Friday, December 30, 2011

A Blueprint to Fulfill Jesus' Unity Prayer

I first heard Mark Setch present this 2 years ago here in Charlotte. Today, at the end of 2011 I present this to the Body of Christ in this region to prayerfully consider what is in these pages. My hope is that the Lord will use it to speak to your heart so we may walk together in unity as never before.

From Church World to the Fullness of Jesus in the World - Mark Setch

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

SGM Chronicles: Family of Churches or Corporation of Pastoral Plantations?

Before we can appropriately respond to a situation, we first have to define the problem. Before a doctor can determine treatment, he has to properly diagnose the medical issue. Likewise, before an organization can recover from a myriad of issues, it has to first determine the root issue. Ironically, the church that taught us so much about discerning root issues seems unable to unearth its own. And sadly this blindness begins at the top.

When we left our SGM church in January, 2008, we were drawn to what we believed to be more evidence of life in Jesus in another church planting ministry. As I referenced before, this proved to be another dead end, as we found the same “lording over” behavior, which ultimately choked out the life of Christ. In fact, several of us who were part of that “church plant” discussed this recently. All of us agreed that the Lord was genuinely doing something special among us early on. I would contend that things took a turn downhill as certain individuals insisted on asserting “their authority”.

As I stated in previous installments in this series, I was impressed by what I thought were biblical expressions of Ephesians 4 ministry (though prophets were missing). I now believe what I have seen are perversions of apostolic expression. So if you combine this with a lack of prophetic presence, what does it leave you with? The answer is troubling. It ranges from an imbalanced ministry, to a crude business model with “Christian” flavoring.

I recently enjoyed a great teaching on “The Spirit Filled Church”. The message was great, but as our experience bears out, what good does it do for the Spirit to fill the church, if those who claim to be leaders assume a position of lordship over it and prevent the Spirit’s expression in every member? It is clear to me that “jars of clay” with a leadership label, have become the center of attention rather than the treasure that is allegedly in those jars. And there’s a profound lack of interest in the treasure the Lord puts in most of the jars… the ones without the leadership label.

In the fall of 2009, still reeling from the ill fated church plant, I attended a conference hosted by Don Atkin here in Charlotte. At this time I had only known Don for a few weeks. But it was already clear to me that when it came to apostolic expression, he was the real deal. The evidence was in his investment in the lives of many people… people now serving all over the world… people he poured his life into, and then released. The release part is a key piece of evidence, because no true apostle will ever want to see anyone eternally dependent on him.

How is this for a long title?

I will share with you some of my notes from that presentation. I think you will begin to see how the lights came on for me:

“Don began by defining ministry: it is a supply of Christ to the body. Then he addressed our ministry challenges here in the 21st century. As many of us have discovered the need to go beyond Pastor-Teacher leadership, a rediscovery of apostolic ministry is emerging. But Don warned of the danger of putting an apostolic layer over an existing religious structure. He says this is an exercise in futility. There must be a rooting out first of everything that’s not about Jesus. (this is largely a prophetic function) Then apostles and prophets can build upon a foundation of Him and Him alone.

One of our big challenges is the fact that George Barna estimates 4 out of 5 adults in America could be labeled “Casual Christians”. These are people who display no real difference in their lives from unbelievers. In other words, their profession of Christianity is false. Only about 16% fall under the label of “Captive Christians”. These are people who, like Paul, consider themselves voluntary “slaves” to Christ. They are captive to the heart and mind of God.

And complicating matters is the fact that most of the 16% who are truly followers of Christ are still in institutional churches, and are therefore not able to fully function as God intended.

So in our effort to restore the church, many of us are looking to apostles to help set things in order. But tragically, some of those who profess to be apostles are false apostles. This can be difficult to discern because much of the time false apostles are genuine believers. But Don gave us some helpful insights to make sure those we look to for apostolic leadership are truly apostolic.

Don Atkin put professing apostles into 2 categories: those in the spirit of Ishmael, and those in the spirit of Isaac. This of course is based on the sons of Abraham. Isaac fulfilled the promise, but before his arrival, Ishmael was the product of Sarah attempting to “help” God out. He came first. So very often, before something is truly birthed of God, Ishmael shows up, masquerading as God’s apostolic answer.

So what does the Ishmael apostle look like? Abraham’s first son set a sour tone for sonship. So, in like manner, apostles in this lineage are the source of conflicts. Isaac, on the other hand is a source of peace. Order and peace are fruits of the Spirit. Ishamel had some godly roots, but he produced more of the spirit of Egypt than of Abraham’s God.
Here are key distinctions between true and false apostles, or those of Isaac and those of Ishmael:

Life Flow
Ishmael: life flows from their followers up to them. They are on a platform and everyone looks up to them, and they’re often more affluent than those who they are ostensibly serving

Isaac: apostles are often impoverished. They speak little about money. Paul laid down his life and made tents. Life flows from them, not to them. They lead a love revolution
True apostolic fathers wash the feet of the “sons” they disciple. Those of Ishmael train these “sons” to wash theirs.

Elder Statesmen not merely Fathers
Fathers can be tribal and more subject to competition and jostling for position with other fathers and tribes. Statesmen deal with issues that transcend tribes. They do not subscribe to tribal mentalities that are parochial. They also do not come to seek something for themselves, but seek a kingdom agenda

Cross pollination rather than control
Those of Ishmael seek to control. Those of Isaac promote cross pollination across tribes. They tolerate “messy” growth without smothering with supervision

Legitimize Ideas not people
Those of Ishmael sell legitimacy like priests used to sell indulgences. These apostles legitimate people. They promote a code of brotherhood similar to the KKK or the Mafia in return for loyalty. They are also impervious to accusations. Those of Isaac legitimize ideas. Regular believers are released to do the cutting edge work.

Impact rather than impart
Ishmael apostles pose as purveyors of the power of God. They do all the praying, prophesying, etc to impart something to the people. The rank and file believers are treated as if they have a “junior holy spirit”. Those of Isaac help to unpack what God has already put within His people

Equip instead of inform
Ishmael apostles believe they have to tell the flock everything they need to know, stunting true spiritual growth. Those of Isaac give people multiple resources and keep responsibility for their lives in their own hands where it should be.

Being rather than doing
Ishamel types have to be in charge and active in everything in the church to validate their apostolic positions. They use language to stir the flesh into action.

Isaac apostles promote a goal of displacement. Their desire is to reproduce themselves so the body is not always dependent on them. They walk in the blessing of presence. When an apostle is in the house, his gifting rises, no matter where he sits. Gifts are released in people he’s around. Peace is also released. True apostles carry the presence of God and blessing everywhere they go.

Summing up, Don challenged us to do 5 things:
1. Don’t be distracted by what’s false. God will deal with those issues in His time. We have to remain redemptive in our perspective
2. Recognize that some who have the heart of a son may have only been exposed to systems of slavery
3. There will be a continual need to heal the casualties of false apostles. But this is best done in private and with as little drama as possible. This is where we must be statesmen and diplomats.
4. “Isaacs” are raised up by God, not by men
5. Through wisdom, a house is built. Paul was committed to knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. At the heart of a true apostle is SERVANTHOOD. Biblical authority is held lightly, exercised faithfully, expressed relationally, and followed willingly."

After reading this, doesn’t it explain a lot about what you currently see within SGM? I would observe that those who claim to be “apostles” are really little more than teachers acting as “regional superintendents”… men who make sure the “company line” is followed and the “ministry” brand is protected. Then individual “churches” become little more than “pastoral plantations”, where people are compelled to “serve the vision” of the appointed leader(s). And sadly that service rarely leaves the building. Much of the so called “church ministry” is geared toward keeping the organization functioning, so there’s very little real evangelism or mission.

