Category Archives: Life in the Body

Observations on church life

Bible Reading Plan

Yikes, another Bible reading plan! At first blush that was my reaction as well. Had it not been for an intriguing comment on another Reformed blog I would likely have dismissed it summarily with a polite yawn.

That would have been most unfortunate, and I am very thankful that the Lord prodded me appropriately.

The plan in question is called Professor Horner’s Bible reading plan. It has a web site and a facebook page if you Google for it.

In a nutshell, it proposes that one read one chapter from each of ten lists of Bible books each day – that is 10 chapters from 10 different books, daily. The ten book lists cover the whole Bible and are chosen by the good professor to reflect various New and Old Testament divisions and areas of importance.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But it works!

Each of the lists are different lengths, so over time the juxtaposition of books and chapters read daily changes. The result is a unique contextualization.

Here is the original article.

I made one modification. Acts was on a list by itself, while Romans was grouped with other Epistles. Given the Reformed doctrinal significance of Romans, I moved it to join Acts. This increases the frequency of Romans somewhat.

Here is a speadsheet of my version, which makes it easier to follow the program. Notice that the days have numbers, not dates, so you can start any time.

My opinion is that his predication about the effects are both correct and wonderful. It is very profitable.

Try it…


Irritated by the Beloved

Assuming that you are are believer, then you are living in the Beloved – marked by God before creation, saved through Christ, changed, inhabited and directed by the Spirit, and His into eternity no matter what. More significantly for today’s post, you are in all of this with a lot of brothers and sisters in the faith.

This family of faith are, in the end, closer to you than any other earthy group of people. As a family apart from the creation, we are precisely that – apart. No bond of flesh within creation is as eternal nor significant. We are commanded to be loving and supportive within that family.

And there’s the rub (to abuse Shakespeare shamelessly)…

Why? Because our brothers and sisters in Christ, or at least some of them, can be very irritating! I would venture to say that within each local assembly there is at least one, and likely several, believers who really annoy you. If not, then I think you are either not involved or in denial…

That said, what do we do with these bozos who are part of us for all eternity?

First, let us remember that they will only bug you in the flesh. In the New Jerusalem, all the vestiges of the flesh which lead to the observations in this post will be gone, for  “we will be like Him” (1 John 3:2). As such, the conflict will be gone and forgotten. Thus we only have to consider now – now being the time until we either die or the Lord returns.

With that in mind, do we have to embrace every other believer as our long lost friend – approving and supporting all that they are in the flesh? Should we expect ourselves to interact with all of them well, and fit with them? Are we sinful if we don’t care for or feel comfortable in the company of some? Many pious Christians might seem to believe that this is the case and our obligation.

I would disagree. I think this is without biblical support. Further it leads to reactions and guilt that can in fact be sinful.

The confusion appears to be around the difference between acceptance and preference. That is, global acceptance within the family of believers is regarded as proper and pious, while preference is not. But because you accept an individual as a  brother or sister does not imply that you ‘fit’ with them in the present flesh. I know of no biblical text that would propose this.

As long as we are in the flesh and all that it brings, we will be a better fit with some than others. This is where preference comes along. You have a preference for some over others – a natural resonance if you will. And there is nothing sinful in that.

Now, in the New Heaven and Earth, this will apparently not be the case because of our state (1 john 3:2 again), but even this is just an assumption.

We certainly are called to treat our brothers and sisters in the Lord with deference and general regard, since we are all strangers in the same strange land (to use a Robert Heinlein phrase), but our relationships can be at various levels and those levels can be determined but individual preference. There is nothing sinful in that, and I would go so far as to say that to believe otherwise is error.

Let us treat each other with the deference that our relationship in the Lord brings, but realize that having preferences in close relationships is quite acceptable and not sinful as long as it does not result in ill treatment of a brother or sister.

Soli Deo Gloria


Missing Church

Missing church is a strange sensation.

Having been grounded for a week or so by a temporary health problem, I find myself in the unusual situation of not attending church on Sunday morning.

For those that might miss now and then this might not seem like a big deal. However, I have always been one who strives for and puts stock in faithful attendance, and whether attending or preaching have always been in church virtually every Lord’s Day morning and often the evening as well.

