Why is the Church in Decline?

Statistics are clear. The polls tell the story. The American church is not well and our reputation is in shambles. Like the elephant in the room, these facts are largely ignored. News stories abound of attacks Evangelicals make on the sexual mores of unbelievers and how they take pot shots at one another. And why in the world are they looking to political leaders, i.e. Caesar, to lead us? Meanwhile, we have failed to reach Generations X, the Millennials and are failing to reach this generation.

Like dysfunctional families, some keep doing the same thing expecting different results. Others employ techniques of the entertainment world to build their churches. The model Jesus gave the apostles is largely ignored. Back then disciples were not spectators or bench warmers. Church leaders helped them find and use their gifts to lead and participate in various ministries. Today professionals disciple their people from the pulpit. A paid staff does most of the important stuff. Rank and file believers support, assist, and warm pews. Their gifts and talents are largely untapped. With a few exceptions, ministries are clergy-led. If new ministries emerge, more professionals are hired.

Jesus chose laymen. The clergy, Pharisees and Sadducees, rejected him. So Jesus turned to folks with jobs–laymen. He forged them into teams, utilizing their various gifts. He promised them His Spirit to empower them to be his witnesses. As a result His movement grew from 12 to 120 to 3000 to 10,000. The men and women he prepared succeeded by relying on the Spirit’s power and by following Jesus’ model.

Today Christians are on the sidelines, cheering the coach when they need to be on the field, blending their gifts with one another to light up the world and carry the gospel to others. Pastors need to come down from their pulpits, get to know their people, train leaders, form ministry teams and build up the body of Christ. When they do this, they help fulfill Jesus’ prayer, “Father, may they be one—may they be in unity as we are, that the world will believe.” (John 17: 21-23) When leaders trust their people to lead, enlist their talents, build community, encourage them and turn them loose, miracles can happen. New disciples can be won; neighbors take notice of us rather than scorn us. It’s what He promised. “Love each other (as equals) as I have loved you, and the world will recognize you as my disciples.” (John 13: 34, 35)

Jesus invented teamwork. St. Paul articulated it. Perhaps you have experienced the thrill of playing a team, sport or singing in a fine choir. I’ve played tennis singles and sung solos. But nothing beats shining with others to win a game or sing The Messiah. Imagine Handel’s thrill when he heard his masterpiece performed for the first time! It’s thrilling when the church functions like this. It gladdens the Lord’s heart and fulfills His vision for functional, workable, loving relationships in His body, the church

The Church an orchestra? Paul used the human body as an example of a healthy, growing church (1 Cor. 12: 14-26). We’ve changed the metaphor, but the principle is unchanged.   “…a fine orchestra is not made up of one instrument, but many different kinds. If the oboist says, “Because I don’t play the trumpet, I don’t belong,” that is foolish; and if the flutist were to say, “Because I do not beat a drum, I don’t belong,” that would be absurd.  If the whole orchestra were the flute, who would provide rhythm? And if all were percussionists, who would play the melody? As it is, the composer has written parts for all kinds of instruments, each to play its part in his great arrangement. And so it should be among you.”

“…So, the violinist does not say to the trombonist, “I don’t need you!” Nor does the guitarist say to the clarinet player, “I can handle this by myself!” On the contrary, all the instruments are needed, to blend together. Even the little piccolo is significant. Think how bleak “The Stars and Stripes Forever” would sound without him.” 

“So, even though instruments are tuned to different keys, when each plays his own part, the result is beautiful music. But if members go off playing their own tunes, they ruin the composition and throw off the others.  By the same token, when one player wins praise for his solo, all share in his glory.”

Please join the conversation. Your comments keep us going.

When to hold ’em and when to fold ’em!

