True Christianity has no earthly boss, bosses, or layers of bureaucratic leadership. Rather, it has one, heavenly Head Who is made manifest corporately through the Word and the Spirit as each part functions as a body. This corporate identity of the Head, which is none other than the very person of Christ, is made manifest not with ceremonies, traditions, forms, models, services, buildings, programs, structures, rules, regulations, rites, creeds, star performers, or well-crafted speeches, but, rather, through self-sacrificing, obedient love. This is the essence of God, of His Christ, and of His Bride.
I read Jim Palmer’s Blog in my Outlook reader often. He always has deeply personal and real thoughts to share about life and spirituality. His book “Wide Open Spaces” is an excellent read. If you haven’t read it, you should buy it and read it.
Anyway, today, Jim, posted his thoughts on “mistakes” he has made along his journey. I like the way he frames his thoughts, not as mistakes (I wish I hadn’t done that), but “mistakes” (I am glad I learned from that). The thoughts he shares echo my own, though I am still very much in process on some of these.
I decided to share nearly the whole article below. You can find the original HERE.
What follows are a few mistakes I’ve made in my spiritual evolution and lived to tell about it. Referring to these as “mistakes” may be unfair. What I’m about to describe is fairly normal, probably unavoidable, and perhaps even necessary at the time. I own these choices as part of my journey these past few years. As it turns out, these choices didn’t defeat me. I refer to them as “mistakes” because they don’t seem to be very productive as a regular practice, and I would not intentionally repeat them again.
The term “fundamentalism” is probably most associated with ultra-conservative, legalistic Christians. However, I’ve discovered there are progressive/liberal Christian fundamentalists, Atheist, Agnostic, and Humanistic fundamentalists, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish fundamentalists, and New Age fundamentalists. What I mean by “fundamentalist” is postulating your belief system, philosophy, understandings or experiences as superior to others, which means others with different beliefs, understandings or experiences are either wrong or deceived.
In my case, I left Christian fundamentalism behind but managed to create a different fundamentalism around whatever my new understanding, concept, experience, or discovery was at the time. In other words, each step of enlightenment became the new “it” or standard that I judged others by. I wasn’t necessarily nasty or belligerent about it but there was a certain silent pride and arrogance to it.
You are driving down the street and notice you are about to go off the road into a ditch. Your reaction is to grab the wheel and by over-correcting, you fly across the road and off into the ditch on the other side. By avoiding one ditch, you managed to steer right into another. It’s no secret that any person who feels led astray and betrayed by their religion is likely to become it’s biggest critic. It’s not uncommon that in such cases the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. For example, a person lives many years under the oppression of religion. In reaction to this, they over-correct and become an Atheist. There are lots of options between a hideous concept of God and concluding there is no God at all, but when you over-correct you skid by all the stuff in the middle and just go into the ditch on the side.
By the way, please don’t hear me saying that every person’s beliefs are the result of over-correction. I know Atheists who are not guilty of over-correction – they are Atheists because they have done their due diligence and have genuinely concluded that the existence of God is neither possible nor useful. Another example may be someone who concludes that the Bible isn’t a “supernatural” book and over-corrects to the view that the Bible has no value at all. For me, I have had some instances of over-correction. For example, organized church and religious rituals were not meaningful for me, and as a reaction I concluded all organized church and religious rituals are intrinsically meaningless and has no real objective value for anyone.
Insecurity can express itself in a strong need for your beliefs and experiences to be validated by others. How do others validate your beliefs and experiences? By agreeing with or sharing your beliefs and experiences. And so it’s not brain surgery to see that people who don’t agree or share in your beliefs and experiences are a threat to your sense of identity. You feel invalidated. It’s very difficult to truly accept and learn from another as long as your need for validation is running the show. What happens is that you begin dividing people up on sides. You want people on “your side” because that makes you feel secure and validated. People on the “other side” are seen as the enemy. Needing to be “right” is often a issue of insecurity and needing validation from others. Trust me, I made a fine art out of this.
I don’t mean for the word to sound as harsh as it might seem. Here’s my point. Most people want a formula or magic bullet. They are not truly willing to do their own due diligence at a soul level, and would prefer someone just give them the answer. They are hoping for a formula that promises that if you do ‘A’ then ‘B’ will happen. Paradox, mystery, ambiguity, abstraction, self-honesty, vulnerability, humility are but a few of the things many people would like to avoid if possible, and would rather just have someone figure things out for them.
