Blog for February 14, 2019
Every movement of the Holy Spirit suffers through a multitude of critics who attack what God is currently doing. This new revolutionary move of the Spirit will be the same. These critics often arise from within the Church. George Whitefield, John Wesley, and other standard-bearers of the revivals withstood harsh attacks from established churches who complained bitterly that the itinerants used unorthodox means of reaching people, disrupted the status and flow of existing ministries, threatened the stability of society, and undermined the security and authority of pastors and denominational leaders. Today, however, we praise God that Whitefield and his colleagues persisted in thinking outside the box and enduring the unwarranted abuse from their spiritual kinfolk.
In fact, energetic resistance by the established Church has accompanied every significant episode of growth in the Kingdom since the time of Christ. Jesus and His followers were slandered, ridiculed, physically abused, and murdered. The Protestant Reformation produced heated debate and violent resistance. The Second Great Awakening drew strenuous opposition from the established Church community. Even the more recent and less extensive movements of faith, such as the Jesus Movement of the 1960s, were dismissed and attacked by religious leaders who were aghast at the different types of people, strategies, behaviours, and outcomes that characterized the freewheeling, hippie-friendly Jesus People.
The revolution of faith that is emerging today is no different. If you mention the mission of deeply devoted Christians whose lives are centered on knowing, loving, and serving God independently of a local church, you can count on criticism from the church establishment. Being Kingdom-minded and seeking innovative ways of reaching the world and honouring God suddenly get redefined to mean that such efforts must be approved and controlled by the presiding rulers of the institutional authorities. Some of the same people who profess love to be their hallmark ruthlessly attack anything that threatens their interpretation or turf.
The major concern about the revolution is that millions of its adherents are not affiliated with a local church – as the local church is currently defined and seen. Revolutionaries distancing themselves from formal congregations does not reflect a willingness to ignore God as much as a passion to deepen their connectedness to Him. Revolutionaries do not try to draw other people away from the local church. Theirs is a personal choice based on a genuine desire to be holy and obedient, but finding that need better served outside the framework of congregational structures.
Mainstream leaders seem to be voicing three dimensions of concern about believers making a conscious decision to separate from a local church. The first is an appeal to their interpretation of Scripture. “To call yourself a believer but leave the local church is unbiblical,” some will say. Others will comment, “The Bible clearly teaches that we are not to forsake the assembling of believers to worship God. Scripture also commands us to be accountable to the church and to be under the headship of His anointed leaders. Jesus Christ established the local church. Abandoning it is displeasing to God.”
Those comments and others like it that I hear in all of the nation where I work pushed me to return to the Bible to find out what God actually says about the Church. If you will take a fresh, non-traditional look at the Scriptures you will find, even discover, some interesting things. For instance, when the word church appears in the Bible, it refers to people who are ‘called out’ from society to be the full expression of Jesus Christ on earth. That reminds me of what being a revolutionary is all about: rejecting the norm and paying the cost to stand apart from the crowd to honour God.
In fact, when the Bible admonishes us to gather together, it does not imply that that should be a church service or congregational event. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). Such interaction could be in a worship service or at Starbucks; it might be satisfied through a Sunday school class or a dinner in a fellow believer’s home. The same God who is more concerned about what is in our hearts than about mindless observance of meaningless routines refuses to impose specific regulations about our religious practices. He wants us to use the creative abilities He entrusted to us to express in our own way how much we love Him and want to glorify Him.
More next time…