I greatly enjoy the gathering of the Lord’s people in joyful celebration of His glory and the opening of the Word. Listening to messages online or reading the Word substitute, but is just isn’t the same.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting experience and one that has to a tiny degree given me an appreciation for the plight of those believers whose circumstances remove them from the fellowship of regular assembly for extended periods.

Blessings on this Lord’s Day…


A Puzzling Paradox

I am puzzled. Let’s consider a scenario that seems to be an surprisingly common one in many churches, irrespective of denomination or size. It concerns staff remuneration.

It is easiest to demonstrate with an example, so we will consider and average congregation one or two 2 pastors plus a building, sufficient size to have a church office that keeps regular business hours. Usually there would be a full time church secretary or administrator, maybe both. This describe a huge number of average sized evangelical churches, but our example could just as easily be larger or a bit smaller without changing the paradigm.

So, the scene is set. The Senior Pastor, according to your average denominational association publications, is likely paid $60-80K, possibly even more. An associate pastor might be $10-15K less. Both of these positions have comprehensive benefits packages, complements of their denominational associations. Thus they have pensions, medical and dental coverage, likely some continuing education support, and so on. Further, many have some sort of tax free expense account or housing allowance, and we can’t forget the non-trivial income tax breaks from Revenue Canada. All things considered a good package for an often difficult position. Actually, this looks amazingly like a secular career package, but that is not the subject of this series…

Experience would indicate that there is usually little congregational resistance to well paid pastoral staff, with most feeling that the money is well spent and well deserved. This often includes summary annual raises.

One would presume from all this that the local church, in spending the Lord’s money, is a model employer and supporter of it’s servants. But, let us now drop down a level or two in the pecking order and see what we find.

In most churches, like most corporate offices, is it the CEO, CFO or COO that actually runs the place and makes it all come together? Not likely! Most people know that the secretary or administrator is the real facilitator who makes it all come together. There are endless office jokes about this, and they simply reflect reality.

In the secular world there was a time when such jobs were largely unrewarded, with those in them labouring without recognition for their contribute, often receiving inappropriately low wages and benefits. However, these times are mostly past and even where they are not most agree that they should be by any ethical standard. Most such employees are consider to be deserving of employment benefits and a living wage which reflects their responsibilities. In corporate culture today, this is largely taken for granted.

So what about the church? And remember the pastoral compensation packages mentioned above and the undeniable responsibility to the church to treat others, particularly those within the family of believers, responsibly.

The full time church secretary or administrator is often the go-to person for the whole operation, even more so than in the corporate situation, sustaining the operation day in and day out. Further, more often than not they deal with and organize various ‘administratively challenged’ pastoral staff, who are employed for their pastoral skills rather than management or organizational acumen. This makes the secretary at least comparable to secular positions under a similarly remunerated senior staff.

That said, and considering the organization they are supporting, are they not deserving of similar employment benefits, especially in terms of sick leave, etc. to anyone doing this job? Who could disagree that they are? Moreover, as this is the church, one would imagine a model of superior treatment.

Sadly, this is not the case. These staff are frequently not thought of with the respect and appreciation one might think. They are more often than not paid minimal wages and deprived of virtually all benefits beyond those accorded by dated labour laws.

So, we have highly paid, well protected clergy, and their church, sustaining their operation at the expense of critical support staff, effectively having success at the expense of their least employees. Further, with no benefits, should these people become unable to continue, they are simply replaced.

Does this sound unseemly? Does it sound like silent usury? Does it sound like something from an updated Dickens novel? Does it sound somewhat appalling? Well it should sound like all of these, and sadly it is the truth all too often.

As I write this I can imagine cries of protest about spending the Lord’s money prudently, and this is certainly a church responsibility. But prudent spending does not include usurious labour practices and is definitely not the mark of good Christian example.

Further, before some brands me a labour activist, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. My personal politics are slightly to the right of Attila the Hun (to quote a TV business commentator that I enjoy). However, a wrong is a wrong, and this is wrong.
But why is this happening? Is there a Doctrine of Taking Advantage or a Doctrine of Advancing the Church at the Expense of Others that I have somehow missed in my reading of theology and the Bible? Does this doctrine supersede all the other precepts on how we deal with others, particularly those within the faith?