All four of these smack me in the face, and bring me to my knees in repentance. These thoughts help me to realign with the eternal purpose of God in His Son, Jesus, rather than focus on myself and others in relation to me. I needed this…
I hope this will be of benefit for your journey.
I have noticed a significant spike in readers to my blog lately. So, with that, I say welcome. Please feel free to peruse my old posts and conversations over the last two years. You will notice several things:
- I have ruffled a few feathers.
- I have been set straight a few times.
- I am learning.
- I will contradict myself from time to time.
- I have grown in maturity and grace.
- I am still in much need of grace from Father and my friends.
You may also notice that there are some large gaps in my blogging history. I have no real reason for this. I just didn’t have anything to write or share during these times. Sometimes I was trying to wait out nay-sayers.
I do ask my readers and commentors to share a few “rules”:
- I don’t debate Bible versions. Ever. (You can add to that: style of clothing and music.)
- I don’t want to host arguments. That is what message boards are for.
- I want to read conversations that honor and respect one another.
- I ask that we try to include “smileys” when using sarcasm and/or tongue-in-cheek comments. It helps difuse hostility. 🙂
- I ask that everyone would try to point the rest of us to Jesus. He is the Head, the King, and Savior.
I will unapolegetically say: I left the institutional church for many reasons. It is what Father has for me and my family, and those we do life with today. We express our faith in different ways than what is traditionally understood. I have no use for titles, positions, articles of faith, creeds, traditions, bureaucracy, buildings, liturgies, “church services”, and many other structures within traditional/conventional/institutional churches. I am not saying these things are wrong or unuseful, they are just not for me. I will occasionally challenge some of these things, but I try to be respectful of the many friends and family I have that still serve our Savior in these structures. I also cherish some of the memories I have when I was a part of these systems. After all, it was in a very traditional church that I heard the Gospel and gave my life to Christ. It just happened to be outside of that setting that I finally began to learn how to fully know Him and be His disciple! 🙂
Anyway, I know I don’t have it all “figured” out. I am a learner. I don’t believe “house church” is the only way to “do it”. This life is about following the Way of Jesus. He is the One we are to follow. Jesus made that VERY clear in Scripture. The Holy Spirit is the One who leads ALL followers into the Truth, not people. This happens in real life everyday, not just in a house gathering or a once a week “church service”. The Father went to great lengths to have a personal relationship with His people where no person would have to be the “go-between”. This relationship is 24/7/365, and it happens everywhere we do life. This, my friends, is what I am passionate about; connecting people with Jesus.
Please interact with me on this journey. Be gentle when I say stupid things. Read carefully, though, because Father may use my journey to help encourage yours.
BTW, you can check out my beautiful family at: Rhodes Rules!
I am currently reading a profound book concerning relationships and how they effectively function in our lives to bring God’s glory to earth. The book is, Authentic Relationships: Discover the lost are of “one anothering,” by Wayne and Clay Jacobsen.
It is laid out as a 13 week study guide for use as an individual or group. I have been thoroughly enjoying the read.
In the preface, the authors offer 22 “one another” statements made in the New Testament. There are, in fact, many such statements, but there are 22 unique ones of which several are repeated or stated similarly in other places. These statements are:
- Loving one another (John 13:34)
- Forgiving one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Accepting one another (Romans 15:7
- Bearing with one another (Ephesians 4:2)
- Being devoted to one another (Romans 12:10
- Honoring one another (Romans 12:10)
- Greeting one another (2 Corinthians 13:12)
- Being hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
- Being kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Sharing with one another (Hebrews 13:16)
- Carrying one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Serving one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Building up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Encouraging one another daily (Hebrews 3:13)
- Comforting one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
- Stimulating one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)
- Instructing one another (Romans 15:14)
- Admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16)
- Praying for one another (James 5:16)
- Confessing your sins to one another (James 5:16)
- Being of the same mind toward one another (Romans 12:16)
- Submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
These thoughts cause me to reflect deeply on my previous church experiences. These are experiences that for the most part were pleasant and important to my development. However, I find them lacking many of the one anothering aspects described in Scripture. This does not mean that these didn’t happen, they just weren’t always at the forefront. The primary concern, it seems to me, was to make sure I was properly and thoroughly indoctrinated in certain facts. Thus, my early ministry was marked by much the same characteristic. This may offer insight as to why so many people leave churches today with disgust and discouragement. My genereation is not nessarily concerned with facts and figures, but are rather driven by the question: Does it work?
