We are ready to begin planting a local church in the Greater Toronto Area.
This project has been in our prayers for several years and in the planning stage for a year. We have done some ground work with a leader who is studying in North York.
This young man is someone that Ralph has known for a number of years having met him in Kazakhstan and worked with him there during his twice-a-year ministry trips. Then over the past two years Ralph has been building a relationship with him as he studied in university in Toronto.
Ralph is now ready to start regular trips to Toronto to plant a local church for students who are studying in Toronto and who have roots in Central Asia. He will be helping to train and encourage the leader who is in his third year in university as well as meeting with those the leader has been relating to – most of whom are not born again but are hungry to know more.
The plan is for Ralph to be in Toronto working approximately once a month for four days … and working with the group in-between visits via internet.
New series of Blogs on the New Testament Church examining what they experienced as believers. A good opportunity to have a look at what we call the Christian Church and compare to the original. Then, determine to respond to God’s shaking all the religious and traditional junk from our corporate and individual lives so we can regain what has been lost and more…
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When Jesus was twelve years old He went with His parents to Jerusalem. After the celebrations were over the many families who had been in Jerusalem worshipping travelled back home together. It was only later that they discovered Jesus was not with them.
Often, as believers, we travel through our daily lives and don’t realize that we have misplaced Jesus. Often we run on our own agenda and only when things don’t go the way we want them to do we realize that we are ‘missing Jesus.’ It seems at times that we think we are smart enough or strong enough to handle life on our own. Then when we call out to Him in our crisis only then do we realize that we are ‘missing Jesus.’
This teaching will be looking at this bible story found in Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:41-52) as we examine our own lives to see where we have wandered away from Jesus and so, in some ways, we are ‘missing Jesus’ in our daily walk. And, we will also look at why this seems to happen when we truly are in love with Him and have committed our lives to Him.
Ralph will be working with a young third year university student attending North York University. He is from Kazakhstan and is seeking an expression of the Church that will speak to his generation; especially the fellow students he has come to know who do not yet know Jesus but are asking questions.
This is a new church plant and Ralph will be working closely with his leader there – supported by the prayers of many young Christians in Kazakhstan who are sponsoring this church plant.
Plans are to continue building relationships, forming a local Bible study for non-believers, and watching what the Holy Spirit can and will do. Ralph will be on site once every six weeks to encourage and train leaders. This trip is from October 26th to 29th.
Then Ralph will continue on flying to Columbus, Ohio and then driving to Bellville and Butler, Ohio. He will be working with Bill Lewis who is an apostle and pastor of The River Community Church in Butler, Ohio. Ralph is one of two outside apostles in an apostolic team overseeing the work there. His involvement now reaches back 7 years and he is usually in this area two to three times a year. This trip is from November 29th to November 5th, 2018. There is another trip planned for December of this year as well.
The Church Today – Part Five
So what about the Church after God’s own heart in the future? What changes will be needed to bring about the Church of the future? What will the Church look like? How will it function? Will we see traditional type churches continue on into the future? Will, the institutional church simply fade and eventually disappear?
There are so many things to consider and so many questions to answer. And, no one has all the answers nor does any particular flavour of the Church even have all the questions.
But, we can see over the horizon and begin to get a glimpse of the future. George Barna wrote:
“The United States will see a reduction in the number of churches, as presently configured. Church services will decline as Christians devote their time to a wider array of spiritual events. Donations to churches will drop because millions of believers will invest their money in other ministry ventures … A declining number of professional clergy will receive a livable salary from their churches. Denominations will go through cutbacks, and executives will be relieved of their duties as their boards attempt to understand and halt the haemorrhaging. To some, this will sound like the Great Fall of the church. To Revolutionaries, it with be the Great Reawakening of the church.” (Revolution, pages 107-108)
Statistics show that the number of Christians who attend a traditional church will drop from 70% to 30% in the next 20 years. (Revolution, Page 49)
If that truly happens, we will see the demise of the institutional church as we know it today. Not that it is going to vanish, but the number of Christians who are wedded to it will drastically decrease making the survival of some churches totally impossible.
