A VIEW On The Open Church:
New Book! ...
by Neil Girrard
I heartily endorse the majority of this book even though I disagree with some fundamental statements he makes. Chief among these would be Rutz' remark that you can "reclaim your birthright - pure worship, true sharing, free ministry, and more - without turning your back on the Institutional Church, that nice flock of folks you sit in rows with on Sundays." In a footnote, he states this again by saying, "If Open Church Ministries has a unique position, it is that the church can regain the pluses and dynamics of the early church without abandoning its present facilities or dropping its professional staff." To me, this sounds like Lot, being told to flee Sodom, saying, "I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me and I die. See now, this city [Zoar] is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live." (Gen. 19:19-20). Just a little less compromise than the atrocious compromises we the church have been doing for the past 17 centuries will be enough to please God. I don't think so. But I am willing to let God lead anyone out of the denominational abominations by any means He sees fit. And I believe He can use The Open Church to move those who have been raised in institutional churches toward a more obedient way of assembling.
So while I agree that Rutz' methods are a great transition toward the New Testament pattern (and we all need to start from wherever we are at) - and I wholeheartedly agree that the people we've fellowshipped with are not to be simply abandoned - to ultimately settle for an open-styled institutional church is just another form of stopping short of God's highest and best for His people, the undiluted intimacy and accountability of a local, community-based home fellowship. A network of home churches within a region, submitted to God's true "authorities" and not operating on the rogue denominational theory of "church," will do much more to transform that region than would having everyone attend an institutional style church, even an open one.
There is another of Rutz' statements that I find difficult to receive. Rutz says: "The difficulty is, [the "abandon the institutional church"] solution to the closed-church problem is for purists only, the super-committed disciples and scholars who want to follow the example of the New Testament ekklesia like a shadow. ...a true-blue primitivist...[is]...not going to want a church building or just one single pastor at the helm...[and will] have to dissolve the pastorate, dynamite the sanctuary, and do a whole long list of other things..." In Rutz' ensuing cautions to such "purists" he says, "...unity in the body of Christ is more important than almost anything else. Never break that unity. The church is His body, and you have no right to break it up to further your agenda." This statement is made in a section entitled "Be Conservative When You're Being Radical." Sorry, Mr. Rutz. But only a little leaven leavens the whole lump. How much compromise does it take to become compromised? How much self-will does it take to become a heretic and hypocrite? These are rhetorical questions - not accusations!
In addition to the human propensity toward compromise, there is also the human propensity to see - and attempt to practice - spiritual truths with what can only be called a backwards understanding. This is because most of God's ways are a complete paradox to our human understanding. Rutz demonstrates this do-it-backwards propensity in this case.
When he says that unity of the Body is of prime importance, he overlooks some simple spiritual facts: Not everyone who claims to be a Christian actually is a truly born-again child of God - and this spiritual rebirth is the only basis by which we can accept or reject someone as a brother or sister in Christ's family. The reality of modern "church" life is that a tiny portion (usually 10-20% in most "churches" though there are some that get as high as 40-50% as Phoenix First Assembly demonstrates - see chapter 14) keep the local abomination running. That's the proportion that has the real Spirit of Christ in their hearts (see Mt. 7:21 for example). The rest are seeking something other than God's truths - the truths that are unflinchingly fatal to and completely antagonistic toward the fallen human nature.
So when Rutz calls upon the "purists" to preserve the unity, he's speaking to the wrong crowd. Unity (as is called for in 1 Cor. 1:10 for example) is entered into by being obedient to God. The divisive sectarian denominationalist is the one who is not being obedient to God's clear pattern for assembling and being assembled. If anyone should be called upon to preserve the unity of the body of Christ, it should be that tiny proportion that gives the local abomination what little bit of life it has - let them be called upon to preserve the unity by coming out of their association with those who claim to be brothers and sister in Christ but who have no intention of practicing obedience to Christ's commands and ways for building His ekklesia. Then we will see more true unity in the Spirit of Christ.
But so long as people like Rutz call on us to compromise with the paganism-inspired institutional "church" there will be a place where the CEO/"pastor"-popes can practice their Nicolaitan authoritarianism. The institutional "church" is the worst enemy of the spiritual body of Christ and it is long past time that this truth should be shouted from the pulpit and rooftop of every local abomination. It is long past time that the idolatry be stopped and the high places be torn down.
