Welcome to Brian's Bits, where Brian gets to share at length about various topics stirring inside of him.
Billions and Billions of Dollars Ago...
27 November 2008
If you keep your ears open, you'll hear a lot of interesting things these days. It seems like everywhere you turn, you'll hear talk of entitlements and bailouts and other such issues. It seems like everyone expects a handout from generous Uncle Sam, as if the government has unlimited financial resources. But according to the latest statistics, the total U.S. federal debt was $10.6 trillion. Adding unfunded Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, veterans' pensions, and similar obligations, this figure rises to a total of $59.1 trillion. The total debt has increased over $500 billion each year since 2003. The Wikipedia article United States Public Debt continues:

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the U.S. Treasury Department have warned that debt levels will increase dramatically due to programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, as well as interest payments on existing debt. Further, benefits under entitlement programs are projected to exceed government income by over $40 trillion over the next 75 years. The severity of the measures necessary to address this challenge increases the longer such changes are delayed. These organizations have stated that the government's current fiscal path is "unsustainable."

There are so many needs the government is expected to meet. The poor, the elderly, the unemployed, the sick, health insurance, retirement, veterans ... on and on it goes. All the while, the government sinks deeper and deeper into debt. In the Bible it says that the borrower is the servant (or slave) of the lender (Proverbs 22:7).

Then, there's the American Church, which spends most of the money it receives in donations on itself. Imagine how many billions and billions of dollars have been spent just on church buildings, real estate, salaries and equipment and other "necessities"! But for the Church of Jesus the Messiah, which was established in the first century, are these things really necessities?

Although the Early Church was comprised mostly of ethnic Jewish believers, it was not part of the established Jewish religious system with the Temple building and the professional priesthood. Rather, they simply met in the homes of various believers and recognized lay leaders as needed. Church buildings and professional clergy developed over time, and became much more prevalent after Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 A.D.

Recently I read a fascinating story that clearly illustrates the difference between our Institutional Christianity and a more organic, natural expression that one could easily imagine the Early Church was like. I found it in a great book written by a friend of mine: There's a Sheep in My Bathtub by Brian Hogan. First, let me paraphrase a little bit from page 55 of the book:

The first believers in Erdenet (in Mongolia) wanted what the believers in the capital city has—loud, weekly "Song and Lecture Clubs" (that's how they described a Sunday morning church service) complete with a sound system. The missionaries working with them insisted on simple, home-based gatherings, and introduced a monthly "Celebration" meeting to bring all the home groups together. The first believers wanted to be like the other churches, but their translator and fellow believer convinced them by saying, "These differences [between Sunday-morning-based church and home-group-based church] must be very important because the missionaries are so insistant and unyielding!"

Here are some excerpts relating to the topic at hand (from pages 123-126). Please bear with me if it seems a bit long ... it's important to not leave any relevant part out:

In the beginning, the believers in Erdenet had only met in small groups in living rooms. As the numbers of these groups increased, it became both attractive and feasible to gather them together periodically in a larger congregational meeting we termed a "Celebration". We would rent a hall once a month on a Sunday and announce to the house groups where and when the Celebration would be.

Sometimes we would not be able to rent a hall because we were Christians. But it didn't affect us very much because "church" was happening in apartments all over the city, and the big meeting was not essential. Even when these meetings were cancelled, the life and ministry of the Body of Christ went on with hardly a ripple.

As time went on, the elders-in-training asked for more frequent big meetings. They reasoned that everyone enjoyed getting together for corporate worship, dramas, and testimonies, and they found seeing the growing numbers of believers very encouraging. They also pointed out that the people were giving generously, in accordance with the command of Jesus they'd been taught, and there was enough money coming in to rent a hall more often. We gave our consent and the Celebration was increased to every other Sunday. This worked very well and the excitement level rose proportionately. Eventually, there were enough funds coming in to rent a place every Sunday, and we could tell everyone liked the large gathering even though it took far more energy and resources to pull off than a house group. The house churches continued in the weekdays, and the big meeting became our regular Sunday event.

After a couple months, however, we noticed something was wrong. A puzzling and disturbing trend began to emerge as we looked at the attendance data. The house churches had stopped growing, and worse still, had stopped multiplying. The big Celebration meeting continued to grow every Sunday though. The more we questioned the leaders, the more it because clear—believers older in faith continued in the small house groups, but the new people were choosing the large Sunday meetings as their connection with the church.

No matter how much we consistently stressed participation in the house groups as the only way to be a real part of the Body, we were giving out a stronger, contradictory non-verbal message every Sunday morning. Since 90 percent of our time and energy and money went into just three to four hours on Sunday mornings, the new believers assumed this was our main event, despite our protestations to the contrary. It was certainly easier to come and be a part of an audience than to enter a home and be discipled by those who knew you well as you learned to be an active participant.