I am personally aware of a number of very restless men at an SGM church who are very anxious to get on with the mission of the gospel. Sadly, they’re waiting for some sort of “training” or “knighting” process that for some may never come. The result is they languish, week after week, sitting under the teaching of men who are frankly spiritually and relationally broken and dysfunctional. They have no idea their fellowship with the Father and maturity transcends that of their “leaders”.

And in the midst of the current turmoil within SGM, the leadership would do well to consider (as I suggested in “Where Are the Prophets?) that the wisdom to resolve their current issues is likely available to them through “regular” people in their congregations. The tragedy is the leadership has such a low view of “rank and file” believers that this is highly unlikely. The leaders would do well to consider the example of Paul. In Romans 1, he described his eagerness to see his spiritual family:

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.
(Romans 1:11-13 ESV)

Paul was eager to impart a spiritual gift. But notice what else he expected: mutual encouragement by each other’s faith. He’s saying “I have something for you, and I also know you have something for me.” Paul knew how to receive the “treasure” from his brothers. He was not a “know it all” leader. He knew he had a part of the manifestation of Christ, not all of it. The rest was in the rest of the body. If only today’s vaunted “spiritual” leaders would learn this. Also notice how he refers to them as brothers. This is not by any means a subservient relationship they have with him. Paul didn’t send this letter to the leaders of the church in Rome. It went to the whole family and he addresses them as family members with equal standing.

And there’s more we can learn on this from Jesus:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

(John 13:1-17 ESV)

Most of the sermons I’ve heard on this tend to focus on us washing the feet of others. This has been followed up by foot washing services by some groups as a regular practice. I don’t believe the Lord was establishing a “church ordinance” here. And the angle of us washing the feet of others is good. But we need to take a close look at Peter. He initially resisted, until the Lord made it clear that he couldn’t have any share with him. Once Peter got it, he went overboard, suggesting that Jesus completely wash his body. This was unnecessary. The point is Peter had to be willing to receive the “cleansing hand” of Jesus. I think this is where many of us miss it, especially leaders. We think we belong on the washing end all the time, when the truth is, it is just as important (and sometimes more essential) that we are on the receiving end. Are we willing to let anyone in the body wash our feet, whether they are in “leadership” or not? Very often, we want to pick and choose who we believe is worthy to wash our feet. In the Kingdom of God, that’s not how it works. We submit to His authority, no matter who it comes from.

Notice also where Jesus promises blessing: is it from teaching this?, or from boasting about how well taught we are from our SGM pastor on it? No, the blessing comes from doing, and anyone who claims to be a leader should demonstrate the ability to wash… and also be washed by others. You can’t lead if you haven’t learned how to follow Jesus.

There’s also an account the Lord has stirred in my heart in recent weeks, about the coming of Jesus.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
(Isaiah 11:6-9 ESV)

Why does this fascinate me? Because I’m beginning to understand Jesus’ kingdom authority. Wherever He reigns, there is peace and divine order. This isn’t just about animals getting along when one would previously see the other as a meal, or even about children being able to lead them or play in the presence of serpents. It is a picture of Jesus’ kingdom authority. Wherever He reigns, there is peace and divine order. Everyone and everything must bow. Listen church, today the Lord called us out of darkness to offer a preview of the culmination of the new creation. This is ultimately not about “church”, it is about Jesus and His kingdom. If the posture of our hearts is truly under Jesus’ authority, we will receive Him no matter how he presents himself: not just from leaders, but each other, our children. And the truth is the top down hierarchal approach is NEVER the way Jesus worked. Understanding this will forever change our posture toward one another, especially for those who think there’s a place “on top” in the Kingdom of God, whether for ourselves or others. This carnality has to go. Leaders need to stop behaving as if they are lords, and people need to stop allowing them to behave that way.

Two Paths: Repentance or Reconciliation

It was CJ Mahaney who preached a message on the fact that our hearts can be “Idol Factories”. I would suggest SGM has embedded idolatry into the very fabric of the organization. (Frankly, most expressions of “church” do the same thing.) I will identify those specific areas of idolatry I can attest to:

The local church: this idea is nowhere expressed in scripture. The only thing that comes close are references to churches by city. The idea of multiple “churches” in one city is foreign to the New Testament. This also raises the question of why anyone would do a “church plant” in a city where genuine Christians are already present. This again exposes the fact that we are most concerned that our brand is represented. In truth, we’re only contributing to the disunity and religious balkanization of that city.

When we left our SGM church, the “senior pastor” belittled our involvement with a “church plant” and boasted that “we know how to plant churches”. This is far from anything to brag about. The truth is this organization knows how to identify upper income communities that line up with their business model. (I talked to several SGM leaders who confirmed they are more “equipped” to plant in middle and upper class neighborhoods.) Bottom line, what we’re talking about here with church plants is ‘hay, wood, and stubble.” We need to repent for causing divisions that put “our group” above the “one man” of the body described in scripture.

Leadership: everything in the church revolves around leaders. In the “local church” it is the preaching/teaching ministry, and all of the ministries in the church revolve around his/theirs. In true kingdom expression, they revolve around Jesus, and leaders function as brothers, not overlords or supervisors. We need to repent of our loyalty of any devotion to leaders that puts us at variance with other believers. And leaders who demand exclusive loyalty and devotion to you, your church, your ministry, etc, shame on you!.

Reformed theology/sound doctrine: Paul knew nothing among the people but Jesus and him crucified. SGM promotes an elitist perspective that they know more than most in the evangelical world. Members boast that they are so “well taught”. But to what end? Information is a far cry from incarnation and illumination. If we are simply hearers and not doers, who cares how much we know? This is a formula for pride and self deception.

I remember when SGM’s top leaders started a conference with other top leaders in the reformed movement in America. One SGM leader stood in the pulpit on a Sunday morning and showed off a picture of the SGM leadership with these other “big names”. In hindsight it is now obvious what this was about: “We’ve arrived!” And why? Because we are DOING what God has called us to do? No, because we’re in with the “big names”. This is nothing but pride of life, and that is incompatible with the love of God. This carnality was not even hidden. Sadly I’m not sure the blatant carnality of this was recognized at the time. (I must confess I didn’t)

We need to repent of our sense of superiority for “having the right doctrine” and manifesting that by our disconnection with the rest of the body. Leaders who have encouraged this ethos need to repent. (for those outside SGM there may be other theological litmus tests we use to judge others)

At this time of crisis, Jesus stands at the door and knocks. But He will not simply come in to allow us to give Him lip service. He is Lord, so if the leadership of SGM and its member churches truly want Jesus, opening this door means one thing: giving Him His rightful place on the throne. This means well meaning men who have occupied that place in people’s lives will have to step off. Unless and until that happens, this “ministry” will only continue its unfortunate pattern of “deceiving and being deceived”. I pray that brave men will choose the King of Kings over paychecks and the pats on the back from religious fraternity brothers . Otherwise I pray the Lord will continue to open the eyes of people “under” them. Sadly, some of these men may not get it until they find themselves preaching to each other in empty sanctuaries.

Friday, December 16, 2011

“Seek and You Shall Find” Beckoning the Seeker to Seek

Greg Austin

More than a few forecasters of the direction of the immediate future of the church are anticipating its certain and summary death and burial. Others believe that the church has long since become irrelevant to the majority of humanity, (and here, I might find closest agreement with the critics of current ecclesia). Still others see neither the need or the prospect of any change whatsoever. To these, like the generation Jesus spoke of, “all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

While multitudes are curtailing their association with the institution of religion, many are content to huddle in their spiritual enclaves with either a stubborn or a naïve perception that “we’re ok, you’re ok.” So long as the band plays, as long as the lights shine and the money rolls in, Heaven is happy and we’re ecstatic, too.

