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Christian Living

Church Membership Has Its Privileges

Why We Shouldn’t Join a Church

A few decades ago American Express unveiled the tagline: “Membership has its privileges.” Their ads implied that great benefits awaited those who qualified to carry one of their exclusive cards.

To start, there was a high annual fee and, as I understand, minimal annual levels of usage for their various membership tiers. The card became a status symbol, separating the fortunate few who carried it from the masses who didn’t. It generated pride and caused envy.

Church does the same thing when it touts membership. To become a church member, there are hoops to jump through: attend classes, agree to certain teachings, follow specific rules, and commit to donate money, possibly even at a certain annual level.

Once we do so, the church accepts us as one of its own. We are fully embraced and become one of the flock. We are elite, and, even if we won’t admit it, we swell with pride over our special status. Now the church and her paid staff will care for us.

To everyone else, they offer tolerance but withhold full acceptance. After all, church membership has its privileges.

There’s one problem.

Church membership separates attendees into two groups. Click To Tweet

Church Membership Is Not Biblical

We made it up.

Having members separates church attendees between those on the inside and everyone else; it pushes away seekers. Membership splits the church of Jesus, separating people into two groups, offering privileges to one and instilling resentment in the other.

It is a most modern concept, consumerism at its finest.

To my shame, I have been a church member. Never again.

Although perhaps well intended, membership divides the church that Jesus wanted to function as one. Jesus accepted and loved everyone, not just those who followed him or offered money.

Paul never gave instructions about church membership, Peter never commanded we join a church, and John never held a new membership class.

I confess my sin of being sucked into this unholy institutional practice of church membership, at both the local and denominational level. I stand in horror over my role in promoting division among the followers of Jesus. Father, forgive me.

Though I will never again join a church as an official member, I am open to attend one, to immerse myself in community, to engage in corporate worship, and to serve others.

This is what church should be. This is what the early church did. This is what Jesus wanted when he prayed for unity. And this is what I will do.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

13 Reasons Why I Love the Bible

The Holy Scriptures Are So Much More than a Sacred Icon or Guidebook for Living

I revere the Bible. Every morning I reserve time to read its words and study its meaning. It informs who I am and reforms what I do. It exposes me to God and his ways. This is why I love the Bible.

Yes, I cherish the Bible. Here are thirteen reasons why I love it so much.

Why I Love the Bible

  1. Supplies Us with a Greater Authority
  2. Reveals God the Father to Us
  3. Points Us to Jesus
  4. Shows Us the Holy Spirit
  5. Reminds Us of Our Heritage
  6. Informs Our Understanding of God
  7. Provides Direction for Our Lives
  8. Teaches How to Live With One Another
  9. Offers Us Hope for the Future
  10. Unveils Rich Literature to Us
  11. Gives Us Daily Inspiration
  12. Presents Us with a Narrative to Inform Our Lives
  13. Uncovers the Spiritual Realm for Us

These are some of the reasons why I love the Bible.

Paul writes to Timothy that all parts of the Bible have value. It can teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us for right living. This prepares us to do good (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

'All Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in right living' (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Click To Tweet

Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Timothy 1-4, and today’s post is on 2 Timothy 3:16-17.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Are You Zealous about Church?

We Must Do Better at Our Religious Meetings

“Why do you so hate the church?”

Shocked, I furrow my eyes and scowl at my friend. “I don’t hate church.”

“But you’re always criticizing it in your blog.”

This gives me pause. True, much of my writing about church doesn’t celebrate what she does well but rebukes her for what she does poorly or doesn’t do at all.

“I don’t hate the church,” I say again, as if trying to convince myself. “I love the church, really I do. I write to challenge her to do better because I know she can.”

My friend nods, but I’m not sure I convinced her.

In truth I’m zealous about church.

Zealous about Church

Over the centuries the church has done much to advance the cause of Jesus, help people find their way to eternal life, and perform acts of generosity that point an unbelieving world to Jesus. Today’s church continues to do that. And I hope church has done that for you.

