The Main Problems with Western Christianity?

What is holding Western Christianity back?  Writing from a kiwi (NZ) perspective, I keep coming back to 3 issues that I think are at the core of what is wrong or disfunctional about Western Christianity, and why the church in the west is not ‘succeeding’, and why we don’t seem to be making much progress.

1. Intransigence

Western Christians (WCx) seem to hold to the past, and be unable to make much progress. Intransigence = “refusal to change one’s views”. Many WCx hold to old (modern, post enlightenment) ways of interpreting the scriptures, and old (early-mid 20th Centurty) interpretations.

One area in which this is prominent is the LGBQTI+ ‘debate’. While is is definitely still an issue in itself, it is also a symptom of a much deeper problem, relating to things like how the Bible is understood (scientific, rulebook), how we view our role in society (moral guardians?), how we view our history (early 20th Century views are perceived as being what Christians of all times have thought), and our inability to grapple with important issues, or allow ourselves or other people to change.  With this viewpoint, there is no ‘trajectory of scripture’, but rather WCx act as the guardians of perceived ‘permanent’ views.

The LGBQTI+ ‘debate’ is prominent in the context. It is worth guessing / predicting whether the church will change – especially whether the church of the future will accept & bless gay marriage. And based on this prediction, we can see which side of history we are on now. My prediction is that the church will change – for people in their teens and twenties today (both Cx & non-Cx), this is generally a no-brainer issue – of course gay marriage is OK. So I think the church will change – in the next 20 or 30 or 40 years. It might require a generation or two (of intransigent stalwarts) to die out. And there will be a lot of pain in the process – many conflicted gay christians are depressed, self-harming & suicidal because of the current dominant church position – this pain, hurt & death will carry on unfortunately, until the dominant church position changes.  So my prediction is that the dominant church position will change – and I want to be on the right side of history, because I believe it is correct – this change is good & right, but toooo slow.

2. Idiotic View of God

We have a stupid view of God. A friend recently posted on Facebook “I’m more loving than my God” – I knew what he meant.
The dominant WCx view of God includes
– permanent suffering in hell for the majority of the world

 

3. Inconsistency

Three Quick Things

Here are 3 quick things …. FYI-IMHO (for your info – in my humble opinion)

1. I’m now an ex-Apostolic ex-minister. We joined the Apo church in 1985 & I was ordained in 1996 – so the Apostolic Movement has been part of our lives for a long time. I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t leave a church or denomination unless we are kicked out, or it becomes apparent to both sides that it is best all-round if we leave.
In the last few years it has become apparent that my beliefs and values don’t align well with NZ Apostolics, and that I am asking questions that they don’t think need to be asked (or they think are already answered).
I got a nice phone call from one of the national leaders a few weeks ago, in which he gently asked “why are you still in the Apos Movement – with your obviously different values etc”. We had a nice discussion – he was careful to ensure he wasn’t pushing me, & I made it clear that I didn’t want to cause them any problems … & so I offered to resign.
It doesn’t really make any difference to us – we are still committed to helping establish the Kingdom, particularly here in Devonport, and acting ‘missionally’.
I guess I can now add these two ‘ex’ things to the long list of things I’m ‘ex’ – now when people ask who I am, it seems easier to say what I ‘used to be’ (ex-engineer, ex-missionary, ex-Bible College Principal, ex-director of alternative education schools, ex-church health consultant, ex-minister etc)

2. The BOOK to read this Christmas – the MUST read for the holidays – IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion) – is “Everything Must Change” by Brian McLaren. This new book is GREAT. It addresses the big issues in the world – the subtitle is “Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope”. It is easy to read, but raises important challenges to individual disciples, faith communities, and the global church. It’s available from Amazon, Epworth Books in NZ, and hopefully other good book stores. It would be a great book to read & discuss in a small group, where you help each other address the challenges the book raises (it even has group discussion questions to help you).
This book is unique – it addresses issues & concepts in a very readable way. The title is accurate – everything must change ….

