Heroes and Villains

Guest Blogger – Bill Lewis, Apostle
In life we like to reduce things to a simple dime store novel filled with villains and heroes. We want the cowboy western with white hats and black hats. We like a predictable ending as in a Hallmark movie. We want the hero to win, ride off into the sunset, or kiss the girl and live happily ever after.  Life is not quite that simple. I wish it were, but it is not.

A speaker I was listening to recently said that change is a part of progress. Every entity has to change to stay current. Every business has to refresh itself, change the menu, re-decorate, do something to attract attention and customer loyalty.

In the kingdom of God, the kingdom is eternal. It moves and changes in forms, but the core message remains the same. Churches come and go. If you look at the pages of the New Testament and list the churches mentioned, you would be hard pressed to find them today. They vanished centuries ago. Yet, the kingdom of God is flourishing throughout the earth. God moves constantly to reach lost humanity. Humans change their cultures and habits; yet their core issues remain the same. How to address the changing cultures is the kingdom’s ability to adapt and keep the message addressing the age old issues of humans.

People, however, do not like change. They want to find something familiar and stick with it till they die. When I started out, planting a church in a rural, bedroom community, I had only two people who were over 50. The church was made up of young families and singles. This couple was just retired, 65, mail carrier and school teacher. However, they were into the current move of God. Change did not bother them; they were ready to be on the cutting edge of what God was doing. Maybe they were visionaries as well. They supported us all the way.

We live at a crossroads in some ways. God is raising up all kinds of new churches, some small and some rapidly growing larger ones. We live at a time when denominationalism is dying and many independent, or networked churches are flourishing. However, the kingdom of God is strong and growing.

Going back to my novel analogy, the churches that are closing, ceasing to exist, are not attended by unbelievers, but good people who have struggled with change. These churches have held on to the move of God they enjoyed when younger. There is usually a commonality in all these situations, the young people are missing. Somehow there was a disconnect between the older members and their ability to attract and retain younger people. Just as when we planted a church, it was all young people except for the one couple. Today, it is all older people except for a handful of young in most situations.

We may ask, “What is it?” Style, music, decor, language? Is it as simple as young draw young and old draw old?

I strongly believe there is an issue that is common and it is not the above. I strongly believe that the issue is the lack of inclusion and opportunity for younger people to engage, participate, and move into leadership positions. I have been to churches, and attend one now, that is trans-generational. There is a large group of young people and many interspersed into leadership and there is a good number of people of all ages worshipping and serving. Churches can serve and prosper with all ages being represented.

As churches age, they usually keep raising the bar for anyone to come into leadership. More rules, longer wait periods, limited opportunities are common in churches that are just surviving. One international leader I know, puts young people and new converts into roles of service as fast as she can. Her church is packed with young people. I also have known churches that have hard fast rules that no one can do anything until they sit for months or years. There are reasons everyone has for the various approaches, but the first engages and draws young people.

I know a church I worked with that was filled with young families and some great potential leaders. I was excited for that church. I came back a few years later and they were all gone. I asked what happened and found that all opportunities had been shut off to them. They are now leaders in other churches. What a missed opportunity!

Paul, the apostle, constantly encouraged his team to find young people and entrust them with the gospel. It was preparing the next generation.

In this book of life the villain is really complacency fueled by fear and lack of adaptation. Its symptoms include no change, keep the status quo, remember the good old days, and make little or no room for the next generation.

A good read along these lines is Kevin Gerald’s book, Naked and Unafraid which just came out.

The hero in all this is Jesus. He is able to reach every generation and keeps his kingdom growing. While some camps of his are shut down or absorbed into other camps, his kingdom adapts and keeps the message and the hope alive to every generation and culture.

Eight Differences Between a Believer and a Follower

1> A believer believes in Jesus. A follower honours His commands

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” (James 2:19 NIV)

2> A believer reads the Bible when things get tough. A follower reads the Bible to engage in a deeper understanding of Jesus Himself.