Never mind the masses looking for and finding the exit doors of our sanctuaries with increasing frequency. Never mind the alarming downward spiral of church attendance and missionary participation and yes, the accompanying plunge of monetary income lining the pockets of institutional religion.

Never mind as well the more than alarming departure of preachers from the pulpit and the growing prevelance of familial dysfunction within the ranks of the remaining clergy: Apparently those leaving our organized religious experience just don’t get it. It’s all about a musical sound that pleases the ear, preaching (well, perhaps not preaching, we don’t want or need much of that – perhaps teaching, sharing, conversing fits us better) that salves the conscience and café esspresso instead of comittment and an expression of Jesus’ life.

Nor are increasing numbers of adherents the critical signet of success.

Like so much of life, there is a grain of truth in all of these diverse opinions and beliefs. One thing is certain whether it is realized or not: The church of Jesus is embarked on an undeniable course of change so radical that even the very word "church" has taken on new meanings and definitions.

In his book The Second Coming of the Church, respected pollster and author George Barna states "Today's Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid-21st century. (Italics mine). Dr. Mark Hanby declares in The House That God Built, "The Christian drowning in a flood of human ideas and programs to bring 'God's dreams' to pass." Mike Regele writes in Death of the Church "The Church has a choice: to die as a result of its resistance to change or to die in order to live." Dr. C. Peter Wagner's book Churchquake, a treatise on radical Church Change has raised the ire of many traditionalists whose attitude about the Church is encompassed in the current slang expression: "it's all good."

God loves the church, guides the church and is in the process not only of restoring the church to a place of spiritual power and significance, but God has issued the command for a "course-correction" in the direction of the church so drastic that it is nothing short of a revolution of structure.

The days of Reformation, so sacrosanct, so revered and so essential to existent and prevailing church structure, are finished, concluded, over. God is the Architect and the Engineer of true, spiritual revolution. The New Creation species – those who have experienced genuine, spiritual rebirth are engaged in, caught up by a revolution that will result in the re-establishing of the true, New Testament, New Creation church; the church Jesus promised He (and no other) would build.

This church must, by its nature be filled with God, Himself. And being filled with and by the God of creation, it also will be a church filled with power and significance and efficacy; the embodiment of the true glory of God Himself. This may sound, to the religiously-contended ear like a reckless-sounding statement. Yet I assure the reader it is a proper, measured and fully-considered assertion.

Virtually every study that has examined the growth/decline patterns of traditional, Christian churches in America and in Europe corroborate the veracity of my brash-sounding appraisal. Yet I don’t need to appeal to the data-gatherers: The reader knows it by experience or by simple observation.

The modern-traditional-church-system has strayed severely from the course Jesus set for His followers.

Instead of "going" we have gathered in our comfort zones of doctrinal, ethnic and social sameness. Instead of distributing we have hoarded. Instead of "whosoever will," the church has become possessively "our church;" "our program;" "our doctrine;" "our faith" to the exclusion of outsiders, anyone but “us.”

Through the first decade of the 21st Century, Western Christianity has degenerated into a culture of "give me" and "feed me" and "entertain me" and "serve me" since we believe, “it’s all about me,” instead of advancing a culture of "reach them" and "feed them" and "serve them."

We "rate" the worship experience, the sermon, the teaching, the prophecy, the coffee, the children's program, the architectural structure, the carpet and the paint and the restroom decor. We choose our places of worship based on carnal, earthly criteria and so we miss heavenly atmospheres and divine architecture.

We chase success and disregard crushed and wounded souls. We use the gospel for self-improvement for our families, self-attainment for our businesses, and selfish growth of our financial portfolios instead of letting the gospel use us to demonstrate good news to dying men.

We applaud and deify charismatic leaders when their slick theatrics wow us and we stone them when God's truth through them wounds us.

Much of the contemporary church of the West is a sick Body. Like Samson, shorn of his power, blinded to the light, bound by his own, foolish cuteness and trickery, the church stumbles before a world that accurately recognizes her ineptness, her weakness and her ineffectiveness.
And yet multitudes cry for authenticity. Hearts yearn for what they have not seen, have not heard, have not known while all the while seeing, hearing and knowing something more is out there, awaiting discovery, beckoning the seeker to seek.

Greg Austin

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

SGM Chronicles: Whose Church Is It?

At the end of my college years, the Lord began teaching me some significant things about the Church. One foundational truth was His headship over it. And like all that the Lord teaches us, the goal is not merely to apprehend the idea: it is to see the truth walked out in real life. Sadly, this is a huge disconnect, not just in SGM, but also the modern church system as a whole. The result is, we may think: “we get it,” just because our minds are informed. The truth is, we don’t get it unless we walk in it.

What did this mean for me in a practical way? It meant challenging human leadership that was clearly disconnected from the Head, and when that challenge was not heeded, shaking the dust off my feet.

At the time, I was an associate pastor of a small church in Central Kentucky. In the face of serious family and leadership issues involving the pastor, I ultimately appealed to the denominational leadership to address the problems. They insisted on affirming the pastor in his position. (I had learned some months before that there were racial considerations in this. When the pastor was planning to take extended leave, they made a plan to bring in a complete stranger. The denominational leader explained that he was concerned that the small town where the church was located might have difficulty accepting a black pastor).

Since obedience to the word of God was not the priority for the denominational leadership, my soon to be wife and I had a choice to make. I remember walking in the sanctuary and asking the Lord what to do. As He has so often, He answered my question with His own: “What have I been teaching you?” The answer was that He was head of the Church. His follow up to me was: “Am I in charge here?” There was nothing more to ask. I resigned. About a year later, everything blew up. The pastor and his wife had taken in a troubled young woman for a season. You can probably guess what happened: she became pregnant. The pastor left his wife and children and married the woman. The church literally closed its doors.

This was a clear reality check for me: a sad lesson in “the business of church.” Years later, I would learn the same lesson on a broader scale. This time the implications would be more far-reaching. As I mentioned before I was initially impressed with the structure of SGM leadership. Over time, I increasingly became restless about mission that would never come to fruition. There was plenty of talk about evangelism and “making the church look like heaven.” But the “leadership” did not do these things—they merely taught them.

So what is the disconnect? A major clue is in Colossians 2. Paul warns us about the danger of falling under captivity through philosophy and empty deceit. Later he speaks of people who would disqualify us. And what is at the heart of their error?

Not holding fast the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. Acts 2:19

As leaders our primary call is to hold fast the Head. In the human body, every function comes from the head. The same is true of the church. We function out of direct relational connection with Jesus, the Head. As we individually abide in Him, His life flows in us. Leaders who lose sight of this can unwittingly make themselves the head. By becoming defacto mediators between God and man, we become idols by replacing Jesus Himself.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV)

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3 ESV)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8 ESV)

After laboring under the weight of suffocating pastoral management that refused to release people into ministry outside of their control, I became attracted to another church-planting ministry similar to SGM. While I recognize that its founder has a genuine apostolic grace, I soon discovered the organization in America (this ministry was founded in the United Kingdom) was steeped in the same hierarchal system. In the final months of my association there, the Spirit of God began speaking to me from His word:

But Jesus called them to him and said; “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

A continual theme expressed to me was the need to “submit to their authority.” When I asked how people who were already abused within SGM would overcome their abuse, a so-called apostolic leader told me: “The way they overcome is to submit to our authority.” And then the Lord reminded me of this gem:

I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:43-44 ESV)

The Lord was showing me that I had been submitting myself to people who were more concerned about their honor than His. I believe this goes a long way to explain our anemic “churches.” Because people have been cut off from the head, they are locked into spiritual infancy. Apostolic and prophetic foundations that would help bring God’s people to maturity are entirely missing. One major reason for these ministry gifts:

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:14 ESV)

Paul saw this first hand. Some have made the argument that Diotrephes may have been the first “senior pastor.” (This “position” is nowhere in scripture)

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 John 1:9-10 ESV)

Dr. Steve Crosby says this about the situation Paul describes here:

John addressed the letter to the “church,” not to the leadership. This was the custom of the time. I find it interesting that many church leaders believe all spiritual interactions within a local congregation must pass through them as the alleged “gate-keepers” of the fellowship. Diotrephes believed he had authority to control all the communications and kingdom relationships of those in “his” church. The notion that the community could be addressed without him “clearing it” first offended Diotrephes. Some leaders are much like Diotrephes in that they will not allow any outside influence in the lives of the congregation. Individual initiation and independent thought is strongly discouraged. Psychological manipulation under the guise of submission to authority is used to keep individuals under control.