We will also see the rise of the ministry of the apostle. A rise in numbers; a rise in influence and authority; a rise in visibility. As a result churches will begin to receive the ministry of the apostles and new life will be released and received.
Apostles (and prophets) are foundational for the Church to be built correctly and for the Church to become effective (Ephesians 2:20). Along with the apostles we will see full fivefold ministry teams ministering in churches (Ephesians 4:11) as the Church – the people of God – are equipped and trained for the work of the ministry. As a result we will see the mobilization of the Church as she begins to effectively reach out proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) and seeing the lost saved.
Programs will disappear as more and more churches embrace organic life and leave behind the institutional aspects of the Church. Personalities who are charismatic and strong will no longer be the leaders of these churches as the regular believers will rise up and lead so that it is no longer a “one man show” as it has been over the many centuries. Many para-church ministries will fade in importance and even cease to exist due to declining donations and thus a lack of income. Also, as many new churches are planted – the majority being in homes – the need for para-church organizations will decrease because the church will once again be locally oriented (in each neighbourhood) and will be truly the Church in the society thus eliminating the need for para-church organizations because, once again, the Church will be doing what the Lord has commanded it to do – win the lost, disciple the believers, equip the saints, mobilize the troops, and release them into the work of the ministry.
The Church of the future will resemble what we see in the Book of Acts and the Epistles to the early churches. However, the Church described in the pages of Scripture will simply be the starting point for the Church of the future. Yes, we will look like the early Church and we will see and experience what they saw and experienced. However, we cannot limit ourselves to repeating what has already been. What we know from the Scriptures will be the foundation upon which Jesus can then built His Church. A Church that will truly take the Gospel of the Kingdom to every nation and people group on the face of the earth.
The Church Today – Part Four
We live in the age of unbelief. Fewer and fewer people are claiming to be Christians through the western world. Christians are losing social status and favour more and more, almost by the day. And, the Church and the Christianity that is seen and heard often does not resemble the Church of the New Testament nor the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Today, as we look at most functioning churches, we see that many churches are no longer preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, Some never did. It seems to me that we have three types of churches in the world today regardless of the culture, language, or location.
Let’s spend a few minutes looking at these three approaches to church life today in the midst of this age of increasing unbelief.
1> Churches that take what we might call THE CONVERTING CULTURE APPROACH
In this mindset, what matters most in that the culture or society that we live in should reflect biblical principles and values. So, we go about working to convert our society, people group, or nation to the Christian faith. We go to great lengths – doing almost anything – to make it happen. We become networked with others who want to see change – others who have their own agenda and non-Christian values. We make moral compromises.
This set us into a battle mindset. So, we see what is often referred to as “The Culture Wars.” This pits the Church against the world. We, the believers, are right. The world and non-believers are wrong. We work hard to convert them; to convert the culture often regardless of the cost or the alliances we have to make.
Don’t get me wrong, Christian should be engaged in all of culture, seeking to transform culture through the power of Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom all things are sustained. After all, Christi is not just Lord of the Church, but of the world. But, we need to recognize that, until Christ returns, this world will never look as it should. We should not be trying to build the new Jerusalem and you can’t force people into the Kingdom of God.
So, making compromises and unholy alliances in the pursuit off converting the culture leaves many people suspicious of the Church and hardened to the message of the Gospel.
2> Churches that take what we might call the CONDEMNING CULTURE APPROACH
In this age of unbelief some churches are pursuing the idea of removing themselves from the world, retreating into a subculture and staying well away from the wider culture because society is sinful, corrupted, and antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
These types of churches have always been a part of the church’s response to the challenge of living in this world. It was once seen in the rise of the monasteries. You see it today in the blogs and books advising Christians to create their own sub-culture, withdrawing from the increasingly un-Christian and yes, anti-Christian wider culture.
Sounds good. God does call His people to holiness. The Scriptures are clear about the Church being distinct from the rest of the world. We are to be salt – we are to ‘taste’ different.
However, we are to be “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). And, salt maintains its flavour while it is rubbed in the foodstuff it is being used to preserve. Also, salt spreads its flavour. To do so, we must be engaged with the culture we are working to influence. We must actually get our hands dirty and show and share the Good News of Christ, and proximity and relationships are essential to making that work. It requires involvement in the local community and in the public square. Culture is not the source of evil. That’s the human heart (Mark 7:18-23). And so, closing out the culture won’t close out sin.
