The Origins of Modern Organized Religion: Pharisees, Sadducees & Synagogues

Pharisees, Sadducees & Synagogues

  • Why do we see these things in the New Testament, but not in the Old Testament?
  • Where did they come from and why were they in constant conflict with Jesus?
  • Did Christ build His church on their pattern?
  • Or did Pharisaical Christians build a counterfeit church?
  • What was the pattern taught by Christ’s apostles?

Jesus said:

“Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-8)

Let’s start by looking at the commandment of God regarding the sabbath and how “the precepts of men” brought about new traditions.

The context of the following passage contains the first mention and instruction about the sabbath in the Bible: “‘The Lord has given you the sabbath… Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.” (Ex 16:29-30)

So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. (Ex 31:16)

God’s sabbath was for rest and relaxation, physical and spiritual rejuvenation, “every man in his place” with his family, teaching the Word of God to his children and grandchildren (See Deut 6:1-7), celebrating the God Who created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings. (Lev 23:3)

Scripture never deviates from this original pattern. Subsequent Scriptures only reinforce it. Were synagogue meetings part of God’s sabbath? Where did they come from? God didn’t add synagogues to the sabbath, men did – in direct contradiction to God’s instruction to “let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.”

Israel had failed to keep the Law of Moses and their idolatry brought God’s judgment upon them after a millennium of patience. Numerous prophets had warned them to repent and foretold a coming savior. Instead of simply obeying God, they organized a hierarchical system that centered around synagogue meetings every sabbath. This was a man-made attempt to control people. “Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” now had a vehicle for proliferation and enforcement. They were organized to religiously practice “the traditions of men.”

As always happens when there’s a power structure that enables some to control others, various factions sprung up seeking control of the power structure. What we see in the New Testament – 1500 years after Moses had delivered God’s simple sabbath instructions – is the Pharisees and Sadducees, each with their own political hierarchy, creeds and rituals. They were political parties – jostling for power and cutting deals with outside rulers to maintain positions. Jesus, John the Baptist, and other prophets who didn’t play their game were persecuted or killed.

Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. (John 12:42-43)

Jesus warned his apostles that the same thing was going to happen to them, and it did. The apostles preached Jesus’ message that frees people from man-made hierarchical controls. Just as Jesus had done, they went right into the synagogues and delivered the message. And they frequently got a violent response, just like Jesus got.

But Christianity flourished! They reached new people through public preaching at the temple, in synagogues, in the market, and wherever else they could get a hearing all over the world.

Stephen was the first Christian martyr after Christ. Acts chapters 6 and 7 describe how some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen rose up and argued with Stephen and murdered him.

Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. (Acts 8:1-3)

The church in Jerusalem had grown to number in the thousands, but in order to ravage the church, Saul had to enter house after house. There was no central location in Jerusalem where he could find them all because they met from house to house.

Converts to Christianity continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, prayer and to the breaking of bread from house to house (See Acts 2:36-47). Scripture never deviates from this original pattern. Subsequent Scriptures only reinforce it.

God’s New Testament pattern was a lot like His sabbath: “rest and relaxation, physical and spiritual rejuvenation, every man in his place with his family, teaching the Word of God to his children and grandchildren.” Except now it included fellow Christians and each one ministered to one another with a psalm, a teaching, or an exhortation (See 1 Cor 14:26-33).

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before Pharisaical Jewish converts to Christianity were trying to impose their traditions on Christians – Jew and Gentile alike. Much of the New Testament deals with this conflict.

Were church buildings part of God’s pattern? Where did they come from?

Within a few centuries a new hierarchical system had been organized from which arose the Catholic Church, its invention of numerous doctrines, a priesthood, and their claim of universal authority over Christianity. This was another man-made attempt to control people.

Instead of being centered around synagogues, it centered around buildings they call churches. It eventually spawned denominations whose “clergy” kept “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” They’re organized to religiously practice “the traditions of men,” each with their own political hierarchy, creeds and rituals.