But lest we feel smug about the church’s achievements, today’s church does only a small fraction of what she could be doing, of what she should be doing. I’m sad to say that the church has lost her way. She’s off track and has missed the mark for much of her existence. This pains me as much as a spike driven into my heart, into my very soul, the core of my being. I mourn what the church is because she’s falling far short of her potential, of her calling.

Hypothetically Speaking

It’s like being a parent of a brilliant, gifted child who muddles her way through school and gets C’s, even though she’s capable of getting A’s in advanced classes. As a loving parent, I would do whatever I could to shake the apathetic inertia out of my child and get her to live up to her potential. But since she won’t, I prod her to do better. I do this through the words I write. It’s the best way I know to help.

Just as I would do this for my child, I do this for my church with the same imperative passion. I metaphorically shake her in hopes that she’ll do better—because she can.

At this point, some of you may be saying “Amen, preach it!,” but others of you—most of you, I suspect—have raised your hackles at my insulting, impertinent words. You’re angry and thinking about clicking the close button. If I were with you in person, you might yell. It might be that you’re screaming right now. That’s okay. I get it. But before you bail on me, I challenge you to stick with me a little bit longer. Give me a chance to explain.

Biblical Church

If asked, most people would say the practices of their church are biblical. They’d say that about every church I’ve been part of. They’d even say this for every church I visited in my book 52 Churches and its sequels.

Let’s run through a typical church service. There’s preaching. That’s in the Bible. Check. There’s singing. Also in the Bible. Check. There’s praying, an offering (or two), and a concluding blessing. All biblical. Check, check, check. We meet every Sunday, just like the Bible says. (More on that later.) Check. We may volunteer, tithe, and respect our pastor. More checkmarks. Yes, today’s church services are biblical—or so they seem.

Yet, we read the Bible through the lens of our experience. The things we do in church, we find them mentioned in the Bible. This confirms we’re doing things the biblical way, God’s way. Yet we may be connecting dots we shouldn’t connect.

For example, the Bible tells us to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is a command to go to church every Sunday. Not really—despite what many preachers claim.

We take our church experiences, then we find justification for them in the Bible, even if this isn’t what the Bible says. This is confirmation bias. We do it all the time. You, me, everyone. But we must stop.

Meeting Together

Back to Hebrews. This passage doesn’t mention church. It says, “meeting together,” hanging out. If you came to my house—which would be way cool and more personal than reading this post—we’d be meeting together, just as the Bible commands.

If we go out to eat each Sunday, that’s meeting together. If we do game night once a month, that’s meeting together. So would be movie night, hanging out at the coffee shop, and working together on a service project. These are all examples of us meeting together. Going to church is just one possibility. But let’s be clear, this passage doesn’t command us to go to church. It merely tells us to meet together. How we meet is up for us to determine. Sort of. (Read more in Why Sunday?)

However—here I go ruffling some more feathers—going to one of today’s churches on Sunday morning may be one of the least significant ways we can meet. At most churches today, we spend the better part of an hour staring at the back of someone’s head as others entertain us. Yes, today’s church is more about a chosen few performing than about the majority present taking part.

Then we go home. This is scarcely a prime example of meeting together. If our church service—even the best ones I’ve ever been to—is us meeting together as the Bible commands, we’re doing a poor job of it. We’re getting C’s (or D’s or even F’s) when we should be getting A’s in advanced classes.

That’s why I mourn for the church I love so much. That’s why I write. I write because I know she’s capable of so much more. I’m zealous about church.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Can We Make Up Our Own Religion?

King Solomon Mixed Different Religious Practices and God Was Not Pleased

In the Old Testament of the Bible, God tells his people to not marry those from other nations, folks who believe differently and worship other gods (Deuteronomy 7:3). This isn’t so much to keep the bloodline of his chosen people pure but to keep them safe and their faith in God intact.

That’s why he says to not worship other Gods (Exodus 34:14). Mixing religions never works.

