Church of England (Anglican)

From: Stand Firm – Faith Among the Ruins ….  www.standfirminfaith.com

The Martyrs and Missiological Damage
by Matt Kennedy | Dec 18, 2019 | Anglicans, Apostasy, Biblical Illiteracy, LGBTQIetc, Theological Liberalism

It is no secret that the Church of England is in trouble. Several years ago, I likened the contemporary English Church to the Episcopal Church in 1999. That was my first year as an M.Div student at Virginia Theological Seminary. I remember thinking at the time that while there were many powerful people promoting same-sex blessings, formal approval of such arrangements would be a long time coming. There were strong, smart orthodox leaders still exercising influence and authority and the vast majority of Episcopalians despised change and just wanted to be left alone. It would take a tectonic change in the status quo for the Episcopal Church to formally embrace same-sex sexuality I thought. But I was wrong. I had not noticed that the ground which felt solid if a bit soft at the edges, had been sapped. The once-solid platform of biblical fidelity, confessional integrity, and institutional conservatism had been steadily undermined, consistently weakened by decades of theological compromise. Just the right blow at just the right moment and the whole thing would collapse. Gene Robinson was that blow. (consecrated as bishop – first openly gay bishop)

In England, his name is Stephen Cottrell presently Bishop of Chelmsford soon to be Archbishop of York. In an article on his upcoming elevation, the Church Times reports, (Archbishop of York is second in the worldwide Anglican Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury – the Anglican “pope”)

“Bishop Cottrell has also warned that the Church’s stance on same-sex relationships means that it is ‘seen as immoral by the culture in which it is set’ and has suggested that prayers of thanksgiving for these relationships — ‘perhaps a eucharist’ — should be offered. In a diocesan-synod address in 2017, he warned of the ‘missiological damage that is done when that which is held to be morally normative and desirable by much of society, and by what seems to be a significant number of Anglican Christian people in this country, is deemed morally unacceptable by the Church…And, though I am proud to confirm that all of us, whatever our views on this matter, are united in our condemnation of homophobia, we must also acknowledge that it is of little comfort to young gay or lesbian members of our Church to know that while prejudice against them is abhorred, any committed faithful sexual expression of their love for another is forbidden. . . Our ambivalence and opposition to faithful and permanent same-sex relationships can legitimise homophobia in others.”

The Christian Institute expands on the partial quote above as follows, “I am not sure the church has ever before had to face the challenge of being seen as immoral by the culture in which it is set.”

These are astounding words. That one so educated, soon to be so elevated, so highly respected could evince such ignorance so publicly without embarrassment is, well, I am not sure what to call it. On the one hand, he is, of course, worthy of censure. But on the other, that his words are published so widely and he is still embraced so warmly without any apparent sense that something is amiss, what does it mean? Is the indictment more damning to him or to the ecclesial prelates or to the Church of England as a whole?

Has the Bishop taken even a semester’s study in church history? Does he know that Christians have been called haters of mankind, cannibals, atheists even because from the first the Christian Church has refused to bow to the idols of the age? What would Bishop Cottrell say to the Ugandan martyrs who refused to let themselves be sexually corrupted by a homosexual ruler for the sake of Christ? Were these children missiologically obtuse? Ought they to have embraced the “normative and desirable morality” of the king and his court? Men and women and children have been devoured by wild beasts, burned alive, beheaded, and crucified precisely because they refused to adopt the morality of the age and yet it is by the blood of these martyrs, not by the supine compromise of English clerics, that Christ builds his Church.

And we need not even look to the history of the Church. Has Bishop Cottrell read even a single Gospel? Does he know that Jesus was crucified? Was Jesus crucified because he was “seen as moral by the culture in which he was set”? Was he arrested and tried because he embraced what was “morally normative and desirable”? Not at all. Jesus scrutinized the traditions and laws of the day by the law of God and found them wanting. He refused to submit himself or his disciples to the rabbinic sabbath regulations, the washings, the dietary restrictions imposed by men and not God. And his “community” hated him for it. He has a demon, they said. His miracles are empowered by Satan, they said. Jesus was not crucified because the people loved him and he affirmed all of their ways.

