Part 3 - Balancing Act Between the Clergy & the Laity
(Another in a Series on Ekklesia)
What About the Flock-less Shepherds Taking Over?
There’s nothing like attempting to hold an Ekklesia-style gathering and having a strong-willed “teacher-type” or prophetic ministry-type show up and do a “take-over.” What’s a “take-over”? Well, it looks like something found in Judges 17:1-18:31 when Micah decided he’d have his own little sanctuary (aka, “Shrine of Micah”) apart from the Tabernacle in Shiloh with his own hired Levite Priest. The Levite came up from Bethlehem and was looking for, you might say, a “pulpit.”
Prior to this, this fellow Micah who hailed from the mountains of Ephraim, and his mother (who was apparently involved in some from of witchcraft, putting curses on 1100 hundred shekels of silver—bizarre, but in the story) . . . which, by the way, the number set of “11” is most definitely a very negative set indeed (11 sons of Canaan; 11 with Haman and his 10 sons vs. the Jews of Persia; the younger horn of Daniel making 11 horns; Judas’ betrayal and subsequent suicide, making the number of disciples “11” – I could go on…but “11” is most definitely connected in Scripture to the Antichrist) . . . in any event, Micah stole the 1,100 shekels of silver. His mom was so impressed with Micah’s confession that he’d stolen it from his mother that she gave Micah back 200 silver shekels, because (so she says) she fully had “wholly dedicated the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son, to make a carved image and a molded image” (slight “mixture” going on here). Yes, I know, a rather convoluted series of phony righteous acts taking place. I mean, really, taking a bunch of silver and making idols, images, and whatnot from this silver.
So, this Micah gave these 200 hundred shekels of silver to the silversmith and out popped “a carved image and a molded image” which Micah placed in his house—but Micah also had this little shrine in which, although he was right next door to the Tabernacle in the Wilderness (now in Shiloh, Ephraim), he decided the Shiloh Tent wasn’t all that attractive with its badger skin, so he “made an ephod and household (or “angelic” --Heb. Teraphim) idols”; then, ordained his son to be the priest (Side Note: What’s up with preachers anointing their sons to take over pastorates of the same “church” – just sayin’?)
Well, Micah knew that his own son was no Levite like the Levites next door at Shiloh, so up comes this young Levite from, of all places, Bethlehem, wholly qualified!
Eventually, as the story reads from Judges, this Micah found this wandering Levite priest (looking for a “pulpit”) to administer his little sanctuary (aka, Shrine of Micah). Then, shortly after Micah set up his little Shrine with Levite in hand, along came the rebellious members of the tribe of Dan up from the plains unsatisfied as they were with their inheritance; I mean, having to fight incessantly with the Philistines for “property rights” really bugged these Danites—they wanted an “easy hit” like the “softies” up by the gateway to Phoenicia . . . not promised to the Tribe of Dan, but why not? So, let’s go for it. But, they needed the “blessing” in their illegal pursuits; but they knew they weren’t going to get it from the Levites at the Tabernacle at Shiloh but, well now, there’s this Levite guy at the Shrine of Micah . . . not quite the same but the guy’s still a Levite, so, that should qualify.
They knew they wouldn’t get a “blessing” from that old badger-skinned Tabernacle in Shiloh, but “fortunately for them” they discovered the exciting Shrine of Micah nearby. So, they decided to give this ambitious Levite priest a “better deal” (unbeknownst to “Shriner Micah”) —having him be the high priest of an entire tribe vs. a one-horse operation known as the Shrine of Micah with its little idols and whatnot! The opportunity for such a grandiose position went to the Levite’s head and off he went lifted upon a palanquin upwards to the northern acquisition taken over by Dan wherein all sorts of apostasy took place and where Dan became the “toilet bowl” of Israel as far as corruption goes, pouring in from Baal’s base in Phoenicia!
