25 October 2007

Your whole house, and everything in it

by Frank Turk

OK -- so with about 25 posts on the topic of why you need to belong to a local church and not just stop by a local church -- including all the wacky meta that has accompanied it -- so what? I mean, why the beat-down on people who are frankly not happy about not having a local church? Am I seriously suggesting that these people don't really want a church to belong to?

The provocative answer is: Yes and no.

Now, before you fire off an e-mail to the board of FIRE demanding that somebody take my name out of the Reformed® Lamb's book of Life™ for insulting men and women of good conscience, we have to unpack some of our contemporary assumptions about who we are and why we think the way we do. And one of "our" cultural predispositions in American evangelicalism is premillenialism, especially the kind which wears the big cardboard sign with black hand-painted letters that reads "THE END IS NEAR".

It's that view of things -- especially the view which thinks that because the end of the world is here and we are living someplace between Rev 4 and Rev 19 in a calendar-date kind of way, and the Great Whore is deceiving all kinds of men, including the elect (as if that were possible)-- we sort of default into the view that it's not likely for us, the informed readers of blogs and books by puritans, reformers and Charles Spurgeon, that we shall find a church which, as they might have said of Lazarus, doesn't stinketh.

But here's the problem: from the day of Paul and his life after founding all those churches across the ancient world, the church was never perfect. Go back and read this post by me and look at the state of the churches Paul was writing to. The churches Paul founded were frankly not perfect -- they weren't even really very consistent. You know: it's not like 40 years had passed between the time Paul founded the church in Corinth and when they decided that the Lord's table was really a private party and not a public place where sinners demonstrate their unity in Christ, or where they had, apparently, forgotten the Gospel which is of fist importance.

And Paul's first letter to Corinth didn't say, "Dudes: flee to the hills -- your pastors and elders are apostates." He said, in effect, "remember the truth of Christ and find unity in truth."

So in our right-minded expectation for Christ to come soon -- and it is a right-minded expectation, premil, a-mil, post-mil or grist-mill -- we cannot at the same time look at Christ's church as something which we hold at arm's length.

So yes: I am suggesting that, on the one hand, many of us have (and I think it's accidental and sort of subconscious; I don't think people -mean- to think this way) bought into the "end-is-near" mistake that the church is in a pre-pre-mil state of looming apostasy and we can't be expected to join to that.

But on the other hand, no, I don't think anyone (except maybe Campingites and some other wacked-out cultists) is doing this on-purpose. I don't think you mean to profane the things God has made holy -- I think many people are simply looking for something which has never existed in the history of time and space, and our expectations of others are too high and of ourselves are too low.

That is: we want to find a church that makes us holy and perfect rather than seeing that Christ makes us holy and calls us out to be joined together in spite of the fact that none of us are right now perfect in "the things we do to ourselves and other people" kind of way. We are not the spiritual equivalent of "Mr. Clean" -- Jesus is. He is the one who cleans the whole house and everything in it, not you or your book-laernin', and certainly not the perfection of the pastor at your church. When we get that right, we can get a lot more right in the way we act toward others.

You know: the holiness of the church doesn't come from the holiness of the members. It comes from Christ. I'm sure you've read this before --

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
It's what Christ has done which makes the church holy -- even the mediocre church with the boring pastor, even the popular church with the country-club environment, even the lowly church which is full of poor people and can't scrape up enough money to send a missionary or buy a building.

And let me dare to say something which will enrage the internet version of the Thessalonican mob: even the church which is tottering on the brink of apostasy. One of the real foundational bits of scripture for church-leaver is the section of Revelation which announces the letters from God to the churches in Asia. And before we run through that quickly, it is interesting and important to note that in 2 Tim 1, Paul says flatly to Timothy that "You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me". That's decades before John received the prophecies and messages in Revelation, readers. Around 65 AD, Paul told Timothy that all in Asia have jumped ship.

But then John, at the end of his life, sees visions and hears the Glorified Christ say stuff, has the audacity to write stuff like this:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
Now, look at all the "us"'s there -- and he's saying "us" to churches which Paul has written off decades before, and to whom he is about to write the letters of warning and condemnation.

That's not to soft-soak the warnings in the next 3 chapters: that to say that even in giving these churches strong warnings, John wasn't ready to say that individuals needed to flee the church. He was ready and able to say that it is for the truth of Christ that we must stand firm, and it is by being the church that we repudiate error.

So before you get to "But I have this against you" or "some there who hold the teaching of Balaam" or "you tolerate that woman Jezebel" or "I will spit you out of my mouth", go back to the greeting John gives and ask yourself if you personally should spit out of your mouth something Christ's blood has purchased.