Notice what Diotrephes did. He disregarded any authority but his own. Not only does he reject Paul’s authority, but he also refuses to welcome other brothers. Those who want to do so, he kicks out of the church. This controlling “spirit” seeks to corral, isolate, and insulate God’s people away from any outside input not approved by the “senior pastor.” The body of Christ is thus deprived of nourishment.

Needless to say, nearly eighteen months into our new church plant, it was time to “shake the dust off our feet.” By the way, this “church” no longer exists.

A few months later, I came across a very insightful article by Mark Setch called: “The War on Fullness.” The subtitle is: Confronting the Powers that Inhibit the Fullness of Christ in the World. Here’s a portion that is most revealing about this subject of Jesus’ Lordship:

Veteran charismatic renewal leader Bob Mumford has written a very insightful booklet titled Dr Frankenstein and World Systems. This intriguing title arises from a powerful analogy. We are probably familiar with Mary Shelley’s novel about Dr Frankenstein, who created a human being from various stolen body parts. He brings the created being to life by shooting electricity into it. The creature awakens, slides off the table and begins to walk and talk. The creature is initially gentle and innocent, but it then takes on a life of its own, and becomes a destructive terror. What Frankenstein created he could not control.

Mumford states that whenever an organization departs from its created intent, it becomes a ruling force or authority:

This force takes on, assumes, or is given power and authority that was not originally intended. The persona, i.e., the corporation or corpus, begins to exhibit coercion and tyranny. With some discernment, it can now be seen as a spiritual force, injuring and using people. Our attempts to avoid responsibility and employ self-justification when we see the system injure and control and enhanced by excusing negative behavior with such statements as, “well, you can’t fight city hall” or “This is just the way it is done here.” The system not only condones wrong actions, in some cases it encourages them for the strengthening of the authority & influence of the entity. This happens not only in secular organizations but also in churches and ministries around the world.

Can Demonized Rulers and Authorities Exist within the Church?

Many people struggle to believe that churches and ministries can be demonized. Satan would prefer us to believe that this was impossible. It’s not. Let’s consider the example of Bob Mumford’s own ministry – the parallels will then become obvious. He says:

Lifechangers, as an organization, was created in 1972. My intentions were godly and the declared purpose was to see significant teaching material translated and distributed to a minimum of twenty-five nations. Eventually it took on a life of its own. I found myself laboring long and hard to keep it alive. Expenses were paid out of my own pocket so it would continue to operate. Because I was serving it, I had to get others to serve it as well. One day I realized that it had taken on a life of its own. It (like Frankenstein’s creature) had slid off of the table and stood up, looked me square in the face and said, “I am Lifechangers, you must do what I want.” When I looked at what it had become in the light of a ruling force I thought, “Lifechangers is either going to come under His kingdom and live for God or die.” I stopped sending out appeals for money and minimized travel. Then, it seemed, the very life of the Lord started to breathe upon me and the organization. We are now free from having to serve it. The system died and Lifechangers lives to serve God’s purposes!

Can we see the parallels to many different movements and ministries that have been birthed in the purposes of God, but have moved from their original intent – moving from Kingdom values and principles to systems driven values and ‘wants’? “I am Methodism, you must do what I want.” “I am Lutheranism, you must do what I want.” “I am Calvinism, you must do what I want.” “I am Catholicism, you must do what I want.” “I am the Baptist Church/Salvation Army/Anglican Church/Uniting Church/AOG/COC, etc.—you must do what I want!”

Our blind devotion to “things” and leaders reveals a lot about our true value system. We can point fingers at leaders for what they do. But we really need to look at our own hearts and ask whether we are following Jesus or following men. All too often “follow me as I follow Christ” excludes the part about following Christ. This is a dangerous place that puts us under man’s dominion, not that of Jesus. Is it any wonder that the works of the flesh are so rampant in churches today?

The truth is Jesus is the Head. And I, along with other leaders, function as the Lord leads us, not to lord over people’s faith, but to guide, first and foremost by example. At the foundation of the prevailing leadership system is unbelief. Because we can’t see “He who is invisible,” as Moses did, we think human beings are necessary to “govern” people, mainly through behavior modification. The truth is, in a heart where Jesus is truly the Head, that person will accept His authority where it is expressed, whether directly from Him by the Holy Spirit, through leadership, or through others in the body.

The alternative is to continue demonstrating who we really are: materialists who don’t truly accept the invisible, supernatural, reign of Jesus. Is it any wonder the Spirit of God doesn’t work among us in power? Is it any wonder so many in the world see the church as an irrelevant moneymaking scheme populated by naïve people?

The passion of my heart is that the world will see less “church” and more Jesus as He manifests His life and power in the kingdom of God. I have no doubt He is doing it, and will do it. But this will not happen without pain and disruption, as Jesus wrests His people from the counterfeit expressions of “church” and assembles His “living stones” into a true spiritual house.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:1-5 ESV)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Terry Virgo at CLC: The Spirit Filled Church

Over the weekend, I was reminded again why I was deeply affected by the ministry of Terry Virgo. On Sunday he spoke on the subject, "The Spirit Filled Church".

He began by laying the foundation. We believe in the word of God, but we also see the importance of empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Terry covered John 13:33-John 14:20. The real them of this message was presence... God's continuing presence with His people.

He began by talking about how God revealed Himself in the past. The Lord arrested Moses' attention with the burning bush. This was his commissioning. Later the Lord revealed Himself to all 2 million of the Israelites who came out of Egypt. They heard thunder and saw lightning and smoke. Most importantly they heard the voice of God.

In the face of rebellion, the Lord threatened to withdraw. But Moses made it clear: if your presence doesn't go with us, don't send us from here.

Later the Lord expressed a desire to dwell among His people. A tent was established for this purpose. And once in place, the glory of the Lord filled it! In fact in all their travels, the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day and fire in the cloud by night.

Temporary Tabernacle

In the New Testament, the Lord revealed Himself through Jesus. John's gospel says "Word became flesh and we beheld his glory". The word means that he "tabernacled himself". D.A. Carson says he "pitched his tent among us." Life was manifested. We handled and touched. He made himself known. That's what exegesis is.

In Hebrews 1 learn that now Jesus is now the way the Father speaks to us. Jesus is the radiance of his glory. He is the exact image of His nature.

Terry reflected back to the time when Israel turned from God. The Lord through Malachi expressed his displeasure, "Oh that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you says the Lord Almighty, and I will accept no offering from your hands." Malachi 1:10 NIV

Paul writes that we do not preach ourselves. Jesus did. He said
I am the way
I am the door
I am the Good Shepherd

And when Jesus chose 12, he selected them to be with him.

Too often Christianity is portrayed as going to meetings, staying away from certain places,etc. To be a Christian is to be with Jesus!

