“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
What does “Real” church look like?
Those of us who have given up on traditional, weekly meetings in a brick-and-mortar building are fully aware of what “Real” church looks like to many, many Christians:
It’s in a building, generally Sunday morning.
You get handed a bulletin by an usher, but you don’t have to read it, because within 20 minutes, an elder or deacon will arise and repeat any pertinent news (upcoming work days, mid-week small groups, leadership meetings) that you are expected to attend. (Metro churches may be able to send this information to your phone; but someone will still read it aloud. A sign of a Real, excellent church is that it keeps up with technology because that’s what people are looking for, you know. That, and lots of specialized, age and lifestyle-specific group activities.)
Sit. Sit. Sit.
You sit. Until the minute hand points to the 12 or 6, depending upon your local “community,” you may talk to your neighbors around you. Once the music starts — originating from the raised platform, ahead — it’s time to shush and hush. (Short, simple statements are popular, incidentally, like “Prayer and Share,” “Flex and Obey,” “Walk the Talk.” It’s a God Thing.)
In front of you is a large white screen with words on it. Sing those words.
You will alternate between singing (this is “worshiping”), listening to announcements, enjoying a “special,” and possibly be allowed to express yourself through raising your hand and “sharing,” until it is time for the pastor, generally in a suit but sometimes in a clerical robe, to bounce up to the platform, adjust the microphone behind his tie, and begin to speak (this is either “teaching,” or “preaching,” depending upon your denomination). Remember the introductory joke throughout the week; it’s the key to the lesson.
After the final song and prayer, you may leave — either to head home and do errands and work you couldn’t get to during the week, if Adult Sunday School was before the service (you did attend, didn’t you?), or to ASS. The children, the same way they are during the week at public school, are divided according to age and grade. There is no time to freely associate, because there is much managed, appropriately directed fellowship that needs attention.
A Body of Believers, not a Building
Such is many people’s answer to Hebrews 10:25, the verse of choice to impose acquiescence upon those who, for some reason, tire of the program above, and ache to meet and interact with other believers in different, meaningful ways. (By the way, it is nominally acceptable to meet together in a “house church,” since that is our impression of how the first century Christians did it, but the morning’s itinerary must mimic the Real Church version. And it’s fully understood that you’re only meeting in homes until you find a Real Church to fully meet your needs.)
If it seems shallow or empty, be reminded that, in order to fully immerse yourself in the Christian experience, you must take advantage of mid-week small groups (which are the abiding trend even within churches whose population is small enough to qualify as a small group in a mega-church) where fellowship in a slightly more relaxed, but still managed in an appropriately directed manner.
Any loneliness, frustration, isolation, alienation, ennui, detachment or apathy you experience is your fault, because if you fully participated in all the organized and purposeful activities — the ones which you are qualified to attend, that is — then you would be receiving all the necessary encouragement that Hebrews 10:25 promises.
As some churches reluctantly acknowledge (because people are either sleeping or leaving) that the rigidly prescriptivist approach is a bit . . . frigid, they’re adding fun things like candles, incense, open mic, and comfy couches (sip your latte!) to the worship experience. There should be something for everyone, and if you still feel . . . incomplete, somehow, remember that this is your fault.
No Real church is perfect you know.
But you must attend one.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. The real church, you know, is the community of believers, and meeting together is meant to strengthen, encourage, sharpen, and comfort one another. If that’s not happening, then we need to make changes — individually and corporately — and those who enjoy attending service in a brick and mortar building should realize that, as brothers and sisters in Christ, they have more say in the matter than corporate-based, top-down management is allowing them to have.
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“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed.” (Luke 8:16)
God has a plan for your life.
Do people still say that?
I guess they still do, since when we look on the Internet we find all sorts of celebrity Christians assuring us that this is so, and a key tenet of the doctrine is that God has made us each special, and He has special things for us to do.
It’s not a bad piece of fish bait, incidentally, if people actually believed it, but once we’re hooked into establishment Christianity with a promise of good news — that we are cherished, unique, have a meaningful purpose, and are precious to our creator (all very true, incidentally) — the boot drops on our bare foot with the attendant caveats:
“Well yes, God has given you skills and talents, with the desire to use them, but more importantly, He wants to take you out of your Comfort Zone! So, with that in mind, He’s going to give you work that you do NOT have the skill, ability, or interest to do.
“That’s why God’s plan for your life includes coordinating children’s church. And finding volunteers for Saturday Clean-up Day. And attending next week’s webinar on being a dutiful servant of the church community.”
What I mentally call The Baptist God (although He’s found in multiple evangelical denominations) is such a petty, illogical Person, one who lights a lamp and stuffs it away, who so micro-focuses on our daily activities that we freeze into inertia. The whole “comfort zone” concept, which author Dr. Judith Bardwick defines as “a behavioral state where a person operates in an anxiety-neutral position” (sounds just like something Jesus would say, doesn’t it?) relies upon teachings from the ever-morphing world of psychology. But that’s not so unusual — much of what is preached as Biblical wisdom these days finds its roots in temporal philosophy.
The other day I found myself tasked with a dream chore: at someone else’s expense, I was to go shopping. The person paying, headed into assisted living, needed bedding, towels, personal effects, extra clothing, and the little things that make a place special. Color, style, design — it was all up to me. With a female progeny at my side, we spent an entire day feeling fabric, squeezing towels, seeking gentle, yet happy colors.
Shopping, or Driving Fence Posts?
Now under the Baptist God, this task would have been relegated to my husband or son, both or whom recoil at the word, “shopping,” and animatedly discuss paddock fencing for the garden and livestock. My daughter and I would have been given fence post drivers, all in the name of taking us out of our Comfort Zone.
