Saturday, November 30, 2013

Therefore as the Church is Subject to Christ


Eph.5: 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

I am minded to borrow and alter the quote of Murray Rothbard and say that the organized church is an institution of theft. There it is without frills and niceties. It cannot be overstated. The western construct which is commonly referred to as “church” is a well organized institution of theft. It is conceived in capitalism, operates by the force of a capitalist culture, and for the most part teaches that giving to that institution will result in God’s blessing which includes financial blessings in this life and rewards in the life to come. Its mere existence in its present form is largely due to the tax free status it enjoys, and even with that monumental advantage most local churches and denominations live from budget to budget.  

Let us lift the ecclesiastical veil up a little further. Most churches spend almost 50% of their budget on salaries for the staff. At the very top of these bloated salaries is the head pastor. His is called a “salary package”. I can remember being an associated pastor during a time where the “budget committee” was deciding a new budget and since the church had grown they asked the head pastor about his thoughts concerning his own salary. His told them what he thought he could make in the secular world and suggested the church pay him accordingly. They did.

Eight years ago I was a Sunday school teacher in a large Baptist church. The pastor had been exposed as having an affair and he resigned. Of course a search committee was formed and they began to advertise in some Baptist periodicals and make calls to certain pastors. They received many applications (See, just like searching for a CEO) and of course there was the obligatory and perfunctory solicitation for the congregation to pray. After about 8 months the committee had flown out to hear this man preach at his present church. That’s right, 8 people flew out on the church’s money and hear him preach once, spoke with him, and looked over his résumé.

They came back to the church and the next Sunday they scheduled this man to preach the Sunday morning service and then field some questions from the membership. There is a term among preachers that refer to a one of your “best” sermons and we call it a “sugar stick”. So when a man is preaching “in view of a call” at a prospective church he can either pull out a sugar stick or create an amalgam of a few sugar sticks. It is usually the same formula a preacher uses when he preaches in other churches without being examined as a prospective employee.

Now please think about this. First let us understand that church membership and voting is unscriptural and is another element which reveals how deeply the church construct has borrowed from the culture. So here you have it. The man preaches a sugar stick, fields questions form a mixed multitude of church members, and then that night they vote on him. Since when do sheep vote on who they desire as a shepherd? Since when are shepherds voted on at all? And they extend a call to him because they heard him one time? So his calling is based almost exclusively on his oratorical prowess? The entire spectacle has absolutely no foundation that can be found in the New Testament.

But here is also another element of calling a new pastor. The overwhelming percentage of pastors only leave their present church for one which will pay them more or at least has a much greater potential for human growth. The pastor is almost always presented with the particulars of the salary package before he makes a decision to throw his hat into the ring. So his decision whether this new position is a good fit for him is based largely upon financial benefits or at least the prospect of future salary growth. And the pastor that this Baptist church called accepted the calling that they extended to him after only seeing and hearing him for a few hours. But he had one condition.

Now let me tell you that the pastor they called had been a very successful business man before he felt called to the ministry. He was literally a millionaire. He said that if he was to come they must increase the salary package or it would only be only a “lateral move”. That means that basically their salary package was the same as his present and he felt it would not be wise to make such a move. Can you imagine such a thing? But that goes on all the time in different levels. So the church acquiesced to his request and that pastor came, built an incredible home, found a hanger for his airplane, and began to create some partnerships with a few wealthy men in the congregation and they invested together. So you believe that same capitalist spirit is not prevalent within the evangelical church construct? You would be mistaken.

The hiring and firing of pastors is just one revealing element of the American church. Businesses take much longer and do much more extensive work when looking for a leader. You would think the church would have all kinds of fasting and prayer nights, and if most churches were constructed according to the New Testament they could find another pastor from within their elder body. But just like a football program at a large and renown university looking for a head coach, they desire a kind of celebrity. And if the church is large enough it will almost always require someone with a “Dr.” in front of their name.

But most churches have an abundance of staff positions. If the church is large enough it will include many secretaries, outreach ministers, nursery coordinators, youth ministers, music ministers, Sunday School coordinators, associate pastors, visitation ministers, senior pastors, maintenance overseers, sound technicians, and many other paid positions. That is why 50% of the offerings go to maintain the staff. And the hiring committee hires people based upon their qualifications to perform their duties and as long as they are a member in good standing their spiritual life is irrelevant. So in essence you have a well oiled machine which pauses for a few hours every Sunday to represent a church but which operates just like a business.

Now in order for this kind of a business to succeed you need to create a sense of belonging. A church slogan usually helps and church membership with new members being voted in helps make the new members feel welcome and the old members feel magnanimous. And every quarter there is an unscriptural business meeting which also makes members feel important and life caring overseers. Some members search the financial report to see if there were any discrepancies or extravagances but most just look it over and let it ride. It resembles a stockholders meeting and it makes everyone feel comfortable when the church is in the black. The money given to missions is usually less than 15% and rarely above 20%. And the money given to the poor is embarrassing but no one really cares about that.

Now when a collection of church members decide to build, the pastor and his staff embark upon a “building program” which is a church way of saying raising money. Some churches even hire a special staff pastor who specializes in raising money. Yes there are the “faith” pledge cards and the thermometers showing how much has been raised so far and the bulletin informs the congregation of how much was given last week. Everyone feels a sense of belonging and coming together to accomplish something. And the finance committee approaches a secular financial institution and borrows what they need to complete the building. The bank loans the church the money because of the credit reports of its leaders and the pledge cards.