The word “church” appears 77 times in the New Testament and it never refers to a building. It always refers to Christians and it says things like “the church that is in their house.” (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Philem 2) There’s no mention in Scripture of Christians having anything like a “church building.” God didn’t add synagogues to the sabbath and He didn’t add buildings to the church. Men added both.

This is the historical record. What are you going to do with this knowledge? Are you striving after the Pharisee model or God’s model?

Because they’re not following the New Testament pattern, many “Christian” churches are dysfunctional. Here are two self-evident truths that shame many self-proclaimed Christians today:

  1. Billions of dollars are spent on unbiblical church buildings, while billions of souls haven’t heard the gospel.
  2. Instead of churches sending preachers to the lost, unscriptural hirelings supplant the priesthood of all believers.


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Organized Religion Fails Most Learning Styles

If you’re interested in reaching people with the gospel, you should be interested in people’s learning styles. I encourage you to investigate the subject in order to more effectively reach people. There are plenty of books and internet resources available on the extensive research that has been done.

My own discoveries led me to take more seriously those who were calling for a return to simple/home church. I would like to summarize what I found. It helped me better understand why having an organized religion mindset, even if meeting in a home, does not motivate most believers; and why many evangelistic methods do not motivate most nonbelievers.

  • Learning Preferences 1
    • A. 70% of the population learns best through participation in a group discussion.
    • B. 30% of the population learns best through lecture, reading, or one-on-one conversation.
  • Learning Preferences 2
    • A. 70% of the population learns best by beginning with practical applications, hands-on experience, and step-by-step instruction. (Jesus For King, Full Stewardship)
    • B. 30% of the population learns best by beginning with the big picture, background theory, meanings, and implications. (Transformation, Spiritual Warfare)

Those who prefer both 1A and 2A make up 49% of the population. Informal small groups are ideal for them. Those who prefer both 1B and 2B make up 9% of the population. Formal church could work for them, but they tend to be independent thinkers and are less likely to let a religious bureaucracy do their thinking for them.

Learning preferences do not limit the ability to learn in other ways. In fact, utilizing multiple methods greatly increases learning. The range of cognition and retention actually achieved depends upon the nature and tone of involvement and commitment. Compare traditional classroom learning with participative learning in adult instructional retention:

  • Lecture: 5%
  • Reading: 10%
  • Audio/Visual: 20%
  • Demonstration: 30%
  • Discussion Group: 50%
  • Learn By Doing: 75%
  • Teaching Others: 90%

The New Testament describes highly relational home churches where each one has a psalm, a teaching, or an exhortation – Discussion Group. Mature saints help newer saints develop their gifts and be successful stewards – Learn By Doing. Intentional evangelism is done by saints who build the body in unity – Teaching Others.

Organized religion fails in just about every respect! Is it any wonder that multitudes of people who believe in Jesus do not regularly attend formal church – Lectures? In response, many religious bureaucrats are now using entertainment to attract followers. Is it any wonder that Biblical illiteracy and its accompanying problems are rampant?

Unfortunately, many who rightly reject organized religion end up far from Jesus because they have been deceived about Christianity. Anyone can recognize that organized religion is in business for the benefit of the hypocrites running it. Jesus said so in Matthew 23. Read it and repent if He’s speaking of you!

Having recognized the benefits of small groups, many religious bureaucrats are now using them to expand their customer base. Simple/home churches are the ideal meeting environment and it is beneficial for autonomous churches to freely cooperate with each other, but there is no need to submit to a costly religious bureaucracy or those who exalt themselves. Submit to the word of God!

Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt 7:22-23)

Next up: The Origins of Modern Organized Religion: Pharisees, Sadducees & Synagogues >>>

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New Testament Christianity v. Organized Religion

Western civilization has been largely influenced by organized religion posing as Christianity. Biblical illiteracy runs rampant. Unhealthy and often violent problems plague our culture, including: widespread corruption, dishonesty, drug and alcohol abuse, sex abuse, bankruptcy and welfare dependency, and the ethical/moral/family decline.