I don’t have an answer and I actually find it very puzzling…


Interlopers at high noon…

As a review, the original intent of the group under discussion was to facilitate growth among the members and thereby the body. As the members were selected to be mature Christians with appropriate experience, the subject matter is in depth, intense and studied over an extended time (a year+). As progress is made the group develops a cohesive pattern of discussion and exploration. This enhances the process. Thus the goal of the group, growth within each member, results in the form of the group, which is by definition restricted to particular people and presentation format. As the work progresses, the situation becomes more and more ‘exclusive’ in the sense that the members develop the accumulating knowledge and skills which are required to continue. Further it becomes clear that the effects of the work are being felt in other areas of each member’s life, increasing the effectiveness of this work. This is a cause for rejoicing.
Now the ‘Christian’ fun begins…

Into the situation comes an unannounced stranger with almost no background in the subject matter, drawn by word of the exciting work that the group is doing which has spread in one of the associated congregations. Further, this person does meet the original criteria for participation (eg. availability, consistency, background, general familiarity to the members since things are already underway). Yet they are intrigued by the work, think that it would be profitable for them, and feel that they will just join in.

In some ways they are not to be faulted since most church’s regard group exclusivity as a social sin, irrespective of the reasons. Inclusivity is regarded as a prime fruit, if you will, which of course is more Post Modern than Christian (but that is another discussion).

What would be the result if they did simply join?

Since the structure supporting the original intent was designed to facilitate cohesive growth resulting from an ongoing accumulation of knowledge and experience, and since this process requires cumulative work, the insertion of a new member would likely have a number of affects, all counterproductive. It would: bring the necessity to re-cover previous material on a consistent basis; require teaching basic material that is assumed at the start in all members; disrupt some or all comfort in discussion that has been built in the group to date; generally interrupt the flow of group thought. The group would simply not be the same group and would be forced to re-coalesce. Further, if the person did not attend regularly the disruption would repeat.

The overall result would be to reduce the actual and potential level at which the group can operate and the any growth.
Next, if this new philosophy of necessary inclusion were forced to continue, and more people joined spontaneously, the group goals would become unreachable and the group would be effectively changed over time to basic training. The longer the existence of the group, the farther this change would progress.

So, to the question. Is there a Christian principle that requires groups to be inclusive and that thereby makes special interest groups somehow sinful? I would say no. Further, I would say that this all too common miss-interpretation of hospitality and welcoming is error.


The Co-opting of Purpose

The Co-opting of purpose occurs when the primary intent of an activity is hijacked by another agenda, usually one that was not intended and is tangential. Usually this hijacking occurs, inappropriately, based up inappropriate or specious moral or ‘greater good’ argument.

Let us take an example.

Academic and other group theory has proven over time that group structure and intent lead to correct process, which has the optimal chance of yielding desired results. Put in the form of a process: Intent -> Goals -> Structure -> Process -> Best probability of facilitating the desired results.

We wish to convene a group to facilitate growth and conviction for mature believers. We will approach this by studying foundational Reformed Christian doctrine using a good text in Systematic Theology and supporting material. This will likely take at least a year (open ended).

Based upon the intent and goals, the optimal structure is determined to be:
– 8-9 members with a leader/facilitator
– a solid materials
– members of similar theological persuasion and level
– members available for virtually all group meetings
– members who are personally compatible.

In process, to maintain discussion at a constantly developing level of knowledge, ease and intimacy, membership must be closed – no new members after the first couple of sessions.

This structuring reflects the make-up of effective intermediate and advanced seminar groups irrespective of field, and is largely common sense.

Based upon these considerations, a group convenes with 9 members plus leader.

For an initial period this works well. Group dynamics develop as hoped, and beyond. Group and individual effort is encouraged. Material is covered well and the group is blessed with growth and deep conviction in all members. In other words – good stuff!

You are waiting for the other shoe to drop, right? You would be correct…


Welcome or unwelcome…

A simple question. It is always about evangelism? Is every meeting and every event we, as believers within the Body, always about evangelism before and at the sacrifice of all else? And is every meeting and situation without exception bound to exude the universally inclusive and welcoming to all?

