Archive for the ‘Reform’ Category

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him ’til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains
Yes he still remains

-Simon and Garfunkel, the Boxer

Many times over the years I have walked into a church building and felt uncomfortable. There was no single source that I could point at for what I was feeling, just that feeling of discomfort and the overwhelming desire to be out of there as soon as I could.

I had a tough time putting my finger on the problem- everything seemed to be normal. The people were nice enough; there were no obvious signs of something being amiss that I could see right away; only the discomfort and the acknowledgment that for some reason, I just didn’t quite belong.

I have had this feeling in other places as well, sometimes in a home where the income level or manner of the persons living there is way beyond what I am used to. Or, maybe it was in a store or restaurant with successful businessmen in suits sitting just across the way from me in my steel-toed boots. Anyway that you look at it, it boils down to the fact that I was different somehow than my surroundings and had become painfully aware of that fact.

There must be a class somewhere that I missed. I remember missing a day in school and looking at the assignments that were handed out upon my return and thinking to myself, “I get this that was taught the day before yesterday and I understand that assignment from today. The middle one, I have no clue what that is about.” Like being the one “who should have been there” when you hear an inside joke, I have always felt a little uncomfortable around those people who made the class that I obviously missed.

I imagine that somewhere in the discipleship process, there was a workshop given detailing how to act in church. The teacher (who happens to look an awful lot like Martha Stewart) would stand very erect in front of the class, her posture speaking in great volume, teaching in proper English how to dress, how to smile just right so that you give no clue to those around you as to your real thoughts or intentions, how to emote all of the right things to all of the right people. Perhaps included in that workshop is a lecture on the art of small talk as well; I also seemed to have missed that one.

More than the way the people around me are acting though, it is the feeling of being somehow different that gets me every time. Like when I first entered ministry, I actually tried to dress up when I preached. I saved all of my money so I could buy a few cheap suits at JC Penney’s. I had a black one and a blue one. I also bought a shiny pair of shoes because all the other preachers that I saw wore shiny shoes. And I felt transformed. I had been a Skinhead, a punk rocker, and an all-around screw-up. My hairstyles ranged from the bald uniform cut of a skin to the 9-inch purple Mohawk. And now, here I was, a citizen. I wore the same clothes that they all did; I was obviously the same, right?

I couldn’t have been more wrong and I should have known that better than anyone.

You see, when I was in the world, we had a term we used quite frequently to describe someone who dressed the part but was something different than the façade they were displaying; a poser.

There were very few things worse than being named poser, honestly. Anyone who was seen to be a poser knew then that everything they were projecting about themselves was a lie. You were acting or dressing differently than the person that you really were. It was the lowest of the low. Back then who you really were inside was more important than what you appeared to be to others. Anyone could cut their hair funny or shave it off. Anyone could don the apparel and act out a role. To the real skins, punks and Goths, the outside display was just a manifestation of an inner working. And if you didn’t feel what you were doing then you just needed to go away.

So there I was with my black suit and blue suit (and shiny shoes) and I tried to do street ministry with all the “street cred” that my apparel afforded me. And I found that the ones that I identified with the most – identified with me the least. Without meaning to, I was preaching a message before saying a single word. And that message was “all that I was before I became a Christian was an act- I was just a tourist”. Needless to say, not many listened to what I had to say.

I went home dejected utterly. God finally illuminated something to my spirit that I will never forget- He did not call me out of everything that he did just so that I could be like every other Christian. I got rid of all of those things that were not really me almost immediately. I made a call that has influenced everything in my life ever since- I will be myself, be that good or bad, ugly or beautiful, right or wrong. I will never pretend to be something that I am really not in order to please you or to be seen as “safe” by the Churchian community.

So I have become an iconoclast of sorts. I am not safe to bring in to preach because I will do what God tells me regardless of how people feel about it or if I will get invited back or not. I am not safe to be friends with because I will put God first before you. I am not safe to have in your clique because I will not adhere to your rules just because everyone else does. I will reveal things about myself that are not acceptable if I feel that God wants me to because I value his approval way more than yours.

And so on and so on. But thanks be to God, I may be ugly but at least I am real.

I believe that this rampant posing has impacted the church in one area more than any other- with our men. The Word tells us that we must have our hearts circumcised and I could not agree more. That must not have been enough for the church though because we seem to have skipped right past circumcision of the heart and went right for a total neutering. The churches read books like “Wild at Heart” and then they say to themselves, “I AM wild at heart, by George! I want adventure and to be dangerous again- maybe we should make a focus group and share how we all feel inside about it.” And so the neutering is revealed even as the heart shows the slightest stirring of recapturing what was lost.

My friend once had a cat that was a real tomcat all the way. He did what he wanted, prowled the neighborhood, and picked some fights with other cats (and occasional dogs as well). He was so ornery that we had to contain him under a laundry basket sometimes because he would attack anything that came in reach. The vet told my friend that the cat needed to be neutered in order to settle him down a bit. So he took him up and got the job done on him. From that moment on, he was a different cat. All he did was sit on the windowsill and look out the window at a world that he no longer saw the adventure in.

So it is with our men in the church. Somehow after a very short time of being saved, we no longer have any fight left in us. We become little hippy Gandhi Christians, de-neutered, de-clawed, de-odored and disinfected, safe for inclusion in the white suburban neighborhood church of our choice. Like the lion at the zoo who yawns instead of roars, we have become sad shells of what God intended us to be. And this is applauded by the church, even considered to be virtuous- especially for preachers.

No wonder our young people are not lining up to take on the challenges of ministry any more. They all want to be rock stars, leading praise and worship when they start out but graduating to real Christian rock stars later on. Forget laying your future at the foot of the cross and heading out to a foreign mission field, that is not really needed anymore. Why suffer to spread the Gospel or lay your life on the line for the cause of Christ when you can be idolized by adoring fans who will listen intently as you talk about God for two minutes at the end of your hour long set?

We want to be cool, not Christ-like and it is showing in our utter failure to reach the current generation.

