Sunday, May 14, 2006

Should I Stay Or Should I Go? (Part Deux)

Here is a bit of a dialog my friend Rhonda and I had recently on whether we should remain in the organized "church" or not.  The conversation might be a little hard to follow since email message boards are not exactly linear as we cut and paste each others'posts. But, I've tried to organize it so that it makes sense.  I think you'll get the major points.

[Rhonda] Hi Rob and Brian,

I think that the world would be much better off without Organized Religion--Christian or otherwise.
I'm a Christian, but I have no use and see no worth in the institutions (whether small or large) that have been created in the name of Christ.  I don't believe for a second that they are created by God, but by men who believe they represent God.

In the first century, God judged the Institution centered in Jerusalem because He didn't create it--the
people did, and it WAS corrupt to the core.  The Apostle Paul stressed that people were to be God's "temple"--not buildings and structures.  Yet for the past 2000 years, "Christians" have built "temples" for themselves,with hierarchies patterned after OC Jerusalem, like the people did with the Tower of Babel--trying to build a city for themselves--a skyscraper that would reach heaven.  These "orgs" as
has been the case of Religion since the beginning go to bed with "the kings of the earth" to promote whatever political agendas they have in mind, whether good or bad.  I think it stinks to high heaven as much today as it always has. 

The Church of the first century was a Spiritual entity of people who entered into a NC relationship
with God--and to enter into it, one had to be willing to drink the cup that Christ drank--as living sacrifices, whose purpose and allegiance weren't to anything regarding this world--but to the KOG which was "no part of this world."

The identifying mark that distinguished "true" from the "false" was Christian neutrality--they
didn't get caught up in the politics of the world--and the "true" Christians heeded the call to "get out of her, my people."—rhonda

Brian, we can organize to accomplish things--that's way different than a "church". 

[Brian] Rhonda, I don't think you're far from the truth.  But, I think Rob also raised a good point in his earlier post.  When we come together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  We need organizations to accomplish big things.  Maybe the church's focus should shift from trying to win converts to doing "good" (feeding the poor, clothing the naked, etc.).


hat qualifies your minister to be paid for his Service? 

[Brian]  My minister is paid for his service because he gives a great deal of his time and energy to run an organization of several thousand people.  He has living expenses- like anyone else.  Children to put through college, a household to maintain, etc.  He should be paid for his time.  His "qualifications" are that he does a great job.  That's why he was given the job.  And, he continues to do a fine job.

[Rhonda] How much $ is spent on the building?

[Brian] Thousands.  Don't know the actual number.  But, we have about 5,000 people attending
on the weekends.  We run several ministries out of the buildings and we provide facilities for a number of activities from various organizations in the city.  It takes money to keep up such a facility.

[Rhonda] Why are buildings needed to "meet" at such great expense?

[Brian] See above.  We run classes out of the building, have a gym for recreation, have meeting
rooms, have weddings, funerals, concerts, etc.  You can't have a facility to do all of that for free or without a staff of people to take care of it.

[Rhonda] How "big" was the first century group of Christians and what was their goal, their purpose?

[Brian] Rhonda, I don't believe the first century church was necessarily perfect.  But, even if it
was, there are a ton of differences between them and us.  I don't know of too many modern day people willing to live in communes like the first century church.  But, their goal and purpose seemed to be to
spread the word of the risen Christ and to make a real difference in their community.  I'd say the goals of the church I attend are not too far from theirs.

[Rhonda] And most importantly, do they spread the Gospel?  Do they actually represent Christ in what
they teach and say?

[Brian] I assume you're asking about the church I attend.  And, the answers are yes and yes.  While not perfect, I think they do an admirable job of spreading the gospel and in representing Christ through their charity and outpouring of love.

[Rhonda] Does your church need a GYM?  "For bodily training is beneficial for a little; but godly devotion is beneficial for all things; as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come." 1 Tim 4:8
Because it sounds like a fine community center.  A great place for people to meet each other; a great social meeting place--everything you need is there, even a gym--right? 

