Saturday, February 28, 2009

False Ideas 9: Faulty Assumptions Lead to Strange Practices

Once we view the world through these illegitimate lenses, we start to live accordingly and end up making some foolish decisions. For instance, one parachurch ministry exists to reach college students. They insist on being in the parachurch camp for many reasons. Since they need to raise their support from the church and exist to serve the church, they never want to be seen as competing with the church. Because they are “parachurch,” they do not start churches (unless it happens to be overseas where the new churches wouldn’t be seen as competitive with their support base), so this organization does not function as a church (at least according to a very limited understanding of what makes a church a church). They are also a streamlined business that is not bogged down with the bureaucracy that is found in many churches.

For these reasons this group works hard to maintain a parachurch status. The problem is that they are making decisions based on understandings and distinctions that are not in the Bible. In their eyes (much as it is in the eyes of the U.S. government) a church is defined as fulfilling certain sacerdotal duties, such as baptism and communion. But simply dunking people in a pool or dunking bread in a glass of wine is not what defines the church.

In a staunch effort not to be a church, this group refuses to practice these specific duties, thus maintaining their parachurch status. They evangelize but do not start churches. They make disciples but do not baptize them. Doing all they can to keep their mission focused, they make every attempt not to threaten the local church in any way, and they encourage their people to attend a local church and maintain membership there.

The reality is that starting churches is the by-product of evangelizing and fellowshipping with one another on mission together. By living within the false boundaries these false dichotomies have created, Christians are actually instructed to disobey Jesus when they are told not to baptize their disciples. The practice of baptism is not something Christ gave to the church organization but to all disciples. One of the sayings in our own church-planting movement is “The Bible doesn’t command us to be baptized but to be baptizers” (Matt. 28:19–20). There is absolutely no biblical support for the idea that only the clergy in the local church can baptize (another false view discussed above). Though our traditions and experience may reinforce these standards, the Bible does not.

It is amazing how much damage the simple idea of baptizing another has caused through church history. People have been killed, cults have been initiated, denominations started and split, heretics burned at the stake, and parachurch organizations have been formed—all because we view baptism in a strange, unbiblical fashion. If we would only read the Bible and take it for what it says literally, rather than defend our “sacred” traditions, the church would be healthier. Both sides of the church aisle are guilty of this.

Boundaries may start as helpful language to manage our understanding of things, but soon they disrupt our spiritual life and divide the body of Christ illegitimately. When false boundaries begin to take on a biblical sense of authority, they are quite insidious. We accept them as truth and even rise to defend them as though they come from the Bible, when they do not. Unfortunately, we are willing to submit to these false divisions more than to Scripture itself. This is how the subversive strategy of the Enemy causes much damage. Because we have allowed artificial boundaries to separate Christian groups, based on illegitimate organizational differences, weird things happen.

For instance, one motto for the parachurch ministry discussed above has been: “To fulfill the Great Commission in this generation.” This seems honorable, except that they have rules in place that prevent them from ever fulfilling the Great Commission in any place. Right in the middle of the Great Commission is the command to baptize disciples, which they strictly forbid.

I want to raise awareness of the weird, almost schizophrenic policies we have made in the church. Whether it is separating a spiritual family into voting “members” and silent “nonmembers” or telling Christians to fulfill the Great Commission by disobeying it, false and artificial divisions have caused some strange practices to be established.

The purpose of all the categories we have created was to make life better, but they have had the opposite effect. We have limited God and his kingdom because the views developed through false understandings have kept us bound. We must shed the lenses that cause our distorted vision and enjoy a more holistic and healthy view of the church.


Anonymous said...

Been following your "faulty lenses" blogs with interest, Neil. Thanks.

The church/parachurch dilemma has been going on for decades. I don't know whether it is the result of a faulty theology...or an unwillingness to work harder at finding ways of being "the church" together. Both sides have erred. Years ago Jerry White wrote "The Church and the Parachurch: An Uneasy Marriage." While it pointed out the was short on possible remedies. Each group has viewed the other with suspicion over the years...far beyond the issues of baptism. In the end, we need the best of both.

On another note, I have personally found it incredibly meaningful to have godly fathers in the waters of baptism with me to baptize their children. It's a meaningful memory that will not be soon forgotten.

As Pastor Dave used to say, "Keep on keepin' on."

Neil Cole said...

Thanks Don.

sam tabiendo said...

Hey Neil,

Grace to you! Appreciate your comments as I've lived in the tension of coming to Christ in para-church ministries & yet seeing the priority of church. I was eventually hired to infuse a para-church mindset into a church. The church grew, but did not grasp it. You concisely and clearly laid out the dilemma.

By the way, this is Sam (GTS in LB) in Spain. My mission is asking me to take on broader responsibilities in church planting,, so they are sending me to the Orlando conference in April. I see that you are one of the speakers. I hope we can hook up. I understand that you may be too busy.

Just so you know our mission & denomination has talked much about church as you’ve outlined in “Organic Church” and a good number of missionaries in Europe are embracing the “organic, house, simple” church models.

Thanks so much for sending me your book transcript way back in 2005. As I read it, you were answering the nagging questions that I had about church. I was phasing out of a church plant, disappointed at how it was evolving and trying to figure out how to improve on the next church plant. Thanks again.

We’re having fun again in ministry here in Zaragoza. It’s still hard, but the Lord is at work

Your red-pilled friend - Sam

Neil Cole said...


Of course I remember and I recognize your name immediately so you do not need to remind me.

Glad to hear that you are doing well and enjoying ministry in Zaragosa. I hear it is a very pretty place. A couple friends of mine did work there for a while before moving to Madrid (Rick and Twinky Satterthwaite).

I look forward to seeing you in Orlando. Please introduce yourself to me, because, while I recognize your name, I may not recognize your face after 20+ years.

Check out Organic Leadership when you get a chance. I really feel it is as revolutionary if not more, than Organic Church.

Pressing on,