The Mongolian leaders and I were horrified. As we prayed about what to do, we kept circling around a solution none of us wanted but that eventually proved to be the only way to get our church back on God's track. We came to the painful decision to cancel the Sunday Celebrations. The next Sunday morning, we announced that this was our last big gathering for the foreseeable future, and anyone who considered themselves a part of the Body would need to be involved in a house church, as this was the only expression available from now on.

The fruit of this drastic action was dramatic. Within a couple of weeks all of the groups needed to multiply as they were all too big. The new believers were being taught to obey Jesus at last, and new life flushed through the arteries of the Body. After a couple of months we resumed Celebration meetings on Sunday just once a month—and it was good.

I wish I could tell you we'd learned our lessons, and everything went well from this point onward. But I can't. We eventually slid from monthly, to bi-monthly Celebrations. These gatherings were so popular and fun that we once again tried to have them every Sunday—and the same story played out again with similar results. The house churches were just not sustainable at the center of the church's life when the big meetings were weekly. It seemed that we were always wondering how often we should meet as a large group.

Years later I found my answer to this dilemma. "When did the New Testament house churches gather for a larger city-wide or regional gathering? When they had a reason to gather the house church together, like when the Apostle Paul would visit." And just like that I had the answer we had sought for so long. Whenever there was a real reason (visiting apostle, prophet, teacher, worship group, testimonies about miracles, etc.) we could gather all the house churches in a large Celebration. The only excuse to come together which wasn't valid or Biblical was the one we'd always prioritized—the calendar!

So now let's put the pieces together. Historically, the Church has been the one to provide aid to the poor, health care, education, care for the elderly, and many other social services and reforms. Most, if not all, of the first hospitals and universities were started by Christians. But over the last century or so, much of this has been abandoned by the Church, and has been taken over by the government, which is notorious for its inefficiency and bloated bureaucracy. And now the government is staggering under the financial weight of these needs. Meanwhile, the American Church is staggering under the financial weight of church buildings and real estate, Sunday services, and professional clergy and staff. All of which, as we have seen in the example from the Mongolian Church, not only doesn't help the believers to grow spiritually, but actually HINDERS them from spiritual growth! What does true Biblical Christianity have to do with megachurches and steeples, stained glass and sound systems?

Recently I read an article on CNN that seems to have a profound prophetic significance. A cathedral in the Dutch city of Maastricht has been turned into a luxury hotel. Here is a quote from the article:

"It has been a while since I've enjoyed going to church so much. As a lapsed Catholic I tend to keep my church attendances to Christmas and, if I'm feeling quite a lot of guilt, Easter. However, I would happily go to "church" at Maastricht's Kruisherenhotel on a daily basis. The Cathedral of Saint Servatius is still a major attraction for pilgrims. A former gothic church and monastery dating from the 15th century, the buildings have been beautifully renovated to welcome disciples of a new kind of religion—luxury. Boasting 60 rooms, dazzling but sympathetic light installations and a mezzanine restaurant and accompanying womb-like wine bar in the church's nave, it's easy to be quickly converted. The food is also pretty good; my fish and scallops starter followed by venison made the perfect communion for a late autumn evening."

This is an astounding prophetic picture of where the American Church is today: worshiping at the altar of luxury. People don't want to go to church to take up their cross and follow Jesus. But when it's all about blessings and feeling good and prosperity and ease, then "believers" might be interested. This church building was converted into a luxury hotel because that's where we are at as Christians INWARDLY. This is just an outward expression of our inward decadence.

I have a dream ... a dream of the American Church being transformed ... a dream of American society being transformed. Not just a transformation, but a revolution! Imagine the life and vitality that would flow into, and then out of, the American Church with no church buildings, no church real estate, no Sunday church gatherings, and no paid clergy and staff to support all that! Imagine the American Church following the good example of the Mongolian Church, and thriving because of it! Imagine believers turning into disciples rather than remaining spectators!

Am I naïve and silly to dream such a radical, ridiculous dream? Is this a dream that could never come true? I don't think this is too impossible to dream, because I think it WILL happen. It HAS to happen! And if we don't do it voluntarily, then I believe that God will compel us. Because I don't think this is just my dream, but a God dream as well. This change MUST come. We in the American Church are on a wrong, bad path. One way or another we MUST get off of it, and back to what God intended for His Church.

What an incredibly humongous impact the Institutional American Church could have on American society simply by following Jesus advice to the rich young ruler: "Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' he said. 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'" (Mark 10:21 and Matthew 19:21).

Jesus also says in Luke 12:33-34, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Megachurch Madness!
What would be the reaction of the American Church to this? Would it respond like the rich young ruler? "At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth" (Mark 10:22). Or like the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:17? "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."