Terry also targeted the "Hollywood Jesus" we often see, a man who looks rather sickly.

By contrast, he reminded us of the time Jesus spent on the mountain with the multitudes for 3 days. The word says there was not a sick person among them. After 3 days, Jesus gave the command to feed them. Jesus called them out of their limitations.

At the transfiguration, his life was manifested and the disciples said "we beheld his glory". But he warned that would only be with them a little longer

Devastating Departure

So the disciples left everything. For what? To go to church? No, to be with him. Being with Jesus was what it was all about. By contrast the Pharisees offered "God in a box". In fact when Jesus healed on the Sabbath and then extended forgiveness, the Pharisees were outraged. Their true message was "if you want forgiveness, we run the temple. you need to come to us." Jesus freely offered forgivenss.

Permanent Presence

Terry talked about how too often Christians present Christianity as a fading memory of what it was like "back in the day". We are a people who gather to his presence. He spoke about John 14, 15, and 16 where the Lord lays out the doctrine of the trinity, and the prophecy that the the Spirit would be in them. Jesus will come again, this time in the form of the Holy Spirit to indwell them.

Terry reminded us of Mary's visit to the tomb. She wanted to be with him. She couldn't live without him. And though he told her "don't hold me", he later promised he would not leave us orphans.

It is hear Terry suggested that in our emphasis on the second coming, we miss the reality of his presence today. Henrickson says of Jesus "in the Spirit, I myself and coming back." In fact, at Pentecost they could have proclaimed "he's back!" They received the spirit of the Son and were pulled into sonship. Again, they weren't memorializing the Jesus that used to be with them. They gathered to his presence. Now we live with him.

As a result we don't have to go wash in the Ganges, say 20 hail Marys,etc. We are with Jesus. "I want to know him." That is the essence of Christianity.

Terry continued, "do I have to say my prayers?" That is the wrong question. Once the spirit works in us, we will want to pray because we want to see the work of his power!

So what's the impact of the Lord coming back in the Holy Spirit? The people thought they killed Jesus and were sure He was gone. Now, in Acts he reappears. He appears with Peter as he approaches the temple and is able to say to the lame beggar, "silver and gold i have none, but what I do have I give to you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."
Jesus used to be the Body of Christ... now WE are! This is not about a management team but a body!

So Jesus is with Peter. And he's with Paul in Corinth. Paul later says "the Lord stood by me".

Terry began wrapping up by exhorting us to press into Him. We are a spirit filled church. And he questioned whether Jesus had a different meaning behind John 14. We often think of Jesus preparing mansions for us to enter after we die. Jesus told them He was leaving to prepare a place and will come again. Could it be that he was referring to the Holy Spirit coming? He promised to receive us, so that where He is, we will be also.

The church was crucified with Jesus
The church was raised with Jesus
The church was seated with Jesus in heavenly places
All so that where He is we may be also.

So now we can proclaim, every day Jesus you are my dwelling place.
Colossians 3 says we are raised with Christ. We have died with Christ and our life is hidden with Christ in God. In Revelation, John was in the spirit and saw a throne. We should anticipate more fellowship with the Holy Spirit. The disciples could not bear a day being without Jesus.

Christianity is not about rules regulations and meetings.
Its about Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. It is what makes us distinct. In our midst a lot can happen. Now when you meet the living Church, you meet the living Jesus! Eternal life is knowing him. (John 17:3)

Simply reading this does not do this message justice. Listen for yourself. And I will look forward to hearing how the Lord speaks to and impacts you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Night of Prayer, Ministry, and Impartation in Gaithersburg

Our hearts are filled with thankfulness this morning as we meditate on the goodness of the Lord!

We came to Gaithersburg with an open-ended sense of expectancy that our Father would do a significant work this weekend. And we have not been disappointed. In fact, even before our time here is over, we are already seeing the fruit in our lives. This morning Debbie and I enjoyed an extended time of prayer together at a depth I can't remember happening for quite some time. We were deeply impacted by last night's message on prayer from our friend Terry Virgo.

A short history here: my recent journey really began with a sermon I heard from Terry in 2004 at a Sovereign Grace Ministries Celebration event at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The message "Fight the Good Fight of Faith" set my barren soul on fire. And it began a process of activation in the spirit that continues to this day. So when I heard Terry was coming to the states to speak at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, I began praying for the opportunity to visit. Prayer answered.

When this message is posted on CLC's website I will put a link here so you may receive the blessing personally.

For now I will share my notes from what Terry communicated about prayer:

Jesus was given to prayer, continually withdrawing from the endless demands of people to be with his Father. Likewise, we need to find a place, close the door and shut the world out to do the same.

We're praying to our Father. This speaks of an intimacy with Him, a Father who knows our needs. In the new covenant, it is a revolutionary awareness of intimacy.

Terry then went into a history of God's people and prayer beginning with
Genesis 4:26: "people began to call up on the name of the Lord."

Elijah withdrew from everything shaping his life, into a cave. The Lord met him. He prayed based on the promises of God and his prayers lined up with His sovereign purpose.

The Lord told us to "ask and receive that our joy may be full". He also told us we did not choose him, He chose us, so this makes us God appointed askers.

So we withdraw from the crowd, we pray the will of God, and then we pray fervently. Don Carson speaks of "praying ourselves into prayer". Paul wrote about praying with the power the Father put in me. It is in praying that the Lord stirs the necessary sense of urgency to pray.

We also need to pray together, conversationally in a theme until we know that the matter is left with him. Terry reminded us of Jacob wrestling with the angel. Jacob was not going to let go until he received a blessing.

Another insightful thing shared was Moses' relationship with God, the way he essentially argued with the Lord. God told Moses to go down and deal with his people who he led out of Egypt... people who had corrupted themselves. Moses counters by saying, "Lord those are your people". Ultimately the Lord threatens to wipe out the people and start over with Moses. Moses essentially argues with the Lord and appeals to his concern for the Lord's reputation if he gave up on the people. Moses' prayer prevails. The people are spared. Effective prayer is the conflict of will against will.

Terry referenced how often we hear talk of "walking with God and friendly talk with him.". This is also in the same category as minimizing prayer by saying "I pray all the time." While there is some value in this, there is no substitute for times in the prayer closet.

We were also reminded of the fact that Elijah prayed fervently. This is an active exercise of personal relationship. Importunity: we pray and pray and don't give up. Terry talked about how our prayer can be like the naughty boy who rings the doorbell and runs away. In contrast, we pray with the attitude that we won't go away until there's a release. Jesus praises persistence.

We also must avoid diluting our prayers with "if it is your will". We pray with confidence. We are a priestly base for God's heavenly power. All power and authority is in Jesus. So we pray with that in mind. When the apostles were arrested they prayed for more boldness. They refused to stop in the face of persecution. They prayed for more of what got them in trouble! The church prayed and Peter was released from prison.

Prayer is the greatest way the church does its work. It is true muscle power. Terry ended by quoting Don Carson, who says much prayer is not done because we don't plan to pray.

So now, this is what we now purpose in our heart to do: to plan to pray, and to encourage others to do the same.

Here is a link where you can listen to or download Terry's Message "Formidable Power in Prayer".

