Archive for the ‘Meetings’ Category

Error by Overstatement

April 24, 2009

“Lighten up, Francis.”
–Sergeant Hulka, in Stripes

Some people are just wound up really tight. Whenever they come to believe something, they clutch it with both hands and never let go. I guess some people are just hardwired with the temperament of a zealot. Do you know anyone like that? They dive headlong into what they do, consequences be damned, with fervor growing upon each encounter of resistance.

Passion is good of course. But this carries with it a kind of oblivion, a single-minded insensitivity to extenuating factors. I also readily observe that we men are the ones who suffer from this problem the most. I read once that men have fewer connectors between their left and right brain hemispheres. Maybe that makes us more tunnel-visioned. I don’t know. But I do know that the following imbalance happens most among groups that don’t value the input of women:

I keep bumping into folks who believe in house church, like I do, but they are dogmatic about it. They don’t merely believe house church is biblical, or that it is an effective way to do church in our contemporary society. No, they believe it is commanded by God. They don’t merely argue that home-based communities are ideal. They go five steps further to say that no other way of being church is valid.

Now, I’m someone who left behind my own denominational tradition to pursue meeting with other Christians in homes. In my case, that required a significant social risk. In a way, this simple/organic/home church thing is my life. I’d even call it a calling. But I’ve got enough education to question my own biases. And when I read the passages that validate our way of meeting, I don’t see the same things that some other people see. I don’t see prescription. I clearly see description.

Why am I making this point? Well, it’s not because I just want to nitpick. I think something important is lost when we overstate a biblical notion. There’s such a thing as error by overemphasis, and some of us are swimming in it.

First Corinthians 14 does not command that we meet in an open, participatory style. On the contrary, it chastens a group for being overly participatory, overly chaotic. If you really look at the surrounding text, you’ll see that Paul was trying to correct them because they were all talking on top of each other. It’s like everybody had to be heard, regardless of what really edified the whole fellowship. That’s a pretty selfish way to function in a meeting. Some people talk because they don’t know how to stop. Paul was giving them some guidelines about how to express all that they had to say in an orderly way.

This passage impresses us today because we have the opposite problem to the Corinthians. In our (traditional) churches, only one guy does just about all the talking! That’s the only way traditional churches know how to do it. And I consider that a problem. But I also consider it a problem that we house church folks don’t acknowledge that the first century church had variety in how they met, too. More to the point, I believe there is validity to a multitude of ways of meeting today. Let’s not be so one-sided.

We’re reacting against entrenched tradition. So I get the impetus to be extreme. But we undermine our own credibility when we teach that open, participatory meetings are the only New Testament way to do church. So give it a rest, will ya?

Lighten up.


A Really Good Meeting

February 20, 2007

Do you know what it looks like when the body of Christ builds itself up in love? Have you ever seen the church grow (in quality, not necessarily in quantity) by what each joint and ligament supplies? Well I saw it happen this past weekend and I wanna tell you about it.

The brothers in our church recently received invitations to attend a get-together done by the sisters in our fellowship. The invitations themselves were fantastic, with little burnt-looking edges and nice lettering. They gave us our invitations after treating us to an amusing skit, featuring camouflaged scouts surveying the promised land in the days of Joshua and Caleb. They gushed as they reported the size of the grapes in the new land and encouraged us to see for ourselves what the Lord has given us in that land. Because we’re not new at this, each of us in the room understood that the land was always a picture of Christ. It was an object lesson in finding our every need fulfilled in Christ. They were speaking of land, milk, and honey, but we knew they were really talking about the Lord.

Then Saturday night we showed up at the appointed time to a home that was partially hidden behind a veil. Our beautiful greeters made sure we noticed that the veil had been ripped open, so that we could go in and see what awaited us inside. We were hungry and ready to see what was in store for us.

Before we went in, each of us was given a new name which would be ours for the remainder of the night. Those who greeted us inside knew our new names and seated us in front of well-made placecards with our new names on them. One of us became Righteousness, another Sanctification. One of us was Truth, and another Glory. Each name sounded far better than we deserved but they persisted in calling us those names for the duration of the evening.

