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Christian Living

The Downside of the Protestant Reformation

For all its good, the Protestant Reformation also spawned a wave of disunity that continues to this day

Reformation Day is one October 31. It celebrates the Protestant Reformation. I love the Reformation even though it was actually a spiritual revolution against the established status quo. (But perhaps that’s part of its allure.) After all, the root of Protestant is protest.

Though the actual reformation isn’t fixed in one date, on one person, or from one location, as a matter of convenience Martin Luther emerged as its posterchild, Germany became its setting, and Luther’s posting of 95 points of contention on October 31, 1517 set the date.

Hence we have established Reformation Day to communicate our celebration of this much larger movement.

I understand that Luther didn’t intent to spark a religious revolt. What he sought was to bring about needed change within the established church, a most admirable and lofty pursuit. Though most of the changes he advocated did eventually occur; they didn’t happen quickly.

Instead it took decades. In the meantime impatient change backers, anxious to correct religious errors, set out to form a new church, a reformed practice with the Bible as its anchor.

This was fine, except that not one new church emerged, but many, all variations on a theme but lacking tolerance and love for one another. They argued, they fought, and they killed one another in the name of their brand of religious theology.

Each variation of Protestant thought assumed it was right, which implied everyone else was wrong.

Each variation of Protestant theology assumes it is right, which implies everyone else was wrong. Click To Tweet

Today, almost five hundred years later, we’re still stuck in this mindset. Each person and each preacher and each church establishes their sincerely held view of spiritual thought and then rejects all others who disagree.

But that’s not a problem, they say. The dissenters, the ones rejected, just go out and start their own church, complete with their own spiritual litmus test of who’s in and who’s out. As a result we now have 43,000 Protestant denominations.

How deeply this must grieve Jesus who earnestly prayed that his followers would live in harmony, that we would be one. And, for all the good it produced, we have the Reformation to thank for this most unbiblical result of division, dissension, and disunity.

God help us all.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

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

3 Lessons from the Early Church

Dr. Luke Describes 3 Characteristics of the Acts 4 Church

The book of Acts unfolds as an historical narrative of the early church, the activities of the first followers of Jesus and those who join them. For the most part, Acts simply describes what happens, with little commentary and few instructions for proper conduct.

While we can look to Acts as a possible model for Christian community, we would be in error to treat it as a requirement for right behavior. In this way Acts can inform us today, but it doesn’t command us.

For example, if I wrote, “My church went to a baseball game after the service,” no one (I hope) would think I was saying that attending baseball games is prescriptive of Christian life. No. It was merely descriptive of what one church did one time. We would never build our theology on a statement like that.

So it is with the book of Acts. Yet we can learn from it. Luke writes three things about that church:

Christian Unity

The Acts 4 church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with Jesus’s prayer. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it; I hope unity describes every one and every congregation.

Community Minded

In the Acts 4 church, no one claims their possessions as their own. It isn’t my things and your things; it is our things. They have a group mentality and act in the community’s best interest. While we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, notice that this isn’t a command. They just do it out of love.

Willing to Share

Last, the Acts 4 church shares everything they have. Not some things, not half, but all. This would be a hard thing for many in our first-world churches to do today but not so much in third-world congregations.

Again, this isn’t a command (and later on Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional, Acts 5:4); it is just a practice that happens at this moment of time in the early church. 

These 3 characteristics of the early church should inspire us to think and behave differently. Click To Tweet

While these three characteristics should inspire us to think and behave differently, and can provide a model for our gatherings and interactions, we need to remember that the Bible gives us no commands to pursue a communal-type church.

We can, but it’s one option. Of the three only unity rises as an expectation because Jesus yearns for it to be so. That should give us plenty to do.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 1-4 , and today’s post is on Acts 4:32.]

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

Read more about the book of Acts in Dear Theophilus, Acts: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church now available in e-book, 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

Do You Live in a Spiritual Silo?

