Thursday, December 26, 2013

The shocking news behind International Korean Christian Coalition Against Heresy (IKCCAH)

I would not even call it a "shocking truth", lest I rashly judge without an adequate understanding of the background; but I would call it a "shocking news". Popular Korean national newspaper, The Korea Times, in a Korean language article dated 31 January 2012, reported that the International Korean Christian Coalition Against Heresy (IKCCAH), the organization that slandered Pastor Kwang-su Ryu and the Darakbang church*, has been called an anti-Christ organization. The original news article is in Korean, and therefore, hidden from the reading of the majority English readers who have no command of Korean language.

An English translation of the news article in Korea Times (original article URL: http://m.koreatimes.com/article/709926), rendered the article as follow:

‘IKCCAH’, an antichrist organisation?
Published: Jan 31, 2012 (Tue)
Translated by: Kwon In Hyeok
A Korean religious newspaper publisher in America has published an article at the end of last year criticising that ‘International Korean Christian Coalition Against Heresy’ which was formed in Korea is ‘centred in antichrist-like heresy’, and it seems that it will have a great influence on Korean churches in America.

The Christian World, USA  (100 Old York Rd., Suite 3-140, Jenkintown) which is based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, provided a comment on the first page of the article that 'IKCCAH' is "a coalition which consists mainly of the heretics who are frantic and desperate to make heresies" as the article enumerated in detail the heathenism and the problems of Pastor ManPoong Kim (Washington Global Mission Church), the President representing USA in the coalition, and the key members together with pictures (Published by Joel Kang).

Among the figures criticized as heretics by the paper are Pastor HyungTaek Park, the early former President of the coalition, Pastor YongSik Jin, Senior Ordained-Deacon InKyu Lee and Pastor ChangDeok Han, the members of the standing committee, and Pastor SamKyung Choi, the Chairperson. With regards to, especially Pastor SamKyung Choi, this paper published an article titled 'The final arbiter is the one who is picked as the most evil heretic by the Christian Council of Korea'. One Korean pastor in Washington said that the paper being published for 78 times means that if it was issued every week, it is almost being published in the community for 2 years and there is no choice but to take the fact seriously that many Korean churches have viewed the Southern Baptist Churches as a heresy.

IKCCAH has Pastor YoungSun Song (Philippi church) as one of its co-representatives other than Pastor ManPoong Kim, and 87 staffs who are against heresy gathered and participated in the Inaugural assembly which took place last year November in Daerim Methodist Church in Shingil-dong, Seoul.

The paper tried to contact The Christian World, USA, failed to reach it.

This article said that the reason that IKCCAH has been called an anti-Christ or anti-Christ-like organization is because of some very questionable people sitting in the committee, the most notorious of which, is Pastor SamKyung Choi. I am not here for to personally discredit Pastor SamKyung Choi but even a casual background "cut and paste" google search of his name ("SamKyung Choi"or "Choi SamKyung"  최삼경) revealed that he has been called the "most evil heretic" and preaches tritheism.

The Christian Telegraph, in a report dated 4th June 2013, revealed that Pastor SamKyung Choi used to be the president of the Heresy Handling Committee of PCK (The Presbyterian Church of Korea), the biggest denomination in Korea, a member of the Heresy Handling Committee of the Christian Council of Korea(CCK) and the president of Heresy Counseling Center. With those titles he had enormous power and spearhead the attack and passing heretical condemnations. Unfortunately with such great power, he yielded into the temptations of money.

This has bring a lot of bad names to CCK and tarnished the reputation of CCK (just google "Christian Council of Korea" and see the Wikipedia entry, and you will understand what I mean) because of the fabrications of its committee member, Pastor SamKyung Choi. In reality, CCK is a strong affiliate with World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and they held joint thanskgiving ceremony together, and will hold the 2013 WEA General Assembly together, as reported the reputable evangelical Christian news portal in United States, The Christian Post. see article: http://www.christianpost.com/news/world-evangelical-alliance-christian-council-of-korea-hold-joint-thanksgiving-service-62051/)

CCK has since expressed its regret to the poor handling of this matter and be willing to reexamine these false accusations and slanders (see another article in the Christian Telegraph: http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue19779.html)