We sat under a beautifully-lit canopy (inside the house!) , eating a deliciously grilled meal on fine china. We were served wine (optional) and cheese and bread and steak and fish and rice and vegetables. Each of us had on his plate exactly what he would have ordered if he had been asked, only none of us had to ask. The brother across the table from me, himself a vegan, had tofu instead of meat along with his veggies. The meal itself was exquisite and it just kept coming until we were FULL.

All throughout the meal, we were serenaded by the lovely women of our fellowship. They sang a selection of our songs which speak of Christ as our food, and of Him as our fertile land. They even rewrote a song that had needed a good rewrite for some time, and it was beautiful! A blog just won’t do it justice, so you’ll have to just imagine why we were moved to tears as we ate. We had several choices for dessert (mine was very chocolatey) and they were delicious.

They served us like we were royalty and spoke such encouraging words of how they see us in the Lord. Now let me assure you, each of us has had one reason or another to think poorly of himself over the last year or so. Our intentions have always been good, but we would not have to work hard to catalogue the ways in which each of us feels that we have failed as brothers in the church. There are so many things that we wish we did, but never seem to pull off.

But this night, we were spoken to as men who had fulfilled every expectation. They reminded us that we no longer judge one another according to the flesh, and they set about demonstrating for us what that looks and sounds like. They read out what they had written about each of us, calling us by name, and we sat and (a few of us) cried as we heard such high things said of us by our precious sisters. They ministered to us. I don’t know any other way to put it. We feasted on their words and their love. We basked in their music and their warmth.

I think it was a healing time for some of us, if not all of us. Thank you, sisters, for your example of how to love the Lord and His church. You are a precious gift.

What’s a Meeting For?

January 30, 2006

The brothers in the church where I live have been tossing around this question for a little while. What’s the purpose of the gathering of the saints? That question keeps popping up and we seem to be hitting on some similar conclusions each time we come at it. Now, don’t get me wrong…there’s no consensus about this thing because it’s multi-faceted. There’s no one simple answer that encompasses the purpose of the meeting of the church. And I’m not about to presume to give any definitive answer on it. But I think we’ve hit on a few things that it ISN’T about, and a few things that it IS about. So here goes my attempt:

The meeting of the saints ISN’T an end in itself. It’s not the reason we exist. As we say in the churches I run with: The church isn’t the meetings. The meetings express what the church is. But the church can’t be reduced to its meetings. We are the church all the time. Of course, this is so much easier to see when there’s some kind of community going on. When you live really close together, for example, the communal aspect of the church is made visible. It’s like a family. And a family doesn’t become a family by eating supper together. It already is a family. Everything it does is as a family. But because it IS a family, they spend a lot of time together, and they eat together. Likewise the church is the church whatever it does. It doesn’t become the church because it does the right thing when it meets. Please don’t buy that mentality. The church is so much more than its meetings.

For this reason, “tweaking” our meetings must never become the focus of our attention. If the meetings are bad, the problem isn’t with the meetings. The meetings are an expression of the life of the church. If the meetings are flat, or boring, or whatever, it’s because the rest of the life of the church is needing more Life. Now I’m not knocking the occasional “how are we doing” talk, where you frankly discuss what’s going well and what’s not going well (including what happened in the last meeting). We should always be willing to discuss what is helpful to the meeting. For example, if one guy never shuts up, or has to get the first word or the last word on everything shared, it’s okay to point that out. If you don’t say something it’ll never stop. But the mechanics of our meeting should never become the preoccupation of our minds. The meetings are the natural outgrowth of the Life of the church. So manipulating the meeting to effect change in the rest of the life of the church is getting the cart before the horse. The meeting is like a barometer, or a thermometer, rather than a thermostat. It shows how the church is doing. It’s not a mechanism for fixing the church’s temperature.

I’ve heard brothers and sisters in other places make this same discovery recently: You can become so caught up in trying to BE the church that you forget that you ALREADY ARE the church. The heart of religion is in trying to get it right. Say it right. Feel it right. Let us never fall into that trap. We’re discovering that those of us who have forsaken so many of the traditional Christian trappings will still fall into the very same things we were hoping to escape. It’s in human nature. We are always trying to reduce this Life into something clearly definable, easily repeatable. We want a clear measuring stick by which we can judge everything we say and do as a church. But it doesn’t work that way. Following that cloud is a bit more unpredictable than that. There’s always more to learn. There’s always sides to Him that we’ve barely even touched. He’s a vast Ocean of experience, and we’re still snorkeling around the shallows of Him.