There’s always—well, most of the time—going to be OPPORTUNISTS (like this young, qualified Levitical priest who appears destined to exploit “things” in an Ekklesia environment). When that inevitability takes place, the locals must rise up and “mark them that cause divisions among you” . . . as Romans 16:17-18 states:
“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”
The “Church in Antioch” Didn’t Control Paul & Barnabas—Don’t “Federate” Just Fellowship . . .
This is not a sidebar—this is most essential in our understanding of the relationship between “the work” and the “Ekklesia” (aka, the so-called Church—but by this we mean the “people” not the “church buildings”).
So, let’s examine, more closely, the New Testament pattern and/or association between the “work” (ministry) and the Ekklesia (aka, “the churches”).
Cutting to the chase: churches don’t control the workers. If that were the case, when Paul and Barnabas had their contentious falling out over John-Mark – Paul taking Silas and going off in one direction (modern-day Turkey), and Barnabas taking John-Mark and heading off, apparently to Cyprus – then why isn’t there some record where they “brought the issue of their dispute to the Church?” (In their case to the Church in Antioch.)
“Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work,. Then the CONTENTION became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God” (Acts 15:37-40).
No, they didn’t bring it to the assembly, congregation, congregants or “Central Command” as per Matthew 18:15-17 because it had nothing to do with sin, per se. “Per se” because it was simply a matter of a brother (John-Mark) NOT being “profitable” for the work (i.e., “the ministry”). Hey, the guy took off to Pamphylia and forsook “the work”—according to Paul, this John, called Mark, was not all that committed for whatever reason.
Paul and Barnabas became quite contentious over John-Mark’s “profitability” for the “work of the ministry.” Eventually, which proves Paul and Barnabas apparently had some “fellowship” as time wore on, because later Paul brought John-Mark back into his own ministry (2 Tim. 4:11).
Besides, the churches do not control the workers, PERIOD! The workers of that given work have got to resolve the matters of “contention” between and/or among themselves. We may think it expedient for there to be “much more coordination” between the “work” and the “churches” – true, there should be – but such collaboration should never result in either the “clergy” or the “laity” trying to control one another! To suggest that since the workers (in this case Barnabas and Paul) were commissioned by the Holy Spirit and “sent forth” by the brethren from the Church in Antioch (as a confirmation of the Holy Spirit’s choice in the first place) - somehow this can be interpreted “that Antioch was controlling them” (i.e., the workers, and eventually the churches and the elders established by these workers) - is the height of eisogesis; check it out:
EISOGESIS: The art of making a text say what YOU want it to say. Usually the eisogete already has certain beliefs and is simply looking through the Bible to find passages that will support that belief. The eisogete will ignore any passages that would dispute his belief and is simply looking to proof-text what he or she already desires to advocate. If there are any passages that seem to dispute his preconceived ideology, he simply seeks to reinterpret them or apply a different hermeneutic to it (dispensational, cessationist, allegorical, etc.) (See: Christian Forums)
The HEAD of the Body gave some to be . . . (Acts 15:36-41). Once you open the door to “centrality of control” (in this case, the Church in Antioch) in the name of so-called unity, better coordination, greater impact, regional collaboration—you’re up and running as a cult-like entity. Your “work” or “ministry” may be small or large, but the goal is to RELEASE MINISTRIES on their own, not to build a humongous work/ministry over which to gloat. Let Paul be our example and imitate him—he wound up with NOTHING BUT CHRIST HIMSELF. The “divine destiny” of what happened to Jesus was a complete forsaking. Think about it.
No, the workers don’t control the churches; just as the churches (Ekklesia) do not control the workers. Paul admonished and encouraged the Ekklesia—but did NOT control them—he certainly sought to exercise “spiritual encouragement” with them, but by saying to the Ekklesia in Corinth: “I am of Paul, or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ’” – it seems rather obvious that all sorts of “apostolic” input had gone into the Corinthian Ekklesia—the Corinthian believers apparently had a multiplicity of influences in their midst. The problem was they went off into factions based upon the “apostle they liked the best” with those of Christ standing off by themselves. They had become factious, divisive.
