My Sleepy, Confused, and Doubting Faith

2 January 2015

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” – Psalm 37:7

“I stay busy mostly because when I’m still – truly still – I cry.” – Your Truly

What I am about to tell you is not something that concerns me. I’m grateful for it.

And I’m telling you this now to disarm you from thinking that I’m having a faith crisis. On the contrary, these are the very things that lead to the only faith that has any substance to it at all…. at least for me.

When I am still, and this is sadly rare, I cry. I question. I doubt. I long. And I cry.

I cry because I feel desperately alone in this stillness. In it, there is apparently no room for anyone else. The minute someone else comes around, this stillness goes away. Even when I try to tell someone else about it, they usually go away (either by literally excusing themselves, or going into their iphones, or by “mmm-hmmm”-ing their way through it best they can until its over). Evidently, this stillness is unsharable, so by default, to be in it is to be alone. It’s not good for man to be alone, I’ve heard, so I guess this loneliness is why I cry.

I question, I think, because there is within me a desire for truth. For the real. And there is no honesty in being certain. And there is little humility in it either. Questions are the tools of honesty, and they demand humility. Questions invite and make room for truth. But questions, if they are good ones, also confront anything that I have already decided is true. Even if they end up being confirming, their real job is to assault and confront, and few people enjoy their certainty being assaulted. I don’t, at least not initially, but I do enjoy the fruit of it, which is the diminishment of the false and the exaltation of the truth. This is why I question, and it may add to why I cry.

I doubt because anyone who is desperately alone and uncertain would be plagued with doubt, wouldn’t they? I know just enough to know that I don’t know very much, and when I’m still, I can’t pretend otherwise. I can pretend I know something when I’m creating, doing, preaching, or teaching, but not when I’m still. My friend Charlie Middlebrook in his book Observations says that a key to wisdom is “knowing less, believing more.” I am encouraged if this is true, because that would mean doubt is necessarily on the trail  towards wisdom. And I have plenty of it, at least when I am still.

All of this leads to longing. For what, you might ask? Don’t make it more mysterious than it is! Isn’t it obvious? My loneliness makes me long for company, my questions make me long for answers, and my doubt makes me long for certainty. Read those again and realize that my only hope for anything at all that might satisfy this longing would have to be a God. Which means, I need a God.

God is my only hope of having my longings satisfied. It just hit me that this might ultimately be why I cry when I’m still. My need for God makes me cry.

And who likes crying? No one that I know. Most do all they can to keep from it, giving in only when they have exhausted all their energy trying to not. Even then they’d much rather run off and hide while they do it, and then “clean up” enough for no one to notice that they had once they are done. And if they MUST cry, and they CAN’T hide, well, then they feel obligated to apologize for it to whoever had the misfortune of seeing them.

My heart says this is all nonsense – at least when I am still – but my heart rarely wins in the practical application.

I confess to you that the impossibility of it all just makes me want to sleep. To be asleep is so much easier than to be still. Be it the coma-like sleep that comes when I close my eyes in bed, or the matrix-like sleep of busy-ness with seemingly more important things, or the trance-like sleep of staring at screen of some sort, it is easier to be asleep than still.

But in those rare moments when I’m still – I sense the presence of Something. Is it Someone? Whatever. I don’t really care except that it pulls at my spirit, beckoning me, wooing me, drawing me… with a faint promise to satisfy my tears and all that they mean.

I had a touch of stillness this morning and can’t seem to totally shake it. So I’m crying, doubting, questioning and longing today.

And so I’m sleepy.

May God keep me awake and still.

Transcending the Places that Hold You

12 December 2014

Aragorn: What do you fear, my lady?
Eowyn: A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.

“It is very important to transcend the places that hold you.” – Rubin Carter, in The Hurricane

There are only a few things that have ever really scared me.

  • The selfishness of my heart.
  • That I might not be worth loving.
  • That my love for others was fraudulent.
  • That I might disappoint God.
  • Injustice towards my children.

These have each taken turns possessing my attention, consuming my spirit. I have been, and though my spiritual muscle has been beefed up through use, continue to be vulnerable to them.

They come and go, in decreasing intensity, as my days go by. I hate them, but they have also become my friends, my most faithful allies in ushering me to my place, on my knees, before God.

