I believe God has a special purpose for my life. That is going to involve some sort of ministry, which I believe he will be laying out over the next few years. In order for me to discover that ministry, I need to have an idea of what Christianity should be. I know Christianity at its simplest is a belief in Yeshua (Jesus’ true, Hebrew name), but I want to define it in more detail—looking at how Christianity is supposed to express itself. I’ll look at what it should be as well as what it shouldn’t be.
Teaching Through Dialogue
Yeshua’s teaching as well as the teaching in the early church was dialogue-oriented. People formed relationships and discovered the faith through those relationships. The vast majority of Yeshua’s teachings were conveyed to twelve men, in the course of the normal conversations of life—with each other, with those that followed Yeshua, and sometimes with religious leaders who challenged him.
The early church practiced open, participatory meetings. Anyone could (and did) share. This is seen quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 14. It was clear that the people who came to those meetings each had their own little message to bring—whether through prophecies, songs, tongues, interpretations, or revelations. Paul did place guidelines on sharing; but, those guidelines were not given to hinder or halt the sharing; those guidelines were given to allow the sharing to flow.
The practice of a regularly scheduled monologue by one (or a few) people does not come from Christianity. It comes from Greek rhetoricians, starting in the 2nd century and solidifying its place in Christendom during the 4th century during the reign of Constantine. The Greek rhetoricians taught people how to be amusing speakers. This began to be implemented into a paganized version of Christianity, where a service became the central focus as opposed to the simple fellowship of believers. Most church services now have a similar structure: beginning with music, having some sort of liturgical segment, and ending with the monologue. It’s a pagan formula for a religious ritual; and, no matter how much it’s dressed up in Christian clothing, the dead bones of paganism rot beneath.
As a teacher, I find the sermon the vilest part of the ceremony. It conditions people to be passive—to think there are religious experts and there are those who follow them. It turns people into sheep—not sheep of the Good Shepherd, but sheep to those possessing speaking skills.
One of the most pernicious aspects of the sermon is how it destroys the preacher. Some are charlatans, and this pagan ritual bolsters their power. But, many are good men, who are now seen as the keepers of doctrines and the treasure troves of the wisdoms of life. The pew-goers: seek knowledge from them, as opposed to God’s Word; seek counseling from them, as opposed to counseling from their fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord; and, seek the ways of life from them, as opposed to finding it in the family of believers. The sermon turns the preacher into the central point, replacing Yeshua as the head and God’s empowering Spirit as the quickening agent. It’s a burden that leads to destruction—through mental problems, health issues, spiritual collapse, and social isolation—which, in the worst of cases leads to scandal, burnout, depression, or any early grave. In order for Christianity to thrive, the sermon (as it is currently practiced) must be eliminated.
Practicing God’s Feasts
The early church practiced God’s feasts—those celebrations that were defined in God’s Word. These included: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths. These feasts are object lessons that teach about God and should form the basis of the Christian calendar. It’s also important to note that the Sabbath was originally celebrated on the seventh day (as opposed to the first), and there is no Biblical justification for moving it to the first day of the week. While some may argue it was moved because Yeshua arose on Sunday, history proves otherwise. It was moved when Christianity began to blend with paganism, particularly during the time of Constantine. Sunday was the day people worshipped the sun god. Constantine blended Christianity with the worship of the sun god, a political move to galvanize people.
It was during the time of Constantine that the process of the paganization of Christianity came to full fruition. This process began in the second century and the train of true Christianity completely left its rails during the fourth century. Anything in Christendom that traces its roots to the fourth century should be held in suspicious.
Eliminating Pagan Holidays
One disastrous effect of the blending of Christianity with paganism was a change in the Christian calendar. Pagan celebrations of the sun god were redefined as Easter and Christmas. The Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday; which, as the name implies, was a day to worship the sun god. The Christian calendar became a pagan calendar—another example of trying to drape Christian flesh over the decaying bones of paganism. Christians need to return to God’s calendar.
Reconnecting to the Jewish People
The early church was well connected to the Jewish people. Yeshua was Jewish. Many of the early leaders were Jewish. Many of the early followers were Jewish. Gentiles were being grafted in, but the roots of the tree were Jewish. In God’s spiritual economy, Jews need Gentiles, and Gentiles need Jews. True Christianity needs a special, spiritual connectedness to the Jews—to the people, to the land, and to the Old Testament feasts.
