A New Year – A New Church?

At the end of the first week of 2021 I am thinking of all the new things we will be facing in the next 12 months. Things can change so quickly. I mean, who would have thought that we would be living through a worldwide pandemic in 2020? And, who could imagine how the pandemic would change our daily lives? And, did anyone think that we would still be living within the confines of the pandemic almost 12 months later?

2020 was not an easy year. 2021 has started with major restrictions because of the pandemic. And now we have been hearing of new strains of Covid that spread more rapidly and are moving from country to country around the world. We are living in uncertain times.

God’s people have often lived in uncertain times where the familiar was gone and their way of life was changing. In one such time God spoke through the prophet Isaiah (43:19) and said,

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. (NLT)

Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. (MSG)

I am doing something brand new, something unheard of. Even now it sprouts and grows and matures. Don’t you perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and open up flowing streams in the desert. (TPT)

I believe that God is taking this opportunity to bring massive changes to His Church. And, let’s admit it, the Church needs to change. A church built upon programs and personality is no longer working. If, in fact, it ever did work. A church that is simply a powerless sub-culture of the prevailing culture is not the church. God created the Church to be a counter-culture and to powerfully impact the culture like leaven in the loaf. So, in a season when we have been forced to “do Church” differently I believe God is bringing massive change to His Church if (and that is a big if) we will listen for His voice and watch for what He has already begun to do.

As The Message Version states… “Be alert, be present…” We need to be aware that change is already happening even if we don’t fully understand what is happening and how it is happening. And we need to be living in the present with an eye to the future and not living in the past, anchored to traditions.

As The Passion Translation states… “something brand new, something unheard of…” What God is doing right now – here and now – in His Church is something brand new. It is not an old idea recycled. It is not the same old, same old. It is something we have not heard of in the past. Something new (to us), better, exciting, challenging, dynamic, powerful, and of God.

And the question is valid: “Don’t you see it?” “Don’t you perceive it?” And the answer is ‘no’ if you are wanting the status quo. If you are safe, comfortable, and secure and want it to remain that way then you will not perceive it. You will not see it. But others who are dissatisfied with what is; those who have a holy discontent on the inside; those who ask “Is this all there is? Will perceive it and eventually see it. Because, as an older version states, “Behold” It’s here. It’s now. It’s real. Just let go of what you know as Church and grab hold of what Jesus is now doing. He is doing a new thing and many (including this author) have been speaking and writing about it for over a decade. But, it is happening now – in the midst of a continuing pandemic when so many things have changed … the Church is changing. Behold! Don’t miss it.

God is making a way where there is no way. He is showing us the way in the midst of a spiritually desolate time. A time when the Church has been wandering around in the wilderness having lost her way over the past hundred or so years.  Especially over the past 12 months. And many in the Church today will miss what He is planning and already doing because they are not looking for change, a challenge. They are comfortable and apparently feel secure in what is and don’t want to stretch for what could be.

But for those who are hungry and who are willing to step out in faith risking the familiar and the comfortable…. “Behold!  I am doing something brand new and totally different. Grab hold of it as it is a new and better way. My way. And you will be refreshed and will be refreshing like a stream or a river in the desert place.”

I for one am very excited. It is a tremendous time to be alive and a believer.

2021 – Living What You Believe – Part Three

We are looking at how we, as believers, can determine if we are living with integrity in 2021. In the past two days we have examined four elements of our life that need to be regularly examined and front and center in daily life if we are going to live life in a manner that lines up with what we believe as Christians. It would be good for you to examine your own lifestyle to see if your priorities are set within biblical parameters; to see if your focus is truly on the Kingdom. Remember, Jesus did say, “Seek first the Kingdom…”

1> Practice what you believe (Leaders: Practice what you preach)

2> Intimacy with Jesus is foundational and a serious priority

3> Love for the lost is essential

4> Passionate prayer unleashes power

Continuing on…

5> Biblical conviction keeps our vision clear

One of the quickest ways for a believer to see their integrity wane is to begin compromising their biblical beliefs. When a disciple of Jesus no longer holds to the Scriptures as the absolute truth of God’s Kingdom vision dies.

