Delving deeper

1.Why are you so critical of the church? God loves the church. It angers me that you're so judgmental about it.

This question is a good example of the problem we are trying to expose in this book. Namely, many Christians are confused about what the Bible means when it uses the word church. The word church refers to God's people. More specifically, it refers to the gathered community of those who follow Jesus. It does not refer to a system, a denomination, a building, an institution, or a service.

We have written this book because we love the church very much. And we want to see her function in a way that brings glory to God. The institutional church system and structure are not biblical. And as we have argued, they hamper God's people from functioning the way God intended.

When Martin Luther challenged the institutional church of his day, it made many people angry. As a matter of fact, if Luther had not had the support of Frederick the Wise and his armies, he would have been killed for his beliefs (like many other Reformers were).

Today, Protestants look back on Luther and hail him as a hero. Luther loved God and the church, but he strongly disagreed with the church system that surrounded him, arguing that it was not biblical. And he had the courage to prophetically declare that disagreement in public. (By the way, Luther was far stronger in his rhetoric than we have been. If you think this book has been difficult to absorb, try reading some of Luther's diatribes against the church system of his day.)

In short, it is because of our love for the church and our desire to see God's people set free that we have written this book. And it is our hope that God will use it to help change the course of church history.

2. You say that in a healthy organic church, each week "every member has contributed something of Christ in the gathering" Does that mean that every week every believer in the gathering is expected to share some way in which Christ has been revealed to him or her? How do you ensure that an unbeliever or someone with a poor grasp of Scripture doesn't get up and speak falsehood? Also, don't some attendees just feel pressured into contributing, even if they really have nothing to offer that particular morning?

If the church is properly equipped, these problems rarely occur. Paul's instruction to "let the other judge" (1 Corinthians 14:29) when someone ministers in the meeting goes a long way toward providing a safety net for healthy participatory meetings.

Note that it takes time for a church to be equipped to conduct an open meeting. And herein lies the role of church planters. Their job is to equip the members to function in a coordinated way. That includes encouraging those who rarely participate to function more and those who tend to dominate the meeting to function less. It also involves showing God's people how to fellowship with the Lord in such a way that they will have something to contribute in every meeting.

In addition, the fear that someone will say something "false" in a meeting should never compel us to replace open participatory meetings with services directed by someone from the clergy. Like Paul, we should trust God's people enough that if someone does share something amiss in a meeting, the church will take this as an opportunity to highlight and magnify the truth. The amazing thing is that when God's people are properly equipped, they do just that.

3. If Christ were to send a message to the institutional church today (much as he did to the early churches in Revelation 2-3), what do you think he would say? Would he offer any words of commendation?

It would be highly presumptuous to answer such a question with any certainty. And since the institutional church is not a monolith, what Christ would say would no doubt vary from church to church.

Yet we suspect He would probably say some of the same things He said to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, as they apply to all Christians in every age. He would also probably have a great deal to commend about certain churches. Perhaps He would commend some for caring for the lost and faithfully preaching the gospel to them. He might commend others for standing with the widows, orphans, and the oppressed. Maybe He would commend others for their faithfulness to follow His teachings without compromise.

At the same time, He would probably address specific shortcomings in each church, just as He did in Revelation. In addition, He would probably give a rebuke to those churches where God's people have been suppressed, manipulated, abused, and silenced into doing certain things. And there's a good chance He would give a word of correction to the Lord's people for allowing themselves to be treated in this way. As He said in days past, "The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?" (Jeremiah 5:31, NIv).

"Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?"' —ACTS 2:37, nasb

"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." —JESUS CHRIST IN JOHN 8:32, nit

READING THIS BOOK TAKES COURAGE.

Such courage is required not because of what the book says, but because of what you, as a follower of Christ, should do in response to what you have read.

Is it possible for a believer to know the truth and ignore it? Yes, as evidenced by the little steps away from God's plan for the church that Christians have consistently taken over the past two millennia.

Is it appropriate for us to move away from God's plan for His church? Absolutely not. Is it acceptable to simply acknowledge that we have taken many wrong turns in the past without realigning with God's plan in the present? Of course not. One of the distinguishing marks of Christians is their integrity. We demonstrate that integrity by following our Lord, regardless of what others do, just because He is Lord.

Having read this book, you must make a decision: Will you act upon what you have read, or will you simply be informed by it?

Many people find themselves in a real dilemma today. They want to be the church, as God intended, but they are not exactly sure how. Especially in a day when unbiblical expressions of the church are the norm.

To put it in a question: Now that you have discovered that the institutional church is not scriptural, what is the next step? What should you do now?

Here are some areas to ponder and pray over:

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