Over the past 20 years church has been a big part of my family's world. We were faithful attendees of Calvary Community Church from its earliest days. Up until we moved to Austin in 2006.
Attending Calvary, I always assumed that the church model I saw all around me was, well, how the church was supposed to be. It wasn't until becoming a more deeply committed Christian that I started to shift my perspective.
Two changes in my life really prompted this shift.
One came from my experience as a marketing professional.
The other, came when I started believing in the Realism of the Bible.
These changes led me to question several elements of my typical "Christian" experience.
The first thing I began to question was standard American church practices. The more I sat there in the pews, the more I observed the presence of marketing and retention techniques. As I traveled the country, I began to notice all the similarities in how churches attracted, retained and entertained congregants.
I also began to see through staged message deliveries and subtle call-to-actions of the various churches. There were many kinds of calls, but most of the time, they were financial in nature. "Give us your money."
These negative experiences eventually led me to take a hard look at what the real church looked like in the Bible.
What I found shocked me. Communities of individuals — men and women — gathered together in intimate spaces. Discussing and sharing. The governance of most churches in America today is typically based on the perspective either of a man, or group of men, or a denomination, or an organizational entity, (i.e., Calvary Chapel). It is rarely based on a community of diverse people committed to logical discussion. Which is precisely the form of governance the Bible tells us we should practice (Hebrews 10:24-25).
As I began to dig deeper into the Bible, I began to see clearly what a real church should look like. This prompted me to ask a series of questions: Does my pastor really know the Bible?; and, Do pastors, generally, understand the church that is clearly communicated in the Bible?
These are questions that every Christian should be asking themselves. Because, at the end of the day, we are the ones who are accountable before God.
Are different denominations in the Bible?
The truth is, there aren't denominations in the Bible. Actually, there are explicit warnings to the believers that they not engage in divisive ideologies (see, Romans 12:4-21; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 1 Corinthians 3:4-7; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Galatians 1:6-10; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:1-13; Matthew 12:25; Matthew 15:9; John 17:20-26).
This simple information should be enough to cause one to call into question the very core of our "church" systems today. Something as simple as identifying ones self as a Baptist, Presbyterian, or Calvinist all directly contradict the clear message of the Bible. Our pastors are accountable on this front. The fact that they will take the stage and publicly support these church systems should lead us to doubt their knowledge of the Bible.
Of course, denominationalism is one question, physical church structures, is another. The structures many denominations live with today are, in part, the result of the Reformation. When Martin Luther smacked his Ninety-five Theses on that door in Wittenberg, he started a revolution. But, the revolution had limited effect on the physical church. Today, churches still use pulpits and pews. Their rooms are organized around one man talking. That man tells the people what to think about the Bible. The list goes on. What we Sunday Christians never seem to consider is that in the Bible Christians met privately, in homes.
When you take the time to actually read your Bible you will find that the gathering of the like-minded in one accord met as a community, geographically. They didn't commute great distances to go hang out with their denomination. They sat at tables. Not pews. They discussed. They didn't just listen.
And more often than not, they gathered in the shadows. Not in large, public rooms.
All this resulted in deep commitment. Everyone (except those uncommitted few) gave everything they owned and and lived together in community (Acts 4:32).
Here's my point.
The Bible contains a lot of very clear descriptions that lay out what church is and what it's not.
The fact is that the systems we embrace today stand in stark contrast with the churches found in the Bible.
This isn't an easy pill to swallow, believe me. I understand.
Yet, I think it is necessary for us to all practice some Realism when it comes to reading scripture. We need to assume that the models laid out there are really applicable. That they reflect how reality should be.
So, let's ask a few simple questions: does your pastor really know the Bible? If your pastor truly knew it, would the church systems of today be acceptable to them?
As you ponder these, here are some other question to consider:
- How is the money donated to the church supposed to be used?
- What is the role of members in the "body" of the church? Do they have opportunities to use their talents and gifts?
- How does your pastor engaged with the flock? Is he involved with them? (In 10-plus years at Calvary and I never had a real conversation with Pastor Mark Martin.)
- How is the church serving "the least of these" in your community?
- Can members be Berean and share their input during the pastor's sermon?
- Are members just being taught one man's opinion? (If the member adheres to the logic presented by any denomination, the answer is probably, yes.)
Consider these questions. And then tell me the American church system doesn't need to change.
The video below Paul Washer makes an important statement on the state of American pastors. It is a message too rarely given to the American church. While I do not agree with everything he thinks or says, the point he makes here are incredibly valid.
Why is the compromise so readily accepted?
In my opinion there are many pastors who have a sincere, wholehearted desire to be a light in this world. I just think that they "sheepishly" accept the structures they've been given.
Being real is not always easy, and accepting difficulty is not the norm. The more I read the Bible from what I refer to as a Realism (or a "logical") perspective, the more I read, the more see humanity's efforts to make the Bible fit our lifestyle and selfish agendas. Being a real Christian is not a popular endeavor, it requires being different and going against conventional societal norms.. It is not easy.
But, true believers are all in (Romans 12:9-21). No compromises should be made. We might not always be perfect in how we execute this...but, we shouldn't allow that fear to sway us from the Bible's path.
Truth be told, this "all in" attitude is the most laborious journey I have ever gone on (Matthew 7:13-14). But, when I took a hard look at what being a believer really looks like, I discovered that it was not about me and my comfort...it was all about GOD.
This a hard position to live by. It's an even harder one to teach. No one wants to hear it. Because it goes against our selfish thinking. We need our pastors to start owning the responsibility of teaching this truth.
You may be wondering if I go to church and if I approve of my pastor.
Here is the honest truth...
Yes. I do go to a "church".
Because I found a place where the people are sincere.
Do I agree with the church's structure? No.
Do I believe that my pastor is in biblical alignment when it comes to his church's system? No.
And yet, I know his heart is for God. And I believe his intentions are pure. He is a man who truly loves Jesus.
This church is the closet expression I have found to genuine Realism. At this church's core, I find the genuine desire of people to be closer to God.
Honestly, I am not sure if the church model described in the Bible exists at all in America.
If I find it, I will let you know.
Something to think about - Share your thoughts below.