Also, CCK has then expelled Pastor SamKyung Choi together with all those associated with him such as Pastor Hyungtaek Park and Pastor Yongsik Jin (Reference: http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue19779.html)

Coming back to Pastor SamKyung Choi, according to the report quoted earlier in the Christian Telegraph:

"He (Pastor SamKyung Choi) demanded many churches to donate to his ministry and they had to give him bribes, tens of millions of won to hundreds of millions of won (tens of thousands of US dollars to hundreds of thousands of US dollars). These bribes are now being exposed one by one. Some churches capitulated with him so that he would not make a negative decision capitulated with against their churches and gave him bribes because they were afraid of being embroiled in heretical controversies. But some others that did not give him bribe had to suffer from various difficulties.


Today, to our amazement, Samkyung Choi, such an infamous heresy examiner, is being publicly revealed as a blasphemer and the one who has proffered heretical theory. It has recently been reported that he has passed heretical condemnations on sound and proper churches with various forms of fabricated data. He has threatened many pastors of great churches with distorted and fabricated data indicating heresy in their churches and he shamelessly demanded a great amount of money from them in bribes.

He has his own interpretation of the Bible and always passes judgment and condemnations on all the other pastors and churches that are not in full agreement with his own standards. He also performs reckless and merciless persecutions and threats against those who do not meet demands. With such inappropriate use of power he gained enormous profits and showed all kinds of unrighteous and lawless deeds including conspiracy and collusion to blackmail, factioning, and fabrication with the intent to drive many churches and pastors into the category of heresy. Much of his fabrication and threats have now been publicly revealed in Korea." (Reference: The Christian Telegraph - The Heretical Controversies in Korean Christianity. URL: http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue19877.html)
 
With such a dubious character sitting in the committee of IKCCAH, how could we ever trust the report that slander Darakbang and Rev Kwang-su Ryu? Most Malaysian Christians and churches who join in the band to slander Darakbang and Rev Kwang-su Ryu have no idea what they are getting themselves into. They no idea the can of worms that they are opening, as a result of the intense church politicking in South Korea that undergirds this report. Most Malaysian christians, being a minority population in Malaysia, of a mere ~ 9%, probably cannot comprehend the degree or intensity of church politics that are happening in Korea, but this is the reality of it. Why? Because such politics in Korea involve lots and lots of money through sales of books, curriculum, donations, etc.

The same Christian Telegraph article reports:
"There are approximately 300 different denominations of Christianity that currently exist in Korea. Although they serve one God and read the same Bible, each of them has differences in their interpretation of the Bible and in the doctrine they chose to follow. However, because of these minor differences in interpretation and doctrine, one group, frequently and without due process, has caused a church or a missionary organization to be classified, condemned, and rejected as a heretical sect.

However the greater pity is that they have not been doing it based on biblical grounds, but instead make a scapegoat out of targeted churches or organizations for politically pragmatic purposes. Thus, if you understand how a church is victimized as a political scapegoat, you will also be able to understand how a church is condemned as a heretical sect in the Korean churches.

Many of the mega-sized churches in Korea had increasingly fallen into troubles due to controversial issues of heresy. For example, a church known to have the world’s largest congregation and its Senior Pastor and founder Rev. David Yonggi Cho (formerly known as Paul Yonggi Cho), the Yoido Full Gospel Church (Assemblies of God), has been condemned as being heretic for a long time by many Christian organizations and is still condemned by a few.

It is a matter of fact that the heretical condemnations have been carried out by just a few people within the community of Korean Christian churches. They have been nicknamed “the heresy examiners”. They have been condemning others with their own standards and not by biblical standards....

The churches that were unilaterally condemned as heretic in this way had no chance to defend themselves and were subsequently alienated and abandoned by Korean Christian society. Many suffered from it for a long time. For this reason, many Korean churches accepted the heresy examiners’ requests and their bribes out of fear of also being involved in the controversial disputes" (Reference: http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue19877.html)
Of course, to be fair to IKCCAH, we must not fall into the logical fallacy of argumentum ad hominem. The credibility or non-credibility of the messenger has no absolute bearing on the veracity of the message. Mother Teresa can say 1+1 = 3 and is still wrong, Hitler can say 1+1 = 2 and is still right. In my next post, I will expose the lies and fallacies behind the report, one-by-one.