 “It’s Wrong to Compromise!” I’ve heard and understand this fish or cut bait sentiment among believers, but I tend to go along with Kenny Rogers —“You gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” Sometimes it takes more grit to fold em than sticking to our guns. It was was through the genius of folding ’em, i.e. compromise, that Lincoln preserved the union and emancipated the slaves. When faced with three intolerable options, he had the wit to find a fourth, knowing the murky, treacherous  waters of slavery were to be navigated the way bomb squads diffuse bombs–slowly, gently and carefully.

The framers of the constitution walked the same slippery slope.  The purists were horrified when the constitution didn’t abolish slavery. They preferred being right about the issue than bringing to birth this great nation. Can there be any doubt this great  document would have never been ratified if founding fathers hadn’t compromised?

Compromise and the law of Christ. In Luke’s account of the First Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15, we find the church was faced with intolerable options as well. The choices were to either obey God’s law to circumcise or disobey it. After listening to arguments on both sides, James decided the Jewish branch  of the church had no right to put intolerable burdens on non-Jewish believers. It would violate the law of Christ. Leaving aside the heavier doctrines of old covenant rituals of circumcision and sabbaths, he believed Christ’s law trumped Moses. “Only abstain from the pollution of idols, from fornication and from eating what is strangled and from blood.” Gentile believers were told. It was a compromise guided by Jesus great new covenant law, “Love one another as I have loved you.”. 

While this decision angered some, it advanced Christ’s gospel by leaving the door open to the great majority of people not of the Jewish covenant. This agape, new covenant decision saved the young movement which went on to shake the world.

Strong Leaders Understand When to “Fold em.” Paul did when faced with the tricky issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Some were convicted that this was a sin. Others did not.  While agreeing with those who had no scruples about it, it was to them he wrote,  “While knowledge (i.e. being right) can produce arrogance, love builds up.” (I Cor 8:1) Paul concludes, “When you sin against brothers by wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ….so, I will not eat this meat, lest I cause my brother to stumble.” (8: 12,13). Thus we see, Christ’s law of love transcends what may be considered right and wrong. To hurt and divide Christ’s body is a far greater sin. Paul followed Jesus’ agape principle when he instructed the apostles that if they loved him and wished to abide in him, they must lay down their lives, souls, egos for each other (John 15. 12-17. In the synoptic gospels he laid down the same principle. “If anyone will come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Denying ourselves sometimes means denying our need to be right and fear of being wrong for the sake of the unity of Christ’s body.

When to Hold em” While Paul told believers to fold ‘em on that occassion, there are times when  compromise was dead wrong. He tells how once he had to correct Peter, the Rock–not  for incorrect beliefs, as we tend to do in the church, but for his actions.  “Before certain men came [to Antioch]…, Peter used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from them.” (Gal 2:12). Why did the Rock violate the Jerusalem Counsel and Christ’s own command.? Paul explains, “Because he feared those of the circumcision” i.e. the purists who clung to the past and their precious doctrines even if it meant blocking God’s plan to build a new future.

Culprits causing conflicts and divisions in the church Why do Christians fight over issues of predestination vs. free will but fail to fight for Christ’s law of love? Often it’s Peter’s issue–both the one in Antioch and earlier when he warmed his hands while denying his master—his fears! What’s so wonderful and amazing about Jesus’ unfailing love is, how he handled Peter’s failure by the Galilean Sea. He folded em, i.e. he never brought up Peter’s moral failure. Instead he challenged him Do you love me?  Are you my friend?  Then love, tend and feed those I give you to lead. (See John 21: 15-17). \

Other times the cause is not our strong convictions, it’s loving them more than one another which means loving Jesus less. When I put my need to be right and fear of being wrong ahead of my love for fellow believers, I must ask myself, am I denying him as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historic Schisms and Divisions Among Christians

The division of the church between East and West is rooted deep in church history.  A difference of language and cultures between the West (Latin) and the East (Greek) was a factor. More troubling were their many doctrinal disputes which today seem trivial. One split was over the date of Easter.  At the Council of Nicea in 325AD, Western leaders, who celebrated Easter on Sunday, condemned the Eastern practice of celebrating it on Passover. Another was over who sent the Holy Spirit. Greek theologians argued the Father did while scholars in the West said, no, the Father and the Son did.