In case you are wondering…one anothering from a biblical perspective DOES work. It brings into reality the heart and vibrancy of Jesus Christ. The attributes listed above flow from the life of Christ throughout the Gospel narrative. These are real, relevant, action-oriented, life-changing, productive life principles. You may get your “facts” wrong. You may search for THE right doctrine to HOLD and DEFEND. You may argue your side of the fence all day everyday. But I tell you, you CANNOT go wrong living out the one anothering attributes of our Savior!
I hope this serves to add to a productive conversation.
Hey, first, I want to turn my few readers out there on to my links page. I have a ton of great resources for you to learn about what we are doing these days.
I find it difficult to explain when people ask how we are doing, because most people just don’t understand our journey to this point. Most of the people we know are and always have been inside the institutional church. That is all they know and understand, which is exactly where I was for a long time. Let me interject this: It was in an institutional church that I heard the Gospel and was saved. From an early age I learned about God. So I am thankful for the institutional church setting in my life. However, I also inherited a lot of extra-biblical baggage that weighed me down with religious stuff and often snuffed out my relationship with Jesus. Over the course of time, I have learned that much of what is done as “church” is not only NOT in the New Testament, it wasn’t even thought of until many years after the original disciples were gone. So much of what we do and say, can easily be misunderstood by well-intentioned people. Our words are sometimes even twisted by people who seek to bring us and our friends harm. I want you to understand that we are not heretics. We have not left the faith. We are very orthodox in our beliefs. The problem for most people is the way we seek to live out those beliefs tends to be a little different, causing good people to raise questions in their minds, and stupid people to speak evil of us behind our backs.
Our goal with CrossLife is to help people connect to God through His Son Jesus. We only desire for people to authentically grow in their relationship with Him. Often, the flurry of activity, programs, practices, and stuff of “regular” churches actually become a substitute for a growing relationship with Christ. I know this, because I was an integral part of such systems for many years. This, of course, is never the intent, but it tends to be more of a reality than an exception. The score card for “effective” church ministry becomes buildings, budgets, and butts in seats rather than life-transformation. All the work that goes into to keeping the institution alive, quite often detracts from what God is trying to do in the world, which is redeeming a people for Himself.
So, you may ask, is “house church” the best way to “do” or “go” to church? I would whole-heartedly say, NO. Why? Because it is actually IMPOSSIBLE to “go” to or “do” church. The church is the people. No one can attend church. Church is not an activity or a meeting. The church is the BODY OF CHRIST, and His body IS NOT built with brick and mortar, whether it is a small house or a gigantic “sanctuary”. You may say, that this is a squibble over semantics, and to that I would say that the evidence shows that most people actually think of the church as the “place” they worship God, give their offering, and sit for an hour a week to hear the professionally-trained “man of God” speak. We train our kids to think this way early on, and it catches on quite nicely. Never, do you see that being taught or lived out anywhere at all in the New Testament. In fact, you would be very hard-pressed to find most of what is commonly done on a Sunday morning in Scripture without wrestling those Scriptures away from their original context.
So, here’s the point, the focus should not be where you may attend church or how big it may be. Instead, the question should be, are you being the church? Is your life being transformed from day to day through your ever-growing relationship with Jesus? Is your walk with Christ being intertwined with other people who are on the same journey? Is your journey impacting those who are moving away from Christ?
These are serious questions that deserve a real answer. Remember, our life is not about what church we are a part of, but how we live out the life Jesus Christ sacrificed in order to give to us. If you would like to read further on these issues, I would invite you to check out my books section and my links section.
Here’s my point with this post: We, as Christians and as churches, should be answering legitimate questions that people have.
What do I mean by that. It’s simple; we are usually answering questions that no one is asking. We may be answering important questions. In fact, often, we are answering the most important question. The problem is most people aren’t asking the questions we are answering, yet.
