Monday, November 3, 2014

Down to the Last Nail. Modern-Day Simony and a Lament.

Down to the Last Nail. 
A Modern-Day Lament for Simony
 Pastor Ryan Freeman
Payson Christian Church

Recently I read about how Mars Hill- a massive Christian denomination mainly centered in the Western US is dissolving.

Wikipedia says:
Mars Hill Church is a Christian megachurch, founded by influential and controversial pastor Mark Driscoll. It is a multi-site church based in Seattle, Washington with 15 locations in 5 U.S. states. Services are offered at its 15 locations; the church podcasts content of weekend services, and conferences on the Internet with more than 260,000 sermon views online every week. In 2013, Mars Hill had a membership of 6,489 and average weekly attendance of 12,329. Due to controversy in 2014 involving founding pastor Mark Driscoll, the attendance has dropped to 8,000–9,000 people per week.

The tipping point came when their lead pastor, Mark Driscol resigned. For years, while offering cool, hip and trendy alternatives to the usually aloof versions of modern church often found today, Mars Hill sought to define what church is. They wanted it to be fool proof- absolute and perfect. And so they published Doctrine. A book I was actually given a copy of by the same church leader who announced to the world last week they were dissolving now. The funny thing about the whole story I know, is how in the book Doctrine- they weren't purporting a new version of church- they were purporting to have the exclusive corner on the Doctrine of Jesus Christ himself. Down to the last nail. I can remember when Dave Bruskas finally met with me at the Christian radio station where I worked then. I remember him sitting across the table from me, telling me how a miracle was going to happen next week- how everything was going to change- about how Mars Hill, and especially Pastor Mark had the corner on the market. People, with the best intentions- people like you and me, decided they could systematize Jesus. Corpratize God. Give it design and edges- logos and write 'Cool' all over it. I watched, from the dirt, outside, as the whole building slowly collapsed in on itself, by it's own top-heavy weight.

So many times, I've seen large, successful, even 'biblical' churches fall combust when their leader is removed.

In Albuquerque, I used to intern with another Christian radio station which was owned by one of the mega churches there- Calvary. I remember being in the studio when the head pastor announced he was moving back to southern California- I remember hearing all the talk behind closed doors. About how the elders and other influential church leaders essentially bribed him to come back.

Today, I want to talk about Simony.

What IS Simony?

Wikipedia, that fount of knowledge, says:

Simony (pron. [ˈsaɪ.mə.ni] or [ˈsɪ.mə.ni]) is the act of selling church offices and roles. The practice is named after Simon Magus, who is described in the Acts of the Apostles 8:9–24 as having offered two disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, payment in exchange for their empowering him to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to anyone on whom he would place his hands. The term also extends to other forms of trafficking for money in "spiritual things".

Simony according to the canonists, says John Ayliffe in his Parergon,
" defined to be a deliberate act or a premeditated will and desire of selling such things as are spiritual, or of anything annexed unto spirituals, by giving something of a temporal nature for the purchase thereof; or in other terms it is defined to be a commutation of a thing spiritual or annexed unto spirituals by giving something that is temporal."

Acts 8:3-25

3-8 And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home base, the followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God’s action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!
9-11 Previous to Philip’s arrival, a certain Simon had practiced magic in the city, posing as a famous man and dazzling all the Samaritans with his wizardry. He had them all, from little children to old men, eating out of his hand. They all thought he had supernatural powers, and called him “the Great Wizard.” He had been around a long time and everyone was more or less in awe of him.
12-13 But when Philip came to town announcing the news of God’s kingdom and proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ, they forgot Simon and were baptized, becoming believers right and left! Even Simon himself believed and was baptized. From that moment he was like Philip’s shadow, so fascinated with all the God-signs and miracles that he wouldn’t leave Philip’s side.
14-17 When the apostles in Jerusalem received the report that Samaria had accepted God’s Message, they sent Peter and John down to pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Up to this point they had only been baptized in the name of the Master Jesus; the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet fallen on them. Then the apostles laid their hands on them and they did receive the Holy Spirit.
18-19 When Simon saw that the apostles by merely laying on hands conferred the Spirit, he pulled out his money, excited, and said, “Sell me your secret! Show me how you did that! How much do you want? Name your price!”
20-23 Peter said, “To hell with your money! And you along with it. Why, that’s unthinkable—trying to buy God’s gift! You’ll never be part of what God is doing by striking bargains and offering bribes. Change your ways—and now! Ask the Master to forgive you for trying to use God to make money. I can see this is an old habit with you; you reek with money-lust.”
24 “Oh!” said Simon, “pray for me! Pray to the Master that nothing like that will ever happen to me!”
25 And with that, the apostles were on their way, continuing to witness and spread the Message of God’s salvation, preaching in every Samaritan town they passed through on their return to Jerusalem.

