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Notes on looking for a Biblical Church part 4

Notes on looking for a Biblical Church part 4
To start this series, go here.
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  1. Image management is not a line item in the budget (“branding”) nor is one visually aware of it when coming into church. Sometimes called “conspicuous consumption”.

This is such a trap that most churches fall into, especially those with large budgets.  Leadership knows that most people are consumers, whose taste buds have been molded and shaped by the world, and as such, need to be provided the latest of whatever is “in” at the time, whether architecture, sound system, audio/visual, or book/small group Bible (or should I say “video”) study (usually not on the Bible), even fancy furnishings, especially the stage presence.   People like to feel coddled and the church that does the most coddling will get the most attendees.  They can argue and protest that this is to preach the Gospel to those who attend, but in my experience, that just isn’t happening, nor have the holograms that we project on Sunday morning furthered the Kingdom of God one inch.

Can you imagine how many Bibles could be distributed in your neighborhood and around the world (to those who, mentioned above, don’t have a Bible) just on the money spent on coffee and donuts both by the church and by those who attend, bringing their Starbucks cups into worship time?  Trending in churches right now seems to be feeding the homeless.  How many homeless could be fed by trimming the budget of things that have no eternal significance, and  reaching out with the Gospel to these down-and-out folks?  Just what does it cost to have the consumer-expected, image-managed full-color bulletin and where could that money and time be better used sharing the Gospel with those in need?

These are just a few examples but are a symptom of larger issues of intent.  And it stems from why a church exists in the first place.  If it’s to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel”, then all the success in filling buildings and calendars, where has that gotten us?  I don’t see a lot of “going”; I see a lot of encouragement to come to our church, our show, our programs.

It would seem from the world’s standard that bigger is better and most effective, but the church has gotten sidetracked on sprucing up the lighthouse with the latest furnishings, curtains, paint and sound equipment and forgotten what lighthouses are for.  Sailors on a ship in distress don’t care what shape the light house is in, just that the light is as strong and clear and focused as can be, pointed out to sea, showing the lost how to find the harbor and warning of rocks and shoals that will destroy.  All they are concerned about is the light, not the building that holds it up.  If the light is strong, then the harbor will be filled with those who made it in safely.  Culture in a wreck?  Then who is to blame?

Notes on looking for a Biblical Church part 3

Notes on looking for a Biblical Church, part 3

To start this series go here.
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  1. Brokenness and repentance are key parts of the Salvation message.

“Ask Jesus into your heart/life” is not Biblical (actually anti-Biblical) nor will save anyone.  Without  brokenness, there will be no true repentance, and without repentance there will be no forgiveness of sin, and thus no salvation.  I am sick of hearing “altar calls” where a watered down Gospel is given, where very little has been said about sin and the need for a Savior, and maybe a “forgive me for my sin” thrown into the “sinner’s prayer” incantation just to get that in at the last minute.  “Oh, by the way, you are sinner and need to have those sins forgiven, so just say this and it’s all wiped away.”  Nowhere will you find an easy “get into the Kingdom” card in Scripture.  Admitting one is broken, beyond repair, and owning the sin that has offended a Holy God is strange to modern ears.

Confession is sometimes talked about but that’s only agreeing with God that we are sinners.  Without brokenness and repentance being combined into confession, there is no intent to ever change, no sorrow over sin that would cause me to not ever do that thing again.   I’m looking for a salvation message that includes the depraved sinfulness of sin and the total failure of us having any ability to do anything about it.  What’s usually proclaimed is we are just basically good  people with a few flaws that need fixing, when actually God sees us as dead in our sin, needing resurrection, not a remodel.  It seems the current drive is to get you into the Christian club and the sin is dealt with at a later time.  I have actually heard something like this said from the pulpit.

Notes on looking for a Biblical Church part 2

Notes on looking for a Biblical Church, part 2.
To start this series, go here.

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  1. The Bible is to be held in highest esteem, read publically often, and preached on regularly.

That is so hard to find. One would think that if the Scriptures have been given to us:

“for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”
( which pretty much covers all of life)

and is:

alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart
(which covers the innermost being),

then any church who hopes to be called “Christian” would hold the Bible up as “the inspired, infallible, authoritative, and inerrant Word of God” and is the “only inspired, infallible and authoritative source of Christian faith and practice.”  (These statements are usually included in any standard conservative evangelical statement of faith….well, not just “any” but at least those who are serious about the Scriptures.  And it’s becoming harder and harder to find.)