The Reformation was fraught with doctrinal disputes among its leaders, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the Anabaptists. A major issue centered on the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper). Issues included matters such as how frequent it should be celebrated; is Christ present or not present; if he is present, how is he present?  Others argued it isn’t a sacrament at all. It is symbolic.

Why Can’t We All Get Along? Don’t you find it tragic that Jesus’ single most important doctrine:  loving each other, has taken a back seat to matters about which, Jesus and the Apostles had little or nothing to say? In fact, his command has been and continues to be, virtually ignored. I have witnessed many doctrinal disputes among believers over the years, such as the battle over how the Bible was inspired in the 70’s. The 4th century fought over who sent the Holy Spirit; the Reformers fought over the Lord’s Supper.  This last controversy is most troubling. Wasn’t it at the Lord’s Supper that Jesus ushered in his new covenant with his single command: “Love one another?” 

Rank and file believers are not guilty of dividing the body of Christ. It has always been theologians, church leaders and even political rulers who have led the charge.  While Scripture is often silent or incomplete regarding many of these doctrinal arguments, the doctrine of loving one another, is very clear. Yet, it gets cast aside in order for one leader or another to argue a favorite propositional truth. They don’t seem to grasp that by doing so, they undermine the higher truth of right relationships with God and others. Could St. Paul have made this any clearer?  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will be witnesseses, blameless and innocent,,,appearing as lights to the world.” (Phil. 2: 13, 14)

When John the Apostle was asked by his disciples why his message was always, “Love one another as Christ loved you, he answered, “Because, if you obey His one command to love each other, all else will follow.” St. Paul confirmed this (See I Corinthians 13; Romans 13:9).

The consequences of disobeying Jesus’ new order for a new order, (recorded often in John’s gospel and letters), is a tragedy of Church history, working against accomplishing Christ’s mission. After all, it was the force of their unity and mutual love that enabled early believers to bring Christ’s light to the pagan Roman world and transform it. Isn’t the church of Jesus Christ in the West, in all its forms, suffering today, in part due to our many controversies with one another? Lately we have even taken on the secular world by vigorous political involvement.

When Jesus declared, “You are the light of the world,” did he mean we are to be the world’s moral policemen or did he intend we are to model the Kingdom of God’s among ourselves and be his witnesses of love and harmony?

I have been saddened to see how we have lost the respect of the secular world. Worse, we have failed to reach three generations with Christ’s redemption. Yet, reaching the lost was very much on Jesus’ mind when he prayed urgently to the Father, “May they be one…that the world will believe.”

Compromising the Truth

Should we wield the “sword of truth” against each other over doctrinal differences OR as a weapon to defeat the world, the flesh and the devil?

Doctrinal Truth. In a discussion I had with a brother about our need to love one another, he replied with a big, “Yes, but we should never compromise the truth.”  Have you heard that one before? Here’s Webster’s third definition of compromise: “to weaken or give up one’s principles or ideals for reasons of expediency.”  But the spin I hear from well meaning brothers is more often about doctrines than ideals or values. These doctrines or “biblical truths,” have divided Christians since the 3rd century and given great comfort and delight to our enemy, whose major strategy against God’s Kingdom is “divide and conquer.”

Webster’s First Definition of Compromise “When two opposing sides, for the sake of peace and agreement, each give in and meet in the middle.” The U.S. Constitution, probably the second most important document, after the Bible, is an example of brilliant compromising. Without willingness for opposing parties to meet in the middle,, we would be a divided nation, not a united one.  But should Christians compromise? The answer is not only that we should, but God has given us a model for it in His Word.

