“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Friday, January 27, 2006

'Authentic' Christianity

What is 'authentic' Christianity? I have been spurred to post regarding this by a couple of recent discussions I have been involved in.

I am a Messianic Jew,. Now before someone gets up in arms about that statement, I am NOT trying to make a delineation between me and everyone else. I just want to put this forward intially to provide some perspective. I also co-pastored a home church for two years, and had a wonderful time in the intimate setting. I now pastor a church slighter larger than a home church, and we meet in a building. As this will come into play in this post.

As a Messianic Jew I have been acosted by many who want to return to the 'authentic' Christianity that was found in the early church. These folks are often disappointed that I am not more 'authentic' in my presentation of the gospel; they want me to 'do church like the apostles did'... I assume that they want me to be beat by rods, and thrown into Roman jails, and then they can go into hiding and pray for my safe return? I mean, what does this mean -- 'Authentic' Christianity?

Truth is, it means something different to everyone, but the reality is that we don't live in the 1st century, so it is foolish to assume that we can 'get back' to authentic Christianity as if it were a ritual, method, or model that can be bottled, marketed, and sold like some cheap perfume.

I have friends in the home church movement who say that 'authentic' Christianity is home churches. Well, that misses a couple of points in the Bible; one being, if Paul had a better reception in the synagogue, he would not have met in homes, the synagogue would have been the place. So, it is not home churches that 'make' Christianity authentic.

Some say that observing all of the feasts is the way to authentic Christianity, well I disagree, and I say that as a Jew. Keeping the feasts did not make the Pharisees MORE authentic than, say Lydia, did it? Do I love the feasts? Absolutely, and our church observes them, but this does not make me more 'authentic' in my practice of Christianity than the Baptists down the street!

And we always have my dear Reformed friends who say that the 'regulative' method of Worship is the way to be, and provides a setting that is conducive to 'Authentic' Worship. Now, not all of the Reformed guys that I hang out with have completely bought into every aspect of the 'regulative' method of worship, but there are those... The regulative method DOES prevent excesses from occurring, but let us not think that the regulative, or 'Biblical' style is all about 'What the Bible says' -- For example, not only the Reformed folks, but the some of the Church of Christ friends I have say that they ONLY practice Christianity that is 'authentic' because it is 'what the Bible says and nothing more'.(I have a very, very bright friend who is a CoC Pastor (Charles) who is an exception to what I am saying here. He is a good friend who may chime in on this)

[BUZZER], I am sorry, that is the wrong answer: For example, I don't know many Presbyterian churches that have sold all that they have and give to each as his need. And I am unaware of any CoC churches that greet one another with a Holy Kiss! (maybe some Mennonnites, and Amish, but certainly not the guys I know).

Now, I am not condemning these folks for not doing that, we don't do it either. What I am trying to say is that 'authentic' Christianity is not a method, a plan, a box of instructions, it is authentic Christians living out their faith. That traverses denominational boundaries, and worship styles.

Don't you think, all of my home church buddies, that Paul would have loved to have met in a building, so that more people could hear the gospel? You bet he would have! He would have met at the Temple if the opportunity afforded itself.

For my Messianic friends -- Go and read what Paul had to say about days and times, and about making Gentiles become Jewish in order to experience the grace that is found in our Savior. He was staunch about his stance.. If you don't know where to start I recommend Romans, Ephesians, Galatians...

All those who think that they have captured authentic Christianity because of the way they worship, or the type of songs they sing have missed the boat, IMHO. I know a REFORMED, REFORMED Presbyterian!! (I KNOW, I KNOW), who is a wonderful man of God and loves the Lord with all his heart, but he truly believes that his church has it all figured out, and is authentic because they ONLY sing Psalms, and then, only accappella!

I know folks that say that it is ONLY proper to have the Lord's Supper once a month, some annually, and some INSIST that it is to be weekly. I am just glad that they think it should be celebrated at all! Some churches have even given up this ordinance (sacrament for you sacerdotal types).