If the leadership truly believes these things, then this will play itself out in how the church conducts itself in public.  But we have found that even though a church may state these things on a website, many do not follow them in practice.  Sermons can be all over the map; topical preaching that would be a great series on PBS during pledge week.  And even when a Scripture is read before the pastor begins, they often range far astray from their beginning.

One thing we look for when we enter a church is how many people are carrying their Bibles into church and use them during the sermon.  (We attended one church that had pew Bibles, but even those weren’t used or even needed during the service.)  Whether people bring their own Bibles to church says a lot about the spiritual temperature of the leadership.  Do they bring theirs?  Do they even see the daily use of a personal Bible important in the discipleship of those around them?  Since when does the use of  printing the Scripture in the bulletin or put up on a PowerPoint slide take the place of people looking up the Scripture in their own Bibles?  We have seen where verses have been intentionally left out because they didn’t agree with the point the preacher was making.  How would the people know they are being deceived if they didn’t have their own?  Are Believers becoming “un-Christianized” in the church’s effort to make new people feel welcome?

We take having a Bible for granted.  Thousands in persecuted countries have traveled miles on foot just to get a copy, and if found out, would be beaten or killed, their homes destroyed and families jailed or kicked out of town.  And this is happening today.  Hundreds of churches have none or only one Bible among all those who attend.  They sit around and memorize sections in case the Bible is taken from them, so they still have the Word of God with them.  Why? Because they believe the Word of God is exactly that and has the power to change lives.  Why are we so lax about our own Bibles?  Because we don’t believe what we say.  If church leadership truly believed what they profess in their Statement of Belief/Doctrinal Statement (above), then the Scriptures would be the ultimate and only source of every service and sermon, and would insist that those who attend would bring and use their own, not the provided printed copy.  God has only promised to bless His Word, not man’s words, and will not share His glory and power with any preacher, no matter how studied or talented.

Notes on looking for a Biblical Church

Today begins an 11 part series on our search for a church.  It is really long, so I have broken it up into smaller sections to make it easier to read.  One will be posted every day.   I will post the whole thing as one long post at the end of this series if you want to have it as one text.  I hope this will provoke some deep thought about your own church experiences and maybe about where you attend now , examining how that lines up with Scripture.

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Notes on Looking for a Biblical Church
Jim Poelstra
7/2017

For about 4 years we have been looking for a church.  Lest you think we are one of the those who have the American Christian disease of consumer mentality, I want to clarify that statement by saying we are looking for a Biblical church, with Biblical leadership, resulting in Biblical services and Biblical outreach.  I have often lamented to my wife, “Why is this so hard?  Why is it so hard to find a church that is based on the Bible and the principles set out there? I know there are no perfect churches but, come on, can’t we even get somewhere at least near the ballpark?”  One would think that a church where the Bible is the only place that leadership would look to start and run a church would be plentiful.

Well, I can say that they are indeed hard to find.  We have been to many churches over the last 40 years, and found that either they are “seeker” consumer oriented and have fallen down the black hole of image management and hyped services, or have a one string guitar with one message to the exclusion to most other Biblical messages, with the attitude, “We have the truth and you don’t”.  We have not attended all the churches in our area, but from looking at a lot of their websites, there seems to be extremes with nothing like the simple organism Jesus started and nurtured in the book of Acts.

To be truthful, I was kind of in despair, that we would ever find a church that simply followed Scripture in preaching and practice, and wondered what major Biblical criteria we would have to give up in order to commit to a particular church.  If you read a church’s statement of faith, you can learn a lot about where the church is going.  One thing that stands out is how high (or low) they esteem the Bible.  But even that can be deceiving.  A church (or person for that matter) can say they hold the Bible as the only source for truth, faith and practice, but then you observe their preaching and actions and it just doesn’t line up.  There seems to be a lot of the world’s philosophy creeping in, so that what they say and what they do are two different things.

It isn’t like we are looking for a certain car and liked this color on that one and those seats and that stereo and the gas mileage from another one, and are now trying to find a car with all these traits.  It was like we saw so many things that did not line up with Scripture, either directly by edict or indirectly by inference or character, that the positive things got overshadowed.