But there is one fear that is ever-present. It eats at me consistently, and it is my best of friends, my most loyal ally in keeping the fire of love burning between me and my Maker. It stirs me to belief and action when I look it in the eyes, and it stares at me awaiting my attention when I momentarily ignore it to settle in and watch TV.

It is my fear of contentment.

There is a good kind of contentment. It is other-worldly, and captured by a verse in a book that chose me long ago, written by a man who has been dead over 2000 years, but is still teaching me: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” – Paul, in Philippians 4:13

That contentment does not scare me. That is the kind I crave. A capacity to be and live the same wherever I am, with whoever I am with, in whatever circumstance, doing everything that I should do, no matter what, because of His strength.

It is the bad kind of contentment that I fear. It is captured by another verse in that book: “We do not want you to become lazy , but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. We want you to show diligence to the very end.” – Heb 6:11-12

I can see it so clearly, even as I sense most others around can’t, or won’t, mostly because they don’t have or make the time to acknowledge it. I feels a bit like Neo and his crew in the Matrix, surrounded by people living busy, hurried, even good lives, but oblivious that they are mindlessly subscribing to a system that is designed to keep them asleep… or content.

I fear being content with that system. The system woos me. It courts me. It invites me to submit, to comply, even offering to slap some Christian labels on me that I might enjoy, and just enough difficulty to feel like I’m a martyr for Christ, without really being one. It’s like it knows me.

But my fear of contentment keeps me going. It keeps me believing. It keeps me dreaming. It keeps me rebelling, creating, insisting, and moving. It keeps me loving.

I do NOT want to lose that fear, and I am in more danger of it than I have ever been, because I have the choice to make my current spot very comfortable, and that is seductive. But if I drop nicely into this system, and I allow use or old age to make me accept them, I would be dead already without even knowing it.

And ignorance would be “bliss”. That is why it is tempting.

But it would not be life. That is why I’m grateful for my friend… my fear of it.

It is very important to transcend the places that hold you. The only perk that I can think of that an actual prison has is that it is clearly visible, and its dangers overt and obvious. The invisible one that all of us live in, not so much.

I have no bow to tie this piece up with, even though it is Christmas. I write it as a warning, and it is not for you.

It is for me.

A Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission Church

21 November 2014

A Great Commission church ensures that the work that it does makes disciples of Christ.

A Great Commandment church ensures that its disciple-making work is motivated only by Christlike love.

A Great Invitation church ensures that Christlike love is attained and maintained by connection to Christ.

A member of a Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission church has a mystical-intimacy with Christ, that fosters a supernaturally-steadfast love for God and others, that animates a Kingdom-advancing disciple making life.

May all churches that claim Christ become GC3 churches, producing members that become GC3 Christ-followers.


The Great Invitation – Being vs. Doing

19 November 2014

“When I was focused on doing God’s work, I was fast-paced and exasperated, accomplishing much. When I focused on being God’s man, I became peacefully and refreshingly busy.” – Yours Truly

We in Christian circles are familiar with what we call the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28 that exhorts us to go and make disciples of Jesus. We are equally familiar with what we call the Great Commandment of Christ in Matthew 22, which exalts love for God and neighbor above all else.

These are defining words out of the mouth of Jesus for anyone who would claim to follow Him. At least they should be. And they should become noticeably defining characteristics in those same people, or it would be right to question their stated association to the name of Christ.

Okay, so there is that.

But there are some other words, recorded in another verse, that I believe are equally worthy of our attention. Worthy of our lives. Vital, even, should we desire to live anywhere close to the Great Commission and Great Commandment lifestyle. As a matter of fact, it is the ignorance of these words that may explain how it is that many professed Christ followers fail to the live a life that is marked by a Great Commandment loving demeanor or a Great Commission disciple-making fruitfulness.

I realize I may not be the first to do so, but I don’t know anyone who has, so I’d like to call it the Great Invitation. And it is found in Matthew 11, and like the Commandment and the Commission, is spoken by Jesus himself.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Notice that just as there are two commands in the Great Commandment, there are two (maybe even three) invitations in the Great Invitation, both of which promise rest. It is Andrew Murray who pointed out to me that the first invitation is to come to Jesus, and that by doing so, there is an immediate gift of rest for the weary. There is an initial burden lifted. It could be argued that the very meaning of “coming to Jesus” in an initial way is to receive his offer to unburden yourself of responsibility for the heavy weight of sin and put it on his shoulders (The relief I feel just by typing it is palpable!).

