… So the song says. And see which one is dominant?

Do is in the land of command. It is avoidance of error. It is concerned with what others think. It seeks to reach heaven by works, by man’s merit. It struggles to “be” salt and light.

Be doesn’t worry about Do. It just is. It IS salt and it IS light. The salt does nothing to become salt (though one can spoil it by “doing,” making it unsavory and worthless) and the light does nothing to become light (though one can hide it by “doing,” placing it under a bushel basket so that the world can no longer see what it is). It is state of being, not action verbs.

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It’s not in the Bible, yet Christian people believe that “going to” or “becoming a member of” it is something that they are supposed to do … that doing those things is part of their relationship to God in that He, somehow, requires it of them. In fact, many do so as their primary means of relating to Him. Which is weird. For going to church to do business with God is about like going to McDonalds to develop a relationship with a farmer. It is, in fact, a fig leaf.

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It is “human nature” to think of oneself frequently, if not nonstop. But who really thinks of us anything like the way that we think of ourselves? Virtually no other human, nor would any, even if one had the ability to get into our heads and think our same thoughts. But the one Person who knows us the way that we want to be known is God above. The One who thinks about us as much as we think about ourselves is only our God. In fact, God thinks more about us than we think about ourselves. Imagine THAT! He thinks about us the way that we WANT to be known, even when we ourselves don’t know what that is. He knows our thoughts before we think them, and He cares about the truth about us. He believes the best about us (even more than we do: He never gets depressed about us, able to think only negative), so much so that He sent His Son to die for us because He saw us as worthy of redemption (that’s our being excused from the penalty owed for our own intentional wrong doing). He knows what He has planned for His children, and it’s ALL good – way better than we could imagine!

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If in the New Testament there was no church as we know it today (and there was not), there was no “church planting” per se in the New Testament, either. If what we call “church” in the New Testament was not a corporate entity (and it was not), then it cannot be considered biblical to engage in planting corporate entities called churches. But church planting is another of those things about church that people just assume to be biblical, either of command or example, when it is neither.

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When Jesus chose “ecclesia” (in the Roman Latin; “ekklesia” in the Greek) as the structure He was to give His family, His followers, His believers, after Him, He knew exactly what He had in mind. What’s more, those who heard Him say it also knew what he was talking about because ecclesia was a term for a contemporary entity that they all understood.

What was this “ecclesia,” a version of which Jesus said that He would build as His own and citation of which His listening disciples would immediately understand? Was it a religious institution … or something else?

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The opinions of others – or, more to the point, caring about the opinions of others – is killing Christians.

So-and-so will be offended if I do … or go … or sing … or wear … or associate with … or go to THAT church (or DON’T go to that church) or (even) be friendly with someone who goes to that church … THAT, my friends, is a religious spirit. It is the letter of the law (and not even the actual law itself but someone’s interpretation of it) that, scripture tells us, killeth. The Spirit, on the other hand, comes to bring life.

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A friend asked me recently why it is, after all that church is (and is not, but claims to be) and has done to us, I would ever go back to one. My answer: Because it’s about the people, not the church.

A church has rules, and that’s partly of necessity. That’s the business part of it. (Church is, first of all, a business.) Turn the lights out when you leave, don’t leave the doors standing open in the winter, don’t jump on the pews, don’t carve on the piano, don’t (if it’s Baptist) give to Methodist causes, etc.

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When Jesus told Peter, “You, Peter, are but a little pebble, and upon the bedrock foundation of Myself I will build My ecclesia,” He used a term – ecclesia – that was known in the Roman-ruled world as the institution by which the ideas and values of the Roman empire were carried to and extended throughout the world. Whenever two or more Roman citizens were gathered in one place, Roman ecclesia was present – the authority of the Roman emperor himself was there with them. So Peter knew exactly what Jesus was saying when He spoke of HIS ecclesia. And Jesus was saying that it would be His work – a work of God and not of men.

