A Defense Of The Indefensible- The top 3 objections against my last article. (Do you relate to one of these 3?)

Posted on January 6, 2011


If you have ever stumbled upon a bee’s hive, or a wasp’s nest, you probably know how dangerous it can be.  Most of the time when I stumble upon them, I leave them alone.  After all, why would I stir up danger and risk being stung if I didn’t have to?  There have been times, however, that I had no choice but to go after bee hives and wasp nests because they infiltrated my house.  Despite my fear of stinging insects, the fight against bees and wasps went from being optional to necessary because my household was being threatened.  I am pretty zealous about my house you know?

As you may know, my house is the church (God’s people…the temple of God) because it is also God’s house.  If you have known me for any length of time, you will know that I am not a fan of institutions and denominations.  In my opinion, they are like the bee hives and wasp nests that can come into a home and disrupt life.  Make no mistake about it, institutions and denominations are not the house, but they certainly have come into the house.  I have not always seen institutions and denominations in such a way, but I do now.  As a result, I have chosen to no longer ignore these dangers, but to deal with them openly & honestly because of the great value of the home they are disrupting.  The result has been like…well, the stirring up of a bee’s hive or a wasp’s nest!

A few week’s ago, I wrote an article that attempted to deal with some of the reasons why the western institutional church system has become so factional and divided.  The article was titled “Faction Planting or Church Planting?”.  As you can imagine, the ‘bees and wasps’ were quite stirred up.  If you haven’t yet gotten a chance to read that article, let me encourage you to read the article by clicking on this link before you read any further: Faction Planting or Church Planting…What’s the difference?  I have to admit, the arguments against that article were quite compelling.  As a result, I would like to take a few minutes to discuss the three most common objections against my last article because they are the objections that I consistently hear.

Objection #1:- “Jamal, all this railing against the institutional and denominational church system that you are doing is not doing any good.  All people need to do is be encouraged to pray, study the Word of God, and spend time with the Lord individually, and the Holy Spirit will show people the truth and bring revival to the church. We don’t need to read books or articles from any man about the church.”   

This argument may be the best sounding and most compelling argument against my last article.  After all, who’s against spending time with the Lord, studying the Word of God, and hearing from the Holy Spirit? While this argument may sound good on the surface, it is dangerously flawed for a couple of reasons. 

First, this line of thinking actually exposes the individualistic mindset that is prevalent in those of us who have been indoctrinated in the Western institutional church system.  While having an individual walk with the Lord is essential, it is far from complete. This may sound simple on the surface, but the concept is indeed revolutionary.  A body is not simply one member, nor is a body a collection of members, rather a body is collection of members that have been joined ‘TOGETHER’

‘TOGETHER’, the many members form and operate as one body.  This is true universally as well as locally.  I speak from experience when I say that the majority of those in the institutional church world know nothing about this. 

A church body that operates ‘TOGETHER’ is more than one or two meetings a week where a passive collection of individuals are gathered to listen to one or a few selected people perform from the stage. 

A church body is a group of believers who have been intimately connected to one another and unified through relationship and love for Jesus. Those who know and love Jesus see Him through one another and this is the basis of our deep relationships with the other members of the local body.  Because of Jesus and our connection to Him as the head of the body, we were meant to operate as a family.  This is obviously more than just people who attend scripted functions. Relationship is the glove in which the local church community fits ‘TOGETHER.’ 

There have been some large institutional churches & ministries that have arisen in the past decade here in the U.S. that have emphasized prayer and personal intimacy with the Lord.  Because those who lead these prayer ministries have an institutional understanding of the church, people have been taught to connect with the heart of the Lord on primarily an individual basis.  While connecting with the Lord individually is certainly not bad and much good has come from this, it is far from complete.  Christ is revealed to us, and the world, in and through His body.  His body is made up of many members.  We must commune with Christ as a whole, not Christ as a part. 

Fellowship is a huge component of all of this, and is something that the New Testament church had in abundance.  In His book ‘Finding Organic Church’, Frank Viola makes a very compelling point about this:

Speaking of the church in Jerusalem, Luke reports, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship [koinonia], in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42 NKJV). Koinonia is the corporate experience of God Himself.  It’s the sharing of His life. You cannot experience Koinonia by yourself.  As an individual, it’s out of reach. Koinonia can be experienced only with other believers. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is primarily a shared experience. (pp. 284-285)


The main job of the Holy Spirit is to reveal the person of Jesus Christ and lead us to intimacy with Him. Those who think they can experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit & know Christ in an intimate way without being intimately connected with a group of believers through relationship simply have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of what the body of Christ (Church) actually is.  It is in this context of community that we truly experience the fullness of Christ Himself.  (Again, interacting with our brothers and sisters in the local church gathering is more than gathering a large group of individuals in a room where each person is independently interacting with God through a medium on a stage.) 