Truth be told -- many of those that are searching for 'authentic' Christianity, are only looking for the novelty of it, not the lifestyle. They want to participate in 'authentic' Christianity the same way that they want to participate in 'authentic' Scottish Highland games (wouldn't Robert the Bruce be surprised by the 'authentic' highland games? Wouldn't Paul be surprised by 'authentic' Christianity?).

So, to finish off; I am not writing this from the storied Ivory Towers of Academia; my perspective is a simple country hamlet. I am not a scholar, I am a practicing pastor at a small church of people attempting to practice 'authentic' Christianity with other 'authentic' Christians, be they in a home church, a building, or even a Messianic synagogue. I am sure that there are things that I might have glossed over, or omitted -- this is not a doctorate thesis, this is an observation.

I also want to make the disclaimer that I am not saying ALL forms of worship, no matter how heretical, or non-glorifying to God are acceptable. We must guard against heresy and blasphemous practices, no doubt about that, but to say that one church model is more 'authentic' than another misses the whole point of the church being made up of living stones!

Let me provide this story -- Polycarp and Anicetus had a disagreement about Easter, (the Easter Controversy), wherein Polycarp, representing the Eastern Church celebrated the resurrection of Messiah on Passover (14th of Nisan), and Anicetus insisted that it was to be on a Sunday which was designated by the Western Church. They came together and agreed, after much discussion, to disagree. Now, Polycarp had every right to throw out the 'authentic' Christianity barb, and say we are right and you are wrong, because John the Apostle taught me this! However, while he did make reference to that fact, those two men of God sat down, and took communion together in a symbolic act of fellowship. They disagreed on something they both felt passionate about, but when it came to breaking fellowship they declined to do that. It was later that this boiled over, under the leadership of less mature, less Christ-centered leaders. Polycarp and Anicetus understood (IMHO) that 'authentic' Christianity is not defined by a 'style' or 'method'.

What is an authentic Christian? -- Go read 1st John, go read the Gospels, go read the Pauline epistles which touched upon Body life more than almost any other subject. What do they say? You tell me, but one of the things ringing in my head, from our Lord and Savior, is this -- "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself". I think that is a great beginning to 'authentic' Christianity!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Mind is A Terrible Thing To Waste

I have, for a long time, been adamant about people loving the Lord with all their HEART, MIND and STRENGTH, but it seems, at times, that people just don't want to do that...

Now, that is quite a statement out of the gate, isn't it? What I mean by that statement is that it seems today that everyone wants to love the Lord with all their HEART... Notice anything missing? Yeah, it would be the aspect of loving Him with our mind and strength... I am constantly amazed by otherwise sane human beings, who place their brains on a shelf when they begin to read, and/or discuss the Bible.

I have previously discussed 'worship' songs that are more like pimply-faced, erotic, and emotive but doctrinally empty, love songs that have sprouted from the quills of some modern-day songwriters. And I have addressed pieces of this throughout some of my other posts, but today I wanted to address something head-on: That is, the tendency in our culture for 'free interpretation' of the Bible.

How many of us have been to a Bible study where the teacher/pastor/leader provides a teaching on a section of Scripture, only to be interrupted by three or four people with heavily marked up Bibles, and a Strong's nearby, who proceed to 'correct' the teacher by providing their interpretation! These are the folks who are the first to inform you that you don't understand the difference between zoe and psuche. Sound familiar to anyone?

First, let me dispel one common myth -- We do not all possess the same amount of knowledge as regards the Bible -- some people have given their lives to studying the Word, and have MORE knowledge than others (I am not referring to myself here, but to many great teachers out there). Just because you heard a pastor speak on the difference between zoe and psuche, don't assume that you now have it all figured out. Also, don't assume that because you read all of the meanings in Strong's and inserted your favorite meaning into a particular passage, that you are naturally correct. Tools are good, but they are only as good as those who know how to use them. Just because you have a forklift at the house does not mean that you know how to load a 44' trailer!