Nonbelievers will often disagree with Biblical Christians, but most will maintain a level of respect if we hold our convictions with grace-filled confidence. When born again believers are quick to apologize for the Bible, sand off the sharp edges of our doctrine, and adjust the teaching of the Word of God to accommodate the ever-changing norms of our culture, our integrity goes out the window. 

Jesus was clear that following Him would not be easy. If our goal is to fit in, get along and seem normal in this world, we are walking the wrong path. Integrity in the life of a believer means knowing, loving, and following the teachings of the Bible, even when it is awkward or downright painful.

6> Invite accountability and seek wise mentors

We all have blind spots. It is easy to deceive ourselves and get off track. When we have godly, strong, honest people in our lives who speak the truth (even when it hurts), we have a much greater chance of maintaining a life of integrity. 

Every believer should have a mentor and every believer should be mentoring or discipling a younger believer. In other words, every Timothy needs a Paul and every Paul needs a Timothy. Since just after I was born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit I was blessed with a powerful man of God as my mentor. He lived in the state of New York and I lived in Central Canada but we stayed in touch. This was pre-internet and email but he wrote letters almost on a weekly basis (remember snail mail?). And, during each calendar year he spent two different two week periods of time in my city during which we spent time together daily. This went on for 30 years. When he died I felt like an orphan. I immediately went searching for another man of integrity and experience who might be willing to mentor me and speak into my life. I found him and he is still speaking into both my personal life and my ministry.

Throughout my ministry I have always mentored (discipled) younger believers and those with a similar call of God on their life as exists on my life. Some of these young men have even travelled overseas with me over the past 20 years. 

In a world where integrity can seem old-fashioned and believers live life on the surface – often an inch deep and a mile wide – Christians are wise to look closely at their heart and lifestyle. Anything and everything we can do that leads to greater integrity will forward the work of the Gospel and bring honour to our Saviour. 

2021 – Living What You Believe – Part Two

Let’s continue with our look at living a life of integrity in 2021 as believers and followers of Jesus Christ. We saw last time:

1> Practice what you believe (Leaders: Practice what you preach)

2> Intimacy with Jesus is foundational and a serious priority

Too many leaders and followers in the church have become religious hypocrites. They go through the motions, doing only what is required of them by their local assembly – the bare essentials. They know the right words. But they have forsaken their first love (Revelation 2:4). Leaders can teach about Jesus but spend little time at His feet. And, people can call themselves believers and also spend little to no time with Him and yet claim to follow Him. We can tell others to follow Jesus while we wander away from Him.

For Christians, modelling integrity means we hunger to be in the presence of our Saviour. We long to become more like Jesus and live in ways that grow our faith. Every believer should pause and do a heart check: Am I really following Jesus and becoming more like Him – enjoying time in His presence and experiencing His peace – or am I simply doing my thing and covering a non-biblical lifestyle with a thin outer coating of “Christian”? 

If you are a church leader and on staff with a church or ministry you should also do a heart check: Have I become a church staff professional doing my job with no passion behind my ministry?

Everyone should ask themselves: Am I propelled into each day with a love for Jesus that guides and moves me?

When we love Jesus and it shows, people are drawn to Him. To live with integrity we need intimacy with the Lord on a daily basis.

3> Love the lost is essential

Jesus was a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). The religious leaders in His day were upset that sinners liked Jesus and He seemed to like them. Church leaders and believers in Jesus (disciples of Jesus) who avoid nonbelievers and spend all of their time with church folks can’t fulfill Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).  

