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Oct 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 20, 2019

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many of of myself as well.
Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
[The list of names and what these people have meant to Paul and others goes on for ten more verses] Romans 16:1-12

Intro: Thirteen years ago, I stopped going to church

That summer, our church was listed in a survey of Christian ministers
– we rated among forty of the most creative and influential in the U.S.
• but I was broken, burned-out, feeling alone and like a failure
– Barbara was with me and helpful through a slow process of healing
• conversations with Fr. Romuald steered me closer to Jesus
• Barb and I spent Sunday on long walks
◦ we were refreshed as we followed a trail near the ocean
– towards the end of 2006, I found myself missing my church friends
• people, who for thirty years had been my life
◦ a few of them had written to say, missed my teaching
• a year later, I began sending a handful of people Reflections
(personal meditations from my daily reading in the Scriptures)
◦ two years later, Reflexion began with meetings in our home

Romans 16 shows us that Paul never lost sight of the people he loved

In Romans 16, Paul is signing off
– but in doing so, he affirms his connection with his readers
• he mentions names, like Phoebe, Prisca and Aquila
◦ and he adds personal comments:
a servant of the churchmy fellow workersmy beloved
◦ he also makes reference to various “churches”
all the churches of the Gentiles and all the churches of Christ greet you
◦ and churches that met in the homes of Priscilla and Aquila, and Gaius (v. 23)
– it’s obvious that for Paul, “church” was not a building
• at least, not one made of brick and mortar
• You have heard this before:
◦ the church is not an organization, it is an organism
◦ Paul’s favorite metaphor for the church is the body of Christ

When I woke up that one morning, realizing that I missed my friends,
– I realized there was a very clear distinction in my mind
• I missed my community, but I did not miss the institution!
◦ in fact, when I thought about the institution we became, I felt oppressed
• last year, I met up with a close friend from long ago
◦ back then, I glommed on to him for his brilliance
◦ when we talked about my departure from my church, he said,
“I wondered how you lasted so long. You were never cut out for that”
– he was so right

Institutions form naturally within large or growing groups of people

A team, a club, a corporation needs a certain amount of organization
– once organization begins, a structure forms (and an infrastructure)
• systems are needed to maintain the structure
◦ for instance, facility upkeep and formal lines of communication
• then the organization has to be staffed and capitalized
-institutions take on a life of their own
• church institutions initially form to serve the community
• but it does not take much to turn that around
◦ then the community has to maintain and pay for the institution

Why is that a problem?
– first, because community is what defines church, not “business”
• second, institutions must be managed – people must be led
◦ for people to be led, they have to give their consent
◦ managers assign jobs and employees do the jobs they’re assigned
• third, the institution’s goals are survival and not spiritual
◦ in our culture, institutional goals tend to be financial
◦ it’s a tragic day when that gets confused

For example, someone gets in front of the church to “sell” the spiritual value of an event to guarantee a good attendance so the income from the event meets the budget.
Helmut Thielicke, “. . . there is not institutional structure which is in complete accord with the nature of the church. Just as we cannot be justified through works so the church cannot become pleasing to God through institutional perfection.”

– church management became big deal in 70s through 90s
• books and articles were written on it
◦ the job of the Senior Pastor was equivalent to being a CEO
◦ some people assume you manage your way to any goal
Thielicke, “The kingdom of God can use any form of institution as its opportunity if its people are sufficiently quick to hear. The devil too can use any institution as his chance if its members are deaf, indifferent, or too blindly and trustingly content with its well-oiled machinery.”
• Thielicke says this became clear to him when visited America
◦ at first he thought we had the solution to growing large and lively churches
◦ that is, until a closer look revealed the soft underbelly of the beast
Thielicke, “This too, of course, is an opportunity for God. For here he can test the faithfulness and steadfastness of his servants. But, as we said, it is also a chance for the devil: the temptation to be opportunistic, to compromise, and to cover up is always near.”
◦ his conclusion:
“So we should do some thinking about the institutional structure of the church. Their importance, however, should also not be overestimated, for we must remember that they are human ‘works’ on which our salvation does not depend.”

This is why I’ve wanted to avoid using “church” to describe us

Not because of it’s biblical meaning, but because in the larger culture,
– “church” is inevitably linked to “institution”
• institutions are all about the three M’s
◦ Management, Marketing and Money
• the way I see the church in the New Testament is all about
◦ a spiritual community that
◦ glorifies God, builds up its members, and is a witness to the world
– church in the New Testament existed in relationships and interactions
• two Greek words may be helpful here
ekklesia, translated church: a group of citizens called to a public assembly
koinonia, from koine, “to share in common”
◦ translated fellowship, partnership, communion – community
koinonia (community) defines ekllesia (church)
. . . that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship [koinonia] with us; and indeed our fellowship [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 1:3)

Loving and serving people, Paul also works to protect them

In verses 17-20, a danger comes by way of troublesome people
– the problems arise from what they “cause” and “create”
• they cause divisions
◦ they exploit disagreements – or invent them

There as six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers
(Pr. 6:16-19)

• they create obstacles (sometimes translated “stumbling block”)
◦ they make it difficult for others to live simple life of faith