The Jerusalem Compromise In Acts 15, we read how early church leaders met in Jerusalem to resolve a huge problem. The issue was a vast cultural divide between Jewish believers, who held to Jewish practices, such as kosher meals, and non-Jewish believers. Jews who truly loved Jesus, felt they could not fellowship with Gentiles who loved Jesus, unless they adopted their kosher doctrine. Breaking bread together was at the heart of Christian fellowship (See Acts 2: 42-47). Peter testified that God truly was at work among Gentiles bringing them to Christ. But how could Christ’s “love one another” mandate be met, if these two groups couldn’t even sit down together for a meal?

Under the influence of the Spirit’s work—the council decided that the their relationship with Christ and one another and Christ’s ongoing mission to the world, trumped their doctrines. In a Spirit of humility, Jews made a loving compromise by agreeing non-Jews could share at Christ’s table without adopting Jewish beliefs. Non-Jews compromised by respecting their Jewish brothers’ consciences. They agreed to abstain from (a) food offered to idols, (b) sexual immorality, (c) eating meat of strangled animals and blood. This summit is a model of how believers with different views can come together by meeting in the middle. It follows Jesus principle, “Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their lives [Gr: psyche], i.e. egos, for one another.” True Christian love involves laying down our holy cows for the sake of love for Christ. our brethren and our mission.

What is Truth? Jesus said, “I am truth.” (John 14:6). Doesn’t this mean that truth, at its highest level is personal, involving right relationship with God and others? But what about our statements of faiths, our creeds and our doctrines? What does the Bible say? At the judgment, will Jesus greet us with a doctrinal quiz that we must pass before we can enter His kingdom? Or, as we learn In the parable of the sheep and goats, will he simply recognize us as his own by how we have loved… or how we have withhold it?

But there must be bedrock truths, without which, we can have no unity, right?

“Trust and Obey Can we find any higher truth than the words of  the old hymn, “Trust and obey; there’s no other way…” These words rightly divide the word of truth because they stress Jesus’ two core commands. The first is basic, found in John 3:16–“believe.” To have a relationship with Christ, we must first put our faith and trust in Him. (See John 6: 28,29).  Second, we must obey Christ’s new order for a new order–his great commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13: 34, 35).

“Trust and obey!” These two words,  trump all others.

The Sword of Truth. Those who wish to serve Christ’s cause by wielding the sword to defend their versions of the truth “once delivered to the saints,” should remember: the bedrock of all truth is to trust God, to love God and to love one another.

Please make a comment and join the conversation. Thanks.

Book Review: The Love Revolution, by Gaylord Enns

With this post we begin our review of an important book that has become a personal treasure, The Love Revolution by Gaylord Enns. Our New Canaan Society (NCS) men’s group has been reading and discussing it for a few weeks. It’s changing  some of our lives. Goodreads rates it five stars, commenting, “Get ready! Love Revolution will rock your world!”

Hidden in Plain Sight Rediscovering the Lost Commandment of Jesus is the book’s subtitle. No, the author isn’t suggesting a lost command of Jesus has recently surfaced. It’s been right here all along. Gaylord simply points out that Jesus gave us his love command in John 13: 34, 35 and twice again in John 15:12, 17. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

How did we miss it? After reading a chapter of the book, Dave, our group’s leader was aghast. “How is it that, after all these years, I didn’t see this before?” Well, he isn’t alone. Many believers will tell you that Jesus commandment is “Love God with all your heart, soul mind and your neighbor as yourself.” They wouldn’t be wrong, exactly. But think about it. These were Moses’ words, given to him in the old covenant. They don’t come from Jesus.

But Jesus said them, right? Yes Jesus did say them, but only as a quote from the old covenant. It occurred when an expert in the Law asked, “Master, which is the great commandment of the law of Moses.Jesus quoted Moses in his answer, but never owned the command as his own, never taught it to his disciples and it’s found nowhere else in the New Testament.

“Astonishingly,” Gaylord writes, “most of us, and I was one, have substituted the two core commandments of the old covenant for the two core commandments of the new.”

