taking the words of Jesus seriously

Recently I reflected upon 5 Church-Types to Probably Avoid. My list (which for the explanation of each point you will need to check out that post as well) was as follows:

1) A church in which “Truth” is the most common word in the vocabulary.

2) A church that is driven by a strong personality… and nothing else.

3) A church that feels more like a social action club and less like a committed worshiping community of Jesus followers.

4) A church that speaks of the “end times” in almost every worship service.

5) A church where the flag is prominently placed in a central location in the sanctuary and where on the Fourth of July they often sing “God bless America.”

Bonus) A church that talks more about the necessity of a submissive woman than looking at modeling our lives after the submissive Christ.

The assumption was that these sorts of churches would be the types to probably avoid if a person were to move to a new city and start the search for a new church home. After digging into each of these church-types, I invited readers to add their own ideas to the list. Many of you spoke of issues like the health and wealth gospel, the guns and constitution loving church, signs and wonders obsessions, and many more. It was fun to watch the conversations happen on the blog itself, Facebook, and Twitter.

As I mentioned in the previous blog as well, I’m in a season where reconstruction seems more fruitful that deconstruction. I’m still passionate about the latter, but want to be cautious not to neglect the former. This post seeks to be the “reconstructive” pairing to the “deconstructive” original article.

Without further ado, here are 5 church-types to probably NOT avoid, but to embrace. These sorts of churches, if you can find them, are the hope of the church – and ultimately – the hope of the world…

1) A church in which “Truth” is embodied in the people, not merely in lists and statements.

Capital T “Truth” is a caution to be sure. This usually carries assumptions of hyper-literalism and a combative posture towards culture (especially politically and scientifically). One example of this approach is embodied in a DVD curriculum set called “The Truth Project” (Focus on the Family) that many churches implemented as Sunday School and small group material. These sorts of churches, if not careful, have a tendency to emphasize lists and statements as the “main thing.”

Related: 5 Women of the Early Church You Should Know

I want to suggest that a healthy alternative to look for in a church is one that first – recognizes that Truth can only be captured within a Person (Jesus) and second – embodies this Person in their shared  personality. We ought to ultimately measure the truth by how it is activated in the life of God’s people. If Jesus is the Temple (as he claims to be in the Gospels) and if we are by extension both the Temple of God and the Body of Christ, then our communities ought look like the “place” where God dwells and the body through which God incarnates. This is truth. Nothing else comes close.

So, if you see a church where you sense that Jesus is unusually present – embodying the person of Truth – then this is probably a church to embrace.

2) A church that is driven by Jesus’ personality – not only the pastor’s.

This second point closely relates to the first, but highlights another point: that personality driven pastoral churches risk being shaped more by a fallible preacher than by the active personality of Jesus: the Holy Spirit. Now, I want to restate that:

I’m not saying that churches with leaders who have strong personalities are all bad. A strong teaching pastor(s) can be a great gift to a church, for instance. When this situation goes wrong is when the “event” becomes more important than justice, community, and peacemaking.

Jesus’ personality, which we engage and are shaped by via the Holy Spirit, is one that constantly sought after those who were left out and burnt out. He saw injustice and named it as wrong and empowered people to live into their full humanity. This happens, for Jesus and for the early church, in the context of community.

Although Jesus was dynamic, oddly enough he split the scene here on earth just when his popularity was about to go to a whole new level. I mean, if you are already popular before rising from the dead, just imagine the momentum you could bring after conquering the grave. Well, Jesus did use that momentum, but not in the way we would want to. Instead of growing a huge organization he inaugurated a Spirit empowered movement that invites others to carry on the work!

So, Jesus’ personality is what we ought to desire as the driving force of any church. Such a community (which may or may not have a “dynamic” pastor/teacher) is probably a church to embrace.

3) A church that sees everything it does as an act of worship in union with Christ – so much so that social action is a natural outcome.

