The book is an examination of many of the problems of the institution that is church from the point of view of an associate pastor (Jake) who meets a stranger (John). It contains a mystery right to the end, and I found some parts of it very funny while others brought tears to my eyes. I won't tell you the mystery, but I would like to collect together some excerpts from the book that I found thought-provoking, to assist those who are thinking about the role of church in the life of Christ. Most of the excerpts are by John, through whom the authors convey most of their discussion of the issues, but a few are by Jake, who is learning. Bold text offers summary ideas.
After excerpts from the chapters, I provide a few comments.
For a more 'serious' (aka. boring) discussion, see my 'new view' of church. But enjoy the following quotations - and maybe purchase the book for yourself.
"The first gathering [of a new-founded fellowship] brought more than eighty people, crammed into a small house. The atmosphere was electric. They decided to get organized, rent a building and hire a pastor. ... And it slowly dies ... They were so distracted by all the work that they soon lost that joy of simply loving Jesus." p.33
"When you realize that the routine you've stumbled into is not substantially contributing to your desire to know God better, some incredible things can happen." p.35
"What I want you to see is that laced through the wonderful things you have here [in the church] is a system of religious obligation that distorts it all. Until you see that, you'll never know what it means to walk with Father." p.47
"Certainly everything else in your life might be based on performance, but not relationship with him. It's not based on what we do, but on what he's done." p.47.
"Can't you see that the trail you're on doesn't go where you've been told it goes? It will make you a good Christian in the eyes of others, but it will not let you know him." p.48.
"He [Jesus] came not to refurbish their religion, but to offer them a relationship." p.49
Children singing "... For the Father up above is looking down in love. So be careful little eyes what you see." ... "It made you feel bad, but feeling bad didn't make you do any better. So intellectually you are still thinking of Father's love, but intuitively you are being distanced from him. That's the worst thing that religion does." p.51
"But aren't we accountable to one another?" "Where did you get that idea?" "It's in the Bible, isn't it?" "Can you show me where?" p.56
"We're not changed by the promises we make to God, but by the promises he makes to us." p.57
"Once you build an institution together, you have to protect it and its assets to be good stewards. It confuses everything. Even love gets redefined as that which protects the institution and unloving as that which does not. It will turn some of the nicest people in the world into raging maniacs ..." p.69
"That's why institutions can only reflect God's love as long as those in it agree on what they're doing." p.70
"The problem with church as you know it ... is that it has become nothing more than mutual accommodation of self-need. Everybody needs something out of it. Some need to lead. Some need to be lead. Some want to teach, others are happy to be the audience. Rather than become an authentic demonstration of God's life and love in the world, it ends up being a group of people who have to protect their turf." p.71
"If you want to live this journey, you have to put honesty above personal experience. It's easy to try to cover things for the good of the institution, but that's a step down a path where God does not reside." p.73
"Why do people go to church, Jake?" "Because we're supposed to have fellowship. We need it to be fed, to stay accountable to others, and to grow in God's life together ..." "So if someone doesn't attend any more, what happens to them?" "They should find another local church and get involved, or they will wither spiritually or fall into error." "Listen to yourself, Jake. You're using words like 'need', 'should' and 'supposed to'. ... Scripture doesn't use the language of need when talking about the vital connection God establishes between believers. Our dependency is in Jesus alone! He's the one we need. He's the one we follow. He's the one God wants us to trust and rely on for everything. When we put the body of Christ in that place we make an idol of it, and you end up wrapped in knots over such a situation." p.74
"We share body life, not because we have to, but because we get to." p.74
"Religious systems. too, have to play the approval game to work." "Is that why I could go from 'rising star' one moment to 'condemned outcast' the next?" p.95
(Jake) "So even though I'm not there I'm still playing that game, aren't I?" (John) "Oh, yes, ... It's a lot easier for you to get out of the system that it is to get the system out of you." p.95
"... some of those people [who snubbed Jake when he left their church] still really care about you. They just don't know how to show it now that you no longer play on their team. They're not bad peole, Jake, just brothers and sisters lost in something that is not as godly as they think it is." p.95