Invitation #2, Murray taught me, is to take the “yoke” of Jesus, and to learn from him. Jesus is inviting us to become his students, his scholars. He is inviting us to apply our attention to who he is, how he is, and what he says, and not merely for education’s sake. He is literally promising a transformation into a life of even deeper rest (“for your souls,” he says this time). But only if we become master students of his. And just in case someone wants to disqualify themselves as not good “mastery” material, Jesus ends the invitation by saying that his “yoke” is easy, and his burden is something that the most feeble of people can carry.

The order of these Great Things matters. The Great Invitation is listed by Matthew long before the Great Commandment, which is likewise listed long before the the Great Commission. Don’t think it matters? Well, just try to go and make disciples of Jesus without first developing a deep heart of love for God and others and see how long you last. Or just try to develop that deep heart of love without giving the burden of your sins to Jesus, or without becoming his pupil, and see how long you last. Yes, the order matters. Way too much damage has been done to the name of Jesus by churches that try to make disciples from something other than a heart of love. And way too much weariness, discouragement, and despair has come to individuals who try to maintain authentic love for God and people when they have not yoked themselves up with Jesus, abiding with and in him, and (most importantly) he in them.

The order matters, but the order of these “Greats” is not the headline for me in this post, it is the number of them. The proclamation I’m making today, is that I have been guilty of promoting the Great Commission/Great Commandment lifestyle without properly elevating the enabler of them both – the Great Invitation. Not consciously, of course, and perhaps many of my hearers have assumed the Invitation when I’ve spoken of the Commandment and the Commission. But no more will I fail to elevate Matthew 11 to the status of Matthew 22 and 28.

Why? I don’t want to “make” a bunch of exasperated “doers.” I want to co-create with Christ the making of disciples. When someone is focused on “being” a disciple, they will “do” plenty, but without the burden of feeling like they are the savior, and it all rides on them.

May we who follow Christ life the Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission life. And may those of us who play any part in leading church families lead them into being Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission churches.

God help us.

I Want to Do it Here

14 October 2011

I went and saw the movie “Moneyball” last night with Carrie, and it was long, interesting, and good. I wasn’t blown out of my seat or anything, at least not at first, it was just enjoyable.

  • I liked the portrayal of Billy Beane – his courage, his inclination to think out of the box, his fatherhood, and his belief in and obsessive focus on winning a baseball championship with the limited resources available to him
  • I liked his unlikely 2nd man, Peter Brand (who reminded me a bit of Mall Cop, both in name and demeanor), and his unique gift set contributing in a powerful way to the whole organization
  • I liked the baseball in the movie, but I really liked the subject of the movie that was shamelessly using baseball to express itself…

What subject?

Fundamental, DNA-level, hard-and-costly-but-potentially-revolutionary, wholesale change.

This movie is not for sports fans (although they will like it), it is for anyone who has ever dreamed of taking on a system that needs to be improved.

There was one scene that awoke something inside my heart that, unbeknownst to me, has needed some cattle-prodding for a while now.

It was at a point where Beane, in implementing a brand new system of how to field a baseball team, finally experienced some success. The Oakland A’s won a record-breaking 20 games in a row. They made history. But Beane, as he surveyed whether this milestone really mattered or not, told his buddy Peter, “Unless we win the last game of the season, everyone in baseball will write us off as a fluke. A romantic experiment that can have some momentary and significant success, but that ultimately is not sustainable and will fail.” (not an exact quote)

He said, “But if we win, then we will have fundamentally changed baseball and made it better. Now that would matter.”

My heart jumped into my throat with excitement, and I was borderline on the verge of tears. I had found myself in the heart of this movie…and I was reminded of how nice it is to feel so…explained.

Beane didn’t merely want a cool record for the record books. He wanted to win. Winning, in baseball, is defined as coming out on top of the MLB Championship game. But even that, at this point, would not be enough… Beane wanted to win the MLB Championship game while utilizing a new, better system.

This explains my heart for the church.

I grew up in a church system that steadfastly believed that regular church attendance, increasing Bible knowledge, and unified agreement on how we should worship on Sundays would produce the “win.” And the definition of a win was clear – it was posted on the bottom of a number-tallying bulletin board in the hallway by the exit door: “Weekly Sunday Attendance Goal: 1000!”

