Not a Fan of the Church

As we wind the last few days off of the year 2014 we are getting our annual “best of” lists for the last year. Thom Rainer started his countdown of the top 14 posts of 2014 on his own blog, and being a relative newcomer, one of his previous posts caught my eye.

 11 Differences Between a College Football Fan and a Church Member

This was meant to be a humorous look at troubling trends within the Church, and we are warned that some of the words within might be convicting or “uncomfortable” to read.

The first thing that jumps out at me after reading the article is, though we are queued up for conviction with the introduction, what we are actually invited to do in the closing is to join in with our own snide remarks at this faceless and nameless church member.

This isn’t an invitation to introspection, it is permission to elevate ourselves and judge our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

After further rumination on the content of the blog there was something that jumped out at me even more. The very nature of article compares a church member to a football fan, so my initial connection was to compare my own zeal for the person of Christ to that of the football fan for his chosen team.

The problem is that, by and large, the blog post is not making that comparison.

While there are a few statements that point to contradictions in the way that the church member lives out their life following Christ, most of them actually have to do with their attitude toward the local church, as well as church services.

With that in mind, what are we being presented with?

We are being presented with a model where we are no longer members of the body of Christ, but fans of the institution that is the Church.

The issues that are being mentioned within the article are actually symptoms of the bigger problem. The people who are being brought into “the church” are being presented with something that they are to be a fan and supporter of and not with the reality which they are actually a part of.

I am not a big college football fan, so I am going to break the metaphor for a moment and point out that Andrew McCutchen is not a “fan” of the Pittsburgh Pirates the way that I am a fan of the Pirates. In fact most people would not refer to him as a fan at all. He is a “member” of the team.

That is the same reality that we live within as the body of Christ. It is impossible to be a fan of the body because we are members of the body.

If we are inviting people to witness a spectacle that we call “church” we are doing a disservice to those who are being called to be a part of the body.

I am a member of the body of Christ.

I am not a “fan” of the church.

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10 thoughts on “Not a Fan of the Church

  1. You made a lot of good points, Dallas.

    We’re participants in the Body of Christ, members of Team Jesus, not spectating fans, but full participants in the game.

    I like also how you point to ThomRainer’s blog as being not necessarily geared toward thoughtful introspection, but toward providing an Arena for the Elevation of Church Leaders, who maintain this critical pattern of judging their other brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t conform to their Circus Standards.

    As you said, the issues of articulated concern are actually symptoms of the bigger problem.

    The bigger problem being: the blog is a gathering field for apologists and priests of the Whore of Babylon. So it’s a problem of apostate proportions!

    • I think that what often happens over there, and we are all susceptible to this, is that an environment of “us people” vs “those people” developes. Since the site is aimed largely at church leaders, you get a lot of Clergy vs laity stuff, a lot of pastors complaining about lazy congregants, and a lot of looking down noses in general.

      I don’t think that a forum for people to vent on their brothers and sisters would be any healthier, but if it at least presented itself as that it would be a little more understandable.

      The reason that I even spend time there is that using the Babylon metaphor, we have people there who to one degree or another are working as architects for this Babylonian city that so many of us inhabit. They are drafting up the way that the structure works, so even if I am just a “voice crying in the wilderness” it seems like a worthwhile wilderness to be crying into.

  2. The surest route to becoming a Wolf involves the assumption of a false spiritual authority over others within God’s flock.

    Much of what you’ve shared with me concerning the ThomRainer wilderness has gone toward proving my theory of the Lupine Effect.

    The Babylonian architectonics of these hierarchical systems bend everyone who takes residence within their church structures into either blind and dumb sheep to be ruled, or blind and dumb wolves who have set themselves up as their rulers.

    Question the system and your answer will be wolfish, for there is no way anyone can defend such an enterprise except through fleshly means.

    “For God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:24b-25).

    Any assumption of a clergy / laity division in the Body of Christ is anathema. It is adversarial. Structurally Roman and inherently the position of the anti-christ.

    Sounds harsh. But this is my conclusion based upon the Word of Life the Children of God are to hold fast to.