What About Local Eldership?
So, what about the ELDERS and/or the “leading ones” in their midst. Well, we have this rather peculiar text:
“For first of all, when you come together as an Ekklesia, I hear that there are divisions (lit “factions”) among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you (NOTE: It is NECESSARY there be FACTIONS in an Ekklesia), that those who are approved (lit. “genuine”) may be recognized (lit. “manifest, evident”) among you” (1 Cor. 11:18-19).
Elders aren’t “voted in” – they need factions in order to manifest their genuineness (the stress is not laid on the “position” of so-called elders but upon their “actions”—not “who they are” but “what they’re doing” . . . it’s functional, not positional)—i.e., genuine in that they are mature enough to “keep the peace” among the factions so the folks do not become FACTIOUS. Yes, “I hear there are divisions among you” – AND I PARTLY BELIEVE IT – of course, Paul believed it. But he also believed that those who had some maturity in Christ would manifest in such a situation as to bring in the peace of Christ into their midst and not allow a factious spirit to divide the Ekklesia!
Some translations mistake the word “factions” or “divisions” as SCHISMS and HERESIES. No, we’re talking here of plain old-fashion factions and divisions—having absolutely NOTHING to do with schisms and heresies. Folks are simply embracing sundry doctrines and super apostolic stars like Paul, Cephas (Peter) and Apollos to the point where factions have arisen among the brethren (as in “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos” etc.) and as a result, there are these divisions. Factions can result from all sorts of issues—be they personalities, styles of ministry, doctrinal emphases, methods, etc. I discovered there’s a whole denomination in Nigeria called: THE CHURCH WITHOUT SHOES…for the “ground we walk upon is holy ground” (Who knew?).
Again, we’re not saying that folks will not be overly influenced by various apostles or ministers—it’s when it becomes factious and divisive that we have problems. Again, there MUST be these factions—but someone(s) has/have got to be the reconcilers; the genuine or approved ones who keep the congregants from falling into factious, divisive traps of their own making!
Aren’t these “genuine” brethren the real “elders” of the Ekklesia? According to Paul, I think so. Ministries and dynamic ministers have some amazing influence upon the Ekklesia—and should have such impact . . . but why is it, far too often, these gifted brethren come into an Ekklesia-environment and “continue their old habits?”
Let me explain. Let’s say a brother gifted as a pastor-teacher steps down from his ministerial role as a “pastor-teacher” to attend a general gathering of the assembly where a great deal of diversity among brethren takes place. As discussed, folks from “different persuasions” are gathered with the express intent to be under the direct headship of Christ (just like the ministers should be—“HE GAVE SOME TO BE”). But this time it’s a purposeful, intentional, gathering of the “general assembly” where EACH ONE HAS, not just the gifted pastor-teacher, evangelist, prophet, or even an apostle (whether you believe or don’t believe in cessation).
Two things here:
(1) The pastor-teacher does NOT give up his gift—it will probably manifest itself in some form of caring and teaching at and during such an Ekklesia-style gathering; however,
(2) The pastor-teacher should NOT dominate the meeting with his gift fully exercised; after all, this isn’t “his meeting.”
What do I mean by that? Well, in the common vernacular: TONE IT DOWN, brother—there’s room in here for everyone—this is NOT your “ministerial pulpit”—this is the general assembly where EACH ONE HAS and you can all prophesy ONE BY ONE. That’s all—use some common sense and get excited that your sheep who are in the gathering are exercising their God-given right to participate, contribute at such an Ekklesia-style gathering.
Likewise, it might—I didn’t say always—be good if you have a gifted prophetic ministry, to “keep your gift to yourself” to allow others to participate . . . sometimes it’s healthy for you/we gifted brethren in the Ekklesia to keep silent (for a change) and be a good listener. The problem—and it IS problematic—strong-willed prophets, pastor-teacher types, find it virtually impossible to “stay out of the fray” and just, at best, privately minister on a one-to-one basis rather than a “group-basis” – but the “force in them is strong” . . . much like the wandering Levite from Bethlehem who accepted the “exciting pulpit” at the Shrine of Micah but even that did not satisfy—he sought to be the high priest of the Tribe of Dan—and you know the rest of the story.
