About a week ago I wrote about saving a word like "amazing" for those special moments in life in which God speaks to your Spirit and your Soul. After my meeting this morning, the only word that comes to mind is "amazing" when I begin to describe what God spoke to me through the conversation, the love, the growth, and the understanding I developed as I spent some time with my Brother-in-law. A little background on the relationship is that my Brother-in-law has been an integral part of my everyday life and most importantly in the development of my Faith over the past six years. We began dating our wives at virtually the same time in Jan/Feb of 2004, we were there for each other through the times that nobody else would have a clue what it's like to date or marry a triplet (did I mention our wives have the same DNA?), we have prayed numerous times together, have spoken the truth in love to one another when it wasn't easy, have taken numerous trips together and have basically shared all of our lives together. Whenever you end up marrying "multiples", you have no choice but to become as close as brothers. However, over about the past three to six months, as he has engaged further in his position as a youth Pastor and i felt the Spirit of God moving me to question the makeup of the institutional church, we have slightly drifted apart in our ability to talk about "all things Jesus".
So, after he read multiple blog posts over the past month or two when it appears that I have been filled with the spirit of a renegade for the deconstruction of the institutional church, he decided it was time we meet and talk about the "elephant in the room", especially since in many ways it appears I'm calling for an end to his job as we know it. He noticed that even though I was and am posing important questions to those in the church, those who work in the church, those outside the church and anybody else who reads this blog, I have rarely included myself in the problems that I'm blaming on the "institution" and somehow separate myself from the very thing (the Church) that I'm trying to put back in to what we currently refer to as "church". Ironically, just last night as I was praying I felt something tell me (not audibly) that though my deconstruction may be correct and even important, unless I aim to build back up what I'm tearing down, then all I'm causing is disunity within the body of Christ (just as much of a sin as leading people to worship where they attend on Sunday instead of Christ or the creation of "churchilebrities").
So, without getting into personal details and with the encouragement of my brother-in-law it's time to clear somethings up...
1) Do I hate the church? Absolutely Not! I'm a member of the Church and recognize that I don't use the word "we" enough when speaking about the Church. I'm incredibly passionate about the body of Christ and truly believe that the revival and reformation that followers of Christ are hoping for will most certainly take place within the "institutional church" as we know it. This may mean a breaking off of some of the members to pursue house churches and just as likely it will be a reconstruction of how we "do" church by the Holy Spirit. This doesn't make you or me "emergent" or "emerging" but it does mean an end to the fear that we must be "relevant" within culture or fear that we are letting down John Calvin or Martin Luther. The Kingdom of God is above all Earthly cultures and wisdom and I expect that by the power of His Spirit, the culture of the Kingdom will regain its influence, power and attraction as the body hands the power back to the head who is Jesus Christ. I don't have all the answers to how this will work or what it will look like, but I know that it's already happening. I also know that it won't happen out of the wisdom of man (me included) but instead by the wisdom of God (see 1 Cor: 2 and 3).
2) Do I hate you if you work at a church? Absolutely Not! I feel terrible as I read anything that I've written or that others have written that aims bazookas and chucks grenades at those working "in the church" (guilty at times). Though i would not be true to my study of Scripture if I denied the fact that I don't believe in a paid "clergy", I don't know if that is the BIGGEST problem within the institution and I don't believe it's something that MUST be fixed. If it must be fixed, all I can say is that it's a God sized problem that can only be fixed by God himself. For the record, I do believe that a teacher should be paid a "fair wage" as Scripture says, I also believe in the financial support of missionaries which in my opinion now includes local churches due to the lack of those actually following Christ in America, and I believe in the cheerful giver who has the ability as a follower of Christ to prove that God has total control of the money he allows him or her to make (that's a tough one personally). With that being said, I only hope to encourage you, edify you, exhort you, and serve with you as part of God's "Royal Priesthood". I have realized that even though I am trying to raise important questions, I may have demeaned your current calling and in no way am I in a position to do that.
