Sunday, June 11, 2017

Religious Churches (The Presence-Driven Church)

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Times Square, New York City

A former seminary student of mine who is now a pastor wrote me this week. He said:

Hello Dr. Piippo,

Greetings. I am in the process of starting a new church plant, and would like to use Acts as my first Bible study.
I hear you talk so much about "normal church," and the things the first church did.
I believe in my spirit that God is calling for a church that is "presence-driven," not another religious church.
I am tired of religious churches!
What would be some good resources to use while we study Acts.

Thanks for your help,


I read this letter to my people at Redeemer this morning. I asked them, "What do you think C meant by "another religious church?" The answers included, "legalistic," "governed by rules rather than led by the Spirit," "planned out in advance (timed)," "business model," "institutional," and "entertainment."
What is a "religious" church?  For its etymology see the Oxford Etymology Dictionary. The origin is not especially negative. But today, among many evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, "religion" is a negative word, and connotes the kind of things above.
Religious Church can be contrasted to Normal Church. A Normal Church would, at its core, be God-exalting, Jesus-following, and Spirit-empowered. Like we see, prototypically, in the book of Acts.
A Normal Church would be doing the things that Jesus did. In John 14:12 Jesus tells his followers that whoever believe in him will do the things that he has been doing. I expect Real Church to do the things Jesus was doing.

When I became a follower of Jesus I transitioned from religion to relationship. I took, and still take, "Emmanuel" literally. I broke through the glass ceiling, and moved from secularity into the Kingdom of God. As Charles Kraft says,

“All you need to break through the glass ceiling is to enter into partnership with Jesus in bringing healing and freedom to others.” (Kraft, Confronting Powerless Christianity: Evangelicals and the Missing Dimension, Kindle Location 191)
Non-religious followers of Jesus follow Jesus. They experience God-with-us, they experience God working through them to do what Jesus did, and they experience the Spirit's Acts 1:9 empowerment.

This is what we are not only to do, but are to pass on to others. Because Jesus said, make disciples and teach others to do all I have commanded you.
I am suggesting that a Religious Church would be one lacking the following core qualities of Normal Church, which include:
  1. God-exalting (worshiping, from the heart)
  2. Jesus-following (doing what Jesus did)
  3. Spirit-empowered (Presence-Driven)
  4. Disciple-making (Teaching others to do 1, 2, and 3)
A church that lacked 1-4 could be called "religious." It would be a church that...
  • Primarily relies on human abilities (does things on its own)
  • Adopts business models to govern and administrate the church
  • Measures itself by how many (people), how much (square footage), what size (budget)
  • Tends to be suspicious of experiences, emotions, and feelings
  • Downplays or discourages the supernatural (the things Jesus did)