Wednesday, February 22, 2012

God Did Not Choose You To Be Saved


Believe it or not, Romans 9 through 11 is not at all about God’s choosing you (or not choosing you) for salvation. Instead, Paul has in mind simply the answer to the question, “What about the promises that God made to Israel in the Old Covenant scriptures?”

Those who read Romans 9 incorrectly begin by assuming that there are a finite number of people who are chosen to be saved from the foundation of the world. In their version of election, God has chosen individual people to be saved before they were even born, and consequently he has chosen everyone outside of that elite group for destruction. This is not what scripture teaches, nor is it what Paul has in mind in Romans 9.

If Romans 9 is not a teaching about individual salvation then what is Paul talking about? As I said earlier, Paul is only talking about God’s promises to Israel. So, he begins by making the point that not everyone descended from Abraham by blood is truly Israel. (Romans 9:6) In other words, God’s promises were not ever intended to be for every Jewish person ever born, but only for certain people (Jew or Gentile) who are truly Israel.

God’s promises to Israel were not to every Jewish person. Paul points out that some Jews are faithful to God and some are not. The ones who are faithful to God are indeed Israel and those Jews who are not faithful to God are not Israel.

Paul anticipates an objection to his argument by someone (perhaps a Jew who rejects Christ as Messiah) with the attitude that says, “Who are you to decide that the Jewish people can be separated into two different categories and say that one is Israel and the other is not?” Paul starts at Abraham and points out that, although Abe had several sons, only one of them (Isaac) was the chosen one, the other seven sons were not chosen. That means that seven out of eight sons of Abraham were not the Israel of God. Physical descent from Abraham, therefore, is not what gives anyone status or claim to the promises made to Abraham’s seed. Next, Paul goes on to point out that Isaac had two sons but only one of them was chosen to receive the promise of God (Jacob). The other son, Esau, was not the chosen of God, even though he could legitimately claim to be a son of Abraham.

So, clearly, the scriptures already confirm that within the family of Abraham there are some who are the chosen and some who are not the chosen of God. But, what does it mean to be chosen? Does it have anything to do with salvation? No. Not at all.

To be the chosen of God, or true Israel, was simply to be the person (or people) who would carry the bloodline of the Messiah and therefore the people of promise through whom God would bless the nations.

Again, nowhere in the Old Covenant scriptures do we read that God chose Israel to go to heaven. This is 
not part of the promise or covenant that God made with true Israel. What did God choose Israel for? Israel was chosen to be God’s instrument to bring the Messiah into the world and to preserve the knowledge of God on the Earth. That’s it. Israel had a ministry and a function, not a promise of eternal life.

As in the case of Jacob and Esau, the two twin sons were chosen before they were born by God’s sovereign choice. Chosen to do what? To carry the bloodline of the Messiah. Jacob was chosen of God to carry the promise of God, not to be eternally saved. Esau was not chosen to be damned forever. The Bible does not teach that. Esau and his descendants had just as much opportunity to serve God and to follow Him as anyone else. Certainly, Esau lost his birthright, but nowhere does the Bible suggest that he also lost his salvation. As far as we know Esau and his children did serve God and probably did go to heaven. But this is not the point and this is not what Paul is talking about either.

The election Paul is talking about in Romans 9, 10 and 11, is simply the identity of the Israel to whom God made His promises in the Old Covenant. Paul is clear to point out that not every Jew is truly Israel and to explain how God has the right to choose some Jews to carry the promise and others not to carry the promise. Again, this is not about salvation, simply about being the chosen or not being the chosen of God to carry the promise of God.

So, who is chosen? God has chosen to bless the faithful remnant of Israel. If a Jew has faith in Christ then they are truly Israel. If they are not trusting in God’s messiah, then they are not true Israel.

Using the analogy of the potter and the clay from Jeremiah 18, Paul goes on to explain how the one lump of clay, which is Israel, is divided by God into two lumps. Out of one lump God may choose to make a beautiful sculpture, but out of the other He may choose to make a cup or a bowl. This is God’s prerogative. 

He can chose to divide that lump of clay and to say “this lump I have chosen for blessing and this other lump I have chosen for destruction.”

Again, this is not about salvation but about who is actually the rightful recipient of God’s promises and who is not. God has created two categories; those who are in Christ (true Israel) and everyone else (those who reject Christ).