Each person in the body of Christ has a ministry of Christ to share with the rest of the body.  We desperately need the ministry of others to commune with Christ just as much as we need to commune with Him individually.  It is not an either / or proposition, rather it is both.  God’s blueprint is to speak & minister His person and life through ‘ALL’ the members of the body of Christ. (This would include people who write books too).  To suggest that the Holy Spirit’s main modus of operation is to only speak to individuals on an individual basis is simply an attempt to put the operation of the Holy Spirit in a box.  It is also an unbiblical limitation. 


Objection #2- Because of heresy, denominations and institutions are necessary.    


“Jamal, you should know full well that heresy has always been a big problem in the church.  We can’t tolerate people teaching false doctrine in the church.  By requiring believers to identify and possibly separate ourselves around important fundamentals of the faith, we are keeping the church pure from heretical teaching.” 


If I had a dime for every time I heard this argument, I think I’d have 10 dollars!  While this argument might sound like there may be some validity to it, it does not deal with heresy at all.  As a matter of fact, it simply creates more of it!  This argument is fatally flawed for a couple of reasons.  First, it violates New Testament teaching.  As I mentioned in my last article, Paul, the apostle, wrote to the church in Corinth and spoke very directly against their attempt to separate themselves around different human leaders.  In 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, Paul describes the attempt of the Corinthian church to separate themselves from one another and form 4 different groups.  This was wrong then, and it is wrong now. 

What does this have to do with denominations?  Everything!  If you take a close look at denominations, they usually have their beginnings with a human leader(s) who are emphasizing a certain set of practices, or doctrines.  The case is then made that people will come together, (or separate their fellowship), based on adherence to these sets of doctrines or practices.  No matter how true a set of tenants are, people have a tendency to want to faction themselves around human leaders who teach these things.  In New Testament times, some said they wanted to follow Paul or Apollos, etc… Down through the ages, some have said they followed the Pope, or John Calvin, or John Wesley, or Martin Luther, etc… the trend continues down to this day.  This happens here in the West on a national scale, and denominations are only one form of this…there are some other examples of factional thinking:

“I exclusively associate and have the most in common with people who follow John Piper, Andy Stanley, John MacArthur, Louie Giglio, David Platt, etc…” 

This also happens on a local basis as well;

“I go to Pastor John’s church” or “I love Pastor Eric…he does not compromise. He preaches on sin and he preaches powerful expository messages from the word of God.  That’s why I am apart of that church.” 

This is modern day factionalism at best.  There is simply no positive New Testament example of this kind of thinking and behavior.  Not only are there no positive Biblical examples of factional behavior among the church, it is the classic definition of the word ‘heresy.’  Most people think the word ‘heresy’ simply means ‘false teaching’, but my friend Matt Rust recently informed me that the Greek word for ‘heresy’ is ‘Hairesis’ which can be translated as a ‘sect’ or a ‘faction.’  Heresy is anything that leads to the creation of sects within the body of Christ.  This is true both universally, and on a local basis as well.  So, as you can see, the very act of trying to contain ‘false teaching’ by creating sects & factions is a text book definition of heresy itself. 


Local institutions only contribute to the problem when they organize and faction around a set of doctrinal tenants and require their participants to agree to all the tenants.  Just because everyone in a specific local institution goes through a ‘membership’ class and agrees with the official teaching of the specific institution, this does not mean that there is uniformity of thought about these issues.  These practices exclude more people in the body of Christ than they unite.  I have never seen uniformity of thought in any local church community, and I imagine we never will until we see Jesus face to face. 

There is nothing in the New Testament that states that all believers have to agree with every theological position in order to fellowship with one another & live like family together.  This is simply a false attempt to create unity.  Unity will only be achieved to the degree that we have the person and revelation of Christ in common with one another.  For that, we must have spiritual eyes to see Him. 

Remember, false teaching is nothing new.  The church has dealt with false teaching from day one.  Most of the New Testament was written to combat and correct false teaching in the church.  It is interesting to note that they never formed any denominations or separate institutions.  They did not create separate factions in which they rallied around certain doctrinal tenants, nor did they require people to pledge allegiance to any human leader(s) either.  The church was not just one or two 1.5 hour meetings a week.  There is simply no substitute for true community.  The local church pictured in the New Testament was a family that operated in community with one another through deep relationship. 

