Its OK to Argue About What the Church Is

Joseph Foreman

Podcast: Setting the Record Straight

If you have ever been called a hater of the Church because of your views on Church government, or because of confronting God’s people with something they do not want to think about, You may find this helpful. It concludes with where you can positively direct anyone in Scripture to the one place where house rules are actually given for how to live in the House of God and encourage those who accuse you of hate to positively spend about an hour in the Scripture itself and draw their own conclusions.


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Welcome to Setting the Record Straight a podcast of Reconstruction Radio my name is Joseph Foreman and I am an owner operator of a Coffee shop on the Edge of Gomorrah or Asheville NC as it is often called by the locals. I have done nothing of note lately except daily talk with and minister to the cutting edge of grunge millennials and Silver Ponytailed Legacy children here. I have been asked to contribute on the first of each month to Setting the Record Straight.

So, this Sunday I will be taking a brief look at the question, “Why are you attacking the Church?”

I keep running into people who ask me why I am attacking the Church. Sometimes they are hostile, sometimes they are curious.  “We’ve been doing it this way for 2,000 years.  Now you come along and say it’s all wrong?” Is one way I hear it. Another way is, “Dude, what you got some serious issues with the Church. What did they do to you?  Bad Trip?”  Another way is, “Who do you think you are?  Why are you so negative?  Does it really matter to God?”  Others say, “I like Church why can’t you just leave me alone?”

I want to address all those questions.  I know that many of you hear the same thing.  In fact, if you have anything radical to say to Christians, and if they don’t like it, especially if they can’t find biblical ways to argue against your disquieting words, pretty soon they will accuse you of attacking the Church itself. After all, you must be.  Because if all the Christians they know basically agree with them . . . and there are no real arguments against what you are saying . . . then really the only argument left is,  . . . you know . . . the church believes this and so you must be against the Church.

I want to take a step back and put the issues in perspective on the one hand, to defuse unnecessary hard feelings or threatened feelings if possible.

But I also, want to raise in your thinking a valid question:  “What is the Church anyway?”

“What do you have against the Church?” If you have ever gotten that question, you might find this helpful:

Let’s start with this fact, “Everyone has an idea of what the Church is, an idea of how it is not living up to what it ought to be, and an idea of what it ought to do to get closer to that ideal.”

I believe this is true of anyone who has had any contact with Church at all, not just Christians.  I ask people, unbelievers and believers alike “What is the Church anyway in your opinion?” They all give their opinion of what they think it is, what they think it ought to beand things Christians can doto get it closer to that ideal.  It’s a great conversation starter.  (and sometimes a great conversation killer too.)

I will pick three classical positions that are represented today who may well ask you this question.

Start with the Reformed.“Why are you against (hate, attack, despise) the Church? It’s been this way for 2,000 years and suddenly you come along and know how to do it right?”

You’re right brother, but the reformed way of doing church has not been around for 2,000 years. Presbyterian, Parliamentary, Representative Church government is a result of some really radical reformed thinking starting about 500 years ago but only about 300 years ago has it really begun to take hold.

No wait, wait, before you jump on me, all I’m saying is there was a time when those who hold to the reformed definition of the Church were accused of “hating, despising, and attacking” the bride of Christ.

Just stop and think a minute.  I’m not saying you are right or wrong.  I’m saying that you represent a position that commits itself to examining things by God’s word, and not by Church history, that’s all. I know you disagree with what I am saying about how Church ought to be, but I no more hate the Church of Jesus Christ by disagreeing with the Presbyterians, than you hate the church because you disagreed with the Catholics.

Its not the Church we hate, it is ideas of what it should be like that we disagree over.  In fact, the rhetoric of, “you must hate the truth, or the church, or reality, because you disagree with me” is not at all helpful to our discussion.  It’s a useless argument which you can only use if you are saying, “You are right I have no arguments against you, accusing you of hate is the best I can do, other than that the facts are on your side.”

Brother, Sister,  we disagree with each other because we love truth, the Church and reality and we are trying to sort out from God’s Word what those things are in this matter.

And the smart Presbyterian will roll his eyes, (and they are all smart its why they are Presbyterian) They will accept your point, shrug and say, “Split hairs. Fine there were these excesses, excrescences, and the Church corrected them with the reformation.  We now have representative church government and have fixed the problems . . . well of course there are problems but they aren’t made better by anarchy.”

