Tuesday, July 09, 2019

WHY A NON-DENOMINATIONAL EVANGELICAL CHURCH?


Our small Christian non-profit ministry recently requested and received approval from the IRS to be re-classified as a ‘church’.    
As our primary ministry is hosting two church services weekly, serving as pastor and chaplain to the residents of a large assisted living facility and promoting discipleship through weekly Bible studies, it seemed appropriate. 
As a church our core beliefs and passions led us to align ourselves as an independent “non-denominational" evangelical church.
While there is a great amount of diversity and variety among non-denominational churches—the one likely commonality is they all are embracing a growing trend to not be connected to a denominational structure and stubbornly refuse to be identified by denominational criteria.
My personal stubbornness lies in what I call an aversion to ‘isms.’   Isms’ are an expansion of what likely started as a stated doctrinal belief hopefully based on a Biblical teaching.   However, in time, the ‘ism’ at the end of the name of the doctrine or teaching creates divisions into different, competing and often hostile opposing groups.   While, many of these teachings and beliefs are doctrinally sound, they tend to unnecessarily divide us when Christ and the New Testament is clear that unity of the Body of Christ is the objective.  
Beyond just being stubborn, there are two primary reasons why churches like ours are independent and non-denominational—these reasons are organizational and theological.
1.  Organizational

Denominations tend to become bureaucratic and inwardly focused.  They typically have shown an inability to remain focused on the original vision that created the movement’s vitality.  All too often, the established and traditional methods become more important than the results that are to be achieved.   Methods are a poor substitute for being a part of the true vine that Jesus followers are to cling to.    While there are benefits in tradition, tradition can quickly lead to inflexibility, and the larger the organizational and associated requirements become the greater the opportunity for organizational dysfunction and misdirection.
Many denominational churches have moved to become independent by disconnecting themselves from their denominational underpinnings.   Often, this is accomplished by a simple name change, taking on a generic name that in appearance drops or greatly reduces the denominational baggage.   By maintaining a connection to the denomination, these local churches may find that they can maintain some of the benefits of cooperation and theological training while embracing some of the non-traditional worship, culture and language of the independent churches.  
According to Pew Forum research, most of the largest denominations in the United States reported a decline in membership.   
Interestingly, this same study also found that while Protestants in general saw their share of the US population fall since 2007 (decline of 4.7% from 2007 to 2014), and Catholics also lost approximately 3.1% of their share of the population,  the nondenominational share of the US population grew from 4.5% to 6.2% during the same period.
Declaring a church to be non-denominational by itself doesn’t eliminate the inherent challenges and predictable decline of centralized denominations.  However, when combined with a focus on the primary doctrines of the faith as discussed below, many evangelical, non-denominational churches have thrived and pushed against the trend.
2.  Theological

Non-denominational does not mean undecided or not orthodox in belief.  The vast majority of independent non-denominational churches are also clearly evangelical.  This indicates while non-denominational, there is a common distinctiveness of doctrine.    While there are many that prefer to define evangelicals based on style, political opinions, or by denomination, the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) states that “Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.”

Further, according also to the NAE, many evangelicals choose to not use the word ‘evangelical’ in describing themselves, focusing rather on their core theological beliefs: The faithfulness and authority of the Bible, salvation by grace through faith, the need for a personal relationship with God through Jesus and his death and resurrection, their involvement in evangelism, the desire for discipleship and fellowship and the ultimate return of Jesus Christ.

One of the strengths of the non-denominational, evangelical church is the simplicity of their doctrines.   There is rarely any complex terminology or exhaustive theological explanations but typically a simple reference to a few verses in the Bible.  It can be said that the non-denominational, evangelical church typically majors on the major doctrines of the church and minors on the minors.   For example, the word sacrament can be used to describe their regular communion and baptism rituals without the people becoming ‘sacramentalists.’   The Bible is considered to be faithful in origin as well as transmission without an insistence of any particular translation or edition.  Church services can be rather prescribed or sometimes unpredictable without causing a major breach of an historic ecclesiastical calendar.