The question here is a serious one. It requires you to be serious and loving and faithful and obedient before you are passing judgment and shaking the dust off your feet.

And there's one other question I got via e-mail which I want to address, but that'll have to be for tomorrow.

Talk amongst yourselves.







37 comments:

Stefan said...

Wow.

David said...

Does everybody agree that God asks us to do some difficult things? Among the most difficult of those things is faithfulness and love to less-than-faithful-and-loving people. He does it Himself. And He very specifically in His word tells us to walk in the same manner.

Once again, you don't get God's faithfulness (not to a position but to a people) until you get God's faithfulness.

As luck would have it, I'm being tested in this, even this week. I aim to prove God right (Rom 12:1-2).

Thanks again for this incredible series, Cent.

centuri0n said...

God wants us to do hard things? What?

God doesn't want us to have our best life now? Are you sure?

... crazy readers ... malcontents the lot of you ..

Mike Riccardi said...

'Doesn't stinketh' probably should be 'doth not stink,' no?

Daryl said...

You've got a gift Cent. That was perfect.


I prefer stinketh not.

steve said...

Among the most difficult of those things is faithfulness and love to less-than-faithful-and-loving people. He does it Himself. And He very specifically in His word tells us to walk in the same manner.

Ouch.

Well said and worth repeating.

Daryl said...

Isn't it true that we need to stop trying to do what Christ does and emulate him instead?

I think, Cent, that that is the crux of your whole arguement, and it's a good one.

REM said...

Well stated cent. Definitely of ‘fist’ and first importance because it is a fight to emphasize what scripture emphasizes the way the scripture emphasizes it (paraphrasing Calvin).

Matt said...

Excellent, Cent. I need that message right now in light of my own local church situation. If you have the time, I'd like you to stop in at my blog and let me know what you think of my post "Divisions in the Church" . Is my post the other side of the same coin of whence you speak? Or have I made an error in my thinking? I am trying to prayerfully and thoughtfully work through this topic as it is a salient one for me personally.

VcdeChagn said...

Isn't it true that we need to stop trying to do what Christ does and emulate him instead?

Can you clarify this and explain the difference?

An "emulator" performs the same functions as what it emulates...therefore I'm not clear what difference there is between the former and latter parts of your statement.

Writing and Living said...

Lots to think about here. Thanks.

Daryl said...

vcdechagn,

All I meant was that we need to not try and effect the work that Christ has done and will do in the church, and emulate him in character.

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "Who died and made you the holy spirit?" So our job is not to ensure that conviction etc. happens, but to behave in the manner of the fruits of the spirit etc. and trust God to do what only God can do?

Perhaps I'm trying too hard to split hairs...I see it as coming down to, do what we must and trust God to do what only he can do.

It's about being faithful and leaving results up to God. Speak the truth and don't imagine we failed because the truth is ignored. And don't leave the church because our warnings are not taken to heart, let God make them be taken to heart.

donsands said...

Even the churches in Galatia, which have taken up a perverted gospel, Paul wrote to them as brethern.

He does say, "I am afraid of you. lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain."
And: " .. if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not destroyed [consumed] one of another."

I suppose we need to hold tight to the Lord if our church is falling apart, and keep praying for a return to grace, truth, and love.

My church fell apart. I tried to stick in there, but too many nasty people, who didn't like me.
It's very difficult to go and worship the Lord, when people are going to be there that resent you, and ignore you; even when you try to reconcile.
Very tough indeed.
Kind of zaps your joy and peace.

stratagem said...

Cent,

Now, look at all the "us"'s there -- and he's saying "us" to churches which Paul has written off decades before, and to whom he is about to write the letters of warning and condemnation.

Sounds like you are saying that Paul sinned when he 'wrote off' those churches that rejected him? Or am I misunderstanding you on this point?

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

The body must remain sober minded and balanced- Below represents the "bookends" of the problem you address.

Some people (and this is common) are just looking for a reason to leave. If they can't find one they create one- AGREED!

On the other side of the spectrum...(which is rare)
The parish that stuck w/ Rev.Swiftwell and his ilk, through gross false teaching, embezzelment, adultery, etc "for the sake of community" then below applies.

“God, why did you forsake me?” God replied, “Forsake you? I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more do you want?”
__________________________
Cent, years ago I saw the second group of sheep (pillars of the community) stay for three more years. The pain was avoidable IMO. Hundreds were deluded.

Stefan said...

