Breaking the Vicious Cycle
Part 1: The Problem
I write this with a heavy heart. Because for much of my Christian life I’ve watched a myriad of excesses and abuses in the Body of Christ that I’m sure break the heart of our Father. And the pathologies seem endless.
I begin by affirming several things. God is God. He is on the throne where He has always been. Jesus is building His Church, irrespective of the foolishness we mistakenly engage in under His name. The truth of God is eternal. What God proclaims in His word is timeless. It doesn’t change with the culture or when religious people will it so.
If you’ve followed this blog you know we’ve been on quite a journey over the past 2 years, especially over the last 9 months.
We began by leaving a church planting ministry we were a part of for 15 years. In the latter days of our time there we realized the calling of the Lord upon us (and others) could no longer stay within the confines of this wineskin. For the most part this ministry was doctrinally sound. The problem was, there was a general contentment in “thinking correctly”. In general, the church never moved into “faith that works in love”. What seemed to prevail was a self-righteous sense of theological superiority and snobbery. Faith without works is dead.
2 years ago we were encouraged by the vision of another church planting ministry. There was a great sense of promise and anticipation as we began meeting in our home. But along the way, while this ministry spoke a different language, of mutuality and mission, of a Biblical church resembling a circle rather than a corporate pyramid, the same “religious governmental” control and honoring of men ultimately poisoned the waters. Our Lord made it clear to us: God’s people must not exercise authority over each other. We quickly found the exit and never looked back. In fact, anyone who hears the words “submit to my authority” or “our authority” in its many forms should prayerfully consider finding the exit door, or create one!
All the way back to my conversion as a teen, I have longed to see the church restored. Last summer I realized my vision of restoration was corrupted by roughly 1800 years of human tradition. Simply “cleansing” what is will not do. The entire way we “do church” is based on a flawed and perverted religious caste system that separates people into two groups: leadership and “laity”. Most of us have known this chasm is unbiblical. The problem is we’ve been too lazy to learn where it started, and too cowardly to tear down the golden calf.
The church Jesus is building is In Him, through Him, for Him and all about Him. He will not share His glory. There’s no room for “star” preachers or musicians. Ephesians 4 leadership is about function, not position or governance. These leaders function “among the people”, not above them. And the church Jesus is building is a 24/7 family. It doesn’t revolve around meetings, but around relating to the Lord daily, not in an individualized, personalized introverted way. Which means relating to other members of His family is a daily lifestyle. We are knit together in Him in love. The strength of the early church was its “house to house” relating to each other around Jesus throughout the week. True leaders model this by opening up their homes and lives, not by standing behind a pulpit and preaching at people, then retreating to an office to minister by appointment only.
Leadership is also exemplified by mutuality. New Testament leaders know they need the ministry of the body just as much as the body needs theirs. Too many “pastors” believe they have so much to offer, yet they are uninterested in receiving input and correction. This is mainly because of the broken “Roman” paradigm that exalts leaders above others.
This false “church” system is driven by human power and control. Leaders make their showing in the flesh with boasts of “attendance” and “offerings”. The best of “servant” leaders inadvertently obscure the view of Christ as the Head of His Church. “Members” are more conscious of their pastors than the rule and reign of the risen Lord. In the worst of scenarios, cult like control is exerted over the flock, producing homogenized religious robots that practice their brand of mandated lifestyle legalism. Women are reduced to wallflowers, or even property. An outward religious conformity is enforced while inward purity of the Spirit is neglected. The other casualty is freedom. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. Based on this truth alone, the Spirit is clearly grieved by much of what we are doing. Because “holding the Head” isn’t the priority, people are devoted to a brand, a denomination, a man, or even a group of men instead of Jesus. And stupefied “believers” are unable to see themselves anywhere but “under” the ministry of Reverend so and so or this church or ministry. People outside it are viewed with suspicion.
Soon after we left the first church planting ministry, we noticed several blogs that popped up months before, to reveal abuses previously concealed under the veil of “loyalty” and “honoring leadership”. While I wish these sites were unnecessary, I understand that they were posted as a last resort. And while every story posted isn’t gospel truth, most of the time we can be sure that where there is smoke, there is fire. And you can always count on religious tyrants to decry “gossip and slander”, though many of these same leaders do the same as they share personal information on those in their care among themselves under the false banner of “pastoral covering”.
