Refuge // Non-Denom Church

One of our goals at Refuge.Church, has been to be a Church in which those who came from a variety of religious backgrounds, including none, could come together and worship.  We call this a non-denominational Church.  Is that going to make us doctrinally weak?  Just the opposite; a Church that is constantly going to God’s word to work out truth together. Is that going to be messy?  You betcha!

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Last week we were in Romans 12, where Paul says THEREFORE, and turns his instruction from theology to application. This week, we’ll continue in the application side of Romans by spending some time in Chapter 14.  (NLT)

1 Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.

5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.

 7 For we don’t live for ourselves, or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.

10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 

13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

 17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

On Wednesday, I had a dentist appointment.  Those are fun right?  I’ve always told my clients, the only thing worse than having to sit with an insurance agent, is going to the dentist.  I hadn’t been in 18 months, so of course I got a lecture about that.  They had to do x-rays, and apparently I’ve got the worlds smallest mouth, and a horrible gag reflex, 4 try’s to get back teeth.  Then I don’t know if she’s trying to teach me a lesson or what, but Mary my hygienists, she starts scraping, I think extra-hard on my teeth, talking about the plaque I have since I haven’t been in so long.   And that sound … metal on tooth … horrible.

I was telling my wife Karen about this on Wednesday as we had lunch together later that day, and she’s like really?  I kind of like going to the dentist.  The last time I went, I fell asleep in the chair.  (lol)

Anyway, my dentist is down Cypress Lake Drive, near McGregor Blvd, and so as I drove down Daniels and then onto Cypress Lakes Drive, I couldn’t help but notice how many churches there were.

Baptist.  Lutheran.  Catholic.  Nazarene.  Non-Denominational.  Charismatic.    Presbyterian.  Methodist.  Greek Orthodox.

I counted 18 in all, but I know I got distracted several times, so there were probably more, on just a very short stretch of road.

And you know, that used to really bother me.  I thought, shouldn’t we all just meet together.  Aren’t we all supposed to be one body?

I read a story once about a preacher, and as he got all wound up in his message he said “we’ve got to unite ourselves as one body, because Jesus is coming back for a bride not a harem.”

And if you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me quote that.  And I still agree with that statement, but I no longer think that it’s a bad thing that there are so many colorful representations of that bride.

I know a lot of you are on Instagram, and I love those posts of the Sunsets where you’re like “Only God could create something so beautiful”.  But why are Sunsets so beautiful?  Why do we seem to always SEE GOD in a Sunset?  I think it’s all the variety of colors.  How ugly a sunset would be if it were only one color.

God didn’t make the world monochrome.  He made it with variety because we worship a creative God.  Genesis 1:1, right at the start of God’s word declares … “In the beginning God CREATED …”

And so the Church is one of God’s colorful creations.

When we first starting talking about the concept of Refuge, we said that what we’re attempting to do, has no indication of our feelings towards other expressions of the Church in this city.  In fact, we love the other churches of SWFL.  Our goal, as we just read in Romans, is for harmony in the church, as we try to build one another up.   We’re just another flavor/color.

Throughout scripture, God uses singular words, not plural, to describe his Church or his Bride or his Body.  And so while there is variety in color and flavor, we are all ONE-BODY.

I just found out this week, that a church, that we had no idea even knew about us, had been praying for us, New Hope Presbyterian (who just moved into their new facility, and was a former church plant like us).  How cool is that?  Next week, we’ve got one of the worship leaders from another MBC coming to lead us in worship.  Tomorrow, we’ve got another new start-up church, that will be using our facilities for their church plant on Sunday morning. We are passionate about partnership with the other beautiful colors of the church.

How many have been to Christian Concert?  Hillsong United.  Casting Crowns.  Rocking’ it Old School w/DC Talk?  It’s not one denomination at those concerts, it’s people who love Jesus, worshiping one God.

How many have ever been to an international mission field?  When you are trying to reach people living in absolute poverty, and in some instances trying to stay alive, all religious division goes out the window.  There aren’t Southern Baptist and Pentecostals … there’s only people who love Jesus, trying to change the world.

And so we want to bring that feel, into a local church.  But that’s messy right?  Because we’re not all going to agree on everything the Bible says.

One of the things we cling to at Refuge is the inerrancy of scripture.  This means, we believe the bible to be 100% true.

As Paul teaches his young disciple Timothy …

(2 Ti 3:16–17)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

At Refuge, we believe that the Bible while written by human hands, it is inspired and authored by God.  And so if you here me refer to God’s Word, I’m talking about the Bible.

One of the sayings we’ve stolen from another church movement is “where the Bible speaks, we speak, and were the Bible is silent, we stay silent.”

