Friday, June 05, 2009

Pleasing and Acceptable: Allowing the Word of God to Define the Definitions - Part 6

Gathering of the Body (3 of 3)

* Remember to read the previous parts of this series first

We've looked at several Scriptures already regarding how God views ritualistic gatherings versus gathering to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Although there are many more we could look at, here are a few more biblical examples of what has personally revolutionized what I know to be the Body of Christ:

"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything." Colossians 1:18

There is One Head, Christ alone. No man should ever hold this position.

"When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." 1 Corinthians 14:26

Each one is to be an active participant. There are no spectators in the true Body that simply fill seats and listen.

"Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house." Colossians 4:15

While religion can also easily dwell in house churches, I continue to experience first-hand how the LORD moves mightily within gatherings of the Body in homes when no formulas and rituals are present.

"If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed." 1 Timothy 5:16

To reference the tithing point earlier, when a Body is free to give where it is needed, they can. As it stands today, the organized church is greatly burdened with unnecessary financial obligations and cannot aptly assist those in need.

"And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them." Acts 4:32

Does this sound like the average local Body to you? Does this accurately describe all of the dozens of "churches" that are just in your hometown? Not in the slightest! I have only seen one organized church in my lifetime that has come even close to meeting this description and they are quite a rarity! None of us have arrived at the place where we should be, myself at the front and center with hands raised – guilty! I don't claim to be doing it perfectly in every area. The difference is, do we see what the Word defines the gathering of the Body to be and then turn a blind eye to it, choosing to settle for what it has become? Or do we disconnect from the norm and explore what the Word defines it to be? I will not settle for what our modern-day forefathers set in place. I will not forsake the real for a form of it. Will you?

I urge you to read the following verses and paragraph very carefully.

"For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building." 1 Corinthians 3:9

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" 1 Corinthians 3:16

"For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said," I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE." 2 Corinthians 6:16

"You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:5

We can no longer substitute building temporal edifices of wood and stone for building spiritual houses! The Body is to be the holy priesthood as they offer acceptable spiritual sacrifices, their very lives! We have traded in the spiritual for the natural, missing the entire point of Jesus' death and resurrection to do away with the rituals of the law. We have chosen to sew the veil back together and settle with dwelling in the outer court. We have chosen to reconstruct the physical temple in the form of "church campuses". We have chosen to again go through high priests of flesh and bone rather than The High Priest, The Christ. Only through Him are our sacrifices acceptable to God. We instead go it alone and offer up what we deem as good and pleasing, forsaking entirely what God desires. We have greatly missed it my friend and I believe the LORD is greatly grieved. If we know that the church is the people and not the building, then why in the world do we keep pumping billions of dollars a year into them? Why do the masses of Believers only gather there? It is time for the Body to grasp that She is the temple where the LORD dwells!

Lastly, on this point about the gathering of the Body I'd like to add that this is not some personal vendetta against organized religion. I have people tell me, "But my church is full of great Christian people!" or "Why are you so against 'church'?" I know plenty of fantastic Christian people with great intentions, but when the LORD has established guidelines and criteria, then we must be found to be obedient to them. It is the responsibility of the Body to know what the LORD is saying. We must know what the true biblical definition of "church" even is! We will be held accountable for our own actions and will not be able to look to anyone else to validate what we chose to live according to. It is my choice to allow the Word to define what Christianity is, not traditions and surely not the majority. We all have the choice. Sadly, most will fall into line and allow someone else to tell them who they are to be.

Paul seemingly knew what was coming, or perhaps it had already started, when he stated, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." Colossians 2:8

It is time we lay down what has become errantly deemed to be "the church". We must allow the LORD to again define what His Body is and how we are to gather. Are you willing to step out and return to Him, forsaking the traditions of men for what is acceptable in His sight?

Next up I'd like to review and share an illustration that I believe will summarize this series quite clearly. We must be striving to live lives that are pleasing and acceptable to the LORD, above all else.

* I highly encourage you to read the comments on this one - some great discussion is ongoing.


Nathan said...

Wow. When you list all of this stuff out, especially the verses, what we do each week really does look all wrong. The thing is though, what else is there? If you're a Christian, you do the church thing. It's just a given, isn't it? You discussed how you meet in "small gatherings", could you elaborate a bit more?

Joel Spencer said...

Nathan: What you have stated is why I always encourage people to stop relying on books, studies and sermons to define what "church" is. The Scriptures spell it out as plain as ever.

Regarding your question about the small gatherings I'm a part of. We meet in homes with the only goal to edify one another and worship the LORD. We share what we have been reading in the Word. We pray for one another. We build one another up. We fellowship. We don't always all agree, but we do have unity at the heart of it all.