3> The third popular response to post-Christian culture is the most attractive, the most widespread, and the most scary. It is to follow the trends – TO CONSUME CULTURE.
So, wherever culture and historical Christian teaching disagree, the Christians accommodate the culture. After all, if we want to stay relevant in a post-Christian age, then some of the Christian stuff will have to go. So we redefine sin to allow for lifestyles, attitudes, and behaviour that are anything but biblical.
This looks good because it usually starts in a good place, with good intentions of seeing where the Bible speaks boldly and clearly about social issues that we often ignore, and embracing the connection between faith and culture. However, it often ends up with the church involved in social issues at the expense of the gospel. We neglect the Gospel because we are focused on the implications of the Gospel. And then the social gospel ends up not being a gospel at all.
Those who take the ‘consuming culture’ approach follow culture, first and foremost, before the Bible, neglecting and compromising on significant aspects of faith. These men and women begin to look more and more like the world and less and less like the Church. When the voice of a culture, and not the Word of Christ, is what governs the Church, then it is no longer the Church. It is just a social club of people desperately trying to keep up with the cultural fashion and trends. Ironically, that is the quickest way to close your church. Why would anyone bother coming to a church that is indistinguishable from anything else?
These three styles of a church interacting with the society and culture within which it is located simply do not impact the people they are trying to reach with the true Gospel of the Kingdom. However, the vast majority of churches today fit into one of these three categories. Thus, the church today is in trouble and needs to change.
The early church was one that lived within the culture in which it was located. The early Church did not try to convert the culture – they simply witnessed to the life-changing power of the Gospel and saw thousands come to Christ. They did not condemn the culture thus turning people off the biblical message of salvation. They simply unconditionally loved people who lived in and embraced a specific culture. And, they did not consume the culture thus appearing to act and live the same as those they were trying to influence and impact for the Kingdom.
Instead, the early Church believers had the courage of their convictions and were free to be the people of God living out the mission of God, marked by the joy of God. They lived with a sense of hope and saw what was going on around them as an opportunity to tell others of the Gospel of the Kingdom and an alternative way of life.
The Church Today – Part Three
In the 20th Century, in North America, there were a number of different moves of God. The best known one is the Azusa Street Revival from 1906 to 1909. The Pentecostal Moment came out of this revival.
Then in 1948 (to 1952) we saw the Latter Rains Revival in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada. In those years, God brought a revival that stunned the nations and the Church. It occurred in the traditional church. People who were part of traditional church structures were experiencing and touching authentic body life. But, for the most part, these experiences were taking place outside of regular church services. We also saw the reintroduction of the ministry of the apostle in this move of God.
There was, at the same time, in the wider church what became known as the Post-War Revival. This spread across denominational lines. But it eventually died out, however, because leadership sought to control it. Nevertheless, it produced a number of gifted servants of God who would go on to have world-wide ministries. Dr. Billy Graham was one of them. It also brought many of the new and budding para-church organizations into being and some prominence.
The next move of God occurred from 1968 to 1972. We know it as The Jesus Movement. It began and continued to thrive outside the traditional church. House churches, Simple churches, and Christian communities sprung up wherever this new move the Spirit was embraced. Numerous young people came to the Lord. Some say that you could simply say the same “Jesus” and people would get saved.
This movement thrived among the youth in the counterculture. They were turning from the free-sex-and-drugs culture to Jesus Christ. They were also experiencing the body of Christ and body life in close-knit communities. The major impact of this move of God ended in 1972. However, people were still being impacted by the communities and churches that formed as late as 1979.
What happened? The men who were in the 20s during the 1948 to 1952 moves of God were in their 40’s during the Jesus Movement. These men stepped into leadership roles and began to take over – and control – the new move of God.
The problem is that none of the men who took the leadership in the Jesus Movement had any experience outside the traditional church. None of them had grown up in Christian community -experiencing body life. None of them were “brothers among brothers” in a church life situation outside the religious system. Instead, they were pastors, teachers, and organizational clergy in a religious system one day and overnight became leaders of these fresh and budding organic expressions of the church.