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wasn’t so wise when it came to women. Aside from having a ton of wives and lots of women on the side, many came from other nations who believed in different gods and not the God of the Bible.

It could be Solomon forgot what God commanded his people to do or that Solomon didn’t care. It might be he thought the rule was silly or it didn’t apply to him. Perhaps he assumed he was too smart to let his foreign-thinking wives influence him. Newsflash: he wasn’t (1 Kings 11:2).

In his old age, his foreign wives distract him, turning his heart away from God and toward foreign gods. This divides his attention, and God isn’t pleased.

Though Solomon doesn’t fully turn his back on God, his devotion waivers. He splits his heart’s focus. In addition to biblical God, Solomon also pursues Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek, the god of the Ammonites. He honors these gods and worships them (1 Kings 11:4-13).

God Is a Jealous God

The Bible says that God is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 6:15 and Exodus 34:14). He’s jealous of our attention and isn’t content with part of it. He wants all of it. Because Solomon divides his attention, God removes some of the blessings he had previously given to the king and punishes him.

If we want a relationship with the God of the Bible, we need to do what the Bible says. We must give God our full attention. If we try to mix in other spiritual or religious practices into our pursuit of biblical God, it dishonors him and splits our attention.

If we want a relationship with the God of the Bible, we need to do what the Bible says and pursue only him. Click To Tweet

If we’re merely trying to make ourselves feel good or find some sort of enlightenment, we can pursue any course that works for us. We can mix religions, practices, and philosophies to produce something that makes us happy. But that’s as far as it goes.

However, if we want a relationship with the God of the Bible, we need to do what the Bible says and pursue only him. Mixing different religious practices won’t work. If we try that, we run the risk of making God into our own image instead of recognizing that he made us in his image.

Mixing different religious practices together is making up our own religion. It may make us feel good now, but it offers little hope of spending eternity with the God of the Bible. With time in perpetuity at stake, we better do what the Bible says and ignore all other ideas as mere distraction.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Personal Posts

Are You Absolutely Sure?

The undercurrent to society’s willingness to cheat on just about anything goes back some thirty to forty years. It began with the assertion that there are no moral absolutes, that each person must decide for him or herself what is right and what is wrong.

This opens the door for unrestrained cheating.

Therefore, if it is left up to each individual, it becomes amazingly simple to justify cheating, lying, stealing, hurting others, and doing anything that brings about pleasure or produces power.

We are rightfully shocked when one person injures another for the sport of it. Or when upper-middle-class teenagers commit armed robbery for the adrenalin rush it gives them. Or how about an ignored or harassed student who carries a gun to school to take revenge.

Each of these instances are real and each has been repeated too many times.

Yet our schools teach, and society reinforces, that each person should choose what is right or wrong for him or herself. This is the result.

Each person should choose what is right or wrong for him or herself. Click To Tweet

It’s been suggested that the liberal thinking promoting this philosophy was really advocating that there were no moral sexual absolutes. What they wanted was justification for a promiscuous existence—and without guilt.

However, to assert that there are no sexual moral absolutes, but that all other moral issues are absolute, is illogical and nonsensical. Therefore, to justify indiscriminate sexual behavior, their argument needed to extend itself to all moral issues, be it sex, cheating, lying, stealing, or killing.

The Bible calls these things sins.

What we got was a quagmire of moral confusion and anarchy that has permeated our culture and threatened our future. I know that it’s not popular these days to claim that there are moral absolutes, but the alternative is the slippery slope we are on towards mayhem and chaos.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

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Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Bible Reminds Us of Our Heritage

Reading the Bible helps inform us of who we are

I love reading the Bible. While the entire Bible is useful to teach us about God and inform our faith journey (2 Timothy 3:16), I particularly enjoy the stories about the people, our spiritual ancestors.

I like reading about Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Job, Joseph and his brothers, Moses, Joshua, those crazy judges and faithful prophets, Ruth and Boaz, David, Solomon, Hosea, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah in the Old Testament.