It is not really their fault though if we are to be honest. They are this way because when we look around for heroes of the faith we can find none among our contemporaries. When I want to get edified myself I have to find sermons preached 30 years ago from men who are dead because there are very few that I would listen to today. The mold for today’s minister is safe, funny, inoffensive and relevant to a hip 30-something society.

But that kind of man does not speak to the heart of who I am. I have a roar in me; a roar that I know is meant for the hoards of Churchians who have my savior as a hobby in their life. It is a roar that is meant for a world that mocks God and rushes headlong into an eternal hell. A roar that is sent with all of the ferocity of someone that was left beaten, robbed and raped on the side of the road of life all of those years ago, and is aimed directly at an enemy that figured that no one would take the time to rebuild what was so obviously ruined.

And though I have oftentimes tried to bury it in the past, that roar always rises to the surface because it is not my roar alone but it is the raw sound of the frustrated heart of an entire generation.

We must be ourselves, no matter what it looks like. We must learn to hate the Churchian mask with every fiber of our being. We must discover the fighter that the enemy has tried to emasculate before it is too late and the battle that we were meant for is over and the looting begins.

Find your war cry, church. Then scream it with all of your heart no matter who approves or disapproves. Cast off Saul’s armor and find your stones and run to the battle. Who cares what everyone else is doing or what is considered appropriate Christian behavior at the moment? That is nothing but a spiritual flavor of the month club and is utterly useless in real application.

We are a generation that could not see who we really were in any of the Christians that were around us and so we figured that it was us who were wrong. So we bought the clothes, the bumper stickers, donned the hairdo that we saw everyone else wear and became Christian posers. When that failed to satisfy or when the utter hypocrisy ate at us too much, we just quit.

But who you are inside is tailor made for the hell you live in today. You are God’s answer for the enemy’s advances. But the fake can never make the cut. Only the genuine heart roar has a place on the battlefield of today.

So get saved, get real or get out.

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The road out of Laodicea.

 

One of the main motivations that I feel in this current drive towards vintage reconciliation is my deep desire to help correct what I view as fundamental flaws in the churchian system and to provide genuine alternatives for those who feel trapped inside of it. As this generation gets older, I see that we are less and less willing to just accept the spiritual hand-me-downs of our predecessors. The armor doesn’t fit us, the system is all wrong and we just can’t get used to it. Like being in a bed when the sheets are too short, after awhile, you just want to replace them all and start fresh.

Personally, I have always been a bit marginalized, counter-culture, non-conformist, give it a name. When Christ found me all those long years ago, I was not a poster child for Christian virtue, anything but. I was a real mess in every possible way. And yet, He was pleased to find me and to lavish upon me a love and concern that frankly I had never truly experienced in my life, who has?

When He did this, He bought someone who loves Him back, viciously. The scripture that reads, “Zeal for your house consumes me” (John 2:17) certainly has always applied to me, as my entire being has been focused on God and His work ever since. Now, my zeal has been imperfect at times (let the reader sense understatement here) even damaging to myself and others in particular. In other words, I have never done everything right but everything that I have done, I was sure was right at the time. Selah.

I have always been quite sure that God was somehow amused by my awkward attempts at zealously pursuing what I felt that He wanted from me. Like a teacher who gives children hand-outs of perfect cursive and tells them to copy it exactly, what do they feel when they view the awkward and imperfect attempts at carrying out their wishes? Not anger, to be sure, unless they are a tyrant. So, I have always felt God smile when my baby deer legs didn’t quite hold me up or when I picked fights too big for me, certain of His bigness.

My sureness of His hand on my life stems primarily from the fact that He doesn’t let me get away with much. God always lets me know when I have been or am wrong and that has become one of those things that I genuinely fear, I really don’t want to be wrong because I really want Him to be pleased with me. This being said, I always find that I doubt, above all things, the sincerity of my own heart. I know myself, that is, my flesh, and am convinced as to its reckless and selfish nature.

And so I am generally the first to apologize, even when the other person’s wrong far exceeded my own and they have never apologized for what they did. I do this, not because I am über but because I fear God. I want to make sure that He is pleased with me and I will let Him deal with the others, He is after all, really good at that.

What bothers me most, therefore, is not the fact that men can be wrong, even grievously. What bothers me is that they never see it, repent for it, make amends or even apologize.

For instance, ever since I first came to the “church”, I have been shocked at the deluded and Christless state of many in the Church both systemically and personally. I have traveled and preached all over and it never ceases to amaze me that so many could never question or care that what they promote or do is contrary to the truth of the Word. It is actually quite scary when you think about it; how many of those who name the name of Christ can do things that are humanistic at best and downright satanic at worst, all without ever seeming to even care?

Some are loyal to “you four and no more” above all else, believing that God is interested in you in particular and so it does not matter what you do or whom you do it with or to. Some shamelessly build their own Kingdoms using gimmicks and humanist programs. Some think that their “calling” gives them the right to get to where they are going all on their own, even trampling ministers and ministries along the way. Some “serve” Christ while fostering satanic ideals of division, rebellion, selfishness, self-centeredness, gossip, malice, character assassination, bitterness and despising authority. Talking about Christ while hating and trying to destroy ministries in His Body is not a mistake, it is satanic.

The concept of community, Body life and brotherly love has all but disappeared in our every-man-for-himself culture. We have equated love with emotion and lost the notion of love as an act of volition. We have mistaken community for pot lucks and movie nights and missed the entire point of New Testament community.

The laundry list of faults goes on and on.

To understand how we got here, you must understand that the main focus of what we do is first of all numbers and secondly, self advancement.

This is how we judge our own success and other’s as well. If you have numbers, God is pleased. If you do not have numbers, God is obviously not pleased with you or even “with” you at all. This flies in the face of both the Gospel and history and has been one of the main causes for the declension of the modern Laodicean church. Because the proclamation of truth searches hearts and the motivations of the heart, something Laodicean Larry and Laura do not want. They want their best life now, justification of sin without justification of the sinner, prosperity without divine purpose and no guilt trips to bring them down.


