Don’t skip today’s blog because it’s just a little longer than usual.
In his book Exiles, Michael Frost argues that the church here in America is ineffective and in decline (my words, not his) because of our buildings, seminaries, paid clergy, conferences, books, and other luxuries. Upon first reading that, it sounds crazy. On the surface, those sound like the reasons the church should be growing. It reminds me of what they say about theologian Martin Luther – He normally prayed for an hour a day, if he had a really busy day ahead of him, then he would pray 3 hours. He felt the need to ask more of God, to spend more time with God in the morning, and so that God would do more in his life and through his life this day than usual! It seems counter-productive to many of us.
Frost is saying while we heavily invest in church buildings, seminaries, and paid clergy thinking that will help the church grow, those things are actually inhibiting the growth of the church – that they are counter-productive. It’s not that buildings and paid clergy are bad, but because it is limiting the spiritual growth of the people (who are really the church) because they rely on the buildings and the paid clergy to make disciples. Frost says, “We are not fully realizing our calling to be the church of Jesus Christ as long as we rely on money, buildings, and paid experts.” Where the church is growing in places like China, Africa, etc., it is doing so without seminary trained clergy and buildings. That is because the people rightly understand the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is dependent upon them spreading it. It’s not about bringing their friends to a building so the ‘preacher’ can talk to them about Jesus. It’s about, “Let me tell you about Jesus. Let me tell you how He saved me.”
Frost relays what someone from China told him about the government regulations regarding the church in China: 1.) No gathering of more than 15 people, 2.) No official buildings or sanctuaries, 3.) No formal training of leaders. Do you see the irony? The Chinese government is forcing the church to maintain the set-up Jesus intended! If they wanted to squash the church, they should let them build big church buildings and train and pay people to lead the gatherings. In China, the Jesus-followers understand the spread of the Gospel is relying on them. They have no choice but to “take ownership of their salvation”.
A verse from Philippians comes to mind about ‘working out your salvation’:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. ~ Philippians 2:12-13
I wrote in my Bible by this verse: “Discover why God saved you and the Christian God saved you to be.” Work out your own salvation. God didn’t save you to be a bystander (or bysitter) in a gathering of believers. Take some ownership of your salvation. Be the Christian God saved you to be.