A Word about Covenant Life

Those who are familiar with Sovereign Grace Ministries know that there is a great deal of upheaval underway involving the leadership of the organization. My "SGM Chronicles" series is addressing the foundational issues that I believe brought the organization to this place. What I have not spoken into before was a work underway in at least SGM church that I would appeal to every believer to encourage and pray into. It really begins with one man, Joshua Harris. While as an outsider, I've observed other "leaders" posturing, defending themselves and the organization, and doubling down on manipulation, deception, and control, Josh is a man who started with repentance. Once the current crisis began this past summer, as SGM leadership started a process of "reconciliation", Josh told the congregation at Covenant Life that it was time to repent and cry out to God. I knew right away there was a different spirit at work in him. That same heart continued in a recent family meeting at CLC as a process of reform was discussed. Now after seeing Josh face to face, I can testify that what I see is a man who is after God's heart. In the short time we visited I can tell you he is humbling himself before God and others in a genuine way. Pray for this man. This is a challenging season for Joshua. But I'm confident the Lord will prevail.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

SGM Chronicles: Loyalty: The Truth about Gossip and Slander

Not long into our SGM journey, we started learning about loyalty. Loyalty is a wonderful thing, especially in a paradigm of mutuality in Christ. But this was not the kind of loyalty we learned at SGM.
A story early on demonstrates how we became conditioned to loyalty that works in only one direction. Unfortunately, I resisted the prompting of the Holy Spirit and bought into this monstrous perversion of a wonderful virtue.

The story I recall was a situation we were working through as a couple in the early nineties. Frankly, the issue itself was not earth shattering. But I got a shock when I realized a concern my wife expressed about me to my Care Group leader’s wife, showed up on a Care Group Leader’s report to the pastor. At the time, my first instinct was to label this as gossip. I went to the CG leader and expressed by objection to the sharing of information with a third party. My CG leader is a very humble man who I still occasionally relate to. His reaction was one of contrition. I remember he was very uncomfortable in this position. But as it was explained to me, CG leaders operate as “an extension of the pastors.” On this basis, communication about people within their “sphere” is fair game. I remember identifying it as glorified gossip: because “special people” share this information, what might otherwise be gossip is necessary communication to facilitate care. Unfortunately, I succumbed to this elitist perspective and later participated in it myself. But that would not be all.

I remember being impressed to see a church that boldly exercised church discipline. Now, years later, I have come to know people who were disciplined and have since learned that the narrative given to us by the church leadership was unbalanced and unjust in at least one situation. We see a trail of broken lives from that one incident that continues today. What is most disturbing is that the leadership operates like Mr. Magoo: they leave a trail of destruction and somehow don’t see the carnage they have created, all in the name of “doing church right.”

It is not just regular members or former members who are gossiped about and maligned, sometimes publicly. I remember the announcement about Larry Tomczak’s leaving SGM. At the time, “the process” impressed me. It seemed that the leadership did what it needed to do to protect the integrity of the ministry by having him step down. They sent a letter to all the churches announcing this. We now know there was much more to the story. After leaving SGM in 2008, I talked with Larry personally for the first time and learned just some of what happened behind the scenes. It did not take me long to realize Larry was a victim of slander. Let’s be honest. The so-called “apostolic team” lied.

So what is the deal here? Actually the explanation is very simple. There are two sets of rules within SGM: one for regular people, and another one for the “leadership.” Regular people are “spotlighted,” all of their sins identified and they become defined by their sin and shortcomings. They are encouraged to be accountable to leadership. Leaders are exalted. We are assured that they are humble people who walk out accountability with each other. When we see evidence they may be falling short, extreme caution is advised. We need to examine our hearts first. The result is the people are so repeatedly redirected back to navel gazing, their insecurity ultimately causes them to drop whatever it is they think they see. A friend and I put together a phrase to describe this arrangement: “Don’t trust your sinful heart. Trust ours.”

What we’re talking about is a system of “accountability” that only works in one direction. The people have to answer to leaders, but the leaders never bear a responsibility to answer to the people. This pastor/laity divide is profoundly ironic for professed Protestants. This is beyond even the Roman religious structure. What we have within SGM is a religious caste system.
For those reading this who are not, or never have been within SGM, I can tell you this mindset is prevalent in the American church system. Many leaders have developed an informal religious fraternity. They spend a good deal of time and energy honoring each other. And they view “regular people” with an attitude of condescendence. This is anything but New Testament leadership.

Without going too deeply into my story after leaving the SGM church, I will just say we experienced what I call a “halfway house,” a church plant with another church planting ministry very similar to SGM. Sadly, we found these same mindsets. The so-called “apostolic leader” and those with him seemed preoccupied with the need for people to “submit to their authority.” Again, this was a one-way street. We were expected to be accountable and submit to them. They were not compelled to do the same with us.
So what is this? I believe it is the very basic sin of favoritism.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:1-13

The tragedy in this ecclesiastical religious pyramid system is that people without “titles, positions, or rank,” are held to a standard the leadership refuses to accept for itself. And even people with those positions are stripped of any respect once they are determined to be unfit or not called for ministry. They are cast aside and forced to accept a judgment on them and their character and gifting from an “elite class,” without any input from the rest of the body. This is a formula for egregious abuses and hypocrisy. Insulated as they are from correction, is it any wonder that at least two blogs have handled an incredible volume of activity on their servers: stories of abuse and hypocrisy that have gone on unaddressed for years.

And now, when allegations are lodged against the leadership, mainly the “top leader” of the ministry team, what is the solution? Church discipline? No, a reconciliation and evaluation process. SGM leaders, ask yourselves honestly: if you challenged a member about their sin repeatedly, without that person’s repentance, would that person be allowed to continue in good standing for years? You know the answer.

And to top it off, now that the main leader is “cleared,” the first order of business is not repentance and reconciliation, but recrimination. People who take issue with the way you have abused God’s name and His people are “marked” as divisive. You who apparently value your own reputations express nothing but contempt for that of others.
I also remember a nearby SGM church plant. When stories began circulating about the leader’s misdeeds, they were encouraged to read an article on gossip, slander, and bad reports. This has been common practice within the member churches.

The truth is, most often, division is the product of people who insist on putting their own reputations and their brand of religion over the priority of loving ALL of God’s people, whether they are in “our group” or not.

How do we change? We begin by acknowledging Jesus’ lordship over His church, and our appropriate relationship as brothers and sisters in God’s family. Before Paul addresses husband and wife relationships he speaks to our mutual relationship in the body: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is a foundational Kingdom value. Once in Him, we walk in a relationship of submission to each other. If we believe we can create a hierarchy or religious caste system from this, we clearly do not understand the gospel.

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”(Romans 2:17-24 ESV)

Just insert “pastor” or “apostolic leader” in this text to replace “Jew”. The issue is the same. And sadly, the end product is a trail of carnage: the souls of precious people damaged by hypocrisy. I personally know people who are in a very dark place of unbelief because of what they have experienced. They’ve watched leaders sin grievously, with no consequence. We would do well to remember the religious system Jesus confronted, and honestly ask ourselves: are we guilty of perpetuating the same bondage?

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.(Matthew 23:1-12 ESV)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SGM Chronicles: Where Are the Prophets?

Ironically, when we connected with an SGM church in 1992, I was deeply cynical and not inclined to connect anywhere. But from day one of my association with SGM, I saw a pattern that impressed me at the time. I started buying into the idea that these were people who were “doing church right,” unlike other groups I had belonged to. Much of what caught my attention was the form, the methodology. It would take years for me to see that beneath the externals, the fire was fading.

Recently the Spirit of God brought to my remembrance something I questioned even in those early days. I recall being impressed that SGM was a ministry that believed and practiced true five-fold ministry (four-fold for those who believe pastor-teacher are one gift expression). But one day I remember asking the leadership: “You have “apostles,” “evangelists,” pastors, and teachers. Where are the prophets?” I do not recall many specifics of the conversation. I do remember the response I got boiled down to a conclusion that there is no “office” of prophet in the New Testament, at least not in the way we traditionally think of the prophet from our understanding of the Old Testament. At the time I fully bought into this faulty perspective. It would be years later before I understood that the arbitrary and capricious dismissal of prophetic ministry, could very well be one of the primary fatal errors of SGM’s leadership structure.