Who then are the chosen of God? Anyone who is in Christ Jesus. Who is not the chosen of God? Anyone who rejects Christ as Messiah. There are only two categories. As Paul explains so clearly in Galatians chapter 3, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (v.29)

Therefore, God chose Christ before the creation of the Earth.  This is the only individual person chosen by name before the world began. Christ was the Chosen one.  You and I can decide for ourselves if we want to be in Christ or not.  If we chose to be in Christ, then we are the remnant of God and we are true Israel.  If we chose not to be in Christ, or if we reject Him as Messiah, we are not chosen of God and we are not true Israel. “For He chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” (Eph 1:4)

In Romans 11 Paul uses the illustration of the olive tree as an illustration of how some branches are grafted into Christ and how others are cut off. God has always had a faithful remnant. There have always been faithful Jews and Gentiles in the true Israel of God. Anyone who is in Christ, according to Paul, is a child of Abraham and an heir according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)

Do you know what this means? It means that Christ is the Chosen One of God. Not you specifically, unless you are in Christ. If you are in Christ (Ephesians 1) then you are Chosen. God does not choose us to be in Christ, but if we are in Him then we are chosen. Jesus is the Chosen One. Not you. Not me. Only Christ. This why God’s Word says that we are chosen “in Him”, not “chosen to be in Him”.

Salvation is a choice and God leaves that choice up to us. Whether we are Jewish or Gentile, Male or Female, Slave or Free, we can choose Christ or reject Him. God’s choice is Jesus. Our only hope is to be found in Him.

-kg

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

JOIN US FOR MOMENTUM

MOMENTUM: WEST COAST REGIONAL ORGANIC CHURCH CONFERENCE
March 30-31, 2012 at Southland Christian School in Walnut, CA

Facilitators:
Neil Cole (Organic Church)
Ross Rohde (Viral Jesus)
Ken Eastburn (The Well OC)
Bob Sears (The Well OC)
Bill Faris (Homegrown)
Jeanne O'Hair (The Well)‬‬
Keith Giles (This Is My Body:Ekklesia as God Intended)


 
DETAILS:
  • Spend a day and a half in a small group engaging on issues critical to organic church.
  • Meet your personal organic church coach who will continue to provide insight beyond this conference.
  • Interact with other house church practitioners in a conversational environment.
  • Gain tools, insights and resources to plant an organic church in your own home or community.
At Momentum:
  • One facilitator will share insights on our topic and everyone will share their perspectives within their small group.
  • Each small group will have a house church coach who will be available beyond the event to answer questions, provide support and help with the growth and development of your house church.

 

Cost: $99 (includes lunch on Saturday)

REGISTRATION LINK AND CONFERENCE WEBSITE COMING SOON! 

 

 Our Schedule:

*Friday, March 30th, 7pm to 9:30pm
*Saturday, March 31st,  9:00am-6:00 pm

 

Our Topics:  
  • How do you know you're ready to plant a house church?
  • Leadership models in organic church.
  • Dealing with conflict and difficult people.
  • What to do with the children?
  • Planting another church out of your house church.
  • What's wrong with Organic Church?
  • What makes a healthy church?

 

 

Hope to see you on March 30th and 31st at MOMENTUM.
-kg 

 

NEW EBOOK: THE POWER OF WEAKNESS

I've published my first Amazon-exclusive ebook for the Kindle called "The Power of Weakness." It's available for $2.99 at this link>

About The Power of Weakness

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul described an encounter with God that taught him a valuable lesson about humility and perspective.

The author, Keith Giles, explores this Kingdom principal of weakness in the lives of people like Moses, Gideon, Samson, Solomon and even Jesus to help us understand how we can unleash the “power of Christ” in our own lives.

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If you have a Kindle please download the book and read it. If you would, I'd like to ask you to publish your review on the site to share your thoughts.

Thanks,
kg

Monday, February 13, 2012

REVIEW: THIS IS MY BODY BY RAD ZDERO


A REFRESHING LOOK AT GOD’S ORIGINAL DESIGN FOR THE CHURCH


Keith Giles’ book “This Is My Body: Ekklesia As God Intended” is 167 pages long, it has a foreword by well known house church leader Dr. Jon Zens, and it has several pages at the end of recommended resources. Its main premise is that God actually has an original intention for the church, as prophesied in the OT and as described in the NT, which we would do well to consider once again as modern day Christians.