Aligning Ourselves with Like-Minded People Results in Isolation and Division

An issue in the corporate world is business silos. This is where a department or unit puts up walls that separate them from the rest of the company. The leaders of these silos of information and function do so to maintain control and assure them of power.

The result is a lack of communication with other units or departments, along with the hoarding of knowledge. This means the sales department doesn’t talk with the customer service department and neither one knows what marketing is doing, along with research and development, billing, and operations.

In the end, the customers suffer and the company is less than what it could be.

You may or may not have experienced this in the business world, but in Christian circles it’s much more common. It’s so common that it’s hard to avoid.

For most Christians who’ve been following Jesus for a while, their circle of friends and the people they interact with have become other Christians. They have little meaningful interaction with people who don’t follow Jesus.

This, however, overstates the situation. In truth their circle of friends and the people they interact with aren’t just other Christians, they’re only other Christians who think and act like they do.

Our spiritual silos work against Jesus’s desire for us to get along and function as one. Click To Tweet

Spiritual Silo as a Group

Over the centuries Christians have become experts at dividing themselves. Courtesy of the Reformation we ended up with Catholics and Protestants.

Protestants then divided themselves into three main streams: mainline, fundamental, and charismatic. But within each of these groups, further division occurred, now amounting to over 43,000 Protestant denominations. That’s a lot of division, disunity, and opportunities to form spiritual silos.

Most denominations isolate themselves from other denominations. Afterall, it was disagreement that caused them to form their denomination in the first place. And once they split off and formed their new denomination, they isolated themselves from those they disagreed with.

The result is a spiritual silo. Even within denominations, individual churches isolate themselves from other churches in their own group.

Some churches go so far as to isolate themselves from every other church.

The result of these spiritual silos is people associating themselves only with others who believe and act exactly as they do. Their understanding and practice of Christianity becomes extremely narrow, with them on the side of right and everyone else, wrong.

Spiritual Silo as Individuals

The spiritual silos that churches form—and most every church has done so to one degree or another—spills over to the people who attend there. Within churches people congregate with others like them, specifically others who follow Jesus with the same spiritual paradigms and priorities as theirs.

They push away people who think and act differently, even if it’s by the smallest of degrees. This produces even smaller spiritual silos, where members of the same church withdraw from other members over the most trivial of issues.

Taken to an extreme a person completely retreats from church and any form of spiritual community to live an isolated life away from all other followers of Jesus. They create for themselves a spiritual silo of one.

Spiritual Silos Promote Disunity

As we associate with people who are precisely like us, we push aside all others. The result is we spend our time with people who think exactly as we do, believe exactly as we do, and act exactly as we do. We view our own thoughts, beliefs, and actions as best aligned with God.

The logical extension is that we view all others as misaligned.

But our spiritual silos are exactly what God doesn’t want. Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers, that we would be one just as he and Papa are one. Our divisions, denominations, and spiritual silos work against Jesus’s desire for us to get along and function as one (John 17:20-23).

And why does he want us to be one? It’s to maximize our witness to the world, so that they may know.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, 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

A False Assumption About Church Growth

A Lesson in Reacting to the Unexpected

In college I heard an account about a struggling church who hired a minister to help them grow. He was full of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. In no time he connected with the local community.

They responded by showing up for church on Sunday morning and for the community programs throughout the week. By the time he reached his one-year anniversary as their pastor, the church had added programs, went to two Sunday-morning services, and had more than doubled their attendance.

And the church fired him.

A False Assumption

What neither the church leaders nor the congregation were aware of when they hired their pastor, their goal to grow their church carried an unspoken expectation, a false assumption. They anticipated the new attendees would be people just like them.

When their growth came from people who differed from them, they realized they weren’t getting the results they wanted and blamed their new pastor.

This church was in an urban location. The members, however, drove from their suburban homes to this inner-city church each Sunday. These white-collar, middle-class people carried the false assumption that their increase in numbers would come from people just like them: white-collar, middle-class.