The "radical" solution is not only for "purists, super-committed disciples or scholars determined to embrace the New Testament pattern of ekklesia." Ekklesia is not an option for true believers. It is a command. So long as we continue to disobey God's commands, we should not try to kid ourselves that we are obedient children. At best, we are only rebels and delinquents - which is no different in God's eyes than divination and witchcraft. If we were honest with ourselves (which most often we're not) we would just go out and be Satanists. When the issue of where I assemble and fellowship is settled on the basis of what I want and how I want to assemble and how I want to "worship God" - and not on the basis of what God has commanded - we have only succeeded in obeying the very nature which persistently and virulently combats every work and move of the Holy Spirit in our life. We have only used our liberty to gratify our flesh nature and to serve the interests of our Satanic enemy.
One of Rutz' statements that points out his extremely subtle compromise in this regard is found in chapter 12: "The U.S. Christians who are most scrupulous about following the New Testament pattern are, hands down, the house church crowd. Their movement is alive and OK in America, but not burgeoning. Under present conditions, I don't expect it to burge on, either. We're far too addicted to all the snazzy benefits we get with a nice church building and a paid, professional pastor. I just don't foresee believers in North America swarming into house churches. And that's why I don't really promote them."
God never calls on us to practice a "church pattern" based on whether it will be popular and acceptable to the majority or not. And to fail to promote a Scripturally obedient church pattern simply because we, the spoiled-rotten American people, are too damned lazy to put it into practice is to fail to speak the whole word of the Lord in this matter. The only precious metals that we can build upon the only Foundation are those which are practiced in obedience to God's pattern (1 Cor. 3:11-12). Just as Moses was told to build the tabernacle according to the pattern he received on the mountain, so too must we conform to the pattern Christ uses to build His church or else we are mere rogues and rebels expecting God to bless our man-made nonsense just because we practice it in His name.
Again the most disturbing factor I find about Rutz' book is that it seems to encourage compromise. True, he speaks of making smaller and fewer compromises in comparison to many traditional, denominational abominations, but those compromises are still there. This is seen in Ray Stedman's description of Pennisula Bible Church (PBC - chapter 13). PBC had an incredibly open fellowship and undoubtedly many were impacted for life by the ministry there. But what percentage of people were still left out? What percentage never spoke out, never got prayed for, never had real koinonia, never grew up into the fullness of what Christ intended? Maybe that percentage was relatively small but look again at 1 Cor. 14:26 and see that each one is to have something to share. When it comes to "playing percentages," the church is not to even go in that direction. Jesus said that one was more important than 99 (Mt. 18:12-14, Lk. 15:4-7). In the size that PBC was having that Sunday evening meeting, they would have been there for a month waiting for each one to share something. A small compromise it is true - and one that is much "smaller" than the average compromises committed on a regular basis at most denominational abominations - but the compomise is still there. PBC is still something less than the New Testament pattern clearly revealed in Scripture.
One of the clearest examples of how a people can continue in idolatrous disobedience and yet still receive blessing and protection from Yahweh God is the people of Israel. After Solomon's death the kingdom split into two parts. The northern ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, began to practice idolatry. "And Jeroboam said in his heart, `Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.' Therefore the king took counsel and made two calves of gold, and said to the people, `It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!' And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan." (2 Ki. 12:26-29). It was this sin of Jeroboam (setting up the two golden calves at Bethel and Dan, supposedly symbolic of Yahweh God but in reality nothing but disobedient idol worship) that was the downfall of every subsequent king of Israel. The phrase is often repeated, "...but he did evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father Jeroboam the son of Nebat by which he caused Israel to sin..." That could easily be paraphrased today to read, "...but he did evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the ways of his pastor/denominational head (i.e., Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Chuck Smith, etc., etc., ad nauseum) by which he caused his church to sin..." And yet God continued to exercise patience with Israel, hundreds of years worth of patience, just as He has exercised centuries of patience with a leavened church.
