Theology or Bible-based Common Sense

A few weeks back there was a news item that caught my attention. And, over the past few weeks I have frequently thought about it, mulling over the details and wondering how we have reached this stage in the “Christian faith” (note the quotation marks). Let me summarize the news item in case you missed it.

It happened in mid-February of this year … PHOENIX — The priest was beloved by his parishioners — yet for years he made a one-word ritual mistake, repeatedly, that has caused confusion and anxiety for thousands of Catholics in the Phoenix area now worrying that they were improperly baptized.

Under scrutiny are baptisms performed by the Rev. Andres Arango, who served in Arizona for 16 years. Catholic officials estimate that thousands of baptisms are now presumed to be invalid because he used incorrect wording, and they say those affected may need to be re-baptized. Some may feel obliged to have other church ceremonies performed again, even including marriage. Arango’s error was in saying, “We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” when he should have begun the sentence by saying, “I baptize you.” The difference is theologically crucial, the Vatican ruled in 2020, because it’s not the “we” of the congregation doing the baptizing but the “I” of Jesus Christ, working through the priest.

With two Master’s degrees from recognized seminaries in my nation I do understand the theological issues involved. However, I can’t help but ask, “Would Jesus really care?” Is it not the heart of the people that matters not some words of a formula used in a Church ritual?

Does this not bring to mind Jesus’ comments … Matthew 15:6-9 NET You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said, This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Really, do we think Jesus will reject people just because a priest – in a sacramental ritual (note the word ritual) – used the word “we” instead of “I”? This is the Jesus who welcomed Children who had not been baptized and used them as an example of what the Kingdom was all about. Do we really think Jesus would reject a person because they were not baptized with the right formula? This is Jesus who welcomed the thief on the cross into His Kingdom while dying on the cross next to Him without being baptized.

I understand the theology. I was once a priest in a major worldwide denomination who held to the same theology. The teaching is that there are two sacraments (church rituals) that are necessary for salvation – Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Mass, the Eucharist). Two outward rituals that open the door into Heaven if done correctly. Really, now?

Is this the Jesus we see in the New Testament? Is this really the heart of God who sent His Son that “whosoever believes” would be saved? Is an outward sacrament as important (or important at all) when compared to the condition of the heart and the call to repentance? Did Jesus require people to be baptized to be a part of the Church that He was and still is building? How about the issue of baptizing just true believers and not young children? And, why just a sprinkling of water and not total immersion as we see in the history of the early Church? So many things to stumble over. So many man-made traditions that really have nothing to do with a personal relationship with Jesus.  

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30 NET).

The Message Version reads: ”Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I was one who was tired and burned out on religion. That is why I am no longer a priest in that denomination. But I am a born again believer who was convicted of his sin, experienced godly sorrow, repented, and received forgiveness (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). And I know from the teachings of the Bible (not the traditions of men) that I am a child of God and walking with Jesus as I fulfill the divine destiny that is on my life. Nothing to do with baptism or some man-made, tradition or formula. The news article goes on to say that now people are being rebaptized. In some cases, because the baptismal phrasing was wrong priests are having to be baptized again and then ordained a second time because the wrong formula when they were 6 days old makes their ordination (and call from God) invalid. And, of course, everything they did as a priest is also called into question. The list of things you can trip over increases as you work through the theology of “We” verses “I” in the baptismal formula.

Doesn’t it just make you want to scream, “Get a life!” So much concern and guilt over something that has absolutely no connection to whether you are in God’s grace and will enter Heaven when you die. So much religion controlling people’s lives and instilling guilt instead of grace.


A Lesson to Be Learned

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (yes, that has been what I have been reading recently) he stresses the unity that was (and still is) to exist in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 3:6 NET “… that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.”

Paul repeatedly emphasizes the oneness of the Body of Christ, the Church, throughout his letter to the Ephesians. It is because Jews and Gentiles worshipping together was such miracle. A true miracle. A very public and thus noticeable miracle for all to see.

One commentary states:

“We simply do not understand the degree of separation that existed between these two groups of people. It is like saying there will no longer be blacks and whites in South Africa. It is like saying there will no longer be Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. It is like saying there will no longer be liberals and conservatives in the United States. All these people are going to be made into one.”

In Paul’s day, the animosity between Jew and Gentile was so strong that a Jewish woman would not help a Gentile woman deliverr her child, because the Jewish woman believed she was helping to bring another degraded human into the world. Jews would not even go through Samaria because it was a non-Jewish country. They would walk 150 miles out of their way — around the border — to keep from entering territory inhabited by a people they called “dogs.”

So when the gospel offered grace to all, it produced a massive shift. Suddenly, there could be no separate Jewish church, no separate Gentile church. God had only one family — and Jews and Gentiles alike had equal status. It was a truly revolutionary time in the church.

Paul writes, Ephesians 4:1-6 NET “I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

This unity among believers is a calling upon our lives as disciples and followers of the Lord. Not an option we get to choose or reject. We have a long way to go still to see this unity return to the Church today in the nations of the world. We have much to learn from the early Church…

And We Go To Church Because?

In speaking with young people who have been active church attendees and true believers and disciples of Jesus I have been asking them one key question in the midst of year two of the pandemic. A time in which they have not been attending on the weekend because of Covid and local restrictions or simply out of an abundance of caution during this troubling time. 