From a scriptural and practical point of view, the book challenges the method and the mentality of the traditional/denominational church system, and calls us all back to God’s original design for Christ’s body.
There are a number of strengths to this work. I found myself metaphorically nodding in agreement on a number of points. It is very easy to read and could be considered almost a “conversational theology” on the house church movement. There are some personal stories, feelings, and thoughts the author gives, rather than just “theory”, which makes it a very accessible and practical book.
Giles provides a generous tone toward the institutional church and those who might disagree with him on some scriptural interpretations. Giles, however, does demonstrate a clear conviction that the New Testament does provide an actual model for the church’s form and function. One thing I found particularly interesting is Giles Old Testament analysis about prophecies concerning the nature of the Church to come, which is something that is almost never discussed in most simple, organic, house church books, which usually stick to the New Testament only. There is also an excellent contrast between what the New Testament church is and is not, as well as an excellent teaching and encouragement of the priesthood of ALL saints. I also appreciated much about his scriptural analysis about local and translocal leadership in the church.
There are several areas, however, I wish could have been addressed better. I felt that Giles’ discussion on several issues was not entirely convincing to me (and sometimes was absent), such as the decision making and organizing role of apostles and elders/pastors/overseers (ex. Acts 15:6,23; 1 Tim 3:4,5), the teaching and rebuking role of leaders (1 Tim 4:11, 5:17; 2 Tim 3:16,17; Titus 2:15), and the need for larger public meetings and cohesive networks of multiple house churches like in Jerusalem in Solomon’s Porch or in Ephesus (ex. Acts 2:41-47, 5:12, 5:42, 20:20).
Also, I felt there was too much fuss made against things like bank accounts, technology, etc, as tools to accomplish the tasks of the church. In light of Giles’ prior role as an ordained denominational pastor, it may be understandable that he is perhaps reacting a little too much to things that remind him of the institution, but in time perhaps he may come to a more moderate view on these items.
Overall, this is a refreshing book on the growing house church movement, it offers some personal and practical insights, it provides a fresh look at the scriptures about the form and function of the church, and it would be a good introductory read to those asking questions about whether God is calling them into this spiritual revolution. I give it at 4 out of 5 stars.
-Rad Zdero 
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RAD ZDERO, author of LETTERS TO THE HOUSE CHURCH MOVEMENT and THE GLOBAL HOUSE CHURCH MOVEMENT , www.scribd.com/rzdero, www.twitter.com/radzdero, www.facebook.com/radzdero
PURCHASE "THIS IS MY BODY" ONLINE FOR $9.99>
DOWNLOAD A FREE EBOOK VERSION FOR NOOK, KINDLE, OR IPAD>

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Is a Statement of Faith Necessary for Unity?


Let’s suppose you have a family in our house church that has been with you for several years. They laugh with you, cry with you, worship with you and serve with you on a daily basis. You’ve heard the Lord speak to you profoundly through these dear people. Their family is part of your family. You cannot imagine being a church without them.

However, imagine now that they do not fully embrace the doctrine of the Trinity. Let’s say they believe that Jesus is God, but that he also takes the form of the Holy Spirit and sometimes the Father. [It’s called the “Jesus Only” or “Oneness” doctrine for those of you who are not familiar with the concept.]

Although they do not agree with you or anyone else in your church family about the Trinity, they also never attempt to argue for their "Jesus Only" view or impose their perspective on anyone else in the church. What do you do? Do you invite them to leave? Do you host an intervention and attempt to show them how wrong they are?

As I was reading Rad Zdero’s latest book, “Letters to the House Church Movement” I found myself asking myself this very question. What would I do? In his book, Zdero provides a specific example of an occasion when he counseled a family to separate themselves from another family they had been serving with for a long time because of just such a difference regarding the Trinity doctrine. But, is that the right thing to do? I’m not so sure.

Also, just this week, Neil Cole published an article at CMA Resources about statements of faith and he included the doctrine of the Trinity at the top of his list of what he calls "Gun to the Head" beliefs

So, let me share with you my thoughts on this idea of formalizing our beliefs into a statement of faith.

First of all, let me affirm that I am a Trinitarian. I do accept the traditional Christian view that God is One being who is revealed in three separate persons as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. However, is this view something that we should use a litmus test for fellowship, or even for salvation in Christ?

Jesus did not seem to believe that it was of utmost importance that the Disciples/Apostles understand the doctrine of the Trinity. If He did, then He did not stress it to them in His teachings anywhere. Also, the Apostles and the NT church did not ever seem to be of the opinion that agreement with this doctrine be the litmus test for salvation. Again, if they did then we should see some very strong teaching in that regard. And we don't.

Yes, I do believe the doctrine of the Trinity, but I also believe that salvation is by Grace, through faith alone in Christ Jesus. That means when an 8 year old girl prays to receive the Christ as Lord and Savior and begins to follow Him, we do not automatically expect her to be capable of explaining the Trinity to anyone. If she fails to explain the Trinity correctly do we proclaim that she is not saved? I wouldn't think so. So, I'm of the opinion that it's better to allow people to grow in their understanding of who Christ is and not dismiss people for not being where I want them to be doctrinally.