We need to learn from people who have given their lives to studying the Bible in all of its facets. I spend most of my waking, and non-working moments ensuring that, as Paul says in 2nd Timothy, I am rightly handling the Word of God. However, I still have a lot to learn and will not get dogmatic (usually), about something that I do not have a grasp on. The egalitarian mindset, that everyone should be able to foist their 'opinion' on everyone else in a study, is simply not correct. I have seen many new believers led astray by people speaking on things they know NOTHING about, but speak as if they are an expert.

Second, the Bible does NOT mean what you want it to mean! I have heard plenty of people say, "Well, what this passage means to me...[you fill in the blanks]". Now, the Bible does have application in our lives, but first and foremost we need to figure out what the passage is SAYING, NOT what we THINK it might mean. Many times the passage in question is a narrative, in other words it has clear context and clear meaning which must be discerned before we begin applying it's meaning to our lives!

Let me provide an example: when teaching through Acts one may constantly be 'corrected' by a person who is providing their interpretation of Paul's travels in Acts 13 in some SUPER-spiritualized, and almost inevitably wrong-headed manner. Now, don't get me wrong, many of these people are absolutely wonderful and love the Lord. I don't think that it is their intent is to take a study down a rabbit trail, they have just bought into the bad teaching that everyone's interpretation is equally true to the text because the 'Holy Spirit told me' (hard to argue with that, huh?).

I suggest that everyone get a book such as Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart's How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, and actually read it! Study the types of literature that the Bible contains and understand the difference between a narrative, wisdom literature, and apocalyptic literature. We could dispel a lot of fringe-element eschaton teaching if people understood more about the literature they were reading.

And finally -- lest you think that studying the Word of God in a balanced manner will rob you of your 'joy' (another widely used, but poorly understood word), let me refer you to Paul's doxology in Romans 11:33-36, where, after going through and exegeting Scripture and examining God's plan, Paul is driven to say:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord,or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Paul loved the Lord with all of his HEART, MIND!!!, and STRENGTH.

I would recommend that you not only purchase and read Dr. Fee's book, but you also place yourself under the teaching of a solid, Biblical, teacher, and LEARN from him!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Youth And Children Ministries

Before I get into this post, may I say that I have worked with youth for 16 years, and love them dearly, but something smells in Youth Ministry nowadays and I wanted to briefly post my thoughts on it.

First, I would highly recommend a series that Dan Edelen recently posted on the 21st Century church... While you may not agree with everything he has to say, there are some thought-provoking ideas in the series.

In that series Dan did a section that addressed Youth Pastors, and I heartily agree with his assessment.

As I said, I have worked with youth for a while, and I know that everything that has happened in youth ministry is not awful, but there are some trends which do not bode well.

First let me start with the positive things:

1. There have been numerous occasions in our youth ministry where someone has begun to attend church BECAUSE they could attend the Youth Ministry and connect with the others of their age group. In our post-Christian world I think it is naive to say that parents should catechize their children, when the parents as Biblically illiterate as the children. So, if a young person wants to come to church and be ministered too INITIALLY within the framework of a youth ministry, then that is a good thing.

2. I have seen instances where Youth have gone into the Mission Field, or another area of ministry because of the influence of their youth pastor. These youth pastors can be of great, and positive influence, especially in today's society where they might be the ONLY parental influence in a young persons life!

3. Youth Groups can be a place where the gifts of a young person can be examined; i.e. if a young person has a talent on guitar, it is nice to be able to disciple them in a youth setting, enabling them to use their talents at various functions as they mature into a person who could then be placed in a worship team setting.

Now -- what do I see as a problem? Here goes, and I am going to probably miss a few, but bear with me:

1. Youth Groups have become places where adults are unwelcome, becoming so self-centered that there is no longer a focus on the Word of God, and making disciples; but rather on all of the FUN we can have when together. Some of the activities which I have seen are: disgusting rituals akin to Fear Factor, music being promoted that has nothing in it glorifying to God, rather it is simply feeding the flesh, and a frightening 'New Age-like' focus.