I agree enough not to take the bait. I want to get to the root of another problem.  You are right, the reformation addressed some serious issues, such as the priesthood of all believers, which is not some isolated doctrine, but rather is the foundation of all the doctrines of Grace in the reformed creeds.  Each believer stands alone before the throne of God with only one judge and one advocate, Jesus Christ.  There is no human intermediary.  This was such a radical idea that they changed the entire Roman Catholic understanding of the role of the Church.

I know you agree with me if you are reformed.  It is our common ground. It is that same doctrine I am now reminding the Church that if you love her you will not abandon the idea that Salvation is by Grace alone through faith.  You agree that to affirm this is not to hate the Church, attack the Church but rather to redefine the whole purpose of the Church in line with Scripture.

Isn’t this why you are reformed?  Isn’t this why “The Church” (which is what all Catholics think of themselves as) . . . This is why “The Church” must remove any organization of priests that claims it has power over Christians in the congregation that the Christians and the Congregation themselves do not possess. That is, you who are reformed believe that the person in the pew is the priest and therefore has the priestly power, the obligation to minister etc, not some specialized crew of authoritative leaders.  You believe that don’t you? and that is why the Catholics say you hate the Church and attack it. But you really don’t, you think you are loving the Church. And in fact 400 years ago, you were.

Does it strike you as odd today, that when people say what Calvin, Luther, Butzer, Coccaeus, John Owen . . . literally what ALL the reformers said, today you are telling them that they hate despise the Church?

But don’t get me wrong, you may well be right about me, I may have a mistaken view of the Church, and they Catholics may have been right about you you reformed may have a defective view of the Church, and we may be right about the Catholics.  But any of us calling each other “haters of the Church” is entirely out of line. It’s time to search the Scripture and see whose actual practice in the Church lines up with Scripture . . . and which of us lines up with the Roman Catholic understanding.

OK, a Baptist tells you, “Why are you against (hate, attack, despise) the Church? It’s been this way for 2,000 years and suddenly you come along and know how to do it right?”

I admit, I am almost without words. This doesn’t come from ignorant Baptists either. Its only been in the last 300 or 400 years that being Baptist has been popular even the dominant understanding of Christianity.

When a Baptist gets angry and says, “You hate and attack the Church” that has been what the representatives of all established Churches have said about them really since the priesthood first emerged back at the end of the 1stcentury of the Church. Baptists have been the ones standing in the breech saying, “You shall not pass!” and getting swept off the bridge of Church progress for their pains, and being accused of hating the Church.  The Church Fathers threw them into the abyss. The Catholic Church threw them in burning those they could get their hands on.  The Reformers in power did not like the Baptists and congregationalists, regardless of their reformed theology.

And now you say “You hate the Church because you oppose what we have become now that God has blessed us with prosperity and popularity and have built up organizations every bit as great and influential as the medieval Church ever had?”

OK OK I put words in their mouth. But you get the point. . . .

How a Baptist can argue that someone who disagrees with them on how the Church should govern itself must surely hate the Church, is hilarious in light of all the burning stakes of Baptists who disagreed with the Establishment churches of an earlier day.

Brothers (the sisters don’t really count anyway) Brothers, I want to pick up a discussion about power and authority in the Church with you because we both love the Church and want to represent the Bride the right way, not because either of us hate the Church.

We all hold a doctrine of the church regardless of what it is, and those ideas about what the church ought to be and what it is today are by their very nature an intellectual and practical attack on those who hold a different doctrine of the Church. But the result should be an invitation to search scripture.

The framework Scripture gives us for this conversation is simple.  Its taken from some things Moses and David, and Jacob and many others said, not while teaching a straight up doctrine of what the Church is, but usually in the course of saying something else entirely and just referring to the Church obliquely as they make another point.

I’ll start with Jacob.  Remember he is being run out of the land God promised him and his Fathers. The legacy was in his loins so to speak and he was evicted by his brother. He slept that first night on the ground pillowing his head with a rock.  God appeared to him on a stairway or ladder to heaven.  He awakens and says, “I had no idea that this was the House of God!” and so he names the place Beth el. And the story of God’s battle to win back the earth takes an entirely unexpected twist.

You’ve heard coaches and team captains usually of the defense speak of stopping the enemy with a stirring speech that climaxes in, “Not in My House!” meaning of course they will not let the other team score.  They will stop them cold.  It’s a stirring phrase.

We discover that God dwells in the earth.  He is building himself a house. Lets jump to Moses.