So I made a list of what we are looking for in church.  I took notes during and after visiting these churches and most of these came out of negative things we saw.  These are in no any particular order of importance, just how they are listed in my notebook.

  1. Spirit-led worship, where Jesus is lifted up, not people or the church.

So many times, regardless of what’s said before or during a worship time, it becomes obvious that there are many different reasons the musicians are on stage.  For any singer or musician, ego can be a huge problem, and if not stamped down consciously and intentionally, will become obvious for all to see.  The Biblical principle is the worship leaders (and instrumentalists) are to fade into the background and be loathe to stand out and in the way of those they are trying to lead into the Presence of Almighty God.  This includes how they dress, movement and voice that distracts anyone who has come to see Jesus.  I read recently that they are to be so much in the background that the next day, you couldn’t remember who was on stage.   That probably won’t happen, but it’s a goal to reach for.

Song choices today seem to be all about the unholy trinity of I, Me and My, with little concentration to lift up and glorify Jesus, the One who died for me.  It’s all about my problems, my benefits and my past/present/future and not about the One Who is taking me there.  I go to church to worship God/Jesus, to have Him lifted up in my heart to His rightful position. That’s the Biblical model.  That’s what we will be doing in Heaven for eons of time.

I’m looking for a church where it is evident that the worship leaders are up there because God has called them to be up there, that they are meek and humble about their gifts, and are perfectly willing to be in the background while Jesus gets all the glory and praise.  They choose songs that glorify Christ and Him alone, lift Him up for us to worship and adore, songs that are chosen because of their content, not their beat or likeable tune, not because they have been written and promoted by the latest Christian superstar.  Spirit-led worship can only happen in this atmosphere, where the Holy Spirit does not have to compete with man’s ego for the center of attention.  Here there is freedom for the worshipper to concentrate on their Savior without the distractions of catchy tunes and antics on stage, including cool guitar riffs and amazing vocalization, with spot lights in all the right places, emphasizing those leading.  How about a spot light on Jesus and the cross only, not actually but mentally?

Also, Spirit led worship means that there is no hype to whoop up the crowd to sing louder or raise their hands or even stand.  The backup music is at a level that it does not compete with the words, nor raise false emotion with the sound level.  They are up there to accompany us, the choir, and if we can’t hear each other, only them, then this purpose is defeated and it becomes about the band and not us who are being led.   In a worship setting, crowd mentality is so easily manipulated, and afterwards, people said they worshipped, but often, I wonder, was it worship or something else?

I read recently that volume is a cheap trick to raise the energy level of a room.  Was all that hand raising, and swaying and singing loud really Holy Spirit inspired, that He bubbled up inside the person (a whole crowd?) and caused them to give their all in worship of Almighty God?  Or was it hype and manipulation of emotions, that they would do the same thing at the next rock concert?  Because if you look at the crowds at a secular concert on YouTube, it’s hard to tell the difference between that and last Sunday’s worship service.  And it’s a lot of the same people….

Too many churches use amazing worship services (exact words used in print) as a primary means of growing a church, with the secondary intent of connecting with God.  Shame on them, to use something so holy and intimate like worship as a marketing tool.  I’m looking for a church where there is no glitz nor glam to the gathering of the saints, just sincere broken people lifting up their hearts in praise to their Savior.

Quotes from Books… Gods at War, by Kyle Idleman

More quotes from the book Gods at War, by Kyle Idleman.  Very convicting book.  Buy it. Read it.
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[on the idol of food]:

Every gift God gives us can be twisted into a lure to pull us away from Him.

The problem comes when we start to look to food to do for us what the Lord God alone should do.

[John 6, story of the feeding of the five thousand]

A very large part of mankind’s ills and of the world’s misery is due to the rampant practice of trying to feed the soul with the body’s food (Frank Farrell)

[Jesus] wanted them to have the kind of passion for filling the soul that they did for filling the stomach.

They came wanting something to eat and Jesus offers Himself.  But here’s the question:  Is He enough?

Will you continue to follow even without a meal ticket?

“God is not interested in my comfort.  He’s interested in my healing.” (Paul Jones)

God cannot and will not give us a sense of lasting pleasure apart from Him, because it violates His purpose and our design.

One of the easiest ways to gauge the power that the god of food has over you is to go on a fast.