3. Christmas Challenge – this Christmas, can we (you, I) care for the poor as much as we do for the rich? Is it possible for us to spend as much on the poor at Christmas as we do on the rich? (our selves, friends & family) ….
We Jesus-followers are called to love the poor, give to the needy who can’t repay etc etc …. (If you’re not convinced about this, let me know & I can point you to the multitude of Bible verses on this topic)
Can you / we / I … spend as much on helping the poor this Christmas as we spend on giving to the rich.
OR … if you / we / I don’t have enough $ to do it that way around, what about trying to only spend as much on the rich as we’ve already spent on the poor ….. (ie give to the poor first …)
As we celebrate Christmas, which is typically linked to over-eating & indulgence, can we remember, AND do something about, the people starving in the world, including the 30,000 children that die of starvation every day (including Christmas day).
Personally, we’ve been trying to move further that way … our children & relatives are getting used to being given goats & pigs & toilets & orchards for Christmas (we gave our son John a ‘john’ (toilet) J )… through the gifts for the poor programs of World Vision & Tear Fund … a couple of years ago my mother-in-law said the goat she was given was the best present she received (she got a photo of a goat which was given to a poor family somewhere) – she now looks forward to something similar each year.
At the end of the Christmas season last year, Margaret (my wonderful wife) said ‘so how did we personally do’? We sat down & did the sums, & figured we needed to give a bit more money away … & then we had managed to meet this challenge (to care for the poor as much as we do for the rich, at Christmas).
Please – join us for this challenge this Christmas – for the sake of the poor & hungry, and for the sake of our own souls. (resisting the ‘gods of materialism & consumerism)
… have a good week … & a good Christmas
Blessings
David Allis

Followup re ‘Ex’ & the Poor

Thanks for the encouraging feedback regarding my last email … particularly
1. my now being an ex-Apostolic, ex-minister &
2. the challenge to love the poor this Christmas

FYI – here is some of the feedback (with a couple of comments from me in pink)

1. Re ‘EX’

– speaking as an ex-Baptist, ‘ex’ is a good badge to wear

– Congratulations on your new – but hardly surprising – status as an ex-apo ex-minister…! They used the A word (alignment) on us when they gave us the ex (or is it axe)… It’s not a smart move from their side. Kudos to the Baptists who will at least engage with you…

– Perhaps you were just to ex-citing, ex-treme, and ex-uberant for the denominational heads at apostolic. J

– It’s a great pity that more support and encouragement is not given to those who take “Apostolic Initiative” and investigate and experiment outside of existing models and structures, particularly if they – (as you do) seek biblical support for what they are doing.. Has anything changed since Martin Luther – maybe we have just become more refined in how we exclude people.

– Congratulations on gaining the great Ex factor! I suspect it was always going to happen. I am not sure you can challenge the status quo and win without having to start again. Even Jesus found that out the hard way. There are too many vested interests to overcome. Anyway, you lasted much longer than I did, so well done.

– There was obviously some disquiet with the national leader (whoever it was) and a reluctance to accommodate different ways of doing things. It doesn’t bode well for others of us who want to reinvent the way we do church, does it?

– I find the question asked of you interesting – ‘why are you still in the Apos Movement – with your obviously different values etc’. I’m going to be naughty here in asking this but what ‘values’ do you think you have that are different to the Apo Movement? I would have thought that the issue is model or style rather than values… but I could be wrong & often am!
(NOTE – he is usually right, but wrong on this particular thing. At its heart it is a values issue, rather than a model/structure/style issue. I initially thought the house church thing was a structural difference …. but soon came to realise that structure is less important than values – as Churchill said “we shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us”. Hence, for organised churches, there are limitations to how much they can change their values because of the constraints of their structures…… more on this topic another day – David)

– You will never be an ex-minister

– Isn’t Jesus absolutely wonderful. Looks like even more exciting times are headed your way as you continue your journey as an “ex”. Don’t know if you have come across the web-site http://www.thegodjourney.com/ but it is well worth a visit. Lots of fellow “ex’s” to share thoughts and experiences with.
(NOTE – this is a good site – worth looking at. David)

2. The Poor

– Appreciate your Christmas challenge.