There is no one "teacher" or "leader" in the gatherings I'm a part of. All come to be a vital part of the Body and no one person dictates what takes place or what the topic is, should there be one. It is so different than organized religion, it is hard to even explain.

Feel free to email me directly as I could share much more if you're interested.

Lauren Howard (: said...

I had the same question as Nathan did. Im sure ive talked to you before about this, but where do we go? Where do those ones go who dont want to go to church go?
What you said that you and your friends do is awesome but it is almost like a dream, something that is to good to be true! I just dont know where i would find such people or a place to do that. I long for that so much, i dont even think i have words to describe it. I think that was my obsession with finding community/bible training schools or a place to go because I was discontent with the church system. Maybe i should pray for it to come my way. It just sucks because when i think about not going to church...what else is there?

Do you know in church history where things began to "flip" and the church started to become this established system/ church buildings?
How did we get it SO WRONG?
I mean shouldnt it be obvious to our pastors and leaders?

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Hi Joel,

One of the greatest things about your blog is that you entertain all points of views, even if it does not agree with your own. I am always intrigued with your blogs, but this time, man, while I applaud you for your small group gatherings in homes, I do not think that type of meeting is feasible for everyone, at least not yet. I mean, in the Bible when the early Christians met and had things in common, it was easy for them to do that in Jerusalem because of the large Essene communities, that espoused that way of living. Christians who lived outside of Jerusalem met in house churches, and even had worship by the riverside, because they were banned from the synagogues, and the other houses of worship were pagan temples.

I do think however, that the time for us to meet in small groups in home is coming though, especially with the rise in anti-religion feelings in society. With the increase in church burnings and church killings, the Body may well have to go undercover, and into private homes.

Hey, I think you may be onto something, but is this the time?

Joel Spencer said...

Lauren: It is not a dream! Man, the fear of stepping out amazes me! After a lifetime of "attending church" and working on staff at two of them, the first Sunday my wife and I stayed home, I felt horrible. I felt like I was doing something wrong. I felt guilty. I felt sinful. I felt like my spiritual life was surely headed for disaster!

All were lies from the pits of hell! God never told me any of those things, people and pastors did! He never told me that I had to attend man-made "services". He never told me that I had to sit in a pew and "get fed" a few times a week. He never told me that this was the only way! He never told me that I had to do any of the "church stuff" that I was doing! Never!

So for weeks, for months, my wife and I fought off the darts of guilt and condemnation. To this day, people still think we are in great error because we don't dwell within "church" walls. But I ask, what is the fruit? Look at our lives!!! We walk in freedom! We dare to walk with no "orders of service" or man-made programs to dictate our every spiritual step. What is the result? I hear what the LORD is telling me! It is easy to just walk in and out of buildings, sitting and standing when you're told. Anyone can do it! No active spiritual life is required!

Before I get too far away from your question, do you have Christian friends or family who truly study the Word and walk with intimacy with the LORD? If so, even if there is only one or two of you, just gather together and share what the LORD is speaking. Play a CD and worship in freedom. Read Scripture aloud and discuss it. Distribute communion to one another if you’d like. Pray for one another, for the Body, for your city.

When I first embarked on this path, I too wondered “well what in the world do we do”? You know why?

Because it had always been done for me!!!!

Christianity was never meant to be a spectator event!

I encourage you to stop “waiting for it to come to you” - be “it”! Let us set the example! Let us raise the standard! Let us be the ones who are found seeking to live acceptable lives of worship and service for the LORD!

Regarding your question about church history – oh man, I just don’t have time for that right now. There is so much to that response. I’d encourage you to look into the book Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola. I seldom read others books, but several men I respect greatly in the LORD recommended this book to me and it is truly enlightening regarding the history of the organized church.

What I will address is that you said, “shouldn’t it be obvious to our pastors and leaders?” What a great question. But as an ex-youth pastor/leader, it is nearly impossible to buck the system that defines your entire existence. I put it like this: I run an auto detailing business. If I encourage you to wash and detail your own car and you listen to me, before long, I will not have a business. This is the same with the positional “church”.

When people start studying the Word for themselves and abandon the “clergy laity”: order, there is no longer a need for them and that, in their eyes just cannot be. People need to set aside that these are good men and, in most cases, desiring to do God’s will. The fact is however, compromise runs deep and ruins it all.

I won’t do it anymore – ever. I’ve been out of the positional “church” now for over three years and the longer I am away, the more error I see. It is all a personal choice – we can all choose to see what else there is or just stay satisfied with the same system that continues to spit out Christian clones year after year after year. I choose life. I choose the new. I choose the challenging. I choose the road less travelled.