One church to avoid involves one that blurs the lines between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit. What I mean here, to be clear, is a church that seems more like a social action club and less like a worshipping community of the resurrected Christ. To be sure, communities that are not Christian in nature can make amazing strides in the world for loving causes. This point isn’t to degrade their work. However, folks, we are talking about churches!

Here’s what I said in the previous blog post:

When worship/discipleship is divorced from social action – the temptation is individualism. When social action is divorced from worship/discipleship – the temptation is to center our lives on what we do and not who we are in Christ. A church that invites folks to become certain types of people (those formed into Christlikeness) is a church that will have incredible social action.

My conviction is that as our character is transformed, what Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit, ” that we won’t help but live into social action. Justice and worship walk hand in hand. When you find a church that leans into both the inward and outward journey of discipleship, this is a community to probably embrace.

4) A church that speaks about the here and now rather than some Hollywood style Doomsday.

Doomsday is coming! Run for this hills! Or at least, as the old song goes, heed the warning: “I wish we’d all been ready.”

The Scriptures do not speak of a future tribulation as popularly understood (Left Behind, etc.). The “great tribulation” of Mark 13 (and parallels) has to do with something that took place during the generation of Jesus’ hearers – the destruction of the Temple – not our impending future. [Read this paper on Mark 13 or these posts on Revelation] When Jesus comes back it will be GOOD NEWS! Romans 8 breaks this down.

Paul tells us that the “creation waits in eager expectation… [to be] …liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8.19–21). John E. Toews, in the Believers Church Bible Commentary, explains: “Creation and humans share a common fate and destiny – they suffer together, they are renewed or saved and transformed or glorified together.” Whereas the tendency in many escapist views of faith is to believe this world will one day be destroyed to make way for the final spiritual bliss of heaven, the vision of Romans 8 yields hope for this world we inhabit.

Paul continues: “We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free” (v. 22-23 CEB).

Creation is groaning. Christians groan. In fact, the passage goes on to tell us that even the Holy Spirit groans (v. 26). For Christ-followers, the Spirit draws our longings to the final day when our bodies will be resurrected in a healed creation. A day is coming when God will judge evil, and restore our fractured world to be the kind of place where his kingdom is fully present. Heaven will come to earth!

But, this vision isn’t merely for tomorrow, but for the here and now. As the church has “the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest, ” we are invited to groan with the pain of the world and partner with God as though tomorrow’s world has already arrived. Or, to put it another way: “…on earth as it is in heaven.”

A church that sees the return of Christ as the restoration of all things as opposed to “doomsday” – who, compelled by such a vision chooses to partner with God as restorers of their neighborhoods, city, and world – is the sort of church to probably embrace.

5) A church that consciously values being citizens of God’s Kingdom – one that tears down walls rather than oppressively reinforcing them.

God’s Kingdom is one that transcends borders. The tendency of the American Empire and its “dream” is to build up borders. We grow up talking about our unique destiny as a nation over against those poor unfortunate souls who live in other places. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to live here. I love American culture and life in many ways. But, I get uncomfortable with any scenario in which the flag and the cross become strange bedfellows. Some churches give into this sad nationalistic partnership:

Whether it be the glorification of unregulated markets, low taxation, tougher immigration policies, or the need to kill terrorists, these congregations literally see the American flag as (basically) a Christian symbol.

Our nation has a history of pursuing its own interests at the expense of those in other countries and those at the bottom of the American economic food chain. The church often gets lured into a narrative that celebrates such “accomplishments.”

Also by Kurt: If Jesus is a Pansy, I want to be one too!

What if one of the reasons churches exist is to tear down walls rather than build them? Ephesians 2.14 states: “Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.” The work of Jesus is all about bringing groups of people together that are in conflict. Biblical words for this include peace and reconciliation. So, churches that love their American friends, but who equally love their Afghan, Iraqi, African, and Palestinian global neighbors – these are churches to probably not avoid, but to embrace!

So, what are other characteristics of churches that you are compelled to embrace???

Bonus) A church that ordains women. (simple enough, right?… and biblical)

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