Moo.

In the clergy’s pursuit of the American dream, we are happy to give them what they want. We want numbers, they want Jesus-Lite (all of the taste, none of the guilt!) and so we fashion them whatever God they wish. They hand us their gold, we get to building them an idol that they can sing about, feast to and fornicate in front of without fear. Big churches want to hold onto their power and money, middle churches wish to get more money and power and little churches dream of having money and power and we sell our souls to satan for it.

Gone is all talk of sin, the depravity of man, the sovereignty of God, the wrath of God, Hell, the atonement, regeneration as mandatory, repentance, sacrifice, martyrdom, consecration and the judgment seat of Christ. In their place are self-help, practical lessons on life, prosperity without purpose, greasy grace, antinomianism, Pelagianism, egalitarianism, seeker-sensitive non-religion, no cost, no discipleship, no guilt, no works, and humanist propaganda.

For those of us who feel that something is rotten in Denmark, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the problem. In this culture, size makes right and so if you have numbers, it must be God. Subsequently then, if you don’t have big numbers, you really cannot speak on issues until you have proven that God is indeed with you by big numbers.

So to cry out that you feel that something is amiss when you are not on Christian television (a sure sign of the favor of God) is frowned upon. Small town local pastors should not have a say in the state of the church because that right is reserved for certain special leaders. I imagine many of the same arguments were made in Luther’s day; how can the whole church be wrong? Why would God give you an answer? Aren’t there good things that are going on to outweigh the bad? Why would God reveal truth to a little nobody monk?

And we, like Him, only know what we know. Namely, that this monstrosity looks nothing like the First Church, Geneva, Herrnhut, The Foundry, Red River, Ulster, Northampton, Wales, Hebrides. And our current crop of Adonijah leaders look and sound nothing like Knox, Calvin, Augustine, Luther, Edwards, Whitefield, Zinzendorf, Wesley, Moody, Spurgeon, Tozer, Reidhead, Paisley and most importantly, Yeshua Ha-Mashiach.

So, regardless of numbers or popularity, we hear the voice in the middle of the night telling us to  “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee”. We only know that something is deeply flawed and we have to leave. Like Abraham, we travel from Ur not knowing where we are going but certain of the call to go anyway.

God’s natural law states that a body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force and the force that acts upon it must be an unbalanced force. In other words, in order for us to make a difference to the church at large we must hit the problem as hard as we can from one direction and at a different trajectory than what it is currently on.

So, here we all are. We are stuck on a bus with no driver, heading as fast as it can towards a destination that we want no part of. And yet, we feel helpless because all that we know is on that bus.

We want to continue mostly worthless worship services because we don’t have any better ideas. Never mind that particularly in the Charismatic circles, it is all emotionalism, humanism and flesh. We just don’t have any better ideas and besides, our flesh really likes to sing and imagine that God is listening, he is, of course, so desperate for any affection that he breaks down and weeps when even the biggest hypocrite, who denies His name six days out of seven, sings along with our worship leader.

We want to continue with all of the Laodicean 21st Century inventions because that is what we are comfortable with. And as that revolutionary war guy said, “Give me comfort or give me death”! We know, deep down that something is wrong but we are afraid to make the changes to something better because we don’t really know what that is.

And so, like the people who do wrong, consistently, even brazenly, sowing discord, division and character assassination and so on, we never think of repentance or reconciliation because we want what we want. God will get over it, right?

One of the best ways to understand the concept of sin is that sin is rebellion against deity by saying that you want what you want, regardless of what deity says. Alternatively you can say that Christianity therefore is the practice of saying that you want what God wants, regardless of what your flesh wants. This is basic elementary everyday normal Christianity.

Using this simple bit of truth, when we know that changes must be made and yet we do not do them, that must be sin, at least as much as those who seek their own and curse, bite and devour others on their way. We want our way with the church, we want society to be pleased with us and we don’t want to rock the boat. It all starts, continues and ends with self.

I have seen this particularly with charismatics. They are fine with all manner of heresy, heterodoxy, error, sin, humanism, self love and narcissism. But don’t change their changes. Whatever little “advances” and modifications they have made generationally to the church are off-limits. You can rant and rave all day about religious people (everyone not charismatic), but don’t you dare change their changes.

So here after a few months of pursuing vintage reconciliation, we find ourselves not really looking very charismatic at the moment. But we are feeling a whole lot more like Jesus. I suspect the same can be said for all of the churches here locally that have been undergoing real transformation.

It has been hard, we have lost some people that we loved, have seen numbers fluctuate. But we know that God is the wind in our sails and so we press on. We do this because it is better to not be safe than to be silently wrong. To leave Ur and head out, even not knowing where you are going feels a whole lot better than sitting there and complaining about all of the wrong that is around you.

So, Pastor Abraham, wherever you are right now just get up and go. Sure, numbers may drop, people may hate you for rocking the boat, fleshy Christians high on greasy grace may bite and tear at you but shouldn’t you follow your own conscience? You know that something is amiss and in order to change it, incrementalism simply will not work now. We are too deep into the Humanist age; the consumer-based Churchian mob rule of Laodicea. No, what it is going to take to awaken the sleeper out of their slumber is a full on carpet bombing mission of shock and awe. And no one else can do it except you.

What it takes is simply stepping off of the bus, period. Just get off and stop the madness altogether. Nix everything in your service that has been contrived in the last hundred years for starters, you have to go back before Laodicea. I would counsel not trying to go back to the Apostolic age, even they were rebuked in the Book of Revelation. Instead, go back to the Philadelphian Age, brotherly love and missions. Just start there. Kill the lights, close the computer, shut down the PowerPoint and the tragically hip praise team. Then, kill your suit, kill your sermon, kill the altar call, kill the offering.

After it is all gone and the room sits silent, just the sheep and yourself, talk to them and let them talk to you back. Talk about Jesus and talk about discipleship. Serve communion, feed some hungry people once a week. Actually help people who come by your church, get involved in your community and fight for what is right and for those who can’t defend themselves.