With my limited time this morning, we can’t get into a full church history lesson (volume 1 and 2), but wanted to give those very new to Church a quick overview …

From the birth of the Church in Acts, we begin to see the church grow, but we also quickly begin to see it struggling to stay unified.  That’s what happens when Jesus builds his Church using misfits.

And for nearly 300 years, the church underwent splits and tension, and changes to beliefs, and trying to figure out God’s Word, or even what should be included as a part of God’s word.

But in 325AD (Constantine/acceptance) the Church began to consolidate around some guiding theology and creeds, and became the Catholic Church, which simply means Universal Church.

The Church gained politically power, and eventually went from persecuted to persecutor, because often power, leads to corruption.  And so politics and power began to take precedence over what God’s word actually said.

And remember, this is a time, before the printing press, and so the Bible itself wasn’t even in the hands of the common man, and even if it had, most people where unable to read.

My wife and I recently visited Spain, it’s a very old world country.  And so you spend a lot of time visiting old castles and old Cathedrals.

One of the most beautiful Cathedrals we visited in a small village called Toledo.   In fact, it’s where the phrase Holy Toledo comes from (don’t say you didn’t learn anything this evening).

Around the inside it had beautiful sculptures on the walls that where used to tell the stories of the Bible that the church leaders deemed important, as again, most people couldn’t not read during this time.

But what we found interesting is that the Church was divided into sections.

And so the peasants/commoners … who apparently would stink really bad, they had one place to set, that was kind of in the outer areas of the Church.  They could only come inside so far.  But as you moved inward, the cathedral got nicer and more ornate, and we’d come to the choir area, and then you had places for the knights, and then the clergy would be located in the seats of highest honor.

But as Karen and I toured this church, we were well aware that this obviously doesn’t line up with some pretty straightforward scripture …

James 2:1-4

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?  For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Seems pretty straightforward right?

But the leadership of the church at this time was more concerned about power and control, than they were on staying true to God’s Word.  Karen even leaned over to me at one point during the tour and said this amazing statement … “Religion controls, but a relationship sets you free.”

Fast forward to 1517, and a guy named Martin Luther, who was a Catholic monk, wrote his 95 Theses, protesting, among other things, the indulgences that were being sold by the Catholic Church to forgive sin.  Completely unbiblical, but a great fund raising idea.

His 95 Theses had two sort of constant themes, that I’ll mention quickly, as they are also the foundation for our modern Protestant Churches.

  • That the Bible is our only source for religious authority.  Not a prophet or a priest or a pope.  Luther pushed for the widespread translation of the Bible so that it could be read by the masses.  He was deemed a heretic by the Catholic Church for this stance, and went into hiding, were that misfit began work on translating the New Testament from Latin to his native tongue of German.
  • is that we are saved through faith alone.  (not indulgences, or traditions, etc)

Eph 2:8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

And so I mention, all of this history, just to bring you up to speed as to who we are as a Church.  The two themes that guide every decision we make at Refuge is that the Bible is our only religious authority, and that we are saved by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus, which then moves us to do good works.

And I would say that the bulk of all Protestant churches agree on these two concepts.

So then why are there thousands of Christian denominations, and why am I taking a week to talk about all this?

Because while the Bible is perfect … our interpretation of God’s word … not so much.

We all bring our baggage.  Each one of us, who picks up the Bible, picks it up with a different set of lenses.

When I read the Bible, I’m reading it as someone who grew up in a very small town, as a Mormon, but also had a strong Pentecostal influence from extended family.  Many Sundays I’d be wearing my little white shirt and tie in the mornings, talking about how important it was to be reverent and quiet in church, and then at night we’d be at the “Holy Roller” church where it was all about singing loudly, speaking in tongues and would see my frail grandma who could barely walk, bustin’ a move down the isles.

At 18, I went to college, discovered philosophy, religious diversity, science, and this thing called the internet, and turned my back on all religion and faith.

I didn’t pick up a Bible again for 10 years, and even then, my life journey played into my interpretation of scripture.  As did the teaching from the Church I began attending at that time.  As did the fact that I am an American.  That I’m a Gen-X’er.  That I’m male.  That I don’t like to hug.

All of my cultural background, all of my beliefs, all of my influences … played into how I interpret scripture.  And even today, as I recognize this, and try to remove those filters, it’s incredibly difficult to do.

That’s what I love about a new believer.  When they start reading the bible, they read it with a fresh set of eyes …

I say to read John 1, and so they start reading …

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Wait what?  I’ve already got some questions …

Many of us, we grew up thinking a certain way, and so we often try to line up the words that we read, with our existing beliefs.  We seek to justify the things we already believe instead of allowing ourselves to be challenged.  That’s our natural tendency.  There’s comfort and safety in consistency.