As a result, the local pastor is able to build a church that focuses on the primary truths of the Bible, preach the Gospel with clarity and remain in unity with other churches in the community that are considered to all be part of the same Body of Christ.
 
Ultimately, each non-denominational evangelical church will need to grapple with the same issues that the denominational churches have had difficulties with over the years: divorce and remarriage, church governance, church discipline, the roles of women and men in leadership, etc.    The advantage however for these newer non-denominational churches is that they can make even poor decisions without saddling other independent churches with a mandate to go and do likewise. 

Rev. Kenneth Behr (Th.D)                              July 2019


Saturday, June 29, 2019

90 Days to a changed organization


Organizations are often like children.  Some children grow up with great parents who intentionally care for, nurture, protect and guide their children so that they have the right kinds of values, they are able to communicate effectively, and all of the children play well together.  

Some organizations however have absentee parenting.    The organization is started…it could be a business or possibly a non-profit but there is no one setting goals, no instructions, little care for the employees and while jobs get done  (paychecks get sent out), there is little intentionality in direction, or structure.

Fortunately, some leaders become aware of the deficiencies in their organization and change can begin the moment that realization is made.    Intentionality is one of the key factors of success in any organization.  All organizations have cultures that dictate most day-to-day interactions, reporting relationships, responses to challenges and how decisions are made and implemented.    These cultures all too often are coincidental rather than purposeful and organized. 

After the leader or leaders recognize the inherent problem in the organization, the ability to change is dependent upon intentionally building a deep-seated culture that leads and has the opportunity to direct communication, improve processes, create good-will, attract and retain talent, clients and customers.

Here’s a quick 90-day cultural change challenge to any leader, any organization that wants to change their culture:
  1. Many great organizations like Disney, Amazon, Microsoft and Chic Fil A are known for their culture.  It’s not a written statement it is a state of being.  Classically, culture is defined by four parameters:  Values, Language, Symbols & Borders.  The question is, “what kind of culture do the leaders want?”
  2. Starting with the first cultural parameter, values, define the three or four (no more than five) core values the organization WANTS TO be identified with and exemplify.  For example, Disney identifies “Openness, honesty, integrity, courage, respect, diversity, and balance…”  as their core values.
  3. Carefully and very intentionally craft the language and accompanying symbols including slogans, tag lines, logos and colors that support the new values and language.    Eliminate all non-supportive language and symbols.
  4. Launch and then train, reinforce, reward, champion and repeat.

While no culture is stagnant and no core cultural axioms are eternal, the best opportunity for true cultural change is when the senior leaders of the organization are the best advocates for the culture and the rest of the team are cultural carriers. 
  
Remember that the culture-to-be-changed that presently dictates most day-to-day interactions, reporting relationships, responses to challenges and how decisions are made and implemented likely took years to emerge.  It can be changed but that change requires a very intentional 90-day period followed by constant and never-ending support, encouragement and leading by example.

A 90-day period may seem like a short period of time.  However, it is and needs to be seen to be the primary mission during the 90 days.  It is not just a task, nor just a short-term problem to be solved but a transformation that will impact the organizations future.     Great organizations like Disney, Amazon, Microsoft and Chic Fil A are known for their culture and your organization can be as well. 

 ©Kenneth Behr, Xpyria Consulting



Friday, May 24, 2019

"What is repentance and is it required for salvation?”



The concept of repentance is often misunderstood.  While repentance definitely means to feel sorry for a previous action, to decide to reform or change and to ask for forgiveness, the word used in scripture is the Greek term metanoia (Strongs 3341 met-an'-oy-ah), literally “change of mind”.  We can appreciate that the English word repentance paints a much stronger and often more appropriate picture of what we are called to do than the Greek.  However, it’s good to remember that repentance may begin and end with a simple change of mind. 