"I love it! It's amazing how easily children see through the game." p.96
"Who you are doesn't change in her [his daughter's] mind because of what others say. She's not playing [that game]." p.96
"But why can't we see how this game is so destructive? Others are being lied to!" "They don't want to see it, Jake. Religious systems prey on people's insecurity. They haven't learned how to live in Father's love, to follow his voice and depend on him. Consequently they can't do anything that might upset their place in the game, or they'll feel lost." p.96
"And part of that training includes marginalizing those who don't go along." p.96
"Institutionalism breeds task-based friendships." p.96
"And as long as you need other people to understand you and to aprove of what you're doing, you are owned by anyone willing to lie about you." p.96
[About setting up a house church after leaving the corrupted church] "'That's why I'm excited about our new house church. We can deal with real issues like this.' I expected him to encourage me to go for it. Instead he just looked at me as if I hadn't heard a word he'd said. It took me a moment to sort out why and then it dawned on me. 'Is this that game, too?' 'It doesn't have to be,' John answered, 'but it could be, the way you're going about it. ... That's what I hear when you call it a great move of God.'" p.97
"Those who treat leaders as if they have some special anointing are the most susceptible to being deceived by them." p.104
"It seems people who assume or who are given the most human authority forget how to say no to their own appetities and desires. It is so easy for any of us to end up serving ourselves when we think we're serving others by keeping an institution functioning." p.104-5
"Any human system will eventually dehumanize the very people ii seeks to serve and those it dehumanizes the most are those who think they lead it." p.105
"But not everyone in a system is given over to the priorities of the system. Many walk inside it without being given over to it. They live in Father's life and graciously help others as he gives them opportunity." p.105
"The groupthink that results from believers who act together out of their fears rather than their trust in Father, will lead to even more disastrous results." p.108
Church leaders often "mistake their own agenda for God's wisdom." p.108
"Because they draw their affirmation from others they'll never stop to question it, even when the hurtful consequences of their actions become obvious." p.108
"It [a new fellowship] started off with a bang, but it's trailed off since then. ... People just aren't committed enough to make it work." "If it needs commitment, maybe you're missing something. ... Hunger ... reality ... God's presence, perhaps. It could be a lot of things, but it you don't sort that out then anythying you do together will not celebrate God's rality, but try to be a substitute for it. ... I've found that when people are discovering what it means to live in Father, they won't need commitment to keep them linked." p.109.
"But don't we learn how to trust him through the body?" "Actually, it works the other way around. Trust doesn't flow out of body life, it flows into it!" p.109
"But what if people don't know how to trust?" "Certainly we can help one another learn to grow in trust, but that growth is the prerequisite for sharing life together, not the fruit of it." p.109
"Embracing the life of Jesus is a lot more like learning to use that fork than it is sitting in meetings. Children will learn the truth as you help them learn to live it." p.117
"He'd gotten into ministry to touch people's lives and ended up as the CEO of an institution he didn't even like." p.118
"If truth were told, the Scriptures tell us very little about how the early church met. It tells us volumes about how they shared his life together. They didn't see the church as a meeting or an institution, but as a family living under Father." p.118
"As long as we see church life as a meeting we'll miss its reality and its depth. ..." "Are you suggesting we not meet?" "No, Marsha, you're missing the point. Meeting together isn't the problem, but it's easy to get stuck in a way of meeting that is artificial and counterproductive." p.118
"We're trying to get from our brothers and sisters what we're not finding in Father himself. That's a recipe for disaster. Nothing we as believers can ever do together will make up for the lack of our own relationship with God." p.118
"... Jake says you are against house churches." "I don't think I've ever said that. ... That isn't how I think. But I did try to get him to think beyond it ..." p.118
"To keep the system working you have to obligate people through commitment or appeal to their ego needs ..." p.121
" ... body life ... grows where we share our common lot as failed human beings and the journey of being transformed by Jesus working in us." p.121
"The self-focus priority of building our group only demonstrates that we've missed the reality of Father's love. When we discover the power of his love we can't hold it to ourselves." p.121
