Monthly Archives: September 2009

Are all children born on this earth meant to be?

I think that question really depends on how you define the phrase “meant to be”.

If the question is whether every life is infinitely valuable to God and worth a chance at a full life then I would emphatically say yes, the Bible teaches that all life is precious.

If you are asking whether God knows who will and won’t be borne then I would have to say that he does since it is clear in Scripture that he knows the end from the beginning.

Now if (and I think this is the culmination of the other two for most people) you are asking whether God has a hand in who lives or dies and has a reason for some living and some dying then I think we need to back up and remember the above two facts in addition to what God essentially told Job through a blistering series of questions.

Specifically, that God is not the only actor in history. Even though he knows and is more powerful than the other actors (such as Satan and you and I) God is not obligated to prevent them from causing evil of their own and generally acting against his will.

We also need to keep in mind that while God knows the end from the beginning, we also know that this world is not the perfect one God is working towards. In Genesis 3 sin entered the picture and had a profound effect on everything, including the human reproductive system such that some children are lost to what we could call “natural evil” and some children are lost to evil someone intentionally does (like abortion).

It is important to keep in mind that we essentially live in a war zone between heaven and hell and until Jesus comes back we should expect to see evil like the loss of innocent children.

This is actually one of the reasons the Gospel is called the “good news” because it lets us know that the death and destruction we find all around us here on earth will not last forever and that Jesus, by rising from the dead, has conquered death which provides us hope.

In other words, even the children who don’t make it aren’t completely lost.

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What is simple church?

A friend of mine recently asked, “What is simple church and how is it different than what we normally call ‘church’?”

Simple church is a pretty broad term and is rather hard to nail down. I think the best place to begin is to say that the aim (at least in the one I am in) is to be as close to the model of a church as portrayed in the Bible as possible.

Simple simply refers to the desire to jettison all the cruft normally associated with institutional organizations we mistakenly label “church” these days including programs, buildings, bulletins (which represent a strict order of worship), clergy (that is, we reject the common clergy/laity distinction as divisive to the Body of Christ), etc (more mentioned in Frank Viola‘s excellent book, Pagan Christianity.

Another aspect of “simple” is that we strive to maintain a small group and will unhesitatingly spawn another group if/when ours grows beyond what can comfortably fit in a modest living room (around 20 to 30 people).

One of the different things we do, as a consequence, is maintain open-participatory meetings where every member is free to add and interject anything they wish. Many people cringe at this thought and wonder how such a meeting wouldn’t devolve into a complete chaotic mess. But this is where an odd reliance on the unifying and guiding power of the Holy Spirit comes into play, to the point (at least in the small group we’ve had the privilege of being a part of) where both order and mutual edification are possible. In fact, in this type of meeting we tend to see more mutual edification and instruction given because the burden of preparation and teaching do not fall on the shoulders of any single one of us but are instead borne by each of us who are given the gift of teaching which is far more Biblical than having these responsibilities rest in any single individual week after week.

Another interesting difference is in how we relate to each other and how we handle differences among ourselves. In our group we all come from a variety of backgrounds and theological persuasions which, on the surface at least, would seem to make the task of unity far more difficult than if we were to simply ascribe to a denominational profession of faith. However, what I’ve found is that our lack of confessions, creeds, and councils tends to make us far more willing to debate in love our differences as we know that our ability to disagree in love is a key element to our community’s continuing to exist. Our smallness and lack of a membership roll provides much more incentive for us to be more careful where we draw lines of division and makes us much more generous in our debates with each other.

Some excellent resources to help you get a better idea of what a simple church is (or ought to be) can be found at:

I’m by no means an expert. We’ve only been attending a local house church for the past couple of months. But what I’ve seen so far (and I thank God for the wonderful people we’ve met considering the horror stories we’ve heard) has been very good and meshes quite well with all the research I’ve done in the area of Biblical ecclesiology.

The bottom line is that while most other places merely preach the priesthood of the believer in passing, it has only been in simple church where I’ve actually seen it put into practice.

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Animal Rights?