The best illustration of this is likely the story of the thief on the cross, Many remember that there were two criminals, one on either side of Jesus, being crucified and “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,40 saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
This Gospel account is well known as it is a remarkable story.  The one thief mocking, the other thief confessing to his previous sins and the Son of God promising the miracle of redemption “today you will be with me in paradise.”
However, in the Gospel account of Matthew, in the 27th chapter, we are told that initially both criminals insulted and ridiculed Jesus, …43 He trusts in God. Let God deliver Him now if He wants Him. For He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way, even the robbers who were crucified with Him berated Him. 45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.…
So both began their time on the cross by mocking and cursing at Jesus, as did many of the spectators. So what happened?  What happened was the unadulterated form of repentance, he changed his mind!
There is no record of this one repentant criminal of saying he was sorry, or listing the crimes from worst to least.   The remarkable point of the story is two-fold.  One, that at the 11th hour, likely hours or less from his death, one sinner was able to change his mind, metanoia, and appeal to Jesus.  He was fortunate in that it is actually only Jesus that has the power to take our sins and pay that price in full.  This is why I believe, Jesus later said, “It is finished.”   The work of the cross was and is completely sufficient to bring forgiveness and extend the mercy of God to the most undeserving sinner.
Secondly, Jesus is willing to forgive and restore.  We often make the transformation from condemned sinner to forgiven believer much more problematic and complicated.  Don’t misunderstand my comment here as I am one that teaches and believes that true human repentance that leads to Godly forgiveness results in a forever changed life.  If that ‘good thief’ would have been taken down from the cross and his wounds ultimately healed, he would have been a far different man.  A changed life is always the proof of repentance.  It may begin with a change of mind but always results in a change of life.
As long as someone still has a awareness even if he or she doesn’t show a response and as long as they have the ability to hear the message of the gospel, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lord of Life who died and rose on the third day, and they have the ability to change their mind, they may be saved.   

It’s never too late to hear the gospel, it’s never too late for God to welcome a sinner into paradise.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Have you heard the saying “if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger?   It is similar to the saying “No pain No gain”.   Well believe it or not, that is actually a very Biblical principle.  God uses the difficult times, the pains and the suffering to build us up but just as importantly to help others and to do ministry,    This is exactly what James, the brother of the Lord says, in the first chapter of James, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Jesus never said, "I have come that you should be happy." Actually, God is much more interested in making your life holy than He is in making you happy.    Happiness is fleeting; holiness has eternal value.   No pain, no gain is particularly relevent in building character.  We shouldn't expect that we can avoid pain and suffering as it is inevitable.   Embracing hardship and allowing God to use it to build us up and advance Godly purposes in our life makes us "mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:4)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

When We All Get To Heaven



I've been teaching each Sunday on some of the traditional hymns of the Church and recently had the opportunity to talk about "When We All Get to Heaven,” a Christian hymn written by Eliza Hewitt and met Emily D. Wilson in 1898. Hewitt praises the wondrous love of Jesus:


When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We'll sing and shout the victory

If we are going to talk about ‘getting to heaven’ two sections of scripture immediately come to mind.  The first is 1 Thessalonians 4:16 & 17 
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord."

There is a companion verse as well. Companion verses are often the same wording found elsewhere or a similar recollection or event.   1 Thes 4:16 is a prophetic verse of a future event so a companion prophetic verse speaks to and provides additional insight into the same prophetic event.  That verse is 1 Corinthians 15:51 & 52 

"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, on a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."

So how do we learn from these verses?  

First – notice that in these two verses, the word that is used for those that died by the Apostle Paul is sleep.  The prophet Daniel affirmed that those who “sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake” (Dan. 12:2). This obviously is a reference to the physical body.

Jesus once said to his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I go that I may awake him out of sleep” (Jn. 11:11).

I prefer thinking of the dead as being asleep.   When you sleep you are peaceful.   The anxiety of the day, the stress of life, all of our aches and pains, they disappear in the bliss of a good nights rest.  Yes, sleep is good.
The early church used the same term; they thought of death in the same way.  They even called their burial grounds koimeteria, or “sleeping places,” and from this term derives our modern word, “cemetery,” a place to which the bodies of our loved ones are kept until they awaken.

The term sleep refers to the body….the body is said to be asleep.  It does not say the same about the soul.  We are both SOUL and BODY.  