“Look to the LORD and His strength; seek His face always.” (Psalm 105:4 NIV)

3> A believer prays when things get tough. A follower gives thanks no matter the circumstance.

“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20 NIV)

4> A believer twists the Bible to fit his or her lifestyle. A follower works to make his or her lifestyle resemble the teachings of the Bible.

“Some of His comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

5> A believer gives when it is easy. A follower gives out of the abundance of his or her heart.

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, our in everything – all she had to live on.” (Matthew 12:22 NIV)

6> A believer conforms under the pressure or culture. A follower holds fast against temptation.

“Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13 ESV)

7> A believer will share his or her faith when it’s comfortable. A follower will share his or her faith regardless of the scenario.

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15 ESV)

8> A believer knows about Jesus. A follower knows Jesus as his or her Lord and Saviour.

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 ESV)

Which are you? A believer or a follower?.

To Set On Fire

After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to a number of disciples individually and then to the disciples as they were fishing. He had told them recently (Luke 24:49) that they were to go and wait in Jerusalem until they received the promised baptism in the Holy Spirit. But instead of doing as He had asked seven of them went out fishing. 

One wonders if the reason they did not catch any fish was because they were not suppose to be fishing – but waiting in Jerusalem. So, after a whole night of fishing and catching nothing, Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the starboard side and they catch so many fish that they have an issue bringing the net into the boat. It is then that John realizes that it is the Lord who has spoken to them from the shore. He tells Peter. Peter jumps in and swims to shore. Interesting to note: Peter began to follow Jesus because of a great catch of fish (Luke 5:2-10). So Jesus now repeats that miracle inviting Peter to begin to follow Him again. 

A time of cooking a meal begins. Jesus has already begun to broil fish and He has some bread. But He asks them to add to the fish from their catch. They do so and settle in for a meal around the campfire. After they had eaten their breakfast together Jesus says to Simon (John 21:15) “Simon, son of John, do you burn with love for me more than these?”

When Jesus announced that He would be crucified and die, Peter had said that he would never leave Jesus nor deny he was a disciple even if it cost him (Peter) his life. He then said that even if no one else followed, he would. Jesus told him he would actually deny Him three times before the morning sunrise. And, that is what happened. Now, Jesus asks him, in front of the other disciples, if he loved Him more than the other disciples (referencing Peter’s comment “even if they – the other disciples – do not follow…”)

Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love Me?” Because Peter had denied knowing Jesus or being His disciple three times that eventful night. The Aramaic word for “love” is hooba and it is taken from a root word that means “to set on fire.” So, Jesus is asking Peter, “Do you burn with love for Me?”

The message for us today: Our love for Jesus must be passionate and kindle a holy fire within our hearts.

Peter denied Jesus three times and so Jesus asks Peter three times if he had a burning passion for Him. Only the third time does Peter actually give an affirmative answer… “You know that I burn with love for you!” (John 21:17) 

The story goes on and at the end of John 21 Jesus prophesies over Peter telling him how he would, in his old age, die for the faith and glorify God. Again, building on Peter’s initial denial of Jesus, the Lord now completes the circle and ends with – “You were right however Peter, you will lay down your life for me.” 

I love the way the Scriptures simply fall together in such an amazing way. 

So, do we, His disciples, truly “burn with love” for Jesus? Loving Him with our whole being? Is He first in our lives? Does He have our whole heart? 

As we quickly come to the close of the first month in the new year 2020 it would be a good time to get honest and real and see if we truly “burn with love.” If we do, then we need to add more fuel to that flame. If we don’t, then we need to blow on the embers and “fan into flames” the love that was once there. 

Don’t enter the next month without taking some time to see what or who you burn with passion for.

The Church As It Will Be – Wow!

When we look at when the Church was first introduced to the world we see the following…

Acts 2:42-47 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

If the world is looking for a solid description of the Church, here it is. But instead of just listening to the description, let’s imagine what it was really like there in those first days. Let’s imagine that you are on assignment as a beat writer for the Jerusalem Times with the task of observing and reporting about this new community of people who are beginning to create significant buzz around the city. 