Well, “I’m hosting this Ekklesia” - so, I’ve got to take control of this “thing.” Recently, I’ve had the very good pleasure of visiting a number of Ekklesia. All I was given was an address where it was to be held. I entered - the door opened to some kid who just happened to be there to open the door for me - he was very matter of fact and said: “You’re in the right place; come on in” - that was all he said; except he told me to take my shoes off because everyone else had done so as not to dirty the carpet of the host. The whole gathering was wonderful—the food and the fellowship—I had no idea whose house we were meeting in and never did figure out who was hosting the gathering—now, THAT’S A REAL HOST for you! Just because you’re the host doesn’t mean you have to dominate things—remember, this is an Ekklesia . . . better to be the “unseen host at every meal” rather than the flamboyant host who decides to host an Ekklesia, giving the host a preeminent position - it’s better to serve than be served and far better to serve without anyone knowing you are serving - that way, the Lord could possibly get more glory? Think about it. Imagine a host who makes everything happen without being noticed much—or at all! Hard to fathom - but such anomalies do exist within the Body of Christ. There’s nothing worse than an overbearing host—someone who makes everyone know “they are in charge” and, furthermore, as a result of their “newly-found status as host” they can manipulate the entire gathering. My suggestion: Find another host!
The BBQ that got Busted!
I hope this gives us a little insight into the difference between a “work” or “ministry” (leadership) and an “ekklesia” (the brethren/congregants) coming together. I remember a brother telling me a rather dynamic gathering of brethren from the “same church” came together in a home for a BBQ. I may not have the entire story straight, but, in any event it went something like this:
They (members of the same church) decided to have additional BBQs until it became a weekly affair—like on a Saturday evening. Folks brought their playful kids, food, and they all gathered together for some time of singing, sharing and worship—praying for one another—it was sweet. When it got too cold—they all went inside the home and continued their fellowship - kids were encouraged to stay with the adults or go downstairs to play - you’d be surprised how many kids didn’t think the adults were boring!
More and more kept coming until there were over 50 in the gathering. They loved it—friends brought friends, and other friends from other churches started coming as well; along with the “uninformed” and “unbelievers.” Some of the pastors from other “churches” heard about the meeting and decided it was “getting out of hand” — the little group needed to “come under authority” of the local eldership of the church that allowed this to happen in the first place . . . so one of the pastor-elders of that anchor “Church” (encouraged by local pastors who viewed this gathering as a “siphoning off mechanism” of their own members destined, in their own eyes, to leave their congregations and unite with the “BBQ Church”). So, the BBQ’s elders (not participating in the BBQ, by the way) dropped in and started giving out “ministerial sheets” for the group to follow (stage one in the “disillusionment process”). So, they hurriedly went through the little “poop sheets” and then went back to having “fun in Christ!” Foiled again!
Some had to answer questions from this BBQ’s local pastors; as in: Why are you inviting others from other churches—we’re not proselytizing other churches—why not just bring “unsaved people” to your parties or whatever you call them? Eventually, the little group grew to around 70 or so.
One day, they all wanted to go up to some campground in the mountains and have more fellowship (they had no intention of “forming a new church”)—bringing additional friends, saved and unsaved, but who didn’t go to their “church”—besides, it would be a whole lot of “Jesus fun” to sit around a campfire having s’mores while sharing Jesus with one another—a really “friendly environment” for would-be “uninformed” and “unbelievers”—they weren’t trying to “evangelize”—just love on people . . . such a sinister motive!
Their “organized church” decided to hold a similar excursion on the same day the BBQ folks (just happenstance, of course). The “mother church” planned to stage theirs (Stage 2 of the disillusionment well on its way.) at exactly the same time as the BBQ bunch. The BBQB (the BBQ Bunch) were totally oblivious as to their “sinister activities”—they were just having fun!
