The Business of the Body

            I was recently given an assignment in my American Lit. class to write an issue analysis paper. For those unfamiliar, I was to relate a personal experience with one of our previous reading assignments. We had discussed Puritanism and I had skipped ahead and read "Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God" by Jonathon Edwards. Recent spiritual revelations sparked the very passionate and poignant (for me) paper I wrote, full of questions, thoughts and words that I've been mulling over in my mind for quite some time now. In retrospect, I nailed the church to the wall and I made no bones about how I feel regarding my affiliation with it....and how I'm finished with the politics, the legalism, and the building. Give me a moment to explain why you're going to find the word “church” in quotations and why I’m pointing my chubby little finger at it: First, the church is the body of Christ, not the building. We don’t go to church, people. We are the church. Second, I was born and raised a Southern Baptist. As a friend always said, “I was there for service nine months before I was born, and I’ve been attending ever since.” I believe the Southern Baptist doctrine; the first songs I learned to sing came straight from the Baptist Hymnal (ie., the Bible set to music), and I was a card carrying member of the Girls in Action. As a leader within my youth group I attended every camp and sang every solo I could get my hands on; which brings me to the second most important point of being a Southern Baptist: choir. I’ve been singing in public since I was 5 years old. Essentially, I’ve been singing for over 25 years, but specifically in the adult choir for almost 20 years, and have sung more solos and high notes for more revival pastors than I can count. This all makes me entitled to talk about just how screwed up the church really is on the inside. Before I say anymore I want to preface my words with the following disclaimer:  I do not believe that all deacons and church leaders fit the descriptions I give. However, I do believe that we are all in some way responsible for the decline of the Body's mission, if only for allowing all that we've allowed. I am in no way, shape or form condemning any one person for the crack in the machine we've created. I’m also not naming local or outer church establishments, nor will I call anyone out with the exception of myself.  This is God’s job, guys. And in the end, I’m just as guilty because I went along with it and believed it for so many years. This is why I'll use the word "WE" in reference to the whodunit. I am still a part of the body, too. But I know that part of my job as a Christian is to bring to light the definition and purpose of the true church. Much of what you'll read below is my issue analysis; however, I felt so strongly about my topic that I added more to it. My 750 word assignment turned into 1900 words and now I'm at almost 3,000 and still going strong. It breaks my heart that I have that many words to support mine and my fellow believers' actions. Again, as hurt as I am by the actions of others, I'm more hurt by my own. I wrote this paper out of anger, remorse, and above all, I wrote it out of love and the passion I have for Christ and His body of believers, in whom my hope rests. If a reader is offended, please let it not be by my words, but rather by the fact that we all as a collective body of believers have failed to conduct ourselves in accordance with God's words to us.

The Business of the Body
            For 31 years I’ve been taught in and out of church that church was not just something one did or was, per se, but a place. A place where I was to be spiritually fed and practice all of the motions taught to me by those that were so high and holy, my only goal in life would consist of me trying to achieve their level of greatness while still forging for their approval. This place was usually constructed of brick and wood and the middle rose to a point, a visual oddity that only supported its title of "church." The point, the steeple, was the symbolic outcry to the world: God lives here. By the way, you won’t find Him anywhere else. If the building didn’t have this particular look, it could not possibly be considered a “church.” There was always a certain type people group inside of this building, clad in plastic smiles and plastic hair, all wearing their finest and toting the largest Bible they could find on their way out of their homes on Sunday morning. Going to church was a practice: Sunday morning services, Sunday evening services, and Wednesday evening service. If I really meant business, I would show up early for fellowship supper before Wednesday’s service. Attendance was and still is part of the calling of a “good Christian.” I was taught to follow all of the rules. The Big Ten were the main rules, but there were also other regulations set in place and it never occurred to me until recently that some, perhaps even the majority of these rules, were not even biblically sound. 

This was where the questions began; this was where the truth of God’s Word came to me, and all I had to do was read it for myself…really read it for myself, not allowing a leader to guide me, but rather allowing God to guide me….which is how walking with God is supposed to be in the first place.