Three thousand people have come to faith in one day, (Acts 2:41) and more are being added daily (Acts 2:47). People are meeting every single day – not just one day a week – in the temple and in their homes. They are selling their stuff and sharing the profits.

These people are shaking things up and rocking the status quo.

Now imagine you have a friend who is a part of this new community. You ask him to meet you in the local cafe just to get the scoop. After catching up on small talk and niceties, you get right at it.

“What in the world has happened to you?”

“Well, I am hanging out with a new group of friends.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere really. It is not really a place but a group of people.”

“What is not a place?”

“The Church. Isn’t that what you are asking me about?”

“Church? What’s church? I have never heard of that before.”

“Well, it’s a community of people who, by God’s kindness, have seen Jesus and gather together to love one another and follow in His steps.”

“Jesus? Isn’t that the guy whom everyone loved but the religious establishment hated? And isn’t He dead? Look, I got sent over here to interview you because word on the street is that something very different – very alive – is happening with you people. And again, what is a church?”

At this point, your friend’s explanation will not include any mention of a denomination, since those do not even exist yet.

“Well, I guess you could say it’s called the First Church of …Ever!” 

It is also doubtful he will offer up a specific address or location. After all, everyone knows where the southern steps of the temple are and beyond that, the Church is meeting all over the community. “Walk down any street in Jerusalem, take a left, and then turn…well, anywhere.”

And though Peter did stand up and do the talking on the Day of Pentecost, your friend will not mention a specific individual as the leader. There is a broad leadership in the movement led by eleven men, original followers of this said-to-be-dead Jesus guy. That’s a whole mess of chiefs, except that they are all letting the personality fall on one Chief – Christ Himself. 

Their church then would not be described using the same adjectives as most people who attend churches today. You ask your friend to describe what is going on, and based on what we know was happening from the passage we just read, we can imagine he would say something like this:

“We are alive.” Makes sense – their whole way of living had changed.

“There are awe-inspiring things happening in our midst.” Since signs and wonders were being done through the apostles, that seems like a fair description.

“We are attractive.” God was drawing many new people to their community – and they were actually coming.

“We are aligned.” They were stedfast under leadership and in service, gathered with one mind in the temple and in homes.

“We are acts-oriented.” It’s hard to accuse them of being lazy or passive.

“Okay, that’s pretty impressive,” you say, feeling confident that you have more than enough to submit your article by the deadline. But before you can express your gratitude for his help, he interrupts and keeps going – and in rapid-fire succession this time.

“And we are biblical, blessed, bonded, caring, Christ-exalting, committed, compassionate, connected, consistent, and creative, dedicated, devoted, discerning, disciplined, driven, effective, encouraging, energized, evangelistic, exciting, engaging, faithful, focused, friendly, fun, fired up, generous, godly, growing…

“Uh, I think that’s plenty. And, besides, I’m kind of running out of papyrus sheets, so…”

But he doesn’t catch your drift or miss a beat.

“We are humble, hungry, hospitable, intentional. Inspiring, intimate, intense, joyful, like-minded, loving, magnetic, miraculous, motivated, neighbourly, obedient, ordained, others-minded, passionate, powerful, praising, prayerful, proactive, productive, progressive, pure, purposeful, redeeming, radical, real, relational minded, relevant, respected, sacrificial, safe, scary, selfless, Scripture-loving, servant-hearted, single-minded, sold out, Spirit-filled, sincere, submissive, tenacious, teachable, transformed, trustworthy, thankful, unified, unselfish, unspoiled, unwavering, wholehearted, and wise. We are a people full of wonder who worship God – you should come and join us!”

By this point the coffee is long gone – and you know you’ve obliterated your editor’s word count. But be honest: If the Church were really all these things – as Scripture says it is – you would definitely be checking it out, wouldn’t you?