The church pictured in the New Testament dealt with issues, including false teaching, through community. They were expected to take action as a community as well.  Discipleship, as a community, is designed to be a way of life.  This was how false teaching was dealt with.  They did not form factions, institutions, and sects as this is itself heresy.


Objection #3:  “Jamal, I agree with most everything you say, but your tone is really harsh and judgmental.  If your goal is to help the church and see renewal occur, your harsh tone is not helping your cause.”


This assessment is unique because there could actually be some truth to it.  After all, how effective is it to listen to an angry person constantly rant and rail against the institutional church system?  I could spend some time listing some of the reasons why this assessment of my tone may actually be valid, and why it may not be valid as well.  While I appreciate this ‘noble’ attempt by the critics to help me out, I will not address the surface of this assessment; nor will I defend my tone.  At the end of the day, it is simply unimportant.  I have discovered something about those who have made this assessment of my ‘tone’ that I think is far more important however.

Those who bring this assessment almost always start by telling me that they agree with the heart and essence of what I am saying about the church.  While I do not want to question the honesty of those who tell me this, I don’t think they understand what they are saying.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I have discovered (100 % of the time) that those who have said they agree with the bulk of my message about the church system that I have been proclaiming, yet disagree with my tone, actually do not agree with the message at all.  The question about ‘tone’ is simply a smokescreen.  I say this for a couple of major reasons;

Upon further investigation, I have discovered (100 % of the time so far) that the people making this argument are either proud participants of institutional churches that stand in total opposition to the ideas and values that I communicate, or they are still involved in the institutional church system that they do see some problems with, yet are still living in fear of completely leaving that system.  This fear of the unknown, fear of offending and losing relationships with those in the institution, and fear of giving their time and lives to others outside of the institution in the organic church keeps them from letting go of the ‘old system.’ 

It really is amazing to hear someone say “I totally agree with what you are saying Jamal”, and then praise their local institutional church system they are a part of that is simply more of the same problem.  It is like we’re speaking two different languages.  Human beings are complex creatures that are filled with self-defense mechanisms.  It is always easier to attack the ‘tone’ of the person or the person themselves, than it is to address the substance of what the person is saying.  It is especially difficult to take seriously messages that mean our lifestyles will have to change.  There is a certain comfort we receive when we can see and define a religious system we are familiar with even if it may be wrong.  I guess this is why the ancient Israelites wanted to worship a golden calf they could see rather than a God they couldn’t see and control.

I have also discovered a way to tell if a person really agrees with a message that they would say is fundamentally vital; they talk about it!  My admonition to all who have a problem with my tone, yet agree with the heart of my message is this…

Please say it better than I do!

After all, if you agree that the message is important, should it not be talked about so the message gets out to the most people?  I have discovered that the very people who claim to agree with me on message, yet disagree on tone, never talk about the message themselves.  After all, we’re talking about the eternal purpose of God.  The good news of the gospel & the expression of the very body of Christ on the earth (the church) is the most important message that we can live out and proclaim. 

How can a person critique the tone of a person proclaiming a vital message that they themselves agree with and yet remain silent about the message themselves? 

I can tell you why; because they don’t really agree with the message.  100 % of the people who have leveled this charge at me were, at one time, some of the most vocal supporters of my efforts before I critiqued the institutional church system.  They didn’t have a problem with my ‘tone’ then, but they do now.  This is because they do not agree with the message.  ‘Tone’ is a smokescreen.  It is just that simple.

For those who say:

“Jamal, just tell us what the church looks like.  Stop bashing and give us a positive example”

I say this; repentance is your friend.  In order for you to see what you need to see, you have to be able to see what is right in front of you.  Repentance can literally be translated as a change in mindset.  We need a repentance of the way we understand the church.  If this doesn’t happen, we’ll keep looking for the church through the wrong set of lenses and miss what is right in front of us.  In Jesus’ day, people commonly asked Him:

“Where is this kingdom that you keep talking about?”  He would reply to them: “It’s all around you.”

The reason people didn’t see it is because they were looking for the kingdom through the wrong set of parameters.  Nothing has changed.  They had to have their mindset changed (repentance) about what the kingdom actually was.  Until repentance (change of mindset) occurred, they kept missing the kingdom and the point.  This is why Jesus & John the Baptist spent much time exposing and contrasting what the kingdom was not.  When people’s preconceived ideas were exposed, they then were able to see and receive the kingdom that God was building.  The institutional religious system acts as a filter that blocks our view of God’s true house. 

May we discard that filter, and may we do it quickly.

Jamal Jivanjee