Jesus told the religious establishment, “You travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (Matt 23:15)

Is it any wonder that missionaries who arrogantly try to impose western traditions on foreign cultures make little progress; or that anti-Christian influences find it increasingly easy to incite hostile attitudes towards anything associated with Christianity?

Historically, the most ambitious religious establishment usually ends up working with the most ambitious political establishment to keep each other in power. If Jesus was interested in running a world empire, He would have accepted Satan’s offer in Matthew chapter four, verses eight and nine.

Instead, Jesus started a spiritual revolution to set people free from the manipulations of men (read the Sermon on the Mount [Mat 5-7] from a Pharisee’s perspective). The nice religious folks didn’t appreciate Jesus upsetting their program, so they got Him crucified. The revolution raged on, but within a few centuries Christianity had been hijacked by power-hungry hypocrites, just as had happened to Judaism before it.

Make The Paradigm Shift

Like any business, organized religion operates primarily for the benefit of those who run it. The clergy, generically speaking, solicit the laity, their customers, to patronize regularly. It is not in the best interest of a business to teach its customers how to function without them. They teach their customers to always depend on them, which is why we see so much perpetual spiritual immaturity.

God didn’t design His church to be a top-down, earth-bound organization that operates the way modern corporations and denominations do. Jesus said, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matt 18:20) Don’t submit to those who strive to control people with their manmade traditions. Take responsibility for your own spiritual growth!

From a spiritual warfare perspective (and every other perspective), God is a genius! Infiltrating and corrupting small groups that are scattered throughout communities all over the world is incomparably more difficult for the enemy to accomplish than doing the same thing to large organizations run by a few at the top.

The headquarters of the church is in heaven, and the completed word of God contains all of the information that anyone needs to know to be saved and to save others. Let’s enlighten, empower, equip, and liberate people from organized religion!

If you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got!

Neither popular contemporary traditions nor older religious inventions of men are producing the type of self-sacrificing saints that took the gospel all over the first century world. Religious bureaucracy unnecessarily complicates the mission and only benefits the religious establishment.

We have now compared every issue on the following list. We have not advocated keeping some perfect pattern as a way to earn our way to heaven. We have discussed dropping extra-Biblical baggage in order to be more effective and enjoy God’s best.

Biblical Pattern

As stated in the introduction, many traditions aren’t necessarily absolutely wrong, but it shouldn’t surprise you that in every case, simply following the Biblical pattern has more advantages without all of the unintended negative consequences.

Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians about becoming all things to all men and doing all things for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor 9:19-23) is more flexible, economical, and far simpler than trying to duplicate manmade systems.

Interestingly, many of the problems in the church at Corinth (worldly wisdom, fleshly immaturity, arrogance, immorality, idolatry, cowardice, disobedience to the word of God, false teachers, etc.) parallel many of the problems we’ve discussed. Try reading 1 Corinthians from this perspective.

Many congregations tinker with various issues, trying to make improvements. But it seems there are two mindsets which have the effect of a gravitational pull: church buildings and clergy/laity. These seem to keep people locked into the organized religion paradigm and prevent tinkering from having any long-term success.

I believe that a full scale spiritual revolution is needed to break the gravitational pull and be set free from the competition and guilt that drives organized religion. Though not very glamorous in the eyes of men, and often more dangerous and demanding, New Testament Christianity is the way.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time. (1 Peter 5:6)

Today, billions of souls around the world need to hear the gospel and once again a remnant of faithful believers are rising to the occasion. Let’s zealously imitate the first century church and pray that God will raise up laborers to send into a harvest that is potentially greater than ever before!