A few weeks ago, Esther mentioned “high conflict people”
– I learned that term from Jim in our first conversation
• as Paul indicates, these people tend to be charismatic personalities
◦ their smooth talk and flattery are deceptive
◦ though they are charming, there’s venom in their bite
• these characteristics can make them difficult to detect
◦ but when we do detect a high conflict person, then what?
◦ what is the best way to deal with them?
• best way to deal with them, “avoid”
– Paul says, avoid them
Martha Stout, in The Sociopath Next Door says, “The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him, to refuse any kind of contact or communication.”
• these people deceive the naive
• I think we tend to make ourselves naive
◦ we want to trust those who call themselves Christian
◦ but these others create chaos, stir up suspicion, ruin relationships

“Shouldn’t we love everyone?” you ask,
– Yes, but love has a big toolbox, with lots of tools

When I first met Jim it at a coffee shop. As we got to know each other, he told me about his work in anger management, conflict resolution and reconciliation. In the process, he made reference to high conflict people. Everything he said made sense; in fact, I felt like he had been reading my mail. He explained that some of my burnout had come from not having sufficient boundaries for dealing with this type of person, that I had allowed them to get too close to me. Jim spent seven months consulting with Barb and I, teaching us how to discern the of high conflict people. At the end, he said, “Okay, we’ve pretty well covered the profile and behavior of high conflict people. Next week were going to talk about loving them.”
I was shocked. “What?! You’ve been telling us all about these people, how the wreck churches and ruin the lives of pastors. You’ve also helped us learn how to establish firm and healthy boundaries. Now your telling us we need to learn how to love them?”
“Of course,” Jim replied, “we have to love them. But what do you think love is? Do you think you have to be best friends with them? give them whatever they ask? trust them? High conflict people require a certain sort of love. For instance, many of them have never learned to respect boundaries. So by setting boundaries for them, you are loving them by helping them to learn something socially and spiritually important and useful.”

• I’ve met Christians, devastated by a church that split
◦ it was traumatic, like a painful divorce
◦ disillusioned, they vowed never to get involved with another church
• eventually, God will deal with those charming deceivers
◦ he will put an end to their activity it at the source (v. 20)

Let’s leave that unpleasantness and jump to the end of the chapter

Now to him who is able to strengthen you
according to my gospel
and the preaching of Jesus Christ,
according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
but has now been disclosed
and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations,
according to the command of the eternal God,
to bring about the obedience of faith—
to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!
Amen. Romans 16:25-27

Paul ends his letter with a “doxology”
(a doxology is praise of God and usually includes the word doxa, “glory”)
– this is what worship does – it glorifies God
• Paul loads his worship with theology
◦ perhaps the best we can do with theology is turn it into worship
• theology without worship is like
◦ a lab full of research papers and dead specimens
◦ worship without theology is like the Samaritans
You worship what you do not know (Jn. 4:24)
or the Athenians who built an altar to the unknown god (Acts 17:23)
– notice that three times Paul says, “according to”
• this shows us how he tracks his message back to its source, the command of the eternal God

Conclusion: If you’ve ever been in a group photo before–

Perhaps your team, you and your coworkers, a graduation class–
– when you got a copy of the photo, did you look for yourself in it?
– I wonder if the when the believers in Rome received this letter,
• hoped to hear their names when this last chapter was read

Your names are known here in this little community
You are wonderful people – you live and demonstrate love
And because of you,
I have never enjoyed ministry more than I do now
So, as we move on together in our spiritual journey,
out of our love for God, let’s continue to
know and worship him,
love one another, caring for and serving each other,
as witnesses to God’s love for the world,
To God our Father be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ


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  1. Ed Northen / Oct 27 2019

    Chuck, as always thank you for your wise words. I feel blessed to be part of your community through relfexions, even though I have lived in Idaho for the last sixteen years. I am comforted to be part of a group of people who are not interested in the institution but in Christ being formed in each of us. Although learning to live in oneness with the Triune God is both transformative and challenging. I have found this transformational journey more difficult than being part of a large church The journey has required an honesty and stripping of myself involving all that I have learned about God from the Institutional church, this includes non denominational. I am not condemning or judging these people, I love them. However there is a tension when I seek truth, questioning accepted theology and norms. The intent is not to create conflict for others but to seek and discover truth concerning the mysteries of God. Asking and working through the tough questions is difficult and requires patience. I have discovered most the meaningful answers come in unexpected ways, from unanticipated sources. It is as though the Holy Spirit opens a portal and uses the common things of life to teach me truths concerning Him. I encounter Him in the thin space and it leads to awe, worship and transformation. These are not major Epiphanies but small glimpses of spiritual reality concerning God’s nature, character and person. Often these truths require theological, cultural and human struggles which I must live and work through. To grow in depth and oneness as a follower of God requires much more energy and effort then simply to repeat Christian rhetoric and yet it results in a much deeper inner peace. A peace and compassion which leads to living out a life where I am the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. We the followers of Christ becoming the kingdom of God present.

  2. Chuck Smith, Jr. / Oct 27 2019

    Beautifully stated, Ed, as always.
    “. . . opens a portal and uses the common things of life . . . .” Yes!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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