Yet the church didn’t reside in a white-collar, middle-class neighborhood. It sat in the middle of a diverse community of blue-collar workers along with the underemployed and unemployed.

The church members didn’t feel comfortable with this rapid shift in the demographic of their church. They blamed the minister and got rid of the problem.

The church soon returned to what it once was. Most of the locals stopped attending, the church retreated to one service, and its members ceased their outreach into the community.

Though the church members’ desire for numeric growth is admirable, their failure to embrace the outcome isn’t. Though we can understand their false assumption of what the growth would look like, we can’t excuse their reaction to it.

Love and Embrace Everyone

Their surprised results should have caused them to look inside themselves, to uncover their biases of people and who they wanted to go to church with.

Yes, embracing a different socioeconomic group might have been uncomfortable for a time, but it would’ve been a necessary interpersonal development for each of them on their spiritual journey.

Instead of embracing their commonality in Jesus, they sought what made them feel most comfortable. Click To Tweet

Instead of embracing their commonality in Jesus and the unity he prayed for, they sought solace in the status quo and what made them feel most comfortable.

It’s easy to be critical of this close-minded congregation, yet I wonder if we are all a bit like them, just in diverse ways.

God, reveal to us our blind spots—any false assumption we may carry—and show us how to love all your people, not just those who are just like us.

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

9 Perspectives That We Must Change about Church

Re-examine Our Church Practices from a Biblical Viewpoint

Over the past few months, I published a series of posts about assumptions we should change about church.

Here is a list of all nine:

9 perspectives to change about church. Click To Tweet
  1. We Don’t Need a Church Building
  2. Exploring Church Staff from a Biblical Perspective
  3. How Much Money Does the Church Need?
  4. The Fallacy of Church Membership
  5. Seek First the Kingdom of God
  6. How Important Is Seminary for Today’s Church Leaders?
  7. We Must Rethink Sunday School
  8. Love God and Love Others: A Call to Christian Unity
  9. Make Disciples Not Converts

What perspectives should you change about your view of church? Pick the assumption that most convicts you and work to reform it, first in your mind and then in your practice.

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

Love God and Love Others: A Call to Christian Unity

Shun Division, Disunity, and Denominations in the Name of Jesus

Just as church member status divides the church body into two groups, so does our doctrine. Instead of obeying Jesus’s instruction to love God and love others, we make a lengthy list of what we should do and shouldn’t do, judging others according to our opinions of what’s proper and what’s not.

This legalistic approach follows what the Old Testament set in motion with its 613 instructions in the Law of Moses, of things to do and not do.

Compounding the problem, God’s children in the Old Testament added tens of thousands of manmade rules, which evolved over the centuries, to help interpret the original 613 expectations he gave to Moses.

Jesus Says to Love God and Love Others

Jesus says that his yoke is easy in his burden is light. This means his doctrine is simple to follow and effortless to bear (Matthew 11:30). To confirm this, Jesus simplifies all these Old Testament commands and man-made traditions when he says we are to love God and love others (Luke 10:27).

Yes, Jesus’s essential expectation is love.

To accomplish these two instructions to love God and love others, we can best do so through Jesus. We should follow him (Matthew 4:19 and Luke 14:27), believe in him (John 6:35), and be his disciple (John 8:31 and John 15:8).

These are all ways of saying we need to go all in for Jesus. That’s it.

That’s our essential doctrine. Everything else is secondary. Beyond Jesus and love, we shouldn’t argue about the rest. We are to be one church, just as Jesus prayed we would (John 17:20–21).

Denominational Division

Yet in the last 500 years we’ve argued about doctrine, we’ve judged others by our religious perspectives, and we’ve killed people for their beliefs. We deemed that our view was right and everyone else was wrong. We used this to divide ourselves.

We formed groups of like-minded thinkers, which became denominations.

Today we have 42,000 Protestant denominations, dividing Jesus’s church so much that we’ve lost our witness to the world. Jesus wanted his followers to live in unity. Yet we persist in division. Our denominations that we made are the antithesis of God’s unity that Jesus wants (Ephesians 4:3–6).