Okay, what is he talking about you are asking?

Many believers seem to believe that universal inclusiveness is part of the gospel. It is patently ridiculous, not to mention self defeating, but they do. And in the spirit of societal entitlement in which we presently live, the more left leaning in secular society agree.

In this spirit, when believers gather for various reasons, there are some who will say that every situation or activity must without exception surrender it’s purpose to evangelism and inclusive hospitality whenever the possibility might occur.

Do you feel this way? Is there an basic Christian entitlement that gives everyone an inalienable right to be included in every activity and group they wish? Must every activity surrender its purpose to any passerby in the name of inclusive evangelism?


Minor points of theology?

In a recent conversation with a church pastor, he said roughly – These are only minor points of theology. They don’t really matter. It is our community that matters. At the time he was commenting on one of the foundational points of the Doctrines of Grace but the issue would been the same if the comment referred to any other doctrinal point.
His point, as he proceeded to explain somewhat sadly, was that theology was divisive to Christian community and family. Doctrine was interesting, but not something to actual consider significant. We should not worry about such and just be a Christian community, concentrating upon community and family activities. Now I should that these activities do include worship, but only as a part of the community genre. He was saddened (which was the stimulus for the conversation) that members were not seeming to ‘get it’.

Since this conversation was on the phone and the rebuttal was not going to be quick or tidy, I let it lay for the moment. But is has left me shaking my head, not only for the pastor in question, but for the flock, many of whom I know are searching for defining doctrinal answers which they will only find in Christ.
There was not even a hint in the conversation or apparently in his thinking that some actual defining, Scritpural doctrine and a clear theology might be what was needed. I have to say that I find that incredible.

There seemed no recognition (or perhaps it would threaten the ‘community at all costs philosophy’) that the church must derive its core identity from correct doctrine, derived from Scripture. And that the community, family and other identities must flowing out from that central core. Purpose, as defined by God not man, must be the starting point. When that is not the case, the theology will always develop from the community values, in other words, as defined by man and not God. An identity defined by man is wrong and even with the best of intentions will always end up serving the world and not Christ (we can discuss the theology of that another time).

Interestingly, at the same time as the above scenario is playing out in his flock, he is disheartened that they are not really interested in Bible study or his preaching. He clearly does not see the conflicting message he is sending about what is central and what defines that church.

Moreover, those within the congregation who are actually driven by the Spirit to seek biblical truth and identity are drifting quietly away, left empty by a man-centered community with no biblical identity. Even if that community is centered upon things that are Christian in nature and do in fact accomplish good works, it is still not centered correctly upon the Lord.

A sad scenario in a time of worldly churches. The question is, what to do…


The Lord’s Table – Format

What of the various presentation formats in common (and not so common) use in our congregations? Does the difference matter?

There seems to be two predominant formats. I will call them the formal and the relaxed (intimate).

The most common format seems to be the fairly formal configuration with silver serving trays for the elements – bread and little cups of a facsimile of wine (usually grape juice). This format is used primarily by the mainline churches, partly because it scales well to large congregations in terms of the time it take to execute. It is also generally more cohesive from a congregational viewpoint, since the elements are served and then taken in unison, with accompanying leadership from the platform. It also appeals to our traditional side emotionally. Nothing wrong with that in my view (since my views on the need which some see to always vary things are quite contrary).

The relaxed format involves the use of  actual loaves of bread, which are placed in strategic locations. Those partaking of the elements come to tear off their own portion. The wine (sometimes real wine), already in cups, is similarly placed and individuals approach and serve themselves as the Spirit calls. Because the actual taking of the elements is done individually, this format can be both more spiritually intimate but also not quite as corporately moving (in terms of simultaneous consumption).

There is also a combination format . The loaves of bread and the cups are placed strategically, partakers come up to take the elements individually, but they wait to consume them in unison, as lead from the platform. This approach is not as common.

From a hygiene point of view, the formal format is much easier to control, since access to the elements is much more controlled through the serving format. Preparation can be up to sanitary standards. Today this will likely become a very significant factor, as viral agents spread though common contact -  though at the time these formats developed this was not even on the horizon.