Living with integrity calls us to live like Jesus, and sometimes that will mean making new friends and spending less time at church or fellowshipping with other believers. Christians understandably tend to gather with others who believe the same way that they do. However, we can then become narrow in our focus and neglect those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. And, we can also end up with a “we” and “they” mentality. This is simply not healthy. We need to find a place where we can hang out with nonbelievers and frequent it often so as to stay in touch with the real world out there and build relationships with those who live without hope. A gym, the baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a weekly card game…

4> Passionate prayer unleashes power

Systems, programs, and tricks of the trade will never bring lost sheep home to the Good Shepherd. The best worship services with the finest music and the most articulate gospel presentation are powerless if the Spirit of God is not present and at work. Only when God moves will people surrender their hearts to Jesus.

This is true as well in the life of a believer. If we are not praying passionately for the lost then we will not influence or impact the lost. We can befriend them without prayer but we cannot see them come into the Kingdom if our prayer is weak and inconsistent. And, if we simply neglect praying for those we know who are lost. Working to influence and win the lost without praying for the lost from a heart for the lost sucks and seriously lacks integrity. 

True power resides in the prayers of believers and the prayers of the corporate church when we weep for the lost and seek God’s face on behalf of those who are in spiritual darkness. We need to ask God for His heart for the lost. That prayer, when answered, will transform your life and witness and help you to live a life of integrity.

Prayer and the power of God are central to living lives that bear witness to the nonbeliever. And, as we live with a heart for the lost then we will obey Jesus and live with biblical integrity. 

It Is No Secret!

It seems that believers have forgotten that preaching and sharing the Gospel is the call upon the life of every believer. As Christians we may fool ourselves into believing that making money or being liked is more important than the preaching of the Gospel. Success, notoriety, and influence can call to us like sirens, pulling up into their unfulfilling whirlpools. Clever deception masquerades as authenticity, and temptations abound.

We live in a day and age when sound doctrine is being replaced with self-serving ideas devoid of spiritual truth. Churches across the world are dying because they no longer accurately preach and teach God’s Word. It is quite possible that we have arrived at the dreadful hour Paul warned his disciple Timothy about. A time “when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Paul also predicted that there would be terrible times in the last days. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, he writes, 

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…”

Does any of this sound familiar to you? To love oneself is humanism. To love money is materialism. To love pleasure is hedonism. All three are major motivations in the world today. Even among believers.

Since its release in 2006, a self-help book titled The Secret has sold more than nineteen million copies worldwide and has been translated into over forty-six languages. The premise of the book is that you can create whatever you want by using the power of your mind. It is a self-centered philosophy that is actually nothing more than recycled Hinduism and New Age folly. Many people think if Oprah endorses something, that makes it okay and truth.

According to the book, to attract your perfect weight you just think it in your mind and then you become it! (Oh, if that only were true — I would have six-pack abs and a full head of hair!) The book also suggests that everyone has his or her own personal genie standing with a “your wish is my command” policy. I want to share with you what one fan of The Secret wrote — not to poke fun, but to demonstrate how far the world has come in creating substitutions for a relationship with Christ:

“The one thing that stuck with me was the Genie. I immediately felt a connection to this concept. I drew a Genie with a handsome face, a look of satisfaction and a perfect body to compliment it. He is there in my room on the wall and he is like the most perfect thing that ever happened to me! Be it exams, practicals, relationship problems, health problems, or just something I am scared of, I just tell it to Genie and believe that he will manage it somehow. After telling my problems to Genie and asking him to take care [of] it, I just stop thinking about it. Somewhere in my heart I feel that he’ll take care of it, and trust me, he has never failed me once! He is my universe, my personal Genie and he fulfills all my wishes, no limitations.”

When I read that testimonial, I can’t help but feel both sadness and frustration that such a simple book could lead so many people astray. Jesus Christ — not some imaginary genie — is real and alive (Ephesians 1:19-20). He is the One who truly cares and asks us to cast all our burdens upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). Hebrews 1:3 puts it this way:

“The Son is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

In its futile attempt to be the answer for all of mankind’s needs, The Secret fails to address the most basic reality of life: death! If the Law of Attraction really worked, then no one would ever die, because most people would like to live forever. This fact becomes painfully clear when a viewer of the Oprah show, after seeing episodes dedicated to The Secret wrote to Oprah to “announce that she had decided to halt her breast-cancer treatments and heal herself with her mind.”