We must also remember though that God's Spirit will not always strive with man. He demonstrated this at the flood, He demonstrated this with the people of Israel, and He will demonstrate this to a lukewarm "church." The edification and growth of PBC, as is the case with many modern "churches," was clearly a work of God. What many "pastors" and "church" leaders are reluctant to admit is that these works of God are also works of men. This is because God has chosen to use men to proclaim His truth. Thus every work of God is tinged with the work of man to some degree or another. What needs to be weeded out is as much of those additional human elements as is possible because every added human element represents a loss to the kingdom of God. Without Christ, we can do nothing. When we obey Christ, what we have done will remain throughout eternity. The choice is ours.
The strengths of Rutz' book (and indeed there are many gems of insight and wisdom in his book) lie in his historical perspective and his grasp of human corporate "psychology." He (and Gene Edwards) gives us a view of historical events with spiritual understanding in a way that will not be readily available through an institutional church. The insights this book brings are the equivalent of a death sentence (or a pink slip) to many pastoral despots - don't expect it to be welcomed with open arms by the entrenched bureaucracy of many modern "church" corporations - especially the mega "church." The revelations Rutz and company have received are going to be downright bad for business should the laity ever find out the truth - and set aside their apathetic complacency in regards to going to church rather than being Christ's church. And independently confirming Rutz' historical findings are not all that difficult to do - I know because I found them with minimal difficulty long before I ever read Rutz' book. The truth is available to any and all sincere seekers. Just allow the Holy Spirit to do His job of leading you into all truth!
Rutz' grasp on what subjecting men to years of pulpiteering and enforced submission to the upper echelons of a church by having them sit in row upon row and take whatever is dished out is something which is largely overlooked. It is true that when men are forced into the passive, submissive role, they will become passive, submissive, relatively-mindless zombies incapable of spiritually thinking for themselves and they will be largely incapable of carrying out the duties of the Divinely-enabled man of God. It is when men are encouraged and allowed to speak forth what God has shown them that their confidence, boldness and level of participation will increase. And even many a highly successful Bible teacher will tell you that the only way to learn the Bible is to begin to teach it - and yet these same teachers often function in the stifling and unScriptural role of "pastor"/lecturer! (see Ezek. 34:2 to get God's view on shepherds who feed themselves and starve their flocks!)
Rutz' insights into the three types of Christians are also keenly accurate: the thinkers, the feelers, and the doers. In the world today, there are counterfeit "Christian" movements available for each type. The works-based sects that attempt to work their way to heaven have been around since the beginning and need little explanation. The feelings-based sects that give themselves over to strange cultic and occult-like behaviors are quite popular nowadays too but they are fairly easy to spot for anyone with even a small amount of discernment. But perhaps the most subtle deception available today is the intellectual movement whereby knowledge of what God commands is substituted for actual obedience to His commands (see Mt. 7:21). Paul prophesied that in the end times men would always be learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7). Truth, that is Divine Truth, requires obedience as an integral part of truly understanding the Scriptures (see Jas. 1:22).
Some have spoken negatively about Rutz' book on the basis that it is relatively light on Scriptures. There is some legitimacy to that claim though it must be noted that his is an attempt to reach a popular audience who doesn't really read the Scriptures for themselves anyway. If they did, they wouldn't need Rutz' book.
To rectify any lack though, this review will list the Scriptures by which I reached the exact same conclusions as Rutz (long before ever reading his book). These Scriptures point out the vast difference between an institutional church and the New Testament pattern.
Church (assembly, meeting, ekklesia) was a spiritual discussion format requiring the participation of each and everyone who came - not a one-way lecture given by a professorial, eloquent, persuasive, intellectual type (Heb. 10:24-25, 1 Cor. 14:26).
The Body of Christ is not ruled by authoritarians but counseled and led (as by "pointmen" in combat or as by shepherds with a knowledge of the area and hazards that is superior to the knowledge possessed by the sheep) by experienced leadership - corporate decisions are made by corporate unity (not by a voting majority or by a few leaders hidden in smokey back rooms) (Mt. 20:25-26, 23:8, 18:17, Heb. 13:7-17).
God's gift of men to make the Body strong and mature includes five types of spiritually gifted men - not just a "pastor" (Eph. 4:11-16). God's order of spiritual "authority" (read that as servitude of true spiritual needs of the less mature, more vulnerable members) is clearly spelled out in the New Testament. Apostles, then prophets, then teachers - each to be confirmed by the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:28) God's Word shows four "levels" (sorry, it's an inadequate word but the best I can find) of spiritual maturity in the Body that fall within two broad categories of 1) leaders and 2) followers. In the first category are a) elders and b) deacons. In the second are a) disciples and b) recent converts. (1 Tim. 3:1-16, Phlp. 1:1, 1 Pet. 2:1-3). Their duties and qualifications for those "positions" are clearly spelled out throughout the New Testament.