But, for all of his faults, Bishop Cottrell, as quoted in the Christian Institute article linked above, provides a succinct summary of the revisionist project,

“…he warned of the ‘missiological damage that is done when that which is held to be morally normative and desirable by much of society, and by what seems to be a significant number of Anglican Christian people in this country, is deemed morally unacceptable by the Church.’”

Yes. That is theological liberalism in a nutshell. What do most people believe right and good? Whatever it is, the Church must preach that thing with verve and vigor, join the march, catch the wave, ride the momentum. I suppose it goes back to Hegel and God unfolding himself in human history or, more directly, to Schleiermacher and the adolescent need to be wanted by our cultured despisers.

At present, our cultured despisers demand sex, and lots of it, with no borders, boundaries or limits. Whatever you wish to do and to whomever you wish to do it (excepting, for the brief and quickly passing moment, children), it is good. Having already said “yes” to this demand, the compromised Church mumbles, weakly, about “commitment” and “monogamy”. We must walk down the broad road of destruction, she says, not run.

Bishop Cottrell teaches that homosexual relationships are good. The Apostle Paul teaches that they are vile, the final stage of idolatrous rebellion and that those who engage in them without repentance will not enter into the kingdom of Heaven (Romans 1:26-27, 1st Corinthians 6:9). Faced with this apostolic opposition, Bishop Cottrell, “…did acknowledge biblical passages spoke about the issue, he said they were merely ‘part of our story and our inheritance’. ‘But what we can do is recognise that what we know now about human development and human sexuality requires us to look again at those texts to see what they are actually saying to our situation, for what we know now is not what was known then.’” The Apostle, you see, was bathed in ignorance, a product of his times, not a herald of Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Who do you believe, the Apostle appointed by the risen Christ or the English bishop who cannot think of a time when Christians have had to face the challenge of being seen as immoral?

Those who, wisely, accept the authority of the Apostle will call those engaged in such relationships to repent and trust in Jesus who loves them, who died for their sins, and will cleanse them of all iniquity. Those who believe Bishop Cottrell will bake cakes and say “prayers of thanksgiving for their relationships” and affirm them to hell. This is not an issue about which Christians can agree to disagree.

This is why Bishop Cottrell’s elevation is so significant. The Church of England has, up to this point, formally embraced the biblical view of sexuality while informally allowing its opposite. It is one thing to have a sitting bishop teaching false doctrine and not do anything about it. That is the abdication of Jesus’ command to beware of wolves, a passive dereliction of duty. It is quite another to elevate the same teacher to a position of high authority. That requires that his very public and widely reported teachings be, if not “approved”, at least tolerated as if they stand within the pale of orthodoxy. This is an act of apostasy. The teaching that men can be with men sexually and women can be with women and that the bible is wrong with regard to human sexuality has now been formally accepted by the Church of England. Yes, this teaching has been accepted informally for years now. But this makes it official.

Grab Hold Of Your Life! – Part Four

We have mentioned “margin” in this short series of blogs. We can only truly give from margin. Financially,. Emotionally. Vocationally.

Purposely living below our means and not buying everything the world says we need – and maybe saying no to an extra cqar, or a bigger house – leaves margin in our finances. It leaves space. We are spending less than what we have, so we have margin. And when we have margin, we have freedom. Freedom to give, freedom to invest, and freedom from stress.

Same goes with our time.

Don’t spend all the time you have. So you can be free and use it to serve.

When we read through the Gospels, some of the craziest stories about Jesus happened because He lived with margin. Because He had margin He let Himself be interrupted. He wasn’t in a hurry. What He was on His way to do could wait. He was open to the Spirit’s leading.

Most of us today schedule the Holy Spirit right out of our calendar, so we don’t have space to be ready to serve in the ordinary, mundane, unnoticed ways.

So many love to be busy. Volunteering at a scheduled service project. Taking a mission trip (and never seeing the people again after we leave). Leading a small group (but never seeing any of them the rest of the week).

I believe passionately that my street and neighbourhood matters. That we are called to live in those places and in those stories. And furthermore, within those ordinary places, we are called to live in ordinary moments as we go through our days, and to specifically and purposely create space (margin) so we have time for them. And for the people we live with. And next to. And see over and over again.

I wonderful, as do other leaders I relate to, if our busyness with ‘big things’ or ‘big dreams’ or the Great Commission (Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 to go into all the nations and “make disciples”) is actually our excuse to not have to know the people who live next door?