Chuck the show and the entertainment and just demonstrate what Christianity is. Then begin to add again what people have forgotten from that wonderful Philadelphian era. Our services have begun to look like services again but with a major difference; they don’t look like we are living in Laodicea. And by the Grace and favor of the Lord, we won’t ever wake up in Laodicea again.

And so, my dear Pastors and leaders out there, do you really want another day at the Laodicean Christian Center, Inc.? If you don’t change now, you may die right there. You were meant to be a preacher, to exemplify Christ, to reach out to a lost a dying world, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. You were not created to be a religious CEO but a prophet. Leaving Laodicea doesn’t take a five year plan or a twelve step program, it takes just simply leaving Laodicea and being true to what God has called you to be, even if it is true by yourself in the desert heading to a future that is uncertain.

“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans 4:4-5 KjV


“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14

In the course of studying about the faith of our fathers I have come to some terrible conclusions.

One of these and perhaps the most important to us right now is the issue of foundations. If we can see that the very foundations of our Christian experience have been compromised, we have a chance to fix it. If we fail to acknowledge that the foundation is faulty, the entire building is in grave danger of collapse. This collapse may not happen when you are ready for it; it may be during the night or in a storm while you sleep.

On a construction television show that I once watched, the homeowner called the show because he couldn’t understand why he could dig out the concrete in his foundation fairly easily. The home was unleveled, the concrete foundation falling apart; the whole of this very expensive house and all of its inhabitants were in great danger. Why? The foundation was not solid enough to do its job of supporting the structure that was built upon it. In order to save on costs, the contractor had cut corners in the solidity of the concrete and after a few years, the damage became evident.

For us, we are talking not about the investment of a home but rather about your eternal security and the health of the church here in America. Nothing could be more important to us.

Do you figure that perhaps the enemy might know this? That all he would have to do is change the composition of the material in a foundation and though it looks decent at the start, the cracks will begin to appear after time? Those cracks would begin to show in times of stress, of danger or in the midst of the storms of life. And it is only then, at the exact point when you realize that you need the stability of a foundation the most, that your true state, and the immediate danger of catastrophic system failure is revealed.

So, here is the question I put to you now: Has our 21st Century Christianity lost something foundational and utterly necessary to producing not mere decisions but rather genuine conversions? And what are the repercussions to us of having a faulty foundation?

As we learned previously, a cheapening has occurred, we have substituted the pearl of great price for cultured pearls meant to look like the real thing. And because we have paid so little for those pearls ourselves, we are quite willing to sell them to others just as cheaply. This has led to our churches being filled to the brim with people who are the product of cheap grace and born out of a need to fill up space with as many warm bodies as possible so that we can be reckoned to be a success.

If our calls to salvation are flawed in this way, could it be because we, like those contractors, have cut corners? Have we weakened the mixture so as to make the product cheaper for those seeking to emulate our own foundation? And if the product that we were given was similarly compromised and we compromised the mixture even further for those who followed us, where does this eventually lead? To entire generations whose houses have been built upon the sand, not upon anything even closely resembling a rock.

The altar call of the 21st Century looks like this; we first grow quiet and contemplative. Then, the minister begins to talk earnestly about salvation. It usually centers around how bad your life has become and how God can make it all better if you give Him a chance. Some brave ministers will mention Hell as being a possibility tonight if you don’t ask Jesus into your heart, most don’t go this far. Then comes the fateful moment; the group is told to “bow their head and close their eyes, with no one looking around”, because we don’t want anyone’s decision to be hampered by the embarrassment of being seen by others.

Then the question is put to the group- who would like to ask Jesus to come into their heart, who would like to be “born again”? They are then told to go ahead and lift their hand if they would like to accept Christ (“I see that hand, thank you.”) and then we lead the entire group in a prayer called “The Sinner’s Prayer”. Again, it has to be the whole group that prays this prayer out loud, we do this because of the potential embarrassment of those who lifted their hands, or just in case someone, being too embarrassed to lift their hand to ask Jesus into their hearts, wouldn’t be shy about praying something that the entire group is praying at that moment.

Whatever gets them to say the magic words is fair game after all; those magic words will save them. This little belief system has led to one “Evangelist” producing cards with the sinner’s prayer written on them. He then had people cover the city, getting people to repeat the magic words written on the cards. If you could get them just to say what was written on the card, they were saved! He would then report inflated numbers of “conversions” and claim that they were in revival.

After everyone says the magic words of the Sinner’s Prayer, the group is then told to open their eyes and clap for those who did so. In some churches, those people are then invited to come up front or follow a person into another room where they will be given their first bit of propaganda on the new subculture they have joined.

And that’s it! After that, they are told to find a church, read their Bible and pray. You are a now a Christian and have in your possession diplomatic immunity for when you sin and the mandatory “Get out of Hell, free” card that is probably the only reason you wanted Christ in the first place. Just in case, you know, you can never have too much insurance.

Are the means of salvation of any importance? Does any of this matter if the ends are the same? If, no matter how you get in, it all leads to the same destination, then no. If all that matters is that you say the magic words, then any port will do in a storm. But what if those magic words are not real, what then? What if there are no magic words and what really matters is something entirely different? And what happens in the lives of those people who climbed up some other way into the sheepfold?

The means that are employed in our initial salvation become the foundation of our walk with God. If we offer a salvation based on Humanism, one that is tailored at making people happy, wealthy or peaceful, the ends of that would have to be self-centeredness, greed and self-indulgence. If we offer cheap grace, the ends would have to be sin, lack of holiness and lack of consecration. If there is no true conviction of sin, they will never be mindful of sin. In short, what they build upon the foundation that they are provided will be as flawed as the foundation itself. God is not mocked and origin determines destination every time.

I have looked carefully at church history, looking for clues as to what our Fathers believed and taught regarding the means of salvation. What I discovered could not be any more different than what our current experience is right now.