HOWEVER,  At the same time, we have very little in the BIBLE about what heaven is LIKE PRIOR to this event, that we are reading about in 1 Thes 4:16

Second, in these verses, Does Paul really describe what many call the "rapture"? That word “RAPTURE” has many fans and just as many detractors.  Many look forward to what is called the rapture but may not know where it comes from. Others, may argue that the word "rapture" is nowhere to be found in Scripture.

Well, let me settle that argument once and for all, the word ‘rapture’ is certainly in the Bible, you just have to use the Latin Vulgate version which was the primary Bible translation utilized for one thousand years preceding the Reformation. In our English version we read that we are to be “caught up” which is the English translation of the Greek word harpazo which was translated "rapturo" in the Latin Vulgate that derives the English words "Rapture" or "raptured". Setting aside the argument that the word rapture is not found in modern translations, the more important question is what does the original Greek word harpazo actually mean?

Well, in Greek, harpazo means to snatch up or take suddenly and vehemently, often with violence and speed or quickly and without warning.

So, this teaching of a ‘rapture’ is part of the broader teaching of the second coming of the Lord or what’s know as the Day of the Lord or the END TIMES.
There are many Bible scholars, pastors and teachers and I am included who believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be in two phases. First, Jesus will come for believers, both living and dead, in the “rapture”.  We see that these verses in 1 Thes 4 and 1 Cor 15 that show the transformation and catching up of all Christians, dead or alive, to meet Christ in the air—it will be sudden, and in secret, no one knows the day or the hour and it will be unknown to the world of unbelievers at the time.

I believe that it is amazing event, this removal of a countless millions of people that will usher that which is known as the seven years of tribulation and that at the end of this seven years, Christ will return to the earth with His church, the saints who were raptured along with those that are known as the “Tribulation Saints” (all of them martyrs).   There are many verses that substantiate this second coming including Matthew 24:30, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 1 Peter 1:13, Revelation 1:7, Revelation 19:11-14).

Christ will be victorious over His enemies and will reign on the earth for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:3) with His saints, the church.

THEN After 1,000 years, living unbelievers and the wicked dead now raised to life will be judged at the great white throne judgment. They will then be cast into the lake of fire, while the saved will live forever with Christ in a new heaven and earth (Revelation, chapters 20-22).

The primary teaching of these verses in 1 Thessalonians 4 and also 1 Corinthians 15 is that 1) this event is sure, it will happen just as all other prophecies regarding the first and second coming of Jesus has and will happen 2) it is for God’s people, for those that know Jesus, for the SHEEP of his pasture,  we want to make sure that we are included in that group of true believers and 3) HEAVEN (or what we know of the ultimate heaven) is exclusively a gathering of ALL BELIEVERS of ALL AGES and ONLY BELIEVERS and the Bible teaches that this resurrection is a transformation of the same bodies we had on earth.

This teaching by Paul ends with this encouragement.  18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

The hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven,” by Eliza Hewitt and Emily D. Wilson is one great encouragement as well:

When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We'll sing and shout the victory

While we walk the pilgrim's pathway
Clouds will overspread the sky
But when trav'ling days are over
Not a shadow not a sigh




Thursday, February 07, 2019

Purgatory

Through the Flames…

The official Roman Catholic teaching regarding purgatory is rooted in historical Jewish prayers for the dead. History records that as early as the second and third centuries, Christians often made reference to prayers for the departed. The argument that Catholics, therefore, have historically given for purgatory is “why pray for the dead if there isn’t some benefit in the prayers?”

One of the common scriptures used in connection with this doctrine is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter three, verse fifteen: “If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

It was St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–450) who first used the term purgare in referring to the need for the departed to be purged or cleansed of their sin. While the idea that the Christian departed may still need to be cleansed from their sin was ancient, a place called purgatory was most likely brought into common knowledge by the fourteenth century.

Italian poet Dante, who wrote of the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory in the epic Divine Comedy. Unlike the more modern Roman Catholic teaching regarding purgatory, in the late Middle Ages it was portrayed as a horrible place of torment, punishment, hellfire, despair, and anguish. It became a popular teaching of the church at that time that indulgences would be granted for individuals who were alive as well as those who had died. These indulgences ranged from simple prayers and good works to gifts of money and property. People who gave substantially to build churches and monasteries would receive years of indulgences that could benefit them or departed relatives suffering in purgatory.

