Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Alley-oop

by John D Ramsey
Recently, I read a quote from a prominent so-called Christian leader that roughly correlated church programs with the alley-oop. We toss the ball up, and God makes a slam dunk. Without our setup pass God can do nothing, but without God, we’re shooting air balls; together we score. In effect, the church expects God to validate whatever it decides to do.
God does not work that way. In Acts, we are given some illustrations of how God does work, but we evaluate those empirically and decide that because we have never seen it, they are no longer relevant.
Right before Jesus’ ascension into heaven, he told his disciples,
  • Do not leave Jerusalem
  • Wait for the gift my Father promised.
Jesus promised the disciples that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit, and that when this occurred, they would become Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. The disciples were expecting God to restore the kingdom to Israel, but Jesus told them that it was not for them to ask about “times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Acts 1:7 (NIV)
The disciples stayed in Jerusalem, but they did not wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Instead, Peter insisted that they nominate two men to replace Judas Iscariot. After the nomination they tossed them up to see which one was God’s slam dunk. After hearing that the timing of God’s promises were not for them to ask, Peter and the crew decided that the time had come for God to replace Judas. Matthias was chosen by a game of chance, and nothing more was ever heard about Matthias.
No doubt, Matthias was a good man, but he wasn’t God’s man. Peter’s initial logic was sound, but his decisions were all wrong. The Psalmist prophesied of Judas, saying, “May another take his place,” but this was not Peter’s decision, it was God’s. If Peter had followed the pattern of church government that Jesus taught in Matthew 16 and 18, there would have been no need for casting of lots. Jesus prophesied in both of those chapters, “Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”
From Matthew 18, it becomes apparent that the binding and loosing that Jesus refers to is the collective decision making of the assembly of believers. Jesus taught his disciples that He reveals His will in the unanimous agreement among the assembly. If only two or three are present, Jesus still makes His will known through their agreement. If you get a whole church to agree together, then that is a miracle, and that is the point Jesus tried to teach his disciples.
Peter and the other disciples apparently could not agree between Barsabbas and Matthias, so they alley-ooped. That is to say, they required God to finish what they had started. Churches today ignore the unanimity requirement for decision making. Decisions are made by approved people behind closed doors. We then expect God to endorse our decisions.
Sometime after Matthias was no longer relevant, the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus (Paul) on the road to Damascus. Such was God’s timing. Paul calls himself the least of the apostles. Yet, as the least of the apostles Paul became the principal writer of the New Testament.
Peter set the criteria that whoever replaced Judas must have been someone who was with Jesus from the beginning. In other words, Peter wanted someone who wanted the job, and someone who had demonstrated to the disciples the necessary commitment. These were not God’s criteria, but rather man’s criteria.
There was nothing on Saul of Tarsus’ résumé that would have appealed to Peter and the gang. Come to think of it there was nothing in Peter’s résumé that qualified him to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, either.
Much of what we call church occurs at the pleasure of men. Leadership is still largely chosen by committee either internal to the local assembly or by leadership of the denomination. Pastors candidate for positions that meet their compensation requirements. People attend the church whose programs please them or whose services entertain them. Congregants, or conscripts, are assigned to roles as it pleases the so-called church leaders. The modern church is entirely designed to please men, and not God. Scripture is distorted every Sunday morning to convince people that they must continue doing what pleases men. We neither wait on God to make His will obvious, nor do we uphold Jesus’ standard of unanimity in our decision making. We operate mostly as an oligarchy doing what pleases the so-called leaders.
We take out church mortgages or sell bonds using the charisma of the pastor as collateral on the loan. Then we ask God to pay off the debt – alley-oop. We justify ourselves by remembering that mortgages and church bonds are about the only way to acquire a building. This should make us ask a rather obvious question!
Churches manage their members in CRM databases grading performance based on growth and retention. Under-performing facilities are upgraded, and under-performing pastors are replaced. We spend our entire church experience trying to please men. We commend the success of an assembly in human terms – how many congregants, how many programs, and how much money.
Once on television, I watched on prominent so-called Christian leader bragging about the church gymnasium that was so grand it persuaded many people to join his church. His bragging was mundane; some churches incorporate sports bars. Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ a giant bait-and-switch? Come for the basketball, and while you’re here, let us punch your ticket to heaven.
Modern churches seek to please men in all things. Yet Paul tells the Galatians, “For now do I comply with men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if still I please men, I was not then Christ’s bondman.” Galatians 1:10 (AB) Likewise, when you look at the salutations on Paul’s epistles, you find phrases such as:
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a chosen apostle, being separated for the good news of God . . .” Romans 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, a chosen apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God . . .” 1 Corinthians 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God . . .” 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father . . .” Galatians 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the command of God, the father, and our deliverer Jesus Christ, the one of our hope . . .” 1 Timothy 1:1 (AB)
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, according to the promise of life of the one in Christ Jesus . . .” 2 Timothy 1:1 (AB)
Paul did not seek to please men. In fact, he said that if he tried to please men he could not consider himself a bondman of Jesus Christ. He didn’t kowtow to Peter, James, and John, nor did he detract from the Gospel message just to attract more people.
What would church look like we did not seek to please men, but rather we sought only to please God? Would we have gymnasiums and sports bars? Would we have church buildings at all?
What would a church look like if we all met together in a borrowed upper room, studying and praying until God revealed what He wanted to do? What would church look like if we were all more interested in hearing from God, than doing anything. The truth is that the modern church does not exist to please God, but rather to please men.
Ironically, to the extent that we do church to please men, we demonstrate that we are not bondmen of Jesus Christ. Instead, we’re just playing games.

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