Note
* For an English translation of the report that accuses Darakbang as heresy, click here:  http://foraletheia.com/?p=48
For the original report in Korea, click here: http://ikccah.org/3084

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What defines a cult?




There are many doctrinal differences between churches but at the very core of it, what defines a cult is whether that particular church believes the sufficiency of the work of Christ on Cross as his/her soteriological basis.

Ravi Zacharias says it well (from minute 4.00 onwards in the video):
"A cult is generally defined as that which claims to be rooted in historic Christianity but has deviated or abandoned the finished work of Christ or compromised on His Person. In strict Christian’s terms, Christ is not sufficient… It is important that we understand that Jesus said we are complete in Him, and we add or subtract, you can give whatever name we want, you are impugning the completed work of Christ on the Cross."
At the conclusion of his talk at minute 7.00, Ravi added:
"To use the term “cult” in a general sense, in a general community, to a general audience, is not a wise way to do it. You use that in a setting of theological debates and dialogues and discussions. When the word is tossed around like that in a public setting, because of all the issues we have with people like Jim Jones and others, it brings baggage with the term that makes it much more than what a mere theological discussion would be. So that’s a term we leave for the classroom, not for a public arena because it says much more than what I think one is intending to say with a statement like that. We need to be wise and be mindful of the implication of a loosely used word. It is a very technical word reserved for a theological discussion around the table or a lecture hall."
I agree with what Ravi said. The term "cult" tossed around, even if used correctly, carries a lot of negative connotations, or "baggage" as he called it; what more, if it is applied wrongly, it causes a lot of stresses, hurt, bitterness, shame and causes unnecessary divisions. 

Witness Lee's Local Church a cult or not a cult? Fuller Theological Seminary and Christian Research Institute say no. What say you?

Many Christians, including Malaysian Christians, are quick and gullible to condemn another christian or church as cult or heretic. Unfortunately many Christians are too rash and use their own standards rather than the Biblical standards. What if, one day, the condemned church or group is found not a cult? Would we be willing to eat humble pie? I might not agree with a lot of doctrinal teachings of a church, but I should be clear what is the definition of cult that I am going to use, what is or are the criteria that I am using? One such church that is often labelled rampantly as cult is the Witness Lee's Local church.  Today, however, although there are still a number of questions on the doctrine of the Local church (see links from GotQuestions.org below) a number of evangelical Christians no longer consider Local Church as a cult.
 Hank Hanegraaff, from the reputable apologetic ministry, Christian Research Institute (CRI) founded by Walter Martin, for example, says in an article titled "We were wrong!" wrote:

This reality began to surface in 2003 when I asked Gretchen Passantino and Elliot Miller, editor-in-chief of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, to join me for a meeting with representatives of Living Stream Ministry. During the meeting I heard stirring affirmations of the very doctrines the local churches allegedly denied. One by one, and in their own words, representatives of the local churches testified to their belief in one God, revealed in three persons who are eternally distinct; to the reality that human beings can never ontologically attain Godhood; and to the fact that they were “only the church” as opposed to being “the only church.”  (Hanegraaff, H. We were wrong! CRI website. Available online at: http://www.equip.org/articles/we-were-wrong/ Accessed 01 October 2013).

In fact, Hanegraaff and Passantino published an e-book, in which, they delineated on the extensive interviews they had with the Local church leaders. This e-book is available at: http://www.contendingforthefaith.com/eBooks/Hanegraaff-Passantino-Fuller.pdf

In January 2006, Fuller Theological Seminary released a two-page statement that basically says:

"Fuller Theological Seminary (Fuller) and leaders from the local churches and its publishing service, Living Stream Ministry (LSM), have recently completed two years of extensive dialog" and that "It is the conclusion of Fuller Theological Seminary that the teachings and practices of the local churches and its members represent the genuine, historical, biblical Christian faith in every essential aspect." (This statement can be obtained from http://www.lctestimony.org/FullerDialogue.html)

S. Michael Houdmann from Gotquestions.org, in an article titled "Are the teachings of Witness Lee and the Local Church biblical?", aptly tells the sources of misunderstanding between Lee's teachings and the Western perception of his teachings:

Regarding Lee’s views on the theological doctrines of God and man, the controversy centers around statements which are “red flags” to evangelicals, particularly those in the West. This is an important factor in this discussion because it appears much of the controversy could have been avoided if only Lee and his followers had made an effort to understand the Western Christian culture into which they were moving. Part of the training of Western missionaries sent to foreign countries is sensitivity to other cultures. Unfortunately, in bringing their doctrines to the West, no effort was made to “Westernize” them, and this was the source of much of the confusion, misunderstandings, and recriminations that resulted. For one thing, Lee’s method of teaching—to make radical statements and then balance them elsewhere in his teachings—proved to be antithetical to the Western idea of “say what you mean and mean what you say.” Lee’s doctrinal statements on the nature of God and the nature of man are perfect examples. In one of his messages, he states, “The traditional explanation of the Trinity is grossly inadequate and borders on tritheism” (Life Messages, p. 164). Naturally, this is enough to inflame Western evangelicals, who proudly affirm the doctrine of the Trinity as it has been passed down from the great theologians of our Western Christian heritage. To judge it to be “grossly inadequate” by Lee raised legitimate concerns about Lee himself. Closer scrutiny of Lee’s teachings elsewhere, however, brings to light that they actually agree with evangelical orthodoxy. (Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/Witness-Lee-local-church.html#ixzz2gRmFzwjN)

From the passage above, 2 lessons can be learned from the Local Church saga

1.    Many of the so-called allegations are in fact due to misunderstandings and lack of sensitivity of the differences of cultures. 

2.    Interviews and open communications help. Through extensive interviews and dialogues a number of confusion in the theology of the Local church has been cleared.

Perhaps we should remember what the Bible says
 "Judge  not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Mat 7:1-2 NKJV).

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
(Eph 4:31 NKJV)


Monday, September 23, 2013

DVD study review: The Tabernacle 6-session DVD, taught by Shawn Barnard





Before I watched these videos in full, I was a little skeptical whether I would actually learn anything new. This is because I have just completed a similar study on the Tabernacle using other resources. I thought to myself, "It's just going to be the same thing repeated and presented in a different way!" How wrong I was! I find Shawn Barnard to be a very passionate teacher, cleverly weaving information into each session in a unique way. He starts with the original context of the Tabernacle and eventually points to its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

In fact, I find this series to be a very rich learning experience indeed. I realized I missed a number of gems that Shawn taught when I watched it the first time, but as I watched it again and again, I began to learn more and more truths about the Tabernacle and how it pointed to Jesus Christ.



Here are just a couple of additional things I learned from Shawn as I watched these videos again:

Session 1 (Exodus 25:8)
I learned that even the idea of building a tabernacle was God's Himself. He took the initiative.
It is indeed a picture of His desire to restore the broken relationship since Adam.
The word "Tabernacle" is from the Hebrew word "miqdash" and it points to the amazing thought that the Almighty God of the whole universe wants to dwell with human beings. This then, as Shawn pointed out, opens my eyes to see the spiritual significance of John 1:14:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled, miqdash) among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  (Joh 1:14 NKJV)

Also, I learned that the only gate to the entrance is at the east side of the Tabernacle (Exodus 27:13-14). And in Genesis, it is at the east side of the Garden of Eden where the Tree of life was. When Adam and Eve sinned against Him, God placed a cherubim at this east of Eden with the flaming swords preventing human beings from returning back to God. In other words, it seems that God is giving a symbolic lesson for us that the key to restore the broken relationship with God is at the east side where humans were first banished from.  Jesus is the only Gate to return to God. Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6 NKJV)

The three tribes camped at the east side also give us insight into God’s desire to restore the broken relationship: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun besides the Levites.

The Levites - the descendants of Levi - performed the priestly duties (1 Chr 15:2; Num 3:6). Aaron and Moses were from the tribe of Levite. Jesus is our ultimate High Priest. He is our Mediator representing us before God the Father. Heb 10:10-12

Numbers 2:3-7 give us information on the other three tribes:
  • Judah - speaks of the origin of the Messiah. Heb 7:14
  • Issachar - performs the burden of a servant like a donkey. Gen 49:14 Jesus is the Perfect Servant - bearing our burden of sin. Mark 10:45;  Phil 2:5-8
  • Zebulun - Gen 49:13 - a haven/refuge/to cover for the weary. Jesus is our refuge Matt 11:28-30

Session 2
Exo 27:1 As the children of Israel walk into the Tabernacle through the gate on the east side, the first structure they would see is the altar of burnt offering.