It is time to return to the Word of God, the Bible. It is time to discover the truth, God’s eternal truth. It is time to believe and apply the truth to our lives in practical ways. It is time to stand up and declare that Jesus is the Truth. He is also the Way and the source of all Life. It is time to declare the truth for all the world to hear. But first, believers need to move away from teachers who tickle their ears and seek those who speak the truth. Not entertainers who are charismatic and can spin a tale but men and women of God who speak the truth in a way that speaks to today’s world and the problems people in the world face today. 

Covid-19 Reminds Me Of…

The reaction of believers to COVID-19 is often amazing. At other times it is something less than believable as conspiracy theories abound. Theories believed by and even spread by people who say they are believers. And now that a vaccine has begun to be distributed we have all the anti-vaccine people joining with the anti-mask people — again, including believers — to appose what is happening. So different in many ways from the early church’s reaction to a series of pandemics that hit the known world during the time of persecution of believers in the Roman Empire…

I am reminded of the witness of the early church in the Roman Empire. When two great waves of plagues bettered the city of Rome, tens of thousands of people were killed in the gruesome, widespread pandemics. The wealthy and able fled the cities, hoping to survive outside the crowded and dirty city centers. But the Christians? They stayed. There are records of this time, written both by pagan and Christian leaders, which note the Christian response. Eusebius, who was the bishop of Caesarea in 341 AD, recorded that during the plague, “All day long some of the Christians tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”

After Eusebius’ death, Emperor Julian wrote a letter to a pagan priest, complaining that the “impious Galileans” were caring for the sick and dying to such an extent that it highlighted the government’s own inaction. He suggested that the pagan (and government affiliated) priests copy what the Christians were doing. Unsurprisingly, this was not very effective. The reason? The call to die to one’s self for the sake of another is unsustainable without the love and power of a real, eternal God.

Pray with me that the unleaded church will overflow with the same kind of love and practical concern in the face of today’s worldwide pandemic just as the Christians did in Rome so long ago. And may Jesus’ Name be made known because of it.

Philippians 1:9 states, “And it my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (ESV).

Several other translations read:

“My prayer for you is that you will overflow more and more with love for others and at the same time keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight.”

And may the Lord make your love to grow and overflow to each other and to everyone else, just as our love does towards you!”

It is a great time to be alive and together we need, as the Church, to help those effected by the pandemic bringing hope and the peace of God that passes all understanding to them through the Gospel of the Kingdom. If we do this simple but profound task then we simply will not have the time to follow or to focus on and become involved in any of the conspiracy theories that spread like wildfire and poison and which eventually remove the believers true focus – showing the love of God in practical ways. 

Remember, “God so loved that He gave…” and we are called to love in the same way that He first loved us. 

Frustrated But…

I work with a large number of churches and a variety of ages in many different countries. And, of course, every church is unique and faces its own unique challenges. And the believers are all at a different place on their faith journey. This is what makes Church and ministering interesting and dynamic. Everything is fluid and everyone is, or should be, in motion. 

I noticed one constant in the midst of this every changing and fluid environment. And it both bothers me and even frustrates me somewhat. The people regardless of age tend to have a fair understanding of the basics but certainly are not encountering God in any real sense. They are not experiencing His presence, His peace, or His power. They are not relating to the Holy Spirit who has been sent by Jesus to be our guide and counsellor. And, the supernatural – especially the gifts of the Spirit – are certainly not in operation within the church assemblies or out in the world among the lost where we have been empowered to be witnesses (see Acts 1:5, 8)

From a recent on-line chat I received the following from a leader in a Central Asian country….