Devoted to God’s word v. Devoted to men’s word

Is it just me, or do people seem more willing to follow men’s word than God’s word? We all learn from each other, but what should we focus on and promote: the traditions of men or the precepts of God? Shouldn’t we be more like the Bereans?:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Do you suppose the misguided multitudes think it’s just easier to let others do their thinking for them? I believe this is the sad but true reason that organized religion survives, in spite of the fact that:

We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming. (Eph 4:14)

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isa 40:8)

What imaginations of men are the multitudes falling for this year? Who’s doctrine gets bestseller status this month? Why not be content to simply follow the word of God, rather than the latest craze esteemed by men, or even their longstanding traditions? Alas, some things never change:

Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? … This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. (Matt 15:1-9)

There are two types of people in the world: those who want to follow men, and those who want to follow God. Jesus was up against the same thing we are today, and Samuel was up against the same thing over a thousand years earlier:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord.

The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day – in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods – so they are doing to you also.” (1 Sam 8:4-8)

No King But King Jesus!

Unlike men, God cannot be fooled by hypocrites, bribed, lobbied, blackmailed, pressured by public opinion polls, or otherwise manipulated. So throughout all history, the majority have usually chosen to follow men, while only a minority have chosen to follow God. Jesus told us about these two types of people:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves… Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. (Matt 7:13-21)

Many follow the false prophets, while only a few do “the will of My Father who is in heaven.” There is no higher calling than being devoted to God’s word and letting it govern your daily life. Jesus and Paul both help us understand why most people still chose alternative lifestyles:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim 4:3-4)

And Some Claim The Bible Is A Myth?!

It never ceases to amaze me that people believe every unsubstantiated myth ever imagined, but those same people refuse to believe the truth about the love God demonstrated and the glories He has prepared for us. There is more evidence validating the reliability of the word of God than any one man can fully investigate in his lifetime!

Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar. (Prov 30:5-6)

In spite of reality, the multitudes crazily follow men and persecute those who follow God. Mentally prepare yourself for dangerous trials. Think of them as opportunities to take a brave, lonely stand like Noah (2 Peter 2:5), Elijah (1 Kings 19:10), Jesus (Matt 26:31), Stephen (Acts 7:60), Paul (2 Tim 4:16), and many others. It is faithfulness in the most difficult circumstances that has the biggest impact!

The following exhortation is not just a cute little Sunday school lesson for kids. Your personal loyalty to the marching orders of The King determines your personal outcome in this fight:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:11-17)


Next up: Summary & Conclusion >>>

Collections as needed v. Collections regardless of needs

The Law of Moses required Israelites to give tithes (tithe means 10%) to the priests and Levites so they could be devoted to serving at the tabernacle and still support their families. Hebrews chapter seven tells us that before the Law, Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, who was a priest of the Most High God.

Though the standard down through the ages has been ten percent, the New Testament doesn’t make such a requirement. Remember the principle of faith versus law. Law says you have to meet certain requirements. Faith says we want to love because He first loved us. Jesus gave it all to pay the price to save our soul, so each one of us always tries to give more, do more, be more, and love more.

Acts 2:41-47 and 4:32-37 tells about the first Christians’ lives being so dramatically impacted by salvation through Jesus that they regarded the cares of this world as irrelevant. Many took the initiative to sell their property and possessions because of a need they could fulfill with the proceeds.

They didn’t demonstrate such self-sacrificing love because they were required to do so. On the other hand, such foolishness in the eyes of the world was not discouraged, either. Also, they wouldn’t have been able to meet from house to house, as it says they did, if all of them had sold all of their property. Different gifts are given to each saint.

Let’s follow the first Christians’ example and neither require nor discourage, but rather inspire by demonstrating self-sacrificing, genuine love. Let’s not ask how much we have to give, but rather how much did Jesus give and how much can I give. Let’s be alert to needs and take the initiative to help to whatever degree we are able.

To discern legitimate needs, keep in mind the admonitions of 1 Timothy 6:8, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content;” and 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”

Collection For Needy Saints

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. (1 Cor 16:1-2)

I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. (2 Cor 8:8)

He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed… He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Cor 9:6-10)

See also Romans 15:24-27 and 1 Corinthians 9:3-13. Chapters eight and nine of 2 Corinthians are instructions to the saints at Corinth about a collection Paul was requesting to help needy saints at Jerusalem who were experiencing great hardships because of their unrepentant countrymen.

