The Church, Past, Present, and Future #7

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, Past, Present, and Future #6

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, Past, Present, and Future #5

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. 

The Church – Past, Present, and Future – Part 4

New Testament Church – Part Four

The fifth obvious uniqueness of the early Church which is, in many places, lacking today is…

5>The early Christian lived in and experienced a close-knit community life together

The early believers did not think in terms of the individual. Their understanding and thinking was not in line with today’s culture – the “me” and “I” emphasis. Instead, they thought and lived in terms of “we” and “us.”

In the early church, there was no disconnect between getting saved and being a vital and active part of the community of believers – the Body of Christ. If you were a pagan in the first century, you knew that becoming a Christian and follower of Jesus meant being initiated into a shared-life community. It meant losing your raw individualism and your rugged independence. It meant becoming part of the people of God. Not as an abstract doctrine, but as a definitive way of life. You became part of something larger than yourself – a new culture in which you lived your life connected to other disciples of the Lord Jesus. You embraced life in community and the close relationships that this life produced. You were a new creature in Christ and lived in a new culture known as the Body of Christ. For that reason the early Christian movement was called “the Way. It was not a belief system; it was actually a way of life.

Acts 19:9, 23 “ But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus …About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.”

Acts 24:14, 22 “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets …But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, ‘When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.’”

Western Christians have inherited an individualistic Christianity with an individualistic salvation and an individualistic walk with God. The early Church knew nothing of this brand and expression of the Christian faith. 

In the mind of God the type of Christianity we experience today does not exist. Christianity has always been a corporate experience and a corporate reality. The individual Christian mind was born during the Reformation, and it has been set in concrete for the last 500 years. The New Testament knows no such mindset. 

6> The early believers saw themselves as truly being “in Christ”

They were pulled loose from a “works” mentality, liberated from a guilt complex, and set free from a sense of religious duty.

This was reflected in their conversations. If you open up the New Testament letters, you will find that Paul always addresses the churches that he planted (despite what they were going through) with the arresting phrase “holy ones.” He saw them as holy “in Christ.”

Today in most churches, you will not hear teachings on the glories of Jesus Christ. No! You will, however, be told what to do to be a better Christian. That is legalism. A works religion. 

We cannot live the Christian life. We learn to live by Christ, and we do it together. What is needed in our day, then, is a recovery of what’s been lost, and a discarding of what has been picked up along the way.

When we began this look at the early Church five days ago I quoted what God spoke in the book of Hebrews…

God spoke and said, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.”    Hebrews 12:25-27 The Message Version

God is shaking loose all the things we, the Christian Church, have picked up over the centuries that were not part of His plan for His people, the Church. He is shaking everything that has nothing to do with Christ. Consequently, you and I 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 not compromised and the Church after God’s own heart was untainted. 


The Church – Past, Present, and Future – Part 2

New Testament Church – Part Two

1> The early Church had an incredible understanding of the experience that they had lived through

As you read Ephesians, Chapters one to three as well as Colossians, Chapters one and two you realize that they are expressing their experience with the living Jesus and the joint sharing of that life with one another using very specific words. The early Church had a way of looking at life and the realities they were facing that was so radical and so different than those in the world. Their thinking was characterized by the capacity to see the unseen and to declare as present fact heavenly realities that exist outside the constraints of created time.

The early beliers had a vocabulary that has been largely lost to us today. It disappeared around the fourth century when Constantine emerged as ruler of the Roman Empire. His era marked  steady devolution when organism (the Church) was repealed by organization. As well, heavenliness was co-opted by earthliness; spirituality was replaced by worldliness. And, in general the primitive Christian mind was lost. The language used to describe this experience and way of seeing things also disappeared.

2> The early Church had a genuine revelation of an indwelling Lord

They knew a God who dwelt inside of them, and He was everything to them. The early Christians had a walking, living, breathing, relationship with Jesus Christ that was vital, vibrant, and contagious. The purpose of their lives – and thus the Church –  was toward the outliving of the inliving Christ.

The understood the truth of the the word, “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). However, they also understood the fact that they lived their life “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Paul said, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). So, not Him in us which is an amazing truth. But, you and I “in Christ.” Wow! Totally different.

Today, few understand what it means to be “in Christ.” And few understand that it is Christ in us living His life 

Galatians 2:20a “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…”

We have lost any sense of our identity “in Him” and so thus do not receive all that Christ has done for us nor what He now wants to do through us. 

The early Church had a tremendous grasp of these two truths often now lost to Christians today,

The Church, Past, Present, and Future #1

New Testament Church – Part One

As I travel from place to place ministering I see many varieties and forms of “the Church.” The people who gather in these places are “doing church” to the best of their ability. They are faithful and they are doing their best to love people and touch lives for Jesus. However, for many, their are trapped in tradition – doing things a certain way, believing certain things they consider to be truth, and working hard to protect what is important and even considered sacred to the group to which they belong. But, in spite of what may or may not be, they are the Church – the gathering of believers, the called out ones, the ‘ekklesia.’

But, in many ways they are unproductive. Yes, they are faithful. But, they are not fruitful. Few are being saved and entering into the Kingdom as a result of the time, effort, and money being invested in the local assembly. Something needs to change.

God spoke and said, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.”

Hebrews 12:25-27 The Message Version

God is, in my opinion speaking those same words to us today. We are the Church and we need to hear what He is saying to us. Not just hear – we need to act upon His Words immediately. It is time to examine the Church as we know it and make the changes needed to become the Church that Jesus is building (Matthew 16:18). This will be the Church of the future. But to understand the future we need to know the past and honestly face the present situation the Church is now called to influence and engage.

The Church has always been on God’s heart. From before the beginning of time, the dateless past. In Ephesians 1, we hear that in a time before time, God took counsel with Himself and conceived an eternal plan. That plan flowed out of the heart of the Father and His obsession to have a people whom He could call His own. We know this as the Church. Paul refers to this obsession as “the eternal purpose.”

Part of this “eternal purpose” is His passionate quest for a bride, a building, and a body. Specifically, God the Son wanted to have a Bride and a Body. God the Father apparently wanted to have a house and a family. So, the story of God’s interaction with human kind, as recorded in the Scriptures, can be summarized as a desire and thus a quest for a bride, a building, and a body.

This divine passion is what gave birth to the Church. The Church, or “ekklesia,” is a spiritual organism, not an organization. It was conceived in eternity past. The Church was born on the Day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2). From there it spread to Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, and then Rome and beyond. As you read the Book of Acts and the epistles, you see the Church’s DNA at work as the regional apostolic centers in these five cities impacted their regions through the fivefold ministry of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. 

Let’s spend a few days taking a look at the original Church as found in the New Testament records and add a little bit of the history of the Church and the culture it was birthed in and the cultures that it moved out to impact for the Kingdom. Let’s look at the Church of the past – the New Testament Church.