Before I talk about that, I want to touch on something else first. I am of the opinion that “normal” Christianity is not the generic experience that we have come to expect to see all around us. Normal Christianity was the life of Christ, the practices of the First Church and the revelation and practices that have occurred in revival history through the centuries. It was here, in times of revival, that the church was normal in the sight of God. Everything else, our compromise and substitutions, only occur in times of declension. We fall away and come back, like the waves of the sea. At the high point of revival, the church sees and acts as it was meant to.

Knowing this, that whatever the church has become in times of declension is not the normal that God intends for us to live in but rather the effects of religion, flesh and compromise on our part, we simply have to reject the current state of affairs as being abnormal. Nothing can be trusted; the entire apparatus has been compromised by a total lack of understanding that we are not what we are supposed to be.

Paris Reidhead once recounted a story that I feel is perfect for demonstrating this. He said, “They tell about a man, out in the western part of Mississippi in a little rural town, way back up the river, that had a large plantation and many, many slaves.

Somebody came around to the slaves and said that the emancipation proclamation’s been signed. So they went to the owner and said, “Now what does that mean?’ He said, “That means I can’t sell you to anybody else. It means that from now on I just can’t sell you. It’s utterly impossible for me to sell you, the government said I can’t sell you.” “Well, what does that mean?”, they asked.

He said, “Well that means you just go right on ahead and work here and you don’t need to be the least bit afraid. You just work for me and go right on working for me and I’ll never sell you, I’ll never sell you. You can stay right here.”

So, one year went on, two years went on. They kept living in the slave quarters, they kept going to the field, and they kept eating the food, taking the lash of the overseer. Just going right on, and they said, “Isn’t it wonderful to be emancipated? We don’t have to be so feared about being sold, our families won’t be broken up and surely we can live right here with our daddy and our mommy all our life. We’ll go right on working for the master here.”

And so they go right out into the field and grovel and serve and they were talking about being emancipated. Cause they couldn’t be sold to anyone else. Then, someone came along and said, “What are you doing here?” “Well”, they said, “we’re emancipated, we don’t need to be afraid about being sold anymore.” “Listen, you don’t understand what emancipation is, you don’t need to serve that man anymore, he doesn’t own you. He not only can’t sell you, but he can’t make you work for him. You don’t have to do his dirty bidding anymore. You can leave here, pack your things and go down the road and go anywhere you want to go.” “Well he never told us that, that’s what it meant to be emancipated. So, we’ve spent four years working here, when we didn’t have to.”

When the very terms that we use in Christendom have been corrupted, how can you walk in any light whatsoever? And if we find ourselves in a position of waking up and realizing that we have been lied to, you can’t make a partial change, you must affect an entire change. If one term has been compromised, all are in danger of being the same.

The life we lead as 21st Century Christians is like those poor slaves in the story. We asked what salvation meant and the devil gave us our definition. We asked what the Power of God was and religious people who had never experienced it for their selves defined it for us. And on and on it goes, everything that we thought we knew was based on a flawed definition, a foundation that is weak and unable to bear the weight of a normal Christian life.

The true state of the normal Christian life then can only be seen in times when the Church experienced revival. Revival being the normal of God destroying the concept of normal gained by defining normal on the downward scale of our group experience. As sin runs rampant, we define our normal by it until sin is considered normal. When divorce is more prevalent in the church than in the world, we define our normal according to it until it is accepted and even expected. When the Church has grown apathetic, lazy and cold, we define our normal by that and accept that God does not move today because surely, if he did, we would have seen it by now.

Even more dangerously, in Charismatic circles, we have actually believed that we were experiencing all that God has for us. We take goose bumps, emotionalism or small spiritual experiences as proof that all is right between God and ourselves. We have shrunk the Spirit of God down to the point where the best He can do is to give you a shiver or knock you down and when we have some sort of experience, we assume that this must be God. This God, whose glory filled the temple until the priests could not minister, this God, who man can not look on or he would die, we say that He is behind our little experiences and go on living in utter rebellion against Him and leaving ourselves wide open for any doctrine and any spirit that comes along.

We cannot bring ourselves to admit that were God to actually show up at a meeting, the results would be markedly different than the puniness of our present experiences. He is Jehovah and is larger than your experience, than all of our experiences!

This is a tragedy!

The very fact that revival is so rare should send us to our knees in travail. Because it is not rare simply due to it being a sovereign act of God that He has chosen to rarely bless the Earth with, it is rare only because we compromise so efficiently and effortlessly that the normal of God can never stay with us very long. But make no mistake, revival is the normal of God, it should be the normal experience of the Church and when we live outside of it, nothing that we take for granted should be. We may, all of us, be in for a rude surprise when we see Him face to face.

In regards to the normal means of salvation then, the common experience both lived and taught in a time of declension is no standard by which we should measure it. Rather, we should look to times of revival to see what it looks like under genuine normal circumstances.

I believe that it is here where we have so often failed. A few years ago, a movement started in the Third Wave circles called “The Repentance Movement”. It was generally believed that repentance was the means of salvation and without it, you could not be saved. And so repentance was sought, preachers railed and blasted and people felt really bad. I half expected to begin seeing self-flagellation at the meetings at some point, everyone being so determined to feel bad and suffer.

And yet (curiouser and curiouser) there was no revival, nothing even close. It seemed that God did not respond to the repentance any more than He did to the Humanistic calls made by the other side. In fact, the entire thing devolved to the point to where it was full of very mean people, full of self righteousness, who, when revival did not come, turned instead to heresy hunting and pointing out errors of doctrine as their form of revival and worship.

And so I began to see that perhaps we were confusing the effects of the drawing of God with the means by which salvation occurs. That something else was occurring that was as much of an error in the right ditch as the Humanists were wrong over in the left ditch. And if repentance was not the means of salvation, what was? And was it possible that we had, in our genuine desire to see God move in our day, simply slopped together another mixture and presented it as true and right when in fact, it also could not support us as a foundation.

Upon reading revival history, I discovered something quite profound that had escaped my notice before.