And the reality is, it’s very easy to make the Bible say what we want it to say.  The bible has been used to defend slavery.  To justify polygamy.  To genocide people groups.  It’s been used to repress woman.  To allow child abuse.  To excuse racism.  On and on.

Mix in the fact that we are separated by thousands of years from the original intended audience of the Bible.  We’re separated by culture, and customs, and language.

And we’re lazy.  Yeah, I said it.  We’re lazy.  The large majority of Christians think all the bible they need each week, is what they get for 30-minutes on Sunday morning/Saturday night.

Those who truly try to grasp God’s word, will find their beliefs and lives constantly being challenged, and that’s scary to some.  It’s scary to me.  It’s why I spend so much time in the NT.  Some of those stories in the OT are messed up, and I have to deal with a faith crisis every time I read them.

And unfortunately, Church for many, has become the place where it is too risky for us to be honest about our questions.  But sooner or later, if you’re reading God’s word, you’re going to come up against challenges to how you think about God and how you think about life.

And so our goal, has been to be a church in which those who came from any variety of religious background could come together and worship God.  We call this a non-denominational Church.

And so Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Restoration, Charismatic, First United Brethren of the Full Assembly Gospel Missionary Fellowship … yeah, you’re all welcome here.

Is that going to make us a doctrinally weak?  No, I think it just the opposite.  A church that is constantly going to God’s word to figure out truth together.

Is it going to be a little messy?  You betcha.  We’re a peachy church, and you can’t eat a delicious ripe peach, without making a mess all over the front of your shirt.

But there aren’t going to be multiple gated communities in Heaven.  I know in Revelation there’s some reference to some pearly gates. Not sure why heaven needs gates.  What kind of neighborhood is it anyway?  Who are they trying to keep out?  Is there a problem with kids sneaking in to use the pool?

But we’re not going to show up to the gates of heaven, and be welcomed by Peter who asks us what our denomination is.  Oh, you’re a Baptist.  Ok, you’ll be in Whispering Oaks, it’s a dry neighborhood, but they have some great potlucks.  Oh, you’re a Presbyterian … you’ll be over at the Heritage Hills, they’ve got some great libraries.  Oh you’re non-denominational?  What kind.  Do you sing hymns?  Oh, you’re one of those who did rock songs?  Where you a democrat or a republican Christian?  Where you a Calvinist or an Armenian.  Post-millennium or pre-millennium?

I feel pretty certain, that all of us who’ve put our hope in Christ are going to be together, side by side, worshipping God throughout eternity, and so why not start now?

So this means as a church, we are willing to embrace some theological differences.  We’re not going to put down other denominations.  We’re going to allow for liberty in the non-essentials of our faith.

That doesn’t mean that any topic is unimportant, but that at times it’s OK to disagree with one another, and even, yes even, have DISCUSSIONS and CONVERSATIONS, and challenge one another, done so in love.

As we laid the foundation for Refuge, we said for the foreseeable future, we had 3 priorities as a church we wanted to focus on …

Deep Study // Deep Relationships // Deep Service

The reason deep study made that list of top priorities, is we want to be a church that is serious about knowing what the Bible says.  We want to be a church that is open and honest when we discuss the challenging parts of scripture.

And we can do that when we have deep relationships, we’re more comfortable and open in our conversations about faith and God.  We’re no longer afraid to express doubts and opinions, we might otherwise bottle up.

And then as we begin to grow in our knowledge of God’s word, and we form deep relationships it will drive us to apply those words to our lives, and try to deeply serve others and make a difference in our community, which helps us to better understand God’s word, and form deep relationships.  Do you see how these all work together?

But it’s still going to be messy.

As I said when we spoke about our peachy culture, we have to start with a solid core, we can’t waiver on the essentials of our Faith.

That we believe in a Triune God; God in 3 persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  A God that has always been, since the beginning.  The author and creator of life.

That we are all sinners as God finds us.  Guilty, helpless, powerless to do anything to better our spiritual position.  And this sin separates us from God and leads to death.

But that God loved didn’t leave us in this messed up state, and so loving the world, he sent his Son to live the perfect life, die the perfect death, experience separation from the Father for the first time in eternity, so that we could be rescued.

We believe this is a free gift from God, we call it grace, and so now, God has adopted all those who have accepted this free gift, as sons and daughters.  We’re now a part of his spiritual family, with a rich inheritance for all time and eternity.

And that God has given blessings like his inerrant word, prayer and the church to help us in our faith and our relationship with Him.