If we had 1000 people attending on Sundays, people who came regularly, were increasing in Bible knowledge, and worshipped in the way we thought was right we would have considered that winning the MLB Championship. Of course, and rightly so, we would not have stopped there – just like a MLB team wouldn’t quit playing just because they won a pennant – but it still would have been significant. It would have mattered to us.

But that doesn’t matter to me. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to do my part as a “General Manager” of a little “ball-club” in Amarillo, TX to show the world that there is a better way, a better system, a truer one, one that is both more effective and closer to the intent and heart of God.

What’s the better system I’d like to see us implement with our team? Relationships. Intimate, brotherly, sisterly, authentic, and Christ-centered relationships with God and others.

While I’m way more comfortable categorizing a “win” with the admittedly ambiguous words “Kingdom growth,” I certainly would not be discouraged if we starting having 1000 people in our pews on Sunday mornings each week. But I do not merely want 1000 people in the pews…I want 1000 people in the pews because of, and because they want to help co-create, our new, better, truer system.

At one point in the movie, young Peter was scared. He felt like Beane was living out the vision of the new system a little too purely, in a way and at a pace that was going to be too hard to explain or defend to the baseball establishment. He knew that if they implemented the vision too zealously, they could lose their jobs. Beane, on the other hand, knew that if they implemented the vision partially, the system-schizophrenic team would lose their games, and then they most certainly would lose their jobs. He knew that even if they by some fluke won, the establishment would point to all the things that remained of the old system (along with a little bit of pure baseball “magic”) as the reason for their success.

Beane, in the face of Peter’s fear and tentativeness, said definitively that he was going to see this through…all the way. Then he provocatively asked Peter, in a “be-careful-what-you-say-next-because-I’ll-expect-you-to act-like-its-true” sort of way,  “Do you believe in this system or not?”

“Yes. I do. Totally,” was his slow, methodical, fully-owning it reply.

Enough said. Because of this pair’s resolve, the plot of the movie could go on.

I felt like Beane was talking to me. Do I believe in this new system, this truer way of being God’s church? Do I believe that this matters, or not?

Yes. I do. Totally.

So, I too can go on. Praise God.

It’s an important question. Even the usually-resolved Beane found himself asking, at one point in the movie, while driving alone in his pickup contemplating, “What. Am. I . Doing.”

What I am doing is making disciples of Jesus Christ through loving, spiritual friendships. And I’m asking our church family to organize itself in a new way, within a new system, so that they can do the same.

I’m seeing some amazing milestones, some truly incredible fruit from our church’s intentional transition from the old faithful ways to these new and equally faithful ways. But I don’t want to be satisfied until we win the proverbial “last game of the season”.

I want to be able to look at our church family and see everyone in it actively and obviously living their whole life for God’s glory, obviously and willingly becoming more and more like Christ, and offering themselves as spiritual friends to all the hurting people in this city who need the relief and abundant life that Christ offers.

One more parallel from the movie: At the end, Beane is called by the Boston Red Sox and offered more money than any sports manager had ever been offered if he would just come there to implement his new system. He would have willing bosses, willing co-workers, and willing participants, and more money to implement it than Oakland had.

But he didn’t go. Why? “Because I want to do it here,” Beane said, while sitting in the Oakland locker room.

This captures the heart behind why, when given the chance, I decided against both planting a church or leaving the Church of Christ (and this is not to be mistaken as a condemnation of either). God knows that what we are doing here at Southwest, while rare, is not unique to us. There are church plants that begin with nothing but like-minded people, sparing their home churches the pain of transition, and themselves the discouragements of meeting resistance. And there are other denominations that are years, if not decades, ahead of us on this journey that I could potentially partner with.

But I want to do it here. The Church of Christ people are my people. They have loved me. They have raised me. They have tolerated me. They have survived me. They have enabled me. They have taught me. They have not been perfect, any more than I have. But they…they are mine. And I am theirs.

The Red Sox went on to win the MLB World Series two years later, without Beane, but with his new system. I don’t think this discouraged him. As a matter of fact, their success with the same system in Boston probably fueled his commitment to working towards it in Oakland.

And he still is.

And so am I. I don’t want to go somewhere were it might be easier to make disciples through relationships. I want to do it here.


12 October 2011

“Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” – John 20: 24-29

The claim was nothing short of unbelievable. Jesus said he would die and then rise to life. And now his buddies tell him that, sure enough, they had seen Jesus die and then rise to life.

Thomas wasn’t buying it.