This narrative twist from 2 Timothy to the letters to the churches in Revelation is striking, now that Cent has brought it to light. It brings to mind Elijah's despair in 1 Kings 19:14, feeling as if he is the only one of God's faithful left, and the great joy he must have felt when being told by God in verse 18 that all was not lost: there were seven thousand (a lot more than zero) who had "not bowed to Baal."

The Holy Spirit is the greatest of all storytellers—the perfect Storyteller (and by story, I mean "true story")—the Master of dramatic tension and surprise.

TheBlueRaja said...

Is this the spirit of how we should think of the universal church, other local churches and Christian ministries, or just our own local church?

philness said...

The rate of church hoppers is significant to the rate of popping churches on every corner. What should we expect? And not to mention the rate of preachers being cranked out from every walk of thought (whatever that number is).

lordodamanor said...

I suppose I have to Apollo-gize. And, my spelen is is atrocious cuz eye gots no 'book-laernin.' I usually spell Philadelphia, Filadelfya, because I'm phonician. But, seriously, and cent wants us serious, I did not intend to treat flippantly a subject that I remarked as being treated too flippantly. It just seemed it was getting a little heavee.

I suppose the Wittenburg door was a revolving one, or at least that is the way it is now treated. As a consumer, if I do not like day old waffers, can't I look for a fresh bread distributor? When churches become consumer oriented, they are consumer driven. Meet the need, cost versus profit. It should not surprise us that what the pulpit expects is what the pew becomes. And vice verse.

In light of the Episcopal disillusionment, what say you? Your assessment of imperfection, is both historically and biblically correct and it started here: John 6:70. He also said that the darkness was coming. We see corruption from the beginning and were warned of its increase, not its decrease. And God intended it this way.

Before we can even arrive at why and for what good and sufficient reason we leave, we have to get to the good and sufficient reason to cling and not be torn asunder. There is another issue-

The SBC has around a 1/3 active members conference wide and about 50% local attendance any given Sunday, some have said. Could it be, that the Churches themselves do not need dedication, therefore do not need reform, being content with marginal membership that sufficienctly supplies their needs?

stratagem said...

What of the Episcopal disillusionment? I think that's a good point. The theory goes that if enough sound Episcopals had not abandoned ship, the Episcopals would not be as off the end of the pier as they now are.

However, one aspect of the modern church is that leadership is trained up in the seminaries, not trained up in ministry within the local church. Therefore the seminary professors are the ones who set doctrine, not the local church. And we all know how sound seminary profs are these days.

The Episcopal church has been taken over from above, with the key to entry into their top leadership being a PhD, not necessarily ministry experience and sound doctrine. In such a case, I think it's pretty futile to expect people to slog on within such a framework, locally, when there is no chance of changing the national leadership or direction. Just my opinion.

centuri0n said...

Stratagem:

Ever single word I write can be misinterpreted, and you make a hobby of doing just that, dude.

Paul's words to Timothy are inspired, right? So they must be true. The question is, "what do they mean?"

When Paul says this to Timothy, we have to first of all believe what he has said. But to believe it, we must understand is. Given what John says to these churches 20-30 years later, I think what it cannot mean is "they have abandoned Christ" or "they are no longer churches".

And that, btw, is the point. The point not, "how wrong was Paul": the point is "how wrong are we to give up before the Bible says we ought to give up?"

The Bible teaches hard stuff, and it's not just hard because it's written in Greek or Hebrew: it's hard because God is bigger than we are and this are His words.

However, since you asked, how would you reconcile these things? How would you answer the question you have asked me -- or would you simply deny that Paul and John are talking to the same churches?

centuri0n said...

stratagem:

Any chance you could think about this topic at least from the point you entered into it, given all the things have been said to you about it? I think you're trying to justify something nobody it trying to justify in order to defeat an idea which you ought not to want to defeat.

Here's what I want you to do: review the posts in the category "stay or go" at this blog, and if at any point in that category I have written, "a church which ordains homosexuals and publicly justifies its action needs to be loved on some more just for good measure", you have keep complaining. If you can't find any statements like that, frankly, button it up. You're boring me by making me repeat myself every time this topic comes up.

centuri0n said...

Once for all:

"staying" is not enough, just as "attending" is not enough.

And if "staying" makes you "deluded", don't stay -- because the point of staying is not you.

Re-read the posts under the category "stay or go" here at TeamPyro and come back and ask yourself whether I am asking people to stay and get abused spiritually, socially or emotionally.

centuri0n said...

Raja:

The scope of my posts is the local church -- yours, mine.