[Brian] Our church is a community center.  You got the point!  It's called Vineyard Community
Church.  It's intended to be a community center.  So, yes, it does need a gym. My kids take physical education there when their home school co-op meets.  While my wife and I were there teaching
classes on Saturday (premarital counseling), there were kids playing in the gym.  They show movies in the gym and that's where the high school and middle school kids meet for their "Sunday School".
Yep, we need a gym. 

[Rhonda] For your minister, I'd say its a great job, if you can get it--what's his salary?  Pretty far away from Paul, who was a tentmaker to support his full time ministry.  I'm sorry, Brian.  Can I say that
politics there has a great deal to do with one's standing in the community? 

[Brian] I don't know Dave's salary.  But, I'd guess from looking at his house, etc. that it's probably comparable to what I was making in the corporate world (well, probably less than I was making).  But, he's essentially the CEO of an organization with a staff of dozens that services thousands and has a multimillion dollar budget.  I don't think his salary is out of line with his responsibilities.  I'd guess if Dave were doing the same work in the corporate world, he'd be making a lot more money.

[Rhonda] Yes, its very far from what the first century church was all about.  God bless you there, Brian, but this is one reason I feel so strongly that Religion is a snare and a racket.  I love you--but I won't be anything other than honest--this is as far away from Christ as the man in the moon is.  IF perchance this church introduces some folks to Jesus Christ, that's great--but they'll have to leave to actually get to know him.  Or here's a novel idea; they might actually have to open the pages of their NT up (when they get off the treadmill) and read what he said for themselves.  But that might be too much effort.  I'm sorry--but this stuff REALLY gets under my skin.

[Brian] Leave the church to meet people?  That's so ironic you mention it. Here you go, Rhonda.
Click this link and scroll down a little to view one of the T-shirts the volunteers wear:

Oh, BTW, there are no treadmills in the gym.  It's just a gymnasium, not a work-out facility. No
spa.  I don't even know if there are showers.  It's not really for the members (well not the adults anyway).  It's so we can bring people IN.

[Rhonda wrote this referring to a Sunday School lesson taught to my six year old]

"This side is white; it represents God. "This side is black; it represents evil." 

That's really deep stuff, isn't it?  That's the way to teach children about their Creator--especially black children.  WHAT is it, dear brother, that keeps you there?  --rhonda

[Brian] Lastly, the black white thing.  Yep.  That was a mistake. A BIG MISTAKE and I let them know about it and got an apology.  The staff's theology is not perfect (neither is Dave's for that matter).  But, they do at least try. 

I almost wrote this last night but held back for the sake of the newbies.  I hope no one here takes
this personally (including Rhonda).  But, it's awfully easy to stand outside of an organization (any organization) and throw stones at it.  No single person is perfect and when you bring two or more
two together potential for good or for evil is magnified (as Rob pointed out).  But, I think many people use the shortfallings of the church as an excuse not to join and to their part.  We can do more as teams than we can as individuals and this rugged individualism that is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche can be taken too far.  As members of communities we have responsibilities to each other.  Does that mean everybody needs to join a "church"?  Absolutely not.  But, if you're not in a church (not you
personally Rhonda), maybe you should be asking yourself where can you serve your community?  Are you volunteering at a food bank?  Are you helping at a local job training center?  What are you
doing to give back?  The church I attend actually affords me the opportunity to serve my community (bringing me back around to my first point)- our church is a community center.

Love you, Rhonda.  And I appreciate your honesty!  And I'll let you in on a little secret.  Honestly, I've been eyeing a book called "How to Leave the Church without Leaving God" for several months now.  But, when you make me sit down and think about why I attend the church I do, it just makes me want to make it even a better place.

[Brian- as part of this thread but to another member of our board]


Obviously, you are free to see things as you wish.  And, people can look at a glass as half full
or half empty.  But, let me address your concerns in this particular case.