  3. Dallas,

    I agree 100% with this point that you make: “If we are inviting people to witness a spectacle that we call “church” we are doing a disservice to those who are being called to be a part of the body.” In the new testament, we see that the purpose of assemblies is to equip the saints and to stir them up to love and good works. So much of what we see today in “churches” is that they focus on bringing the lost in to entertain them and feed them physically. They seem more like social clubs and concerts in many ways instead of being a church of the Lord. When assembling with other believers becomes more about us instead of honoring Christ as instructed in His word, we are not serving Christ, but ourselves.
    The religious system that is commonly called “Christianity” today is not the Christianity we see in scripture. What we see today is more about exalting men instead of exalting Christ. What we see today is so filled with false doctrine, unbiblical organizations, divisions, and nonChristians who think they are the saved.

    I also agree with you that the “clergy-laity” system that is often portrayed in these articles is unbiblical. All “offices” within the church are positions of service, including elders (or pastors, bishops, overseers), deacons, and evangelists/gospel preachers. All of these “positions” are positions in which one does not lay claim to some exalted title, but lowers themselves and views themselves as less significant than the sheep. Anyone who makes a distinction which places these offices above the sheep are misunderstanding the nature of the offices. With this said, this does not mean that there is not a certain level of authority that the elder/pastor/overseer has over the sheep they are watching over. They are leaders by example and the sheep are told to submit themselves to their elders and those who rule over them by watching for their souls.

    I don’t agree with everything you said though. And before I state my disagreements, I want to make a couple things clear:
    – I am not attempting to belittle you in any way by disagreeing with your points.
    -I in no way desire to be contentious. I am trying to reason with you in Christian love.
    – My disagreements do not in any way show my approval of all that Mr. Rainer believes or teaches. I personally do not believe he is a Christian according to the Bible’s definition of the term.

    With these things said, here are a few thoughts for you to consider:

    You said regarding Mr Rainer’s article, “This isn’t an invitation to introspection, it is permission to elevate ourselves and judge our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.” I think you are reading into the article motives that you do not know for certain the author has. It seems, by the majority of the comments on the post, that the majority of people did read it with a heart desiring to compare the things written to their own devotion for their sports teams, not to elevate themselves above others. The truth is that for a lot of people who claim to be believers, too often their favorite sports teams do become idols. Making this observation does not necessitate that I am attempting to lift myself above others or create a clergy-laity system. Pastors and evangelists are just as guilty as members of Christ’s body of giving their hearts too much to their favorite sports teams, something that Mr. Rainer himself confessed to in the article.

    You also stated that “We are being presented with a model where we are no longer members of the body of Christ, but fans of the institution that is the Church.” Is it possible that if you asked Mr. Rainer privately (or on his blog) whether or not this is the model that he is presenting, that he would say it is not? Is it possible he would say that he does not believe that “church members” are fans of the congregation they belong to? From my reading of the article, I think he would say that he is trying to show how the devotion of a football fan is often greater than one who claims to be devoted to Christ. It does not seem to me that he is saying that believers are fans of the churches they are members of.

    I would encourage you, if you have not already, to ask Mr Rainer some questions to clarify his positions before writing such things as you have done publicly. It may be the case that you are misrepresenting him.

    • Thanks for the response Jason.

      First I will acknowledge, as you did, that we seem to be in agreement on the biggest points here, so I am glad to hear that.

      On the first point of disagreement, I would point to one of the last sentences, “what would you add to my somewhat sarcastic list”, and to the general tone of the post itself. The post actually does have some decent points to make, but it is lost in the format. The tone of the article was closer to constructing a pinata that looks like somewhat like a church member in order for someone to take a swing at them than to turn a mirror on the reader, or for that matter the author. Because of the setup of the article there is very little “college football fans do this”, “I find myself doing this”, the church member is not yourself, it is that other unfaithful person in the pew. Perhaps it wasn’t intentional, but I wholeheartedly believe that it is there.

      As far as the second concern, I have no doubt that Thom Rainer could give me a “right” answer, but I have read enough of what he writes, and what is encouraged on that blog to discern where his heart truly is.

      That might actually beg the question of why I read his stuff to begin with. I started having his blog posts pop up as shares in the facebook feed a while back, and nearly everything that I was seeing was either worldly and/or wicked. I read and interact on that blog because people that I care about are influenced by it, and frankly he has the ear of people that have influence over God’s people. As I mentioned above that makes it a worthwhile wilderness to cry into.

  4. Jason,

    I appreciate and agree with nearly everything you wrote. However, allow me to challenge you on a couple points regarding your language.