In speaking of the Tithe, off handedly God says, “You shall take my tithe to the place I cause my name to dwell, and there . . .” (That’s in Deuteronomy 12 and 14.) If you do a serious study of who gets the tithe in the Bible, you will find that it doesn’t go to a particular institution or person automatically. No one “Deserves the Tithe.”  There is no office of “Tithe receiver. Levites get some of it, the tent of meeting gets some of it. The Tabernacle gets some of it. The poor get some of it. The Temple gets some of it Melchizadek gets some of it . . . and I think you will find this is a strand that the texts in the NT pick up to direct who gets church money from the bag Jesus gave to Judas to take care of, to the collections for the needs of the saints.

The Tithe goes to where you find the name of the Lord to Dwell. . . .

On reflection we discover that much of the Books of the Law, the Torah are consumed with building a place for the name of the Lord to dwell.

By the time you get to David, Solomon and the Temple you find that God’s people are setting him up royally in as fine a house as any God has ever had so far in History. Sort of like a professional athlete who makes it big will buy his Mom a million dollar home.  Thank Goodness he did so well. In fact, God’s people do such a good job, that they begin to lose sight of the fact that it is God who is building them a house, not the other way around.

So about the time David is planning to really treat God right, God reminds him, “You want to build me a house, but I am not going to let you.  However, I will build you a house.” And in these words, among others, we are introduced to the line from whom will come the seed of the woman whom God promised to the Serpent back in the garden. It is one of David’s heirs who will rule forever and who will crush the head of the Serpent.

Solomon definitely got this message and in his dedicatory prayer over the Temple confessed that this really was pretty poor digs, but it’s the best they could do on earth for one for whom the highest heavens are inadequate to do Him justice or hold his glory.

“The place in which I cause my name to dwell.” is not nearly as important to God in the Bible as it has been to His people, including us.

God dwells in the praises of His people, and the whole temple business — a house of God, a house of prayer for all nations — this temple was only a picture of God’s final home.

The Church in the earth is that final home.

As God told David, and Solomon, He is the builder of their home, not vice versa. Where do you think God lived before the Exodus?  Where do you think God lived in the desert with them before the Temple was built? Where did God dwell when they were in the land and the Ark was captured?  Did you hear God saying, “Oh No! Mr. Bill, what am I to do?”  “Under a rock under a stone where is the God of the Universe to find a Home?”  Did Jesus tell the Church in Sardis, “Please let me in, its cold, I’ve been standing at the door knocking all day pleeeeeeze?”

Of course not.

So you can see, that God is fine sleeping on a rock . . . Jesus slept on his share.

So when wecome to discuss where God is to dwell, . . . .

and we all agreeit is the Church that is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

And we all agree it is the individual believer who makes up that Church—they too are called the Temple of the Holy Spirit and Holy stones that build up the house of God.

And we know that the one place where house rules were given on what to do there is in Paul’s advice to Timothy, “ I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and [h]ground of the truth.

Here is my recommendation on governing the Church arguments.  Search through what Paul told Timothy and Titus.

Read quickly through one book and jot down the things that Timothy and Titus would confront, would oppose them, problems they would face . . . things that would make them mad, make them want to convene a court of elders and hold a trial . . . I mean legitimate stuff. Jot down the conflicts they would face, leaving about 4 lines between each conflict. This should take you about 20 minutes for each book but just do one at a time.

Then read again and jot down under each conflict point what Paul said to do about it.

Go through each book in this two step process.

Now write down the house rules in the Church of God, the pillar and ground of the truth.  Not my house rules, Paul speaking for the one who dwells in this house not made of hands.

Anger is natural, Jesus got mad on this topic, too.  And maybe we can understand why we get angry with each other. It is not just an important question. And that is my point, it is too important to let that anger be the last word, lest we be found to oppose God himself. It wasn’t the last word for Jesus.  In the end His cross was the last word even for those who crucified him. Be open to the idea that the place where God causes his name to dwell might be bigger than we can ask or imagine as we discuss the issue.

Colossians 3:16 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

for the reasons it is important to us. After that summary on the RR contributors thread, Joel said, “Now you’re getting all up in muh cherem principle.“ And Martin followed with, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” So pray I have no clue how I’m getting into his cherem principle (he was not being hostile but funny,) and suddenly the pressure is on to say something profound as if I know what the issues are. I have to write and deliver it in an hour. Really by 5:00 my time. its 5:10 I just got back from Raleigh