2. Too much dependence on groups such as Youth Specialities, and GROUP for lessons and ideas, rather than the Bible being the basis. Some of these groups promote practices which any Christian parent should be uncomfortable with, such as 'centering' exercises etc. This also makes a Youth person lazy, and unchallenged in their own life (been there, done that).

3. An artificial separation of the Body of Christ into specific 'age-appropriate' groups (see my post on elders), which fosters a sense of division within even the same church body; with one group having this event, and another group having that event, and never does the entire body gather for a time of corporate worship. This is exacerbated by the foolishness of 'biblezines' such as Refuel, Revolve, etc. Or maybe these 'zines are the direct result of an unhealthy focus on youth in our churches.

4. Parents see the Youth Pastor as the 'spiritual leader' of their teens, abdicating their responsibility as the leader in their home. I saw this same thing in Awana when I attended a church that sponsored it. They claimed to be reaching the community, but the reality was that we were the dumping ground for children while mom and dad went out and had a nice, quiet dinner. When parents identify the Youth Pastor as the 'spiritual' person in the life of their teens, they have failed in one of their primary roles as a parent -- teaching their children about their faith.

5. And we now see churches FILLED with adults who are as spiritually immature as their teens, because they always attended the Youth Group, but never actually got discipled, and many of these adults never had their faith modeled at home, so we are propagating this mistake into the next generation. As Pastors, I believe one of our primary duties is to teach parents that THEY are to teach their children about their faith, NOT giving that responsibility to someone else!

Finally, I am not trying to make a big comment on the 'Emergent Church', but much of what I have seen from them is 'youth group' like. It seems that many of them are nothing more than large youth groups gone amok. While I do not think that every 'Emergent' church is like that, most of the conversations I have had with friends in the EC and my limited experience with them smacks of people raised in a youth group atmosphere, and never actually GROWING UP (read that -- reaching maturity).

They are big on events/'alternative' worship, and coarse language and the usual things that youth do to shock the system of their elders, and often light on content. Now, before you roast me on a spit; I am sure that this does not define the EC as a whole, but it certainly does touch upon some of the movement. And I believe that many involved in these churches are the product of too much youth group fun and not enough Biblical instruction.

How do we make Youth Groups work again -- read Dan Edelen's article! :-)

Also, how about bringing the youth out of the group and into the Body at large? Make them part of the body, not an appendage hanging out there in the 'fun zone' while the rest of us fall asleep in the pew week after week. And parents -- help out the youth folks, will you? Don't leave the spiritual well-being to them, YOU are supposed to be raising your children up with the understanding of the faith. While we understand that there are many youth who come to church sans parents, and these we have to disciple, the parents who attend church need to be the spiritual leaders for their children. The youth pastor has enough on his hands, don't abdicate your role!

Well, it is Sunday evening, and I am probably rambling -- so I will finish this... I would like to reiterate that I do not think that Youth Groups are AWFUL, but that they have become something they were never intended to be, and that is, a social club rather than a place where we assist parents in developing and discipling young Christians.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bill Cosby & Content of the Sermon

I wanted to post this; I have been thinking quite a bit about sermon content lately, and had an epiphany (sort of).

Many may not remember Bill Cosby before the Cosby Show, or his recent spate of activism and speeches, but some of us are old enough to remember his fabulous stand-up and album career. What many may not know is that Bill Cosby has a great routinue about sermon content (he probably doesn't even know it!).

It is a routinue that almost perfectly expresses my concern as regards sermons in the modern church. It is the skit about chocolate cake for breakfast, and it goes something like this:

Dad, (Bill Cosby), is assigned the task of preparing breakfast for his children. Well, he knows just enough to be dangerous, i.e. the basic ingredients of what composes a proper breakfast. So, he thinks through the contents of chocolate cake (of which the family has some sitting on the counter), "hmm, eggs, butter, flour... that is basically breakfast food"... So, he proceeds to cut his children large slices of cake which they happily devour, all the while singing this little ditty: "Dad is great, he gave us chocolate cake".... All is blissful until Mrs. Cosby shows up, and well... you know the rest of the story, it isn't good for Bill!