My grandfather was a minister and his relationship with my father has impacted my father's relationship with me.  There are also other pastors in my family and my father has served his whole life as a lay person.  So, let's just suffice it to say I know a little something about this stuff, too.

Why do you think Dave's job is "bondage"?  Are there unpleasant aspects of it?  Of course.  No organization (and a church is an organization) is perfect.  But, I know Dave fairly well (amazing given how large our church is).  He is full of joy and on fire for Jesus.  I don't mean that in the trite way a lot of Christians spew it out. Dave really, really is in love with his mission here on earth and takes it
very, very seriously.  He wants to introduce everyone in the city of Cincinnati to a relationship with Jesus.  Not grow the church, not build bigger monuments to himself or to God.  He wants to reach people.

Are most churches social clubs?  Absolutely.  Most are there just to pat their members on the back and tell them how good (or how evil) they are.  And, they talk about how the rest of the world is going to hell.  They meet for an hour, sing some songs, hear a pep talk (or a fire and brimstone sermon) and leave for the week having fulfilled their obligation.  Anyone following along will probably realize by now that the church I attend is not one of those places.  I see people whose lives are truly changed in many, many ways.  I've been church seeking all my life in several cities across the midwest and never run into any place like the church I attend.  I am continually challenged to step and do more- not by the words from the pulpit but by the actions of those around me.  The Bible says "To whom much is given, much is required." 
I agree with you that the system is broken and at one time I completely dropped out.  When I came
back it was to a church that was just about as broken as any other.  But, one day something said to me that old saying from the 60s. If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem.  By
dropping out, I assured that one less person who was interested in changing the church was there to have an influence.  So, I went back not seeing what I could get out of the church but what I could put
into it. 

As I said in an earlier post this morning, I'm not trying to tell everyone to go to church every Sunday.
But, I do encourage people to ask themselves what they are doing to contribute to the kingdom.  If you can do it in a church- great. I have the awesome privilege of being able to do that.


With great love and respect I think the experiences of your youth have (temporarily at least) blinded
you to what it is I am saying.  I think Rhonda's missing the point, too.

I am not advocating working to get into God's good graces.  I'm not saying that you taking care of your family isn't enough "community service".  I'm saying that many people could easily do more to help their fellow man and we should do all we can.  If it's in a church setting, even better.  This is something we should do as just responsible human beings, let alone being Christians.

And my pastor is much more than just the CEO of a company.  That is a role that he has to fill,
yes.  But, it's so much more... Oh, and as I said, I have more than a little experience with PKs (preacher's kids).  Not first hand.  My father didn't feel worthy to go into the ministry because he didn't think he could fill my grandfather's shoes.  His relationship with his father was complicated and frankly, I think it screwed up our relationship.  But, I don't blame the church for that.  And, I have aunts/uncles and cousins who are PKs or full time preachers.  I've seen pastor burnout up close and
personal.  My grandfather actually did a pretty good job balancing family and the church, given the times- better than most.  But, I won't bore you with the details.

I'm sorry if you think I'm trying to lay a guilt trip on you.  That's the last thing I want to do.  But, when people criticize my involvement in my church and criticize our role in the community and the motivation of our pastor, I think I have an obligation to speak up.

I grew up in a big church and swore I'd never attend one.  I hate big churches.  But, I see our church as a community center, a beacon on a hill.  It's not just a church.

I think what Rhonda is advocating is tantamount to anarchy.  A body needs its parts to work
together.  What good is a hand without an eye to guide it or a mouth without a stomach to digest the food.  To be a part of the body of Christ, we have to function with other parts.  Ministers have needs and have to be paid.   

OK.  Enough said.  When I find myself saying the same things over again, it's time to stop.  I'll jump back in if there's something new to say. 
[Rhonda] Why is it that this "Beacon on a Hill" is "leader" and you must "follow"?  Isn't the "body" that you speak of those who understand God's Universal Plan?  The only "Leader" I can think of is Jesus Christ--the head.