All creation belongs to the Lord, so He certainly doesn’t need your money. He providentially channels resources through generous saints, not stingy ones. As needs presented themselves, first century saints gave to the needy, especially to those who were of the household of the faith (Gal 6:6-10), and especially to those devoted to spreading the gospel.

So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. (1 Cor 9:14)

Paul was devoted to spreading the gospel and he commended the Philippian (4:10-19) saints for sending “a gift more than once for my needs.” Every Christian is a priest, so any ‘man of God’ devoted to spreading the gospel can be supported by fellow saints.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I find no New Testament obligation for Christians to systematically ‘give to the church’ as organized religion typically teaches. They usually have a lot of unscriptural overhead expenses and they often use not-so-subtle pressure techniques like passing around a collection plate to keep themselves in business. Again, there’s no New Testament precedence for this.

Cut out all of the unneeded, expensive traditions of men, and saints could finance the spread of the gospel like never before! Today, there are more people alive than ever before who have never heard the gospel. Stop investing in real estate and theology degrees and start investing in souls by supplying the needs of those devoted to spreading the gospel!

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:19-21)


Next up: Devoted to God’s word v. Devoted to men’s word >>>

Full stewardship taught v. Don’t get too personal

What is New Testament Christianity all about? The four gospel accounts tell the story of Jesus; Acts tells the story of the apostles He sent out; and the rest of the New Testament are letters of instruction to Christians. What kind of instructions are in those letters?

It’s all about relationships. First, our relationship with God; second, our relationships with people. It teaches us about our stewardships here on earth, including: how to govern ourselves; how to have a successful family; our relationship with civil government; our responsibilities within the church; plus, work ethic, financial stewardship, time management, and more.

Full stewardship is best taught through personal example and timely counsel, which requires the authentic relationships described in the New Testament. The first century church was continually devoted to fellowship (Acts 2:42) because making disciples is a hands-on job. Jesus demonstrated it for us. Paul demonstrated it for us. This is needed today as much as ever!

Christians should be involved in the daily lives of each other, and those who are more mature should help others to mature in all of the areas mentioned above. People helping people. Families discipling families. This is how the meat of the word can really get taught. The milk of the word, The Good Story, is often preached publicly.

Paul reminded the elders of the church at Ephesus, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ… Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God… Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” (Acts 20:18-31)

Christianity is personal. Organized religion is not.

Organized religion shrinks from declaring anything that is not profitable for the organization, and admonishing each one with tears isn’t usually a crowd-pleaser. They can’t afford to admonish people because they usually have mortgage payments and a board of directors. So they find a niche and tell people what they want to hear. Some even conduct surveys to find out what people want to hear. Read 2 Timothy 4:1-4 if you want to see Paul’s version of this warning.

When I share with people the New Testament’s description of an assembly (Each one has a psalm, a teaching, etc. – 1 Cor 14:26-40), those accustomed to organized religion often get a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on their face and they instantly form various mistaken assumptions.

Organized religion thinks that the clergy/professionals are supposed to put on a show for the laity/customers at specified times, and that Christianity revolves around these shows. This distortion keeps them in business, but it’s far different from Biblical Christianity.

Real Christian leaders aren’t in show business. They are personally involved in people’s lives to help them mature in all of the areas mentioned above. They lead by example and admonish each Christian, equipping them for unique works of service. Disciples start as spiritual children, but they are not to remain that way. Healthy development results in mature saints who can not only participate in the assembly, but who also use godly wisdom in all of their stewardships.

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Our relationship with God comes first. Our relationship with one another, second. God gave us each a gift to serve one another, and we are to put our gift to work. Two examples of gifts are speaking and serving. Romans 12 lists seven different gifts. Leaders should help you discover and develop your gift. Nonetheless, each one is responsible for his stewardship.