Jewishness is more than just a people, land, or set of feasts. Biblical Jewishness involves a unique way of thinking that is rooted in the Old Testament. It’s grounded in a pictorial way of viewing things—quite evident in all the stories, analogies, and feasts in the Tanakh. Biblical Jewish thought is grounded in things that can be touched, tasted, felt, heard, or seen. Biblical Jewish thought is relational, seeing an interconnectedness between people and their God. Biblical Jewish thought views history through a cyclical lens, seeing that since God is unchanging, there are strong similarities between how he operates in different periods of time. So, an understanding of the past gives an understanding of the present and future. Biblical Jewish thought is harvest focused—meaning, there is a focus on processes with faith that right actions lead to right results (planting seeds with the belief God will bring the harvest).
Eliminating the Greek Roots
Over time, the church left it’s Jewish roots and became Greek. The paganized version of Christianity that took shape between the second and fourth centuries (and beyond) became an enemy of the Jewish people—committing bloody atrocities, going as far as violent persecutions and the murdering of children. Bloodshed has driven a wedge between Christians and Jews, and Christians need to undo that wedge—both with honest admissions of our mistakes and with a compassion only God can supply.
The Greek version of Christianity is built on a different philosophical foundation than Biblical Jewish thought. Biblical Jewish thought is grounded in the concrete; Greek thought is theoretical. Biblical Jewish thought is relational and interconnected; Greek thought carves things into categories and catalogs ideas. Biblical Jewish thought sees the cyclical nature of history; Greek thought sees distinct events and personalities. Biblical Jewish thought is focused on society; Greek thought lifts up the individual. Biblical Jewish thought focuses on following the right actions, having faith they will lead to the proper outcomes; Greek thought focuses on outcomes, trying to mold people and processes to those ends, and ends up following an ends-justify-the-means approach. Biblical Jewish thought focuses on divine provident; Greek thought follows manifest destiny with divine right flowing from whatever god (whether personal or ideological) the person follows. Biblical Jewish thought is organic; Greek thought is mechanical.
A few analogies may help to give a greater understanding of the vast differences between these two ways of thinking. From the perspective of Biblical Jewish thought, anything (whether an idea, object, event, or person) is viewed like a holistic practitioner would view a part of the body—viewing that one piece in relation to the whole. Greek thinking dissects—like a person performing an autopsy, breaking down the whole into component parts. These two ways of thinking are complete opposites; and, here’s the important point to consider: Biblical Jewish thought is God’s way of thinking; Greek thought is the world’s way of thinking.
The version of Christianity that most believers follow in Western societies is built on a Greek philosophical foundation. In America, Greek thinking dominates our society. It’s the foundation of our government, education system, and our version of Christianity. It’s the foundation of our socialization process. Returning to true Christianity requires more than just changing structures. It requires an entirely new way of thinking—God’s way of thinking!
Time For an Attitude Check
What I’ve discussed so far is shocking to many believers. I am pushing for a completely different version of Christianity than what most are accustom to. I’m familiar with others who have come to similar conclusions. Sometimes when a person comes to similar conclusions, they try to change other believers in improper ways, or with an improper attitude.
What can happen is a person tries to change another like a conqueror—trying to bend another believer to his will. This can involve manipulation, through the denial of fellowship; or, through an attempt to best others in an argument, through some version of mental Judo; or, through some sort of control mechanism, perhaps by using the authority structures already evident in a body of believers. These ways are Greek ways—a manifest destiny attempt to impose one’s will upon another. God’s ways are gentle—through compassion, relationship, and sympathetic dialogue with others. God has used a process that took decades to give me an understanding of these things; and, he’s still in the process of correcting my behavior and thinking. I need to remember to be gentle with other believers, and allow them the freedom to bang their ways through the maze of God’s change without me shoving them into the walls.
The Lord’s Supper as the Foundation of Fellowship
If I had to summarize Christianity into one image, that image would be the Lord’s Supper. By this, I don’t mean the religious ritual of sharing a cracker crumb and shot glass of grape juice. I’m talking about Yeshua sitting down for a meal with his disciples. I’m talking about a family gathering. When Yeshua commanded them to do this in remembrance, I don’t think he was just talking about a loaf of bread and cup of wine. He was talking about the entire evening—the act of getting together with others, talking, sharing a meal, having fellowship, and simply being together. I don’t see a problem with sharing the elements, but not as a ritual—rather, in the larger context of a family meal and evening spent together.