Well, how does this relate to the current spate of soft-soap sermon material that is saturating the church; i.e. sermons devoid of anything resembling the gospel in it's fullness? Well, let's see if I can pull this together --

Bill a.k.a. Dad, is the hapless pastor who knows just enough to be dangerous. He knows the basics, i.e. Eggs=Jesus; Butter=Loves; Flour=You. This he mixes together with cocoa powder=secular and/or pop psychology; and sugar=feel-good, happy messages, and creates what he assumes is a healthy and wholesome breakfast. And of course, the children, a.k.a., the congregation sits around singing his accolades: "Pastor X is great, he gives us chocolate cake!"

All is happy until Mrs. Cosby a.k.a. someone with a clue about the actual gospel message, shows up and disapproves.

What was missing from Bill's breakfast? Didn't it contain some of the correct materials necessary for a healthy breakfast? Yes, it did, but mixed with the wrong ingredients, and dished up in incorrect portions, it becomes an unhealthy meal that will only make obese and toothless children.

What needs to be done? Well, first, DON'T mix the good ingredients in with unhealthy ingredients. Second, put together a COMPLETE breakfast; i.e. with the eggs, butter, and flour, let's add toast=we are children of wrath, and a nice healthy sliced tomato=the Spirit makes us NEW CREATIONS, and all of the makings of a proper breakfast. As with all analogies, this is not perfect, but it does describe the fact that many sermons contain a lot of Jesus loves you, but very little of the other aspects of the gospel, such as atonement, the fact that we are children of wrath, that we are to become new creations and turn from the old ways.

What I have seen is that the pastors preach JUST ENOUGH knowledge of the gospel to produce chocolate cake, but there are fewer who can put together a wholesome meal!

Thanks for humoring me; I had this in my head and wanted to put it down. I am sure that it is missing components, and needs work, but I feel better now that it is down in a post...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hello

No, I have not quit posting, just quite busy right now.

However, I wanted to say that I am contemplating a post on youth, along the lines of the elders post. I think that there are some things in the youth group movement that need to be addressed.

BTW, I have worked with youth for fifteen years, and while that does not make me an expert, (can anyone be an expert on youth?), I have watched the youth movement change over the years and much of what I have seen has not been for the better.

The youth groups of today tend to be more self-absorbed, and superficial than when I first began working with youth. While I do not want to get deep into this right now, I wanted to at least provide a framework for the upcoming post.

I want to close this post with a statement -- I have a lot more faith in youth themselves than in the youth leaders, and the materials they produce (which, by and large, stink).

Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Elders Part Deux

For those that stop by this outpost in the blogsphere, I apologize for being gone for a while. I had a number of things going on, and it was quite busy around here; I didn't even return phone calls. However, my 2006 is finally off and running, and I have some time to post again!

In my last post I touched upon elders and government within the church. I wanted to examine elders in a different light this time. The elders to which I turn my attention are also called: senior citizens, older adults, etc. In other words, the elders in this case are those within our body who have a few years under their belt.

I have been led to write this because I see a disturbing trend within the church. There is a propensity in the modern and 'relevant' church era, to discard or sideline our elder statesmen and women. Whenever I go to a 'hip' church, either via website or actual visit, I notice a definitive lack of age and maturity within the church. I am not necessarily talking about the well-known, and well-dissected megachurches out there; these have been meticulously gone over with a fine-tooth comb by every critic in the world.

No, I am talking about the average church 'down the street', be it AG, Baptist, Presbyterian, whatever the flavor. Here is how it often goes:

Pastor -- "We are going to be relevant to our community"

Translation -- "We are going to throw out everything that smacks of church"

Pastor -- "We are going to bring in the lost"

Translation -- "All those silly things like our tradition, our songs, our sermons, anything that offends the lost, must go"

And on it goes, until the people who kept the church alive and going for many years are so alienated that they finally drift off; either to another church, or they simply stay at home. I am NOT saying that we should continue singing hymns accompanied ONLY by Ethel the pipe organist, and her sister Mabel on piano. Nor am I saying that EVERY tradition is good; some should be done away with. And you ARE going to alienate some within the church anytime you monkey with the mechanisms. However, what I find disturbing is that many churches seem to go out of their way to alienate the older Christians in their mix, throwing out EVERYTHING without any discerning look at what is good and what is simply a hindrance.