I think some of this can be applied to the universal church, but I'm not prepared to say more than that today.

stratagem said...

Cent

OK, here goes.

In Cent's "Paul wrote off the Asian churches" theory, it seems either Paul had it wrong in writing off churches that would later return to the fold, or John had it wrong that these churches had later returned to the fold. This is why I find your idea that Paul had written off the Asian churches to be implausible.

I want to answer your question directly, about whether I think Paul erred. Given that I don't believe he wrote off those churches in the first place (see previous paragraph), the question makes little sense. But if I did accept your 'writing-off' theory, I might have to conclude that he did err (as by his own admission, he occasionally did). Either conclusion would not undermine the infallibility fo scripture, by the way and so I don't stand in judgement of anyone who accepts your writing-off theory. It's possible that Paul could have written them off when he wasn't supposed to, and accurately recorded this in the epistle.

Now in general I sense from your emotional response to my last message that you think I'm out to get you, or something. (No, I'm not). You also seem to think that I have not been reading what you've been writing, when in fact the problem is that you've been writing so many things that it's hard to nail down what your central thesis actually is. It seems to be paraphrasable as "you guys ought to stay in your local churches, even to the point that they turn apostate; but, if you object on the basis of some practical examples (such as gay ordination), I'll quickly claim that my demands didn't include that example."

I have found your writings on this subject to be confusing, imprecise, and even contradictory, evidenced by the need for 20-some articles on the same subject. It might be helpful if you would write article #26 on "what doctrinal issues could one leave a church over, without Cent trying to put the guilt trip on you for it?"

Stefan said...

Isn't it possible that on a non-doctrinal matter such as who among the Asians has fallen away, that Paul was speaking/writing hyperbolically?

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

Cent: "ask yourself whether I am asking people to stay and get abused spiritually, socially or emotionally."
________________________________

Cent, just so you know- I have never disagreed w/ you, and don't on this post. Meta minuses voice inflexion. Plus, I think my comment was slightly vague (unintentionally).

You are correct in treating the haystack first and the needle secondarily.

My only point is if your leaderships fruits start looking like Anton LeVay- make other arrangements for your family.

The Pride issue is common,
the LeVay issue is uncommon. My point is if you go to LeVay and win a brother great. But if you go to LeVay and nothing changes- and you keep coming to his house for a barbeque, shame on you. Am I tracking w/ you or do I need another cup of coffee?

How biga-boy are you? :)

Stefan said...

On the question of what is Cent's core teaching on this, one of the most representative posts seems to be this one from his personal blog (linked to from the earliest TP post with the "stay or go" label): For Example

Stefan said...

Believe it or not, he does counsel the need to go in some situations, and he discusses what Grace to You has said about the issue, so I'd highly recommend reading it.

centuri0n said...

Strategem:

Ah yes: I'm the emotional one for reading you make the same accusation over and over, in different forms, just to make sure you don;t ever actually say, "yeah ok: the local church is God's plan for the believer and people need to be a little more serious about their 'joining' such a thing."

Here's what I know for certain: I have already made it clear that if a person takes the Mt 18 route with a church and the church either obstructs his/her willingness to seek resolution in this way or rebukes the charge or asks the person to repent or leave, then the person is free to go. If you missed that, you're not reading this chain of posts or the responses I have made in it.

What that -avoids- is a legalistic list of lines that can't be crossed. You know: I think the people who left Doug Wilson's church when they went from credo to paedo so many years ago were 100% right to do so -- and Doug Wilson and his church are not heretics and apostates. How do you wedge that into your box of "reasons to leave your church"? You can't wedge it in under "church gone apostate" without calling all presbyterians apostate. But you -can- see the right-minded, biblical case that the church did, in fact, change its confession, and those who, through a Mt 18-like process, disagreed with the outcome left in good conscience.

On the other hand, in years gone by people left my local church because the pastor showed a video clip during a sermon to illustrate a point -- and they never once brought a complaint to the pastor, the staff, or the whole church -- let alone bringing witnesses. They were flatly wrong -- and not because showing a video is or is not a valid, godly part of homiletics: they were wrong for bearing a grudge and never resolving a perceived wrong.

What's at stake here is -obedience- and not -purity-. If you want to twist that as you read and try to get me to answer the question whether "obedience" is "pure" or not, you're just fishing for an fight. You have to understand that these are different categories -- like the difference between "grace" and "law".

