Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What mentality shifts must occur for the local church to thrive in the future?

"I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some."
-1 Corinthians 9:22

We all have a mentality, and many times it is unspoken. We view and understand the world through the lenses of our experiences, some good and some bad. Here are a few mentality shifts that faithful local churches must make in order to thrive in the future where the baby busters (those born from 1965-1983) and mosaics (those born from 1984 to 2002) make up the majority of the population.

1. “If you Build it, they will come!”

The movie Field of Dreams is a great flick, but its philosophy does not work in the local church. This has been a predominate mentality over the last fifty years but has not shown the same fruit in the last ten years. Just because you have a big building, doesn’t mean people will fill it. The church is not a brick and mortar building, it is people. Jesus did not come to develop real-estate, he came to save and transform lives!

2. “Ours is a family church!”

This sounds positive and to some degree it is. However surely the church Jesus has built and continues to build should be and must be more than that! Furthermore, when interpreted from within our predominately Western experience or (and assumptions about) the middle-class nuclear family, it can seriously limit – perhaps even damage- our understanding of the mission of the church.

3. “The Church is the guardian of society’s morals!”

This seems hard to disagree with, but it really does come form the assumption that we’re the central religious institution of society, that we have the inherent right to speak with authority into the moral situation. In a post-Christian, post-church, secular culture, the church no longer has that kind of status, legitimacy, and permission in the eyes of our culture. In other words shouting louder at goats because they are acting like goats will not help our witness! This kind of mentality can tend to make Pharisees of us all. Rather than trying to resolve this, we must return to the image of witness and not presume we have the cultural right to correct other people’s morals. We point to Jesus though faithful witness, not prescribed behaviors.

4. Understanding the difference between biblical principle and practice.

This most often takes the form in speech of “We haven’t done it that way before…” Like a ship, which stays in the sea, barnacles can cling to the bottom of the vessel. Some traditions in local churches are extra, but not necessary to smooth sailing. We must be able to see that buildings, Sunday’s service times, programs, order of service, musical style, etc… will change, but the gospel and church remains! When we ask people to adapt to the church culture we are most comfortable with, we are not following the example of Christ and reaching people where they are. Jesus left the comfort of heaven to become a man, live a perfect life and die as a perfect sacrifice in our place. We must never sacrifice our message, but our methods may need to be reconsidered.

5. Moving from Heavy Ministry to Fluid Ministry

From the 1950’s though the 1970’s the cars built were very heavy and not as safe as cars built today. Back in that time, books were written on heavier weight paper, furniture was built heavier, etc…. Today our cars are lighter and designed to take the force of a wreck, and many of us don’t even use a book to read with, but a lightweight phone or tablet for reading books and paper. We are more mobile than ever in our history. Trying to apply how we did ministry during a very “heavy, rigid” culture will not work in a lightweight, mobile fluid culture. We need to think not in terms of “three to thrive” (Sunday Morning, Evening and Wednesday Night), but in terms of building community. With longer drives to and from work, the schools becoming the cultural centers, and more options competing with church time, our churches must learn to be fluid in meeting the lost where they are. This is one reason why cold visits, door-to-door evangelism has struggled with our current culture.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Who are the 144,000 in Revelation 7 and 14?

“Then I looked, and there on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with Him were 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” –Revelation 14:1

When one approaches the book of Revelation, I would encourage you to view this book as an apocalyptic book. Apocalyptic is a type of Biblical writing. To approach this book with a very wooden literal approach, will land you in some hard to prove and to follow interpretations. For example, Revelation chapter 7 opens with four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. No one would argue that this means the earth is flat with four corners. In addition the Bible uses the four winds to describe the judgment of God. We must understand the language John uses is symbolic in nature when speaking of the 144,000.

Many think they are literally Jews, the sons of Israel. That makes good sense since John says they are sons of Israel, and then pauses to list 12,000 from 12 different tribes. However, I believe that it most logically refers to the whole people of God- Jews and Gentiles that are saved. In other words all of us as Christians are part of the 144,000. The reason I hold this views is for the following reasons:

1. Revelation points us to the reality that the church is God’s people instead of ethnic Jews. Revelation 2:9 says that unbeliever Jews are not true Jews but are a synagogue of Satan. Revelation 3:9 is a direct reverse of what we see in in Psalm 86 and Isaiah 49 which says that unbelieving Jews will bow down before Gentile Christians. And Revelation 5:10 calls the church a kingdom of priests, which is what Israel is called in Exodus 19, but this blessing now belongs to the Church. Please note that this does not favor anti-Jewish views, as John was a Jew. All people are made in the image of God and need Jesus Christ! It simply shows that God’s people are those who have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior.

2. Revelation 14:3 describes the 144,000 as those “who had been redeemed from the earth.” This simply means those who are saved, that is all Christians.

3. The listing of tribes in Revelation 7 does not fit with any other listing of the tribes in the Old Testament. They are never listed in this order elsewhere, signifying that it should be read symbolically.

4. 10 of the 12 tribes listed have been lost to history to intermarriage with Gentiles after the northern kingdom was exiled, which would have been true when this book was written.

5. The literary technique used by John as he writes signifies the he speaks symbolically. For example, the same technique is used in Revelation chapter five where John is TOLD that Jesus as lion would conquer, but when he looked he SAW a lamb. It is the same person! In a similar fashion in Revelation 7:4, John hears the number who are sealed, but then in Revelation 7:9, John looks, and sees a great multitude which no one could number! Same literary device/technique that he used in Chapter five. What John HEARD and what John SAW referred to the same reality, but two different perspectives. On the one had, the redeemed are God’s true people: the true Israel of God. On the other hand, they are an uncountable multitude.