That did it, the leaders of the “rebellion” were called before the church pastors-elders and the gathering was quashed once and for all! Who knew?
Instead of celebrating how the saints were spreading the gospel in this manner—the local eldership was threatened by its success! They were fearful of losing control – what a shame, what insecurity, what CONTROL! Of course, the Senior Pastor, informed the mother church’s eldership that he’d seen this before and rightly knew the end result would end with scores of members wanting to “start their own church”—so, better to nip this one in the bud lest membership lag in his own church and finances suffer (God forbid!). Isn’t that why some form sundry “eldership/deacon” boards either controlled by the Pastorate or these boards controlling the Pastorate; and, all in the name of “being responsible for the flock?” This should NOT be what’s happening.
No, the workers do not control the Ekklesia—we are NOT suggesting “starting other churches” or creating divisions in the Body of Christ. To the contrary, we’re asking gifted brethren to train, equip their flocks to grow up into Christ in all things and learn to function as the Ekklesia when they “spontaneously” gather together whenever and wherever!
Think of it? If Christians are trained by their leadership to “mingle with other Christians” as a PRACTICE—meeting and greeting one another . . . having other members of the Body of Christ over to such BBQs (if you would) without trying to RECRUIT them to their own churches—but to practice the “unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of Peace” – THAT is precisely what we’re talking about. We hold to a “common faith” – ONE LORD, ONE BAPTISM, ONE SPIRIT ONE HOPE OF OUR CALLING…get the point? If so, why can’t we encourage the brethren to “greet the ekklesia that is in their house” (the house of Priscilla and Aquila) or how’s about Gaius who is hosting the “whole Ekklesia” passing on greetings to all the saints in Rome (what a heart this brother had) (Rom. 16:5, 23)?
How could you greet the Ekklesia in the home of Priscilla and Aquila (A-P) if you don’t visit with the Ekklesia meeting in their house in the first place? Get off your duff and get over to A-Ps—it’s time to get out of your own “comfort zone” and just show up over at A-P’s place . . . bring some food while you’re at it! It would be nice to inform them of your intentions—but sometimes, it’s just such a welcoming place, that showing up is all you need to concern yourself; A-P are used to handling such spontaneity; fire up the grill—and if we’re short on food, we can always get some more.
I’ll never forget it, my wife and three kids moved back to Sacramento from Denver, Colorado back in the mid-’80s. We rented this neat house near a local well-known park. There was some kind of conference going on in one of the local churches and a lot of folks knew me from that group. Somehow, someone (I strongly suspect who it was.) invited everyone to my home for pizza and goodies—a kind of house warming—except, I was being toasted! Deb, my wife, looked out the window to a large crowd of folks coming across the park—you see, she thought just a couple of couples who we personally invited were coming for an intimate dinner. One of our original invited guests casually informed Deb the crowd she was viewing was all coming to OUR PLACE! We freaked! I spent most of my time going back and forth to the corner store buying pizza, drinks, goodies. We must have had over a hundred people there. While passing through the living room I saw this older homeless-styled lady sitting in my rocker, and commenting to me: “Great party; how’d you find out about it?” She informed me she’d heard about the “free dinner” down at the local Union Gospel Rescue Mission (about 4 miles from my place). That’s called being a host and having no idea you are—neither does anyone else!
What About Wolves & “Flock-Less Shepherds”?
Of course, at this point in time, someone will inevitably remind us of Paul’s exhortations given to the elders from the Church in Ephesus found in Acts 20:17-38 where Paul warns the elders “that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock . . . also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking misleading (i.e., perverse) things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” – so, folks, look out for the wolves and the “flockless shepherds” who wish to ravage the flock and “draw away the disciples after themselves.”