“I will tell you briefly what is happening now in our church with teenagers from my point of view. I studied for four years at the theological university. And against this background, if I lead and teach teenagers, then it is all connected with mental knowledge. The university teaches history, archeology, apologetics, and so on, but does not teach how to listen to the Voice of God. Among adolescents and young people, we have very little room for the Holy Spirit to lead us, because a lot of importance was given to ordinary knowledge. Knowing a lot is not bad. But as if we began to rely only on ourselves and on our knowledge. We do not have people among youth and adolescents who prophesy or manifest the miracles of the Lord through themselves. And even the point is not in prophecy, but in the general understanding of the Holy Spirit and understanding where God directs. As a church, we wish we could spend more time with the Lord. Young people also have a similar situation.”

Not to be critical, but it causes me to wonder what it is that the main leaders on the weekend gatherings are teaching. Not just in this one church but in all churches as her words could have been spoken by leaders in most churches in most nations. Are we experiencing teachers “who are simply tickling our ears” as Paul warned Timothy. Are leaders simply comforting their people without also challenging them? Are we teaching rather than equipping? (See Ephesians 4:11-13) 

It leads me to so many questions…

      • Do people understand that the Christian faith is not a set of rules and regulations (not a religion) but a relationship with the living God? (See Romans 6:23 and John 17:3)
      • How can a person have a relationship with God if they are not aware of what His voice sounds like and thus think they are not hearing God on a regular basis? (See John 10:3, 4, 16)
      • We are called to fellowship with the Holy Spirit and yet most believers don’t relate to Him at all and, if they do, they see Him as a power and not as a person. Are we not teaching people how to fellowship with the Spirit and what that really means? (See 2 Corinthians 13:14)
      • We are called to seek and save the lost as Jesus did (see Luke 19:10). We are sent out to the nations to make disciples (see Matthew 28:18-20). Yet believers are self-focused and not burdened for the lost. Why?
      • The gifts of the Spirit that are released with the experience the Bible calls the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (see Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:5) are not seen in the lives and ministries of most Spirit-filled believers. I wonder why. What is missing in the local church that even Spirit-filled churches are not flowing in the gifts?
      • Why is it that information – informing believers about their bibles so they are knowledgable – is the emphasis and the focus? Why do we aim at the head and not the heart? Why do we focus on information when what the faith is all about is transformation (a heart encounter)?

I have so many questions …

It seems that the born again churches are becoming more of a religion that a relationship with God and with each other. And, really the same could be said of the born again, Spirit-filled churches. 

It seems that we are missing the mark and are no longer the true Church that Jesus said He would build (Matthew 1618).

It seems that we have focused on the ‘teacher’ and ‘pastor’ and ignored the ‘evangelist, ‘prophet,’ and ‘apostle.’ Thus we have become unbalanced, focused on self and not on the lost; doing things in the flesh and not in the Spirit.

I believe it is time to take a look at what we are doing and to make a number of radical and deep changes in the life of the church. But that is a topic for another blog…

Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part Two

Another word that has lost its meaning is the word “missionary.” Missionary is not a Bible word, but it is a word that has come to define the response to Jesus’ command to go out with His message. A missionary or a missionary group is an individual, a family, or a team committed to proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. It is often a word used to describe a person who proclaims the gospel to people who have never heard and people who have little chance of hearing. Often workers who share their faith are required to learn other languages and cross cultures; often, that is required even in our home countries due to the diversity of nationalities and languages now present in almost every nation.

In reality, the word should not be used. However, often it is used in reference to a leader in the Bible who is actually in the role and calling of an apostle. Paul and Barnabas being two examples. Words that could be used in place of the word ‘missionary’ could include “worker,” “sent out ones,” or “overseas workers.”