Eliminating Religious Rituals and Services
The practice of Christianity has become so much busyness. We plan and prep—a message, a song, and a liturgy. We sit in rows of pews—our row and our pew. We have programs, and ball games, and missions’ conferences; while Yeshua stands at the door and knocks. He’s not knocking at the door of a sinner’s heart in Revelation 3. He’s knocking at the door of the church! In terms of religious rituals, the only three (besides a celebration of the Biblical feasts) that one could make a Scriptural case for would be baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and foot washing.
Think about your biological brothers and sisters. Have you ever just did something with them—no plans, you just had a chance to hang with each other. Those times can be the dearest. There might be complete silence—particularly if the siblings are brothers. Or, there might be a deep discussion. Or, there might be a meal. Or, you may decide you want to go bowling. During those times, the focus isn’t so much on the activity. It’s on the relationship.
God’s people need to do the same thing. They just need to get together to hang with each other and the Lord—no agendas, no list of activities, no services, and no rituals. Yeshua will bring the agenda. And, as hard as this is to comprehend, sometimes the Creator just wants to hang with the gang. Consider Yeshua’s earthly ministry. He spent about 30,000 hours with his men. We have less than 1% of that recorded. We could conclude the 99% wasn’t significant, but maybe it was! Maybe there wasn’t anything significant to record; but, maybe there’s significance in the insignificant. Maybe what is normative for the Christian life is to spend 99% of our timing just hanging with our Lord. And, maybe the only way that 1% of significance happens is if we allow that 99% to transpire.
I knew my earthly father for about 400,000 hours. But, the amount of time I remember is fragmented—a picture here, a word there, an amusing story, but 99% is lost. But, during that 99%, I was connecting with my dad. I was learning from his spirit. I was feeling his kindness. I was showing kindness to him. We had talks I can’t remember. We caught fish I can’t recall. We played catch with ball gloves that have been lost years ago. But, all those things added up and helped me become the man I am. If the 99% hadn’t been there, the 1% would have never happened. I think one thing my dad cherished more than anything was just hanging with his boys. Maybe God is the same?
Practicing the Priesthood of Believers
In the Old Testament, priests served the function of being a mediator between God and man. They represented man to God and God to man. The people didn’t have a direct connection with God. They had to use a go-between.
In the New Testament, things changed. God became flesh. The disciples had direct access to God. Not long after Yeshua’s ascension, God sent the Holy Spirit. Now, every believer has access to God. There no longer exist two classes: the priestly class and the laity.
The key passage behind this doctrine is found in 1 Peter 2:9, which states, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood”. It’s important to note the word translated “ye” is plural, but the word translated “priesthood” is singular. The language would suggest there aren’t a multitude of priests—each believer becoming their own priest; but, that there is a single priesthood that belongs to the body. This concept is seen in other parts of Scripture including: Romans 12:1, 2, where a plural “you” presents their bodies as a singular sacrifice, and a plural “you” is transformed by the renewing of a singular mind; Philippians 2:2, where a plural you becomes a singular love, shares a singular mind, and shares one spirit; Philippians 1:27, where a plural you stands firm in a singular spirit, and strives with a singular mind, and Ephesians 4:3, where a plural you is keeping a singular spirit. There are many passages that deal with the necessity of unity among believers. The grammatical construction of the plural you becoming a singular one is significant. If I were to say four (or any plural number) becomes one, I’ve either made an error; or, I’m deliberately saying something contrary to normal logic to make a point. What God is doing in these passages is deliberately saying something that defies normal logic and normal grammatical construction to make a point. The plural is supposed to become the singular in the body of Messiah. It’s interesting that God decided to use Greek as the language of the New Testament, because Greek shows a clear distinction between second person singular and second person plural. This distinction is not found in modern English, which uses “you” for both singular and plural.
God is the three that is one; and, believers are supposed to be the many that become one. There is one priesthood and it is a shared priesthood—no longer found in one man or a clergy class. In God’s spiritual economy, every believer has equality.
Let’s take a deeper look at Romans 12:1, 2, because I believe it’s one of the key reasons why the church lacks power. The verses says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Notice, it’s only when the plural you is transformed into the singular mind, that we “may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” I’ve seldom experienced this in a body of believers. I’ve struggled to figure out God’s will. People have prayed for me, but the decision has been up to me—the individual as opposed to being a corporate-one-mind decision. What I’ve experienced is a group of people who share something in common—many spokes rotating around a singular axis, when what I’ve often needed is many cups of water becoming one glass. The priesthood of believers is one of the secrets to unleashing God’s power and God’s will in our lives, and I’ve seldom (if ever) experienced it.