Yes, division occurred in the prior 1,500 years—the first millennia and a half of Jesus’s church—but that was nothing like what’s happened in the last five centuries during the modern era.

We are to unite ourselves under Jesus, to be like-minded, of one Spirit and one mind. Click To Tweet

Paul says that we are to unite ourselves under Jesus, to be like-minded, of one Spirit and one mind. In our relationships we should have Jesus’s mindset (Philippians 2:1–5).

To Titus, Paul writes to warn a divisive person one time, and give a second notice if they disregard the first. Then the only recourse is to ignore them (Titus 3:10–11).

Jude also warns against division. Instead of taking sides, he tells us to rise above it by focusing on growing our faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and abiding in God’s love (Jude 1:18–23).

As followers of Jesus, we must pursue unity in him and oppose every instance of division—regardless of the source.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about making disciples.

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

The Fallacy of Church Membership

Segregating Attendees into Members and Nonmembers Divides Jesus’s Church

In our look at things the church must change, we’ve already considered our buildings and facility, our paid clergy and staff, and our tithes and offerings, that is our charitable giving. Now we’ll turn our attention to some secondary issues, starting with church membership.

Membership is something that most everyone in church accepts without question. But we should question it.

Church membership is not biblical. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to go out and find members, make members, or sign up members. Increasing membership is simply not a biblical mandate. Jesus doesn’t command this, and biblical writers don’t order it.

In fact, the word membership doesn’t even occur in the Bible. It’s something well-meaning religious leaders made up. It may seem like a wise idea, but it’s not.

Membership establishes two levels within Jesus’s church. We must repent of making this distinction. Membership causes division among Jesus’s followers, segregating attendees into two classes of people, the insiders who are members from those on the periphery, the nonmembers.

Alternatives to Church Membership?

Some churches, attempting to correct the fallacy of membership, have come up with new labels. I’ve heard them use the term missionaries, and I’ve also heard of partners. I’m sure there are more.

But these perspectives, though well intended, are merely different names for the same membership problem. The result is that church membership still creates two classes of people in Jesus’s church: insiders and outsiders.

At some churches, baptism makes this membership distinction, as in a baptized member. Once a person undergoes the rite, or sacrament, of baptism—often by emersion—they automatically become a member. Though if they are underage at the time, they might not become a voting member until they reach adulthood.

This makes a third class of attendees, a third division in Jesus’s church: nonvoting members.

Instead of encouraging church membership, we should promote Christian unity. Click To Tweet

Instead, Jesus welcomes all (Romans 15:7, Galatians 3:28, and James 2:1–4). We should do the same, ditching membership as an ill-conceived, manmade tradition that has no scriptural basis.

We must resist the human tendency toward membership, which segregates people, and instead embrace God’s perspective of inclusion. Instead of encouraging church membership, we should promote Christian unity.

Check out the next post in this series addressing the Kingdom of God.

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

Realign our Church Practices of Music and Message

We Must Rethink What Happens at Our Church Services

A friend once said in his Sunday morning message that some people go to church for the music and put up with the sermon. Others go for the sermon and put up with the music.

The minister’s statement suggests that people feel a church service has two primary elements. One is the worship music, and the other is the sermon: music and message.

I get this. At one point in my life I endured the singing as I waited for the teaching. Then my perspective flopped as I pursued worship and endured the sermon. Now neither matters too much to me.

In recent years I’ve not gone to church for the music nor the message. I show up for the chance of experiencing meaningful community before or after the service.

Put Music or Message in Its Place

Though the New Testament talks about both music and message, neither seems central to their meetings, especially not the way we pursue these two items today.

Music: Though music is a part of Jesus’s church, it emerges more as a secondary pursuit. Paul doesn’t ascribe music to a worship leader but to each person gathered. The purpose of this is to build up Jesus’s church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Music is part of the one another commands as a way of ministering to each other (Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18–19).