When we hear the words Great Commission, we immediately think of going out from the call of Jesus to do superhero-type work in a big, loud way. I mean, Jesus Himself said “go and make disciples of all nations,” right?  

But have we somehow forgotten that the person across the hall, and the mailman, and the neighbour, and the barista qualify as people and live in a nation? So why do we have to go do some crazy big thing for God, when the command He gave us can be fulfilled by just being faithful and loving well over and over again?

We probably buy into this lie because we don’t remind ourselves that the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, are a highlight reel. It’s the memorable stories of the early church, compiled to pass on the teachings of Jesus and tell the story of the first-century movement. But it covers just under a hundred years, and it’s a pretty tiny book!

Christianity did not become a movement that turned the world upside down because a guy named Paul was crazy, brave, adventurous, and bold and travelled the world to tell others about Jesus. That contributed, sure. But the world got turned upside down because there were thousands of people who loved Jesus – people we will never hear about or whose names we will never know – and they ate dinners with the people around them.

They said hi to their neighbours.

They lived as witnesses in their daily routines.

Ministry is not just heading out to preach and teach in a church somewhere. Ministry is not just being ordained and having a position and title. Ministry is not this huge, public, notice me event that we plan and execute with precision. Ministry is simply living daily life aware of God’s presence, walking in His peace, releasing His power as we are led in the details of that daily life by the Holy Spirit. We need to choose to have a relatively “boring” life full of incredible richness and meaning. Not one overloaded with activities and events lived on the edge of exhaustion and collapse.

But, to have real life and thus real ministry to the people we come into contact daily we must first have margin. 

Seneca (an ancient philosopher) wrote that one of the more complex and truly confusing things about our human experience is how we treat time. And how we weirdly treat it so much differently than other assets or things under our rule. He said,

“No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbour can mean hell to pay; yet we easily let others encroach on our lives – worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passers-by, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers. You can only hand so many hours of your day over to other people before there is nothing left.”

Even if there is something left, you may have lost the clarity, the energy, and the capacity to do anything with it. 

Grab Hold Of Your Life! – Part Three

As a believer we need to realize that “time” is not a renewable resource or a replaceable asset. It cannot be bought, rolled over, transferred, or cashed in. It can only be stewarded or wasted. And by “wasted,” I don’t mean being lazy. I mean the opposite: wasting time by being busy and over scheduled. When we treat time the same way we treat the earth – something to exploit, use, and squeeze every last drop of life from – that’s truly wasting time. 

Time is sacred. It’s not something in a petri dish or beaker to be measured and broken apart. We are not in control. Time is something to be submitted to. A table to sit at. Where every moment is holy and beautiful and special.

I have been recently been relearning to carve up my time wisely. God first, me second, family third, close relationships fourth, community involvement fifth, and then ministry (and I am carefully selecting which invites to say yes to and which I say no to). And, I make sure that there is always margin (see first two blogs in this series) to be able to listen to God’s voice so I don’t miss moments He puts in front of me to interact with my neighbours or people at coffee shops.

After that, the clock hits zero. The asset called time is drained. The biggest change in me after embracing this formation is that now I’m simply willing to admit that my time is limited. I hold no illusions. I cannot do everything asked of me or everything I’m able to or want to do. In fact, isn’t it weird we think that at all? Recognizing that limit, in my opinion, is the first step to what feels like a superpower – much more meaning-focused spiritual work, and much more anchored and loving presence of being.

It’s not about being selfish or weird or introverted. It’s about creating a life centered around priorities we care about most, making sure they don’t fall by the wayside. There simply isn’t time for everything. I personally don’t feel restrained by that. I once did. I now come alive because this realization gives me permission to be all in with me (personal time and space), my family, Jesus, close friends, my Church, and my neighbours and community.

So if you want me to hop on a phone call or listen to your new idea, you’ll have to tell me which person or thing on my priority list you’re more important than, and then maybe we can talk. And that not even me trying to be mean. I now view my day as a jar of rocks already full. Rocks represent those things that are important to me. So for your rock to fit in, one must come out. 