By the time of the Reformation, the sale of indulgences had become a major financial boon for the Catholic Church, and a German monk by the name of Johann Tetzel was charged with the task of raising money for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s in Rome. Martin Luther saw the selling of indulgences as not only nonbiblical but another obvious example of the corruption in the Catholic Church, which included the office of the pope. Martin Luther made Johann Tetzel famous—or infamous— because of Tetzel’s nondisputed quote: “As soon as the gold in the casket rings; the rescued soul to heaven springs.”

Today the Roman Catholic Church continues to embrace both purgatory as well as indulgences. However, since the time of the Reformation, when Martin Luther and others strongly objected to the obvious abuses in the church, including the sale of indulgences, the Roman Catholic Church has modified its teachings so that purgatory is not so frightening. It is not thought to be a place of torment but rather a holding place where venial sins or minor transgressions are purged primarily through time as well as by the prayers of others and through the sacrifice of the altar, meaning the saying of a Mass for the departed. The Catholic Church denies that indulgences were ever sold. It claims people thought they were buying the indulgence where in fact they were just making financial contributions, and the church was providing the spiritual merit from their treasury of merit.
text above from pages 99-101 in Purgatory - Chapter 18 of "Roaming Catholics"

Was Peter the first Pope? Should Christians pray the Rosary?  Should priests be married?  These are among the provocative topics addressed in Roaming Catholics: Ending the wandering to embrace the wonder" 

This thoroughly researched book presents the development of the Catholic Church in an engaging way to help Christians understand their common history shared by all.  The apostle Paul referred to the church as the "Body of Christ," not the "Body of Christians."   Rather than Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female he proclaimed we are to be one in Christ. 

Pastor and theologian Kenneth Behr shares his own religious evolution from a Catholic altar boy to an evangelical pastor and engages readers with a parallel story of the evolution of Catholicism. 

Click here to buy (via Amazon) the book

Click here to buy (via Amazon) the study guide;   Study guide is available free via Kindle for Amazon Prime users

Cover_Book.jpg   Cover_Study.jpg

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Being Intentionally Intentional


I always enjoy seeing intentionality.   I think most of us enjoy clarity and intentionality is one of the best ways to communicate clearly.   Over time, intentionality is one of the traits or skills I’ve tried to master.

When I’m talking with organizational leaders, I often suggest that intentionality is one of the key factors of success.  In fact, without being intentional, it’s difficult to even know when you have achieved success.   Over time, I’ve joined the adverb to the adjective and often talk about being ‘Intentionally intentional’.    This is not all that unusual to combine words for emphasas as I’ve I have seen other consultants talking about being committed to commitment or being earnestly earnest just for example.

Intentionality however is the granddaddy of them all. People that are non-intentional go through life just bouncing from one activity to the other and filling their days with activity.   While that is a lazy way to live, it’s a horrible way to lead an organization.

I’ve upset the applecart often, perhaps that is why I do consulting. While “leadership” is in vogue for many good reasons, I remind organizational leaders that great leaders understand that they need managers to be productive and achieve results.   Management is ‘intentional’ about planning, directing, controlling and organizing the company.  

‘Intentionally intentional’ is a skill that once mastered, begins to be useful in so many ways.   Meetings that are meaningful are intentional.  No one wants to attend meetings that have no agenda, no goal, no intentionality.   Organizations that are intentional about everything from monthly sales to product launches to service and process improvements will not only rise quickly to the top of the class but also easily be able to measure the relative success of their efforts.

Here are some suggestions for all leaders:
  • Be more intentional—identify objectives and direction and specify intended results
  • Demonstrate intentionality by staying focused on desired results and being accountable for the results. 
  • Become more intentional in your personal growth.
  • Inspire others to become more intentional. 

‘Intentionally intentional’ is a catchy little phrase that can go a long way into turning regular activities and daily routines into purposeful actions that deliver intended results.

WHY A NON-DENOMINATIONAL EVANGELICAL CHURCH?

Our small Christian non-profit ministry recently requested and received approval from the IRS to be re-classified as a ‘church’.      ...