    You wrote, this does not mean that there is not a certain level of authority that the elder/pastor/overseer has over the sheep they are watching over. They are leaders by example and the sheep are told to submit themselves to their elders and those who rule over them by watching for their souls.

    Let me affirm that—Yes—I do realize your words line up precisely with our English Bible translations; However, it must be pointed out that the underlying Greek does not exactly express what the English suggests. The Greek New Testament does not exactly agree with what you are asserting.

    There is no such thing as a division in the Body of Christ between those who possess ruling authority and those who are to submit to their rule.

    Any imposition of a spiritual ruler (outside of God Himself) over His flock will consequently institute a division in the Body of Christ that violates God’s Holy Word.

    “For God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:24b-25).

    What is problematic with the language we’ve been given is that it serves to uphold a false conception of the Body of Christ that is hierarchical in expression—i.e., structured into these “ruling” and “to be ruled” divisions. The Word of God does not teach this.

    I know the Scriptures you’re working with, the most prominent being: “Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:12); “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17); “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17).

    I’m happy to examine every Scripture bearing upon the question of whether or not elders (or the like) possess “ruling authority over” Christ’s sheep, but these three verses hold some of the key Greek terms of concern—προΐστημι proı̈́stēmi; πείθω peíthō; ὑπείκω hupeíkō; ὑπέρ hupér.

    As each of these words have a wide berth of meaning, we can rule out any connotation that contradicts the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:

    “But Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (25-28).

    In light of what our Lord said, the proper understanding of proı̈́stēmi (in 1 Thess. 5:12 and 1 Tim. 5:17) is not a standing before the sheep to rule over them, but a standing before the sheep to lead and to care for them—as accountable servants, not as rulers exercising authority over God’s flock. Even our prepositions, such as hupér, must avoid hierarchical and authoritarian connotations as we translate the Greek into the English language.

    Here’s the preferable readings: “Respect those leaders who labor among you and care for you in the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:12); “Let the elders who serve well be considered worthy of double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17); “Follow those who are leading and yield to them, for they are vigilant on behalf of your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17).

    Here’s a transliteration of the Greek followed by a brief exegesis of Hebrews 13:17a

    Peithesthe tois hegeomenois hupon kai hupeikete

    Obey your leaders and submit to them (as the English Standard Version has it).

    The first word—obey—is a translation of the Greek word peitho.

    Peitho basically means to “persuade, convince; trust, believe” (EDNT).

    Peitho is inflected in the middle voice—peithesthe, indicating that the subject of the verb is acting upon itself or is being affected by its own action. In the Greek the subject is affixed to the verb as a second person plural imperative that is “understood” in the ESV as “(You) obey.”

    As Peithesthe is followed by the dative with the indirect object being a participle in either the middle or passive voice—tois hegoumenois, modified by the second person plural possessive pronoun—hupon, followed by the conjunction—kai, which locks in a reinforcing second person plural imperative verb in the active voice—hupeikete, the entire phrase can literally be translated:

    Follow (or obey) those who are leading and yield (or submit) [to them (or to their authority)].”

    In his expository dictionary W. E. Vine relates the significance of peitho as it is found here in the middle voice: “The obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion. Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymological [terms]; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter. . . . Peitho in the New Testament suggests an actual and outward result of [an] inward persuasion and consequent faith.”

    The Greek imperatives here—follow and yield (which are rendered obey and submit in the ESV) are in the volitional mood exhorting us to respond with willful assent. “Allow yourselves to be persuaded and willfully submit to the authority of your leaders,” would be an appropriate rendering of the Greek.

    This point cannot be emphasized enough: the authority our leaders persuade us to submit to is the authority of the Word of God.

    The will that our leaders persuade us to obey is the Will of God.

    The moment a leader authoritatively interjects anything into the mix that is not supported in Scripture he or she has crossed over the line into spiritual illegitimacy.

    Just a few verses above Hebrews 13:17 the writer gives us this:

    “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings” (13:7-9a ESV).

    The force of the underlying Greek exhorts us to constantly bear in mind the character of those who faithfully taught the Word of God and to scrutinize their life carefully, and then to follow them as they have followed Christ.

    This sets us up to receive the instructions in question—obey your leaders and submit to them.

    What’s important to keep in mind is that this appeal to obedience and submission is not to any leader (outside of God Himself), but to the truths and teachings of Scripture.