Altar speaks of the Cross where the Ultimate Sacrifice is placed (Col 1:20). And the sacrifice required was an animal that was perfect, not flawed (Lev 22:22). Jesus is our ultimate sacrifice Heb 9:11-14; Eph 5:2; 1 Peter 1:18-19; John 1:29

Session 4
We are like the lampstand (Exo 25:31), strategically placed to bear the light of Christ (John 8:12) when we are filled with the pure anointing oil. Here, I tend to think that the oil also represents the Holy Spirit (a point which I believe Shawn did not mention in this session). In Luke 4:18, for example, Jesus said that "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach....", just as the oil is on the fire to produce the light.

Session 5
The Hebrew word for "table" in Exo 25:30 where the bread was placed is the word "shulchan" - which is the king's table. It is as if, God the King is inviting us to dine with Him on his table, to feast on the bread. Jesus is this bread of life that sustains us spiritually (John 6:35)
(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this DVD study free from Rose Publishing as part of their products bloggers review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cleaning House: A Mom's Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma


This book is about a specific aspect of parenting problem called entitlement or a me-first syndrome or the narcissism epidermic that is so prevalent among children today. Each chapter focuses on one skill that the author felt her children should learn. To be honest, I actually do not really enjoy reading this book. I find this book to be too long-winded. Nonetheless, there are a few pertinent points that I would like to highlight. I wholeheartedly agree with the author that, in her own words, "In truth, however, my real responsibility as their mother (or father) is to teach, not to handle tasks for them. I need to help these kids tackle tendency toward untidiness (or any other undesirable habit of your child) before it becomes a permanent fixture in their lives. Determined that necessary life lessons will be learned, I decide to stifle my laissez-faire flair and strategize the best way to instigate order, introduce work, and inspire commitment - a real, life-altering commitment. In short, a habit." She allow her children to learn some things by the hard way. For example, she says in the same chapter 1 that she would rarely run to her child's rescue if he stands too near the edge of a height because if she catches him every time he steps off, he will expect her to be there every time.

One of the tips that the author shared, which I find would be helpful is the use of a jar filled with 31 dollar bills and a task that had to be completed every day. If the task wasn't completed and properly, the child would lose a dollar for that day.

The other thing I liked is the chapter on Task 11 - service with a smile. As she says poignantly, the neat thing about people who incorporate service into their daily lives is that either do not talk about or they do it without realizing it as the more they serve, they more they realize it is not serving at all. IT has become a way of life, or a lifestyle. She quotes Martin Luther King JR as saying: "The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'IF I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" Indeed, serving forces our eyes off ourselves. And when eyes are focused outward, inward health is restored.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this e-book free from WaterBrook Press as part of their Blogging for books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Book review: 20,000 Days and Counting The Crash Course For Mastering Your Life Right Now by Robert D. Smith


This little book by Robert Smith is really a common sense book about beating procrastination and start living life as if everyday is a last day for us on earth.  This book reminds us that we are always, very literally, only one step away from dying, from meeting our Creator face to face. Any moment. Any day. Anywhere. Consequently, there is a need to always ask ourselves the question of what is our purpose of life here. As Robert says:
“..... I felt a pressing desire to accomplish these little things—make a phone call, write a letter, research an idea—as soon as they occurred to me. I constantly asked myself, What is important now? What is next? I could never escape those two questions as they spun around in my mind. To this day, those same two questions keep me up late, get me up early, and create a never-ending quest of enormous possibilities and accomplishments. In truth, I never really want to be finished, though I am aware that one day, it will all end. But not yet.”
As Robert alluded that there is no thought that will purge our priorities of worthless and worldly tastes like the thought of our impending death. Daily pondering of the kind of life we would like to look back on when we come to die helps us to re-focus our priorities daily. The thought of imminent death helps clarify our purposes, a rearranging of what really matters. A good example would be testimonies of people having near-death experiences and then making radical changes in their lives.