The main issue was: Leaders who had no experience outside of traditional church could not effectively lead a church that was functioning outside of the traditional structure. In the organic church, the Christian communities that were forming, there was a lot of testing, sifting, mutual iron-sharpening, and breaking that went on (as in all organic church life) and the leadership coming out of a traditional expression of the church simply did not know how to lead the new expression that was rising up. The leaders were not able to give anything of life, reality, and especially freedom to young believers who were experiencing the Lord outside of the known, traditional structure.
The leaders ended up loading the Jesus Movement with the same baggage that had divided Christians for centuries before. The result was division. The Movement began fracturing over peripheral doctrines like speaking in tongues, what is going to happen in the Millennium, when is Jesus coming back, can a person lose their salvation, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit, how long will the tribulation be and who will participate in it, and a million other points of theological contention.
Sadly, the Jesus Movement splintered into many groups. And, a form of authoritarian control began to spring up which eventually snuffed out the life, freedom, and joy of the Movement. Discipleship in its truest form was lost, and many spiritual lives were wrecked. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find one church that’s still online that was spawned during the Jesus Movement. All have disappeared. The only churches born in that Movement that still exist today are Calvary Chapels and Jesus People USA, The Vineyard was forged Ibn 1977 during the afterglow of the Movement.
That leads us to the rumblings of another move of the Spirit that we are now sensing. Not a revival. But a serious resurrection that will lead to a revolution (see yesterday’s blog). And, the men and women who have experienced body life during the Jesus Movement and the churches and communities that sprung up now need to step forward to help direct – not control – the new and emerging move of the Spirit. These non-leaders in the previous move have been broken and tested, know the Lord deeply, and are non-sectarian, non-elitist, and as openly inclusive as Jesus Himself. These men and women must be seen as a powerful resource within the new move. Hopefully, those who will help to lead this resurrection – revolution will avail themselves of the help of such people.
The Church Today – Part Two
In 2005 George Barna wrote a bestselling book called “Revolution.” He was giving us a critique of the Church in the United States. However, I believe his comments and observations hold true for the Church in many of the world’s nations. Here are some of the points I took out of the book when I read it…
A> A quiet revolution is rocking the Church, though many are unaware of what is happening.
B> The quiet revolution is about recognizing that we are not called to ‘go’ to church. We are called by the Lord to ‘be’ the church
C> Modern statistics and research is showing us that the institutional Church has little to no ability to transform the lives of God’s people. It also has virtually no influence on our culture
D> The Church that we see, know, and belong to bears little to no resemblance to the Church as set out for us in the New Testament
Barna’s facts and figures sounded an alarm that has, in my opinion, been largely ignored. Those who lead the church simply fought against what the author thought the statistics and trends were stating. Those who meet as believers outside the traditional church simply were not interested as they had already given up on the institution and had moved on the other expressions of the Church.
But, something is happening in our day. The wind of God is blowing. Some are calling it “revival.” But, I sincerely do not think that what God is doing and about to do can be called a revival when we look at the classic and biblical understanding of revival. In fact, I would hesitate to give what is happening a name … it is simply God’s Spirit moving and doing what He believes is needed for the Church to thrive and fulfill its purpose and not just survive as it is apparently its focus today.
I am a strong believer that Christianity is about encountering God. This is how the believers in the early Church entered the Kingdom. They encountered the Living God. The early apostles had encounters with the resurrected Jesus and became born again. Paul who was Saul, a Pharisee, encountered God on the road to Damascus and became a believer. Hundreds encountered the Living Jesus at the same time – Paul states 500 at once on one occasion.
Today, many who call themselves believers have not encountered God. The have accepted a series of true facts about Jesus: His life and teachings, His death and resurrection. And, with this head knowledge have prayed and asked Jesus to come into their life and be their personal Lord and Saviour. Regretfully they did not have a heart encounter with God who is love (1 John 4:8) but simply accepted some information (head – not heart) about Jesus and agreed that it was right and made sense. They have a head knowledge and thus “believe.”
