjoyed special investigations, which involve fraud. I wanted to move in that direction. Using evangelical language, I might have said, God is calling me to that. Unfortunately, no one would hire me, despite the great success I had in such investigations and the connections I had in that industry. Instead, I ended up getting selected to start a legal bill auditing group. That sounds like the exact opposite of what I would ever want to do. It is so far from artistic writing and windsurfing, that maybe only accounting would be its rival.
And yet, that’s where God has led me. I didn’t feel the strong compulsion to go there. God led me out to this job that He would show me.
Moving deeper in the pool … A few years ago I read how Francis Chan walked away from his Mega Church, Cornerstone, because God had told him to leave and to go to a city … information pending. I admired this as it seemed completely against what the world wants to do. Mr. Chan sold his big house, gives all the proceeds of his books to other causes … calls Christians to follow Christ. He talks about how he had been sucked in by pride, loving to see his face on the cover of magazines, or appreciating the applause too much.
His message at the time, and most recently to a group of Facebook employees is great. He properly notes that traditional church fails to create the sense of family … and embarrassingly inner city gangs do a better job.
But, back to this “God told me” thing. Is Mr. Chan is right up there with Abraham? If so, evidently, the church he was pastoring was a pagan cesspool like Ur (for no fault of the pastor, I’m guessing). Cornerstone had begun as a group meeting in Chan’s living room. But, at the time he left, he felt he was a single voice that was ineffective to lead the people gathered in the movement he started.
Still, he walked away. He gave up the lifestyle of the high-rolling mega church pastor. He seemed to put in action the things he said. But, he also broadcasted it to the media. He let everyone know what he was doing in selling his possessions.
I don’t recall reading that Abram held any press conferences or posted his intention to leave Ur, or later Haran, on Twitter and Facebook. He certainly didn’t get booked for inspirational seminars. Instead, Abram left everything he’d known when God’s call came. He was told to leave Ur and leave his whole family. Yet, he took his father, brother, nephew … and they settled in Haran. Abram didn’t hear from God again until Terah, his father, passed away. And the message was repeated: Leave your family and go to a land I will show you (Genesis 12:1–for the astute reader, we learn that Abram was called from Ur in Acts 7, which matches the account of Terah taking the whole family out of Ur and settling in Haran).
I like nearly everything I hear from Francis Chan. I’m unaware of any theological pit-falls. He doesn’t seem to teach the health and wealth prosperity heresy. He appears to have a heart for calling others to follow Jesus as Lord, and that’s awesome.
Sadly, there seem to be contradictions in what he says and what he’s doing. And maybe it’s a compromise he has to make for the sake of his goal.
We Are Church
Francis’ heart is to provide an alternative to the way we do church. In 2013 he started a new model, which follows a home church method, and it’s gaining steam. It’s called We Are Church (or is that Church ‘R Us?) and it is made up of home gatherings across the country. In his talk to Facebook he repeated that “It’s free of charge,” several times. Last I checked, churches weren’t charging admission, but what do I know?
While this is touted as new, it really isn’t. Mainstream churches have been promoting this for some time. Church leaders like the big and multi-campus (income base) model, but they’ve recognized that people don’t connect well. The mini-seminar/concerts they throw each Sunday are well-attended, but lose the demographic of those who want something intimate, something real.
They see this desire as a felt need. They attempt to fill the need with the Small Group model where people meet based on age, interest or geography. It allows people from a mega-church to connect on a personal level. Unfortunately, you can’t force a connection anymore than you can force true repentance and faith.
Mr. Chan, following his Abram-like call has been hard at work, gathering anonymous We Are Church pastors and developing a slick marketing campaign for this grass-roots church. The skeptic in me wonders if he had this all lined up when he left Cornerstone. After all, marketing copy, web sites and a network for gathering applications, approvals, etc. doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere. It’s also clear that he’s still connected with the larger evangelical movement based on his publishing contract and frequent speaking engagements.
I wonder if Francis simply saw that the mega-church model was beginning to be something of a joke. We’ve seen the parody of the “relevant churches”:
Where could we go from here? The ripped jeans, the trendy pastor with tattoos … it’s lame. Francis knew it. Everybody knows it.
What’s a pastor to do then? Well, spark something totally new. Something that will be a little more like the early church, at least until the parodies catch up with how plastic it is.
It reminds me of the popularity of Martha Stewart. Bear with me. Martha presents the homemaker ideal, which sells an experience to countless women who are too busy to acually make all those things. They buy the products in hopes of achieving the level of perfection portrayed in the magazines. And since no one ever will match the ideal portrayed in advertisements, there will be a constant demand for more product.