It is all up to you Lauren to see “what else there is”. :)

Joel Spencer said...

Daughter: Oh my goodness is it time!!! It is time!!! It is time!!! Why would we wait for trials to learn how to gather as one true Body? Why would we wait until real persecution comes to America to gather in unity? Why would we wait for edifices and buildings to burn to gather with a focus on the true Church, the people?

Daughter, now is so the time!

You asked, "is it feasible?" It is not just feasible for those who will no longer be satisfied with gatherings that don't please the LORD at their origin (as all of these references point out), but it is an absolute must. For me, it is not about can we or should we, it is that we have to, in order to be found pleasing to the LORD. I am 100% confident that it is what the LORD desires and that's all I need to know. All else is trivial.

Unity, intimacy with the Father and others, edification, the Word of God coming alive, the laying on of hands by "nobodies" like me, sharing communion, worshipping in freedom, Jesus, The Christ as the Head and Leader of it all... all of this I see first-hand each and every time we gather as the true Church, the Body, the beautiful Bride! I've seen more of biblical Body life in one gathering such as this than I did in 30 years of church attendance all put together.

We must venture out and dare to believe that God can show us how! One can never see the beautfiul and magnificent countryside until they exit the gates and leave the city walls! :)

This reminds me of a parable that I wrote back in 2007. It sums up what I have found in the gathering of the Body outside of religious walls. Check it out HERE if you like.

Please know that I'm not angry or upset in any fashion. I would shout this from the mountaintops if I could! Freedom dwells here! Please! Come! Taste! See!

Harriet said...

You know Joel..I am afraid that even "home churches" can become "churchy"..ya know?
If we simply rely on our ever deepening relationship with Jesus MORE we might find that we are directed where to met with others of like hearts. Leaving the when and where to God instead of making plans ourselves.
I have been asking God to open my eyes to others who I can share with and learn from on a daily basis.. as He works in my life on issues He wants worked out in ME I am expecting Him to also bring people into my life..and I am excited about it.
I mean, heck, He brought you and your wife into mine and my husbands life ONLINE..I am sure there are people near each of us that would be wonderful to fellowship with too!

Lauren Howard (: said...

JOEL: That makes perfect sense.

But to be honest...I
don't think I've ever studied the Bible with my friends outside of church (unless its for that once a year retreat we all so excitingly look forward too). I mean in recent years i was always the one who wanted to have bible studies or just encourage others to go deeper but no one else seemed to want too or maybe they did but just not together....?
So i am able to talk about God and my heart freely with VERY FEW...but i don't really know...who i can have gatherings with. I would love to stay in and study and experience God together but it always seems to be substituted for a movie or whatever. And when i bring it up you can hear crickets because no one wants to do it but at the same time no one wants to admit it because they are Christians. Honestly..its like awkward to bring up God sometimes with some of my christian circles. My family is "christian" but we don't talk about God together. They think im a holier then thou and we never pray or read the bible as a family. I have plenty of times brought up to my parents to have bible studies, once again..crickets. So i guess that's what holds me back and why i wanted to leave home and find some place where the was some stinkin community. And how scared I am of leaving the church cause if i do, i feel like im leaving my community, friends and i will be alone!

And the feelings you described about how you felt when you first decided to leave the church is how i feel when i miss a Sunday, or how i felt a couple months ago when I didnt go for about 3 months. And people all the time said i was almost in sin because i pulled myself out of Gods house and fellowship. And i did feel terrible, in sin, guilty, and most importantly ill never get this christian life down and im doomed! The church I found is really awesome but I am scared to commit and take there members class in 2 weeks so i can become a bonified MEMBERRRR! IT scares me.
I love the pastors and people an maybe i can be apart of the church while not being apart of the "system"...
i dont know.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Hi Joel,

Let me relate to you and interesting but learning experience. I had recently taken off a few weeks (6 weeks) off from church to spend quality time alone with God, away from the hustle and bustle of life, and the regular routine, ups and downs of church life. I told a few "key people" in the church that I was taking off, but I did not tell them specifically what I was doing. Those 6 weeks were some of the best times I had in the Lord. It was time I spent with just me and God, and at times fellowshipping with other believers from different denominations (without my usual responsiblities). I needed this time to spend with Him and for Him to attend to just me alone. I needed that as most of my daily activities revolve around caring, teaching, and instructing others.

To my surprise however, my church family did not seem to respect the fact that I wanted some "me time" alone with God. They kept calling me wondering "what had happened" even though I had told them ahead of time I was taking off. It was as if I should not have done that.