This provides, doesn’t it, ample justification to keep “tight controls” over the flock lest wolves and flockless shepherds sneak in unawares? So it would appear; however, I wager that if the sheep are trained to be alert, and the elders commend them to instructions to be on the lookout—they, the congregants, would be much better equipped to handle such hostile action by such wolves and flockless shepherds.
Notwithstanding the great need to instruct congregants to both discern and “search the Scriptures” themselves like good Bereans who were Jewish believers, given the title as “more noble than those in Thessaloniki” because they diligently delved into the Scriptures—even when Paul had spoken to them of the revelations received of him . . . but did those revelations match with Scripture?
The vulnerability of saints can be measured by their lack of instruction from gifted brethren who ought to be preparing them to “discern” and “search the Scriptures” for themselves—not forever grace the pews being fed pablum from the pulpit when these gifted ones should be feeding them the “meat of the Word” and the ability to “commit these things to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Listen up brethren:
“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).
This ought to be our cry: FULFILL YOUR MINISTRY (2 Tim. 4:5) . . . and this is our plight:
“Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to reteach you the basic principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food! For everyone who lives on milk is still an infant, inexperienced in the message of righteousness . . .” (Heb. 5:12-13).
And, who’s fault is that . . . who’s to blame when the saints ought to have been well trained in God’s Word and the fundamentals of the Faith; yet, they continue year after year within the confines of the INFANTILE CHURCH because her leadership is remiss in going beyond the “basics” – so the flock abides “inexperienced in the message of righteousness” – sooner or later that infant must be POTTY-TRAINED?
Is it love spelled LUV that commits a teaching-pastor to leave his congregants as infants because children are so endearing? I don’t think so. Is there some strange fear which keeps the babes in swaddling clothes—when they ought to grow up into Christ in ALL things?
Sure, there’s plenty of blame to go around – we ought to be raising up teachers, but we’ve managed to secure overcrowded classrooms. Indeed, we’ll always have a “teaching job” but there’s a massive SHORTAGE OF TEACHERS . . . instead of “teaching ourselves out of a job” we manage to assure our own “job security” – OUTRAGEOUS!
Then, there’s the compliant congregation who “have itching ears . . . heaping up for themselves teachers” who are predisposed to great stories (aka “fables”), while turning aside from the truth—because why hear the truth when you can be entertained? “We’ll settle for entertainment” and “blame the pastor when nothing ever happens around here! At least we have ‘smoke and mirrors’!”
I once was involved in an organization which figured out how to raise large sums of money but subjected the faithful to endless “trainings” and “materials” (the trainee would have to pay for these “trainings”—it was an obligation and privilege to do so; and if you wanted to “go up the ranks” you’d better get aboard these voluntary trainings) – it seemed these “trainings” were interminable! Forbid, the saints would grow up so that they themselves could be teaching others . . . yes, some squeaked by and basically regurgitated the “messages” from “Central Command” and, if one deviated from the “Oracle’s message” – well, let’s say, that “minister’s lifespan” in the movement would be short-lived.
If he or she found themselves some distance from the “headquarters of the movement”—then, they would have to move back to the “starting blocks” and begin the race all over again---aka, RE-TRAINING would be in order. At the end of the day, the saints were kept in an infantile state, utterly dependent upon the ministry, ergo never to survive on their own. Tragically, all their “experience of God” was the movement itself—once they “left the ministry” most (not all) felt they had left God. Their God was the ministry, the “church” became “God-like” – their identification was NOT found in the “fellowship of the saints” but all brethren were linked to the Oracle—or, upon later reflection, a Council of Brethren was formed wherein they were the inheritors of the “revealed truth” so that with the passing of THE LEADER, everyone who wished to stay in the movement, now had to buckle under to the “princes” who became the new overlords of the movement.
How tragic, so many who found themselves outside the movement—kicked out, drummed out, or disenchanted by the movement—not only left the movement, but left God, denied their faith, such as it was, became agnostic, even atheist . . . truly, damaged goods! Their “God” was actually the movement, that church, that group, that “thing” - and when they found themselves outside of it, they cast their lot with the world, going from one sinking ship to another; not good, so sad.