How could you not?”

So what happened? Something has gone terribly wrong; that’s what happened. The description of the first church is suppose to be the description of all churches today because the Leader of the first church is suppose to be the Leader of them all. 

The problem isn’t that God has stopped being in the business of changing the world by changing lives. The problem is that we have gotten into the business of doing His business our way, not being “people of His way” (Acts 9:2).

If church, as you think of it today, was truly a reflection of the adjectives we just used to describe it in Acts 2:42-47, my bet is that you would feel differently about it. A lot differently. You wouldn’t be alone.

You might be thinking, That is the exact kind of community of people I have been looking for. That is the purposeful life I really want to live, but I didn’t know it actually existed. What you are describing is what I have been searching for my whole life. In relationships. Clubs. Teams. Work. You name it. So don’t mess with me – just tell me: Where does something like this exist? Even though I am not sure I can believe, just out of curiosity, I’m going to come and check it out.

That is exactly what God had in mind – that in this lost, dark, broken world where there are only shadows of hope, a light would enter in. That people would begin to live in real relationships with a real God. That they would be that alive, awe-inspiring, authentic … a worshipful kingdom-of-God-on-earth community.

The Church is supposed to provide others a picture of God’s kingdom – a glimpse of heaven on earth. It is not a place you are suppose to go; it is a people who are suppose to be … and you can still experience what God intends for His Church to be. 

When you see life change, grace, compassion, mercy, sharing, provision, warmth, and hope – with a diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) – aren’t these at least small descriptions of heaven? Yes, they are. And instead of growing dimmer over the years, the Church is supposed to be growing brighter day by day as we yield more and more to the Spirit’s grace, power, and direction. Less of us: more of Him.

From the very beginning, this is what God intended church to be. God wants you to experience a community that is alive, awe-inspiring, attractive, aligned … well, you can go back and reread the rest. God created you for this. Your heart longs for it – even if you have only seen a glimpse of it from a distance. But, once you experience this true Church you will want to do more than attend at a church building – you will want to find others who are committed to joining you in being the Church that Jesus has always wanted to build. 

Do any exist? Is that possible? Yes, they do, and yes, it is!

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Fifty-eight (end)

Continued from yesterday…

The purity and authenticity of their cultivated spirit influence everything in their path. Their beliefs, identity, behaviour, and relationships blend to project a persona that pricks the spirit in everyone around them. Analysts might say that the job of a revolutionary is to reform the culture, but that confuses purpose and product. These extreme God-lovers reform the culture simply by being true representations of whom God made them to be. They do not create and enforce a carefully plotted and meticulously deployed agenda to reform. They simply live a holy and obedient life that a society suffering from the stronghold of sin cannot ignore. The transformation that follows in their wake is not so much their doing as it is an inevitable result of God’s creatures waking up to the difference between living in the freedom of Christ or in the shackles of Satan.

In past spiritual awakenings, dynamic preachers went into society to bring people into a local church for further development. This era of spiritual growth is different. It features millions of individuals quietly using the weapons of faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God has given them to be scions of transformation within the framework of their typical space and connections. The starting point is internal, not external: their message is their own transformation by Christ, made real by their words and deeds. Rather than draw people out of the world, and into a relationship with an institution, revolutionaries demonstrate what it means to bring the presence of God to wherever they are. This a broad-based grassroots awakening that has no single leader and no headquarters. The declaration of purpose is more than two thousand years old: the Bible.

In the great awakenings of the past, the pattern was always the same: draw people into the local church for teaching and other experiences. In this new movement of the Spirit, the approach is the opposite: it entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God. In other words, past awakenings and revivals were outside-inside phenomena, in which the dynamic and evangelistically gifted  Spurgeons, Finneys, Wesleys, and Whitefields of the Church brought non-christian people inside the local church to be ministered to. This edition is predominantly an outside-outside experience, where believers see the world as their church grounds and every human being they encounter as a soul to love into the permanent presence and experience of God. Many of these revolutionaries are active members of a local church, but their primary ministry effect is not within the congregational framework but in the raw world. 