But forgotten is the person moving into assisted living, whose literal comfort zone will be compromised by the right job being given to the wrong person. We forget that, when God gives us work to do, His single focus is not necessarily how the work impacts us, but how it affects others as well. With this in mind, only a foolish manager (and there are many of those) would choose the least qualified employee.
And this is exactly how corporate Christianity works. Maybe we should start reading Jesus’s words more, and listening to the voices of those who don’t know Him, less.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage Christians to stop accepting the loud, insistent, strident voices as purveyors of truth.
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“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” (Matthew 24:5)
Interpreting prophecy is profitable, and more than one person has made a generous living by “explaining” to the rest of us — be it by books, speaking engagements, or movies — what to expect as the end approaches.
They tell us when it will happen (which is more than Jesus Himself claimed to know — Matthew 24:36), how it will happen, and what products we need to purchase to make our way through it. The end result (no pun intended) is that too many people live their lives in accordance with the proclamations of mere men, while others toss up their hands, say, “Who can know anything?” and skip past the difficult passages.
Jesus Gave No Date
One of these difficult passages is Matthew chapters 24-25, in which Jesus gives an answer to his disciples’ question, “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”
It’s a fairly straightforward query, but any honest person reading the answer would have to conclude that the response isn’t as simple, direct, and easy to grasp as what the prophecy interpreters lay out in their bestselling books. What’s clear is that a lot of deception is involved, and many will come in His name, claiming, “I am the Christ.”
Popular movies, myths, and comic book fare like to zing in on the Anti-Christ as the focus of this statement; others, with more reason, point to the many false teachers who promote prosperity doctrine, positive thinking, the power of living here and now, but in actuality, not a whole lot of people are going around claiming to be Christ Himself. Yet.
Group Think — And Groups Don’t Agree
But in another way, they are, and have been doing so for a long time: Jesus had barely ascended to heaven before groups were being formed, creeds written, organized forms of worship enacted, to the point that most of us, by the 21st century, associate Christianity with some form of denomination (Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, Assembly of God), establishment (the Holy Roman Empire, the World Council of Churches), division (Catholicism, Protestantism), celebrity voice (John Calvin, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa), or creed (Apostles’, Nicene, Jerusalem).
Our very concept of God is shaped by the teachings of these establishments or people — none of whom agree 100 percent, incidentally, and indeed, put side by side, many of them are diametrically opposed.
But one thing, many systems of men have in common: they define Christ for us in a way that He did not show or live Himself. Many Christians blithely accept the concept that God is stern, unforgiving, constantly picking upon us for our sins, more concerned about the length of our hair or whether or not we have a tattoo or attend church services than the condition of our heart. Indeed, it is strongly implied, the condition of our heart is defined by these things.
This is a false Christ.
If He doesn’t line up with the Christ of the gospel: one who loves, accepts, guides, teaches, listens, and yes, gently — but in precisely the right way — chastens, then we must eschew the voices demanding our compliance, and watch out that no one deceives us.
Thank you for reading Commonsense Christianity, where I constantly encourage Christians to 1) think for themselves and 2) read Scripture independently of the voices around them. It’s fine if you want to attend a group Bible Study, just don’t let that study — or that group — define and refine what you believe.
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“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.” Daniel 7:26
There is a group — I don’t know if it’s small or large, but it’s fairly vociferous — which insists the reason our nation (the United States) is tanking, is because we no longer have prayer in schools.
And we have removed the Ten Commandments from public places.
And now, our Supreme Court has legalized homosexual and lesbian marriage.
But, the good news is, we still have In God We Trust on our money. (What an interesting place to put a reference about God.)
In short, according to this group, which as far as I can tell consists of a number of decent, ingenuous, guileless people who are easily swayed by a smaller, more powerful media and celebrity Christian cabal that foments anxiety, fear, anger, and helplessness, we as a nation are doomed to eventual destruction because we do not trust and honor God the way ancient Israel, with which we associate ourselves, did.
A Stiff-Necked People
Let’s pass by ancient Israel for now, and whether or not they ever, for any meaningful length of time, trusted, honored, revered, and followed God (the book of Judges is an unambiguous commentary on this, although Exodus 15:22 — 17:7 initiates the unflattering image of faith by a “stiff-necked people”), and let’s look at the United States — which promotes itself as a “Christian Nation.”
Is the answer, as some politicos aver, a return to godliness under a conservative, Republican administration (for some reason, the terms are interchangeable with “Christian”) that will undo everything the present one has done? (This might be a good time to note that the present administration, in addition to creating a flurry of personalized executive orders, has built upon and strengthened policies set up and created in the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that.)
In short, the answer, according to this voice, is that we legislate worship (along the lines of, “If you build it, they will come”) and unless and until we do so, we are doomed to destruction.
Legislating a Belief in God
It sounds logical, and worshiping God by governmental edict is nothing new. The decree in the verse introducing this essay, from the book of Daniel, was uttered by King Darius, the Medean/Persian ruler who overthrew Belshazzar, the last king of the Babylonians, in the 6th century B.C.
Darius established this ordinance after Daniel survived the lion’s den, where this faithful, non-stiff-necked Hebrew had been condemned after violating an earlier executive order, by this same ancient president.
Interestingly, some 65 years before, in the prior and partisan administration of Nebuchadnezzar, this governmental decree had already been made, after yet another violation of an executive order which resulted in the tossing of Shadrach, Meschac, and Abednego into the fiery furnace:
“Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble.” (Daniel 3:29)
Enforcement like that would put teeth into a law reinstating prayer in schools.
It sure worked for the Babylonians, didn’t it?
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I remind Christians that our first, foremost, and primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, not any nation of man. This is one of the reasons why Christians are persecuted, you know.
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