The effective (or ineffective) church of the 21st century


Over at http://www.kinneymabry.blogspot.com  (Preacherman’s blog) he recently posted under this title ”

“What does the church need to do to thrive in the 21st century?”

Several people left comments, some were pretty good, some were not. The common thread of thought coming from the commenters seemed to be “Today’s church must get our of our comfort zones, the confines of our comfy buildings, and actually impact the communities we are supposed to serve.” And I don’t disagree at all. I do believe the problems with many of our churches lie much deeper than how we choose to serve others or deliver our message. Yes, every congregation should be making a “salt and light” impact on their neighbors, there is no room for debate on this. And, we can all agree that we need to get our message out to the “unchurched” or “unsaved” (you choose the term..) and not expect them to come to us crying out “Sirs, what must we do?”.

I suggest that before we appoint another committee to study the matter of the most efficient way to minister that we set some things straight first.

1. The world needs Christ more than it needs the “Church”!   I will not claim that my research is “scientific” but I have done some observation on purpose. After looking at sermon topics, Bible study titles, resources offered, etc. on both church websites and personal websites (including blogs), and reading the stories that get the most response from “brotherhood” publications, I have concluded that churches of Christ preach “Church” more than “Christ”. This is a trend that must be reversed.

2. Our churches must stop preaching a “gospel system” in favor of preaching a gracious Saviour.  On many church websites you can find the “5 step plan of salvation”, but precious little about our Lord Jesus Christ. Not long ago I visited “Apologetics Press” and read item # 8 of the 9 items under the label “What we believe” and I was astonished to find this statement which I quote:
    “Salvation is by means of obedience to the Gospel system, involving faith in God and Christ,    repentance from sin, confession of faith, and immersion in water for remission of past sins, coupled with a life of growing consecration and dedication.” (emphasis mine)

 Far too many of our churches have the same flawed theology. One only has to pause and think for a moment to realize that the “Gospel System” that is so important that some suggest we should surrender obedience to it, rather than to Jesus Christ himself, was invented in the early 1800’s. Peter, Paul and their contemporaries did not have a copy of the New Testament from which they could lift convenient passages to fit their view of how a sinner is saved. If any honest observer will read the Acts and the remainder of the New Testament they will find that the gospel message was about a Person, not about a Plan, it was centered on a Saviour, not a System.

3. Our worship must be centered upon a unique Person, not upon a uniform Pattern.  Modern day Pharacees have disgraced and deluted true worship in Spirit and in Truth so that instead of being from the heart it is from the head, and instead of being a delight it has become a duty. What happens on Sunday morning in many of our congregations is predictable, and appears to be done by religeous robots, going through the motions, doing all the right things in an almost mechanical way.

I am sure some of you have heard about the man who said loudly “Praise the Lord” and “Amen” in response to the singing and the sermon. Some godly coC elders cornered the fellow after the invitation and inquired about his insulting outbursts. He replied “Well, I’ve got the Spirit and I’m happy in the Lord”. The good elder said in response, ” Will you didn’t get it here, so be quiet”. Could this story be true in your church? 

4. We must become a people who find their identity in Christ and not in how we “do church”.   When we can say honestly we are who we are because of what God has done in Christ on our behalf, rather than striving to become who we hope to be, we are only then ready to give our lost neighbor a valid message of the very good news about Jesus.

I believe with all my soul that the greatest need in our churches is teaching our people who they are in Christ, that they are complete in Him, have a living hope that cannot be taken away, and are hidden with Christ in God, not based on their performance but upon His.

One preacher asked a large Sunday school class are you “walking in the Spirit” and they to the last one had no idea what he was talking about. The Christian life is not about rules to follow but about righteousness by faith. It is not what have “I” done but about what “He” has done on my behalf. In view of what He has accomplished apart from my effort and yours, what is my response and yours in our day to day living before a watching world? To whom do we yield?

Paul was the most educated of all the apostles, he graduated from the best religeous schools, he had the right blood line, he had strictly followed the Law, he possessed knowledge and human wisdom beyond his fellows, but in view of all these facts Paul said “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8,9) Should we not be willing to put away our preferences, our human desires, our pride, perhaps some of our traditions, so that we “may gain Christ” too?