Many people were shocked after hearing of the exploits of football star, Michael Vick. At the time I remember hearing numerous discussions about why “people who do that sort of thing ought to be punished severely”. Interestingly enough, the debate over animal rights didn’t really subside when Vick went to prison and has only managed to grow and gain momentum like some sort of inescapable juggernaut.

True, the saga of animal rights didn’t really begin (nor will it end) with Michael Vick, but I want to address one key flaw in the whole notion of animal rights that many people, even those who are not staunch supporters of PETA, often completely miss when it comes to the discussion of animal abuse.

The bottom line is that animals are property.

No, we shouldn’t mistreat them, we ought to be good stewards of them; and yes, it does tell us much about a person’s character when they derive pleasure from the needless torture of a helpless animal1. In fact, I would argue that the same applies even if the animal is able to defend itself (i.e. hunting certain types of game such as bear) if the intent is still to derive pleasure from the suffering of a living creature.

However where do we draw the line in a free society when it comes to telling people what they can and cannot do with their property?

I think such a notion of telling someone what they can or cannot do with their own private property is a slippery slope. One needs to only look to the numerous crusades against the meat industry and the ever increasing restrictions in some places about the “humane” methods of execution that may and may not be applied (i.e. California’s Humane Slaughter Provisions law).

You may be able to make a case against the commercial purchase and financial profit from bloodsports (i.e. dog fighting) which I’m sure would help curb these horrible practices, however I strenuously oppose any and all attempts to either equivocate animals with people or to allow outside parties (including the government) to dictate what a person does with their own private property.

  1. Proverbs 12:10 []
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Doing Church

One of the more interesting questions my wife and I get these days is “so, where do you go to church?”. This question is especially interesting when the person asking knows the depth of commitment we have to Christ and many expect the pat answer of “we attend such and such Baptist or Presbyterian” or, at the very least, “we are still ‘shopping'”1

Instead, our answer is that we attend a simple church2 which meets in the homes of the various participants. Since many people are unfamiliar with any ecclesiology outside  of one which confuses a building with an organization and programs with the church, the response we often get is probably the same as if we were to say that we participated in some bizarre cult3.

The truth, however, is that we’ve been meeting with a group of around 15-20 other believers for the past few months and have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Even though our children often pose a difficulty in terms of logistics, we’ve found the common fears and objections most often raised against house churches to be completely vacant, at least in the one we are currently blessed to be a part of.

I suppose if these people were to overcome their initial shock, and I’m sure many who have known us in the past would like to know, they would ask the obvious follow-up question of “what’s wrong with a normal church?” with the obvious implication that we had somehow left the church.

To be fair, we have had some bad experiences with churches in the past. And to be honest, these experiences have made it very difficult for me (in particular) to be comfortable with the idea of attending any church, institutional or otherwise, ever again.

For the longest time I thought the problem lie with me, especially since it was my questions and quest for honest community and answers that ended up driving large, immovable, and painful wedges4 between us and people we had known and loved for years.

Then, as if by a miracle, I met a series of people who shared with me their similar (and often times much worse) experiences and showed me their battle scars. They let me know that I am not alone5. Lest you think they were merely bitter and resentful I hasten to add that it was through their love and friendship I also learned the true definition of community and family.

It was actually one of these dear brothers (a youth minister, no less) who suggested that I read Pagan Christianity, an blistering expose of the pagan practices that have crept into Christianity throughout the years and the profound impact they have had. Undoubtedly it was this book that helped me decide to, along with my loving (and trusting) family, but it wasn’t the only thing that helped me make this decision to, at least for the time being, leave the institutional church. Much of Francis Schaeffer‘s work, especially what I’ve read about L’Abri, along with his son-in-law and current L’Abri president Udo Middleman’s book “The Market Driven Church”, along with a host of simple inconstancies such as the abject disdain I’ve experienced from many churches when it comes to thoughtful and rigorous discussion and study6

So, we are “doing church” differently now.

We’ve come to the conclusion that we don’t need the elaborate buildings and religious trappings to grow close to Christ and His bride (which is the true Church). We’re not encouraging a mass exodus from the institutional churches many people are still members of but we also don’t think such a mass exodus would be such a bad thing either.

