30 Theses (Give or Take): A Ramblin' Rant in Helpful Bullet Point Format
The following is an informal list of basic principles relating to discipleship and "doing church" that I try to think and live by. I share them only because I think, whether I'm right or wrong in my assessments, that the issues themselves are very important. Every generation must wrestle with the way it lives and presents the Gospel to a dying world. Every generation must put walking shoes on its theology, so to speak, and in some cases, helmets and body armor. (And in some cases, take the armor off.) This is my little way, in my little corner of my little world, of nailing my little Post-It to my little Wittenburg door.
1. Discipleship is designed to be experienced in community. God saves individuals, but He does not save them to an individual faith but to a kingdom life populated with other citizens who share that faith.
2. The Bible designates one vessel to hold this kingdom community, and it is The Church. You might fraternize with other believers in coffee shops, informal communes, online chat rooms or forums, blogs, bars, or the big outdoors, but only biblical churches satisfy the discipleship need for The Church.
3. Honest Christians will differ on what constitutes a “biblical church,” and while disagreement is understandable and okay, beware of any church that says, explicitly or implicitly, “we do it right” or “we do it better” than the church down the street.
4. Ecclesiological one-upmanship (“My church is better than your church”) is a sin.
5. The reason you should not give up on church or The Church is because Jesus did not give up on you. And if He calls the church His Body, giving up on it means giving up on Him.
6. There are no perfect churches, especially if they have people in them.
7. Expecting a church to “fit” you or to always be comfortable or catering to your needs is arrogance and foolishness.
8. You can pick your friends and you can pick your church, but as in all families, you don’t get to pick who’s in The Body. Only God can do that. And when you decide certain people (or certain churches) are not worthy of your presence, ask yourself if you are worthy of God’s. (Hint: You’re not. But he came into your life anyway.)
9. My friend Bill Roberts has been doing church work for years. Two blog posts he’s written you really should read are More on “Why Church?” and Is the Bride Beautiful?.
Seriously, click on them and read. They are important.
10. If the entirety of your churchy desires consists of filling a seat to experience a good service, you are not a congregant in a church but a consumer at a concert.
11. What you win people with is what you win them to.
Win people with flash, spectacle, presentation, etc., and that’s what you win them to. Don’t be surprised if, like all consumers and what attracts them, they eventually get tired and move on to the next attraction. Don’t be surprised if, provided they remain, they continually request more, better, higher . . .
12. Church leaders don’t really need to choose between fidelity to the Gospel and engaging the culture. They just need to make sure they put them in order. First things go first and inform secondary things. Fidelity to the Gospel should inform your cultural engagement, and not vice versa. If your first aim is to please man, you will please some god, but it won’t be the God you want to please. But if your first aim is to please God, you will please some men.
13. Some men won’t be pleased if your first aim is to please God. This is called “the scandal of the cross,” or “the offense of the Gospel,” and it can’t be helped if you are faithful to God’s Word.
14. Decide if you’d rather give people what they want to hear or what they need to know. People need to know they are sinners in need of a Savior. People want to hear that deep down they’re okay and their good buddy J.C. affirms them in their okay-ness, which is b.s. that helps nobody.
15. You don’t have to beat people over the head when telling them what they need, and in fact, if preached well and practiced incarnationally, you will find that you will win more than you’d think.
16. You cannot program a church into success. Programs are great, but they are applications. They are the “how” of doing church. Give up the tyranny of results and start with the “what” and “why” questions first.
17. A church’s success should be neither entirely nor primarily measured by its attendance. Also, a church’s growth should not be entirely or primarily measured numerically.
18. It is okay to think about numbers and numeric growth. Beware of church growth philosophy extremes. But the litmus test for whether something should be done in or by a church should never be “will it increase attendance?”. Naked ladies giving away free Krispy Kremes will increase attendance. Hiring Oprah Winfrey to speak (preferably clothed) on self esteem will increase attendance. It is okay to think about and strategize for numeric growth. But when you cut corners on the Gospel or pander, you are not trusting God for that growth; you are trusting yourselves.