         Amidst all of the chaos that is the modern day church, I was able to climb above the noise of the flesh and find my God and His will for the body with which He blessed His people. I found that legalism and politics entrapped what I am sure was initially meant for God’s glory and the furthering of His kingdom. However, the hierarchical competition that engulfed man’s need for recognition by God and society had caused an uproar in the modern church and an abandonment of the Holy Spirit within it, not because He left, but because we ushered Him out the door.  In reading and discussing Puritanism and its roots during class, I found myself debating the very definition of the present day Southern Baptist church particularly, and its many traditional intricacies; my heart broke when I realized what category my doctrinal and spiritual beliefs had fallen. Southern Baptists may not preach or even believe in Calvinistic theology, but our offensive and judgmental behavior speaks otherwise.
            Once a soul is born again he becomes part of the Body of Christ. The Bible says that there is only one body, but to that body there are many parts (1 Cor. 12:12.) However, no one part is more important than the next (12:4-6). As a collective body, we support each other and hold each other up against the prowling lion that seeks to devour us in the night. We work as a single unit; and though we share one body and mind in Christ, we have different gifts in Him as well that make the body function. For example, some people are gifted in preaching, some singing, some worship, others in missions or even encouraging. Some are teachers while others are patient and lead with quiet spirits. The many gifts that make up the body of Christ are intricately woven together by God to create a single being with Christ as the head.  Man had the proper understanding of his divinely inspired vision in the beginning, but I believe he confused and even perverted God’s plan for the church when he allowed his fleshly desires to rule his heart. For this very reason the Puritans broke free of the Church of England; their mission, as explained by Martin Luther, was to be free in Christ just as God had promised in His word. Luther said, “Neither Pope nor Bishop nor any other man has a right to impose a single syllable of law upon a Christian man without his consent." And as followers of Christ we, too, know that we're not bound by any law, rather we're covered mercifully by grace. (Rom. 6:14) 
         Luther and the Puritans recognized the gospel’s position on traditions and man-made ordinations; but they forgot that they were just as human as the holy fathers that were condemning them. They fell right back into the doctrinal trap they so despised. Because God is not the author of confusion, it’s only logical that worship should be reverent, respectful, and completely focused on Him. However, man with his initially pure intentions took the gospel’s definition of reverence and respect and formed his own idea, one containing the backing of committees, programs, and human traditions, all of which the Bible does not favor. From there came what we now know to be church politics and legalism, a hierarchical organized business that competes against its own for bragging rights and victory laps. This is not what God intended for His beautiful body. Instead, He intended unity and peace in the body, again, with one singular mind and one singular thought.
            I first began to notice the Southern Baptist checklist several years ago. Until then I had been under the assumption that the many ritualistic church routines we practiced as Baptists were all a part of the Christian "process." My questioning of one of these particular practices started my quest for answers that were true to the Word and not a man-made idea.  I asked a question in my adult Sunday School class that probably had never in the history of Southern Baptism been uttered, especially on such holy ground as the Baptist church’s: “Why do we even dress up for church?” The response from a sister in Christ was disheartening: “Because we want to present our best to God,” she answered, very matter-of-factly as if my question was a no-brainer. After a moment of sinking in and a look from my pastor I replied with, “But that’s not in the Bible....” In fact, the Bible tells us that we are but dust and ashes. The only presentation we have to offer is our life, and to offer it as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. (12:1) How does dress code fit into this Biblical equation? God doesn’t need us to “present our best” to Him. In fact, God doesn’t need us at all. He wants us. The creator of the universe, the one who holds all of life and its questions and answers in His mighty hand wants us—we are His most prized possession. What we're wearing will never change this fact. And He doesn’t want just one or a select few of us. He wants all of us. This idea of dress has only slammed the door to accepting the “all” that fall short of God’s glory. (3:23) We pick and choose who we want and don’t want in our local establishments. I imagine the conversations behind closed Sunday school room doors between deacons and ladies’ committees being more like gossip rings in which they fan the flames of the fires started by their tongues in an effort to burn the innocent and scorch the spiritually needy, only readying them for the hell the “chosen” few of the Baptist church have prepared for them if they dare step foot into the freshly vacuumed sanctuary. After all, we do have a certain look about us: cookie-cutter. We are the Stepford church, the Mary Poppins of religion: practically perfect in every way.
         The Puritans wanted freedom of worship and a personal relationship with Christ. Isn’t that what the Gospel is all about? Isn’t that walk with Christ what we preach and value? Through the Holy Spirit’s prompting, Luther opened their eyes to the New Testament and the message within proclaiming that the only direct line to God was through Christ rather than a priest or any other medium for that matter. Their freedom was in Christ, but they failed to see that this freedom and grace that was offered so freely was offered to all, not just the elect. Again, the idea of the predestination of the elect was a modified version of what the Church of England had taught them. In today’s Southern Baptist church we preach that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", but that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." We believe and preach that the gospel is infallible and without error, but we tend to be very picky about those we allow into our holy realm. We have created a tier of sorts with the wealthiest and supposed holiest reigning over it. Fundamentally, we're taking God's grace, tucking it into our name-brand pockets and distributing it how we see fit to whomever we choose. Human, needy soul, child of God….it doesn’t matter who you are. If ya don’t look the part ya don’t get to be in the play. Instead of a church, we’re a country club. You’re not worthy to join. You’re not welcome. You’re not chosen. But we are.