Jesus' primary command to us was not to preach the gospel to mixed multitudes but to make disciples who would be able to carry the gospel on further (Mt. 28:19, 2 Tim. 2:2, 2 Pet. 1:5-7). Modern churches are simply body pools where the mixed multitude can come and hear the gospel preached with no possibility of their ever being required to actually obey what they hear. In such an environment, their guilt is comfortably quieted by their mere presence and a small financial contribution. In essence, many churches are the direct fulfillment of Paul's prophecy that the end timers will heap up for themselves teachers who scratch their ears for them (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Also this emphasis on providing a place for preaching to the mixed multitudes often circumvents our obedience to looking after orphans and widows in their distress (financially as well as in terms of de-motivating the laymen), to our remaining unspotted from the world (supposedly the very cornerstones of our Christian religion -see Jas. 1:27), and to our going to make disciples as we now settle for inviting someone to "church."
The lecture format (one speaker talking down to an audience) that is used by many preachers and "pastors" only serves to train up adroitly passive listeners who are almost totally (and in some cases idolatrously) dependent upon the speaker and does little to train the listener in the art of listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit for him/herself and obeying that voice (see 1 Jn. 2:27).
The dress-up, semi-formal and/or expensively "casual" atmosphere of many Boomer-oriented churches only serves to alienate the poor and the Buster generation from Jesus Christ (see Jas. 2:2-4, Phlp. 2:7). The gospel is for the poor and needy - not the rich and comfortable (Lk. 4:18, Rev. 3:17-19, Mt. 9:12-13).
The lecture format and most modern church methods do not conform to the pattern of Word, prayer, fellowship and breaking bread together (see Acts 2:42) nor does it foster an atmosphere in which we can practice the "one-another" commands of the New Testament. The essential elements of true church (assembly, meeting, ekklesia) are intimacy and accountability - the two factors most affected by attempting to institutionalize and "grow" the church using traditional and/or man-made methods (see Eph. 4:16, Jas. 5:16).
Rutz' book also brings out some of the historical information which makes it possible to truly understand one of Jesus' most puzzling parables about the kingdom of God. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." (Mt. 13:33). Jesus' choice of symbology is exact here - and it is an exact match, albeit in one sentence, of the whole of church history. Leaven in Scripture is always a symbol of sin, wickedness, unrighteousness and hypocrisy, usually of a religious nature. Though many have tried to say that this parable means that the kingdom of God will be spread all around the world, this is just not consistent with the other symbology used in this parable.
Why three measures of meal? Why not twelve, seven, three, six, two or any other number? He chose three because there are three main branches of historical Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.
Who is the woman? To fully answer that question would require a history lesson that is beyond the scope of this review but I'll give you enough to start your own research. We see her depicted in the book of Revelation as having ridden upon all the nations and empires of the world since the time of Nimrod: the Whore of Babylon, Mystery, Religion. Every world empire has had its religion and every religion has had its "mother of god" figure. This goddess has gone under the name of Semiramus, Cybele, Isis, Istarte, Rhea and Mary. And she has introduced elements of pagan mythology into every religion she is associated with - including Christianity. The idolatrous input of Mary, the "Mother of God" into the Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity is much more obvious. The input of the Whore of Babylon, Mystery, Religion is much more subtle in the Protestant vein. It is the leftover paganistic practices - the exalted clergy and the local temple - which are her greatest contributions to Protestant Christianity.
Paul wrote, "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened." (1 Cor. 5:6-7).
"Come out from among them and be separate," says the Lord. "Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters," says the LORD Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 6:17-7:1). I don't think I could add much of anything to those warnings. Let he who has ears to hear use them.
Again, I do highly recommend Rutz' book even though I believe there are other books which address the remedy for our current situation much better. I believe The Open Church falls a major step short of what God wants for His people. May God bless your sincere and diligent efforts to always walk in His truth and grace and may He use The Open Church as a tool in that process.