The formal, hands-off approach can never equip the saints as well as the informal, discipling approach. Organized religion produces perpetual immaturity; the laity are always dependent upon the clergy. Power-hungry people like it that way.

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matt 20:25-28)


Next up: Collections as needed v. Collections regardless of needs >>>

Freedom in Christ v. Divisive laws invented

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:23-27)

The Law is a tutor to lead you to Christ. It let’s you know of your need for a Savior. Through faith in Christ you are freed from the law of sin and death and given a new image. As you walk by faith, not by sight, the Holy Spirit empowers your transformation.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:22-24)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Gal 2:20)

If this isn’t making sense, please find out if you received the Holy Spirit. It’s all about mindset because mindset determines your behavior (See Romans 7-8). Law and legalism sets your mind on fleshly desires and how close you can get to the line without crossing it. Faith and freedom sets your mind on your new image, the Holy Spirit, and how much love you can demonstrate.

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. (Gal 5:13-15)

There are risks involved with freedom (someone might misuse it), but it also promises the greatest reward of all: the glories of heaven. Freedom requires 100% personal responsibility. If you don’t walk by faith, you will suffer the consequences. If you walk by faith, you will receive the reward.

Counterfeit Christianity is Not Your Ticket to Heaven

Some think Christianity is just a new set of laws to replace or add to the Old Testament set of laws. These legalists search for regulations to keep and restrictions to impose, and end up inventing divisive laws to enforce. Like the Pharisees before them, they bite and devour, looking to condemn.

Not trusting themselves or others with freedom, they depend on coercion to try and control behavior. They missed the fact that 1500 years of law produced Pharisees, at best, who condemned Jesus for not keeping their invented rules. (Matt 12:1-14) He rebuked them, saying, “It is lawful to do good.”

Law produces superficial changes, but it does not change the heart for the better, which is what God is interested in. Jesus called the legalists hypocrites, which simply means actor. They put on a superficial religious show at the right times. Yes, there are a lot of hypocrites today.

“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matt 15:7-9)

Organized religion deceives people with a false-sense-of-security. People can mindlessly ‘keep the law’ by going through the motions their entire life, and not be saved by faith. Jesus didn’t suffer on the cross to coerce us into dressing up and playing church. He paid the ultimate price for our life, and our life is what He wants.

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

Get the word of God into your heart and let it teach you to love others the way Jesus loved you!

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. (Mark 7:8)

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) – in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (Col 2:20-23)

Throughout history, power-hungry people have used religion to control others. You may not understand some people’s lust for power over others, but Jesus did. He exposed them in His day (Matthew 23), and we should follow His example and expose them in our day. One clue is when there’s a select few, or just one, who monopolize the teaching and discourage serious questioning.

Every individual in every generation should question the traditions of men, comparing them with the word of God. Every church has the freedom to establish its own traditions, provided they don’t violate Scripture. But what is profitable this year in this place, may not be profitable every year in every place.

Beware of implying that everyone is expected to follow any traditions not specified by Scripture. Otherwise, those who don’t conform get ostracized. This has happened with academic church schools, Sunday school classes, Bible colleges, music styles, meeting times, church buildings, and many other traditions of men that are not specified by Scripture. If it’s not specified, don’t ostracize.

For example, if an academic church school is provided, it easily becomes a wedge issue since it is competing with free enterprise. Any entrepreneurs who want to start a school or any parents who want to home school are immediately at odds and competing with the establishment.

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. (1 Peter 2:16)

It’s also worth noting here that some people habitually misuse the word legalism to label anything they don’t like. You can probably imagine the contempt in their voice as they say, “You’re a legalist if you believe that Scripture.” My response is, “Label me whatever you want, but I believe the word of God over the word of man every time!”