In recent years, I have discovered that one of the major issues behind the state of the current “church” in America is what I would call the cancerous expression of the pastor-teacher gift. I have a friend who refers to this as the “pastorization” of the church. I can tell you, I’ve made an extraordinary discovery in preparing this: that the entire church system, not just SGM, has marginalized a primary leadership gift. Let me demonstrate what I’ve found in my research.

Using the ESV version of scripture, I came up with only 2 references to pastors in the New Testament: the ESV uses “Shepherds.” The first is in Ephesians 4:11 as shepherds are listed among apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers.

The second is dark and disturbing. Jude references those who “pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” In verse 12, Jude refers to “shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds, fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted . . . ”

If you look at references for teachers you find:

Acts 13:1 - prophets and teachers

In I Cor.12:29 - Paul asks “are all teachers?”

II Cor. 12:28 - third teachers (behind apostles and prophets)

In Ephesians 4:11 - teachers are included with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds

Beginning in I Timothy 1:3, it’s intriguing that Paul begins warning about false teachers. He charged Timothy (an apostle, neither a pastor nor teacher) to “remain in Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Paul goes on to say, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Paul distinguishes this purpose from that of others: “Certain persons, by swerving from these (these? - love that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith) have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”

Might I suggest that the purity of the gospel must transcend “right concepts.” If love that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith are missing, do we have anything more than “confident assertions?” This is NOT biblical faith. Faith is relational trust of our Heavenly Father, not merely our intellectual apprehension of biblical ideas. This may actually be a big part of SGM’s problems. Lacking the substance of relational trust in God, all that’s left are empty and confident assertions ABOUT God.

I Timothy 4:3 speaks again of teachers sought out by people looking for affirmation of their own passions

In Hebrews, the author chides the believers for their immaturity: “By this time you ought to be teachers.”

James 3:1 warns: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

II Peter 2:1 references a warning about false teachers among them.

But notice the frequency of references to prophets:

Acts 11:27 - Prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch

Acts 13:1 - There were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers

Acts 15:32 - Judas and Silas who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words

Acts21:10 - references Agabus, a prophet from Judea

I Cor 12:28 - And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers

I Cor 12:29 - Are all apostles? Are all prophets?

I Cor 14:29 - Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weight what is said

I Cor 14:32 - the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets

I Cor 14:37 - If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.

In Ephesians 2:19-20 Paul references the church as the “household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Paul continues by saying that it is in Him (Jesus, the cornerstone) “the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the spirit.”

Notice that the foundational work is not done by pastors and teachers, but by apostles and prophets.

In Ephesians 3:5, Paul references the “mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has not been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit”

And in Ephesians 4:11: . . . and he gave the apostles, the prophets . . .

By now, the priority of prophets in the church should be very clear. So it should also be clear how foolish and even dangerous it is to attempt to operate anything and call it “church” without prophets.

Unfortunately SGM has pretty much reduced the gift of prophet down to expressions of “prophecy” at a microphone during “worship” at a Sunday morning service, and then only if the pastoral leader approves.

So what is a New Testament prophet? Let me first clarify that a prophet is not a psychic prognosticator, nor a bitter angry person with a bad attitude who is negative all the time.

Part of the clue begins in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 1:10, Jeremiah is commissioned to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” My friend, Dr. Stephen Crosby, describes a prophet as a person with a supernatural grace to identify what is crooked, and straighten it out:

If the foundation is crooked or cracked, or if the Chief Cornerstone is not accurately positioned in preeminence, a prophet is going to see it, call it out, and not let up until the presiding authorities do something about it. A pinhole for most people is an abyss for a prophet. This isn’t a defect, deficiency, or disorder in the prophet. It’s just his lens and his calling. It’s different than a pastor’s and equally necessary. Prophets call existing mindsets, systems, and structures into accurate kingdom alignment. This usually involves clearing out debris before a hole is dug and new concrete is poured. Prophets typically root out, pull down, destroy, and throw down before they plant and build (Jer. 1:10). Bad news often precedes good news in a prophetic ministry. The relentless focus on what is broken or crooked strikes those who don’t understand the prophetic mind as being unduly “negative.”

Prophets are configured by the Spirit of God, with a mandate to challenge any aggregation of power: wherever power/authority “collects” or “resides,” prophets are the God-given gift to assure power/authority is not mishandled or abused. Prophets are compelled by a higher perception of God’s justice than what others possess.

They have a strong hatred for injustice and the oppression of those who have no voice, by those who retain power and control:

This passion for justice is not merely justice for justice sake, which is a misguided perfectionism that obsesses about accurate adherence to some philosophical idea about right or wrong. God is concerned not because a precept of justice has been violated, but because a person has been hurt. Reflecting this aspect of God’s nature, a prophet’s primary concern is not merely the violation of some code, but the presence of oppression of any sort: seen, unseen, conceptual, methodological, or psychological. The prophet’s condemnation of injustice is rooted in his/her sympathy with divine care for humanity, particularly His own people.

Applying what we’ve learned to SGM, it appears that somewhere in its history, the role of New Testament prophets was either never understood or embraced, or at some point the idea was simply dismissed. Therefore, within SGM, prophets have been marginalized, even persecuted.

A spiritually toxic atmosphere of ongoing and systemic injustices, left unaddressed over time, will not be a place prophets will be able to tolerate without functioning in their gift. Their only recourse is to leave, and the local church pays the price for their departure.

Let me put a challenge to the SGM leadership: Put out a call to all SGM churches, to have people who believe themselves called of God as prophets, to come forward and identify themselves, and allow them to function as prophets, undomesticated by an imbalanced, insecure, and over-emphasized pastor-teaching gift.

It is also possible that some who are functioning as pastors, aren’t really pastors at all, but prophets. But because of the SGM environment, you have been emasculated, domesticated, and pigeonholed into a pastor-teacher role in an organization that has essentially choked out all the other gifts from functioning.

SGM leaders, If you have not already run the prophets off, and you now properly receive those who remain as the gifts they are (after all, Ephesians 4 says the LEADERS ARE GIFTS, they are not merely gifted people), by allowing them to function as leaders, who are just as legitimate as you are, you can very quickly resolve all of your outstanding relational and polity issues.

The alternative is to wander in endless processes of “reconciliation” that will ultimately leave the most important reconciliation undone . . . with Jesus, the one who should be the Head. Your alienation from Him and His ways, in the very fabric of your leadership paradigm, will never be resolved through “reconciliation.” You must look within, much deeper. I sincerely pray that you do so.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

SGM Chronicles: A Preamble

For nearly 15 years my wife and I were involved in an SGM church. While I believe the Lord used the church to minister to us in many ways, at some point it became a place of bondage.

I want to initially say that I believe we bear the responsibility for submitting ourselves to the organization beyond the bounds of scriptural instruction. While we did much of this in ignorance, the power of submission was always ultimately ours. We have since repented of what we now recognize to be profound idolatry. A religious brand, a “local church”, alleged spiritual leaders, and other things became the focus of attention above Jesus himself. And to any of you whom we may have played a role in compelling to submit to this, we ask your forgiveness, and we open our lives to any reconciliation for anything we may have done to cause you to stumble.

Today we stand joyfully in a place of glorious liberty, with others who know the true spirit of sonship purchased by Jesus with his own blood.
And yet we also have heavy hearts for dear brothers and sisters who remain under the grip of religious bondage. That burden extends to the leaders who labor under the same bondage (maybe greater) in their perpetuation of a religious system that is run by “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ”. (Colossians 2:8) Sadly their alleged pursuit of “sound theology” perpetuates a knowledge of Jesus that is according to the flesh.