I think my response is also tempered by the fact that our house church is made up of people from a wide variety of backgrounds: Baptist, Methodist, Brethren, Charismatic, Presbyterian, Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, Pentecostal, etc.  Because of this wide diversity we have maintained our love for one another and our unity by simply not allowing any particular theological perspective to rise above the over-arching practice of learning how to follow Jesus in our daily lives and how to love Him and love one another as He commands us.

Do we disagree on doctrine? Yes! But not intentionally, and certainly not during our fellowship time together. Exceptions to this rule are few, of course, but in general we try to focus or time on Jesus and allowing His Spirit to lead us. Sometimes our differing perspectives leak out, but in those cases we are all careful to express those differences with grace. For example, one brother in our fellowship is a dispensationalist. I am not. Most of us are not, actually. So, if our perspective of a particular verse is informed by that doctrine we say, "I believe XYZ because of the way I understand these verses ABC." We try to allow for the possibility that we could be wrong, and we allow others to voice their different view if they want to. But, the key is that none of us is attempting to impose our views on anyone else. We share our perspectives openly but we do not divide on those issues - and we never allow those differences to overshadow our time together in Christ.

Everyone is In Process
One way we have come to understand these differences is by acknowledging that "we are all in process" and by that I mean that we all fully admit that there are convictions we hold today that we did not hold five years ago. We also know that the convictions we hold now could change in the next five years. We are all in process, and because of that we have grace for one another and we do not try to harvest green fruit or coerce people to agree with our perspective.

As you might have guessed, our house church does not have any formalized statement of faith. Whenever someone comes to our church and expresses a desire to join with us we simply say, “If you love Jesus and if you’re sincerely trying to follow Him in your daily life, you’re in!” That’s it. If people aren’t comfortable with this, they usually excuse themselves. (And some have, but not because we invited them to leave).

Here's one reason why we have not attempted to write any sort of Statement of Faith for our house church: Historically, every time the Church has tried to bring unity through the writing of doctrines it has always resulted in greater division because some will always disagree with that doctrine. Doctrinal statements have never resulted in increased unity, only increased division. That's why we allow people to grow in their understanding of Christ and of the Scriptures at their own pace.

Olly Olly Oxen Free?
Does that mean there are no standards? Of course not. None of us would allow an outsider, or an insider for that matter, to introduce a teaching that was contrary to clear Biblical truth. For example, if someone came and wanted to convince us that Jesus was a space alien from Alpha Centauri, or the spirit-brother of Lucifer, we would all open our Bibles and demonstrate that Jesus is no such thing. The key, of course, is that none of us attempts to sway anyone else in our group to agree with them.

At a basic level, we believe that the Gospel is fundamentally about transformation, not about information. In other words, we follow Christ and we encourage one another to know Him more, to follow His teachings in our actual, everyday lives, and we work to put His Word into action rather than sit around and argue about it from a theological perspective.

Unity or Division?
I think doctrinal statements divide as equally as they unify. For those who agree, unity. For those who do not, division. But if the church says, "We love Jesus and we're following Him in our daily life." Then all followers of Christ can agree with that and those that don't have no place in the Body, because they are not following Christ.

Even with doctrinal statements, there will always be those who silently disagree but who go along with the program because they don't want to be excluded from the fellowship. You will also eventually discover that although everyone agrees with doctrine X, they don't all see doctrine Y the same way...and now you've got another opportunity to start excluding people and dividing the church.

Our variety of doctrinal backgrounds at our house church hasn't prevented us from "walking together" or serving together or advancing the Gospel together, or serving the poor together, or anything else. If anything, we learn from people who might otherwise be excluded from our fellowship because we welcome anyone who says, "I love Jesus and I am doing my best to follow Him in my daily life by the Grace of God."

I don't know about the rest of you, but I don’t want to be in a church where everyone agrees with me on everything. Homogenization isn't our goal. Following Jesus, putting His teachings into practice and encouraging others to follow Him is.

I'd love to hear your thoughts concerning this.

Peace,

kg

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

REVIEW: LETTERS TO THE HOUSE CHURCH MOVEMENT

I am drowning in books. Literally, I have over 25 books stacked next to my bed. Three new books came in the mail this week. I am overwhelmed with books. Which is why when Rad Zdero’s book, “Letters to the House Church Movement” first dropped into my mailbox I wasn’t eager to crack it open on the spot and devour it in one sitting. You see, I’m drowning in books.