There is only one means of approaching God and anything else added to it will never suffice as a foundation. It is simply this: “I am ungodly, take me to the one that justifies the ungodly”.

We tend to want to add something to it, don’t we? We want to say, “I am ungodly, look at my remorse, look at my tears”. We want to push on God our faith in Christ, our repentance and our desire to know Him. We say “I am a sinner, I have committed sins” but this is mentioned as an aside. We truly feel that the real juice in the sinner’s prayer is, “I believe” and that it is this, your belief that saves you.

But all of those, even your belief, are from us and stink of works. Even the heartfelt tears that come as God reveals your sin are not sufficient to appease him alone. When we make an offering of these things to God and attempt to add to his requirements, we short-circuit the system and create a false foundation for our Christian walk.

If tears saved you, then he would no doubt have required those as payment for salvation. If it took an overpowering sense of Hell, He would have just said that. But all that He requires is this, “I am ungodly, take me to him that justifies the ungodly.” And when we come to the place where we know that being ungodly is all that we are and that nothing else has any value whatsoever to him as a means of salvation, this is when we can begin to repent, to believe.

This is both incredibly simple and at the same time, very complicated. Because we must here ask why it is that this is not being produced in our services. To this, I must say, that it is due to our undervaluing of His worth and overvaluing of our own.

If we understood His value, His holiness, His justice and mercy and if we saw clearly our own worthlessness, our sinfulness, our corruption and our fallen state, we would not dare question His demands from the race of man. If we saw Him as He is, we would simply know that our best is not good enough and that it never can be. We would stop trying to make an offering of our tears at being caught in the act, or of our feeble mental assent as to His nature or our disastrous reckoning of divine love.

If we saw this clearly, we would stand with our head down, hands at our sides, the fight taken out of us completely and just say, “I am ungodly. I know this now. There is nothing good in me. I have no virtue that I can offer to him in trade. When I see myself as He must see me, in His infinite goodness and His perfect justice, I know that I am undone. And so here I stand with nothing to say in my own defense, no offering in my hands to increase my own worth. I know that this is what He requires, that I come to Him on this basis alone. I am ungodly. Would you take me to Him that justifies me based on this fact alone?”

In revival, it is understood that ungodliness is the one thing that separates man from God and yet, paradoxically, it is the one thing that ties man to God. Because it is the simple acknowledgement of this fact, without addition and without excuse that God requires as the means to salvation. And when we come to Him with just this, we can then experience true repentance and true belief as we receive in ourselves the inner witness that we have been saved.

The old Methodists taught that sinners should “pray ‘til they knew they were lost and then pray ‘til they knew they were saved” and this is true. When the true nature of God is preached unapologetically without the defilement of 21st Century mindsets, man can see himself for what He is: ungodly. And when we come to God based on this alone, He responds with genuine salvation. And that foundation will hold and it will produce a normal Christian life that has begun not with our own virtues but with the death that Jesus requires of all who would seek to follow Him.

“I am ungodly” then is the admission of the soul who has accepted his fate at the site of the execution and who knows that he has no defense. He goes willingly to his punishment, knowing that he deserves it. And after the sentence is carried out and he dies, that is when he finds the true life just beginning.

And here lies the difference between the Church of Declension and the normal Church of God; the normal Christian life must begin with your death.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

You stand before a just and holy God without excuse. So much of the time we go before Him like a prisoner on death row who says, “Yes, I killed someone or stole, or lied or cheated BUT…” then they proceed to give excuse as to why they did what they did or to attempt to off-set the bad with something else such as “I feel really bad about it”. What would be the outcome of amnesty declared in such a case? Why, that person would go on from there feeling as if they were set free because of some quality that they possessed, perhaps it was their remorse or their good qualities.

But the person who stands there and knows that there are no redeeming qualities to them and that justice demands that the sentence be carried out immediately, to which they agree because they deserve it. What would the outcome be of amnesty in that case? Gratitude from the grave.

Christianity must start with this, the complete admission, without additions of “I am ungodly”. This is the necessary first step in the normal Christian life. We are baptized into this death and the life we live is to be His life in us. The old is to be gone, both the positive and negative qualities of it as well. It is to be executed and then the new life that rises is to be His and His alone.

The atonement did not provide anything for you, you being the old man. Whatever benefits there are to the atonement are poured out on Christ, whose life you are now living by the faith of the Son of God.

And friends, this then is the only beginning to the normal Christian life.

The Start part 2: Worship Redux

Posted: August 9, 2010 by JC Smith in Reform
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In this preliminary series of writings, “The Start”, I am hoping to give you an overview of the many changes that need to be addressed before any serious attempt at Vintage Reconciliation can be made in a church. Sadly, if we view the ancient faiths and revival history as being the standard with which we gauge a healthy church, the 21st century version of the Church is in sad shape indeed. And so, it becomes necessary for us to deconstruct the elements, view them in the light of Biblical and historical context and change them as needed. As I have discovered, once you do this, the underlying issues that surface as being the root causes of our inability to assimilate into ancient paths seem to be ones of a Humanistic and Modernistic nature. In short, we are lost from the outset due to a worldview that exists in sharp contrast to what should be “the normal Christian life” -JC.

Mike Guglielmucci

At the starting point, the plan was fairly simple: deconstruct the service and discover the fundamentals of different revival periods.

In practice, it has proven to be much harder.

We are currently in what I have been calling the “Moravian Cycle”. Looking back at Herrnhut and the Golden Summer as a model, we have been studying and praying, searching for the heart of the matter as it relates to what God did there.

This is not a simple thing, getting simple.

Much of what we do is rooted in our identity as 21st century beings and it is very difficult to shed those thought processes. I have come to feel that the trappings of the zeitgeist can only really be seen when they are held up in contrast to an earlier age. Juxtaposing 21st century Churchianity to a much earlier time has revealed some fundamental issues that I would never have been able to see clearly before we set out on this adventure.