    Notice that in Hebrews 13 where we are called to allow ourselves to become persuaded by those who are leading—how these leaders are not designated as elders or pastors. Which calls to mind 1 Corinthians 16:

    “Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject [ὑποτάσσω hupotássō] to such as these and to every fellow worker and laborer” (15-16).

    As we see in both the verse above and below—hupotássō is another key Greek term that comes into play.

    So, now: Who are all the members of the Body of Christ to submit to?

    Yes, ultimately we all submit to Christ who is our Head, yet as children of light we also are called to “submit [ὑποτάσσω hupotássō] to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).

    Those we recognize and entrust to stand before us as leaders should foremost model what it’s like to submit to Christ, His Word, and to the least of these.

    And since language matters, a believers spiritual authority should never be regarded as a “ruling over” any other brother and sister in Christ, but a spiritual authority in and for the service of others.

    We are all brothers and sisters and servants of one another and members of Christ’s Body. The oversight of an elder is a coming alongside another with the authority of a life submitted to the Lord and to His Word. Along with other gifted shepherds and teachers, elders are tasked with showing us all how to wield proper spiritual authority over the spiritual realm of the Adversary.

    Challenge me back if you believe I’ve missed something, But outside of Christ who is our Head, no one in the Body of Christ has any measure of ruling authority over anyone else in the Ekklesia.

    In the words of Jesus: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject [ὑποτάσσω hupotássō] to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:19-20).

    The true spiritual authority every Spirit-filled member of Christ has inherent access to is the power to subject dark spirits to the children of light, not the power to subject God’s sheep to themselves!

    My hope, Jason, is that you and I both see eye to eye on this.

    David, from the East End.

    • David,

      Sorry it has taken me awhile to put together a response. I am still not done going through all that you said, but I thought it would be good to send some kind of response.

      When I say that an elder/overseer as authority, it seems that you are assuming that I mean that they are dictators over the flock. This is not what I mean at all. I agree wholeheartedly with what you said when you said this: “In light of what our Lord said, the proper understanding of proı̈́stēmi (in 1 Thess. 5:12 and 1 Tim. 5:17) is not a standing before the sheep to rule over them, but a standing before the sheep to lead and to care for them—as accountable servants, not as rulers exercising authority over God’s flock.” The shepherds/pastors are not to “lord it over the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). This is why I said in my response, “All “offices” within the church are positions of service, including elders (or pastors, bishops, overseers), deacons, and evangelists/gospel preachers. All of these “positions” are positions in which one does not lay claim to some exalted title, but lowers themselves and views themselves as less significant than the sheep. Anyone who makes a distinction which places these offices above the sheep are misunderstanding the nature of the offices.”

      The authority that I believe that the elders of each congregation (there should be multiple, qualified elders in each church) have is not any kind of ruling authority. They guide the people of God with the teaching of the scriptures. As they teach the truth of scripture, they are teaching the very words of the Chief Shepherd; the One who is THE authority that all of Christ’s sheep must submit to. The Spirit gave them the responsibility to teach his word and to oversee the flock. In this way, the words they give the flock, as they reflect the teaching of scripture, have authority.

      You quoted this passage from Matthew:
      “But Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (25-28).

      This passage does make the same point I made from 1 Peter 5:3, but I don’t know where you are getting the idea from it that no one other than Christ has authority over the sheep.

      It seems you believe “lording it over” and “having authority” mean the same thing. I do not believe they do. I don’t know if you would agree with me or not, but I believe that the very Apostles who Jesus was talking to have authority over me. I am to obey and submit to their teachings in scripture. They have authority over me because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to teach the word of God to me. This reflects what I say above about pastors. They were given the responsibility by the Spirit to teach the word of God, so as they teach the truth of scripture to the flock to guide them, the flock is to obey. To not obey the word of God taught by these men would be to disobey Christ. I agree wholeheartedly when you say, “This point cannot be emphasized enough: the authority our leaders persuade us to submit to is the authority of the Word of God.” But I also agree with what you state before this point in your response, “Allow yourselves to be persuaded and willfully submit to the authority of your leaders.” Both are true. The leaders have authority, and the authority they possess is their teaching of scripture. Both are possible.
      It seems that you go to such great extent to remove the word “authority” from anyone but Christ that you throw the baby out with the bath-water. I agree with your points for the most part, but I think that you are over-reacting to the errors of denominational Christianity in your response.