However, truth be known the real word to be used should be “disciple” or “follower” because all true believers are called to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Going  out to proclaim the gospel does not make you a missionary. Nor does it make you a “worker.” It simply means you are being an obedient follower or disciple of Jesus. Could we call them “sent out ones?” Yes! Because the church was always meant to be apostolic. The word apostle means “the sent one.” So, when apostles are part of the ministry team and the foundation of the local church, then the church, under the leadership of an apostle, becomes apostolic. The people come to understand the need to “go into all the world” and so become apostolic (sent out ones) in their nature, in their thinking, and in their actions.

The root idea of “mission” is the sending activity of God. In one sense, certainly, Jesus sends His followers to their families and friends and neighbours. In a deeper and true biblical sense, Jesus ultimately sends His followers to proclaim His grace throughout the entire world.. starting in Jerusalem, through Judea, on to Samaria, and then to all the people groups, especially in places where His grace has not yet been proclaimed. Scripture is clear in helping us to understand that, in this sense, every believer is a sent out one. The command to be on mission is a command common to every follower of Jesus. It is a command to be both local and global. 

The word “pastor” is another word that has lost its original meaning and almost any meaning in today’s world. The word ‘pastor’ appears once in the New Testament and it is in regard to the fivefold, trans-local ministry of Ephesians 4:11-12.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

This ‘pastor’ travelled as did the other four of the fivefold ministry team. However, as soon as we hear that word today we do not think “trans-local” but local … the leader of a local church. This was never the plan in the early church as seen in the New Testament. It was also not the plan the Lord had when He stated He would build His Church. The local churches in the New Testament were all led by apostles … James as leader of Jerusalem is an example. The spiritual oversight of the local assembly was in the hands of a group of elders, not a solo pastor. The work was done by the saints as they were equipped by the fivefold ministers. So, there was no need for a local full-time, paid pastor nor a part-time bi-vocational pastor.

Let’s admit it… there are 59 “one another” versers in the New Testament and no one man or woman – no pastor – can fulfil all 59 of these commands for every person who is a member of the local assembly no matter how big or small the assembly is. So the five-fold pastor comes in to a local assembly and teaches the people how to care for “one another” and thus fulfill the 59 ‘one another’ commands. 

There are many other words that we use as believers that have lost their original meaning or all meaning … but these are the ones that really bother me personally and that, I believe, are preventing the Church from the needed changes that will take it in to an effective, fruitful, and productive future. 

Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part One

I recently spoke on a Saturday morning to a group of believers in Eastern Canada. Near the end of the morning of teaching I asked them if they were glad that they had come to church. Everyone said that they were glad to have invested the time. Of course, they did not come to Church; they are the church. They came to an assembly of believers in a building set aside for assemblies. We are the Church. God’s people are the Church.

It got me to thinking about how we use words that have really totally lost their original meaning and now refer to something other than what the word first referred to. And, that maybe it is time to, once again, redefine the words we frequently use as believers.

The Church is the called-out, baptized, gathered-together people of God. Church is defined by community-belonging, it acts on Jesus’ call to be people on mission, it will reproduce itself (which will result in both new believers and new communities of faith), it will finance itself, it will provide care and support for those who make up the church, and it will choose its own leaders and polity. The categories and activities highlighted in Acts 2 are a helpful guide: a church will be committed to worship (usually inside of homes), and missions which lead to a fulfilling of the Great Commission from across the street to the ends of the earth. The Church includes fellowship, education, equipping and strengthening the believers for ministry, and a lifestyle of discipleship which is an interchangeable term with evangelism. When did Jesus disciple His disciples and when did He evangelize them?

Because I work with house churches in a number of nations …A house church is typically a small body of ten to thirty believers who meet together in homes. Organization of house churches can vary significantly, but leadership is normally fluid and adaptable. When a house church grows to a certain size, it will typically divide into smaller groups (thus multiplying and planting another house church). House churches were the norm in New Testament times, and they are the norm in many settings today. 