– We don’t do presents much anyway. Part of the reason we left institutional church is we wnat to give direct to the “poor” via world vision (long term contributors) and Habibtat for Humanity (the latter in our time and finance locally) instead of paying to repaint the church roof and replace leaky windows and maintain the building….. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a guerilla fighter and now my dream has come true. We are a small platoon and we are now on the move!!!!!!

– As for Christmas, I actually think the tide is beginning to turn just a little. Instead of us Christians wining on about the commercialism of Christmas while continuing to spend like everyone else, I am noticing some growing momentum among people to give in the way you’ve outlined. (We) hardly want to be considered paragons of virtue on this count, but the pact that we made at the start of our married life not to give each other Christmas presents but instead to give money away, is something we’ve never regretted and it helps us gain some balance to living in extended families where the value of doing this may not be universally shared or accepted. We too aim to give away more than we spend on the Christmas event. That way we keep things in perspective and at least have a better chance of experiencing the real Christmas.

We can change the world … if we want to

I’ve been reflecting on some things over the past couple of months relating to poverty in the world … every day 35,000 people die from starvation – they will die today, and another 35,000 will die tomorrow, & so on … until some people do something about it …..

A few days before Christmas (last year), I suggested in ‘ideas from the edge’ that Christmas was a great time to remember Jesus, friends & family, & the POOR.

I had been reading “Exiles” by Michael Frost (I still haven’t finished it – I get distracted by books like “When Bad Christians Happen To Good People” J .. a book worth looking at just for the title).

Mike Frost in Exiles says that every culture has ‘gods’, whether they are overt or hidden. He suggests (I agree) that one of the main ‘gods’ in the west is materialism (& selfishness) … he says we need to confront / challenge this ‘god’ … particularly by living counter-culturally. We ‘rich’ Christians are typically as rich & materialistic as the ‘not-yet-christians’ around us … or at least there aren’t overt, highly visible differences between us ….

Could you spot who are the Christians in NZ / US / UK society by only looking at their use of $, spending on themselves, the poor etc???? … I suggest that this would be very difficult … as typically ‘we’ aren’t much different (apart from possibly giving $ to our organised church, which spends typically 90% on providing wonderful ‘services’ for our own use – a bit like golfers paying to be part of the golf club etc) … we’re not radically counter-cultural enough to draw the world’s attention to our different allegiance & values …

So … just before Christmas I offered a challenge (for us all) “…. for christians who are called to love the poor, give to the needy who can’t repay etc etc …. Can you / we / I … spend as much on helping the poor this Christmas as we spend on giving to the rich (our selves, friends & family) …. OR … if you / we / I don’t have enough $ to do it that way around, what about trying to only spend as much on the rich as we’ve already spent on the poor ….. (ie give to the poor first …)

A friend came back to me re this & said … ‘thank you very much – a good challenge – but it would be better if it came with more warning/time, rather than just a few days before Christmas .. as they had already spent their Christmas $. He had a good point … so I thought I’d issue the challenge again, with a bit more warning, for Christmas …. (10 months warning … remember its only 310 days to Christmas … J )

Is it possible for us to care for the poor as much as we do for the rich? Is it possible for us to spend as much on the poor at Christmas as we do on the rich? Personally, we’ve been trying to move further that way … our children & relatives are getting used to being given goats & pigs & toilets & orchards for Christmas … through the gifts for the poor programs of World Vision & Tear Fund … a couple of years ago my mother-in-law said the goat she was given was the best present she received (she got a photo of a goat which was given to a poor family somewhere) – she now looks forward to something similar each year

In January, Margaret (my wonderful wife) said ‘so how did we personally do’? We sat down & did the sums, & figured we needed to give a bit more money away … & then we had managed to meet the challenge. Maybe the challenge needs to be extended beyond Christmas … is it possible this year to spend as much on the poor as we do on the rich? (on the unnecessary luxury things)