I have discovered that before we can even begin to gather our twelves baskets full of remnants, we have to deal with ourselves and the repercussions of our adhesion to the spirit of the age. This has proven to be so deep and far reaching that we have barely even been able to start this emulation. To deconstruct must come first; who are we and how did we get here?

Stripping away everything from the stage is the first step in this. All of our actions, props and lights that add depth to the stage and by extension, the “performances”, have to be removed so that we can clearly see what we really have before us. It is a raw thing, to be sure. We are so used to hiding in various aspects of our Sunday performance, not wanting to have to deal with the reality that is all around us. We seem to sing, dance, use our multimedia, preach and pray in an almost sterile environment, the preacher being removed from the people and fully insulated in the bubble of “the show”.

When you take away all of this, you are left with what remains; the people and their issues and you.

I discovered something just here at this point. When I removed the whirl of the service progression and deconstructed it down to its most basic elements, everyone was left without something to hide behind. For some, it was music. In the McChurch, you play five songs or more and you have a predictable response. Some dance, some sing, some lift their hands, some don’t budge and just stare straight ahead. When you strip that time away and pose to the people the simple issue of what worship is, they quickly get uncomfortable and even distressed. I think that we have substituted real worship for this thing that we do, this sing-along that allows you to act spiritual without doing anything spiritual.

Let me explain.

Matthew 15:7-9 reads: “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

Fair enough, Jesus. So, some folks sing and profess something with their mouth while their heart is elsewhere, I get it. So, let’s stress that the people really must mean every line from the songs that WE chose for them to sing, regardless of where they are or what is happening to them. That may close the issue for good (and has) if it weren’t for the next line, the last bit here that throws everything off: “worship in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”.

Have we done that? The Boomers, who have set the stage here for us in regards to McChurch, love worship. In fact, they demand a satisfying worship experience and to not have one is heresy of the first order. Gen-X could not be more different in this. What we long for is realness, period. I don’t want to go through the motions and follow a pattern that you created for me just so that I can fit in. What I long for is a depth of experience that I have not found in the McChurch pattern. A segment of this generation is also totally burned out on the whole performance aspect of “worship ministry” in general. We have been to so many shows over the course of our lives and coming into the church, we see one more show. And we don’t want our spiritual church service to simply stoop down to the level of filling a missing area of our lives.

That idea is very Boomer; no concerts now that you are a Churchian- we will fill that void with a Jesus concert-lite. No cool festivals- Jesuspalooza is the answer. Can’t watch that cool movie- substitute Christian cinema. The Boomers did this with everything from stupid Christian shirts that played on worldly themes (Lord’s Gym, Jesus: that’s my final answer!) to bumper stickers to mega churches that more resemble malls than places of worship (get a brew at Higher Grounds while you shop at our bookstore). I was, and am, just as guilty as everyone else of subscribing to the Boomers need for customization, substitution and convenience. God help us.

Real worship does not happen in a sing-along. In fact, real worship has nothing to do with singing at all. When the church in the first century heard the word “worship”, their thoughts went straight to the outward elements of sacrifice and the multi-layered facets of Judaism. To worship was equated with sacrifice. To us, we gloss this over with the term “sacrifice of praise” and then demand that everyone assume that we we are doing is right and God ordained.

So what is true worship, in spirit and in truth?

Rom 12:1-2  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Jas 1:27  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

When Paul calls presenting your bodies a living sacrifice, your reasonable service, the word rendered service there is the Greek word “latreia”- worship. When James talks about “pure religion and undefiled”, that word rendered religion there is the Greek word “thrēskeia”- worshipping.

Now, let’s get our heads around this. So, Jesus said that people were praising God with their mouths while their hearts were far from him and that they taught for doctrine the commandments of men. Paul and James go on to clarify by saying that dying to self and presenting your life to God in consecration is your reasonable act of worship and that pure worship and undefiled before God is to care for widows and orphans. How has that devolved into a sing along set to the snappy tunes of contemporary music while your life is not presented as a reasonable sacrifice and the only person that you really care about is yourself? I mean, people will actually get angry if you don’t have sing-along time because you are taking away their time to worship… an incredibly selfish statement that is only perceived in its true inglorious state when juxtaposed against the word of God stripped of all the double talk and false references.

Where does singing come in? The Bible does reference it, telling us to make a joyful noise and to sing and lift our hands. So you obviously can’t throw the baby our with the bathwater, right?

A few months ago we had what has come to be called “Fire Church”. It was a little event at one of our member’s farm with just a small group of us present and a visiting minister from out of town. Basically, we all sat around a fire and began to talk about God and spirituality and the differences between Gen-X/Y and the Boomers. For some reason, the conversation took place primarily between myself and the other preacher (curiouser and curiouser). What we experienced was the most spiritual church service that any of us had been a part of in years and in some cases, ever. At the end of the night, the Spirit of God hung thickly around that fire and the other preacher declared that we should sing. He began singing a song that was perfectly in line with the night’s impromptu teaching: They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love. It was a deeply spiritual moment as all sung together these words that seemed like they were written just after our conversation, you could hardly breathe due to the presence of God that was there. And the song, sung in unity, actually added to the night’s revelation. We all walked away from that night knowing that something had occurred in the spirit that was transformational and powerful.

Juxtapose this with the McChurch service: begin with three songs, uptempo. The Worship leader must talk and cheerlead the people into getting excited. Then, after accomplishing this, we get serious. So begins the “worship set” of two to three slower songs meant to make the people contemplative. After this, we take your money, give announcements and get to the sermon.

I am sorry, I can’t do it. I am past the point of no return, that area that exists in the pilot’s vocabulary that denotes the area where you can no longer turn around, there simply isn’t enough gas, so you either make your destination or you crash. I am there.

The issue is that we have faked it for so long that we don’t know what it means to be real. When we ask ourselves what worship would look like if you took away all of the societal pressures and contraptions, all of the norms and patterns that we have learned from McChurch, you are left with a big, stinking hole that you don’t know how to fill. I mean, if you listened to country, pop, rock, punk, contemporary, is that what we should make our worship services into? If it is accepted by the status quo as “normal”, does that make it right?