Pray that you will have greater hunger for Him than the food of this world.

 

Wisdom for the Day

Forgiveness is the ultimate expression of love.

You can never inflict enough pain to make yours go away.

Christianity is the only religion that offers forgiveness for sin.

Secrecy is the main ally of temptation and addiction.

Do you regularly delete your internet cache?  If so, why?  What are you hiding?

Do you only think the thoughts of others?  When was the last time you were quiet and still enough to have an original thought?  How would you know if it was?

The wealthiest people in the world are those who finally say, “I have enough.”

Thankfulness is wanting what I have.  Contentment is not wanting any more.

Either way, now is not forever.

Pragmatic Christianity

In a small group at church a while back, we watched a series of videos on temptations and how to avoid them.  After the last video, I commented to the group that I felt I had just watched a PBS pledge-week series on “How to Live a Better Life”.   If the speaker had not mentioned that the verses he had quoted were from the Bible but just said “a wise man once said” and then quoted the verse, PBS viewers would have loved this series…there was nothing inherently “Christian” in it to offend or put anyone off.   I’m not against what he said, it’s just that he didn’t take if far enough.

He made out that if you do these things, put up guardrails against temptation, then your life won’t get messed up and you will live a better life and those around you will not have to pick up the pieces when you crash and burn. Which is probably true, but is the epitome of pragmatism. “We follow the Bible and Jesus so we can live a better life; it just makes sense.” Is that the real reason we are to have guardrails in our lives?  So we can live better and not mess up?

I asked the question to the group “What is the ultimate purpose for guardrails?”  The speaker in the video didn’t answer that question.  If he had, then it would no longer be PBS material.  He didn’t take that last step and apply the question to the Christian life; he just talked about life in general.

Pragmatism (do this because it makes good, wise sense to do it) makes this whole Christian thing all about me. But the Scriptures are clear that this life is not about me. It’s all about God.  All of life is about God. We were all created for Him, and we live our lives for Him and His purposes.

The ultimate Biblical purpose to live a clean holy life unencumbered with sin is that it brings glory to God Himself.  Period.

We do this not to live easy trouble-free lives but to honor God and please Him, not ourselves or others. Without this last step, the Christian life is still about us and what we get out of it. But it’s not about us; it’s all about what He has done for us, and living God-honoring lives is our response to His love for us. It’s not about pragmatic reasons, but about holy living, because He wants us to, because it glorifies Him, not so we can live nice lives. None of this was brought up on the series.

He mentioned at the end that we just need to simply “make up our minds” to do the right things…so, how many times have you done that and succeeded?  How has that worked out for you?  It’s not about just “making up our minds”, but all about, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. There was no mention that we are powerless to do any of what he suggests on our own, unless God is doing this in and through us; we have just got to somehow grit our teeth and go for it.  There were no suggestions on how to cooperate with God and allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to help us keep our minds “doing the right things”, to change.

Living the Christian life is not just difficult, it’s impossible to do in the long term.   Without the help and empowering of the Holy Spirit, we are doomed to failure.

I think this speaker is an amazing communicator and I enjoyed the videos. But during any presentation of life values, we need the ultimate perspective that life is not about us, never was and never will be. Putting up guardrails so I can live a pure and holy life isn’t about me. It’s all about God. For it’s by Him and His power we exist, and it’s for Him and His glory we live. Any other purpose, and it becomes about me.

I heard a sermon once on the Ten Commandments and the reason the pastor gave for obeying them was so we could live trouble-free lives.  This totally ignores the rest of the text of the Law given to Moses, where repeatedly God’s voice booms through to us from ages past, “I am the Lord your God.”  That is the reason He gave.  That’s it.  We don’t need any other reason to obey.  We don’t need a pragmatic “What’s in it for me?” reason.  God’s command should be good enough, and if it is not, then we can come up with 100 excuses and reasons for not obeying that particular command, especially the seemingly insignificant.

If obedience to God  because of Who He is and what Jesus has done for us on the Cross isn’t enough, then no amount of pragmatic Christianity will last the long term.  We will make excuses and become sloppy and lazy and no longer intentional in our Christianity.  If we are living for God’s glory and for His pleasure and for His use, these reasons never change and if we truly love Him, the we will follow His commands.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  That’s all the reason we need.