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Those words cut. Unfortunately they are far too often true. A man typically goes about thinking of himself first, living in an imaginary world where others think of him as he thinks of himself, then he is shocked to discover a different reality wherein no one truly cares for or about him. It’s just the cold hard fact that (almost) nobody cares.

From the world outside of the Body of Christ, it is an attitude to be expected. But what of God’s people? For many of them don’t care, either. It should not be true in the church as people envision it to be, but it is, for the church is an institution, incapable of feeling or caring. But not caring about others CANNOT be true in the ecclesia. We who are the Body of Christ, though we are still subject to fleshly limitations, have inside of us the love of Christ that must mark us as different in the eyes of those living in the world where it’s “dog eat dog” and “every man for himself.”

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Many love the song: Give me that Old Time Religion: it was good for our fathers, and it’s good enough for me!

May I suggest that “good enough” is not really good enough? And, further, when the song says, “It will take us all to heaven,” that’s a flat-out lie. No religion will ever take anyone to heaven; only one’s redemption through the shed blood of Jesus Christ will do that.

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An arsonist set a fire that gutted the church where we attended when I was young. I was to learn in subsequent years that a) church fires are not that infrequent, and b) they can have an upside, in that they tend to burn into the souls of their members (those who are listening) some realities about the differences between the church (the institution) and the ecclesia (the actual bride of Christ).

In an article in the February/March 2018 issue of Presbyterians Today, “Idolizing our worship spaces,” pastor Richard Hong writes about a phenomena that occurred after a fire in his church and their subsequent move into other meeting places: “In all of the time that we have not been in our traditional sanctuary, we have been growing.”

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“I forgive you.” Sounds like Jesus-speak, does it not? After all, Jesus did tell us to forgive our enemies, did He not … that we should not expect to be forgiven if we ourselves do not forgive, right?

But what if someone “forgives” you for something that you did not do? “I forgive you for stealing from me.” “I forgive you for gossiping about me behind my back.” “I forgive you for slandering me.” Etc., etc., etc.

First off, implicit in this “forgiveness” is an accusation that you actually did the evil to the “forgiver.” But there is no due process. There is no evidence offered that you did the thing. There is only the accusation, couched in what pretends to be “forgiveness.” And this sort of “forgiveness” is not done face to face, man to man (in biblical fashion) with the accused, for in that setting, the two parties, the accused and the accuser, both know the truth and it has no effectiveness if there is no crime behind it; no, it is done in public – the words are spoken in a public forum, often when the one “forgiven” is not even present, for maximum effect.

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He’s standing in the self-check-out line at Walmart plugging pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters from his children’s piggy banks into the cash register just to buy a few groceries. He has no job and has not been able to get one, but he doesn’t qualify for government programs and would not, on principle, take that support even if it were available. Where is the church?

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In Numbers 22 – 24, the children of Israel, beginning to grow under the blessing of God, were being perceived as a threat to the surrounding nations. So Balak, king of Moab, sent for Balaam (the son of Beor, the soothsayer [Joshua 13:22], so soothsaying, the practice of blessing or cursing another in exchange for payment, may have been presumptively the family trade?) to curse Israel and, thus, eliminate Israel’s threat to Moab. Balak knew that Balaam had a connection with God and, with it, the power to effectively bless or curse anyone. So Balaam told the Moabite princes that he would do whatever God told him to do concerning Israel.

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When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they went and hid. They made themselves coverings of fig leaves to hide their nakedness. The habit continues today – people covering their weaknesses, their failures, their shortfalls, their embarrassments, their insecurities with fig leaves.

A church needs a leader without fig leaves – one who will be for them the model of a spiritual nudist. Unfortunately, that model is not standard. What most see is a very polished, very covered up artificial contrivance. Consider:

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If your church were not there, would anybody miss it? If so, what would they miss about it?

When you go there, are you excited – thrilled, even – at the reflection of Jesus that you see in the face of others, and do they see that same reflection in you? Or do you talk about the weather, last Friday’s ball game, the new bull, or Uncle Andy’s gout –  anything but the One Who built His body (ecclesia) upon the rock of Himself?

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Mike Scruggs