We can’t come to God through an earthly mediator. Yeshua has already done that and torn down the veil. We shouldn’t come to God alone; not that we can’t do that, because God does want that fellowship, but because the priesthood only fully functions when many become one.
The paganized version of Christianity has reinvigorated the old notions of the priest and the commoner. Individuals (with the exception of Yeshua) make lousy priests. An individual comes with an individual agenda—a bowl into which the water of believers should be shaped. God already has a shape in mind, if we’ll all come together and become one body of water. I know the bowl and the water may not be perfect metaphors, but my limited mind can’t come up with a better way of envisioning many things become one.
The paganized version of Christianity has a clear clergy-laity distinction. The clergy is the boss—the head, to use a Biblical term; and the laity is the body. Yeshua is supposed to be the head. I think it’s a failing of human nature, that we tend to view people in over-under relationships—people in hierarchies with some as more important than others. People tend to follow the leader, but in the case of Christianity, the only leader is Yeshua. Anything within Christianity that puts one over another needs to be eliminated. A body can only have one head.
I realize that people look to others for leadership. There are certain qualities that attract followers. The disciples had those quality. And, I have those qualities, so I need to be careful! Yeshua had to teach his disciples the need to actively subjugate themselves—to become an equal by becoming a servant: a process of breaking down people’s conceptions of over-under relationships by taking the position people would commonly consider to be the under. God has chosen some people to lead his people—not from above, but from within. He has given them abilities, such as teaching and pastoring, not so they fill an office of authority, but so they fulfill a function that strengthens others.
Seeking Social Justice
At times, Christians detach from the world. In the worst of cases, Christians look at all the evil of the world and inhabit a bunker mentality. We live in a world where the rich abuse the poor, hunger is rampant, children are abused, elderly are taken advantage of, and the list goes on and on. Our current economic system and business philosophy often operates on a dog-eat-dog philosophy—survival of the fittest, which is just an economic version of Darwinism. Christians need to be engaged in society and seek solutions to injustice. This means they are going to be a political and social force—forming picket lines, engaging in nonviolent protests, standing with the working man, seeking healthcare and education systems that benefit all. The African American Christian community was a huge force for change during the Civil Rights movement. True Christianity needs this type of engagement. Considering the Old Testament prophets, true Christianity demands addressing social issues!
Eliminating Non-participation in Politics
Often preachers won’t take a political stand. It’s not seen as their sphere of influence. As with many of the atrocities of the modern church, this can be traced back to Constantine. During his reign, governmental and ecclesiastical powers became intimately intertwined. The church no longer served the prophetic function of challenging the state, but became a partner with the state—which, over the course of history, has turned out to be a lucrative position. The church became conditioned not to challenge the powers of the state, and this still carries over today—even to those Christian bodies who aren’t intertwined with governmental authority.
Rediscovering God’s Power
God’s people should experience the miraculous. Perhaps this isn’t normative. It might be the 1% rather than the 99%, but it should be present. There should be healings, tongues, prophecies, and words of wisdom. These aren’t things that happened back then, but are no longer meant for today. God is the same now as he was then. I think the rediscovering of God’s power goes back to the priesthood—the many becoming one and the one finding God’s will. The current church is the many led by the few—where a few leaders, religious programs, and a weekly monologue are given centrality. In order for us to rediscover God’s power, all those things must be swept away. We must be content to simply hang with believers and hang with God—simply sharing and enjoying community. When our community begins to reflect his community—when the many become one, just as the three are one, then is when God’s power will be evident.
Eliminating Restrictions on God’s Gifts
In order to maintain doctrinal purity, Christians have dissected the Bible, cataloging its beliefs into creeds and doctrinal statements—particularly during some of the church councils. It’s a very Greek thing to do! These methods of seeking doctrinal purity are grounded on the wrong philosophical foundation. There is a doctrine that is stated. And, there is a doctrine of practice, and that doctrine has left its Hebrew roots. Of course, I’m painting things such as doctrinal statements, creeds, or Christian councils in the most favorable light. In some cases these things were done as a mechanism of control. But, even when done for the most noble of reasons, these efforts are grounded in fear—in the fear that somehow some other believer will get things wrong if we don’t protect them. But, in giving them that protection, we’ve taken on the headship role that only Yeshua can fill. The Word of God and the enlightenment of his Spirit are sufficient to maintain doctrinal purity. This isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional need for accountability or disciplining other believers, because there is; but, that type of accountability isn’t to be codified into a man-made doctrine or procedure. God has already done that and he doesn’t need further help.