 There it is, folks: the Southern Baptist regime, aka, Calvinism. We’ve become all that we preach against and from what our forefathers escaped. 

        Next, I was presented with ideas of praise and worship. The Bible is unapologetically clear on worship, what is acceptable and what is not. God’s Word talks of raising one’s hands, singing, dancing, the playing of many different musical instruments, and even speaking in tongues as well as exclaiming praise in one’s own language. These are all different gifts that make up the body as well as praise our Creator. However, in the eyes of some, anything that causes another to shift uncomfortably in his or her seat cannot be considered an act of worship but rather a "distraction." This view that the current church poses on the acts of worship and one’s personal praise to his Lord closely resembles the failed Puritanical belief system that worship was to never include music or singing. If the Southern Baptist doctrine is so keen on following the Word of God, we have made a serious mistake in omitting the book of Psalms to fit our definition of what is holy and pleasing to God. In theory, half of the Baptist hymnal is based on the book of Psalms, which makes the Baptist legalistic argument against styles of worship invalid.  
       So many times have I personally been called out for being "too charismatic" when I sing. So many times have I heard "the powers that be" complain about instrumentation and rhythms. All too often I have seen the formation of a committee decide what vote should be put into place to determine a new choir director. Our main concern isn't if the prospect will allow the Holy Spirit to lead him, but what style of music he prefers. If we can nail him on a style, this will box him in with so tight a seal we won't have to worry about him following the Spirit. Thus, he'll be easy to control and manipulate, all with a few dollars. The price of worship is, after all, very high.
        This brings me to money: the battery behind the Baptist machine. Baptists and finances don’t mix. The two are like oil and water. I’ve noticed this as well. For one, we preach that the love of money is the root of all evil. Based on our actions, I often wonder if we actually even believe this portion of the Bible because we certainly don’t adhere to it. But how is that any different from omitting so many other parts we don’t agree with, or even adding so many that are unnecessary? By doing this we also omit Revelations' warning to not add or take away from God’s word. In taking a step back, we’re in essence gossiping about God and what He really said. To be blunt, we’re making up a bunch of crap and calling it "God’s laws."
        As a body we're not called to hoard money. It's not our money to hoard anyway. It belongs to God. Making decisions on His behalf without following His commands concerning how it's distributed is blasphemous. Do we really think we're so superior that our judgment is paramount to that of the Father's? As the body we are to make sure no part is in need. Acts 2:45 says that the church  was so in tune with one another that no one was in need. When we see a portion of our body in need we're to aid it, not turn it away. I have recently heard of boards being created to determine whether or not a family within the "church" is worthy of receiving aid from the rest of the church. I've seen families unable to pay their bills or even buy groceries because they've lost jobs or there has been sickness. Whether we like it or not, money is a necessity, one that is all too often unattainable due to our country's current economic status. Where are people to turn? Their family in Christ would be the logical answer....but by the time they've had to bare their souls and bank accounts to a panel of "judges" who essentially hold  their fate in the palms of their arbitrary hands, the bank has repossessed and the kids are praying for a miracle for mom and dad. People, if our physical body is in need we nourish it. When it's hungry we feed it, when it's thirsty we give it water, when it's tired we rest it. We don't ask for a vote. It's not a very rational way of thinking, is it. When the Body of Christ is in need, we're to provide for those people, not worrying if we're going to run through the church's line of credit and, heaven forbid, not have enough left over for the decorating committee. God promises to provide according to His riches in glory (Phil. 4:19). Our only calling in this area is to trust Him and give to His people. 
