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Originally posted at Jesus Army’s Forward Blog.
Most people seem to think that the Christian church was born on Pentecost day in Jerusalem, as described in the book of Acts. Ten days after Jesus had risen to Heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out on over a hundred disciples and they started to speak new languages (Acts 2:1-4). After Peter had powerfully preached the Gospel, 3,000 were saved and baptised and suddenly there was a church in Jerusalem, in which everyone had everything in common, miracles abounded and people were converted daily (Acts 2:42-47).
But if this was the birth of the church, what should we call the community Jesus had with his disciples in the Gospels? Was it some sort of preparation for the real stuff, a “church pre-school”? Admittedly, it isn’t spelt out to be a church in the Scriptures, but what else could it be?
Think about it, what’s the difference between the discipleship community in the Gospels and the church of Acts? The discipleship community also preached the gospel (Matt 11:1), healed the sick (Luke 10:9) and shared money (John 13:29). They baptised new believers (John 4:2), worshipped together (Mark 14:26) and shared the bread and wine (Mark 14:22-24). (more…)
Why are so many Christians hypocrites if God’s Spirit really lives in them, and why do so many churches struggle with following the Biblical principles they profess? From the Spiritual Q&A Apologetics class at Holy Treasure, Jesus Army Kettering.
Usually when churches choose to stop doing Biblical things they don’t want to admit that the reason behind it is laziness, apostasy or sin. Rather, they like to blame the Biblical thing itself for not being “effective” enough, or they might claim that it’s just a calling for some to do on their own, or that say that culture has changed and that modern or young people aren’t interested in these particular Biblical things, so that’s why we shouldn’t do them.
I joked with these three excuses in my recent sketch about why churches don’t evangelise. In this post I would like to focus on the “modern/young people want something different” argument. It’s often used as an evangelistic argument: in order to win or keep people we need to change. Which is why it’s so absurd when it’s arguing against evangelism.
But whatever Biblical thing you argue against, it becomes nonsensical to use this argument. You need to either argue that churches shouldn’t follow the Bible, or that the Bible actually says something different from what it appears to say. What modern or young people think doesn’t matter at all. If doing Biblical things put them off, so be it. We must obey God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29), and the Bible is a better source to what God wants than Millennials. (more…)
Evangelism is super important; without it, churches go extinct and people go to hell. Yet, evangelism seem to constantly be (apart from community of goods) the first thing churches drop when they find following Jesus to uncomfortable. It is as if evangelism always hangs lose, even though churches commit suicide if they don’t do it.
I’ve been talking to quite a lot of church leaders about why their congregations never evangelise and they typically give me three different answers. Three brilliant answers. These arguments are so perfect and irrefutable that they completely stun those who are confronted with them, as I show in this comedy sketch:
Of course, I’m joking. These arguments are horribly bad. But there’s one reason for not evangelising that I find acceptable, which I give towards the end of the video. You won’t be able to guess what it is.
Imagine a church that never prays. No Sunday service or other kind of church meeting include prayer, and when asked about it the church leaders say: “Well, people are free to pray when they’re at home, but we don’t believe that everyone are called to be ‘prayer warriors’.” Would you view such a church as healthy or functioning?
Or imagine a church that never reads the Bible. Its leaders say “Well, we once did that but we didn’t get much out of it, we weren’t actually living biblically just because we read the Bible.” Would you think that such a practice and explanation were acceptable?
See, this is how millions of churches treat evangelism. Rather than doing it officially as a church on public places, it is delegated to church members’ private initiatives – which usually are very rare. Some churches say that they tried street evangelism and it “didn’t work”, so now they want to encourage “relational evangelism” by simply exhorting their members to tell people about Jesus and offer no training whatsoever to teach them how to do so.
This is scandalous and an abomination to the Lord. There is nothing He wants individual Christians to do that He doesn’t want the whole church as a body to do. And not only are churches that never evangelise disobeying His command to preach the Gospel to all nations, they’re also committing suicide. (more…)
With the rise of individualism in the West there has been an increasing trend of “private Christianity” where people believe in Jesus but they never attend any church. Some of them acquire teaching and/or worship songs via the Internet at home, while others just pray sometimes. I encounter several of these “secret Christians” when I’m out evangelising, and most of them seem convinced that church meetings really are unimportant, that it’s perfectly fine to be a Christian alone.
The Bible, on the other hand, clearly commands us “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebr 10:25). Even as the early Christians went on missionary trips they weren’t alone. Jesus commanded us to pray “Our Father” in plural, Paul emphasises in 1 Cor 12 that we’re all body parts in one body, dependent on one another.
But let’s face it, Christians who leave church aren’t doing it because they have a special Bible interpretation, but because church has disappointed them. As a house church leader I have seen several people go during the last five years, some of them to other congregations but a substantial number have become private Christians. Some of it is due to mistakes from our parts, other times we have been too radical. (more…)
Did you know that the New Testament never refers to church lectures or discipleship edification as “preaching”? Whenever Greek words like kerusso and euaggelizo are used they refer to proclaiming the Gospel to non-Christians in a public or non-Christian environment, like a synagogue or a public square. Christian edification is referred to as “teaching” or “dialoguing with”.