Here is the thing: People sometimes get hooked on the idea that the church building is the only place where we can meet with God. They forget that God is EVERYWHERE, and that it is not a sin to meet with God in other locations as well. God is NOT limited to location.

I still think that organized church is vital for the increased spread of the gospel, and for the shepherding of large numbers of people seeking God. I think the church building offers visiblity to the public of the presence of Christianity, and where to go to worship. The church building is also a neutral place, whereas homes are personal places. What I don't like however is the notion that God can be found only in the church building. As you said before, and as the Bible says, our bodies are God's temple, and thus a place where God lives (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20). If God's Spirit lives within our bodies, then whenever we enter a place, whether it be in a church building, a home, or in the wilderness, God is ever present with us, because He lives within our hearts. He is also everywhere in the world, because He is God, and there is NOWHERE where we can go where He is not there.

"Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me" (Psalm 139: 7-11).

Joel Spencer said...

Harriet: Without question, traditions and structure can dwell in "house churches" as easily as in traditional ones. There is much more to It than Its location. Just like many other ventures that start off right, with great intentions, they can morph into programs and positional leadership.

I do however believe that true Body life thrives in small gatherings. The setting allows for true interaction. We can do anything wrong if given the chance huh. :)

Joel Spencer said...

Lauren: I sure don't have a bag full of perfect answers to reach into for you. All I can tell you is I have stood at the crossroads where you are right now and I chose to take the risk and venture out. I just couldn't compromise anymore - not for the sake of friends, the approval of my family, not for a pastor, not for anything. I couldn't see what I saw in God's Word be so drasticaly different than what takes place at "church" and just be OK with it because leaving would just be too hard or scary.

I can't promise you people will just begin knocking on your door either if you do venture out. My wife and I have been "officially" opening our home every Thursday night for over a year now and I can just about count on one hand how many people have come. So many have said, "That's what I'm looking for" "That's what I need", "I know that there is more, perhaps this is it" but so few choose to do it (ie: hardly any).

It just feels "wrong" because of this guilt trip and error in teaching of what the LORD's Church really is. Like you said, if you skip services, something has to be wrong with you! (sigh)

It's in your hands Lauren. All I'm doing is standing at the crossroads and pointing to Christ. I have found Him here, outside of the gates. It is not easy... and I like it that way. Nearly everyone takes the easy road.... will you?

Joel Spencer said...

Daughter: My entire life I was taught that "me time" as you referenced it was right at the edge of sin. That somehow made you prideful or self-centered or something. But if noone ever takes "me time" to nurture and grow in the LORD, everyone just keeps walking along as spiritual babies. We must have time where it is just us and the LORD. We need to grow. We need to be in His care. We need to attend to our spiritual lives, yes? Kudos for taking time for yourself!

On your next point, I want to be clear that I am not insinuating that God cannot dwell within the religious church. He can do whatever He wants. On the flipside, we must be careful to remember that God inhabits the praises of His people. Here we begin to find some criteria. While God is not "limited", He will not choose to dwell where He is not worshipped in Spirit and in truth. He is holy. He is perfect. He must be approached and worshipped as He approves.

I am an extremes kinda guy, and I know that but, to me, "God is everywhere" is like saying we could all go down to the strip club and be the Church while a naked lady dances beside me. Of course we could, but why in the world would we? Isee it as the same and I know that will likely seem odd to most.

Lastly, you stated, "I still think that organized church is vital for the increased spread of the gospel, and for the shepherding of large numbers of people seeking God. I think the church building offers visiblity to the public of the presence of Christianity, and where to go to worship."

I disagree with all of these statements and have addressed them all here before. Here is how I see it. #1 If Believers lived daily lives that were as Christ, the Gospel would be advancing like a wildfire. There would be no need for books , tapes, DVD's and how-to manuals. #2 Herding large numbers who are disconnected and unaware who most of the congregation even is, on a personal level, is not Body life. What defines "seeking God"? #3 The "church building" is a laughing stock to most secular communities. In fact, it is irrelevant to it, in most cases. It is generally greatly over-sized, ornate and virtually empty five days a week. You must look like this, act like this, give this, join this, attend this and then, maybe you can become like them.... maybe. And yes, it is seen as a place of worship, but when you set it beside what the Word defines as worship, it is rarely ever found there because it is flawed at its foundation.

If the large buildings to gather in work so well, then why are 90% of Christians hopping from building to building their entire lives? Why aren't we seeing Christinaity outside of their walls? Why aren't the homeless sleeping in our empty 50K square feet "sanctuaries"? Why do pastoral staff take in millions of dollars a year while the "laymen" can't even pay their own power bills?