It’s okay to believe we have a finite amount of time. It’s okay to believe we cannot add anything else to our schedules. We reveal ourselves with our asks – and how we respond to others’ asks. Thinking we have all the time in the world is costing us something. Our sanity. Our family. Our health. Our joy. If you don’t have enough time to do nothing, then you don’t have enough time. (Reread that last sentence – it’s important). 

We aren’t God. And so we should stop acting like we are. Being human means embracing the limits, not trying to cheat them. 

Not many of us recognize – and rarely do we wrestle with – how much we actually love chaos and franticness and busyness. We don’t admit that it does something to our soul and we enjoy it. It gives us purpose and meaning. We feel needed. We feel important.

And, most of all, we implicitly believe the lie that we need to take care of ourselves, because God just might forget about us. But I believe God takes care of His people – even more when they are honouring Him and trusting His design and Spirit. And He’s been doing this since the beginning of the story. 

More next time…

Grab Hold Of Your Life! – Part Two

Hurry is violence to the soul.”  That is a good phrase or slogan to remember in 2020. And to remove “hurry,” as we saw last time (Part One), we need to learn how to say that little but powerful word “no.”

For most of us our default answer to requests is an automatic “yes.” We seem to believe that time is a more abundant resource in the future than It is now. We have our plate full now with just regular life and yet think that somehow later we will have some free time. That spare time will magically or miraculously appear on our crowded schedules. We refuse to believe that the time we have today is the same time we will have next week and a year from now. But it is not a more abundant resource in the future.

So, we are asked:

      • Want to come over for dinner? Yes.
      • Can you meet for coffee? Yes.
      • Want to come and minister to our people? Yes.
      • Can you bring the snacks to the next meeting? Yes.
      • Will you lead a small group? Yes. 

And it is not just the people who say yes who suffer from “the YES Syndrome.” Their family and close friends suffer too. Our individuality is only a small part of a web of relationships and interpersonal communications that affect our work and our day-to-day lives – and the resources we have available, especially time.

I have to apply this approach almost daily. As I am asked to travel to various places to minister it is always my desire to say yes. It is what I am called to do. It is how the Lord has wired me as I love to teach, prophesy, and minister. But, I need to be aware that to teach then means preparation time now. That travelling then means being home now. 

Another example: I get asked for coffees constantly. People want to meet with me. People want to speak to me (FaceTime, Skype, Viber, WhatApp, iPhone, and on the list goes). I now ask what it is they want to talk about. What is it that they want me to do for them. I simply no longer have coffee just to have coffee. I don’t answer calls simply to talk on the phone (I hate phones). So, what is it that this person thinks I can do for them? What are they wanting from me? I want to invest my time wisely and not just spend it or waste it. So, I don’t say yes until I know why they want a piece of my time.

Remember, you can’t save time for the future. You either invest it, spend it, or waste it. But it is always now.

Here is what I had to learn: It is nor selfish to say no. This is about having time to love ourselves and love our neighbours better. So we practice and get really good at saying no. In our world, if we don’t learn how to say no, we will lose, simply because we have access to more things than ever before.

I have had to learn to say no in two different areas, and both have not been easy.

The first is saying no to the incredibly, awesome, “once in a lifetime” things. And the other is saying no to the daily micro-mundane asks and decisions that eat away at our flourishing like water damage in a house. Slow and steady, and methodical and toxic.

Don’t buy into the lie that a full schedule means productivity or holiness, or success, or achievement. It is okay to turn the cell phone off mid-evening so you can have some quiet time. It is definitely alright not to turn it on as soon as you get up in the morning. Admit it, we can be called, texted, tagged, snapped, voice memoed, commented to, FaceTimed, DM’d, private messaged, Voxed, e-mailed, WhatApped, and more anytime. While we are sleeping. When we are on a day off. When we are on vacation. When we are cooking or cleaning or going to the bathroom. We literally cannot escape someone trying to communicate with us. And it can be almost anyone. Because we live in a culture of reachability and access when we demand, in nice Christian ways, of course, access at all times to other people. 

I receive a large number of “messages” daily. Because I work here and on the opposite side of the planet, where they are 12 hours ahead of us, they come in all day and all night. And, often if I don’t answer an email right away I get a text telling me they just sent me an email. Or, they write a Facebook message and if I don’t respond in an hour or two I will get the same message by email. If I don’t return a call within an hour, they call again. So, I have had to learn to say no to an immediate response, period! I get to them when I get to them. When I have time and am not rushed I answer them if I know them. The rest may get an answer if time allows. Instant access simply exists for a very select few and only if they don’t misuse the privilege. 