I talked about this in my latest contribution to the MennoNerd vlog. The implications of this simple fact are massive. Firstly, we have to admit that most preachers, pastors and priests hardly preach the Gospel at all, biblically speaking, since public evangelism is extremely rare these days. They teach a lot, but they don’t preach – they just call their lectures “sermons” without actually preaching.
Secondly, this means that Biblical discipleship edification was much less of a monologue and more of a dialogue in small home groups. This is how you learn stuff. Just look at the education system; good schools know that you need smaller groups and lots of dialogue and student participation if you want people to actually learn stuff. Proclamation is better suited for evangelism, when many need to hear about how to be saved and when the message is more simple and straight-forward.
Preaching to the already saved is, according to the Bible, not how we should do church.
Whenever I point out that our churches should be more Biblical and look like the apostolic church in Jerusalem that we read about in the first 12 chapters of the book of Acts, many fellow church leaders argue that there are many equally good models that we can form our congregations after, or that church structure really doesn’t matter much and so we shouldn’t discuss that too much. Allow me to disagree:
In this video I show that church structure does matter a lot, taking the example of Jerusalem and how it seemingly shaped the apostle James’ theology, and I question whether churches with different structures than the Jerusalem church really share the same fruit: conversions every day, nobody living in poverty and an abundance of signs and wonders.
Why do most churches train their leaders to take care of groups of hundreds or even thousands of believers, when Biblical pastors trained groups of 20 or 30 people?
I talked to an associate pastor some time ago, and he shared with me the burden of him having the pastoral responsibility for families in his church. Since that meant 80 people, he had constantly work to do, and he felt pressured for not spending enough time with each family. There were two other pastors in the church, but they were also overloaded with work concerning the youth and the congregation as a whole (which includes over 400 people). I asked the associate pastor if he could delegate some pastoral care to cell group* leaders, but he was unsure whether they would accept the challenge. Many Christians just expect the pastor to do the work for them.
It’s biblical to delegate. Exodus 18 tells us about how Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, saw how Moses was being worn out with all the judging work, and so he recommended him to appoint God-fearing men to help him out, some having responsibility for a thousand people, other for one hundred, fifty and ten (Ex 18:20-21). When the apostles realized that they didn’t have time to help the poor, they appointed some other Spirit-filled people to do it (Acts 6:1-8). Leadership isn’t about doing everything yourself, but to inspire and give mandate to others so that they too can serve the Kingdom of God.
The Biblical church had various different types of leadership roles: apostles planted churches and had most authority in doctrinal disputes, evangelists preached the Gospel publicly and trained other disciples how to share their faith, prophets heard the voice of the Lord and brought important messages to the church, and teachers taught theology. And then we have presbyters, or pastors. (more…)
In school, I learned that there are three major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity. I haven’t questioned this until recently: why aren’t Orthodoxs called protestants, since they’ve rebelled against the Catholic church just as we have (or perhaps, from their perspective, Rome rebelled against them during the great schism)?
An argument against that is that the Orthodox church(es) claim, just like the Roman Catholic church, to be the uncorrupted church with direct historic lineage to the holy community of the Biblical apostles. Protestant churches, however, recognize that these churches are not that uncorrupted, but that false doctrines and practices has developed during the millennia.
In fact, many Catholics and Orthodoxs will admit that they believe in things that there is no evidence that the Biblical church believed in, but they will argue that when the church(es) introduced these things it was because it (they) had matured, and got to think about more fundamental things than how to survive persecution.
So basically, we have two streams of thought here: those who think that the church changed in a good way (which we, for simplicity’s sake, can call evolutionism) and those who think it changed in a bad way. Those who think the church changed in a bad way, usually propose that we should go back to the good way. This is commonly called restorationism or Christian primitivism, the idea that we should restore Christianity to its Biblical, primitive form. As many of you know, I am a restorationist Christian.
Earlier this morning a friend brought my attention to an article in Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, about how a church in the small town of Kil in Western Sweden bought a caravan for begging, homeless immigrants to live in, along with a toilet and waste management. As a result, around five to ten church members left the church, protesting against the decision to help the homeless. They claim that the homeless are criminals and that the money they get for begging funds some sort of mafia. The police, on the other hand, denies such claims and says that the homeless immigrants are not criminals.
Obviously, based on a Christian worldview where everyone are created in the image of God and should be loved, even if they were part of a criminal organization that would not be a reason for the church to let them sleep and freeze in a forest. On the contrary, if they were victims of the mafia that would be an even greater reason to help them. As I’ve written before, there is no other way to defeat homelessness than to give homeless people homes, and it is false to think that not helping the poor will in any way help the poor.