I took 3 of our kids + lots of unicycles to Parachute Music Festival in January (a large Christian music festival). At Parachute, there was a debate on world poverty – I didn’t get to the debate, but recognized one of the debators as a former bible college student I had taught. I bumped into him later & asked how it went, & whether there were any conclusions. He said that one of the conclusions was that poverty couldn’t be stopped in our lifetime. I was surprises, & I’m sure a lot more good things were said in the debate … but I’ve been thinking about this statement ‘poverty can’t be stopped in our lifetime’, & have decided I disagree.

Poverty could be stopped in a year or 2 if everyone in the world decided they would do everything they can to eliminate poverty (including the unjust rulers, billionaires, criminals, ordinary people etc). But if it was only the Christians who focused on it, poverty could easily be eliminated in our lifetime … if all, or lots, of rich Christians decided it was a priority.

But we know it won’t happen (& maybe this is what the debate concluded). WHY – because all christians won’t do it …. Why not – probably for a variety of reasons including selfishness, materialism, lack of understanding of the biblical mandate, different priorities, dualism (ie wrongly thinking that the spiritual & material can be separated, & that the spiritual realm is more important) etc etc

BUT – we can still each, personally, do lots (& lots more) to help the poor.

I had a conversation with another friend who is a minister – we’ve talked lots over the years about the $ spent on churches vs the $ going to help the poor. He argues that if all Christians gave generously to their churches (rather than only the 20% of people who tithe to their church), then there would be plenty of $ left over to help the poor. I disagree … it seems to me that most churches are very good at spending all (or most) of what they get … if the income to a typical local church doubled, it would probably quickly find ways to spend that extra income (on new programs, better equipment, buildings, staff etc etc) … rather than on the poor. As Tom Sine says “Let’s quit kidding ourselves; we even tithe to ourselves. Everthing we put into our churches we take back. We are not, as Bonhoeffer said, ‘the church for others’; we are the church for ourselves.” (as an aside – I am convinced that tithing as it is taught in many churches is biblically inaccurate & wrong)

So .. if a church really cared for the poor, maybe it could give the first part of its income to the poor …. Or what about a church which gave ½ of all income to the poor? Surely actions like this would indicate that the church (church leaders & members) placed priority on the poor.

I met another old friend at Parachute. Following a comment I made about how I love house churches because they are financially cheap to run & hence can potentially free $ for other things (like helping the poor), he said ‘our church is cheap to run – it has a building with no mortgage, & a budget of about $100k pa for 250 people’. Reflecting on this later … I figured that the building is probably worth $1m, & hence could generate about $100k pa income … so the total cost of running the church is about $200k pa (+ volunteer time) … $200k each year could save a lot of lives – I dusted off my calculator & worked out that its enough to start 20 micro-enterprise banks each year, which each make about 350 loans every 3 years, & affect 3000+ lives, & carry on long-term. So my friends church, over 10 years, could potentially spend $2m on itself – or start 200 micro-enterprise banks, making 128,000 loans, affecting 1,100,000 lives … & this would carry on long-term.

We also heard Tony Campolo speak last week – he was great (I’ve only seen him on video before). Part of what he said, as he gave impassioned encouragement to sponsor children, was that its not about generosity, its about justice. We Christians (& others) do generosity well (eg the response to The Tsunami & Hurricane Katrina was great), but we aren’t good at long-term justice issues (eg the 35,000 dying every day). We live in an unjust world, where we are fortunate enough to be the rich ones, and we supposedly serve a God who clearly commands us to give generously to the poor & to work to right injustice.

Tony spoke well, encouraging everyone to sponsor a child. I think he could have pushed people a bit further … if you sponsor one child, why not stretch & take a second one, or if you have 2, why not stretch a bit & sponsor a third. I know of university students on very tight budgets sponsoring 2 children, & high school students earning $6/hr for casual work sponsoring one child … quite a challenge for those of us who earn real wages.