An interesting side note is that the New Testament never mentions using musical instruments in their worship of God, as happened throughout the Old Testament. This doesn’t imply that our church singing today should be a cappella, but this is something we might want to contemplate.

Sometimes New Testament singing to God happens apart from a church gathering, such as when Paul and Silas are sitting in jail (Acts 16:25). Let’s consider how we can apply their example to our reality today.

Sometimes the music set at one of today’s church services is worshipful, drawing us into closer fellowship with God. But too often it’s more of a performance for attendees then a tribute to our creator.

This makes the music portion at some churches more akin to a concert, even to the point of including a light show, smoke machines, and accompanying video projection behind the performers.

And if you claim our church worship time isn’t a performance, then why are the singers and musicians positioned in front of everyone and elevated on a stage? If the music is truly a tribute to God and not a performance for us, then why not station the musicians behind the congregation or out of sight so their presence won’t distract us from God?

Message: Another friend calls the church sermon a lecture. I’m not sure if he’s joking or serious, but I get his point. I’ve heard sermons that so sidestepped the Bible, faith, and the good news of Jesus that the resulting words were no different than a lecture from a secular speaker.

There are, however, three instances where New Testament writers describe activity that we might equate to a sermon. These are in specific situations.

The first is educating people about their faith (Acts 2:42). This implicitly is for new believers, giving them spiritual milk as we would feed a baby (1 Corinthians 3:1–3). This basic training grows them in their salvation (1 Peter 2:1–3).

It prepares them to teach others (Hebrews 5:11–14). It’s not something to persist in Sunday after Sunday. Instead it’s a temporary situation we should grow out of.

The second is missionaries who tell those outside the church about Jesus. This can’t happen at a church meeting because those who need to hear the good news of Jesus aren’t there.

Spreading the gospel message requires going out to encounter people where they are, not expecting them to come to us and our church services (Acts 8:4, Acts 8:40, Romans 10:14–15, and 2 Corinthians 10:16).

And the third is traveling missionaries who give updates at the local churches (Acts 14:27, Acts 15:4, and Acts 20:7).

Everyone Participates: Regarding these two elements of music and message—that we place so much emphasis on in our churches today—Paul gives instructions to the church in Corinth. It’s not the job of a worship leader to lead us in song.

Nor is it the role of a minister to preach a sermon. We—the people in attendance—are to do these things, and more, for each other. It’s an egalitarian gathering where we all take part for our common good to build up Jesus’s church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Remember, through Jesus, we are all priests. It’s time we start acting like it.

Community

What does show up as a reoccurring theme throughout the New Testament is community. But this goes way beyond the time of personal interaction that I seek before or after a Sunday service.

The church, as a group of people, should major in community, on getting along and experiencing life together. Community should happen before, during, and after all our gatherings—both those on Sunday, as well as throughout the week. In all that we do, community must be our focus.

We should enjoy spending time with each other, just hanging out.

If we don’t like spending time with the people we see for an hour each Sunday morning, then something’s wrong: not with them, but with us. Yes, community can get messy.

But we have Jesus’s example, the Holy Spirit’s insight, and the Bible’s wisdom to guide us in navigating the challenges that erupt when people spend time with each other in intentional interaction.

Here are some of the aspects of community that we see in the early church, and that we can follow in today’s church.

Share Meals: A lot of eating takes place in Jesus’s church. We must feed our bodies to sustain us physically, so why not do it in the company of other like-minded people?

In community, sharing food becomes a celebration of life and of faith. (Read more about breaking bread in “10 More New Testament Practices, Part 2”.)

Fast: Although Jesus’s followers do a lot of eating together, they also fast (Matthew 6:16–17 and Acts 14:23). Fasting is an intentional act of devotion that helps connect us with God and align our perspectives with his.

Remember that although Jesus’s disciples didn’t fast, once he left, it was time for his followers to resume fasting (Luke 5:33–35).