As for your concern that I have said too much on this subject, it is because many people who have a history of leaving churches or simply not joining because they get their noses out of joint when they deal with other people want a list of reasons to leave a church but cannot come up with reasons to stay in their churches. If you can come up with a list of reason one ought not to leave a church, you have my primary reason for leaving: the church rejects your complaint that it, or its leaders, are in sin. If that's not comprehensive enough, I think you don't really understand what you're asking for.

The only kind of example I haven't really covered well in this series is the example of leaving a weaker, dying church for a stronger, healthier church. That's on-deck for tomorrow.

If you can't answer the question regarding what Paul says about the churches in Asia vs. what John says about them, then I'm going to ignore you going forward. It's a simple question, and it doesn't require a lot of theological fitness to answer it simply.

You think about it and then you decide what you want to do.

centuri0n said...

Once:

Pretty big, which is why I diet.

Sorry for taking you the wrong way.

stratagem said...

Cent: First off, I'm not trying to be snarky; I honestly don't get how you think I haven't answered the question I asked you, but here goes one more time: The question I asked you and you asked me to answer (without answering it yourself) was...

Sounds like you are saying that Paul sinned when he 'wrote off' those churches that rejected him? Or am I misunderstanding you on this point?

Once again: No, clearly I do not believe that Paul was sinning when he wrote off those churches. That's for one simple reason: I don't think he did write off those churches. You are the one who stated that he wrote them off, not me. Or, were you really not saying that he wrote them off? I'm just not understanding what your point is in asserting that Paul wrote these Asian churches off. If he did (as you say) write them off, then obviously he would have been too hasty in doing so, since they returned to the fold at some later date. (Another possible theory is that he wrote them off temporarily, in order to encourage them to return to the fold, and that's why they did return by the time John wrote about them).

As far as other "accusations" I have allegedly made, that was not the intent. Sorry if you thought it was. I am trying, struggling to understand in a succinct manner what your primary thesis is, but you have wrapped so many words around it that it's no longer clear to me. Every time I think I've got it, you say something else that seems to contradict what I thought you said before.

I suspect I am not the only one who would be relieved or less conflicted if you simply wrote a precise, one-paragraph statement of the unique thesis you are trying to contribute, is in this whole subject area. I don't disagree that many, many people are way too fast to up and leave a church for little reason; however, I also understand that the circumstances one encounters these days make for some very muddy and frankly, extreme judgement calls. Knowing this, I tend to extend a lot of grace toward anyone who leaves a church because their conscience is violated by whatever is going on there.

Andy said...

agreed Wow

Thanks for this

Johnny Dialectic said...

Hmm,I find Frank extremely clear (this is part of his charm, no?) In fact, in blogdom, Team Pyro are absolutely amazing in their ability to be cogent and deep post after ever loving post, subject after subject. That's not easy to do. I don't see many others that do as well.

In particular, Frank on the church has been one great series. Much appreciated.

Rick Potter said...

Your post (entire series, really) continually reminds me of an excerpt from "The Gulag Archipelago" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, to wit;

" 'Resistance! Why didn't you resist?' Today those who have continued to live on in comfort scold those who suffered. Yes, resistance should have begun right there, at the moment of the arrest itself. But it did not begin.

And so they are leading you. During a daylight arrest there is always that brief and unique moment when they are leading you, either inconspicuously, on the basis of a cowardly deal you have made, or else quite openly, their pistols unholstered, through a crowd of hundreds of just such doomed innocents as yourself. You aren't gagged. You really can and you really ought to cry out - to cry out that you are being arrested! That villains in disguise are trapping people! That millions are being subjected to silent reprisals! If many such outcrys had been heard all over the city in the course of a day, would not our fellow citizens perhaps have begun to bristle? And would arrests perhaps no longer have been so easy?"

It is true that we will be subjected to a salting with fire, but every sacrifice is salted with salt.

smoonen said...

Thanks for writing this, Frank. Good stuff.

So I read this and said "Hey! That guy with the sign is my friend Paul!" And so it is, the photographic work of my friend Nick. I almost shot off a quick note pointing out the coincidence. But then I saw the watermark. So I withheld my email out of mild embarrassment. :)

~Mark said...

So what do we do when there is no more fresh teaching from the pulpit, merely rehashing of old sermons and puff pieces celebrating all the great work the church is doing and all the great people we have attending and working there?

One on one confrontation is virtually ignored and I can't get the few people who I know the pastor respects and have also complained to him to join with me in confronting together.

Every Sunday is a strong attempt to go just to be faithful to God, and such a letdown that afterward I find myself literally wanting to cry sometimes in memorium of how powerful our preaching and teaching used to be.