3) Do I believe that we all need to attend a church? Without getting fully into the semantics of the word "church" today, the answer is YES! Surprise coming from me? Let me be very clear, all followers of Christ are called to be part of a community of believers that without question meets together and lives life together. We are called to serve together, take communion together, pray for one another, edify each other, exhort one another and give to each person as they have need. With this being said, this doesn't mean that there is only way to experience church and that is by going on Sunday. It should also be said that showing up at a Starbucks with a Christian friend and reading the bible is not the same as "going to church" and should actually be referred to as fellowship which is also extremely important to sharing life together within the body. I must also note that most of my issues with the institutional church have to do with the squashing of the Spirit of God that is in so many of the "congregants" by the traditions of our liturgy. As we sit in pews, fall asleep, cheer, raise their hands, listen, think, or whatever else we do during a service time we are rarely encouraged to do anything but fill compartments of the "church life". Therefore, I'd urge the institution to let go of their tight grip on programs, methods, being relevant, being up to date, or being concerned with offending people and instead trust God that the building he wants to speak through is his people who come together as "living stones" (1 Peter). By allowing for this, even within the institutional church, we actually build one another up and become a real family. I doubt people at home aren't allowed to talk with the exception of 5 minutes of pre-planned time on a Wednesday night and I don't see what that should be any different whenever a community of believers meets together no matter the day of the week that they meet.
Is Jesus the only way? Yes! Not because I'm saying it, but because He did. "If God says it, that settles it" as my mentor always says. Next question!
Do I always think I'm right, and if you disagree should you stop reading the blog? The only person who is always right is God himself! I aim to be clear that when I pose questions, they are just that...questions. Many times I will give opinions, but more often I aim to present facts. It's a fact that the institutional church is on the decline and house churches are on the rise. But, that doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit isn't in both. I realized this morning that there is an adrenaline seen in my writing when I get passionate about something and instead of being constructive, it is often times destructive. Please know, that in all humility, I don't always believe I'm right, but I do believe God is always right. Therefore, if I'm stating a fact, it's not always because I want it to be that way (see the Jesus question above) but because God states it SHOULD be a certain way. I also want to be clear that the institution, the house church movement and the missional church movement are all part of God's sovereign, eternal and moral wills. Anything we do inside of those wills of God are ok. In other words, we may disagree on some little things but our questions when reading the work of somebody else should not be whether or not we're personally offended. The question that should be asked is, "does this piece of writing offend the God of Scripture?" and if you answer no to that question you would then ask, "what can I personally do to remedy my own situation and relationship with Him"? Just so you know, most of the time the answer is to let Go and give everything to God. We have to get over ourselves enough to allow His Spirit to transform us because we can't transform ourselves into the image and love of God. It's not easy for me to be right in my head when I'm writing, only to be corrected by a friend, a reader or God. But we're all after truth and leaning on tradition and comfort never helped anybody grow in Christ.
I'll stop right here for now. If you have any more questions for me, comments for me or anything else I'd love to hear from you whether by email or by comment. The most important thing I was asked this morning was "Ryan, what are you hoping this blog actually does? Is it your ministry?". The answer to that question was that I hope I can be the hands of Jesus as I type that pull people out of the rut of being a "Christian" on paper but have never seen the Spiritual Transformation that produces the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Personally, I'm embarrassed to say that in my own life, things like anger and pride continue to have a hold on me. There are places and areas of my life that I need to let go, places where I still must come to the end of myself and places in which I block the presence of the Holy Spirit. I don't apologize for asking hard questions or making you uncomfortable, but I do apologize for creating any disunity in the body because of my lack of focus to "Be completely humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love. Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4:2-3). I hope that from here on out this blog becomes a dialogue in which revival and reformation can spring up within all aspects of the church and the resurgence of God's people to influence a culture as opposed to us being transformed by it. My aim is never to be relevant, Jesus wasn't worried about relevance, he was concerned with truth. Truth is what sets people free and the truth of our freedom comes by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Amen!