We often don’t get to control how much people ask of our time. Thankfully, though, we do have control over our yes and no. It is time to learn to say no more often.

Conclusion next time… 

Grab Hold Of Your Life! – Part One

Well, it is into the middle of the first month of the new year 2020. And, we are all busy back at our regular routines. Christmas – both the western version and the eastern Orthodox version – are over and done with for another year. And, New Year’s celebrations have become a vague memory. We are back to normal, whatever your normal is. Even in the world of ministry everyone is back to ministering. Normal has returned. 

However, regardless of what you do, it is a good time to remember that if we always do what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten. So, it might be a good time to look at making some changes. After all, 2019 was not the most fulfilling year of your life. You finished the year in a different place than the one you were originally aiming at. Things did not work out the way you planned they would. 

There is a word that I have been using a lot more recently. It is an easy word to know, remember, and speak. It is a one syllable word. Simple and easy. Practice it with me. “No!” That it. But, this simple word will change your life allowing you extra time to think, pray, and journal. To just be instead of always doing. After all, you are a human ‘being’ and not a human ‘doing’. To be a human being and have a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus you need margin in your life.

In his best selling book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson defined the term ‘margin’ as “the space between our load and our limits.” What we are currently carrying is our load, and our capacity to carry that load is our limit. 

Sadly most of us have erased that space entirely. We live with zero space between our load and our limit. We are living on the edge with nothing to spare. Many are at their breaking point and have nothing left to give. We are just one small decision away from the load circle and the limit circle overlapping on top of each other perfectly. When our limits become our load, that’s when we experience personal (and professional) burnout and depletion.

But  this gets tricky in Christian culture, because we often encourage the idea of being busy to the point of leaving no margin in our lives. How do I know that? Because I hear such statements as:

      • You are doing the Lord’s work!
      • He will fill you up and sustain you!
      • You need to be doing big things for God!

And, these statements are spoken when, no matter what job you are doing in the world, you express that you are tired, broken, over-worked, frustrated…These words are meant to encourage you because you are a Christian and God will support and encourage you. Nonsense! He only supports what He has asked us to do – and He certainly has not asked us to burnout and live without meaning and personal space and time. We were made for more and better than what we are experiencing.

If we allocate 100 percent of our time, we have nothing left over – so if something unexpected happens in our days (which we can count on to happen), we are left trying to rush to the next thing. We are now hurrying ourselves – and those around us. And, we need to remember, Hurry is violence to the soul.”

One of the quickest ways to curb that violence to our own humanity is learn to say “no” in a world of “yeses.”

If you’re not saying no to good things, you’re probably not saying no enough. With the increasing access we have to each other, we have to make sure we’re saying no frequently. I have personally been trying to starve my schedule a bit more recently. I discovered that whenever I feed it, it seems to only grow plumper – needing more and more food the next week and the week after. More activity, More involvement. More appointments. 

Since I first read Dr. Swenson’s book (and I reread it at least once a year) I have placed a ruthlessly high value on space and margin. I fight for it relentlessly, which takes an enormous amount of work. And, at times I still fail and book more ministry and more appointments and more writing deadlines than I can actually comfortably handle and still maintain margin – personal space and time. But I am working on it on a regular basis and moving forward in maintaining margin.

I find it weird that people admire others who are extra busy. But honestly, can’t everyone do that? Last time I checked, it’s easy to fill an entire week. I’m now more interested in people who schedule as little as possible, only what is essential and best for their flourishing. THAT takes work. And commitment. Focus. Vision. That’s countercultural to the society and world in which we live. And totally opposite to the Christian and church culture.

When we don’t make this decision to live with margin and follow through then we will learn the hard way. You will learn from the great teacher Burnout. You will first spend time with Master Overwhelm. You will continue to do things that seem great and awesome and important (which is what hurry feeds on best), but you end the week feeling unfulfilled. Burned out and a little more on edge. Depleted and wound up. 

It is time for Christians – and especially Christian leaders – to be asking ourselves: Why do we have a full schedule? Why do we think we have to do these things? What stuff is necessary to live and what stuff isn’t? What if we prioritize doing nothing? What is “being” becomes more important than “doing”?