Next up: Full stewardship taught v. Don’t get too personal >>>

Love feast v. Formal ceremony

Jude called it a love feast (Jude 12), Peter used similar terminology (2 Peter 2:13), Luke called it the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), Paul called it the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20) and said,

“Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast…” (1 Cor 5:7-8)

It was during the Hebrew celebration called the Feast of the Passover that Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19) While growing up, He traveled with His family to Jerusalem every year according to the custom of the Feast (Luke 2:41-47), which is when, at the age of twelve, He got left behind and they came back and found Him debating the teachers in the temple.

If you’re not familiar with the origins of the Feast of the Passover, just read Exodus 11-12 real quick. Passover was a yearly celebration in remembrance of God delivering the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. It included a full meal with lamb, unleavened bread, the fruit of the vine, etc.

Our Passover

On the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), the day Jesus rose from the dead, we celebrate our deliverance from slavery to sin, our death and resurrection with Christ (Rom 6:1-11), and the love of Jesus which we are to imitate. It’s not a funeral (the impression you get in some places) for Jesus isn’t dead. He rose from the dead, guaranteeing our resurrection! Therefore let us celebrate the feast!

The first Scriptures mentioned above indicate that the first Christians enjoyed a full meal together. It was an informal assembly of Christians in someone’s home, and each one would share a psalm, a teaching, or an exhortation.

After a couple decades of this practice by the growing, spreading Christian movement, the apostle Paul wrote to the church he had planted in Corinth, admonishing them for immature and fleshly behavior. Divisiveness and factions were evident during the time they should have come together for the love feast. He rebuked them saying, “When you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating, each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.” Paul instructed them to wait for one another and to eat at home if they were too hungry to wait. (See 1 Cor 11:17-34)

Each congregation has lots of freedom in determining the way they want to do things. The situation at Corinth lets us know that it’s best to celebrate the memorial feast together if your group can behave themselves.

Modern Application

A full meal doesn’t seem realistic when considered from the later developed, widely practiced, formal ceremony perspective. With three thousand converted after the first preaching of the gospel (Acts 2:42-47), how did they all break bread in someone’s home? They didn’t. They were “breaking bread from house to house.”

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matt 18:20)

Don’t be deceived by people on power trips who condemn anyone who doesn’t meet under their roof. First century Christians met from house to house, even in the same city. The home environment is ideal for a joyful family gathering where authentic relationships can be developed and meaningful conversations can take place over a meal.

Organized religion has really given Christianity a bad image. Over a thousand years of rigid ceremonies and superstitious rules has convinced many people that they already know about Christianity and they don’t want anything to do with it.

Many modern sects have reacted by creating a competing entertainment-driven version that is delivered to the masses with a slick marketing package, just like a franchised box store. In either case, it’s basically just a show put on by the clergy for the laity.

After experiencing the superficialness of big religion, I have learned to be content following the New Testament pattern. It’s alright, and really more authentic, if it’s just a few families assembling together. They hold each other accountable and truly become ministers of God.

They get to dig into the meat of the word together, rather than huddling with the malnourished masses who are served up watered down milk every week. They can work together to plant additional congregations in their community, surrounding region, and send preachers all over the world, just like the first century church did.

Next up: Freedom in Christ v. Divisive laws invented >>>

Authentic relationships v. Keep it to Sunday

The Ten Commandments themselves are all about relationships with God and others. If you lie, steal, murder, etc., you’ll quickly ruin any relationship. But good relationships aren’t created simply by the absence of wrong behavior; good relationships require the doing of good.

This is what New Testament Christianity is all about. The seeds of this concept were planted in the Old Testament and quoted by Jesus in answer to someone’s question:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, o Israel! the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Please answer each of these questions: How do you love God with all your heart? How do you love God with all your soul? How do you love God with all your mind? How do you love God with all your strength? And if you do all that, how do you have any love left for your neighbor or yourself?