The issue I see with house churches is that when a house church is birthed or joined by  a number of traditional Christians from mainline denominations they really expect the house church to simply being a smaller version of the traditional congregation that they recently left. Thus they expect all of the elements of the traditional church service including having a “pastor / teacher” who shares a teaching / sermon each time they meet. This is not a true biblical house church. 

With churches in general – both those that meet in larger buildings and those that meet in homes – I think we have a major problem. We seldom see the Church functioning as it should be. Most churches are not “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). They are teaching believers but it is simply more information to be remembered in the head and does not touch the heart. Thus there is just information and not life-transformation. Believer’s lives are not being changed. People are not being equipped for ministry – enabling them to better touch the hearts and lives of others who do not know the Lord. The ministry is not shared equally among the many but is the work of just a few – who are often seminary trained. And, in leadership, there is simply the ministry of the “pastor” and not the fivefold ministry – thus not the full ministry of the Lord who was an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a paster (Great Shepherd) and teacher. 

So, words like “Church” and “House Church” can mean so many different things depending on who is speaking and who is listening. I believe it is time to define the words that we are using. And, to define them biblically. Then to make the changes necessary to come into line with the true meaning of the word “Church” and other words that we use regularly. 

That would be a first good step to actually becoming all that the Lord wants us to be. 

More next time…

Christian Martyrs

I read an interesting statistic the other day. 80% of the world’s true believers are living in persecution. A true believer is a follower or disciple of Jesus. People who know who Jesus is and people for whom the Christian faith is central to life and life-shaping. These are people who have encountered the living and loving God and embraced the message that Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave destroyed the power of sin and death. People who have embraced the love of God and whose lives have been totally changed as they became new creatures in Christ.

The 80% of the world’s believers who live in persecution refers to hardship and even death that is the result of being true followers of Jesus and not for some other reason. Not all persecution ends in death. Some does, however. The word martyr describes those who have died for their faith as believers. It is claimed that over the past 20 centuries of the Christian faith, some 70 million believers have been murdered for their faith and can rightly be called martyrs. And, it is estimated that currently more than four hundred believers are killed every day for their faith. Numbers can speak loudly but we must look carefully are how those numbers are determined. 

The basic definition is that Christian martyrs are “believers in Christ who have lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility. This definition has five essential and distinct components:

1> Believers in Christ. These are people who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom and due to the conviction of the Spirit were led to repent with godly sorrow and receive forgiveness for their sins. These are people who have had a life-changing encounter with the love of God the Father and, as a result, have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. These are people who have truly become new creatures in Christ and are living lives focused on the Kingdom. These are people who have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and thus are able to fulfill John 14:12 and are obedient to the command to “seek and save the lost” regardless of the cost. The number of true Christians is really much smaller than the number who claim to be followers of the Christian faith. 

2> Lost their lives. The Christians numbered among the martyrs have actually been put to death. There are many levels of persecution, but martyrdom results in death.

3> Prematurely. Martyrdom is sudden, abrupt, unexpected, and unwanted. It is a death that happens before it “should” happen; it is, in that sense, premature. Had martyrdom not happened, these people would have lived longer. 

4> In situations of witness. By definition, the word martyr suggests the idea of witness. In traditional usage, a martyr is a person who bears witness to Christ in his or her own death. So, dying a martyr usually means giving some form of testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ before they die or by the way that they died. 

5> As a result of human hostility. The martyr’s death happens at the hands of a persecutor. A human being is involved in the martyrdom.

And we could add that the witness of the martyr stands the test of time. That means at least two things. First, the martyr’s way of living will not later be revealed to be untrue or inauthentic. As people look back and consider the life of the believer who has died, they will see that there was, in fact, true belief. Second, whether we can measure it or not, the death will serve as testimony. The death will encourage and even bear fruit and it will do those things over time. There will be evangelistic impact in the setting where the martyrdom takes place, within the group that sent out the believer, or in both settings. 

So, the reported annual number of Christian martyrs might be much higher than the actual number of people who died for their faith. Using these elements contained within the understanding of what constitute a martyr an accurate count is really hard to obtain and there is little gained by guessing at and then publishing the “estimate” number of martyrs annually. 