The Bible says:
  • So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.  (Psa 90:12 NKJV)
  • "LORD, make me to know my end, And what is the measure of my days, That I may know how frail I am. Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my age is as nothing before You; Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Surely every man walks about like a shadow; Surely they busy themselves in vain; He heaps up riches, And does not know who will gather them. (Psa 39:4-6 NKJV)
  • For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow? Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun?  (Ecc 6:12 NKJV)
  • He comes forth like a flower and fades away; He flees like a shadow and does not continue. (Job 14:2 NKJV)
However, the reason why most people are unable to live with this mentality of living as if today is the last day is that it’s tough. It takes discipline, patience, and even courage because it requires you to live in a way that is contrary to how the majority of people around you are living their lives.



Nonetheless, Robert also reminds us that it is the little things that add up to the big picture. Do not wait for impending death to light the fire of action inside yourself. Act today. Start small. There are opportunities hiding in the “day-to-day.”

We may not always feel motivated to live purposefully; however, psychologist William James (as quoted in the book) believed that "we don’t sing because we’re happy; we’re happy because we sing."
Sing while you do something, and infuse it with joy. It beats waiting around for inspiration any day.

Robert listed seven generic reflection questions that we can use regularly to help us focus our priorities regularly:

  1. Whose life am I going to brighten today? 
  2. What three things am I most grateful for today?
  3. What memories am I going to create today?
  4. What challenge am I going to overcome today?
  5. What value am I going to create today?
  6. How much joy can I create for others and myself today?
  7. What life-changing decision(s) am I going to make today?
Bonus Question (just to cover all the bases): What question am I not asking yet today?”


(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this e-book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book review: Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley


In Deep & Wide, author and pastor Andy Stanley identifies some of the key decisions and strategies behind the founding of North Point Community Church in 1995, describing how and why it continues to flourish. Although this book is specifically about the stories of how God worked to propel the movement of the church through the six locations and the 25 strategic partners of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, GA, there are some important principles that Andy laid out that we can all learn regarding church growth, particularly creating church movement that unchurched people love to attend.

In chapter 3, he explains how the word 'church' is really translated from the Greek word 'ekklesia' - which is actually not a religious term, but rather, simply refers to citizens called to gather for civic purposes. An 'ekklesia' was simply a gathering or an assembly of people called out for a specific purpose.'Ekklesia' never referred to a specific place, only a specific gathering.

He then elaborates the historical background of how throughout the years, our concept of church has changed from a specific assembly to become a specific assembly hall! In AD 313, Constantine, soon to be the next Roman emperor, embraced and legalized Christianity in Roman empire. In general, he even legalized freedom of religion. Before this edict, Christianity had been outlawed because Christians insisted that Jesus, not the emperor, was their King. Furthermore, Christians refused to accept any emperor as divine. Consequently the church suffered intense persecution for the first 300 years of its existence, especially during the reigns of emperors Nero, Domitian and Diocletian. Christians were barred from positions of authority, ostracized by their communities and stripped of property.   But with the arrival of Constantine, things began to change.  It all began when Constantine's power grew, tolerance for Christianity grew as well. Then something big happened! Constantine declared himself a Christian. (For a detailed description on how Constantine became a Christian, read http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/rulers/constantine.html). It is as if, after generations of failed attempts to stamp out this Jewish knock-off religion centered around a Galilean carpenter, the emperor himself joined the cult. Suddenly, it became fashionable to be Christian.  Before Constantine's rise to power, Christian worship was relatively informal. Believers met in homes, enjoying what they called "love feasts", the ancient equivalent of a potluck banquet, singing hymns, reading Scriptures, discussed theology, etc.

After Constantine's conversion, powerful people brought their former notions of worship with them as they professed belief in Christ and began influencing Christian communities. Christian worship began to incorporate elements of imperials protocol, including incense, ornate clothing, processionals, choirs, etc. Within a decade, the ekklesia ceased to be a movement. It was no longer an expanding group of people sharing a unique identity and purpose. It has become a location. The Romans called each of these gathering places a basilica, the Latin word used to denote a public building or official meeting place. Gothic (or Germanic) cultures, also influenced by Christianity, used the word kirika, which became kirche, in modern German - the word that means "house of the lord", to refer to any ritual gathering place, Christian or pagan.