Now, my friend was quite happy that these compassion-protesting egoists left the church, and I must say that I am as well. Bye bye, grumpy phariesees, see you when you’ve repented. This sparked a discussion however with another friend of mine, who questioned if such an attitude is suitable for a Christian. After all, Jesus hung around with sinners, welcoming prostitutes and murderers into His church, forgiving their sins and teaching them discipleship. Even if it’s sad and unacceptable that church goers don’t like compassion, shouldn’t we seek to welcome and change them rather than exhorting them to leave?
The Promised Land is back! In the previous parts of the series, we have looked at the origin of Christian Zionism, we saw that it was totally absent in the early church and we have discussed how important it is to realize that just because one isn’t a Christian Zionist, one isn’t necessarily an anti-Semite (and shouldn’t either). Now, we will turn to exegesis to see what the Bible has to say about Israel and the Promised Land. Let’s start by discussing God’s Chosen People.
Israel is the name of a man, Jacob, and it was used to describe his descendants. These were expected to believe in the Lord, and thus be God’s people, but they were actually not the only ones that belonged to Israel. This is something Stephen Sizer has pointed out (and the following account is based on his works): the requirement to belong to God’s people was and is primarily faith, not race. In the Psalms, we read:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ Indeed, of Zion it will be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.’ The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: This one was born in Zion.” (Ps 87:4-6)
Here, we see that Egyptians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese and Ethiopians all can be recognized as “born in Zion”, receiving full membership and citizenship of God’s people, if they acknowledge the Lord. Already Moses said in Deut 23:7-8: “Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.” In Esther 8:17 we read “And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.” The requirement to belong to God’s people was faith, not race or nationality.
I’ve just attended our yearly church camp where I had the privilege of teaching about Jesus stories (video above). Every Sunday we share Jesus stories in my church – testimonies about what Jesus is doing in our lives. We also try to share them on our website (although it needs to be updated). And of course I love to share them on this blog as well, on the streets – everywhere really.
Even if I know of many other churches that are doing likewise, it is not the case in most of them. These neither share testimonies in their services nor on their websites. Why?
First of all, perhaps not so much is happening! Secondly, the church has not viewed it as something important, having a tradition where testimonies are absent for a long time. And finally, I’ve actually heard people arguing biblically for not sharing testimonies – they point to the fact that Jesus sometimes told people that He had healed not to tell anyone about them.
The problem with that argument is that all those events have been recorded in the most-read book in the whole world, so they did indeed tell someone! The command not to tell was a temporal one. Likewise, Jesus many times forbade people to tell others that He was the Messiah, but today we shout it from the roof tops and use Christ as His surname. Our default position should always be to proclaim His Messiah-ship and His miracles. Psalms 145:4-6 says:
One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
Around the world, many people dress “properly” when they go to church, meaning wearing expensive stuff like suits, dresses, and jewelry. Especially pastors and preachers are expected to wear expensive. I don’t like this for the following reasons:
1. The poor are alienated. Some people are basically so poor that they don’t afford a suit, and the preachers silently distances themselves from them. I know a man in Sweden who told a minister “Thank you so much that you wear normal clothes when you preach, I always feel excluded when the pastor wears a suit.” Clothes are symbols, and “formal” clothes are symbols of wealth. It just doesn’t match with James 2:1-7.
2. It’s based on the thought that church is something you “go to” at a specific time at a specific day, while the Scriptures says that the believers are the church at all times. We are not in God’s house more when we are dressed up in church compared to when we are naked in the shower. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to wear differently than usual when you “go to church” because you ARE the church 24/7.
3. Above all: it’s simply not biblical to dress expensive when you go to church. Some people try to create a theology around it, claiming that it’s honoring God and stuff. But the Bible never says that, and we never read that the disciples dressed in a certain way during their meetings. The only time the New Testament talks about expensive clothes and jewelry is when it forbids us to wear it (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3)!
“Pastor” comes from the Latin word for shepherd, and is commonly used as a description for the person leading a congregation. You know how many times the term is used in that sense in the Bible?
Once: Ephesians 4:11.
The other ministries Paul lists there – apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers – are much more described and discussed in the Scriptures. Still, in many churches and denominations today, pastors are much more common than apostles and prophets (and often evangelists as well).
Let’s focus on the ministry of the apostle. The Greek word describes someone who have been send, a clear illustration to Matthew 28:18-20. Looking at the lives of Peter, James, John, Paul and the others we see that their ministry simply is about missions and church planting. It’s a translocal ministry that equip local churches and start new ones so that the Gospel may reach the end of the world.
Catholics and Orthodoxs have tried to replace the ministry of the apostle with church tradition. Protestants have tried to replace it with the Bible. In both cases, apostleship is viewed as something cessational and temporary, a ministry that gave us the foundation of our faith only in order to disappear after that. This is contradicted by the simple facts that:
1. Apostleship is never described in the Scriptures as something that would cease or decline; on the contrary, more and more apostles pop up the further we read the New Testament (Rom 16:7, 2 Cor 8:23).