Prayer: Another reoccurring New Testament theme is prayer. This isn’t a minister-led oration on Sunday morning. This is more akin to a mid-week prayer meeting, with everyone gathered in community to seek God in prayer together (Acts 1:14 and Acts 12:5).

Listen to the Holy Spirit: As the people pray, sometimes associated with fasting, they listen to the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28). Then they obey what the Holy Spirit calls them to do (Acts 13:2–3).

Minister to One Another: In their community they follow the Bible’s one another commands, which teach us how to get along in a God-honoring way. (See treat one another.”)

Serve Others: We serve one another in our faith community (Galatians 5:13). We should also serve those outside our church, just as Jesus served others. And we shouldn’t serve with any motive other than with the pure intent to show them the love of Jesus.

Loving others through our actions may be the most powerful witness we can offer. We need to let our light shine so that the world can see (Matthew 5:14–16 and James 2:14–17). All of humanity is watching. May they see Jesus in what we do (1 Peter 2:12).

Tell Others about Jesus: The New Testament gives examples of people telling others about Jesus in their local community (Acts 3:11–26 and Acts 7:1–53). It also mentions sending people out into the world as missionaries (Acts 8:4–5 and Acts 13:2).

Witnessing, both local and abroad, springs from the foundation of community.

We need to rethink what happens at our church, deemphasizing the significance of music and message while elevating the importance of community, one that functions in unity for Jesus. Click To Tweet

Unity

In our community we should pursue harmony. Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17:20–21). The early church modeled unity (Acts 4:32). We also covered unity in the “The Acts 4 Example.”

When issues arise among Jesus’s followers that threaten their single-mindedness, they work through it to avoid division (Acts 11:1–18). This unity includes the agreement of their theology (Acts 15:1–21).

Conclusion

We need to rethink what happens at our church, deemphasizing the significance of music and message while elevating the importance of community, one that functions in unity for Jesus.

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

7 Things Church Is Not

We Must Correct Some Wrong Perspectives about Our Religious Practices

We’ve looked at how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament to provide a new way for us and our churches to function, replacing the temple, paid clergy, and tithes. Then we explored ten New Testament practices and five New Testament examples to inform our church behavior.

Yet today’s church has characteristics that come from our culture and have no scriptural basis. We need to identify these unbiblical practices and remove them from our perspectives—and our churches. We need to pursue what Jesus wants.

1. Church Is Not About Membership

Membership in a business promotion or club implies privilege. There are qualification requirements to meet. Often there is a fee. Because not everyone can meet these barriers to entry, membership becomes a status symbol.

It separates those who are in from those who are out.

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, or commit to give money, possibly even at a certain annual level.

Once we become a member, the church accepts us as one of its own. They fully embrace us, and we become one of them. 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 is not biblical. We made it up.

Having members separates church attendees between those on the inside and everyone else. It pushes away spiritual seekers. Membership splits the church of Jesus, separating people into two groups, offering privileges to one and holding the other at a distance.

It is a most modern concept, consumerism at its finest. (More on this in the next section.)

Although perhaps well intended, membership divides the church that Jesus wants to function as one (John 17:21). Jesus accepts and loves everyone, not just those who follow him or give money.

Paul never gives instructions about church membership, Peter never commands we join a church, and John never holds a new membership class.

Church membership is not biblical. We made it up. Click To Tweet

2. Church Is Not for Consumers

When we join a church by becoming a member, we expect something in return. In addition to acceptance, we seek benefits. That’s why we go church shopping, striving to find the church that offers us the most.

We look for the best preaching, the most exciting worship, and the widest array of programs to meet our needs.

This is consumerism—and it doesn’t belong in the church.

When people feel free to leave a church, often over the smallest of slights, they view themselves as a customer shopping for the church that offers the most value. This is a consumer mindset, not a godly perspective.

We shouldn’t shop for a church that provides the services we want. Instead we should look for a faith community we can help.