Having experienced both the formal and relaxed formats, and ignoring the logistics of very large congregations, I would have to deem the relaxed format to be more desirable in terms of communion with out Lord. However, there is definitely something to be said for partaking in unison that the formal format brings. It can noticeably bring the people of God closer together. In saying this, however, I have to state that I have heard people express the opposite.

In a medium sized congregation, and ignoring present viral agent concerns, I think that the more uncommon combined format might offer the best of both worlds. That is all, of course, personal opinion. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

In the final analysis, there is not biblically correct format. None is  ‘correct’ or superior. If it is assumed that a congregation of moderate size is desirable, then it is my feeling that the combined or relaxed formats are potentially more effective. I say potentially since the mood of the people and the cohesiveness of the assembly can change the whole picture.

I also would add that I think this is a lesser issue than frequency. As time goes on I am more of the feeling that the Brethren and some others have this right. The Lord gave us this ordinance to remember and draw close to Him. He did not proscribe that is should be only occasional. Why not do it more frequently and rejoice in the benefits?


Performance vs. Worship (Part 3/3) – What can we do? And how?

In worship we must consciously strive to bringing God joy through congregational, not just leadership, participation. The intent must be that the assembly worship en mass, and that any leadership encourage that before other priorities.

Scripture is the thought of God, as communicated to us in a way and at a level that we can think it ourselves. When we think scripturally, whether it be in music or words, we think like God, as He wishes. Irrespective of the style of music, worship in which the congregation is brought into actively glorifying Him through a form of His thoughts will help avoid the problem and accomplish the desired goal. The emphasis of this thought is on God, not on the worship itself. Expressed in another way, the intent of the congregation is wholly vertical, not horizontal.

Lastly, this problem is much easier to avoid than to correct. Once festering, the nature of the problem means that the egos of participants are in play. This never makes for a tidy situation or an easy correction in direction.

Worship teams with correct doctrinal and biblical mentoring from pastoral staff, who are encouraged in related devotional activities, as opposed to being simply turned loose to provide good music, are less likely to see this problem develop. Ongoing, proactive leadership, as with many other areas, is a key foundation.

Let us truly worship our God together, with gentle leadership, gazing up congregationally at the glory and wonder of our God. Truly, as David said of the wonder of the knowledge of God “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:6). Let us express that wonder together, bringing joy to our Lord and change in ourselves!


Performance vs. Worship (Part 2/3)- Now to the problem..

Have you ever been in a service where the worship music becomes a performance first and foremost, with actual worship a close or even distant second? I would guess that you have.

The most frequent observable symptom in this scenario is that some or even all of the congregation stop singing and simply watch. This is especially blatant when a ‘star’ worshiper on the platform carries the songs completely, as the congregation falls back, often drawing out chorus after chorus that only he or she is singing or playing, caught up in the seeming rapture in their performance. It may be more subtle than this. It all centers upon attitude as opposed to specific action. The participation of the congregational worshipers is stifled rather than facilitated. In the extreme, people will actually sit down after a time.

Folks, God is not honoured in this. His people are not brought closer to Him in the way Scripture proscribes. I would even presume say it does not bring Him joy though the congregation. After all, all of His sheep are commanded to worship. It is an anathema to biblical worship.

One might assume that this would most often be a problem in large congregational settings, with correspondingly large numbers of talented platform participants. Though that is possible, I have not observed this to be the case. In large settings there is often strong pastoral leadership and worship oversight. Assuming that the worship leadership understands the biblical principles, the problem does not develop. Also, there is usually pastoral mentoring of participants, sensitizing them to these potential problems. As such, they are unlikely to develop.

I have also not observed this problem in very small assemblies (eg. house churches and those of similar scale). They simply do not have the numbers and equipment involved to spawn the problem. The participation of everyone is clear due to the size. Problems of this sort are obvious and unlikely to flourish.