Could the American Church possibly find it in its heart to have a different reaction? How about a public apology to the nation: "We, the American Church, confess that we have lived selfishly, and we have abandoned our responsibilities. We have amassed properties and buildings, possessions and hierarchies, but we have neglected the poor and needy, the sick and ignorant, the lonely and destitute. Because we have dropped the ball, we have caused the government to try to take our place, a role for which it was never designed. In order to demonstrate our true repentance, and in order to become the Church that Jesus, the Head of the Church, is calling us to be, within the next 12 months we will sell all of the properties and buildings we own which are used for religious services, and we will become a house-based Church, embracing and practicing the values of relationship, discipleship and participation. All of the money we receive from these sales, as well as all of the donations we will receive in the future, will be spent, not on ourselves, but for the needs of society."

Imagine the impact such a radical repentance and radical lifestyle would have on America, and the whole world! Imagine how much lower our taxes would be if the Church would spend its money for the needs of society rather than on itself, so that the government wouldn't need to! If the Church were doing its job, whole sections of the government could be shut down! Imagine the shock the American people would have to see the Church finally starting to live like the Church! And I'm not even talking about individual Christians selling all they have and giving to the poor, but just the Institutional Church itself.

Some Christians and some churches will catch the vision for this and make the changes voluntarily. Unfortunately, I think that most of the Church will not make these changes until forced to through persecution or other circumstances. But it WILL happen.

"Cleansing By Fire"
This month there was a graphic example of this kind of change being forced upon a group of Christians, and their response to it. On November 14, 2008 a fire roared through the Mount Calvary Monastery in the hills above Santa Barbara, California, destroying most of the complex. Here are some reactions from the monks:

"One of the hazards of monasticism throughout the centuries is we become attached to what we have or where we are. This is simply a reminder that what we are called to is not our stuff. This is a cleansing by fire.... The habit and cross are a monk's only personal possessions. The fire destroyed antique Spanish furniture, oil paintings, books and cherished photographs, but the loss of our habits and crosses stung most. We are stripping away the outward symbols that eternally rest in our hearts.... We request your prayers as we discern the wisest and most prudent path toward the future."

Wow! Their attitude and response is an awesome example of what the American Church as a whole needs to embrace! Let me share a quote from my first article:

When we think of Sodom in the Bible, we think of the sexual sin of homosexuality. When God talks about the sin of Sodom, He says, "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen" (Ezekiel 16:49-50). God does not even specifically mention homosexuality as the main problem. But what He does mention sounds a lot like the American Church as a whole today: prideful, overfed and unconcerned about the needy. Yikes! That gets a bit too close for comfort!

Jesus is not coming back for a lazy, selfish Church in America. The Bible says that He will "present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:27). And in Revelation 19:7-8 it says, "Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)"

Well, American Church, what shall we do? As the Bride of Jesus, let us make ourself ready, and clothe ourself with righteous acts. "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come!' Jesus, who testifies to these things, says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen." (Revelation 22:17a,20,21)

NOTE: Some visitors have been confused about who this Web site belongs to, thinking that perhaps it is the work of Brian Hogan, because I quoted from his book. Sorry, but I'm Brian Byrd, and all the articles found here are written by me. But Brian Hogan is a friend of mine. You can go to one of his Web sites by clicking here.
This article is 2nd a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
9  Nov  2008
Billions and Billions of Dollars Ago...
27  Nov  2008
12  Jun  2010
9  Sep  2010
10  Sep  2010
11  Sep  2010
12  Sep  2010
15  Sep  2010
16  Sep  2010
27  Sep  2010
2  May  2011
22  May  2011
4  Jul  2011
20  Aug  2012
20  Mar  2013
2  Jul  2013
3  Jul  2013
6  Jul  2013
7  Jul  2013
9  Jul  2013
10  Jul  2013
11  Jul  2013
17  Aug  2013
18  Aug  2013
20  Aug  2013
27  Dec  2013
19  Feb  2014
24  Feb  2014
25  Feb  2014
27  Feb  2014
19  Jul  2014
24  Jul  2014
25  Jul  2014
1  Aug  2014
19  Aug  2014
29  Aug  2014
30  Aug  2014
31  Aug  2014
1  Sep  2014
2  Sep  2014
3  Sep  2014
5  Sep  2014
6  Sep  2014
7  Sep  2014
8  Sep  2014
9  Sep  2014
10  Sep  2014
11  Sep  2014
13  Sep  2014
18  Sep  2014
23  Sep  2014
24  Sep  2014
25  Sep  2014
26  Sep  2014
10  Oct  2014
11  Oct  2014
13  Oct  2014
20  Oct  2014
15  Dec  2014
16  Dec  2014
20  Dec  2014
22  Dec  2014
27  Dec  2014
14  Jan  2015
15  Jan  2015
18  Jan  2015
26  Jan  2015
3  Mar  2015
19  Aug  2015
4  Sep  2015
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