        I've talked quite a bit about committees, programs and deacons, but for the sake keeping my already broken heart, at the very least, still beating, I'm only going to address the appointed elephant in the room. I fully believe that deacons are a driving force in the church body.....but this doesn't mean that they're to look down their noses at the rest of the body. In fact, deacons are called to be servants of the body. If there's a need, they're to set an example and jump to providing for that need. There is no holding of the purse strings for deacons. That's a little too close to Judas Iscariot for comfort. And contrary to popular belief, being the chairman of the deacons does not constitute making oneself the CEO of the church body. The only CEO is Christ. Furthermore, the Body isn't a company so why put executives into place? The first deacons in Acts 6 were appointed for benevolence purposes, not business purposes. Essentially, deacons are called for comfort, prayer, support, encouragement, and evangelism. The word deacon comes from the Latin diakonos which means helper. Therefore, deacons are ordained as such for these purposes, which do not include financial purposes, but only spiritual. If a deacon board is adding finances and bodily decisions to its list of activities, that deacon board is nothing but a glorified committee which holds no place in the Body of Christ and certainly doesn't help it. Let's think about this the next time we hold a "business" meeting before Wednesday night's prayer service, led by our deacons. To again quote Martin Luther,"The dioconate is the ministry, not of reading the Gospel or Epistle, as is the present practice, but of distributing the church's aid to the poor." I've known quite a few deacons in my 31 years, and quite a few deacons' wives so I don't want to stereotype. Some of them I consider blessed to know and even more blessed to have been under their guidance. These few men were and are truly God's servants, willing to put their own needs and wants aside for the betterment of the Body. If only every man ordained as a deacon was as much help as these men are/have been.
          We have lost the vision of the Great Commission: to go into all of the world and preach the gospel to all, to live out the love of Christ and to bring the lost to Him. We preach it but we refuse to follow it due to the standards of greatness we have set for the Christian man. In essence, we are too holy and too good to move out of the padded-pew comfort zone we have created for ourselves. The inside of the church building is beautiful and quaint; we know the people who inhabit it and we have no intention of adding someone who may cause distraction in his or her appearance, life, or humanity in general. Instead of acting as a body we form committees and delegate our idea of the so-called "holiest" to make our decisions for us. This power comes with great responsibility; rather than keeping Christ as the head of this power, we take it into our own hands; soon these delegates take charge and the internal struggle between carpet color and the idea of a drum set in the church’s sanctuary becomes the forefront of the church’s mission. Money issues arise and there is no longer a burden to help the needy portions of our body, but instead a burden to move them out of the church’s path in order to keep up appearances in the Southern Baptist community. We simply omit the Gospel as it no longer meets our standards. Furthermore, we refuse to follow most of what the New Testament’s mission says in general. Men have become so spiritually arrogant that they see themselves as the head of the church by setting contradictory rules, deciding how worship and the personal relationship between man and the Father should be conducted, predestinating God’s children, and making church a business rather than cherishing it as the body. Our pastors and our congregation are mere puppets tangled in the strings of legalism and church politics. We have pulled away from the Gospel to which we once so desperately cleaved, and have made a mockery of the body of Christ.


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