And, how will al this happen. Ready for it? Make your default answer no.

That’s it. Without realizing it, most of us make our default answer yes. So, a simple switch from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ and you will, over time, regain margin in your life. And thus regain and reclaim your real life. 

More next time…

Polls, Knee Jerk Demographics

Guest blogger: Bill Lewis – apostle
We have polls for everything. We are questioned, surveyed, prodded for reviews. I cannot buy anything on Amazon without getting an email asking me to review the product, rate the supplier, comment. I get my oil changed and I have an email from the dealer, and then one from the manufacturer. Our political world is polling people everyday to take the temperature of the society. I wonder sometimes who they are asking. Polls make us purely reactionary; we respond rather than lead. And, the Christian world has its pollsters too which make us reactionary as well.

I have read so many articles and books with the statistics neatly packaged with comment and prognosis. The polls can be extremely discouraging. The trends are not good. Reading and following the polls indicate that fewer and fewer people say they need religion. Whole generations are abandoning church. The secularization of the world is increasing, not just in the western world, but across the whole world. As prosperity increases, the need people feel for religion and supernatural intervention decreases. This is true in emerging nations as well as developed nations.

While the polls predict and report decline, we have churches working hard to reach the current generations. There are some very successful churches categorized as mega churches. The statistics say they only represent 4% of church going people. There are a number of reasons for decline. We can always come up with reasons for down turn, but we have very few, if any, answers to turn the tide. Effort has been made, but somehow it comes across as consumerism. Churches are required to cater to an ever increasing number of niches of consumerism. People tend to shop churches like they do at the mall. Does the church provide all the bells and whistles that we think we need? Many times it is children and teen services. Does the church have the facilities for kids? Do they have a vibrant youth program? Sadly, most of the people I know that made a move to a church where they felt their kids would be affected by the youth work have been disappointed in that their kids are now not attending church or serving the Lord. What went wrong? Even some of the parents are now marginal Christians with sporadic attendance.

I like statistics. It gives me a feel for the bigger picture. I also have tried to make adjustments in style, decor, media etc. to be more current with styles and communication. However, all the lights, sound, decor, have not produced an earth shaking rush to church. It has made the atmosphere pleasant and there have been appreciative comments, but no one has become a believer because of the videos, the sound, the music.

So, I have been thinking, praying, pondering, meditating. What are we going to do to change things? Stem the tide of defection? Reach the generations up and coming? What we have been doing has produced people coming to church that live no differently than the rest of the world that does not go to church. That is not working.

I believe that we have to think differently. We do not need to compete with the world. We miss the point about who we are and our mission. The mission is not church attendance. Our mission is not religion. We have to stop talking about church; start talking about Jesus. We must talk about sin and God’s answer to sin. We need to express repentance. Most people need to experience the revelation of their deep lostness and separation from the Creator. Knowing how lost you are, makes the savior that much more precious and amazing.

We do not need more polls, we need Jesus, not the western civilization Jesus, but the Jesus who died and was resurrected for mankind to be saved from sin, darkness, and eternal damnation.

Amazing, the cause of Christ thrived for two millennia without youth groups, Sunday school, and all the other special consumer programs. It was multiplied by the revelation of a risen savior who was truly the Son of God. The message and mission must return to its core values and purpose.

Religion – Relationship

I am on holidays. During the holiday I have had an opportunity to visit a local church and attend Sunday morning service. I have attended a Bible study in a denominational church, the same church as the Sunday assembly.  And, I have visited with several who would call themselves believers but don’t attend any church regularly. Today I had the opportunity to visit a middle-aged man who is an atheist becoming such after many years of attending local churches with his family. It has been interesting to say the least.

As I attended the local church I realized that they are based on an Old Testament model. They are unaware of the priesthood of all believers and expect and allow the priest to do all the ministry. It is a passive form of church where the people come, sit, absorb, and then go home. Transformation seldom happens. In the case of a decent teacher in the pulpit the people do go home informed. Not the case this past Sunday where I attended. The priest is not a good communicator nor a decent Bible teacher. 