So, what we believe drives what we do. What we believe matters to God – which is why so much of the Bible painstakingly explains God and His Kingdom to us. The revolution fosters a stunningly diverse array of activities that work together to produce spiritual and behavioural transformation which then changes their community and eventually the world. 

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Fifty-seven

This is a great time to be alive – especially for those who love Jesus Christ. The opportunities to minister are unparalleled: the million of searching hearts and agonized souls, combined with the abundance of resources Christians have at their disposal, make this a very special era for the Church. Throw in the rapid and profound cultural changes occurring, as well as the struggles local churches are undergoing, and we have an environment in which the birth of a spiritual revolution is inevitable. The confluence of those elements demands a dramatic response, and the emerging revolution represents such a historic thrust.

There can be no turning back at this point, no return to the old ways and the comfortable forms. Although we cannot accurately predict what the Church will look like twenty years hence, we can be confident that it will be more different from than similar to the Church at the start of the twenty-first century. The revolution is an extensive grassroots response to the undeniable and insatiable human longing for a genuine relationship with God our Father. The transformations it introduces are sometimes difficult to accept and oftentimes inefficient in their development, but the outgrowth is a stronger and more irresistible Church.

As you seek to comprehend the emerging revolution an describe it to others, keep in mind its central facets. It is comprised of a demographically diverse group of people who are determined to let nothing stand in the way of an authentic and genuine experience with God. They are involved in a variety of activities and connections designed to satisfy a spiritual focus. They are God-lovers and joyfully obedient servants. They are willing to do whatever it takes to draw closer to God, to bond with Him, and to bring Him glory and pleasure. If that can be accomplished through existing structures and processes, they accept that; if not, they will blaze new trails to facilitate such a Spirit-driven life.

En route to this intimacy with God, they are integrating the seven spiritual passions of a true revolutionary Christian into their lives. Their daily expressions of worship refine their sense of beauty, the creativity, and the majesty of God. Their joy at knowing Him naturally provides the impetus to communicate to others the Goos News about Jesus’ sacrifice and offer of salvation. Their infatuation with the Kingdom fuels their consistent effort to know more about God’s ways. They respond to His love by seeking ways to invest the resources they control of influence for Kingdom outcomes. Their friendships hinge on spiritual growth. They pursue opportunities to use their abilities to affect the quality of life in the world. And they recognize that their most important relationships is within their family and that Christ must be the centrepiece of their experiences together. These passions enable revolutionaries to remain centered on God in a world of distractions and seductions. Their attention to these passions allows them to be the Church.

At what stage, or under what conditions, is the revolution successful? Revolutionaries recognize that spiritual success is more about surrender than results. They know that God examines the fruit of someone’s livfe, but the real fruit of the Kingdom is flat-out, no-excuses obedience to God. Such submission produces a perpetual string of behaviours and outcomes that may be imperceptible to a frenetic and hardhearted world, but represent major victories within the Kingdom. Why? Because life is war, and every time a soldier willingly engages in sacrificial battle for the King, His honour is advanced. Revolutionaries’ complete and total surrender to Him and His cause is the essence of eternal victory. 

It is this holistic devotion to being Christlike that triggers the transformational legacy of the revolution. First, revolutionaries are changed so profoundly that they see life through na completely different lens. Then, armed with that new perspective and the courage to respond, these individuals set about transforming then world by being relics of Jesus in every space their inhabit. 

The last in the series tomorrow…

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Fifty-six

There are five reactions to the revolution….

The first, and at this moment the largest, is those who are completely ignorant of the revolution’s existence and emergence. As word gets out and the revolution expands in numbers and influence, this segment will shrink considerably. 