What is “normal” to God?

We have found it best to allow my wife (our Worship Leader) to be led by God in regards to what to sing and when. That it should be Spirit-led and in harmony with the revelation, teaching, preaching, Word from God. That it should be simple and valued for the words that are said and not the style that it is in. It doesn’t have a “place” in the order of service as singing is only one small aspect of what true worship is. We should be presenting our bodies as living sacrifices first, dying to self and allowing God to free us from our demands of individuality, consecrating ourselves to God and His service. We should be engaging in Social Gospel activities, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for widows and orphans, first. Then, properly laying upon the altar, we should sing songs in unity and sing to Him and for Him alone.

The Start

Posted: August 8, 2010 by JC Smith in Reform
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Over the past few months my wife and I have undergone some incredible changes. The hand of God has been heavily upon us, changing us and causing us to change things in our lives and in the churches that we have the privilege of pastoring. At times it has just been a relentless pressing. That is the very best word that I have for what has been going on. A weight has sat on me accompanied by a despair at the way that things are, not just in me but in the church at large.

Strangely, this all started at a meeting of our town’s clergy. We had concluded the meeting and were sharing a meal as we have done once a month since I first got here 2 years ago. The group is made up of a diverse pool; Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, UCC, Catholic, whatever we are. But we have a very good unity between us and have always gotten along well. On this particular day I was being pressed before the meeting even started. During the meal, I just began to talk about what was laying on my heart; souls and revival. I told the group that I was just so tired of the dog-and-pony show every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday. That I felt God was causing my discomfort though I could not say why, it was just that I had to see our region saved. Why should we continue to care for the 99 and never seek the lost one?

Everyone then agreed to begin to meet once a week to join together in prayer for revival.

It has been awkward at times, it really has. We each pray in a much different way than everyone else and no one was really sure how to proceed. The awkward silences at times have been exceedingly awkward. But we are there, every week, asking God to move in our town among the lost and to call back the sheep that no longer attend church.

My own struggles started just before the corporate prayer began and have increased as time went on. The end result of my pressing culminated when I read a story and a quote from John Wesley about a month ago. In it, someone asked Wesley why people came to hear him preach, Wesley replied, “I set myself on fire, and people come to watch me burn.” For some reason, the words dug into me and caused a painful reaction. To this day, I cannot say why exactly. But after reading them, I threw myself into prayer and when I was done, I knew that if I had even one more “normal” service, I would die. I just could not do any of it anymore, and the thought of following the McChurch pattern of ; welcome, 3 fast songs, 2 slow songs, offering, announcements, sermon, altar call produced in me such a despair that it is hard to convey it here.

But what was the alternative? And was it even such a big deal anyway to do things like everyone else? To just follow the McChurch pattern and try to draw people by being a better preacher than others, have better worship, be edgier, have better children’s programs, whatever. My desperation caused me to ask where we got the pattern in the first place and I found no clear cut answers other than the church attempting to play nice with society and just copying what everyone else did around them. I mean, I could not even figure out where we got the idea of worship that we have today or what a sermon is.

Talk about a crisis. I was standing there with 19 years of ministry experience and I didn’t have the first clue as to why we do any of the things that we do.

So, I made an executive decision. I came to church at our second location, canceled worship, moved the pulpit, grabbed a chair and once the people arrived, I just began to share my heart. No outline, no notes, no agenda. I was lost in a wilderness and though I didn’t know why, I did know that it was the Spirit that was leading me there. And something happened that night, what it was exactly, I still don’t know but from that night on, the churches that wouldn’t grow have begun to do just that.

The following week, the pressing that I had been experiencing increased. As I wrestled with the question of “How did the church get here?”, I found myself asking a very odd question; “what did God intend for the church to be?” Now, I know that people have routinely asked themselves that question. And I know that most of the time, the answer that they have come up with has been “The First Church”. This answer has led them to meet in homes, have no discernible leadership, etc. But for me, this answer was imperfect. Mostly because I have always held to the opinion that revelation is progressive. That it is “line upon line, precept upon precept” and that the first would be last and the last, first. So starting at the beginning and just staying there made no sense. Neither did just taking parts and claiming a whole truth, such as deciding that since they met in homes, we should do the same because church buildings are satanic. To me, a house is a building made up of foundation, walls and ceiling, same as a church building.

I felt the Spirit prompting me to ask the same question that I had before; what did God intend for the church to be? But I felt led to look for an answer in revivals over history and what He did when He moved rather than solely at the first church as the pattern. Don’t get me wrong, we have asked about the characteristics of the First Church, what they did, how they acted, etc. But then I began to scan history for those times when God stepped down and changed everything, in short, a pattern of what the church would look like based strictly off of revival history.

This search led me to John Wycliffe, John Hus and the Brethren or the Moravian Church. Why the Moravian Church and not another stream of reformation? Quite simply, the others are not my spiritual ancestors directly. The lineage would be: First Church, Nicea, Wycliffe, Hus, Brethren, Zinzendorf, Moravians, Wesley, Methodism, Pentecostals, Second Wave, today. I have purposefully omitted the Catholic Church and the last 40 years of the Second Wave and also the entire so-called “3rd wave” movements. The wrongs committed by the Catholic church and their error make them impossible to base anything off of for me. Most date the beginnings of the “Fallen Church” to be somewhere between Constantine and the first Pope, I have done the same. In modern times, I have felt that we should look back to the Second Wave and reject the excesses at the end of the Second Wave and all of the so-called “3rd Wave” movement.

Having determined the need to establish lineage and having created an environment of tabula rasa, I began to study the Moravians at Herrnhut and Wycliffe and Hus before them. Not having a pattern is quite daunting, I must say. You feel rather naked and exposed as you grope for answers. It is so much easier to be a McChurch and just do the best that you can.

But this new blog will serve as my journal, detailing what we are doing and thinking during this time. I hope it inspires you as we are inspired.

Blessings,

J.