What a loss to a church when their elders leave! Some are cranky and a pain, but so are some of the young and hip (actually I have found the young and hip to be much more narcissistic than the older folks). What do we lose? Well, how about someone who has persevered through many years of pain and loss? How many of our elders have suffered through the loss of a spouse, or even a child? How many have suffered through the loss of a parent? And how many have walked faithfully with the Lord for decades?

Young, hip pastors could learn a lot from their elders! When tragedy comes along within the church, wouldn't it be nice to have someone who has lived through the situation to assist us, and/or give perspective? We are FAR too enamored with youth to be of much good when it comes to situations such as "How to cope with THE diagnosis", or "How to survive the loss of a loved one", or "What do we do when we are SO lonely; who do we turn to?". The church seems to be infected with the American disease of "Everybody is beautiful; and those that aren't need to be discarded". Take a look at some churches, it seems everyone that comes to the church is young, beautiful and vibrant -- where are those who have faithfully served the church for 30 years, 40 years, more? We are far more shallow, and superficial without our elder brothers and sisters.

I tell you, I have always found the older Christians to be of great comfort to me when life-defining situations come up. They have been there, and been through it. They bring perspective, love, concern and honesty to situations. Unfortunately, we have far too few in our congregation; I fear we are too non-traditional. That is not something we aspire to, it is simply how we are.

Even pastors have been infected with this young disease; I have seen older, more seasoned, pastors cast aside in favor of the 'cutting edge' pastor. And that selfsame cutting edge pastor, quite frankly, ignoring the sage advice of his predecessor. What a tragedy; we could avoid a lot of mistakes if we would simply heed the advice of great men that have gone before us. And now, the church is divided into so many parts that even if you have elders in your church, you send them to 'Seniors' church, and send your children to 'Children's' church, therefore ensuring that the older and younger never meet!

It is time for us, pastors and leaders within the church, to reach out to our older members. Let them know that not only do they matter, but they have something to contribute, and we value their perspective on life.

We have a wonderful lady at our church, she is 70+ and puts many of the younger people to shame wioth her energy. She NEVER forgets anyone; sending goodies, flowers, or a card to people when they are having a hard time, or to congratulate them. We have placed her in charge of our hospitality ministry; she has a lot to teach me, and the others within our church! I am so grateful that the Lord saw fit to place her within our midst.

How can we reach out to our elders? Well, as I said, we do not have to continue to do things the way we have always done them, but how about we use some discernment when picking and choosing our direction; not everything that the church has done for hundreds of years is wrong! how about giving them some responsibility at church, and not sidelining them to the nether regions of the sanctuary?

Here are some (not exhaustive by any means) things we can do:

1. Don't throw out the great hymns that have carried the Church for many a year! -- If you want to have a bit more of a contemporary sound, then redo the hymns in a more modern approach -- NOT in a way that they are unrecognizable! Simply more updated. Also, pick GOOD hymns -- just because something is a hymn, does not automatically make it good! You can mix modern worship in with hymns, but it seems, all too often, that we are more concerned with how 'rockin' the worship is rather than what it says! Mix it up!

2. Maintain GOOD traditions -- We are iconoclastic in our approach to traditions; throwing everything out without making a judgment call on what is good. I don't care if the younger people don't understand what an invocation or a benediction is -- maybe they should learn. I close with the Aaronic Blessing every week, and one week I missed it. One of our older Christians approached me immediately after the service and told me that the Blessing meant so much to her, and she was concerned that I had thrown it out! I have not missed since!!