That’s what mainstream evangelical promotions look like. They set expectations, followed by vague promises.
Take a look at the key words that are used in the promotion of the We Are Church copy. Here’s the web site: http://wearechurch.com. It begins with inciting the need, planting the idea that, lately, you’ve been “confused about church.” It moves on to describe what we’re all missing: ‘Unstoppable power,’ ‘miraculous love,’ ‘outrageous sacrifice!’ Then, the invitation to “dream with us,” and take a “fresh look at the Scriptures.” The ad promises that “we are beginning to experience some of the blessings promised in Scripture!”
How awesome is that? They’re actually experiencing unstoppable power, miracles and … we’ll leave off the sacrifice part for now. Okay, so they actually said “blessings promised in Scripture.” Let’s be honest, Scripture doesn’t promise us unstoppable power. And, really, what is miraculous love? I think if we talked to believers who have had their heads cut off in Egypt, their tongues sliced out in Saudi Arabia, or the believers who huddle over a page of the Bible in the underground church in China, we’d hear about sacrifice.
What Is the Church?
That first question is key: Are we confused about the church? I think the answer is a resounding YES! Most people believe church is a place you go to each week (or on Catholic holidays). Most people believe there are “professional Christians” who run these organizations and balance the budget and reach into new markets.
Evidently, so does Francis Chan. In that way he shows that he’s still confused about church. On the web site, he invites those who are “currently serving as a pastor or elder” in a church to come and “dream” with the We Are Church pastors. They can bring a “key church member” with them, but they each will have to fill out an application and send references, hoping to be accepted by these faceless pastors who have unlocked “unstoppable power.”
Sorry, but that’s not a fresh look. It’s as old as the Roman Catholic Church. There’s the priests and they condescend to the masses. We should hope to catch their notice. That model is well-ingrained because from Constantine to the Reformation we have over 1,000 years of such pagan rite-centric ceremony. It’s hard to shake that type of cultural indoctrination. That’s why we meet in buildings with a priest up front and do so on Sunday (in honor of the sun god).
Paul taught that when the church gathered, one would have a song, another a lesson, someone else a revelation or an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:26). It was to be done in order, for sure. But, it wasn’t done in a manner like we see in today’s churches. If you attend a Catholic mass, a Lutheran service, or a Baptist church, the order of worship looks largely the same.
Home churches are springing up around the world because Christians long for true fellowship and community without the politics and posturing of the traditional “way we do church.” In other countries–where it is illegal to be openly Christian–a home church is the only way to do church.
Frankly, the very idea of “doing” church is offensive to me. Church, or the proper word–Congregation–is what Christians are not what we do. Francis Chan announced back in 2013 that he wanted to “change the way we do church.”
The funny thing is, his We Are Church branding is nothing new. A Catholic group in Europe began a movement called We Are Church in 1995. It embraced all forms of sexuality, rejected the deity of God and the virgin birth of Christ … why they bother with any religious affiliation is a mystery to me. They were excommunicated by the Catholic church in 2008. What’s funny about that is the Church penalized them for not having an Ecclesiastical order (priests) over the people. (ref. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Are_Church#Organization). They have a group in Ireland, as well.
It makes me wonder if Francis Chan knows about this other international group, or if he failed to Google the name of his operation?
The bottom line is that the congregation of Christ is not a building, or a meeting, or a human organization. The church building on the corner is not the New Testament equivalent of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the pastor and elders are not NT versions of the priests of old.
Those who have repented of their wretched sinfulness and turned to Jesus as Lord make up the body of Christ, the spiritual kingdom, the congregation or church, the bride of Christ! We don’t need human recognition or validation through membership roles. We need no letters of recommendation because the fruit of our lives by the power of Christ in us is our recommendation (2 Cornithians 3:1-2).
What’s happening with the “small group experience” and these other permutations of faux home church is a desperate attempt by the false church institution to co-opt a real movement.
Jesus taught His disciples that they were not to call each other Rabbi or Teacher. They had one Rabbi and one Teacher: Jesus Christ.
It’s true that Paul said there are those given to Christ’s congregation as Apostles, as teachers as evangelists, etc. (1 Corinthians 12:28). But, that was not to denote some form of hierarchy that would conflict with the words of our Lord.
Paul and the other Apostles call for humility, over and over. They warn of the false apostles who sneak in, with eyes for their own glory, for money and for lording it over the people. Those are the wolves!
Quite the opposite, actually. Paul and the other Apostles call for humility, over and over. They warn of the false apostles who sneak in, with eyes for their own glory, for money and for lording it over the people. Those are the wolves! The true elders and leaders in the congregation of the body of Christ are humble, unassuming, meek and gentle.