We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:19-21)

Loving God doesn’t mean hiding out in a monastery, secluded from people. Quite the opposite:

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 25:40, “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Jesus led by example. He denied every worldly desire, choosing instead to serve others; personally teaching them about the kingdom of heaven and training each one to do the same. You can read about the results in the book of Acts. And the rest of the New Testament is filled with instructions about having good relationships with one another.

Institutionalized Love

The institutionalization of anything always diminishes personal responsibility and initiative. Anyone who’s ever experienced a spontaneous outpouring of love from Christians has benefited a lot more than someone who’s gotten an obligatory visit from the clergy.

Many think Christianity is keeping some rules and attending some ceremonies. Organized religion promotes this idea because it keeps them in business. Don’t be deluded. Dressing up and playing church every Sunday is not New Testament Christianity.

We have received a higher calling! Love takes all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The result of true worship, transformation of character, and becoming a new creature should be authentic relationships.

It’s not the job of ‘the church’ to love people and spread the gospel. If you are a Christian, you are the church. It’s your job! Jesus rolled up His sleeves and got His hands dirty (so to speak), and He expects us to do the same. What does being a disciple of Jesus Christ really look like? Read this very slowly:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:3-5)

Wouldn’t it be easier to just ‘go to church’ on Sundays, split hairs over inconsequential stuff, and pat yourself on the back for paying an institution to do good to others, while living the rest of your life like the rest of the world? Yes, it’s easier to be a hypocrite than it is to be authentic, but the reward isn’t as good.

Will you accept Christ’s higher calling of taking up your cross daily, getting the word of God into your heart, soul, and mind daily, and considering how to apply each verse with all your strength to each of your relationships?

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, [if you warm the seat of a pew once a week? no…] if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)


Next up: Love feast v. Formal ceremony >>>

Saints are holy new creatures v. Sorry sinners are nothing but forgiven

Christians are called saints 60 times in the New Testament, and they’re only called Christians three times. Saint is the Greek word hagios, which means sacred (physically pure, morally blameless, ceremonially consecrated). Hagios is used in the New Testament 219 times, but is mostly translated holy.

What separates saints from sinners is the Holy (hagios) Spirit. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit, you don’t belong to Him (See Rom 8:9). Did you receive the Holy Spirit? If you did, you’re a saint. How empowering!

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11)

When the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith. (Phil 3:9)

We walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Cor 5:17)

God has given us a new self image: His righteousness. Saints are holy new creatures whose character is transformed as they worship in spirit all the time. Please read the two previous lessons, if you haven’t already, because this is all tied together.

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

As you read your Bible and read innumerable statements like the one just quoted and read 60 times that you are a saint, you get the idea that God is trying to impress something on your brain. There is a spiritual battle going on for your mindset.

The Other Side of the Coin

We’ve been looking at the positive, but we’ve all heard the voice of the enemy as well. “You’ve always been a sinner and you’ll always be a sinner.” Every time you look at some of God’s positively motivating principles of transformation, someone parrots this defeatist mentality. It’s repeated so often you’d think it was Scripture, but it’s not!

Saints aren’t just a bunch of sorry sinners who are nothing but forgiven. We’re not doomed to spend the rest of our days continuing to ruin our relationships while we mechanically go through the motions of so-called worship services. Sadly, this dismal description is the reality for many deceived believers.

Jesus came to save us from our sin, not in our sin. He came to set us free! The Scripture repeatedly sets the expectation that we are to overcome as we walk in love:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law… Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Rom 13:8-14)

Sin and the solution were both explained in this Scripture. Jesus led by example. Focus on love, not on sin. Transformation of character happens as you daily put on the new image that God has given you. Practice the laws of the harvest and you will reap:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal 5:22-23)

Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Gal 5:16)

It’s preposterous to think that as long as you have a body you have to be a lying, cheating, adulterous murderer. Those who hold this faulty view argue a cause that the Scripture does not argue for. Can you love without sin for one second? For one minute? One hour? One day? …

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Tim 6:3-6)

One thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Phil 3:13-16)


Next up: Authentic relationships v. Keep it to Sunday >>>