Will the Real Christians Please Stand Up

There seems to be multiple definitions of the word Christian. It is used in a variety of ways. So, I have found it helpful for myself to define the word and even group those who call themselves Christians into these categories.

Census Christians are people, who, if asked about their religion, would say “Christian.” This designation might not relate at all to anything that these people believe or practice. Often, this is a cultural answer. If asked about their religion in certain geographic areas, for example, many people might answer, “Of course I’m a Christian. Isn’t everybody?” These people are “census Christians.” On a census, these people would check the “Christian” box. What that designation actually means is anybody’s guess. 

These people are also known as Cultural Christians as their lives are identical to their neighbours — those who are not believers.  Being a Christian has not altered their values, morals, ethics, priorities, or lifestyle. 

Member Christians claim some sort of identification with a particular Christian institution or organization. Again, this does not mean that these people necessarily participate or even that they show up at their church. These people simply have some sort of personal connection with a church and they identify themselves with that church. They might say, “I am Catholic,” or “I am Baptist,” or “I am Methodist.”

Practicing Christians actually participate in the life of a church. They typically attend worship services. In some fashion, these people are involved in the forms and rituals of the faith. Often their connection with the church is limited to weddings, baptisms, and funerals. They usually attend at Easter and Christmas. 

Believers (or Committed Believers) are people for whom the Christian faith is central, life-changing, and life-shaping. These Christians strive to live out their faith and communicate their faith to others. To use the language of the evangelical world, these people have a personal relationship with Jesus. Often they will use the language of John 3 and talk about being “born again.” They have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus (John 17:3)

Hidden Christians are people who believe secretly. Fearful of persecution, these people keep their faith to themselves. In some settings, these believers might keep their faith secret from government officials and employers. In other settings, they might keep their faith secret even from family members and friends. These believers might not ever experience specific acts of outward persecution, but the fear of persecution has caused their faith to be completely inward. For the most part, their faith, though real, is hidden. In most cases, they have not “joined” a church, through this might be an artificial measurement since, in many settings, there is no official institutional church to join.

When I use the word Christian I am referring to and speaking of people who know who Jesus is and who have had a personal encounter with Him and are thus born again. I am referring to people for who knowing Jesus has transformed their life. People who are a journey as they obey the will of the Lord. They are followers of Jesus, His disciples. So they wold fit into the last two categories — Believers (or Committed Believers) and Hidden Christians. 

For me this means I see that many who call themselves Christians are not and so are still in need of being born again. Just because someone calls themselves a Christian does not make them a Christian. Just because they go to church regularly also does not make them a Christian. Having a life-changing encounter with the love of God as found in Jesus Christ — being born again — is what determines if you are a true Christian and follower (disciple) of Jesus. So, I can honestly say that I view many who call themselves Christians as people who need to be evangelized. For truly they are religious and not righteous.

And, even in the born again church I believe well over 50% of those who are members and attending are not truly born again. They said a Sinner’s Prayer and were told that they were now born again. That’s a lie. To be born again one must experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, respond with godly sorrow, and repentance. Then pray and ask the Lord to forgive you and become Lord in your life. (See: 2 Corinthians 7:8-10) To be born again is more than having a head knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the Cross of Good Friday and then praying a Sinner’s Prayer. Head knowledge is not enough – you need to encounter the truth and have it change your heart. 

So, Christians are those who have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) and responded with godly sorrow and repentance are true believers. If you have only heard the gospel of salvation and not experienced conviction and godly sorrow with repentance then you know the truth but it has yet to set you free. Head knowledge is not enough. The Bible says that even the demons know who Jesus is and what He did and they are not saved and are not going to heaven (James 2:19).  

The “Gospel of Salvation” is a man-made belief. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the only true Gospel and it will set you free and through it you become a true believer, a Christian.