The people I have spoken to one-on-one are leaders in the church. They know things need to change, that the church is not alive, nor is it attracting new comers let along new believers. But, to get them to move on making some changes or even a basic change … Not happening. Passive. Even though they agree with what I am saying about the need for change; change will not be happening any time soon if ever.

The man in his early 40’s that I spoke with today once attended church with his parents and siblings. But, currently is not attending anywhere and does not plan to. He did not express any interest in being a believer, a true believer, and attending a local fellowship of believers on a regular basis. He could use the support and encouragement of a local church but his experience in a number of local churches has taught him that what he needs will not be found in the local church. He was looking elsewhere. Now he has just given up and is living without hope. 

Tomorrow I meet with the pastor of a non-denominational church that meets in the same building as the denominational church I attended on Sunday. His is a born again, baptized in the Holy Spirit, local assembly that is very alive and active. He is a good teacher and always has a good word for people when teaching and when meeting with them one-on-one. I have enjoyed our limited contact in the past and look forward to coffee tomorrow and growing the relationship some. He is offering new life to people and giving people hope as found only in Jesus Christ. 

The contrast in the two churches meeting in the same building cannot be missed. Life – death. Light – darkness. Hope – despair. Growth – decline. Relationship – religion. 

My last morning here, Wednesday, I will be attending the Bible study of the first church mentioned. I was a participant last week at the weekly gathering of men from a number of churches in the same denomination. This week I am attending again before heading to the airport to fly home. I have been invited to lead the two hour study. It will, to say the least, be somewhat interesting. I think it will be fun and I am believing that the Holy Spirit will do a great work in the hearts of every man attending and that life and light will be imparted to all those with open hearts.

Relationships

The other day I went to get the mail. There is a mailbox at the local postal outlet where the majority of our mail goes. This way, when I am on the road travelling, it is not piling up out front for all to know that I am away from home. Never know who might take advantage of my absence. 

It is good to have to go and “get the mail.” It gives me opportunity to chat with those who work there and to build relationships with each and everyone of them. I have had tremendous opportunities to share the love of God in very practical ways with a number of them. We are all called to be ambassadors for the Kingdom in our community and neighbourhood. 

Today, in the mailbox there was an advertisement from a Canadian ministry regarding an American speaker who is coming in October to speak in their church. Interesting. I have never heard of the local church. I looked them up on the internet and they seem like a great local church with some solid leaders. So, I noticed that the return address on the oversized postcard inviting me to attend the event is a Florida mailbox. So, I looked up the speaker and, sure enough, he has mailed me the invitation. 

What is most interesting is that his ministry is one I have not connected to in over 20 years. He was once located in California and lost his local church and Bible school due to his chosen lifestyle. Then he relocated to England and set up shop there. Now he is in Florida leading a local church and a training school. So, my name and address has survived 20 plus years and at least three locations. And, out of the blue I receive an invitation to attend his ministry coming to a Canadian church. No contact over all those years. Literally no connection to him or his ministry. And, I am still on a mailing list because I purchased a set of DVDs several decades ago.

Listen folks – the Kingdom is all about relationships. The local church is only as strong as the relationships that exist within the fellowship. It is not about mailing lists and selling ministry resources and holding big events. Ministry that is changing lives and transforming families and communities are all relationally built. Programs are not working. Conferences don’t change lives or transform people. Even mass crusades are having little permanent effect on society, the culture, or individual lives. God works through personal relationships.

I personally stopped attending conferences years ago. I am not interested in spending money on travel, hotel, meals, and registration … then spending money when offerings are taken and resources are offered. I can invest my time and money much more effectively. I work in a local church where I live and, when on the road, minister to local churches. No large conferences. Just relational connections to local church leadership ministering to their people and helping the local church grow strong and effective. And, because we are relationally connected I return to these churches on a regular basis and connect in-between visits as we work in the Kingdom together.

So, a conference 1,800 Km away with someone I don’t relate to or respect in a church I have never heard of… I think I will pass thank you. I wonder if I can get my name removed from the ancient mailing list being used?  A list that I never asked to be placed on in the first place. 

What Is Worship?

When believers come together we “worship.” In fact, generally we call the gathering a “worship service.” But do we really worship? I mean, really?

In most services I attend in every nation where I work we sing songs or choruses about God. We sing songs that encourage us to believe, to move forward, to stand strong. We sing about Him. But, if you watch the words for most songs – the real focus is you, me, us. So, that is not worship. It may move us and may help us feel good, but it is not worship.