What are we willing to trade for God?
What are we willing to purchase with holy things?

Is the Church willing to trade true Sanctity for Power?
Are Christians willing to give Holiness in exchange for Coolness?

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?

Should we market best-selling books about it?
Go on speaking tours so we can profit off of it?

"for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

When was the last time we said, "To Hell with your money!" 

Steph and I were recently at an awesome wedding for my best friend in high school, Andrew English, down in AR last weekend. Hanging out there with all the other groomsmen, made me remember why I left my old lifestyle- nearly the first question other people asked me was, 'So, what do you do?' 

And I know, I realize, some others may not take it this way, but what I feel is subtly REALLY said when someone asks this question is more a long the lines of, "What are you personally worth? Answer and we will treat you accordingly." 

So often, the one things I hear one pastor after another monologue on is not how Jesus is changing their lives... it's not even numbers at church, or theology... it's church tax laws. And I always feel like it's a giant hour of my life wasted each time. I mean, seriously, the next time I see Jesus, what do you think is the first thing I'll chat with Him about? 

'Hey Jesus! Long time no see!'

'Yeah, no kidding- timing is everything, you know? Hey, Ryan- did you hear about the latest Church Tax law? 

-puzzled reaction-

'Let me tell you about it...'


What was The American Church- down to its lowest parishioner, so hung up about for so long? What are we known for, inside and outside our doors, far and wide?

Proper form.
Social Awkwardness.
Incessant obsession with cultural acceptance.
Political Power.
Financial Ambition. 

How often have we sold our pearls?
How does it really look like to follow Jesus now?
Do you know?
Do you think about it?
Do you feel guilty about it?
Does God keep you up at night?

How are we supposed to feel about it?

Either Jesus is real in your life- living and self-evident, or not. 
And it's not what we do- it's what we do in letting Jesus work in our own lives.

Haaave you met Jesus?
How has he changed you?
Has his flesh become your flesh?
Has his blood become your blood?
Has his very Life and purpose become your very life and purpose?

We tend to hyper-individualize our relationship with Jesus. We are lone-wolves. We walk lonely roads with God, and I honestly believe, it is impossible to walk with God alone. We are meant to figure this all out, failings and all, with each other. We have to. We must. When we come together on a Sunday morning or a Thursday night- we are coming together as his very Body. Literally. Hands don't typically live full, active lives flopping on the floor by themselves. It's gross and messy. Eyes sitting in jars, usually either rot or are eventually dissected. When we come together, especially when we take communion, we are coming together as Jesus' body here on Earth, somehow. Living- full- whole- Alive together as One. 

Sometimes, I see an image with a fist full of money reaching out into the darkness- instead of an open palm reaching into the darkness. Which one are we? It's easy to donate money at causes- even good ones... but regular dedication to one is something completely different- to laugh with those who laugh- to mourn with those who mourn... experience the same pain and joy with others- to actually be Little Emanuel's... Little God With Us's... now the distinction is clear.

How do we really be like Jesus? 
Real Christians I can think of are Heroes.
They are Holy Men and Women. 
They drive darkness out with their mere presence.
They heal with a word or a simple touch.
They mean what they say, quietly and unobtrusively.
They are real forces of Justice.
They are God with us.

I don't know what this will all look like. I don't understand how it's all supposed to work- but I know I need God like I need air- and I need each of you, too. I hope one day, if you're still coming here, and I'm not, you wont leave because I'm not the preaching. I hope where ever you go, and whatever you do, it's because you're really, truly utterly convinced it's because you're where God wants you to be- and not for any amount of money or anything else. 

I am not that great. I am not too eloquent. I am not that smart. But I want to hear what God has to say- I want to live like Jesus lives. I want to be caught up in it. I want to be lost in it. I don't want to know where Ryan ends and Jesus begins. 

" But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead."
-Phil 3:7-11

When this all this is made real for us, in context, the idea of Simony swiftly becomes childish and unthinkable. I want to Know Jesus, down to the Last Nail. Yes, I want to worship Jesus each Sunday and with my Life, but I also want to know what it means to follow him and do it.

Like what you read? Join in with your own insights, stories and art- send them to Thanks and God bless -Ryan

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