Even from a viewpoint of basic business, it is an absolutely horrible concept. Spiritually, it is even worse.

I just wish people would at least consider unplugging for six months and see what God could do if they let go of the traditional church and sought the LORD in, what we would deem, a "new" way (which is actually the original idea).

Again, one cannot discover the beauty and freedom of the countryside until one leaves the chains and walls of the city.

Great thoughts Daughter. I enjoy our dialogue.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Ouch! Joel. You got me, down to the core on this one. What you are saying about being prideful and self-centered is so true! I have been accused of being selfish and prideful, because of my love of "me time" with the Lord. Somehow people get real nervous when you dash off home after church, and don't attend all the church programs. While I do attend many of the church programs, I mainly attend those that give me fulfillment(again the word "me"). Sounds selfish, but I consider myself a mature Christian, and "baby food" Christianity does not appeal to me. I need to go where I can get some strength and nourishment for the spiritual self. Without this nourishment I cannot go on and be strong in the Lord. I won't be able to face life's challenges and temptations on a daily basis. Consequently, I have stopped attending Women's ministry because all they do sit around and play games. I stopped attending the weekly nightly Bible study because all they do is cover topics in a superficial way, because of poor tolerance for "hard food." I mainly teach the youth Bible, organize lesson study classes for the church, work on special programs/activities, and attend Church services. I give, I serve, I participate and I love serving others, but my desire is to also interact with other Christians who are really serious about knowing God, and to be strengthened in His word. That is why I am here on your blog. I am serving my purpose in church, but I also have a need to interact with others who eat "hard food." That is not always easy to find.

Valerie said...

Joel, you said "We have chosen to sew the veil back together and settle with dwelling in the outer court. We have chosen to reconstruct the physical temple in the form of "church campuses". We have chosen to again go through high priests of flesh and bone rather than The High Priest, The Christ. Only through Him are our sacrifices acceptable to God. We instead go it alone and offer up what we deem as good and pleasing, forsaking entirely what God desires. We have greatly missed it my friend and I believe the LORD is greatly grieved. If we know that the church is the people and not the building, then why in the world do we keep pumping billions of dollars a year into them? Why do the masses of Believers only gather there? It is time for the Body to grasp that She is the temple where the LORD dwells!"

I couldn't agree with you more. I never thought of it before the way you put it - sewing back the veil - but that is indeed what the church has done. Why is it that those in the church when you say that the people are the Body of Christ still try to defend the physical building - with no scripture to back it up? The Bible doesn't tell us to build buildings as you have explained.
Father, open eyes and ears to see and hear what You are saying.

Valerie said...

Joel, Reading the interaction between what yourself and Lauren are saying about feeling guilty about not going to church on Sunday at first, I've got to tell you what happened to me. (not going to church was alien to me at first too.) As you know we're just back on Saturday from holiday and on Sunday being a dry and sunny day I thought I'd better clear all that washing. (dry, sunny days in Northern Ireland can be rare so you've got to make the most of them) Being brought up in the "religious world" we weren't allowed to do anything on Sunday apart from going to church twice and Sunday school. No tv, no playing with friends etc, no going out anywhere. Yesterday I sat down to explain to Father (yeah I should know by now!!!) why I had done the washing on Sunday. He stopped me in my tracks and said "My child, you have been resting in me, doing nothing for two weeks solid, you have no need to feel guilty, I don't condemn you." He gave me a revelation of what freedom in Christ is really all about. He never ceases to amaze me

Joel Spencer said...

Daughter: I hear you, I'm too old to eat baby food! ;) Each day I must choose to eat of the solid foods from my Father. This is how one can walk with strength each and every day. Too many try to "fill up" on Sundays with hopes to "just make until next week". I just don't understand that approach. It is destined to fail for this Christian life is to daily die to self and mature in Christ moment by moment.

It's no wonder so many fall away when 2 hours a week is somehow supposed to miraculously keep them fed for an entire week. Perhaps we should look at the simplicity of how things work in the natural and see the similarities within the spiritual. I don't know anyone who only eats once a week and assumes it will keep them strong the entire week through.

It really is that simple.

Valerie: I had not thought of the "sewing of the veil back together" either. The LORD spoke that to me as I was writing this series. It is so true. For too long, we've not liked what we see in oursleves when we approach God, so we've sewn it back and relied on pastors to take care of it for us. It is exactly like the days of old.

Is great to hear how the LORD continues to teach us and allow us to walk in freedom, when we allow Him to.