Why would he? It’s a ridiculous, unrealistic thought. Honestly, I really respect Thomas. His realism didn’t make him a 2nd class follower of Christ. He was the whole package!

  • He left everything to follow Jesus (Mk 10:28). Can I say I’ve done that?
  • He had internally resolved that following Jesus was worth dying for, and led the others in this view (Jn 11:16). Have you?
  • And in the quote above, once Jesus did address him in his rational skepticism, he went further than any of the other guys did by declaring Jesus to be nothing less than God Himself.

Have I made Jesus, God?

Pause. Let me clarify. Or elaborate. Or whatever it is I’m doing here.

If making Jesus my God means that I revolve my life around him, my thoughts around him, my behavior around him…then yes.

If making Jesus my God means that I go to him for guidance, answers, and even life…then yes.

If making Jesus my God means that I strive to obey what he teaches, do what he does, and become more like him in character, mission, and priorities…then yes.

My question today, however, is…have I made the RESURRECTED Jesus my God?

Thomas had done all those things I listed above, too. He believed in Jesus who lived and died and represented God. He didn’t argue or leave his apprenticeship with him when Jesus said he was God (Jn 14:8-9). It was the resurrected Jesus he doubted.

And it matters…at least to me. And it comes down to this:

I can’t believe in the resurrected Jesus without believing that miracles can happen.

What I have come to recognize is that I can follow Jesus “as God” in two different ways, and few if any would ever notice but me.

Option 1: I can follow the good, holy, serving, compassionate, confronting, challenging, and “gave-his-life-for-my-sin” Jesus as God. This will save my soul (I think), make me an activist for the poor and hurting (most of the time, at least), cause me to worship regularly out of awe and gratitude (with others and in my heart), stand up for truth (even as I’m continuing to learn it), and share Christ with others.

The problem with option 1 Jesus as God? I would not believe that miraculous new life on Earth would be possible.

Option 2 is what I need. I’m after nothing short of world-change for people’s hearts and lives (including mine). Not current world-adjustment. Not current world-improvement. Not current world-tweaking.

The world-change I’m after for people is world-resurrection. Which means a death must occur. And who in their right mind would recommend death to someone as a solution?

The answer? Only those who believe in the resurrection.

Believing in the resurrected Jesus as God makes me a believer in the potential death and resurrection of every person (including me) I meet. So I look at them differently. They can feel it. And when I start being convinced by them that their situations have hopelessly trapped them into being who it is they currently are, and this sadly DOES happen to me sometimes, I can literally feel my disbelief in the potential for that person to have and enjoy a brand new life.

And something dies in me when this happens. Something dies, and the best I can offer them is some money, or a prayer, or my compassionate presence, or a ride, or a meal, or a comforting focus on the suffering of Christ for their sins, and the promise of a better life in Heaven after this sucky life is over.

But not hope.

At least, not hope for the abundant life (that Jesus said he came to give) now. There is no chance for them to enjoy the Kingdom of peace, joy, and righteousness now. Not when I only make an unresurrected Jesus God.

I guess technically, I belong to the camp Jesus referred to as “those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

But I feel more like Thomas than one would expect; like I have personally and proverbially put my own hands in the side of Jesus. I have seen the wounds on his hands that killed him. And yet there he is. Alive. New. And with him, the whole world changed for me. No old self, dead, with all of it’s curses, and my new self alive and kickin!

I, like Thomas, can now say to the resurrected Jesus… my Lord and my God!

I know…

11 October 2011

I know it has been a LONG time since I’ve posted. For those who have missed it, I apologize.

For the rest of you, I hope you have enjoyed the break.

And even now, I’m using my blog as a shameless promotion tool of some more old books I have for sale on eBay… for you or for you to forward to those who might have an interest.

I’m beginning to save up for my Daddy-Daughter trip to the Philippines next summer on a mission trip (yes, like the one I took with Shade this past summer and that I haven’t written to you about), that may turn into an all-family mission trip, so I need to start raising funds early.

Check out the books here.


  • 2 Church of Christ/Restoration Movement treasures: An 1960s ACU Lectureship book, and a 1970s Jimmy Allen book.
  • A religious book written by American politician William Jennings Bryan.
  • A rare and old book from the 1600s (yes, it is even in English, published in London)…this one is very cool, you won’t regret checking it out (but it will cost you to own it!)

Thanks to all of you who regularly support me in these crazy adventures of mine.