There’s so much more to say here. But I’ve got to teach a class of reprobates now. Maybe I’ll wax eloquent again later.

Two Trees in the Garden

December 5, 2005

I bought a book one time just because I was so captured by the title. It was titled There Were Two Trees in the Garden, and it was by Rick Joyner. It sits on my bookshelf still and I’m sorry to say I still haven’t read it after several years of owning it. Maybe I’ll get to it someday. But I love the title anyway.

One day recently I was teaching World Literature to a small class of reprobates when I noticed in our Literature book an allusion to the Garden of Eden. The textbook explains that “Adam and Eve [were] forbidden by God to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life in the center of the garden.” It goes on to say that they in fact did eat the fruit and were therefore banished from the garden forever. My wife, who grew up faithfully attending a “Bible-believing church” and is herself a minister’s daughter, commented that she probably wouldn’t have caught the error when she was in high school since so little attention was given to the fact that there were, indeed, two trees in the garden.

But the one with Life in it was the one from which God wanted them to eat. It was that other tree that God warned them not to eat–said it wouldn’t be good for them. Folks miss that little detail and consequently miss one of the most important stories of our revealed faith. God had a Life that He wanted to put inside of us, but we were (and are) lured away by something else that appears to offer something very good: The knowledge of good and evil. Whatever that is, of this I’m sure: It sounds really good. Like something you need. But in the end it will only bring death.

Where I live now, there is much talk about those two trees, and about what that forbidden tree was offering. And I’ve noticed something: We often make much of the fact that the word “knowledge” is in there. I’ve even heard it called “the tree of knowledge.” The implication there is that knowledge is itself somehow a distracting thing. And the truth is, it can be. But I’ve had just enough Hebrew to know that when the Old Testament says “knowledge,” it’s practically synonymous with “experience.” Adam knew his wife. And Man was invited to know good and evil. I don’t think this tree was so much about learning things or becoming too cerebral. It was about pursuing perfection in order to make ourselves right. It was about “doing it right.”

This is the basis of all religions, isn’t it? Doing it right. All religions (including the Christian religion) share this endeavor: To get it right. Do it right. Say it right. Pray it correctly. Think correctly. Feel correctly. This was what was offered to Mankind in the garden, and only this was strong enough in its appeal to lure them away from the greatest gift ever offered: The Life of God with Us. Well, it remains for us still today to partake of that Life of God with Us. Daily we stand beneath that tree somehow, and daily something inside of you craves that life that comes from the Vine, and daily you can partake. But there will always be this other preoccupation that you will have to deny…this obsession with doing it right.

Should I say that? Should I go there? Should I feel that way? Is it right for me to desire that? Did our meeting go as it should have? Are we doing it right? How are we supposed to… You get my drift. Those that had confrontations with Jesus were always amazed at His disregard for what He was “supposed to do” at so many moments. He just didn’t seem to do things the way He was supposed to. Drove those religious men crazy. He even drove the unreligious fishermen crazy with His choices. But what they didn’t get was that He was living by another Life. The Life of God with Us. He wasn’t chasing the chimera of “doing it right.” He was listening to a voice. He was following a Shepherd. He had very little control over what each moment would present for Him to endure, but He trusted that His Father would not lead Him astray. It wasn’t about getting it right. It was about following the sound of those footsteps that Man was meant to encounter in the cool of the day. That’s what it’s still about today.

How does church life work? What should we be doing? We want to get it right, don’t we? No, let’s not make that our goal. Let’s make it our goal to find Him wherever He is, and live there. And whenever He moves, let’s get up and go wherever He’s going. Let’s never get too comfortable in one place, because like Rich Mullins used to say, we’re following a homeless man. He rarely stays a long time in one spot. And let’s not fret too much about if we’re following Him right. As long as we are following Him, it is right.