When man begins to codify, classify, and catalog doctrine, he begins to determine how God should act. This is particularly true when it comes to the miraculous—whether that is through gifts, healings, or prophetic utterances. Man tends to put God in a box and that box limits the ways God decides to work. God has already put himself inside a box—operating within the guidelines found in Scripture. We should use those guidelines to discern the spirits, helping us figure out when something is from God and when it comes from some other source. What we shouldn’t do is add to those guidelines—through any kind of codified decree, statement, or governing body. That limits God.
Some may argue that what I’m doing in this essay is codifying a doctrinal statement. However, what I’m doing is different. I consider my understanding of Christianity as being fluid. This isn’t a statement that is meant to be imposed upon others, or a final decision on how Scripture is to be viewed and interpreted. This is something I’m putting down in writing to help me as I seek God’s will. It’s a personal document, which I’m putting in writing, because writing helps me in my thinking process. I hope in a few years this document needs revision, because I hope God continues to reveal things to me and correct my understanding.
Meeting From House to House
The early believers met from house to house. There is also some evidence they may have used public places. But, they didn’t build buildings for liturgical or ecclesiastical purposes. Now, isn’t that odd? So much of the life of God for the Jewish people revolved around the temple. It seems the natural thing for the first century believers to do would be to set up places of worship. But, they didn’t, because God was now dwelling with them. They no longer needed the building, so they didn’t give it any focus. This is how God’s people are supposed to function—not focusing on meeting in a building, but simply assembling together; for, wherever believers meet, God is there.
Over time, the church began to follow the surrounding pagans—who did worship their gods in temples. This wasn’t a return to the old ways, but instead a turning towards the ways of the world. Paganized Christianity needed places to meet for their worship rituals.
Redefining the Use of Property
There are no commands stating Christians can’t own or use property. Certainly, God dwells with believers when they assemble, so the need for any kind of temple (church building, auditorium, or whatever) that functions as the meeting place for God is not needed. However, God’s Word does demand Christians seeking social justice—feeding the poor, clothing the homeless, providing shelter for the orphan, or other types of ministering. Some of those purposes do require property. Certainly, building a place of worship that will only be used for Christians to meet with God is unbiblical, because God is already dwelling with his people. Some may argue the need for a building so that God’s people can meet with each other, but in most cases, the bulk of the building serves the unnecessary need of the weekly ritual. And, in most cases, the cost of the building is a financial burden that limits the ability to meet the needs of the surrounding community. I can’t say that in all cases owning a building is wrong. But, I can say that most of the current uses of buildings are primarily for the Christian community for functions that are either counterproductive (such as the weekly ritual and sermon) or could be done in more cost effective ways without the burden of ownership. Christians need to switch the primary use of property to meeting the needs of the world around them.
Christianity has lost its way, becoming a conglomerate of Christian doctrine and pagan practice. The church must get back to its true self. This will involve several things:
· A focus on dialogue and relationship as opposed to a weekly monologue and religious ritual.
· A return to life revolving around God’s calendar as opposed to a pagan calendar.
· A return to our Jewish roots as opposed to Greek philosophy—not just in practice, but changing our ways of thinking.
· A return to fellowshipping around a meal in an organic way as opposed to practicing religious ceremonies and rituals.
· A return to the priesthood of all believers—the many becoming one, as opposed to a clergy and laity class.
· A search for social justice as opposed to hiding from political and social activation.
· A rediscovery of God’s power, realized through the many-becomes-one priesthood as opposed to all the control mechanism man puts in place—such as doctrinal statements, creeds, and councils.
· A return to the simplicity of meeting house to house and in public places, and a conversion of the use of property from meeting Christian needs to meeting the needs of society.
I’m still in the process of figuring all this out. I suspect that process will take at least the rest of my lifetime if not eternity. Christianity has lost its course. It has become a pagan religion focused on ritual, ceremony, and human leadership. It must return to its roots and function organically—as a body with one single head: our Messiah, Yeshua.