In my view, only after we have started to live out Romans chapter 12 are we credentialed to go out and change our world. Men and women are made fit for heaven one heart at a time by hearing the same message Phillip preached to the Ethopian eunich from the prophet Isiah, “Jesus” was the message. Our problem is we want to do the work of God using the resources and in the energy of human flesh. Perhaps it would be good for us to “go wait” in prayer to be endued with Power from on high so that our ministries and message might be confirmed in “the power and demonstration of the Holy Ghost”, (I Cor 2:4,5) rather than depending on human wisdom.

We must be a people on mission with God in His ministry of Reconciliation. Our task is not to “correct” everyone else in the world who claims Christ as Lord, but to publish the very good news about Jesus both with our lips and our lives. We must make known the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life because He is the only way to the Father. Only when you and I personally know the Resurrection can we save men from death.

Our challenge in 2008 is to try to really “restore” the ancient church’s way of doing business. We are only kidding ourselves if we think that “we” alone are right and that everything “New Testament” runs down hill from Resortation churches.

His peace,
Royce Ogle

 

 

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“..if I should die before I wake…”


Today we buried an associate. A 60 year old woman who had been selling real estate since 1972. Dying at 60 is way premature to this almost 63 year old.

Where is she now? With the Lord I think, I hope, but I don’t really know do I? I shared the very good news with her and she assured me she was “satisfied”. Though in some way I wish I could do more, I suppose I did what I could. I will take her word and find some measure of peace in the knowledge that she had found peace with God.

I have decided that if I must err, (and we all must err) that I should err on the side of the love and grace of God. After all God does love people more than you and I do. And, He has done something remarkable to prove His love by giving His only Son to completely pay for the sins of wicked people. Wicked? Yes wicked!

I don’t hear the word “wicked” used to describe humans much in sermons any more, except for my own. According God’s book, at the center of every man is a spiritual heart which is “deceitfully wicked” and only God can really know it. (Jeremiah 17:9) And, Christ died for the “ungodly”. 

The problem with you and me is that we measure ourselves by ourselves (each other). God on the other hand measures us by Himself. We lose every time!

Christ did not come into this world to condemn it but that people might be saved through Him. I don’t think I will be in the business of condemnation either since I am to be used in His stead in some mysterious way.

I will tell folks the very good news about His love, and how their sin debt has long been paid, and God’s gracious offer is forgiveness of sins and eternal life along with all the trimmings described in the Bible. I will tell them that by simple child like trust they can know the peace of God and have peace with God through Christ. And not by ritual, religion, saying certain phrases, going certain places, and going to certain houses of worship. Nope, only take Him at His word and expect Him to do what He has promised.

Every one of us, saved and unsaved, are flawed human beings. A remedy has been provided for every one of us. His name is Jesus. In the words of comic/song writer/singer Mark Lowery “I catch them God cleans them”.

Each of us contributes one sinner each to the formula of salvation. That is about it. Jesus has done and will do the rest. Have you put your whole trust in Him? You’ll sleep better once you have……”and if you should die before you wake….”

His peace,
Royce Ogle

“…..the gates of hell shall not prevail….” against the church


On last Sunday the Hemley Rd. church in Bayou La Batre passed a mile stone that many did not expect. At 2:00 p.m. they had a celebration and dedication of their permanent home. Against great odds and in the face of opposition from within and without, the little flock has persevered in prayer and service and they now have a facility with great potential, much of the rehab work has been done, and they are debt free.

People traveled from as far away as Los Angeles, California to come share the great victory and celebrate what God has done. On Sunday morning I taught the adult Bible class and challenged them to remember that the race of faith is a marathon, not a sprint. One of the greatest qualities of one who would please the Lord is patient endurance. Learning to walk in step with the Holy Spirit, and when necessary, to simply wait upon God are much needed disciplines.