When people go church shopping, the church becomes a service provider. Which church offers the best services? Then the focus shifts to programs, service styles, and preaching power.

Instead of asking, “What can the church do for me?” the better question becomes “What can I do for the church?” Don’t seek to be served but to serve. (See Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45.)

This idea of receiving services influences our church selection process. Seldom do people look for a church that gives them the opportunity to serve. Instead they seek a church for the benefits it provides: the music, the message, and the ministries.

They’re church shoppers, pursuing church selection with a consumer mindset.

The result is a retail religion. These people shop for a church the same way they buy a car or look for a gym. They make a list—either literally or figuratively—of the things their new car, gym, or church must have.

Then they draft their wish list of what they hope their new car, gym, or church could have. And then they create a final list of deal breakers, detailing the things their new car, gym, or church can’t have.

Then they go shopping.

They tick off items on their list. With intention they test drive cars, check out gyms, or visit churches. In each case, they immediately reject some and consider others as possibilities.

Eventually they grow tired of shopping and make their selection from the top contenders, seeking a solution that provides them with the most value.

A better, and more God-honoring approach, is to seek a church community that provides opportunities for us to serve. We need to stop thinking of church for the things it will provide for us and instead consider the things we can do for it, that is, for the people who go there and the community surrounding it.

We should look for a church that provides opportunities for us to serve, according to how God has wired us, ways that make us come alive. This includes service within the church and to those people outside the church.

Service is not an isolated activity. As we serve, we do so as a group. Church service and community matter more than church programs and benefits.

We need to stop thinking of church for the things it will provide for us and instead consider the things we can do for it. Click To Tweet

3. Church Is Not about Division

We’ve talked about how church membership divides people. Some carry the special status of members, while others are relegated to second-class status as attendees. Membership segregates people into two groups. This divides Jesus’s church, the body of Christ.

Sadly, there are nuances within membership too. There are those who serve on boards and committees and those who don’t function in a leadership capacity. There are those who teach classes and those who don’t. There are those who volunteer and those who don’t.

Each distinguishing characteristic elevates some and devalues others.

We also divide by race, ethnicity, and social economic status. More God-dishonoring segregation. Shame on us.

4. Church is Not About Theology

Another way we promote division is through our theology. Yes, theology divides us.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. But the modern idea of finding the right theology piles layers on top of this basic understanding, and the subject gets murky. The result is too many multi-syllable words that few people can pronounce and even fewer can comprehend.

Turning God into an academic pursuit of the right theology pushes him away and keeps us from truly knowing him.

As people pursue theology, they amass information. Much of this forms a theoretical construct, turning God into an abstract spiritual entity. They gather knowledge at the risk of pushing the Almighty away.

This knowledge of who God is generates pride. It puffs up. Instead of knowledge, we should pursue love, which builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

The pursuit of theological learning is a noble task, but it’s not the goal. Chasing after a theology of God isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end: to know who God is in an intimate, personal way.

Instead we take our theologies and divide Jesus’s church. We cite certain beliefs as immutable. We fellowship with those who agree with us and disassociate from those who disagree. We dishonor Jesus in the process and serve as a poor witness as a result.

We take our theologies and divide Jesus’s church, dishonoring God in the process. Click To Tweet

5. Church Is Not for Networking

Some people become part of a church to make marketing contacts or achieve status as a member of a high-profile congregation. Their goal in attending isn’t spiritual. It’s business. It’s closing sales.

Once they’ve sold all they can to those who attend that church, they move on to another one. For them attending church is a business strategy, and God takes a backseat.

6. Church Is Not a Business

A church is not a business, and we shouldn’t run it like one either. Many churches today, however, think like a business and operate like one. A church should not have a profit motive, that is, maximizing donations.

Nor should a church adapt current business world concepts such as having a CEO, a board, marketing strategies, customer experience, and incentive programs.

Yes, a church should be fiscally responsible and manage its money—God’s money— with the highest integrity. And a church needs some degree of leadership, but remember Jesus modeled the idea of servant leadership (Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45). So should today’s church leaders.