The second group is those who are antagonistic toward the revolution. These individuals feel threatened by the extreme change represented by the seemingly unorthodox approach to spirituality. These individuals tend to believe (or to hide behind theological arguments contending) that the Bible disallows a believer to intentionally live at arm’s length from the local church. The response of these folks ranges from outright hostility toward revolutionaries, to genuine prayer that the wayward sons will return to a church home, to pity for these ‘backsliders.’

A third group is the coexister segment. These are Christians who have adopted a “let them be” attitude, refusing to judge the spiritual journey of others. Often these people search for ways to have a peaceful relationship with revolutionaries and attempt to build bridges that facilitate continued harmony within the body of Christ. Most coexists have little interest in becoming revolutionaries, but they are willing to embrace them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of them will eventually join forces with the revolution. 

A fourth category is the late adopters. As in any situation where significant innovation is introduced, these people are nervously waiting on the sidelines for the transitions to become mainstream so it is safe to get on board. Because believers have a huge degree of confusion about life purpose and spiritual meaning and a latent desire to clarify such matters, this group will become a major feeder for the revolution as time progresses. This group disdains risk. They will cast their lot with the revolution once it seems socially acceptable and culturally unremarkable to do so. Whether their timidity will effectively remove the cutting edge of the revolution or whether these pliable saints will be spiritually energized by the passion and focus of the revolution remains to be seen.

The final category, of course, is the revolutionaries. Millions of them attend church, and millions of others do not. But they all love Jesus Christ and are devoted to Him as their Lord and Saviour. Knowing that they can be more effective lovers of God by recasting themselves as humble, single-minded servants, they are committed to the revolution for the duration of the battle, willing to endure the criticism of fellow believers so that they can be the Church in the best way that they know how. They are not so much interested in converting their distractors to be revolutionaries as they are determined to honour God through their purity and passion for Him.

The agents of transformation that we are calling revolutionaries realize that the only way to silence their critics is to be Christlike at all times. Even that did not stop Jesus’ critics, and many revolutionaries are resigned to the fact that perpetual criticism from Christians is simply an unfortunate and unjust price they will pay for loving and serving God with all their heart, mind, strength, and soul. Someday, they know, they will stand before the only true Judge and will be made whole by the One who reconciles everyone’s accounts. 

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Fifty-five

The second stream of concern contends that believers will become spiritually lazy and even compromise the principles and theology of the Christian faith because of their disconnection from the local church. The problem with this argument is that surveys find a measurably greater degree of lukewarm faith among the believers in the pews. Revolutionaries, almost by definition, are zealous and passionate about obeying God’s Word and honouring Him. More often than not, they resort to departing from a local church in order to foster that focus.

Warnings about heresy creeping into the minds and hearts of the Christian body are always worthy of consideration. However, it is just as easy to identify heretical teachings proposed from current church pulpits as it is to identify heretical revolutionaries. After all, research shows that only 51 percent of the pastors of Protestant churches have a biblical worldview! The embarrassing profile of Christians can be largely attributed to the quality of the teaching they have received in sermons, Sunday school classes, and small groups. It is inappropriate to suggest that revolutionaries are worse off because they do not receive teaching from a nearby congregation. In fact, many revolutionaries rely upon Bible teaching delivered through the media or via teaching of trusted Bible expositors whose podcasts they subscribe to.

Revolutionaries are spiritual warriors. They do whatever it takes to lead a holy and growing Christian life and lifestyle. Because they are vitally concerned about the truths and principles they absorb, their media usage and organizational affiliations reflect the care they take to limit their exposure to that which is edifying. They are not perfect, by any means, but they are sensitive to the importance of exposure to people and information that will raise them to a higher standard, rather than drag them down to a defiling level. 

The third and final thread of dismay is based on the argument that massive departure from the local church will dissipate the hard-won, expensive resources of the church community and its influence upon culture.

As a part of the Church, revolutionaries have no interest in denigrating any segment of the Kingdom; their goal is to be agents of transformation who support and add value to the good that exists in the Church.