It’s kind of like me telling my 7 year old how to handle being a freshman in High School while he is in 2nd grade. It would be very important information. In fact, it could be vital information. The only problem is, he isn’t asking me how he should handle being a freshman because he hasn’t even entertained the idea of being freshman. His life circumstances will eventually change, and he will not only need to know this information, he will be seeking to know this information. Of course, my goal is to have the kind of relationship with my sons, that when they get to the point of needing and desiring to know this stuff, I will be there to point the way.
I think this is how we should focus on sharing and living out the Gospel. The message of Jesus is vital, yet most people don’t know that nor do they really care about that. However, they often do have other questions about spirituality. Most people are at least inquisitive about spiritual matters. We should listen to their questions. Possibly we could offer some thoughts and on SOME occasions even be able to offer a legitimate answer. Mostly we should just listen, because in the listening we will learn their perspective. From their questions, we can begin to understand their successes, hurts, fears, passions, and other important details that will make us better friends and show that we genuinely care. In the process, we offer ourselves in service and make the Kingdom of God a reality to be seen rather that just a set of facts to know. They will see the Gospel living through us, and quite probably become interested in why we do what we do, ultimately generating questions about our faith. This doesn’t mean we “hide” or identity in Christ and “spring” it on someone as a surprise. It means that we no longer focus on just getting people to listen to our three point presentation, while talking them into “repenting” and getting their “get-out-of-Hell-free” card. This is not “adding” to the Gospel, it is making the Gospel more fully known.
This, I think, is how to begin sharing Jesus with a Kingdom perspective. This is how to truly bring the Kingdom of God into present reality. I think this changes someones reason and motivation for becoming a Christian. Instead of “accepting” Christ for what they get, they understand their relationship with Christ is about following His Way in sacrificial living for the Kingdom. They know this because they will have seen it at work in our lives. Instead of having shallow “Christians” we could actually see transformed disciples. This is just the beginning of a new way of thinking for me…
Can an atheist tell us how we can “do” and/or “be” the church better than we currently are? Can an atheist provide solid insights as to how we can be more effective in our ministry efforts? Can an atheist tell us how we can represent Jesus to our world better? Could an atheist have a better grasp of Jesus’ personality and humanity than most Christians?
I will not answer these questions. They are loaded. I can only imagine what some will think. Some may answer with a resounding NO!! Some may actually entertain these questions with an open mind. So why in the world would I ask such hair-splitting questions?
I had the opportunity to meet an atheist. No, he certainly was not the first atheist I have ever met. I have known several, but I don’t think I will ever see an atheist quite the same again after hearing this guy talk. I met Matt Casper (the friendly atheist, as he so endearingly refers to himself) at the CMA Conference in California. He is the co-author of “Jim and Casper Go To Church” , along with Jim Henderson a veteran pastor and critical thinker and innovator within Christianity. I was able to have an interesting conversation with Casper after he and Jason Evans, who is featured in the book as a house church pastor and close friend of Casper’s, gave and interview/group discussion talk about their journeys. It wasn’t a long conversation, and it certainly wasn’t intimate or anything, but we just both happened to be standing next to one another, and struck up a conversation.
Anyway, I bought and read the book. I don’t think it unlocks the key to successful churches or anything, but this book will challenge you rethink your conversations with those who don’t believe as you do. I have committed to no longer try to debate, convert, or enlist someone as a “project for Jesus”. Instead, I want to have open conversations. Dialogue. I want to get to know people. I want to really understand where they are and why they believe what they believe. I want to accept people and be friends with those who don’t necessarily agree with me.
This book will challenge you to think about why we do what we do as Christians. I certainly don’t agree with every thought conveyed in this book. That is not the point. The point of this book for me is that we NEED open and free conversation about the things we do. We need safe places to talk about important issues with Christians and with non-Christians. These “spaces”, as Jim Henderson refers to them, need to be “defended” from arguments, debates, cliches, and easy “churchy” answers. We need to step out of our “Christianese” little worlds and into the world where people are hurting and dying and longing for something that is real. People need a safe place to investigate the claims of Jesus. If we don’t provide those places, who will?
Read the book, offer feed back. I’ll have more to come later…