And we shouldn’t track the achievements of our church the same way a business would. Today’s church measures success by attendance, offerings, and facility size. This is because the world values increased scope: the number of people, amount of money, and square footage of a building.

We’re more like the world than we care to admit. More people showing up for church each week is good. A larger campus impresses. Bigger offerings allow for more of the same. Churches with a sizeable attendance or grand edifice garner attention.

They receive media coverage. Books celebrate them and elevate their leaders to lofty pedestals. This is how the Western world defines success.

The church buys into it without hesitation. These measures of success become the focus. But this focus is off, even looking in the wrong direction. The triple aim of most churches—attendance, offerings, and facility—doesn’t matter as much as most people think.

Said more bluntly, most church leaders today focus on the three B’s: butts (in the chair), bucks (in the offering), and buildings.

I doubt God cares about the size of our audience, offerings, or facility. Instead of an unhealthy, unbiblical focus on the three B’s, what if we and our churches looked to the three C’s of changed lives, community, and commitment?

Changed Lives: First, Jesus wants changed lives. He yearns for us to repent (Luke 13:3) and follow him (Luke 9:23). Then we can reorder our priorities. In fact, most all he says is about changing the way we live.

Community: Next, Jesus wants to build a community—to be one—just as he and Papa are one (John 17:21). He wants us to be part of the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Instead we have become a church.

Commitment: Last, Jesus expects our commitment. He desires people who will go all in. He wants us to follow him, to serve him, and to be with him (John 12:26). We need to maintain our focus on him and not look back to what we left behind (Luke 9:62). That’s commitment, and that’s what Jesus wants.

If Jesus focuses on changed lives, community, and commitment, so should we. Let’s push aside butts, bucks, and buildings, because these things get in the way of what Jesus wants for his followers.

Jesus focuses on changed lives, community, and commitment. So should we. Click To Tweet

7. Church Is Not an Institution

Most churches—and especially denominations—become institutions over time. As institutions they seek to perpetuate themselves regardless of the circumstances. In their struggle for survival, they lose sight of why they existed in the first place.

Instead of seeking to serve their community and share salvation through Jesus, their focus grows inward. Their priority is on self-preservation at all costs.

People expect a church—their church—will last forever. They forget that a church, which comprises people, is a living, breathing, and changing entity. It’s organic. That means a church is born, grows, thrives, and dies—just like the people who are in it.

The only way to avoid this is for a church to become an institution, but once it does it loses its original purpose. It’s no longer alive. It’s dead and can do little to advance the kingdom of God.

Church shouldn’t be a business, institution, or club. We must rescind membership, stop thinking like consumers, and start pursuing unity over segregation. Finally, we need to stop dividing ourselves by our theology. Jesus has one church. We must start acting like it.

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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52 Churches

Reflecting on Church #15: Moving Towards Unity and Acceptance

Let’s Strive to Get Along

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #15.

This United Methodist Church is an outlier congregation, quite unlike the others from their denomination that we have visited. Though we enjoyed them all, this one stands out. My happy memory of attending this church lingers. They promote unity and acceptance.

I want to return. In only a few of the 52 churches did I feel the active presence of the Holy Spirit. But in this one, I did. And he draws me back.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

A Guide for Unity and Acceptance

I was surprised to learn there’s a charismatic element within the United Methodist Church. Their denomination is intentional about everyone, both churches and their leaders, accepting one another despite differing views on the role and function of the Holy Spirit.

They seek mutual acceptance and shun division.

I wish all churches would adopt this attitude. The Methodist Church has even written a helpful document to offer a healthy and holistic approach to the function of the Holy Spirit and the Charismatic stream of Christianity. It is Guidelines: The United Methodist Church and the Charismatic Movement.

It’s a great example to follow. Let’s do so.

[See my reflections about Church #14 and Church #16 or start with Church #1.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, 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.