The New Testament tells about Jesus, the star of the Bible. I also like my namesake, Peter, along with Luke (especially Luke), Paul, Timothy, John, and Mary.

I enjoy lessor known characters, too—those obscure people who only show up in a verse or two, like Rhoda, Lydia, John Mark, Philemon, Onesimus, Jabez, and so on. And let’s not forget about the angels. They’re in the Bible, too. All of these characters point us to Father God and reveal who he is.

The people in the Bible fill me with awe over their faith & dismay over their failures. Click To Tweet

Reading about these folks fills me with awe over their faith and dismay over their failures. I shake my head in bewilderment over their bone-headed mistakes and fist pump enthusiasm over their triumphs. I work to avoid their errors and strive to emulate their successes.

These people give me a spiritual heritage, my anchor. Collectively they have formed me into who I am today as a person and as a follower of Jesus. These biblical ancestors have become my ancestors, perhaps even more so than those in my biological family tree.

Spiritually they are my inheritance. I don’t have an affinity with a certain branch of Jesus’s church, connect with a denomination, or adhere to a particular theological bent. My affinity resides in these amazing, flawed folks of the Bible, their faith, and the God they worship and serve.

As such, the Bible reminds me of my heritage, of who I am.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Not All That’s Spiritual Is Good

As followers of Jesus we can point the supernaturally curious to God

Premodern people saw everything as spiritual. Though modern thinking attempted to remove the spiritual from our everyday reality, the postmodern view is open to reunite them. For that I am glad.

Yet not all that is spiritual is good. Consider all of the TV shows and movies that delve into the supernatural. Sci-fi specifically seems to be moving in this direction but so are more generally marketed television shows and movies.

Also, consider the growing interest in fantasy novels and the various speculative fiction subgenres. Why is this?

It’s quite simply because of demand. The public seeks content that investigates spiritual concepts and explores the supernatural realm. They have interest in such matters. They hunger for something more than what a nonspiritual life offers, with content producers happy to fill that void.

In fact, most people in today’s postmodern world, notably younger generations, such as Millennials, are open to the spiritual. This is both good and bad. Just because something is spiritual doesn’t automatically make it good.

Sometimes supernatural considerations point us to God and other times this content steers us in the opposite direction. Often these mind-blowing forays into the non-temporal merely confuse a godly, spiritual reality with intriguing, yet inconsequential fantasy.

We need to guide our world's spiritually inquisitive to a true spiritual understanding. Click To Tweet

Does this mean we should abandon all cinema, television, and books that dip into the supernatural? Of course not. Ignoring this trend will not make it go away and will leave the spiritually curious with only opposing views to influence them.

As people who know what the Bible says about spiritual matters, we need to guide our world’s spiritually inquisitive toward an understanding that is biblically centered and focused on Jesus.

If we don’t, people will persist in forming their own hodgepodge of spiritual practices based on what they see in their entertainment choices and that is not anchored in the foundation of God’s Word.

Let us be their light to a path that leads to God, the narrow way, and away from the wide path that leads to destruction (Psalm 119:105, Matthew 7:13-14).

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Bible Provides a Greater Authority for Faith and Spirituality

It’s critical to build our spiritual house on a strong foundation if it is to last

We live in a day where people make up their own religion. It seems silly to state our present spiritual climate in those terms, but that’s what people do, even those who say they are Christians.

For some this means looking at all religions using a personal pro and con analysis. They embrace the parts they like, adapt a few others, and reject the rest.

Their religious practice emerges as a smattering of Christian thought, Jewish practice, Hindu ideals, Muslim devotion, and Buddhist discipline. Their resulting practice may be self-satisfying, but its basis is simultaneously built on everything and nothing. 

The Bible is an authority that provides a reliable spiritual basis for faith. Click To Tweet

Others don’t directly consider world religions; they just do what feels right. They make a personal inventory of good behaviors and bad behaviors, with everyone’s list being different. From this emerges a loose set of spiritual practices that makes them feel good and never confronts them.