To quote NZ singer Brooke Fraser in her song ‘Albertine’, “Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead”. We have seen – we are responsible – what will we do about it?

Blessings

David Allis

A Christmas Challenge

Greetings.I want to wish you a blessed Christmas …. before I ‘switch off’ until sometime in the New Year. I have more great articles ready to circulate next year, & also ideas for more articles I might write (God & time willing) … on things like “Do Christians need to gather together?” “The problem of ordained/professional ministers” etcChristmas – a great time to remember Jesus, friends & family, & the POOR.I’ve been reading “Exiles” by Michael Frost – a great new book that I highly recommend for Christmas (or 2007) reading …. One of the things he says is that every culture has ‘gods’, whether they are overt or hidden. He suggests (I agree) that one of the main ‘gods’ in the west is materialism (& selfishness) … he says we need to confront / challenge this ‘god’ … particularly by living counter-culturally. We ‘rich’ Christians are typically as rich & materialistic as those ‘non-christians’ around us … or at least there aren’t overt, highly visible differences between us …. Could you spot who are the Christians in NZ / US / UK society by only looking at their use of $, spending on themselves, the poor etc???? … I suggest that this would be very difficult … as typically ‘we’ aren’t much different (apart from possibly giving $ to our organised church, which spends typically 90% on providing wonderful ‘services’ for our own use – a bit like ‘non-christians’ paying to be part of the golf club etc) … we’re not radically counter-cultural enough to draw the world’s attention to our different allegiance & values …Here’s a challenge …. for christians who are called to love the poor, give to the needy who can’t repay etc etc …. Can you / we / I … spend as much on helping the poor this Christmas as we spend on giving to the rich (our selves, friends & family) ….OR … if you / we / I don’t have enough $ to do it that way around, what about trying to only spend as much on the rich as we’ve already spent on the poor ….. (ie give to the poor first …)As we celebrate Christmas, which is typically linked to over-eating & indulgence, can we remember (& do something about) the people starving in the world, including the 30,000 children that die of starvation every day (including Christmas day)

Blessings

David Allis

Giving

Giving By David Allis – written 1999, revised 11/4/06

1. Giving Is An Act of Worship
Both stewardship & giving are acts of worship.
– God is owner of all things. When we give a gift to ministry, it is one way to thank Him for His love & generosity shown to us.
– We are called to worship God with every breath, every ounce of energy, and everything we possess. Our lives should be lived as acts of worship to God, including our stewardship & giving.
· Genesis 28:16-22 Jacob realised that all belongs to God, and used his tithe as a means of worship
· Leviticus 22:17-22, 29 God deserves only the best of what we have to offer
· 1 Cor 10:31 Everything we do (including giving) should be done for the glory of God
· 2 Cor 9:11,12 Our giving results in thanksgiving to God
· Acts 20:35 It is more blessed to give, than to receive

2. Put God First
Do we look after our personal needs first, and then give God a slice of the leftovers? NO!
The first share of what we receive belongs to God, & then we live off the rest.
All of what we have belongs to God. Lk 19:11-27
· Neh 10:3739 God is given the first fruits of all produce
· Prov 3:9,10 Honour God with the first fruits of your wealth
· Matt 19:16-24 If the rich cannot part with their wealth, they are not following Christ

3. Trusting God
One reason God asks us to be stewards & give is to test our willingness to trust Him. Our God who created the universe doesn’t need the 10%, 20% or 100% of His resources that we return to Him. He can get the job done with us or without us, through us or in spite of us. His desire is for us to demonstrate that we are trusting, obedient and faithful in our relationship with Him.
· 1 Kings 17:7-16 The widow of Zarepath provided food for Elijah out of her depleted reserves
· Luke 6:38 The measure you give will be the measure you receive
· 1 Tim 6:17-19 Put your hope in God, not in your possessions & money
· Eccl 5:10 Wealth is meaningless & unsatisfying
· Matt 6:19-34 Seek first the Kingdom of God