The German term kirche and the Greek term ekklesia refer to two very different ideas. A kirche is a location. An ekklesia is a purposeful gathering of people. You can lock the doors of a kirche. Not so with the ekklesia of Jesus. What began as a movement, dedicated to carrying the truth of Jesus Christ to every corner of the world, had become an insider-focused, hierarchical, ritualized institution that bore little resemblance to its origins. This shift led to an era of church history that can only be described as horrific. The atrocities carried out in the name of the church would be considered terrorism by modern standards. Hypocrisy draped itself in priestly robes.

In 1453, the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinopole - the capital of Roman empire. What was seen as a tragic turn of events for the empire turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the true church. As the threat of an Ottoman invasion materialized, Christians scholars fled westward to Europe, carrying with them ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible.

These manuscripts were then picked up by the reformers, especially by a man called John Huss, who were of the conviction that the Bible, not the pope, was to be the church's final authority. This is because at that time, church officials were the only ones who had access to the Bibles - which were a Latin translation called the Vulgate, originally created more than a thousand years earlier! These were either locked up in libraries or chained to the pulpits. As Greek and Hebrew manuscripts found their way into the hands of church reformers, it was decided that they should be translated into a language that common people could read. In 1522 William Tyndale determined to translate the Bible into English. However, finding no support in England, he traveled to Germany, where he completed his translation from the Greek rather than the Latin texts. In 1526, Tyndale began smuggling printed copies of this English Bible into his homeland! Making the Bible available to his countrymen made Tyndale an outlaw in England. Government and church officials plotted to arrest him and try him for heresy.  A tribunal of the Roman empire condemned him as a heretic and turned him over to civil authorities, who bound him to a beam, strangled him with a rope, burned his body and scattered his remains. In other words, "church" officials executed a man for translating and distributing the words of Jesus in a language that adults and children could actually read and understand.  Thanks to the courage of men like Tyndale, Huss, Luther and others, the ekklesia of Jesus became a movement once again through the Protestant reformation.

In chapter four, he talks about a church for church people vs church for unchurched people. However, the corollary of being a church for unchurched people was that we had a tendency to be against everything unchurched people were for. We were against just about everything at one time or another. We were against certain genres of music, alcohol, gay people, etc. But, asked Andy, who is the church really for? Who gets to participate? How good do you have to be? Which sins, if any, disqualify a person? How much baggage does a person have to leave at the door before being admitted? Can someone participate in a church if he or she is still working things out? There is something inside of us that would like definitive answer on every nuance of every issue. As Andy said, he grew up around people who believed that the church was for saved people who acted like saved people. The catch was they were the ones who decided what act like a saved person meant. They were the ones who determined which sins saved people could commit and which ones were evidence of being unsaved. But the irony is the lists changed every few years - for example, divorce was on the list for a long time. But that one began mysteriously disappearing in the 1970s. He reminded us that if there is a right way of doing things, then there is a wrong way as well and nobody wants to be wrong! The issue is: is that issue worth fighting for? We are not mistakers in need of correction. We are sinners in need of a Savior. We need more than a second chance. We need a second birth.

Andy also talked about communications in that chapter. He says, and I heartily agree that there are several questions that his church has decided ahead of time not to answer via emails. But their staffs would sit down and discuss in person. Andy has a very positive outlook - he says that he would try to read all the critical emails and letters because as he says correctly, that he does not learn much from people who agree with him. He wholeheartedly agree that both grace and truth are the two equal pillars that must balance the foundation of the church. It is easy to side into either side.