As for the big picture, the Church the Lord is building is based more on geography than on brands or other labels. The Father wants the glory of the Son to shine in His people, so people Citywide can see Jesus. Our cities need Jesus. Our neighborhoods need Jesus. They won’t see Him in all His glory and splendor through us if our true devotion is to “our church” or “our pastor”. Our expression of what we call church must not overshadow His. The false boundaries we’ve created through a myriad of “congregations” separates family in a way that flies in the face of Jesus’ prayer that we would be “one”.
So I’ve thoroughly excoriated leaders. Now let’s talk about the so-called laity. Let me first say the Lord has always given me a soft spot for His people and a godly jealousy to see His people “espoused to one husband”, Christ. I am outraged to see leaders abuse and exploit God’s people, and I’m sure that will never change. And I continue to believe they bear most of the responsibility for where we are. Having said that, after nearly a year of detox from the institutional church, I’m ready to unload on non-leaders.
Problem #1 is this: most so-called church members do not KNOW God. (The same might also be said about leaders). Sometimes they aren’t even born again, so they’re looking to find spiritual nourishment and affirmation vicariously through “holy men” as if listening to sermons will make them spiritual.
And among those who are born again, too many have unwittingly transferred some (and in some cases most if not all) of their devotion to leaders rather than to God. God will speak if we will only listen. But it is all too easy to tune our ear to the men standing above us on Sunday morning and the star preachers who cover this or that truth or theological insight. The Spirit that bears witness with our spirit is drowned out by the voices of men. As a result we become increasingly powerless, bearing less and less resemblance to the Church that turned the world upside down in the first century. These were clearly not people who needed step by step directions from their pastors to walk in faith to preach and live Jesus. The aspiration was to be “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”. These were not merely “good” people. These were men and women pushed out by the Spirit to fearlessly take Jesus to the world. They had no concept of inviting people to come and hear their preacher so they could sign a card and get dunked. The fragrance of Jesus filled the air. The world saw Jesus in His people! They didn’t just carry a message… they were a message. So the church is at its best when people are able to see Jesus through His body… not just hear sermons from its leaders.
What we’ve lost is the practical evidence of the “priesthood of believers”. We are all priests. We are brothers and sisters. No one is above us but Jesus. And to bow our knee in the church to anyone under the banner of Christianity is nothing less than idolatry.
I abhor the abuses of leaders through legalism and lording over the flock. But if we clearly read and accept our position in Christ as the scriptures proclaim, we will NEVER give any man the power to abuse us in this way. The abuse of manipulating people for money will end. Walking in fear of what pastor so and so will say or think will evaporate. Jesus is THE authority and we are all subject to Him, and because His authority is working in us, we also submit to Him through others as truth is revealed. But ultimately the submission is to the Lord, not to a person. Anyone who teaches, preaches, or demands otherwise is subverting the authority of God, cutting you off from the Head. If you’ve ceded this authority to a man, or a group of men, go to the Lord now and repent! If you are one who is demanding or expecting this from people, you need to repent before God, then go and repent of your error before the people you’ve entangled in bondage and ask their forgiveness.
The “Roman” captivity of the church, whether it’s passively produced by Sunday morning performance driven meetings, or controlling people’s lives, only succeeds when you and I don’t know the truth. If we are too lazy to seek the Lord on our own and spend merely token time in His word we get what we deserve.
Sadly I’ve also seen very fresh examples of lording over the flock in the organic church movement. Getting rid of “Roman” captivity is a futile pursuit if we run right into the arms of another form of religious autocracy. A pyramid is a pyramid, whether the church meets in a building or in a home. If any human is controlling your life and not Jesus, it is not only dangerous, it is also idolatry, a grievous sin against God and you must put an end to it.
I see many parallels between the Church and America. Our government is supposed to be “of, by and for the people”. But it depends on “an informed electorate”. If we are too lazy to read the constitution and we fail to demand that those we elect, submit to it, we get what we deserve. The brand of “public servants” we get will continue to be those who simply serve themselves in public. The same is true of the Church. If we continue to passively submit to people who usurp the authority of Jesus and the Word, they will take more and more power over us and use us to advance their “ministry”, rather than equip us for the work of ministry. It is that simple.
I believe the Lord is putting the ax to the root of our church system. He wants to be Lord of His own church, not simply a figurehead while the “real” human leader runs the show. All too often people quote Revelation 3 as an appeal from a sad, pathetic Jesus, knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart, begging him to let him in. The truth is Jesus is knocking on the door of what is purported to be His church, trying to get in. It could be that our “gospel preaching” and “praise and worship” is too loud to hear the knock.
Coming your way soon… the Better Way. How we break this ugly cycle and see Jesus glorified in His Church. Parts 2 and 3 are just around the corner.