Programs in the Church

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    1 John 2:15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world.
We seem to make a cottage industry out of knocking each other down, we Christians.  Please understand, we make good targets, excellent fall-guys, convenient straw-men (and women).  There's nothing quite as satisfying as knocking believers to the ground, knowing that they will pick themselves up but likely not respond in kind.

To this end, I recently read a newsletter from one who proclaims the house church model, one who rails against the programs and events that churches sponsor.  Soup kitchens!  And teen car washes!  And food pantries!  And boys' camping trips!  Horrors!

This seems an odd conclusion to me, though.  Because even so small an organization as a house church must host some events?  They seem inevitable.  Do they not come together to worship?  To study?  To pray?   Do you see my point?  Anytime a group gets together to do anything, it is a program.

And rather than verbally spar with another believer, which I find essentially useless, it seems to me of more benefit to look at Biblical precedents, and draw some conclusions concerning why programs and events are necessary.

John makes a cogent point when he concludes that we are to distance ourselves from the things of the world.  Good conclusion, incredibly difficult to attain.  As an example, I found myself yesterday looking over the new Kindle product, wondering when I would be able to convert my library to a digital format (some re-purchase required).  All the while justifying said outlay with the excuse that I could travel anywhere and still complete my work.

Say what?

What Christian in recent memory has not looked at a new Bible and considered, even if idly, what it would be like to own it?   When was the last time someone came into your church showing off their new translation?  Which, by the way, came exclusively in custom calfskin leather, especially conditioned to not chaff your soft hands.  If it was more than a couple of months I would be amazed.

My point in all this is that even with best intentions we tend to drift toward a worldly attitude.  It's where we live.  It's the air we breath.  To use a soggier metaphor, it's the water we swim in.  But we don't have to accept it as inevitable.  Back to 1 John.

I find it fascinating that John arrived at this conclusion by way of community.  I am writing to you . . fathers . . young men . . little children . . as an encouragement to maintain your faith in the face of the evil in this world (my paraphrase).  Paul might call this a body of believers, we may think in terms of church, but there is something very Biblical about being together as believers to do things.  And the single most important thing that we do, as community, is worship God.

But it's not everything we do.   Consider that seven men, all Greek, were chosen to coordinate efforts to provide aid to Greek widows that the main body of disciples might continue uninterrupted with their evangelism.  A program!  Not directly related to worship!  And even Jesus noted that we would always have the poor (Matthew 26:9).  He thus emphasized charity.  The men in Acts 6 followed His exhortation by setting up a program for the Greek widows, Stephen foremost among them.

This, of course, has its roots in Old Testament Law;
    Deuteronomy 24:19-21 When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.  When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.
A social safety net, the practice of social justice as a group of believers, has always been at the core of who we are.   And as we are commanded to care for one another as a group we can see how this would morph into a program which Stephen and his brothers administered.

It doesn't stop there.  Paul managed an effort to bring relief aid to drought stricken Judea, specifically to the believers in Jerusalem. (Acts 11:29-30)  He mentions this relief effort to the churches at Rome and Corinth.  There was a fair amount of planning that went into this program to ensure that the funds were transmitted and used correctly.

Additionally, the Christian community came together to live, to worship, to pray.  They went so far as to relinquish entire estates, giving all property to the church (Acts 4).  How programmatic is that?

Now mind you, believers in the first century expected Jesus to return any second now, and they likely felt they had no need for said property.  What better way to end the world than to go out penniless and living in community with other believers?
  • I'm not sure how the Acts 4 community ended up, but other end-of-the-world communes have ended badly.  Millerism comes to mind, Branch Davidians (which was an off-shoot of the Millerist/Adventist movement) and the Peoples Temple (aka Jim Jones).  These are not the only ones, there were many, many more.
I would suggest that Biblical precedent tells us programs within a body of believers are inevitable.  That as a group it makes sense to break our efforts into programs and events that avoid duplication and uses our limited resources to best effect. (being good shepherds of what we have been given)  And if that is the case, then what is it about programs that make them acceptable in the eyes of the Lord?  Let's circle back to our brother John;
    1 John 2:15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world.
Any time that we can offer an event as a community of believers, then we have essentially separated ourselves from the world.  Granted, many events are just like those we find out there in the world.  Teen car washes as a fund raiser come to mind.  But most church sponsored teen car washes are funding some Christian effort, are they not?

But I would go so far as to say that any time we can come together as a body of believers in Jesus Christ, for any event, that is a good thing.   Think about it.  The Bible spends considerable ink informing us how to live in community with fellow believers. (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4-5, 1 Peter 3, etc.)  Community is important, both in Old Testament and New Testament terms.  Especially since the community comes together to worship God!

Also, when these events support a core Christian function, say, a teen car wash to support the widows and orphans?  This would be even better.  What are some events that most obviously meet this metric?  Bible studies.   Prayer groups.   Soup kitchens.   Food pantries.   Job fairs.   Clothes racks.  We could keep on going.

But don't discount the "Mens' Weightlifters for Christ" just because of the name.  When we can be in community for just about any endeavor, as believers, we win.

As we are commanded to put the world away from us, as we are commanded to live together peaceably in community, as we are commanded to practice social justice, as we are commanded to study the Word of God and to live it, what better way for the entire community of believers than to have events and programs that meet these needs?  Again, I would suggest that events are inevitable for any body of believers.

Soli Deo gloria
Jan 20, 2014

Works Cited

-. New American Standard Bible. Anaheim: Foundation, 1997.