THE GOSPEL produces a love of Christ that controls us and compels us to live for him, not for ourselves. This is the glory of the new creation. In him we are the righteousness of God. (II Corinthians 5:11-21)
The “church” gospel produces a counterfeit love… one that is directed back at itself. It refuses to find life through death, but instead seeks to control others to live for the church rather than Jesus. And sadly it insulates people from the power of the true gospel that liberates us from sin consciousness (Hebrews 10:1-2)

We are profoundly thankful for the Lord’s faithfulness to deconstruct us from “human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” We enjoy the blessing of true Ephesians 4 leadership that continues to equip us “for the work of ministry”. These are not overlords, but brothers who have the entire Body of Christ in view, not a sect or brand of their own creation. Their purpose is that we “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may not longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine….” (Ephesians 4:1-16). The church gospel previously bound us in eternal infancy at the feet of endless teaching no one ever graduates from, and few are ever equipped. All too many are simply corralled and controlled and their God given gifts are suppressed. Though the motive for this is probably sincere, the result is kingdom resources are bound up in this system of religious cronyism and nepotism that prevents God’s people from truly being HIS “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works… “ (Ephesians 2:10)

Today we stand as ministers of the New Covenant, now boldly renouncing “disgraceful and underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (II Cor 4:1-2) Sadly we believe the idolatry of the “local church” gospel has extended a veil over people that blinds them “to keep them from seeing the light of the glorious gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is NOT ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with yourselves as servants for Jesus’s sake. (II Cor 4:3-5 emphasis mine).
So today, my heart is not to “recruit”you to join us or any entity. It is to appeal to you to treasure “treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (II Cor 4:7) Jesus is the treasure… not a “local church” or its leaders. If we are truly “dead”, there’s nothing to defend or protect.

I’m reminded of the song we often sang, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”. The chorus sums it up so accurately.
It’s all about you, Jesus
And all this is for you.
For your glory and your fame
It’s not about me,
As if you should do things my way.
You alone are God and I surrender
To your ways.

So this is what burns in our hearts. We, as brothers and sisters desire to see all of His people walk in liberty. For this reason, as the Lord leads, this will be the first in a series of articles to uncover the “veils” of religious deception that captivated us. By God’s grace we hope it will lead others to true freedom in Jesus. And as always, we stand ready to help and encourage you in any way we can.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Introducing: Revolution Radio

We are excited to announce a new initiative.

Dr. Steve Crosby and I have started a new talk program online. It is called "Revolution Radio". In fact, the first broadcast is available now.

Listen to internet radio with kingdomtalker on Blog Talk Radio

We will discuss foundations of the Christian faith, and explore how we can walk in the fullness of Kingdom Life in Christ.

You can subscribe to the broadcast, listen live, and even call in to ask questions or join the discussion.

Stay tuned.


Monday, November 14, 2011

An Urgent Message to Our Brothers and Sisters in CrossWay and SGM

As a former member of CWCC I've been grieved by events that have played out in recent months within the church and parent ministry, SGM.

I write this out of my passion for the glory of God, and the desire for my brothers and sisters to walk in the freedom of sonship. This does not constitute an endorsement of a person or group of people or their positions in any conflict.

Today, out of the conviction that church leaders have crossed a line, I asked my friend and author, Dr. Stephen Crosby to address the most recent issue of "marking people who are deemed divisive". While this is directed to help people in a particular church and "fellowship of churches", the message may very well apply to you. In all, may Jesus truly be Lord of His church.

In an organization, leaders generally consider themselves in the right. It is part of the paradigm they create for themselves: if you have succeeded in making your way to the top of an organization, then, by definition, the values for which you stand, must be right, because they have been authenticated and validated by peers in the organization. In a cult-like controlling atmosphere, any challenge from within the organization to the values which the leaders have vested interest in, will always be considered as betrayal and a threat to the consensus orthodoxy of the group (whatever orthodoxy that might be). This adapted quote highlights a vulnerability leaders in any organization have. The church of the Lord is not immune. Church leaders often confuse confidence in the Lord and His Word, with confidence in themselves (as leaders) and their abilities in the Word. It is a powerful delusion.

In a church, a leader is someone who cares for people on behalf of God; someone who lays his life down, someone who gives his life away, who allows others to “spend them” and be loved the less for it . . . all gladly and without complaint. Many problems in church leadership are self-inflicted from embracing an organizational paradigm of understanding, rather than a family and relational one. God’s family does not have any CEOs. The church is not an organization to be managed. The church is a new way of living life together. The church is a new way of being human, together.

A godly leader is someone who would rather suffer personal loss than see the Lord’s interests in His people suffer, or His reputation be tarnished. A godly leader is someone who is willing to suffer injustice quietly. Perpetuation and maintenance of the organization, and the vindication of the reputation of its leaders is categorically not the same as caring for God’s people. It is often antithetical to God’s interests.

Godly leaders should be walking dead men. In fact, only walking dead men are worthy of our trust and submission. A walking dead man does not need his reputation defended, nor care if his organization is perpetuated. If a leader is not a walking dead man, clear thinking and proper decisions based on Jesus’ interests, not his own, will be the first casualties in crisis when paychecks are threatened by criticism and the departure of the allegedly “unsubmissive.”

The hegemonic control over people’s consciences and thought processes required by many who are the most de-voted to a Protestant Reformation tradition, is more Papist than the Romanists they claim to be protesting. The control is dressed in the language of “submission to authority, accountability, honoring leadership, etc.” However, definitionally neutering Romanist thinking so as not to offend Protestant sensibilities does not negate the fact that in essence, they are identical to those same Roman concepts: you must categorically submit to an elite group of specially selected religious superiors, or suffer dire consequences, either metaphysical and spiritual in nature, or punitive and disciplinary in actual practice. The Greek word for “having authority” (exousia) is never used in the NT in reference to one believer (or leader) exercising authority “over” another . . . never . . . not one reference.

Unfortunately, the practice of “marking those that cause division” is often used as a speech and behavior control template by these same leaders. It is exegetically indefensible and unjustifiable to apply this disciplinary passage to anyone who simply questions authoritarian leadership. The biblical context is that of those causing division by in-troducing doctrines and scandals that undermine the specific apostolic teaching concerning Christ, especially Gnos-tic incursions into the early church. Simply disagreeing with, challenging, and confronting a leader in his behavior and teaching is not categorically sowing division. It might actually be the redemptive hand of the Lord trying to intervene to stop self-destructive tendencies within leadership that they do not recognize about themselves. To claim otherwise regarding these passages, is simply a cultic control technique that should be resisted by all who call on the Name of Jesus as Lord. Dissent is not disloyalty. Disagreement is not a lack of unity.

If you are attending a fellowship and some of these value systems, behaviors, teachings, and doctrines are being propagated as legitimate exercises of spiritual authority, I urge you to seek God and find safe harbor elsewhere.

1 Adapted from Vanier, Jean. Becoming Human. Toronto: Anasnsi Press, 2008, 75.
2 Majority opinion, the points of view required of subordinates to belong to the group. The problem with consensus orthodoxy is it becomes entrenched and not amenable to change and/or correction. Consensus orthodoxy within a group is not necessarily the same as biblical orthodoxy. Consensus orthodoxy degenerates into spiritual calcification if not challenged.
3 Gender limitation is not implied throughout.
4 2 Corinthians 12:15
5 Every NT verbal reference is active, not passive. That is, the idea of someone being passive as someone else exercises authority over them, cannot be found in the NT. See Authority, Accountability and the Apostolic Movement, by Stephen Crosby, at
6 Romans 16:17, etc.