Did Paul follow any man--even the Jerusalem Apostles?  No, he followed Christ.  And he didn't go and follow the status quo--ever--he didn't attend synagogue to join with the Jews in their worship--he went to teach them what he knew--to publish Jesus Christ (and his plan of salvation) to them.  When he spoke at the Aereopolis (sp?) he didn't join with the Greeks in their worship of the gods--but published to them the Truth of the "Unknown God" which was brilliant--because he could commend them on being religious people who knew there was possibly "a god" they didn't know,  He seized that opportunity and told them about the Father and His Son.

[Brian] I'm sorry.  I really don't understand your question.  I didn't refer to Dave as a "beacon on a hill", I referred to our church/community center as a beacon on a hill.  I don't follow Dave.  Dave is the leader of the staff of the church and he does most of the speaking on Sunday morning.  Dave sets the direction for the church (along with the staff and the board of directors), as a body because when you have 5,000 people per weekend gathering you can't take a vote to determine every move you're going to make. 

Rhonda, you can argue this until you're blue in the face (and maybe you will).  But, it's simple logic that organizations (people working together) can accomplish more than individuals (people working alone).  It's in your Bible that says we should not forsake the gathering of ourselves together.
Paul talks about the parts of the body.  Body parts don't work well independently.  I really don't understand your problem with this.

[Rhonda] Annie asked some time ago, quoting scripture: "How can two walk together without agreement?"  Two cannot walk together UNLESS one compromises. The "churches" are full of "compromising" people who just keep their mouths shut and go with the flow.  My "eye" tells my
foot "tread there" or "don't tread there" depending on what path I'm on.  These body parts protect me unless I compromise, like a woman whose "eye" tells her "brain"--don't get on that elevator with that man--and she just goes ahead anyway, because that might hurt the man's feelings.—rhonda

[Brian] It's fine to say that Jesus is our only leader.  But, Paul (who you like to hold up as an example) tells the husband to be the head of the household and tells slaves to obey their masters (organization).  When we tried to create the website here and had no leader, how well did that work?  Nobody took the lead and look where we are.

No, Paul didn't follow any man.  But, how many men followed Paul? Thousands! To say that two
cannot walk together without compromise is a little strange, too.  Is compromise really such a bad thing?  Actually, in our marriage classes we teach there are more alternatives than compromise.  There are at least four alternatives when two people disagree- compromise, capitulation, co-existence and cooperation.  But, you're right in this sense, if two or more are gathered together not everyone can get
his way 100% of the time.  Marriages are full of compromising people, too Rhonda. But, I see you decided to enter into that institution.  Families have to compromise, also. Now that you are
no longer working solely by yourself, I assume you have to compromise. 

I wasn't talking about Dave, but the Center itself, the Beacon on a Hill--and of course, Brian, if you
are in agreement with its purpose you can walk with it.  Any compromises made are small ones--ones that are easily given for the greater purpose.  This is like a marriage, yes, an arrangement, an agreement on the big picture. This is what I meant by two walking together.  If two are not in agreement (about the big picture) then they cannot walk together without someone compromising something big.  My question to you is about the big picture--are you in agreement on the goal, purpose and teachings of your church?  If so--are you compromising your own beliefs and goals in any way?
If so, does this cause any crisis at all inside yourself?  If not--then I can say, "God bless you" and be happy for you where you are, because you're more than willing to compromise small things for
the big things (and that's a good thing).  :)

[Brian] The question is "What is a big thing?"  I'm working on a post for my blog called "Should I
Stay or Should I Go?"  Thanks for your contribution! Ironically (well, I don't really believe in irony anymore, this was planned), I just picked up a book called "Finding Jesus, Discovering Self". The
first chapter is about leaving home.  For me, home could be the church or could even be Christianity. 