Often they end up doing peculiar things in the name of their religion, which in reality is an excuse to behave however they want.

Next is the group that reads religious literature, including the Bible, with a highlighter in one hand and scissors in the other. The result is a cut and paste religion, a spiritual collage of feel-good sentiment that merely reinforces their preconceived notions of whatever they want.

While each of these approaches is affirmed in today’s attitude of mystical permissiveness, they are based on nothing solid, nothing lasting, nothing of substance.

For truly meaningful spiritual significance that transcends ourselves, we must seek a reliable source that surpasses our own thoughts, preferences, and preconceived ideals. We need a greater authority.

For me that greater authority rests in the Bible, which reflects the Godhead who inspired it. I read and study the Bible, not to articulate a systematic theology but to pursue the God behind its words.

To me the Bible isn’t a rulebook or even a manual. It’s a narrative resource that points me to God. I will daily strive to understand the Bible more fully, while knowing I will never achieve this lifelong goal.

The Bible is the basis for my faith, a greater authority that transcends my limited intellect and keeps me from making up my own religion and deluding myself in the process.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Do You See Good or Evil?

I recently read a series of movie reviews in a conservative magazine. With three pages of critiques to consider, all but two movies earned advisory warnings. With no R-rated movies covered, several cautions were for PG and even G-rated movies.

Their items of concern struck me as overly critical.

One obscure line from an animated feature earned it an advisory warning. This was a vague quip that kids would miss and require adults to make an assumption.

With multiple possible inferences, only someone looking for sexual innuendo would find it. (I missed it when I saw the movie.) Are these reviewers able to spot evil most anywhere they look?

I wonder if these cautious caretakers of morality have read the Bible. What might they write in their review of it? After all, the Bible contains a myriad of problematic content: rape, murder, incest, cannibalism, violence, and sexual misconduct. Would they slap an advisory warning on the Bible?

These self-appointed guardians of goodness irritate me. Though they may have worthy motives, the result is they fixate on what is wrong, and when they find it, they highlight it to make sure everyone else is aware of it, too.

Just as there is evil in most things around us, there is also good. Do we seek the objectionable or notice the laudable? What we choose to consider reflects our focus in life and forms our perception of the world.

The Bible encourages us to think about things that are right, pure, and admirable. That is, to fill our minds with good, not evil.

While this may warrant not seeing some movies, it also means to look for good in the ones we do watch.

[Philippians 4:8]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Why is Christian Community Important?

Consider the Importance of Church Attendance

I often write about the importance of being in meaningful community with other followers of Jesus. I also lament that churches frequently fail to provide significant community.

While many churches offer superficial community, few are able to provide a deep, nurturing, caring place. I long for this level of spiritual kinship—and right now I don’t have it.

However, I must remind myself that community isn’t the goal; it’s the means. While it’s comfortable to bask in the embrace of people who care for each other, groups with an inward focus don’t last. They need a greater purpose. Here are three:

1. Spiritual Growth

Our spiritual community should spur us on to a deeper understanding of God, intensifying our connection with him and our interdependence. I’m not talking about another class or more Bible study.

We don’t need more knowledge; we need more experience. The result of growing spiritually is to put our faith in action, not inaction.

2. Minister to Others

Within community, we become ministers to one another. Then we move beyond our community to minister to those outside it. We teach through doing, and we model by our actions. We learn to listen to God’s Holy Spirit, doing what he says, when he says.

He might not always make sense; it may be scary and will sometimes require risk. But God isn’t asking us to play it safe; he wants us to make a difference.

3. Serve Others

A third reason for community is as a platform for service. Through service, we demonstrate the love of Jesus to the world around us. When we serve without agenda or expectation, we surprise people by loving them as God loves us.

Though we hope to point people to Jesus through our actions, the motivation isn’t to proselytize, it’s obedience.

But, you ask, isn’t this what the church is supposed to do?

Yes, it is, and we are the church. So let’s go do this; it starts with community.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.