19. Churches that advertise more in terms of what they’re against (“religion,” “tradition,” “formality,” other churches, etc.) are playing to people’s bitterness and will likely be filled with bitter, prideful people.
Defining yourself by what you’re not gets old quick.
20. Religion is not really a bad thing. Religion just means “how faith is practiced.” Jesus was a pretty religious guy; he was observant of the Jewish feasts and festivals. He followed the Law. The New Testament book of James tells us about “pure religion.”
The word “religion” has taken on a bad connotation because of all the loser churches who took Jesus out of the equation and made religion about legalism instead of liberty in Christ.
In other words, religion does not save you; it is what you do because you are saved.
21. Tim Keller wrote, “Irreligious people seek to be their own saviors and lords through irreligion, worldly pride. ('No one tells me how to live or what to do, so I determine what is right and wrong for me!') But moral and religious people seek to be their own saviors and lords through religion, 'religious' pride. . . . Both irreligion and religion are forms of self salvation."
Since I don't think religion is inherently a bad word or a wrong concept, I would replace Keller's use of "irreligion" and "religion" with "antinomianism" and "legalism," respectively, since that's really what he means.
22. Let’s be clear: It’s not a sin to be unhip. If “religious” to you just means “not down with the times,” religion is not your problem; idolatry is.
23. C.S. Lewis said, “To go with the times is of course to go where all times go.”
24. It’s not a sin to be unhip, but it is a sin to be boring when talking about God or presenting His Word. It doesn’t actually say that in there ;-), but if you believe it is true when it says we shouldn’t be ashamed of the Gospel because it has power to save, you should at least act like you believe it.
This means that, whether you’re doing the preaching or listening to it, if you are angry, sad, or cynical more than you’re happy, joyous, and hopeful, you’re doing it wrong.
25. On the flipside of “it’s a sin to make the Gospel boring,” is that you can’t make the Bible relevant. The Bible’s already relevant. Generations of churches made it sound irrelevant but it wasn’t because they were unhip but because they were unfaithful. Be honest about, engaging with, and faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and people will see its relevance.
26. The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” while informed by a conflation of several very biblical ideas, is not in the Bible. Neither is “ask Jesus into your heart.”
27. Lots of people who think they have traded religion for a relationship with Jesus have actually done no such thing. They’ve just traded an outdated religion for a newer model.
It is true that works will not save you – in fact, the truth of salvation by grace in Jesus Christ should be shouted from the rooftops – but if your “Christianity” is about incorporating Jesus into your life in order to be happy or successful or generally more at peace with yourself, guess what? That’s religion. And it ain’t even a good one.
28. You can be just as prideful and in just as much “stale religiosity” in a casual, informal, rah-rah “yea Jesus” church service as you can in a dressy, formal, “serious” one, particularly if you are proud of being casual and informal and rah-rah.
29. I stole the above idea from Dallas Willard, who writes in The Divine Conspiracy, “You can be just as 'man pleasing' and 'fleshly' in extemporaneous and informal religious exercises as in preestablished and formal ones -- perhaps even more so -- especially if you are proud of being informal.”
30. Worship is about connecting with God, telling Him and your fellow worshippers how much He is worth. You can just as easily do that with loud drums and electric guitars as you can an organ (and vice versa), provided your heart’s in the right place. It has nothing to do with style and everything to do with substance. You know you care more about the former than the latter when you start thinking more about performance than praise.
31. Worship is not just something you do to music. The quality of the Christian life is one of worship.
32. These things are not things I’ve known so much as learned in my slow, imperfect journey with Jesus, and in the ongoing purification process the Bible calls “sanctification” but which I frequently think of as “becoming less stupid.”
While posting a list like this seems even to me a bit self-involved, I thought I'd at least offer the possibility that I didn't make all this stuff up. References that guide my thinking on these matters include:
1 Corinthians 12:1-27