One evangelical pastor and author recommends that Christians celebrate Easter anywhere except at church.
"Lock the front door of the church on Easter morning and post a sign there that says, 'He is not here – he is risen,'" said Eric Foley, pastor of Doers of The Word Evangelical Church, in a statement.
"That's the message the angel shares when the women come to anoint Jesus' body on Easter morning: 'Go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead; and behold, he is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see him.'"
Whether it was the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus or the apostles who were called out of the Upper Room and on to Galilee, Foley states that the Easter message is clear: If you want to meet Jesus, hit the road!
The author of the new book The Whole Life Offering explained that almost more than any other holiday, Christians have institutionalized the idea of Easter to being about hearing the Word and then going home.
Describing the typical Easter experience for most Western Christians, Foley told The Christian Post that believers today gather together, hear the Word, and then go home to eat a ham dinner.
"It's an odd notion compared to the Bible. The one thing all the Scriptural accounts have in common is that there are accounts of dispersing ... there is a consistent message of going," he mentioned.
"If the women showed up at the tomb, heard the words of the angel, and then simply went home, that would be an odd response. The way we celebrate Easter: hear the Word and do the Word; experience the love of God and share that with others."
We need to make sure our discipleship practices are designed to do more than gather people, but disperse them as well, Foley stated.
Recommending churches to go out instead of gathering in this year, the pastor clarified that he was not opposed to believers coming together. Rather, he was concerned that Christians made gathering together an end in itself.
This is what needs to be challenged this Easter, Foley asserted.
"The pattern of the Bible is that Easter calls us to be 'living Bibles,' not just those who love God and hear God but those who hear the Word and do it, joining together the two essential elements of discipleship that should not be separated.
"The Easter 'mark' of discipleship is the commitment to a path that leads to fullness in Christ. That doesn't happen by accident, or somehow mystically just by showing up. In the early church, people were baptized on Easter and then began a journey toward fullness in Christ."
That's the key to Easter, Foley emphasized. Historically, each of the Sundays in the church calendar was an Easter experience – hearing the message and being sent out to live it.
Unfortunately, Christians today have lost half of Easter, retaining only the part of hearing the message, he revealed.
Gathering has become the primary thing Christians do because they're not well trained to know what to do when they go out, the Colorado pastor informed CP. They don't know how to do the very thing the angels commanded the disciples to do, which is to go out and share the message.
While the "anemic" churches in the west were hearers only, Foley found that persecuted churches around the world best expressed the biblical pattern of Easter.
"The persecuted churches around the world, they often don't have paid pastors or facilities of their own, individual copies of the Scripture, or the opportunity to gather together regularly, and yet [they] continue to have a very vibrant witness."
In many ways, their expression of Easter is more true to the Scriptures than our own, he highlighted, because for them Easter is not only the hearing of the Word of the resurrection but the sharing of that Word as well. It is the process of bearing witness in the world – even at the cost of their own lives – to the resurrection of Christ; that's what marks the celebration of Easter.
Desiring every believer to become fully equipped to hear and do, Foley's new book is designed to help Christians grow to fullness in Christ and become a "living Bible" like the persecuted church.
"The inspiration of the book comes from the work that we've done with the North Korean church. They each need to learn to be a 'living Bible,' capable of mirroring the whole love of God to those they meet, rather than just reflecting the piece they like the most."
It's certainly not that they don't worship, Foley further explained. It's just that they're not able to gather in large numbers like we do. As a result, they have had to learn ways of maximizing the value of their limited opportunities to gather, and so they gather always with an eye towards how they will share the love of Christ when they disperse.
In North Korea, the pastor observed that just after three to four months, individual Christians had to learn to rely on themselves for being able to share and live out the Gospel; whereas people in Western churches who had been Christians for years felt they were still too immature or incapable of witnessing.
"They never have to go out into the world the way the Scripture commands us, because the Western church can often be a church of professional ministers producing Christian resources and teaching for consumption, creating a kind of permanent infancy."
The overpowering focus of the church's time, energy and attention rested solely on gathering.
"The Whole Life Offering shares a discipleship plan, so that gathering no longer ends up being an end in itself. It's a one-year plan to grow closer to fullness in Christ by grounding the hearing of the Word – seven disciplines of internal Christian development commended in the Scripture – with the doing of the Word – in the form of 10 practices of loving our neighbor that are commended in Scripture."
Measuring comprehensiveness and proportionality, Foley gives believers the tools they need to know what fullness in Christ means and learn how to evaluate and measure their own faith.
"I'm not measuring if the person has faith or not. I'm asking are they making use of all the means of grace that are available to them to love God and are they experiencing them proportionally?"
As to whether his methods might be considered works-based, he responded, "In Ephesians 2:10, it says God has prepared for us works to do. Unfortunately, anytime we use the word 'works' today, people assume we're saying we're working our way to heaven.
"But when the Bible identifies works we can do, it's not to earn God's favor but so that we can come to know Him more deeply and share with others the love He has shared with us. The sin of works righteousness happens when we try to muster up works on our own, giving God something that He didn't give to us in the first place."
We do works of mercy because God first did them to us, he stressed. Works righteousness is the failure to see that God has already done these things for us freely, not because we deserved them.
Foley's church, DOTW, which meets simultaneously in Seoul, South Korea, and in Colorado Springs, will be participating this Easter in one of the discipleship practices he outlines in his book – opening their homes.
"[We want] God to open our eyes to the strangers that are around us that we might invite them into our homes for the celebration of Easter." (Strangers, he made clear, could mean classmates, neighbors, and people they knew who did not believe in Christ.)
"The worst place to celebrate Easter is in a church," Foley concluded. "It's necessary, but not sufficient – meaning that we come to church, we hear the words, but if we hear the Word and simply go home, that would be a puzzling response."
"So lock the door ... [and] take church members into the community to find out if they themselves have the resources to be living Bibles ... Whether at a soup kitchen, a park, or a mall, Easter is a day best spent looking for and sharing Jesus in the community."
Doers of The Word Evangelical Church is a network of home-based congregations that embody the practice of the persecuted church in the free world, training members to be fully mature Christians.