The traditional small to medium church setting is most likely the one to suffer in this regard. Though not the norm, this is an unfortunate by-product of some current attitudes. In this setting, one or two overly head strong, influential members can dominate the worship. Additionally, there may be weak accountability, or it may be over-ridden by the false (though common today) hope that this will generate growth. In this situation, a performance oriented theme can evolve, severely stifling real worship in the congregation as they are converted into spectators. As the paradigm plays out, more and more resources are dedicated to the performance and staging, and the congregation is ever more distant in terms of participatory, Christ-centered worship. In this setting, people often simply drift away for what may seem no apparent reason. The reason, of course, is that they are subtly disenfranchised from real worship, left empty, and must seek the opportunity to glorify their Lord elsewhere.


Performance vs. Worship (Part 1/3)- Ripples in the pond

I suspect that just posting this title will stir some people up. Few issues in the current church seem to elicit strong opinions and reactions more that the use, configuration and presentation of music in worship services.

For the moment, let us ignore the usual divisive issues of style, drums, etc. I would like to address what I consider a much more serious issue – the slide of worship into performance, and its alienating effect on the congregation. There are many aspects to this issue, from both sides of the platform, but that should not sidetrack the discussion. In the end all that matters is glorifying worship before God.

To quote a well know chorus “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God”. Or more traditionally “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,”.

Let’s start with theology, looking at God, where everything always starts and ends. The infinite God, who created this world from nothing at all, needed us not before creation. He was totally and completely self-sufficient in the fellowship of His triune nature. Yet He created us, for His own purposes, in such a way that we can bring him joy (Grudem, Systematic Theology, Ch 11). I agree. Scripture states repeatedly that to worship and glorify God is one of our primary, if not our most primary, purpose. Simply put, it pleases God. We, as His creatures, are commanded and exhorted to worship.

In worshiping in music in our formal Sunday services, we are bringing glory and joy to God, raising His name up. This has nothing whatsoever to do with any hint at all of the glorification or building up of ourselves through the act of worship. Any building up of the worshiper is solely as a result of the Lord’s work in him or her, not through the worshiper’s work in the task. This must be the approach if we are to be appropriately humble before almighty God. Any other stance leads directly to pride.


Christian Association – Exclusive or Inclusive?

A few thoughts on Christian association, be it in the church or para-church.

When is restriction of that association to subgroups of believers just personal preference, when is it required for group effectiveness, and when is it a clique? It is a tricky question that arises frequently within church and para-church groups.

We wish to be honouring and biblical in our actions and associations, yet we want to be comfortable as well. Where is the appropriate line?

Let us consider it from the point of view of ‘small groups’.

We live today in a society that often considers (at least publicly) any stance that is not completely inclusive to be objectionable, if not discriminatory. Discomfort in one’s associations or even a lack of group effectiveness as the cost of appearing inclusive is often espoused as a good and laudable price. We are to be everyone’s friend. This is especially true in many Christian assemblies.

From my experience, people we tend to exchange new ideas and concepts in a framework that is not overly hostile, since being constantly challenged before an idea completely takes shape subverts the conceptualization process. Discussion can be good and productive, but shooting down the germ of concepts before they even completely form is not.

This is even more true when dealing with concept affecting the personal growth involving the inner struggles of Christian sanctification.

When it comes to formulating concepts on faith related topics, most people seem to need a very secure and supportive environment for maximum effectiveness. These issues are often ‘close to the heart’ and ‘tender’ while in the formative stage (if not still that way later). An overly inclusive group structure often produces a group demographic that promotes challenge and inhibits the requisite emotional safety.

If group dynamics are to benefit the individual growing Christian (and by extension, the assembly), rather than satisfying external political appearance, then control of demographics matters. Over emphasis on an open group make-up and the appearance of inclusive behaviour is badly miss-placed.

Groups, once constituted with a particular philosophy of inclusion, are very difficult to change in process. Any narrowing of the basis for membership or closing of membership after the fact is even more likely to be interpreted by those outside of even inside the group as discriminatory or ‘unwelcoming’, without regard for the group’s mission. This is particularly true when the group has been formed without any documentation. Members may not see the potential effect of open demographics until it is too late and the group dynamic has been compromised.

Bottom line -> Church and para-church groups wanting to best facilitate the growth of members in faith and conviction would be well to consider membership demographics carefully up front. The group formation philosophy and intent should be clearly documented before the fact.