4. Stewardship of All God has Given Us
The typical Kiwi attitude is that we are self-sufficient & responsible for all we possess.
The Biblical perspective is different – we are merely overseers of God’s earthly domain, responsible for taking care of His resources until Jesus returns. We are called to be the wise managers of God’s wealth, rather than the creators and consumers of our own wealth.
· Genesis 14:17-24 Abram acknowledged that his victory spoils were a gift from God
· 1 Chron 29:14-18 Everything is God’s. We watch over it for Him. (also Psalm 24:1,2; 50:10-12)
· Luke 16:10-12 He will only trust us with much after we prove ourselves faithful with a little
· 1 Cor 4:2 Paul exhorted those who were being trusted to prove themselves faithful
· 1 Tim 6:6, Phil 4:10-13 Be content with what you have
· Matt 6:24 Master money by serving God with it

5. We Are Commanded To Give
1. Generously Dt 15:7-10; Ps 37:21; Prov 11:24,25; 2 Cor 9:6
2. Secretly Matt 6:1-4
3. Strategically Acts 2:44,45; 4:32-37
4. With Honesty Acts 5:1-11 (Ananias & Saphira)
5. Sacrificially Mk 12:41-44; 2 Cor 8:1-9
6. Joyfully 2 Cor 8:10-12; 9:7
7. Setting an Example 2 Cor 9:1,2,13 (your giving may encourage others to do the same)
8. Investing in the Future 2 Cor 9:6 you reap what you sow – therefore sow bountifully
Matt 6:19-21; 1 Tim 6:18,19 gain treasure in heaven – no moths, rust or thieves
Matt 19:16-24 This life is short, & then we face God
9. To Support Your Local Church (if it is a structured church)
To Build the Kingdom of God Through the Ministry of the Church
Luke 8:2,3; Gal 6:6; 3 John 8; Luke 10:7; 1 Cor 9:9; 1 Tim 5:17-18;
As a wise man once said ‘While you have temples & priests, you need tithes & offerings). It costs money to operate a structured local church – hence church members need to pay for the running costs of that church.
10. To Build the Kingdom of God Matt 6:24,33, 1 Tim 6:6-10, 17-19
11. To The Poor 1 Tim 6:17-19, 2 Cor 9:6-12, Deut 15:11, Lk 12:33, Gal 2:10, Prov 19:17

6. Tithing
· Tithing is the giving of one tenth of your gross income to God. Under Old Testament Law, God’s people were required to give a tithes (10%) of their gross income to God, which went to provide for the Levites (their spiritual leaders). [Gen 14:20; Lev 27:30; Deut 14:22; Neh 10:37-39; Mal 3:8-10]
· Now we are under New Testament grace brought by Jesus. We are no longer under a Law to tithe, but it remains a fundamental biblical principle, and in fact the NT principles go far beyond tithing. (ie tithing is the easy way). All that we have belongs to God (not just the first 10%), and He commands us to give generously (ie much more than just tithing).
· Experience proves that we all need to establish discipline in our lives. Many people have the concept of giving, but without a stated discipline or commitment, in practice they give little.
· Many Christians can testify to the blessing of God, as they have established tithing as the starting place in their giving, with other offerings and gifts given in addition to their tithe.

7. God’s Response
· 2 Kings 4:1-7 God’s blessing for obedience
· Matt 14:14-21 God can multiply the little we have (feeding the 5000)
· 2 Cor 9:6-12 We will always have enough to be generous
· Lk 6:38 Give & you will receive, overflowing amounts

8. Questions to Consider
1. How committed are you to the work of God? Does this commitment extend into all areas of your life?
2. What is youy starting place for giving? ie what regular commitment have/will you make?
3. In Nehemiah 10:39, the Israelites decided “We will not neglect the house of our God”
What does this mean for you?
3. George Barna said “God expects each of us to fund the church generously, He accepts no excuses for stinginess, and our lives are materially affected by our generosity”. Do you agree with this? What are your reasons?