Worship must be directed to God. It must be believers expressing their hearts about God to God. The audience of worship is One, God Himself. The songs or choruses must express our love for Him to Him.

But, even that is limited by how much we love Him. Do we love Him with our whole heart? Are we wholehearted about our commitment to follow Him regardless? Are we willing to obey Him with our whole heart? If we do not love Him with our whole heart then our worship is limited or simply nonexistent. 

Going even a little deeper… If we have not given our whole self to Him – our physical life, our emotional life, our hopes and dreams, our desires and plans, our friendships and family, our past, present and future – then we are really not fully worshipping Him. Maybe we are not worshipping Him at all. 

The writer of the book of Hebrews states what worship is:

Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies (whole being) as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In The Passion Translation this reads…

Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God’s marvellous mercies? I encourage you to surrender yourselves to God to be his sacred, living sacrifices. And live in holiness, experiencing all that delights his heart. For this becomes your genuine expression of worship.

This is the correct biblical understanding of worship. This is the foundation of any and all worship that we might be involved in and that we offer up to Him. If we love Him with our whole heart and thus trust Him surrendering ourselves to Him totally we will then obey Him completely and instantly because He states “If you love Me you will obey Me.” Then we are positioned to worship Him from the center of our being with all that we are and all that we have – worship with and from our whole heart.

So, when we sing a song or two and get an emotional feel from it, we say that the “worship was anointed.” What does that mean? What is anointed worship? A feeling? A sense that your heart was touched? You entered into His presence (whatever that really means)? A knowing that you have, once again, encountered God? What does it mean to say that something is anointed? That worship is anointed?

How about we go back to the basics. How about we remove the huge business that worship songs and worship teams have become. A multi-billion dollar business worldwide, by the way. How about we boil it down to the biblical foundation. Worship, yes even anointed worship, is you surrendering yourself to God totally. That and that only “becomes your genuine expression of worship.” Nothing more, nothing less is genuine worship. 

The Purpose of Church?

Recently I had a leader that I work with in Western Canada ask me what the purpose of the Church is? Interesting question – a good question – from someone who is leading a local church and has attended church all of her life. She is looking for a way to revamp the way they do church. In other words, the way the weekly gathering flows – the various things that should go into the weekly “church service.”

The New Testament does not give us a template for a weekly church assembly. It seems that every local church – Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Rome, Jerusalem – functioned as they were led by the Holy Spirit. Most, of course met in private homes. A few used a local school or met outside. But, we are not given a lot of insight into what they did. And, the insight we do gain from the occasional verse is not a set pattern to follow. It is simply what that particular local church did. For example – in Jerusalem …

Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

So some people will choose a verse like this and then design the whole weekly assembly with these elements prominent in the expression of the life of that church. 

The leader who asked the question was quoting a verse – expressing that this was the only verse they could find that expressed the purpose of the church assembly. You know the verse…

1 Corinthians 14:26 “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

Again, this was Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth. The format he was suggesting was as a result of the issues they were having when they gathered together – people living in immorality, drunkenness at the services, unruly behaviour. And, if we were to apply this verse and the seven verses following explaining how they would work in the service … then we must also apply the next verse

1 Corinthians 14:34 “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission…”

Remember now, the person who asked the question is a woman who leads a church. Whoops!

You simply cannot take a verse or two out of content and its environment (who it was written to, why, and when) and use it today to base a format on. Not good use of the Bible and not what the Lord meant for us to do. 

The only expressed purpose of the Church – every local church – is found in Ephesians 4:11-16:

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Again, please note that there is no set pattern for the local church assembly or worship service to follow. But, the purpose of the local assembly is clear – leaders are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. 

Ministry is what happens out where believers live. So, they are to be equipped to minister to the lost so that they can be touched by the love of God and come to the foot of the cross and be saved. What goes on in the service or assembly is really “maintenance” as we are ministering to one another and taking care of those who are already sheep and part of the sheepfold. So, as we gather the purpose of the gathering is to equip the saints to reach the lost. This fits with the only call or mandate that the Lord gave the church… “Go into all the world and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19). 

And, we call the local assembly a “worship service!” So, really, is it? What is worship anyways? More on that next time.