Again, from a practical standpoint, it is hard to take the “undermining church influence” argument seriously. Research shows that local churches have virtually no influence in our culture. The seven dominant spheres of influence are movies, music, television, books, the internet, law, and family. The second tier of influencers is comprised of entities such as schools, peers, newspapers, radio, and businesses. The local church appears among the entities that have little to no influence on society. It seems that if revolutionaries approach faith from a different angle, the Church has little to lose and much to gain. 

To those who are worried about their investment in congregational real estate, the only answer is to recognize that the Kingdom of God is not about buildings and programs. Those resources can be useful in building up the body of Christ, but we can never allow brick-and-mortar to be the engine that drives the Church.

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Fifty-four

We have been looking at what the critics of the revolution will say to try and counteract the growing influence and impact of the revolutionaries on the Church as well as society and culture. The last blog dealt with the first of a number of very vocal criticisms. We saw that critics will argue that you must go to church – and they are referring to “church” as they define it. It would be good to reread that blog before continuing with this one as I continue to discuss this major concern.

As I mentioned last time, the same God who is more concerned with what’s in our hearts than about mindless observance of meaningless routines refuses to impose specific regulations about our religious practices. He wants us to use the creative abilities He entrusted to us to express in our own way how much we love Him and want to glorify Him.

In fact, there is not a verse in Scripture that links the concepts of worshipping God and a ‘church meeting.’ The Bible does not tell us that worship must happen in a church sanctuary and therefore we must be actively associated with a local church (as they define church). It simply tells us that we must worship God regularly and purely in spirit and truth. Take particular note of the fact that Jesus dismissed the organized worship of His day as “a farce” and intimated that we ought not be so limited as to how and when we worship God.

Mark 7:6-8 “And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

When the Samaritan woman asked about worship practices and places, Jesus responded bluntly that the place and the form of worship meant less to God than the heart and commitment. He noted that, “The time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem … But the time is coming – indeed it is here now – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-23). He was highlighting the same foolish irrelevancies that traditionalists argue about today.

We are commanded to worship god, and we are encouraged to meet with other Christians for various purposes. However, as we follow the development of the new covenant and the related community of faith, notice that Jesus and His disciples provide few guidelines and commands regarding such meetings. The same God who is so specific about things that matter to Him and that are important for us has provided few details about the logistics of Christian assemblies. That silence suggests that we have freedom to develop the means by which we act as a united body of disciples, as long as we perform the functions of God’s chosen ones in ways that comply with His general guidelines of behaviour and the functioning of the body of believers.

And, let’s be loving but honest about what really goes on within the Body of Christ today. No informed Christian leader could ever make a straight-faced argument that involvement in a local church necessarily produces a more robust spiritual life than that seen among revolutionaries. Surveys tell us that Christians who are involved in local churches are actually less likely than revolutionaries to lead a biblical lifestyle.

We should also address one other reality: the Bible never describes “church” the way we have configured it. The Bible goes to great lengths to teach us principles for living and theology for understanding. However, it provides very little guidance in terms of the methods and structures we must use to make those principles and insights prevail in our lives. It seems that God really does not care how we honour and serve Him, as long as He is number one in our lives and our practices are consistent with His parameters. If a local church facilitates that kind of life, then it is good. And if a person is able to live a godly life outside of a congregation-based faith, then that, too, is good. Remember, Jesus looks at the fruit. “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit (Matthew 7:17-18). 

True revolutionaries agree that being isolates from other believers  – I.e., the Church (note the capital ‘C’) – is unbiblical. However, while they may not be integrated into a formal church congregation, they are not isolated from the Church. They may not belong to a specific collection of saints that engages in routines and customs at a particular location and under the leadership of a specific individual or group. However, neither are they spiritually untouchables who have no connection to the global Church. Every revolutionary I know have described a network of Christians to whom he or she relates regularly and a portfolio of spiritual activities which he or she engages in on a regular basis. This schedule of relationships and ministry efforts is the revolutionary equivalent of traditional congregational life – but better. These believers pursue the seven passions of a Christian revolutionary (discussed in detail earlier in this series of blogs) with a variety of people, in different forms and environments, but they are exuberant about their faith life. Compared to the “average” Christian I would say that the revolutionaries are substantially more Spirit-led, faith-focused, Scripturally-literate, and biblically obedient than their more traditional counterparts who are embedded within a congregation. 

