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The Wittenburg Door Interviews Juan Carlos Ortiz

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 31-01-2012

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I had been reading The Wittenberg Door since the 1970s. In each issue they would carry an interview with someone of interest. In 1980 they traveled to San Jose, California, to talk with Juan Carlos Ortiz. This interview was selected to appear in The Door Interviews (Zondervan, 1989, pp. 183-190). What follows are excerpts from what Juan Carlos had to say. I believe his words are packed with insights that are just as important now as they were in 1980.  – Jon Zens

Door: You make a starting point in your book. You suggest that when we are talking about the significance of the Bible, in practice, evangelicals believe that God speaks, then the church, and then the Bible. Wouldn’t most evangelicals strongly disagree with that?

Ortiz: Sure they would. That viewpoint has upset many people, but they are only getting upset at themselves. Look at history. It was not the Bible that made the church; it was the church that made the Bible. It was not the Bible who chose the members of the church, but the members of the church who chose the canon of the Bible.

Door: Your viewpoint sounds very Roman Catholic.

Ortiz: The only difference between Catholics and protestants is that the Catholics are honest and say it.

Door: Say what?

Ortiz: That the church is before the Bible and that what the church magistrates and councils decide is what you have to accept. Protestants say they don’t believe that, but they do.

Door: For example?

Ortiz: For example, if you came to a Southern Baptist church and said you would like to dance in their meetings because the Bible says “Dance unto the Lord,” they would tell you they didn’t care; their church doesn’t dance. Now, what is first, the Bible or the church?

Door: The church . . . .

Ortiz: In effect, the church fathers said, after the canon was formed, we don’t need the Holy Spirit to give us any more revelation. That is not scriptural. The Bible says that the Spirit which the Father sent in his name will abide with us forever. He didn’t say abide with us until the end of the canon in the first century. Jesus is still alive, I believe, and we cannot say to him, “Shut up, we have the Bible.”

I am suggesting that many evangelicals use the Bible like the Koran. The Islamic people believe that Muhammad died and left the Koran. The evangelical church is saying the same thing about Jesus. Jesus died and left the Bible. That isn’t what Jesus said. He said he would not leave us completely. Yet many evangelicals are actually denying the resurrection of Christ because they don’t let Jesus do or say anything more. He is in our midst but in a casket. Jesus can’t talk today because we have the Bible.

The Bible is like a light unto our path. But it is not the path. The path is the living Christ. We walk in Jesus, we live in him, and the Bible sheds light on him. The bible is a lamp unto our feet. I believe the liberals have put the lamp on their backs, so they don’t see the way, and the fundamentalists have put the lamp in their eyes, so they don’t see the way either. Both extremes are dangerous and heretical.

Door: In your books you also talk a lot about church renewal. Can you describe the renewal that went on in your own church?

Ortiz: We had experienced tremendous numerical growth in our church. But we discovered that we were running the church like a business. We were promoting Christ like we would promote a product, like we would promote Coca-Cola . . . . We realized that simply increasing the number of people that attend church is not growth – cemeteries grow that way too.

One of the things we did right away was to change the focus of our message. Instead of urging people to come to Christ for all the blessings they would receive, we began to talk about Christ as Lord. We began to preach that people should come to Christ for Christ alone, not for a miracle, a blessing, or even heaven. We simply went back to preaching the person of Christ.

Door: What is your concept of church structure?

Ortiz: Jesus did not come to start an institution. He never intended to buy a piece of land and build a headquarters. We have to ask the Spirit today how to meet the needs of today. I must say that all structures are a hindrance to people in their search for God. If people have to accept Christ plus a pipe organ, the piano, the program, the television ministry, millions will reject Christ.

So often when a person comes into the church structure, it alienates them from their family and friends. Anything that takes the place of the Lord is wrong. For lots of people the structure takes the place of Jesus. They become meeting-centered instead of Christ-centered.

Rather than having deacons and elders, who function like the members of a board, and a minister, who functions like the president of the board, you strive for a group of people who become friends. Just like the disciples – they work together, love one another, and take care of one another.

Door: When we hear the word discipleship we think of a strong authority figure who becomes the discipler while exercising control over the disciple, if there is such a word.

Ortiz: I would not use the word authority. That could be dangerous. I would use the word love. In my house, for instance, there is authority, but we never use the word. Authority is like soap, the more you use it, the less you have. The more you say you are the boss, the less authority you have. There is a kind of authority that lives in love, but we’re talking about a love relationship, not a military relationship.

Door: What are the signs of immaturity in the church today?

Ortiz: [One] evidence of immaturity in the church is the need for rules and laws. Children live by rules. They take a bath or brush their teeth because they are told to do it . . . . Suppose the Lord tells me to eat an orange. So I eat the orange and sincerely believe that God has led me. Tomorrow, the Lord tells me to eat an orange again. So what happens? The next day I write down a rule to eat an orange every day. And do you see what that does? Now I don’t need the Spirit anymore. I have a law instead. Laws kill life. Laws stop growth. You end up staying with a concept, a principle, or a doctrine rather than life. What we did yesterday in the Spirit, we do today in the flesh.

Door: Can you summarize your suggestions for helping the church become a healthy and viable expression of Christ today?

Ortiz: We need to clean the church of all that is not essential or necessary. So we don’t need to waste our time on shakable things like buildings. Buildings are just monuments to the people that build them. They are a symbol of division in the church. They are a symbol of the church’s self-centeredness.

We should strive toward a very simple structure of the church that could go underground any minute. Nobody on the payroll. No secretaries. No letters to write. We should create a church that can live through relationships so that we are connected person to person. And we can attain that by dividing our churches into small cell groups where people can build each other up.

If the church is always singing the same hymns, saying the same prayers, performing the same liturgy, and giving the same messages, it is because there is no growth. The wineskins of the church have to be elastic so we can always put in new wine.

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