I’ve been known to tell folks: “Listen, if you haven’t gone through a ‘Christian Cult’ or two, witnessed an old-fashioned Southern Baptist Church split; seen your home church ravaged by some progressive movement designed to debilitate the locals—then, you’re probably not worth your salt!” Listen, many (especially, those panting hard after the Lord) have been “through it” - you have a choice: Be bitter about it all and QUIT THE RACE or regroup to fight another day (I know, it’s not easy.).
Betrayal, dis-fellowship, brain-washing by well-meaning brain washers—yes, a whole cacophony of insults foisted upon the human psyche and spirit—have left scores of DONES in their wake. But God knows what we’ve all been through and still loves you and cares for His Own—remember, a “Church” or “Group” or “Doctrine” or “Charismatic Leader” did NOT save you, a Person did, and His Name is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior! Let’s give us all a little credit . . . we know that the “blame game” satisfies no one; sure, you found yourself “outside the fold” with your cozy safety net smashed to smithereens; but you know full-well, you still need God’s people—you still need their fellowship. I’m not saying you need time to regroup from whatever fiasco you’ve gone through—but sooner or later you need His people and they need you! It may take some time; but getting back into the race is the lot of those who wish to press on into Him in all things. Fellowship with those who have “survived” oppressive “Christian cults” and who have left their bitterness behind, are probably your “best bet” for early recovery—no one said the Christian life would be a bed of roses.
Alas! You were only in “fellowship” if you were absorbing the ministry of the Oracle (known as a “Pyramid Model”) – any criticism of the Oracle spelled certain “spiritual isolation” and immediate reprimand. Cultic? And, if you messed with people still inside the movement—you could be sued by the movement’s leadership or even cursed! Listen, when you’re “in it” you have little or no awareness how bound you are! All this can be justified by any given “movement” which is man-centered.
Notwithstanding, real training should provide God’s people the capability to discern on their own – to search the Scriptures on their own. But holding the saints in such a “suspended state of infantile animation” – justified by the ruse that “flockless shepherds” could be at fault, so we must keep guard over the sheep – belies the fact that the Oracle-Teacher has his own insecurities or has an agenda filled with self-aggrandizement (aka, filthy lucre) to enrich himself or his family—SHAME, SHAME, SHAME!
Let Paul be our Example
It never ceases to amaze me how Paul wound up in his ministry in a rented house in Rome under “house arrest” awaiting trial under Emperor Nero—eventually he was beheaded as a Roman citizen all by his lonesome (68 AD)—BUT GOD STOOD WITH ME (2 Tim. 4:17) (Incidentally, Nero committed suicide the same year/time that Paul was beheaded.). Seemingly, Paul shook and turned the Roman World upside down—but when he finished his journey, he had nothing left but the riches of His Savior—he had gathered no one around him – so, do we consider his “ministry” a failure? If that’s failure, then bring it on! Paul’s ministry did NOT control the churches, nor would he let churches control his ministry. I hope we’re getting the picture here. You say: That was then, this is now! No, few desire to “finish the race” and finish strong – ministry can be a lonely road:
“For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me . . . Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works . . . But shun profane and empty chatter, for they will lead to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 4:10-11, 14; 2:16-18).
These names all sound like co-workers with Paul—some good, some bad, and some indifferent. Ministry has its twists and turns, God knows. Yes, my heart goes out to those who “work righteousness” for the Kingdom’s sake—their task is assuredly, at times, insurmountable . . . BUT THE LORD STOOD WITH ME! (2 Tim. 4:17)
I wouldn’t be so cavalier about these issues. We’re out of balance in most of Christendom. There is MUCH we can learn from these examples of ministry and Ekklesia. There is a balance—the one does not obfuscate the other. Both are needed for equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry so that when “the whole Ekklesia comes together” His people will know and practice the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.” God bless…