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Fifty-three

 

Blog for February 14, 2019

Every movement of the Holy Spirit suffers through a multitude of critics who attack what God is currently doing. This new revolutionary move of the Spirit will be the same. These critics often arise from within the Church. George Whitefield, John Wesley, and other standard-bearers of the revivals withstood harsh attacks from established churches who complained bitterly that the itinerants used unorthodox means of reaching people, disrupted the status and flow of existing ministries, threatened the stability of society, and undermined the security and authority of pastors and denominational leaders. Today, however, we praise God that Whitefield and his colleagues persisted in thinking outside the box and enduring the unwarranted abuse from their spiritual kinfolk.

In fact, energetic resistance by the established Church has accompanied every significant episode of growth in the Kingdom since the time of Christ. Jesus and His followers were slandered, ridiculed, physically abused, and murdered. The Protestant Reformation produced heated debate and violent resistance. The Second Great Awakening drew strenuous opposition from the established Church community. Even the more recent and less extensive movements of faith, such as the Jesus Movement of the 1960s, were dismissed and attacked by religious leaders who were aghast at the different types of people, strategies, behaviours, and outcomes that characterized the freewheeling, hippie-friendly Jesus People.

The revolution of faith that is emerging today is no different. If you mention the mission of deeply devoted Christians whose lives are centered on knowing, loving, and serving God independently of a local church, you can count on criticism from the church establishment. Being Kingdom-minded and seeking innovative ways of reaching the world and honouring God suddenly get redefined to mean that such efforts must be approved and controlled by the presiding rulers of the institutional authorities. Some of the same people who profess love to be their hallmark ruthlessly attack anything that threatens their interpretation or turf.

The major concern about the revolution is that millions of its adherents are not affiliated with a local church – as the local church is currently defined and seen. Revolutionaries distancing themselves from formal congregations does not reflect a willingness to ignore God as much as a passion to deepen their connectedness to Him. Revolutionaries do not try to draw other people away from the local church. Theirs is a personal choice based on a genuine desire to be holy and obedient, but finding that need better served outside the framework of congregational structures.

Mainstream leaders seem to be voicing three dimensions of concern about believers making a conscious decision to separate from a local church. The first is an appeal to their interpretation of Scripture. “To call yourself a believer but leave the local church is unbiblical,” some will say. Others will comment, “The Bible clearly teaches that we are not to forsake the assembling of believers to worship God. Scripture also commands us to be accountable to the church and to be under the headship of His anointed leaders. Jesus Christ established the local church. Abandoning it is displeasing to God.” 

Those comments and others like it that I hear in all of the nation where I work pushed me to return to the Bible to find out what God actually says about the Church. If you will take a fresh, non-traditional look at the Scriptures you will find, even discover, some interesting things. For instance, when the word church appears in the Bible, it refers to people who are ‘called out’ from society to be the full expression of Jesus Christ on earth. That reminds me of what being a revolutionary is all about: rejecting the norm and paying the cost to stand apart from the crowd to honour God.

In fact, when the Bible admonishes us to gather together, it does not imply that that should be a church service or congregational event. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). Such interaction could be in a worship service or at Starbucks; it might be satisfied through a Sunday school class or a dinner in a fellow believer’s home. The same God who is more concerned about what is in our hearts than about mindless observance of meaningless routines refuses to impose specific regulations about our religious practices. He wants us to use the creative abilities He entrusted to us to express in our own way how much we love Him and want to glorify Him. 

More next time…