"... body life is not something you can create. It is a gift that Father gives as people grow in his life. Body life isn't rocket science. It is the easiest thing in the world when people are walking with him." p.123
"We thought that when we got church right we'd all have the relationship with God we're looking for." "Just consider you've gotten it backward. No church model will produce God's life in you. It works the other way around. Our life in God, shared together, expresses itself as the church." p.123
"You can tinker with church principles forever and still miss out on what it means to live deeply in Father's love and know how to share it with others." p.123
"I always thought the institution I left wasn't working because it had the wrong principles. I thought we were getting the right ones in place so we could finally experience real church life. ... But you don't see it that way?" "No, I don't. ... you're finding better principles ... But keep in mind that following principles didn't produce their life together [the New Testament believers]." p.120
"How are people going to know how to live in God if someone doesn't show us?" "That's where religion has done the most damage. By making people dependent on its leaders, it has made people passive in their own spiritual growth." p.123
"But won't people who just 'follow Jesus' live independently from the body?" ... "That's the fear I hear all the time, but I don't see it. ... knowing him draws us into that community, not only with God himself, but also with others who know him. It is not our obligation. It's his gift." p.124
"People often put God's name to their own agenda. But don't let that rob you of the reality of living in his [kingdom]." p.133
"There is nothing that distorts ministry more than believing you have to make a living by it. So much of our life in Christ today is corrupted because people want to use ministry to secure their income." p.135
"If you're going to have a meeting to hopefully provide some focus, it will probably turn out to be more distracting than helpful. People will come to the meeting thinking that's their focus and in time it will prove insufficient for that." p.147
"... meetings won't accomplish what you're looking for." p.148
"Jesus said it only takes two or three and he never said anything about having to do it at the same time, same place, same way every week." p.148
"And worship isn't having a song service or prayer time, Marvin. It's living as a daily sacrifice in the life of Jesus, which is letting him demonstrate his reality through you. This is the joy ..." p.148
"Are you saying it's better not to have a meeting where we all share together?" "It's not a matter of what's better. It's a matter of what's real." p.149
"... or some other creative way to let the life of Jesus be known in their culture. ... Try to copy any of them of and you'll find it turns lifeless and empty after the initial excitement of starting something new fades away." p.152
"It made me hungry to know God in a way that it could not fulfill. But it also made me feel that that was my fault. I felt like I didn't understand enough or wasn't working hard enough." p.158
"But then what good are these institutions?" ... "... it's a bit more mixed than that. As you say, good teaching can help plant seeds and groups like this can help make connections between fellow travellers that God can use for years to come. ... Family dynamics of love and compassion will weave themselves amongst the institutional elements and some community will actually happen." " p.159
"In fact, in the first days of a new group forming, the focus is usually on God, not the needs of the instiution. But that usually fades over time as financial pressurs and the desire for routine and order subvert the simplicity of following Jesus." p.159-60
A friend of mine -- an evangelical, charismatic believer -- told me recently, "At one time I stopped going to church. I found I could worship God better in the woods and hills than in church. I had always believed that the purpose of going to church was to worship God, and the behaviour and attitudes of some of the church leaders and other people made it difficult for me to worship God. But then suddenly my view changed: the purpose of going to church is to learn to live with fellow believers -- learning to forgive and love. So I went back to church. And, after a time, I found I would sometimes worship God spontaneously while there."
There is a lot of sense in that. Church being where we learn to live with other believers maybe sums up what Wayne Jacobsen has been saying.
Here are a few immediate comments, which I hope to expand later.
Though I have some questions about the work, I have found it great value, and it puts clearly many issues that are important, and some that I had not thought about.
This page, "http://www.abxn.org/sydwtgt.church.html", is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.
All the quoted excerpts are copyright (c) Wayne Jacobsen, 2006. The rest is copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Part of his www.abxn.org pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Created: 28 November 2017. Last updated: 17 December 2017 comments. 7 January 2018 redid bolds; added friend's testimony.