The crux of the book is that Jesus came to bring us grace, truth and love, paying for it with his blood. His joyous good news is that we are free from the harsh demands of the law, and this includes the command to love God and our neighborHold on now. Don’t jump the gun. Let’s give our author a chance to explain, which he does very well.

The Burden of the Law. With genuine honesty and humility, Gaylord shares his own struggles, trying hard to keep this mandate to love God with all of his being. Like many of us, he often felt a nagging guilt that he was never loving God enough. Many responsibilities “kept me from being as devoted to God as I should be”….feeling, “I should be spending more time in prayer and more time in the study of Scriptures.” Think of it! The demands of the law had put him in the awful bind of being torn between loving God and loving his family and congregation. I can relate.

Down the Rabbit Hole. Without knowing it, over the years, this burden took its toll. His faith was becoming a burden rather than a joy. In 2001 he fell into a hole, experiencing a breakdown. It took a full year to recover. But, thank God, during that recovery, he made the discoveries of a lifetime. When he was back, leading his congregation of 33 years, it was with fresh insights that changed his life and the direction of his ministry forever. He was, and is, on a journey rediscovering Jesus’ neglected command, not only for himself, but for his Jerusalem, which is the environs of Chico, California and even to the uttermost parts of the world, literally.

Why do we love God? This is the question Gaylord answers, not by reverting to Moses’ law, which puts the burden of love on the believer. Jesus gospel of a new covenant, places the burden of love on God.  Simply put, “We love Him [only] because He first loved us.” It’s shocking, isn’t it? Somehow, God’s love for us and his desire for us to return his love has been overshadowed by a law that demands we love him! How could we have slipped back into that bondage–turning the joyous good news that, “God so loved the world” into, “World, you better love God!?”

Trust and obey. Gaylord explains that Jesus, like Moses, had two core commands. “Trust and obey” describes them in a nutshell.  Our author identifies his first command, to believe in Jesus in John 3: 16. We also find it   throughout the gospels, especially in his reply to the people who asked, “What does God want us to do?” This time Jesus answers with his command, not Moses.’ ”God wants you to believe in the One He has sent.” His apostles also urged it, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

His second command, ”Love one another,” follows necessarily from his first. Gaylord stresses that love for God results from putting our trust in His son. New Covenant faith begins with trust, but doesn’t end there. It leads us to love God and others, not because we are ordered to, but because we want to.

Pastor Enns has helped me grasp once more, the simple truth that true faith in God must lead to love. And isn’t this true of any solid relationship? A great, old hymn makes it crystal clear. “Trust and obey; there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

How did we miss it?

In our next post, Gaylord answers an objection I’ve often heard to this teaching. He explains how Jesus’ two “trust and love” core commands, helps him to love God and his neighbors even more, not less. I would add that, as I continue to grasp this truth for myself, I’m more relaxed and more fun to live with—at least my wife said so today. It’s working!

We live for your comments. Please drop us a line or three.

Answers to Startling Quiz

In this Open Book Quiz, answers are underlined.  Score ten points for each correct answer.  Score a ten for completion questions if you covered the ideas in the answer. If you missed something, deduct five. If you think your answers are right and ours wrong, please show us how from scripture and earn full credit