Bro’ John McCord, pulpit minister of the ElCampo, Texas church of Christ preached, reminding us of the past and casting a vision for the future. He characterized the members of the Hemley Rd. church as “Sold out, over committed, junkies for Jesus” whose mission is to confront their community with the claims of Jesus while serving their physical needs. Two of ElCampo’s elders were there as well.

After the great service there was a spread to die for, (or because of). Big fat bay shrimp prepared in different ways, and almost everything one could want for a great feast. The fellowship was amazing!

In the afternoon World Radio Director Bro’ Ken Bolden opened the time of dedication, celebration, and thanksgiving. One after another, elders, preachers, and those who have generously given to the work in Bayou La Batre spoke words of encouragement and challenge and several of the men prayed simple, humble prayers, asking God to keep His hand on the work and to continue to supply every need. Next to the last speaker was a leader at Hemley Rd. Bro’ Billy Spaulding gave a very moving and inspired talk answering the question “Have I ever seen Jesus?” As he told of the many times he had seen Christ in others who had come to Bayou La Batre to serve those who had lost so much he was so overcome with emotion he had to pause before he could continue. Billy Spauling is one of those “Salt and Light” men for whom I, and everyone who knows him, hold the deepest respect and trust him completely to always do the right thing.

I closed the meeting giving honor to Daphnie German without whom the work would have died long ago, and to my wife Carol whom I often lovingly call “The Little General”. Just as in Paul’s ministry, faith filled women with pit bull perseverance, and unconditional love in their hearts, are just as valuable to ministry as any man can hope to be.

There are perhaps 2 or 3 pews of teens who are there every time the doors are open. What great potential!There have been 3 baptisms in the last few weeks! What a great bunch of Christians who see no limit to what God can do. Praise God for the folks at Hemley Rd. church of Christ in Bayou La Batre, Alabama.

If you know a preacher who is Christ centered and grace oriented and can support himself for several months please contact me. The church desperately needs a preacher full time to come along and help them.

Grace to you,
Royce Ogle

How to build a 1st Century church in the 21st Century


 God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19) Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. (Matthew 16:18) It is clear that Jesus is in the church building business. He came to earth to seek and to save the lost. His mission is plain, His plan is sure. 

When you set out to build a great church like the ones you read of in the book of Acts your motive should be “redemption”. If it isn’t perhaps you should pursue some other endeavor. Tens of thousands of folks have set out to build churches and some of them had a measure of success. Many of them reached their stated goal, to build a church. In my view the goal should always be reaching folks with the good news about Jesus, the goal should not be building a church. If the job of presenting Jesus is done right the church will happen with little effort. 

Jesus mapped out a plan that was magnificent. Every time it has been tried it has been successful and when His plan is not followed there is little success. Matthew 28:18-20 is where we begin. “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen”

 Before we “go” we must get Jesus’ “therefore” settled first. “All authority in heaven and on earth” is the most overlooked aspect of evangelism. In previous posts I have made the Bible case for having Holy Spirit power before you begin. I have heard possibly scores of sermons and Bible lessons on this great passage in Matthew 28 and almost all of them overlooked the most important part of the formula for success. We can only go and tell because of Jesus’ authority. If you and I will join God in His redemptive work we must go in His authority and power. It is precisely because He who commissions also gives authority. As the Apostle Paul pointed out in Ephesians 6 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”. In 2 Corinthians 2:4 Satan is referred to as “the god of this age”. We must understand that when we go to the lost with the message of reconciliation in Christ that we are invading a wicked, spiritual kingdom controlled by Satan and we can only do this work in the “authority” and “power” of Jesus Christ. 

The “go” of the great commission is assumed. There is no “opting out” of the command. The emphasis is not on going but rather, “making disciples”.  How do we then make disciples? The same way Peter, Paul, Phillip, and others made them. One only has to read through the Acts to see that the message, the only message, was the good news about Jesus. When the apostles were put in jail it was for preaching about Jesus. When the Ethiopian did not understand the book of Isaiah the Holy Spirit sent along Phillip to preach Christ to him. There is no message other than Christ. 