Old Cool Books for Sale

8 February 2011

Click http://shop.ebay.com/brianmash/m.html and some more really cool old books can be yours.

I added some very rare Christian classics!

New Blog Location

11 February 2010

We have decided to make a change from Blogger to a WordPress blog. My blog will now be found at http://www.brianmashburn.net. My old blog at brianmashburn.blogspot.com will no longer be updated.


Everyone on the e-mail list WILL continue to receive an e-mail when a new post is made. However, we will no longer be sending out the entire post via e-mail. Subscribing and unsubscribing to this list is done in the sidebar of the blog.


Let me know if any of you are not cool with this change so that I can laugh at how 90s you are.

The Restoration of Discipleship

5 February 2010


It is enough for a student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” – Jesus Christ


Months ago, when I started this post before storing it away in my drafts, I had received a catalog in the mail from the bookstore of a Christian college associated with the Church of Christ. I opened it looking to see if they offered a Greek language study workbook that they used to carry years ago. My heart both flared up defensively and started weeping with compassion as I read titles of books that, instead of fixing people’s eyes on Jesus, were fixing people’s eyes on the historical and contemporary church. I wish I still had it now to list more, but one of the titles I remember was called What about Instrumental Music in Worship?

Shew. I’m getting to the point where I don’t have the energy to answer that question any more. I want to just respond, “What about it?” My friend who is strung out on prescription drugs and checked into rehab isn’t going to be healed by how he worships on Sunday. My son who is getting baptized this weekend (!!!) isn’t going to be saved because he believes one way or the other about that issue. My buddy trapped in a life of aggression and anger because he was hurt as a kid by a villainous adult and made the agreement that he “will never be weak again!” WILL NOT BE HEALED BY READING THAT BOOK AND TAKING IT’S MESSAGE TO HEART.

Ya feel me?

There is such a huge difference between a religion that seeks to help people imitate Jesus Christ in heart, character, priorities and mission and a religion that seeks to imitate the historical church’s external worship practices, belief systems, gathering habits, life philosophies and superficial doctrines.

Now, before I go on, I’m not outright condemning the focus on church. After all, the church is the bride of Christ. The church is the group of people on planet earth that Christ indwells to continue his presentation of  himself to the world today in the flesh. The bride’s worship practices matter, her belief systems are important, and her philosophies and doctrines make a huge difference in how they live life, what message they carry to the world, and whether or not they are continuing to represent God on earth in the way that Jesus did.

But…and this is a very big but…the focus on the church as a pattern for how we are to "do church", rather than a focus on Christ as a pattern for how we "do life", is a focus riddled with danger. Life-stealing, legalism-producing, religion-focused, anger-inciting, divisive danger that distracts people from the only Source of salvation of any kind. I have seen (in myself as much as in others, mind you) as much un-Christlikeness come from the (well-intentioned) focus on the church as I have from any other misguided focus on the planet.

Based on this off-the-mark focus…

  • I’ve seen people try to convert people to certain worship practices rather than to Christ (ex: I argued with my Baptist school-mate Ron in high school about our different views on baptism, and we both did so quite zealously, right in front of non-Christian Cheryl, who sat behind us, silently making her decisions concerning what Christianity must be all about based on us.)
  • I’ve seen people leave (and recruit other people to leave) churches because of doctrinal issues that had nothing to do with becoming more like Christ (ex: I know a guy who left his ministry position in a church because he disagreed with one of the members who was a Bible class teacher and didn’t hold his view on the 2nd coming of Christ).
  • I’ve seen groups of Christ followers completely part ways, sometimes into more than 2 groups (!), over a philosophical difference (ex: a whole church I know split right down the middle, one group investing in and maintaining a whole other campus, simply because one group wanted to financially support a Children’s Home).
  • I’ve seen people outright condemn to hell God-honest, love-motivated people who exhibit every one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5) because they didn’t see their way about the practices of church (ex: I have a copy of a book called "the Smith-Hunt debate" where, in the forward, it is acknowledged that "our definite agreement on the essentials of the gospel and New Testament Christianity were wonderfully noted." However, in the same forward, it was acknowledged that the issue being debated (instrumental music) was considered by some as a "test for fellowship". What??? How can the essentials of the gospel be agreed upon, but the difference of opinion on this doctrine was a test for whether we are saved by that gospel message or not?)
  • I’ve seen people use the word "Biblical" in ways that would astound the Bible’s writers, making them look at each other amazed at the distance people can go in missing the point. (ex: "It’s not Biblical to have a choir sing in church." – This means that there is no command or example of a choir being used by any church in the Bible, so to use it is "unbiblical" and therefore "sinful", and therefore, if you do it, you are going to hell when you die).