That’s the core.  It doesn’t mean everything else is unimportant.  It doesn’t mean that I personally don’t have an opinion on the other things.  It doesn’t mean that Refuge.Church won’t operate a certain way because of opinions on some of the “non-essentials” …

And that will be some of the messiness of this group of misfits trying to figure all that out, and knowing sometimes, you may not agree, or sometimes I may not agree.  But we’ll go to God’s Word, and we will do our best to figure it out – TOGETHER!

For some it will be how often we serve communion.  For some it will be the music.  For some it will be if we use the word Fall Festival or Halloween.

This tattoo on my arm.  I got a few messages about how a pastor shouldn’t get tattoos.  And they were well meaning, and as best I could tell, they were in love.  There are some in this room who think it’s kind of cool to have a Pastor with tattoos, and there are some that it kind of bothers.  For me, I feel convinced that it’s OK, and in fact even God honoring.  I’ve read the verses in Leviticus about not getting tattoos.  I’ve also read the verses all around it that say my wife can’t be in my home when it’s her time of the month, and that I can’t wear clothing made of mixed fabrics.  But I’m also OK that some believe differently, and very open to having discussions about this.  But if you change my view, I’m sort of in trouble, it’s kind of permanent.

And I think all of those, are relatively minor, but some items are much bigger …

For example, I’ve been asked, Brian, what is Refuge’s stance on Baptism.

Considering my own personal stance has changed more than once, that’s a tough question.  And it’s a complex question, because there are questions wrapped within that question.  Is it OK to baptize babies?  Does it have to be full immersion?  At what point am I saved, upon accepting Jesus, or upon being baptized?

And so as a Church we have to address the question, fully knowing that denominations have split multiple times on this singular topic.  That there are no less than 10 varying opinions in this room right now.  That enough books that could fill this room have been written on this topic, by men 100’s of times smarter than me …

But sure, here goes nothing … let’s see what the bible says …

Well, we’ve said we want to model our culture after Jesus, so what did Jesus do?  Matthew 3 …

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” 15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him. 16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

All four of the gospels, speak of Jesus’ baptism, so it must be important.

But wait, there’s more … (Lk 23:39–43; Jesus on Cross)

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I don’t think they took the thief down, baptized him, hung him back up.   So it’s important, but is it necessary?

Let’s keep going.  In the Gospel of Mark, after Jesus is resurrected and he’s giving instructions to his disciples, he tells them:

15 Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. (Mk 16:15–16).

Hum, OK, stay with me … this is how you work through this stuff … Acts 2 (after Peter’s amazing sermon)

37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… 41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

And who could ever forget the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch?  Philip is riding along, who just so happens to run into this guy who just happens to be reading some scripture that just so happens to be talking about Jesus (funny how that works isn’t it), he shares with him the Good News of Jesus and then Acts 8:36:

36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

And so as a Pastor, if someone comes up to me and says I want a relationship with Jesus, I’m ready, now what?  Hey, let’s go to God’s word.  I’ve got a pool in the backyard, let’s go!

Yeah, but what about the thief?  He didn’t get baptized.  Do you think he would have if he could have?  What about babies who die before they can be baptized.  What about … yeah, I know that list of questions, and that’s why there are so many books and church splits on the topic … but I’m just going to continue to give the answer that Peter gave when he answered the crowds …

Do you see how this works?  Do you see how it can be messy at times?

So as I close, let’s go back to where we started …

17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Do we want to be the church who professes to have figured out all the truths of the bible, or are we a group of misfits who don’t have it all figured out, but TOGETHER are trying to make some sense of it all?  Do we want to be a church with a reputation of having that has all the answers … or do we want to be a church that is known for how much we love Jesus?

And let’s not just have a reputation for loving Jesus, but let’s be a Church who actually loves Jesus.  It’s too easy to lie.  This week, I started going to the gym, and I was about to get on the treadmill … NO, I’M LIEING.  See how easy that is.

I listened to a Podcast by Christian Artist John Mark McMillan this week, and he said:

“People will argue theology to the point that they won’t sing together, they won’t sit at the table together.  It’s not really how right you are.  What is more important, is that people get together and sing.”    

It’s not wrong to discuss and debate scripture.  In fact, God calls us into relationship for building up one another’s faith.  But at the end what’s more important is that we come together as a Church, love our neighbor, and worship God.

Written by Brian Culbertson

Sinner turned Saint because of Jesus.

One comment

  1. Wow Brian— one of the best sermons in my life– and I have heard over 2500 sermons!!

    Janelle I. Wissler, RHIA, CCS, CMT, CCDS, 2530 Hawks Preserve Drive, Fort Myers, Florida, 33905, 239-694-4341. ________________________________

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