      Regarding your comments on the Greek in these passages: I don’t know Greek (or have any training in Greek), so I cannot with any knowledge interact with what you say regarding the Greek structure of the passages you bring up. I will only say two things regarding your comments: First, you are arguing in them as though I believe that the shepherds are to rule as lords of the flock. I do not believe this. I believe the passages, as they stand (without your retranslation of them) do not contradict my view. Second, I am always suspicious of those who try to go “into the Greek” to try to show that a passage does not mean what hundreds of translators over the last 500 years have translated the passages to say. I will try to examine your retranslation of the passages, but where I cannot test what you say, I will defer to the Greek scholars who translated the passages as they stand now in our translations, assuming that they have studied the languages more than both of us. I may or may not be wrong in that assumption (since I do not know you personally), but that is the position I am forced to because I do not know you personally regarding how much you have studied these things (it may be good at some point to get together for a cup of coffee to get to know each other better).

      Let me know your thoughts David. God bless.

      – Jason

  5. Thank you, Jason, I appreciate your engagement with me on this.

    You should know: I did not in the least bit assume you to be assigning dictatorial authority to elders. As I recognized your language to be in line with our English Bible translations I wanted to point out to you how Nowhere (as far as I have yet to discern) in the underlying Greek text is there any notion of elders or anyone in the Body of Christ possessing spiritual authority over any other brother or sister in Christ. In spite of a few intriguingly problematic English terms—Nowhere have I found this taught in our Greek Scripture.

    My “over-reacting” should be examined more deeply, Jason, for it’s the central point of correction I’m calling the Ekklesia of God to conform to.

    Point to Scripture where it appears to be teaching this idea of shepherds and elders possessing authority over the sheep, and I’ll faithfully show you in detail what the Greek text reads. And yes, I’d encourage you to check my work with other scholars.

    You write: It seems you believe “lording it over” and “having authority” mean the same thing. I do not believe they do.

    Neither do I, Jason.

    And neither do I believe our “having authority” as Saints has anything to do with your assertion of shepherds or elders “having authority over” others within God’s flock.

    I want to disabuse you of this idea. For to teach otherwise is to teach a falsehood.

    I commend you for your orthodoxy to the English text, but now I direct you to look more deeply at the underlying Greek.

    You’ve also somehow mis-reasoned that I’ve removed the word “authority” from anyone but Christ!

    On the contrary. Scripture teaches that all sheep, not just her shepherds and teachers, wield great spiritual authority.

    Over and above the spiritual authority we all inherently possess by nature of being in Christ, there is an overt measure of spiritual authority peculiar to each of us whose greatness is realized in relationship to our knowledge of the Most High God and our obedience to His Delightful Word.

    Just because I’m teaching you, Jason, that shepherds do not have spiritual authority OVER God’s sheep, this in no way means I’m teaching shepherds don’t have true spiritual authority. They do. They’re recognized as true shepherds for their shining authority in the world and in God’s holy pasture, not for some invented “office” they might hold as pastors over their given churches.

    The best shepherds among the flock teach this spiritual authority to everyone.

  6. Jason, I really appreciated this,

    “The authority that I believe that the elders of each congregation (there should be multiple, qualified elders in each church) have is not any kind of ruling authority. They guide the people of God with the teaching of the scriptures. As they teach the truth of scripture, they are teaching the very words of the Chief Shepherd; the One who is THE authority that all of Christ’s sheep must submit to. The Spirit gave them the responsibility to teach his word and to oversee the flock. In this way, the words they give the flock, as they reflect the teaching of scripture, have authority.”

    It’s not anything that David and I haven’t talked about on numerous occasions, but it was very well put.

    When we were going through 1 Corinthians a little while back, it stuck with me that in 14 it says to let two or three prophets speak, and then let the others weigh what has been said. Given that the authority that teachers wield is the authority of scripture and speaking “as the oracles of God” having something built in that would weed out fleshly teaching or even just mistaken teaching would not only be beneficial to those that are being taught, but those who are held to that “higher account” of teaching the word.

    We have lost this on a number of levels. We not only have fallen into a model where one man stands up and gives a monologue with no interjection other than a smattering of “amens”, but as you have mentioned elsewhere today, there seems to be such a tendency to just move on from a congregation if something goes wrong that we tend to split rather than confront… leaving everyone more ignorant.

    I have appreciated this dialogue. A lot of good stuff here.

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