I could go on and on.

The Christian movement I have come out of (which I deeply love and appreciate, by the way, despite what this piece may seem to reflect) is called the "Restoration Movement".

It has as it’s premise the idea of Christian unity based on the restoration of the New Testament church in our day. This sounds at first to be a noble call. It sends you to the Bible, to be sure, but it sends you there looking for the church. You’ll look for it’s practices, it’s beliefs, and it’s actions. You’ll then start building your own church’s practices, beliefs, and actions based on that. As the theory goes, if all churches did this, our differences would be solved, all because we practice the same religious practices found listed in the Bible. Unity accomplished.

Some problems I have with this:

  • When you go to the Bible looking for the church, you often skip over the verses that speak of Christ, the bringer of unity (& life).
  • When you go to the Bible looking for a list of verses that contain how you should do your worship services on Sunday mornings, you will find them…and use them as such…even when they were not intended for that.
  • As I’ve already illustrated, I have never seen anyone’s life miraculously transformed from their conversion to a certain set of worship practices performed at their churches on Sunday morning.
  • When you go to the Bible looking for the 1st century church, your spiritual conversations tend to be about the 1st century church, and the people I have met that need saving from anything don’t care about those conversations.
  • Our movement has tried it. And it has resulted not in unity, but incredible  division to the point of embarrassment. It is just too easy to interpret scriptures differently. One catalogue that attempts to list all the Churches of Christ in the U.S. has codes next to each one to distinguish what “kind” of church it is (OC = “one cuppers” = this church believes you must take communion out of one cup, not multiple ones; NC = “Non-class” = this church believes it is wrong to add a time for Bible classes to the worship gathering on Sunday mornings) Like I said…embarrassing.

And my biggest problem is that this entire premise (re: going to the Bible to restore the New Testament church) is not called for anywhere in the whole Bible. The consistent call of the Bible, as far as I can tell, has as it’s premise for Christian unity the followership and imitation of the person of Jesus Christ.

This is what discipleship is.

A disciple is a person who attaches themselves to a teacher, and makes it their aim to become "like" that teacher. It involves learning what he teaches, prioritizing what he prioritizes, living as he lives, embodying the character that he embodies. It is a lifelong transformation of the whole person, the heart, conforming it into the image of the teacher’s heart.

And my teacher, who I quoted at the top of this piece, says that that is enough.

In my opinion, our movement could borrow on it’s strengths and address it’s increasingly problematic error, with an ever-so-slight, but revolutionary adjustment, changing from the restoration of the New Testament church to "the restoration of discipleship". Stop trying to imitate 1st century churches, start trying to imitate Jesus. Stop going to the Bible to find worship practices for Sunday, start going to the Bible looking to become like Christ. Jesus said that’s what scripture is for (Jn 5:39-40).

The point is Christ. The point of everything in the Bible is Jesus Christ. Not the first century church. Christ. Jesus said, "Go and make disciples." Not "Go and build up churches that look like the 1st century church." Even Paul, who’s writings we lean on heavily in order to extract any clues we may find in scripture concerning the practices of the 1st century church, said, "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ".

Here’s the deal, and I challenge anyone to make a case to the contrary… Focusing on following the church (1st century or otherwise) does not always lead you to Christ…it may lead you to a church and it’s ways, but not necessarily Christ and his. However, a focus on following Christ always leads you to Christ and his ways, and by being led there, makes you a part of the church that the Father intends.

As I was finishing this up, I got this piece from Edward Fudge. And he’s a whole lot smarter (and more concise) that me, so you might enjoy several of his pieces related to this topic here.

Finally, I have an old post that still rings true in my heart.

I’m glad to say that, while I still talk about this for others in my circle who are learning the difference between following a person or a plan, Jesus Christ or some set of rules regarding church worship practices, I feel that I now have my eyes firmly fixed on Christ alone… for life to the full, for the way I am to live, for forgiveness of my sins, for the truth about everything, for how to view my fellow man, and for anything and everything else that matters.

As Jesus says, if I, his disciple, strive to become like him, my teacher…that’s enough.

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