I am absolutely in agreement with the goals, purpose and MOST of the teachings of my church. It is not a fire and brimstone church. In the 8 years I've been there I can honestly say I don't remember hearing a mention of hell or ET from the pulpit (and I think I'd remember).  The founding pastor (I've been told) is a universalist.  But, that's only a rumor.  When I questioned Dave about it, he wouldn't go so far as to say he's a universalist (which would probably have been stupid of him to do- look
at Carlton Pearson).  But, he's open to new revelations on hell.  So, from my POV, this is not too major a thing- at present.  Now, let's examine what I have in common with the church.  We do so many ministries I can't even name them, Rhonda.  The gym seems to have caught your attention.  I get
the feeling you're picturing people on treadmills, lifting weights and stuff.  Nah.  The gym is used mostly by kids.  It's a basketball court with a stage. We bring in people who are burned out on
other churches.  We help alcoholics, poor people, sex addicts, the divorced and on and on and on.  The Vineyard is known in Cincinnati as a place with loving people who would do anything for a
stranger.  That's why I'm there.

[Rhonda] If big compromises are being made; when one cannot be, say or do what he really believes in
for the sake of unity, this is where a crisis comes in.  For instance, many marriages fail because both enter in without having the same big picture in mind--and one is asked to compromise his/her true
self for the sake of unity.  If any church or group requires this kind of compromise from people then a crisis of conscience develops.  Just as no wife is happy if she's compromising her true self for the sake of her husband's will--can't speak her mind or convictions without being ostracized--no person is happy in that arrangement anywhere, because he/she isn't free.  Many women do for the sake of peace, the sake of unity, or perhaps the sake of what she feels is God's will that she compromise herself totally, and so do many people in their church relationship.  And breaking church/group ties can be just as difficult and emotionally wrenching as breaking marriage ties; leaving a group is often viewed by the group as abandonment; they take it personally--and some go so far as to believe when you leave them, you're leaving God.  :)

[Brian] Can be is the operative phrase there, Rhonda.  My church is not God and they don't try to
convince anyone they are.  Do you know we do anonymous missions?  We'll give our resources (including people) to do missions with other churches and take NO CREDIT.  Our name isn't
on anything involved with those missions.  I have been pretty open about my universalism, sharing it with the Senior Pastor and with one of the pastors on staff.  I've sent links to my blog to that pastor.  So, I'm not making any compromises that are causing conflict in my soul.

[Rhonda] As for not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together--in the first century there was no
other way to meet than face to face.  I'm meeting with people all the time--of many different faiths--around the clock--and the purpose is to incite one another to love and fine works--and the biggest work
of all is spreading the Good News of UR (as I see it.)  This has made all the difference in my own life's searchings for God--and I think this message is life-changing--because when spiritual needs are being met, everything else becomes good as well--even hardships, trials, and all the problems that come in life.  I have many brethren that I actually talk with, pray with; much more intimate without all the church functions that come into play in church-going.  Its how I worship God--I don't see how "worship" must be sitting in physical pew somewhere being led by someone, or in my local town--I can visit any person in any place better with this miracle:  the internet.  I'm not alone--I have my own "group" around me, family, neighbors--I don't have to have a local church family--my internet
"church family" is huge.

[Brian] Rhonda, when did I say you have to go sit in a "pew" (we don't have them, BTW)?  Yes, this is
a gathering.  And, like it or not, we're dangerously close to an organization. We almost even built something together. One might even call us a (gasp) church.

Great post.  Now we're getting somewhere ;-)

[Rhonda] I'm sure your church has many wonderful people in it (it has you, doesn't it?) and that Dave's a great man.  I have nothing personal to criticize him about--or your church (or any church) for that matter.  I sensed from you Brian a crisis of conscience going on.  Which was why I asked the questions and put the challenges out there.  Your responses tell me if one is actually going on or not.  If you've come out even more convicted of what your church does and stands for--and whatever compromises you make are worth the big picture to you--then I'm fine with it, Brian, and happy for you.  Bless ya--rhonda

[Brian] Cool.  I appreciate it.  My crisis of conscience really has more to do with remaining a Christian than attending the Vineyard.  Would I prefer a place just like the Vineyard that openly preaches universalism?  Sure. But, there are a lot of things I would like that aren't going to happen, we have to do the best with what we are given.

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