Building a church that is like the 1st Century one must follow the same formula. You will not build a Bible church, focused on Christ, by preaching the church. Many church planters have as their goal a church and their message reflects that goal. In churches of Christ much of our historic ministry has been “corrective” rather than “redemptive”. The most common method employed is to lay out a logical argument in favor of the church of Christ as the only true church, for water baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and to finally win the argument. The result in my view is that our churches are populated by many people whose security is tied to the church of Christ and the fact that they have been immersed and not to Christ alone. 

 While I am on this subject, I am reminded of the seriousness of preaching the pure, unadulterated, good news about Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia he gave this chilling warning. “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8, 9) This is pretty serious language! “If I, an angel from heaven, or anyone else..” preaches anything other than Christ “Let him be accursed”! Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul was pretty upset that some were not preaching Christ and Him only. In verse 7 Paul spoke of those who “want to pervert the gospel of Christ”. What had they said or done that was so offensive that Paul would make such a strong defense for the gospel? The Jews who had given allegiance to Christ were teaching Gentile believers that faith in Christ is not enough, to really be saved you also need to be circumcised. That was it? Yes, that was the “perversion” of the gospel in this case. At first glance this doesn’t seem to be that bad, after all we of the faith have Abraham as our father, our history goes back to the old covenant, so what is so wrong about having some foreskin removed? Wouldn’t that be more proof of one’s allegiance to God? Paul would have none of that! The Holy Spirit through the pen of the Apostle says to those who preached circumcision in addition to faith “Let him be accursed”! 

 I ask this with a pure conscience and with love. Am I treading on the same ground if I tell people they are not really saved unless they are members of a local church of Christ? Is it a perversion of the gospel to tell a person they must be re-baptized to really be saved? Is a person in danger of being accursed if he preaches that only people who sing in worship without the accompaniment of instruments are going to heaven? These are serious matters not to be taken lightly.  One more quote from Galatians chapter 1. In verses 3 through 5 Paul clearly lays out the gospel story. “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen”. The reason we must preach only Christ is that only He can save; only He can deliver us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. No church can do that, no religious act can do that, no pattern or from of worship can do that, and water baptism cannot do that. Jesus saves! Nothing or no one else does. 

Building a 1st Century church in the 21st Century requires the right motive, the right authority, the right message, and also the right ministry. We go in Christ’s authority and power, we preach Him and make disciples or (learners), we baptize them in water, and then we begin to teach them ALL Jesus commanded. The model is laid out clearly in Acts. These men and women, including Peter, who were prayed up and filled up with the Holy Spirit, preached Christ, baptized believers, and then the Scriptures say this of those new Christians, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship..” (Acts 2:42)What was the “doctrine” of the apostles? Christ! Read it for yourself. They taught that salvation was only though Him and were convinced enough to endure jail, whippings, hunger, and finally death rather than compromise the message of the gospel.

 There was an air of excitement in the air! These new believers met every day to break bread (possibly to share the bread and cup of communion remembering the Lord), the praises of God were on their lips, (they even had the favor of outsiders), they exhibited the unselfish love of God by pooling their resources for the furtherance of the gospel and the care of fellow believers, and the church grew like a prairie fire driven by the wind. There was no focus of how to “do” church; there was no preaching about the church. The church grew because of the Christ who was the focus of their faith, their love, and their surrendered lives, and He alone was their message. 

There is no question in my mind that any people who go into a community any place on the earth and follow this ideal will find God’s blessing and the church will grow, multiply, and men and women will become children of God. If the meetings take place on the patio of a Starbucks, in a rented saloon, in an abandoned theater, or in a beautiful church facility, the results will be the same if Christ is central in every message, motive, and mission. 

 Churches that make much of Jesus grow, and those whose focus is elsewhere do not. Admittedly, there are still false prophets and those who follow them. And the way to mark them out is the Jesus test according to 1 John, Paul’ and Peter’s letters, and Jesus’ own words. 

My prayer and sincere hope is that we will see scores of churches rise up whose only goal is the one Paul talked to the Corinthians about. I close this post with his words.    

                            Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 
(2
 Corinthians 5:18-21) 

Grace to you,
Royce Ogle