Not true. Not enough. Not born again. The Bible states in the Book of James that “the demons believe” who Jesus is and what He did and accomplished through His death and resurrection. They are not going to heaven. To be truly born again one must have a life-changing, transformational encounter with the Living God as found and known through Jesus Christ. He must touch the heart supernaturally and we must respond. When we hear the information that is contained in the Good News we do need to understand what the truth is. However, then we must recognize the moving of the Holy Spirit in our heart and respond to the conviction that He is bringing. The correct response to this conviction is ‘godly sorrow’ that leads to repentance. This repentance is when the heart and mind change, acknowledge that we are truly sinners separated from God and on our way to hell when we die. Then, as we pray, our heart is transformed and changed and we become born again.
Paul states it this way:
2 Corinthians 7:8-10 (NASV) “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
In the early Church you see this “conviction with godly sorrow and repentance leading to salvation” on a regular basis. An example would be in Acts, Chapter two after Peter preached the first sermon of the early Church:
Acts 2:37-38 “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Note the key – repentance.
This is the key – an encounter with the Living God when the Holy Spirit convicts and we are “cut to the heart” knowing deep in our soul and spirit that we are sinners and that God is a holy God. And, that God, our heavenly Father, while we were yet sinners loved us so much that He sent His Son to pay the penally for our sin (Death) so that we could receive His life, His forgiveness, and a supernatural ability to have a relationship with Him now and forever (see: Romans 6:23b and John 17:3).
This is the Gospel of the Kingdom. We have been preaching the gospel of salvation which isn’t even a gospel.
Then, after this initial encounter of entering into the Kingdom (Colossians 1:13) we then experience Jesus and His love on a daily basis because we are His Church and obeying His voice and moving to fulfill His purpose for the Church that everyone on Planet Earth will hear the good news of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
We don’t need a “revival.” We need to raise many who call themselves born again believers from spiritual death because they are simply deceived and are cultural Christians holding to an outward form of religion and yet denying the life-changing power of the message.
We need a resurrection that leads to a revolution.
The Church Today – Part One
The early Church, as we have seen, saw themselves as truly being “in Christ.” They were pulled loose from the “works” mentality of the Jewish faith and all of the then functioning pagan religions. They were liberated from a guilt complex of never measuring up and never being “good enough.” They were enjoying freedom from a sense of religious duty.
Now that they were “in Christ” and enjoying His unconditional love they were able to walk in freedom and liberty. Jesus Himself said, “Those that the Son sets free are free indeed.” And, they understand that Christ was living in them and that they were “new creatures in Christ.” Thus, they were allowing Jesus to live His life through them as Paul mentioned in Galatians 2:20 where it states, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This was reflected in their conversation. If you open up the New Testament letters, you will find Paul always addressed the churches he planted – despite what they were going through – with the arresting phrase “holy ones” or “saints.” He saw them as holy “in Christ.”
If you attend a traditional evangelical church, even a Spirit-filled church, listen to and evaluate the next sermon that you hear. Ask yourself this question: “Am I hearing about the glories of Jesus Christ or am I being told what to do to be a better Christian?” The latter is religion and legalism.
In fact, listen to the conversation of the believers before and after the service or during the fellowship time within the service. Do they speak about the goodness and majesty of Jesus? Not likely.
So we need to recognize that you and I cannot live the Christian life on our own by simply following a set of rules and regulations. The Church needs to again recognize the life of Christ within us and that He is the Head of the Church. We learn to live life by Christ living His life within us – individually and corporately – and living His life through us as we touch others with His love and mercy. Also, we need to recognize that we live the Christian life together as the Church. What is needed in our day, then, is a recovery of what has been lost, and a discarding of what has been picked up along the way as well as a reaching forward to what is still to come.
We have lost the primitive realities of the Christian faith, and we have picked up a whole lot of things that have nothing to do with Christ. Consequently, we are faced with the business of laying aside old concepts and reaching back to the primitive mind of the early Christians … when the gospel was pure, undiluted, and uncompromised, and the Church after God’s heart was untainted.
Hebrews 12:26-27 (The Message Version) “His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.”
So, we have looked at the Church as we find it in the New Testament. Let’s begin our look at the Church as we generally find it today in our neighbourhood. Then we can have an exciting look at the Church of the future that Jesus is now building.