Meek men do not build mega churches. Humble men do not drive major marketing campaigns. Gentle guides do not achieve celebrity status.
The empire-building leaders of the so-called church see people leaving their buildings at a steady pace. They’ve tried to become more “relevant” with music, clothing style and downplaying the Bible. Christians are seeing that they’ve turned what should be a gathering place for God’s people into multi-level marketing schemes with the “give” button right on their web pages. Mainstream evangelical churches promote a varying degree of mysticism with “prayer soaked rooms,” clouds forming signs from God, images from God directing them to visit a bus stop with money, mysterious cash that will supposedly show up in your bank account, and on, and on.
In an attempt to increase their money base, churches have developed programs that will appeal to folks who would never want to fellowship with Christians. With the increasing number of unbelievers who have learned key phrases to sound Christian, the true followers of Christ are often saddened and feel out-of-place in the traditional church.
The Church, Inc. has realized they’re losing this market demographic and have responded with the only thing they know: an experience. They promise to have a “small group experience” that will allow people to “do church” the way that meets their needs.
Can anyone honestly picture the Apostle Paul, Peter, James, John, or Jude writing something so crass and commercialised?
No. The answer is no. They wouldn’t do so in a million years.
Are You In The Club?
There’s a club. It’s made up of professional Christians. And if you don’t have a degree, if you aren’t relevant in their crowd, if you don’t have a mystical call from God, sending you to some place He will show you … then you’re nothing but a layperson.
Interestingly, in Revelation 2 Christ speaks to the pastor of the congregation at Ephesus. This was the same congregation to whom Paul wrote the epistle Ephesians. It was a congregation to whom the Apostle John also ministered. While the pastor there (the angel or messenger of the church) was chastised for “leaving his first love,” he is commended for one thing: Hating the works of the Nicolaitans, which Christ also hates.
This is interesting because there isn’t much said about these people. It’s clear they are false teachers and wicked. It isn’t clear what they taught or believed.
The word, Nico-laitan may refer to people who followed Nicolas, an early, popular leader/deacon in the early church. Nikos means “conqueror” while laos means “people.” I’ve read that we get the word laity from laos. Some believe that Nicholas can be traced back to Nimrod, who was a great hunter before the Lord. He set up a temple and ruled over people.
The Nicolaitans were likely followers of Nicholas, an early deacon in the church who later espoused Gnosticism. Gnosticism holds that there are secrets uncovered by a select group who will dispense them to the masses. Does this sound familiar? All cults operate on this basis. A charismatic leader who has some special annointing … they claim to multiply KFC for the masses (that would be Jim Jones, in case you’re interested).
When we set ourselves up as someone’s spiritual authority, we are usurping the position of Christ, and that’s very bad.
Basically, the works of the Nicolatians may have been to set up a system like we see in the Roman Catholic church, and to a lesser degree, traditional churches in general. Why would Jesus hate this? Because He specifically told the disciples not to do that! When we set ourselves up as someone’s spiritual authority, we are usurping the position of Christ, and that’s very bad.
With Francis Chan’s group, it appears he’s setting up a network of small groups, but he’s vetting pastors through the established church leadership of today (for a cost of $500, should they pass their application and references test. A fact that contradicts his statement that it’s “free of charge.”).
Paul gave Timothy clear requirements for those who should be selected as elders in a congregation. It was a long list that includes humility, which I’m getting from the ‘not quarrelsome’ qualification. See 1 Timothy 3:1-7 for the full list, there are 14 of them and Paul doesn’t say they should have them, but they must have them.
Notably absent is the requirement that they have a seminary degree from an accredited college. Or, that they must know someone and have a letter of recommendation from an established elder.
No, the requirements are all tied to character qualities that spring from walking with the Lord and allowing Him to mold them. These are not something they can pick up from a – degree. They are not gained from a five-year apprenticeship wrangling a youth group.
Lastly, it’s important to note that Paul warns Timothy of something in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
It doesn’t mean salvation from sin, but rather from falling into error. By Francis Chan’s own words, Cornerstone Church fell into error. It was so bad he had to leave. Since he was the pastor of that church, one might rightly wonder what went wrong? It’s fair to ask, will this new home church he’s started end any better than Cornerstone?
I think it’s the club mentality that’s the issue. It’s the “professional Christian” idea that is wrong. Some churches will allow so-called lay persons to become the ministers. But, they will often be referred to as lay ministers. And thus, we reinforce The Club vs. the membership, the Leaders vs. the people.
I am not in the club. I hope I never will be. And I don’t do church. I am a grateful member of the true congregation of Christ, with Him as my Leader.