However, once I did start reading Rad’s book I quickly placed all those other books into stand-by mode. Why? Because this book is so practical, and so fascinating, that I had to keep reading to learn more about what God is doing through house churches in his neck of the woods, which incidentally is Toronto, Canada.

The format of the book, as you might have guessed from the title, is a series of letters (always from Zdero’s side of the conversation) to different people and addressing different situations in various house churches within Zdero’s circle of influence. Much like the epistles of Paul or John or Peter in the New Testament, we get to hear how Zdero responds to conflict in the house church, how he deals with church discipline, what he believes about women in the house church, and much, much more.

Zdero has been involved in the house church movement since 1985. That is roughly when I officially entered the ministry and was licensed and ordained as a Southern Baptist minister of the Gospel. But I’ve only been involved in the house church movement for about five years now. So, Zdero’s level of experience is much broader than mine, and so I can understand why some of the ways he deals with things is different from the way I might deal with the same issue. Plus, he’s Canadian. We can’t forget that.

But on a more serious note, one of the things I have always loved about the house church movement from the very beginning was the level of freedom and the variety of expression exhibited across the board. I remember reading Robert and Julia Banks’ “The Church Comes Home” and marveling at how no two house church groups seemed to approach anything the same way. Whether it was communion or baptism or bible teaching or children’s involvement, or whatever, the variety was overwhelming and refreshing to me. And this is what I try to keep in mind as I read Zdero’s book. In some chapters, as when he comments about women in the church for example, I find that I agree with him exactly. When he encourages one couple to break off fellowship with another couple because they disagree on doctrine, I find myself disagreeing sincerely. When he writes to house church members and draws the line in the sand and asks them to commit to certain things or disband their church, I find myself unsure of how I feel about that. But, in all of these things, I have grace and respect for Zdero. One, because he’s my brother in Christ, and two, because as I’ve said many times before, we should not base our fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ on an agreement of doctrine as much as we base it on our common love for Christ and our commitment to love and serve Him.

Frankly, I found myself inserting my own style of leadership into Zdero’s letters at every turn. I found that I could hardly focus on what he was saying to his audience without pausing to ask myself what I might say in the same situation, or how I might respond differently if I were writing a letter to these same people.

I think, on a basic level, Zdero and I are two different kinds of leaders. Whereas he might be more of an Apostolic leader whose calling is to plant many churches and to (as he says in his book), “help spawn the house church movement”, I am more like a guy who heard God call him to plant a specific church where 100 percent of the offering could go to help the poor in our community. There’s nothing wrong with either calling, of course. But understanding our different roles in the Church is helpful (at least to me) in understanding why Zdero and I are different leaders.

Before you get the idea that I disagree with Zdero on some critical level, let me affirm that most of what he counsels people to do in this book is agreeable to me. I do think that it’s important for Churches to develop real community, to be involved in mission outside the four walls, and to practice loving church discipline whenever necessary. We might disagree on “how” to do those things, but we do agree on doing them as best as we can.

Again, Zdero and I agree on many, many more things than we disagree on. I want to make that abundantly clear. This book would make a wonderful contribution to anyone who was curious about how to handle difficulty in a house church setting, how to respond to critics of the house church, and even how to lovingly correct people who are overzealous for all things “house church”.

To be fair, I am probably the most permissive and passive leader I have ever met. Almost no one I know takes such a hands-off approach to leadership as I do. And I don't say that to brag. Maybe I'm too footloose when it comes to these issues? I'm not saying I've got it all figured out. But, if you read Zdero's book you should know that not everything he does is typical of all house church practitioners. The reality is more on the side of variety, as I mentioned earlier.

Much like, “The Church Comes Home” by Robert and Julia Banks, Zdero’s book does provide a nice snapshot of house church life and addresses many typical challenges faced by those who are involved in this movement. What might be missing from Zdero’s book is that variety of experience or perspective found in their book. Due, of course, to the fact that Zdero's book is from his viewpoint only (but then again, my books and articles reflect my bias as well). So, there’s not much you can do about this fact except to listen to what he has to say and weigh it against your own understanding of the Scriptures and decide for yourself what you think.

Either way, Zdero’s book is an enlightening and challenging collection of thoughts from someone who has invested a large portion of his life to the nurturing of others as they follow Christ into deeper community. I highly recommend this book.

-kg
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NOTE: I have asked Rad Zdero to talk with me for an interview about our various perspectives on leadership and house church dynamics. Hopefully this will appear on this blog in the next few weeks.