  1. How this phrase ever came about I’ll never know. []
  2. Also known as house church, micro church, etc. []
  3. Unlike the commonly accepted cults like the Jehoviah’s Witnesses and Mormons []
  4. Many which I still feel the stinging pain of today []
  5. And judging from the number of people who are leaving churches all across our land I am inclined to point out that my experience and conclusions are far from unique. In fact, it seems that the old mantra “Jesus, yes; the church, no” is coming back in vogue for another season. []
  6. Though most churches ironically encourage their members to read their Bibles, most sadly don’t actually intend for their members to actually comprehend and grow from what they read. []
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Kissing campaign for peace

The kissing lips“Greet each other with a Holy kiss” is a phrase used at least 4 times in the New Testament.1 Each time it is used, it is issued as an imperative, urging the readers to greet their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with a Holy Kiss. But what is this “Holy kiss” and why don’t we practice it any more?

When I was younger man I used to laugh along with my friends at this sentiment, imagining it to be some sort of first century dating scheme or pick-up line. While this notion of what a holy kiss is is still enough to produce giggles even from mature adults, I wonder how many people realize how important these commands are and why it is imperative that we  at least learn what a “holy kiss” meant in the first century and how, if properly practiced, such a sentiment could lead to much needed healing within the Christian community.

To begin with, the concept of kissing someone on the cheek by way of greeting is not particularly new or uncommon in many cultures. Many of us may think about the popular Hollywood, European, and middle eastern greetings which often involve a kiss on both cheeks. Some of us have even haven even seen (or have at least heard of culturally awkward stories which include) greetings involving a kiss on the lips. While these modern-day greetings come close, they don’t quite capture what Paul and Peter were trying to convey in their letters.

To get a good understanding of how we are to treat each other we need to take a closer look at James, specifically James chapter 2 where James discusses the equality of everyone who is a member of the body of Christ and how partiality and preferential treatment are out of place among a people who have all been graciously adopted into the family of God.

Next we need to understand that there exists strong evidence that the type of greeting advocated by Paul and Peter was normally reserved for close family and friends. In fact, a strong case can be made that many modern day greetings which utilize a kiss are really pale replicas of the genuine and heart-felt greetings performed in the first century.

A good example of how the greeting kiss can be (and was) perverted into a false display of kinship is seen in how Jesus himself was betrayed by Judas in the garden of Gethsemane2. What made it worse is that by many accounts the kind of kiss given by Judas was one which was sloppy and on the lips, two major social violations and displays of ingratitude

In fact, Jesus pointed out the failure of his hosts to greet him properly and points to a woman who not only poured out expensive perfume on Jesus but kissed his feet while drying them with her hair as an example they ought to follow.3

The best example, however, of a proper kiss in the right can be seen in the greeting the father gives his son in the story of the prodigal son.4 Hoping to merely be treated as a servant (an improvement from the situation in which he found himself) the son is surprised to be greeted as a son and given a ring displaying his restored status.

With this in mind let’s turn back to Paul and Peter’s admonitions to greet each other with a holy kiss and ask ourselves the simple question; “Do we really see our brothers and sisters in Christ as our family?” We certainly like to proclaim that we do, but as James also points out in his book, our actions speak far louder than our words.

What would we look like, as the body and bride of Christ, if we learned to truly embrace, love, and care for each other? How would it transform our discussions, debates, arguments, and our general attitude towards each other?

I can only dare to dream what such a change in heart would produce and look like, but I dare to say it would mean we would look a lot more like the church we read about in Acts which “had all things in common”5.

Such an authentic community might even be the answer to Jesus’s prayer in the garden right before he died for our sins.6

  1. 1 Cor 16:20, 1 Cor 13:12, 1 Thes 5:25, 1 Pet 5:14 []
  2. Mark 14:45 []
  3. One of the few stories told in all four gospels: Mat 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8 []
  4. Like 15:20 []
  5. Acts 2:44 []
  6. John 17:1-26 []
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