3. Don't isolate the Seniors -- Don't give them their own little church so they don't have to mix with the 'others'. It allows pastors to be lazy and only preach to those that they want to, and it brings up walls between the age groups. We younger folks NEED the older folks as much as they need us. Bring them in and make them a part of the body, not an appendage that is only called upon for bake sales (which no one does anymore anyway!).

4. Put seniors in an advisory role -- Why is it that pastors seem to think that they don't need older, wiser, advice? We should consult our elders; they have often been there, done that, and may know something that we have not considered!

There are many other ways to bring the age and wisdom back into our churches. Far too many churches look as if they are run by self-centered adolescents who are now 'getting back' at their parents for making them sit through dull sermons all their life.

BTW -- if you are a senior -- don't blame everything on the pastor. I have seen some who will not mix in with the church and want to be catered to: to the exclusion of everyone else in the church! Also, speak up, a pastor does not read minds -- if something bothers you, say something to the leadership. If you have suggestions, or see the church heading for a train wreck, don't just sit and smugly smile. The elders must make an effort to be part of the church as well....

Let me leave a couple of Scriptures with you: both for the senior and for the younger. Also, do not forget that Moses was 80 before the Lord called him into ministry, and his brother Aaron was even older! --

Psalm 71:17,18: O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.


Leviticus 19:32: You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.


Proverbs 22:23: Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.

1st Timothy 5:1,2: Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.

Titus 2:2,3: Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Elders

I am posting this because of a conversation I recently had concerning elders. I was talking with some folks in a denomination (that denies it is a denomination) that has an ecclesiastical model built around the fact that the pastor is the ruling authority with elders 'reporting' to him.

This group argues (rightly so, in my opinion) against many of the ecclesiastical structures that are in the church, and they make the statement that they have formed their structure in order to prevent the pastor from becoming a 'hireling'.

While, I agree with some of their argumentation, I feel that they have swung the pendulum too far the other way by making the pastor the RULER of the church in which he pastors. Don't misunderstand me; I believe that a pastor is responsible for, and in charge of, caring for the flock. I think my concern is that in the model we are discussing there is far too much RULING in the position.

I am not simply an outside observer either: I came out of one of these churches and it was abused by the pastor, largely because he was the ruler. I was the associate pastor, and my ability to influence and/or change the direction he was heading in was minimal. He also had another elder, who was/is a very Godly, and sincere man. He likewise was stymied in his attempt to 'assist' the pastor in any way.

And since leaving that denomination I have spoken with many others who have had a similar experience to mine. There are many good pastors within this denomination, but the overall structure is (IMHO) unsound. To compound this, the group also has somewhat of a cult of personality regarding the founder, also a dangerous trait.

When planting our current church we (the other elder and I) spent a great deal of time prayerfully going over the government that the church would be guided under. What I am about to write is no news to anyone, but I just want to state it: We opted to go with a plurality of leadership. We found this to be true to the Bible, and we have found over the years that this has prevented me from wandering off into hobby horse theology. My elder firmly, but lovingly, has guided and helped me, and I would like to think that I have done the same for him.

When I say "MY" elder, I sound a bit pretentious, as if I am the ruler, and he is 'my' assistant. I would like to say that this is not the case, I may use that term, but truly we are BOTH elders, I am simply the elder with the pastoral role. When people in our congregation have issues, they feel as comfortable going to him as they do to me, and this keeps a good balance within the authority of the church.

Also, he sharpens me constantly, challenging me,(in a very positive way, and Christian way), and helping me to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. I fear that the RULING position of pastor would cause me to get lazy in my growth. I know that many good men are pastors in churches where they have a different structure, and they are simply better men than I am; I know my weaknesses and am sure that without the challenge of a great elder, I would become complacent about some things that need attention. That is not false humility, but, I fear, a sober assessment of my state!

Anyway, I just wanted to put this up on the blog to make a statement about where I feel government within the church should be. I am sure that many may disagree, and that I may have missed some finer points of the methodology of the aforementioned group, but I have found a plurality of leadership has been very good for our church.