So the church must pay enormous amounts of interest to a financial institution which also loans money to Planned Parenthood, bars, strip clubs, gay clubs, cults, and anyone else who are deemed not to be a financial risk. But the pastor will scold his members for supporting any of these groups while indirectly donating thousands upon thousands of dollars to help their cause. And while people are suffering all around the world, and while brothers and sisters in Christ are in need of common necessaries, the church has locked itself into paying interest payments which are usually much more than any evangelistic budget or any philanthropic endeavors.

And now the pressure is usually on the leadership. They cannot afford to lose anyone since they are obligated to a large debt. And they also must work hard to gain new members. And when you have any of that on your mind then inevitably it leads to all kinds of compromise. Oh you still profess your allegiance to your statement of faith and that the Bible is God’s Word and all the usual rhetoric, but something has happened in your heart and in the way you lead the church. Believe me I have been an all sides of this scenario and I confess to be a grievous participant in all of it.

When you have debt and obligation hanging over your head you cannot challenge the people as you should. There are wealthy givers who are friendly and faithful to the church but whose lives are decidedly hedonistic and you dare not rock that boat. And when a building program is in progress the pastor always assumes some kind of overseer role for that building. He forfeits much time meeting with people and making phone calls and surveying the progress. What little time he had spent alone with God is now much smaller. He still may go out to lunch often and play golf and fellowship with other preachers and with the more prominent members of his congregation, but he still spends much time thinking about and being involved with the building program. As I said, the church is run like a business.

And when the church operates like a business within a capitalist culture inevitably the message subtly begins to soften to accommodate the hedonist practices of its members. The church may still amen all the usual doctrinal suspects like the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the cross and the resurrection, and salvation by faith alone, but much of the teachings of Jesus are completely ignored and confined to some situational ethics especially as it pertains to money. “It is alright to have money as long as money does not have you” is usually the core mantra. Of course money almost always imprisons on some level those who accumulate it whether they set out that way or not.

So what you end up with is an ecclesiastical construct which is an institution of theft. Are there saved men and women who love Jesus within that construct? Of course there are. Do those churches do some good and see some sinners saved? Of course they do. But that is by God’s grace and surely not because God approves of that which so openly violates His own Word. Look around and see how the culture remains unaffected by tens of millions of professing believers and ask yourselves “Why?”. How can a handful of believers turn the world upside down in the first century following Pentecost and yet tens of millions of professing believers live with this culture of darkness with so little light and salt and whose distinguishing feature is being “conservative”? I submit that it is due to the institution which trains new believers. It has been compromised by the culture and now trains capitalists to be better capitalists and deftly elicits their money through manipulation, fear, lies, and leveraging the “us verses them” spirit.

When you weigh the evidence and assess just how far from Jesus and His teachings the church has strayed, and when you understand how much money is collected and spent on all the ecclesiastical accoutrements, then you must conclude that the American religious construct colloquially called “the church” is an institution of theft. Instead of existing to help the poor and downtrodden and spreading the everlasting gospel, the church operates like a for profit business and helps line the pockets of local banks and members of its staff. And while operating under the guise of being non-profit it enjoys the fruits of being tax free which includes housing allowances, social security exemptions, and many creative structures which leverage its tax exempt status.

Neh.1: And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.

A man named Nehemiah was a Jew who was born into the captivity in Babylon. His relatives had been brought into Babylon and he then only knew Babylon. But he had heard stories of the glory of God back in Jerusalem and how Jerusalem was now in ruins and the Temple in shambles. God had burdened his heart to lead a remnant back to restore the City of Peace and the Temple of God. He had even been elevated in Babylon as the king’s cupbearer, a noble position. But Nehemiah was willing to sacrifice all of it and return to Jerusalem. This would not be an easy task and would require self denial and much spiritual labor. To give up a comfortable life in Babylon and travel many hundreds of miles and face all kinds of enemies just to rebuild that which had been torn down seemed like a fool’s errand to others, but Nehemiah had heard the calling of God. Standing among ruins in the will of God was better than living in the palace without God’s will.

And that is the choice before all of us individually. Most Jews stayed in Babylon because they had made friends, established businesses, and just felt a sense of belonging. They had laid down roots in Babylon. So only a remnant went with Jeremiah and Ezra. It is so much easier to stay where we have found warmth and safety rather than get out of the boat and confront the raging seas. When you have established a life where faith is unnecessary except in doctrinal terms it becomes very difficult to leave that earthly sanctuary and go looking for a city whose builder and maker is God Himself.

The road is sometimes lonely; the dangers are real; your friends often forsake you; the comfort of the majority vanishes; the uncertainty is palpable; many questions go unanswered; the path is often dim; your own shortcomings become magnified; the call for self righteousness is relentless; and yet in the midst of all this and more there is a revelation of glory which provides a daily manna that feeds and sustains your soul. Once you are freed from bondage your heart is opened to much more of Christ and His Word than you ever realized was available. And if we walk step by step by faith, and if we constantly beg the Spirit to humble us, then we have an opportunity to glorify Christ and be used of Him in ways far above our talents and intellect. You ARE the church and you ARE the body of Christ. Most of us find fellowship with some friends and even like minded people on the internet or even some church where there is some light.
But remember, a pure crumb is more satisfying than an impure feast.


Anonymous said...

Prayer for financial legs so that I can walk; into 2014 instead of staying in 2013!

Cherie c. said...