Chapter six is slightly similar to chapter four on how we, as a church, has been barking at the wrong tree on many occasions. He started off the chapter by saying that if you want to know what people mean by what they say, watch what they do. Actions do not only speak louder than words, actions should be used to interpret words. In the early church, thousands of Jews and converts to Judaism embraced Jesus as Messiah. These early followers of Christ did not consider themselves converts to a new religion but simply a fulfillment of what had been promised through Abraham and the prophets. However, as the message spread, eventually the message outflowed into non-Jewish regions. Gentiles heard and believed and some of the Jewish apostles like Paul became intentional with their Gentile evangelistic efforts. However, whereas Jews in the Jesus gatherings did not consider themselves as converts, the Gentiles believers did. They viewed themselves as converts from paganism. The question was: What exactly were they converting to?  In their minds, they were leaving their pagan beliefs to become followers of Jesus. They did not view their conversions as conversions to Judaism. And that was a problem for the Jewish believers because in their Jewish minds, how could someone become a follower of the Jewish Messiah without becoming Jewish? It is easy to understand why these first-century Jewish Jesus followers felt a bit uneasy or even offended with this sudden influx of non-Jewish outsiders. Whereas Gentile believers abandoned their pagan beliefs, they did not abandon their pagan behaviors. Gentile believers brought their Gentile customs, habits and values right along with them, many of which were highly offensive to the Jews or even sacrilegious especially their eating habits. They knew nothing about the Sabbath, ceremonial cleansing or any of the traditions that made Saturday a day set apart. It was messy! The logical solution then was to require the Gentile Christians to become Jewish. How to do that? Just give them a list and this include circumcision! (Acts 15:1).

Churches should not do anything that makes in unecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God. As Acts 15:19 says:
Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God (Act 15:19 NKJV)

In chapter 8, Andy shared a grim story from the life of Steve Jobs as told in Steve's biography volume written by Walter Isaacson. As a young boy, Steve Jobs attended a Lutheran church with his parents. At age 13, he asked the pastor, "If I raise my finger, will God know which one I'm going to raise even before I do it?" The pastor answered, "Yes, God knows everything." Jobs then pulled out a Life magazine cover depicting starving children in Biafra and asked his pastor, "Does God know about this and what's going to happen to those children?" The well-intentioned pastor answered, "Steve, I know you don't understand, but yes, God knows about that." Jobs declared that he didn't want to worship such a God, walked out of the church, and never went back.  Andy said that how our interpretation of the events around us shape our next course of action and how simplistic answers can turn away people from God.

Chapter 12 contains some interesting stories demonstrating how we had been barking at the wrong tree from time to time. Every innovation has an expiration date. At some point, new isn't new anymore, regardless of what the package says. Eventually, new new feel like yesterday's news. Bread is not the only thing that gets stale over time. Every new and innovative approach to ministry has an expiration date as well. Every single one. Nothing is irrestible or relevant forever. The danger is: some churches have not seen a new idea in decades. Oddly enough, these are often the churches that are most resistant to change. In other words, everything that is currently in place began as a challenge to the status quo in a previous generation. What's ugly now was beautiful then. What feels like irrelevant now was cutting edge once upon a time.

For example, once a upon a time, the only musical instruments considered appropriate for church were the piano and organ. Drums were "worldly." Electric guitars were "satan's instrument." Even preachers had to preach an entire message on whether it was ok to clap in church" ok to peach during Sunday evening service but not during morning service, or what? New ideas are generally considered bad ideas. Then they become normative. Then, eventually they are yesterday's news. Nothing is new or innovative forever. Your best idea, the one that other churches emulate and take credit for, will eventually become obsolete. We are foolish to assume our ideas are transgenerational. However, the way things are done at your church is so deeply ingrained that often you will meet resistance at every turn. Andy further elaborated this issue in the following chapter on mission versus model. The changes people resist are changes associated with way ministry is done, the model the church has adopted. Unfortunately, because the model defines the church, more than anything, the model determines the status quo. "This is how we do it here. This is who we are." Over time, churches fall in love with their models. But models are meant to be a means to an end. Models are created to support the mission of the church. And one of the primary reasons churches are empty is because church leaders love their models more than they love people.

In chapter 14, he lists a series of questions that all of us should ask from time to time to provoke us in the way we do church (pages 302-04). One of the quotes that I like very much is in this chapter is this:
"If you want to know what people mean by what they say, watch what they do. Actions not only speak louder than words, they interpret an individual's words."
In the final paragraph of this chapter, he quoted another quote from Craig Groeschel:

"To reach people no one else is reaching, we must do things no one else is doing."
In the closing chapter, Andy shared an interesting story on the parable of the credit card.

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