  1. “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ”(Galatians 6:1 What is Christ’s law? (Law is command (entole)  and) Jesus’ command is love one another as he has loved us so the world will recognize we are his disciples. (John 13: 34, 35)
  2. “Let us do good unto all men, but especially to the household of faith, family of God, and the church are all correct. (Galatians 5:10)
  3. Agree Scripture teaches believers have a prior obligation to each other than to the lost? (b) Why would that even make sense? Jesus promised that, if His people obeyed his love commandment, this would be evidence to  unbelievers that we are his disciples.  Moreover, in John 17:  21-23, he prayed for our unity, knowing being of one accord would impress the world towards faith. (Conversely our disunity produces the opposite effect.)
  4. In Matt. 5:13-16, Jesus spoke of worthless salt and hidden light. This refers to  (c) the church (b) From Scriptures in question 2, how may believers lose their worth both to Christ and the world?    When we fail to obey his love command and have dissension among ourselves, we fail to model Christ’s love and unity. As Jesus indicated, unbelievers would discredit and ignore us and we become of  no value to either Christ or the world.
  5. In Acts 1 2: 1, 42-46, we notice how “tight” church members were and how they helped each other. They did this because the apostles taught (e) All of the above.
  6. In Acts 9: 3-4 we read the words “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul replied, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting..
  7. Who is Paul really persecuting? _His people or the church or body of Christ. Why does Jesus say this to Paul? Because Jesus identifies fully with his church. It is virtually his body on earth—his only hands, feet, ears, eyes to the world,
  8. (Extra Credit) List two of Paul’s terms for the church found in Ephesians 1 and 2 (a) body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:16–see 4: 4, 16 and 5:30) ; (b) God’s household or family (Ephesians 2: 19  (c) God’s habitation Ephesians 2:22
  9. Paul writes (I Cor.11: 28-29) “Let a man examine himself and then let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he that eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (I Cor. 11: 28-29). What body is Paul particularly referring to here? From context, best answer is the body of Christ, His church, the family of God. But give yourself five points if you said his body on the cross. 

TOTAL POSSIBLE SCORE _100_ With extra credit: 120  YOUR SCORE__________     Please let us know if some of the answers surprised you or where you disagree with them.

Startling New Testament Quiz? You Tell Us

Open Book Quiz Score 10 points for each correct answer. Answers appear on March 26th post.       Suggestion: Answer questions from your knowledge and recollection of texts. Then go back    and answer by looking up the passages listed. Either way correct answers get full credit. (We apologize for failing to format numbers at left margin. We are contacting this site about difficulties with its new editing scheme.)

1.“Let us do good unto all men, but especially to  ___________________(Galatians 5:10) 2.“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ”(Gal. 6:1) What is Christ’s law  _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________(Appears ____________________________________________Found in John 13: 34, 35)        3.Paul and Jesus both taught that we believers should love everyone, but we have a prior obligation to each other than to the lost? Explain from John 13: 34, 35; John 17: 21-23 how that makes sense. __________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________   4.In Matt. 5:13-16, Jesus warns that when salt loses its saltiness, it becomes worthless. Here He is warning the (a) Jews; (b) apostles; (c) Individual Christians: (d) The church/ body of Christ?       5.Christians can lose their worth and value to Him and the world by failing to (a) read their Bibles and pray; (b) obey his love command in John 13. (c) attend and give to our church (d) win others to Christ; (e) model unity to the world; (f) both (b) and (e) (Read  John 13: 34,35; 15: 12-17; John 17: 21-23)                                                                                                                                                             6.In Acts 1 2: 1, 42-46 we find church members “dedicated to the apostles’ teaching” and also how they took care of each other. That’s because the apostles taught them  (a) to obey Christ’s love  command  (b) to practice agape among themselves to make a good impression on unbelievers; (c) God will respond by “adding to the church” as Jesus predicted. (d) All of the above.                                                                                                                                                             7.In Acts 9: 3-4 we read, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ______.” Paul replied “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord answered “I am Jesus whom _____________________.                                                                                                  8.Who has Paul really been persecuting?_____________ Why does Jesus tell Paul in this way? __________________________________________________________________________      9.(Extra Credit)List two of Paul’s terms for the church in chapters one and two of Ephesians            (a) ________________________________ (b) ___________________________  10.Paul writes in 1 Cor.11: 28-29, “Let a man examine himself and then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he that eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks condemnation on himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”What bodyis Paul referring to here?___________ _____________ _________Compare your answer with the context, especially verses 18-22, 33.                                                                                                                    TOTAL POSSIBLE SCORE _100_   WITH EXTRA CREDIT:_120       YOUR SCORE______        

Please let us know if any answers surprised you  If any of your answers differs from ours, show us how from scripture and earn full credit