The question: Are you planning to return to church when the pandemic is over? 

The answer in all cases – young unmarried men and young married couples – is no! 

The reason for not wanting to reconnect? Simple. When they stopped attending nothing changed in their daily life. The came to realize that church attendance and gathering with other believers to worship and hear someone teach God’s Word had not impacted their life in any tangible way. That the current format of ‘church’ was simply not working. So, if attending a Christian assembly on the weekend was not making a difference in their life and it was not even missed – even a little bit – then why start up attending again? Good question!

Their observation and their decision has much to say to the Church and I hope we don’t miss the message. The Church, in the eyes of many young people, is not longer relevant and has ceased to play a meaning role in their lives, if it ever did. It no longer serves a purpose. So, as a famous pastor once said, “If the horse is dead, dismount!” And that is exactly what they have done and are doing.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. They are not mad or disappointed with Jesus. They are still deeply interested in spiritual issues. They are continuing their spiritual journey searching for deeper meaning and purpose. They have simply eliminated the Church from the journey and are no longer seeing it as having a purpose in their lives. They won’t be returning – at least not to the Church as it now functions. 

From my vantage point this is a good thing IF, and it is a big if, the leaders of the Church will sit and speak with these young people and hear their heart. Leaders need to step outside their comfort zone and speak to those who have decided not to return and hear, really hear, what they have to say. Hear their heart without being defensive. Listen with their heart without making excuses and rationalizing. Then the leaders need to process this information and act upon what they are hearing. Changes need to be made. Big and small changes. Foundational changes. And to do so we need to remember that the message never changes – the Gospel of the Kingdom is always the same. But, the methods can change. The way we present the message needs to change. The way we celebrate the message needs to change. The way we gather to live the message needs to change. The way we understand the message and relate it to today’s soon-to-be (we hope) post pandemic world needs adjusting. 

I believe the changes need to be as radical and mind-bending as the ones Jesus Himself brought to the religious world of His day. His people had once had a dynamic, personal relationship with the living God. However, their faith had become bogged down in traditions and rituals and lost its life. It was now simply a set of rules to follow and rituals to perform. It had gone from dynamic to dead. From relational to religious. And Jesus came to turn this all upside down. The early Church continued this revolution (see Acts 17:6b). But over the decades and centuries that have followed the Church becomes fossilized and losing its life-force. Change is required. New seasons arrive and radical adjustments are made. We are in such a season. Let’s not miss the implications. 

In the midst of a slow death the Spirit moves upon the hearts of some people who face the truth and see the reality. And, they leave what is to build what should be. Oh, they are not always sure how to build but they know that what they have is not working and think that anything will be an improvement. They need the apostles to step in and encourage them in their search. They need the prophets to speak into the situation. They need to recognize that the foundation of the Church is the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). And then, with these specific leaders they need to start to build once again. Not repair. Not rebuild. But starting with just the hunger they feel and the need they have for meaningful and life-giving fellowship they must step forward in faith and see where the Spirit leads them. 

Those who are still involved in the local church as we continue to walk through Covid and the pandemic should also take this opportunity to look at what they are doing and ask themselves why they do what they do. What are we gaining from what we do? Is what we call Church really biblical or is it designed by us for us? Those who continue to attend need to answer the question: “And we go to church because?” 

The Pattern – Part Five

The Book of Acts contains more than the birth and the history of the early Church. It is the second half of a two-volume Gospel, Luke, a medical doctor, wrote the books to reinforce his reader’s faith in the living Jesus Christ. As he narrates history he also teaches theology. He explains the dynamics of the first New Testament Church and illustrates the principles by which it should be build and the way it must function. 

His first volume, the Gospel of Luke, covers Jesus’ life and teachings. Acts follows what the Holy Spirit continued to do and teach in Jesus’ Name through the Church. Opening statements in both volumes reveal Luke’s purpose:

Luke 1:1-4 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

Acts 1:1-3 “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”

Luke’s readers needed to know with certainty that what they were believing and doing had been started by Jesus and continued by the Holy Spirit. Their faith in Jesus and their experience of the Body of Jesus, the Church, needed to be founded on an authoritative, orderly witness. Luke provided it for them — and for believers in every nation today.

The Jerusalem church is the first fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18 that “He would build His Church.” For several years, the church faithfully followed the pattern, although it had an advantage over many churches today. All the converts had the same ethnic heritage. As Jews, they shared a background in Old Testament Scripture. It enabled them to correctly apply the teachings of Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Modern day believers often have difficulty correctly applying the teachings of Jesus without a good, proper understanding of Old Testament Scriptures.

The distinctive of the early church are seen in:

Acts 2:38-47 “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 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.”

Acts 4:31-35 “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Acts 5:12-16 “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”

The same distinctive should be explored and implemented in local churches today. These distinctive show…

        • The New Testament Church had a clear doctrinal and experiential foundation. It began with repentance, demonstrated by an initial experience of believer baptism by immersion in water. It was then energized and controlled by the Holy Spirit who empowered and enabled the Church to fulfill it’s mandate and purpose (Acts 1:5, 8)
        • Converts immediately identified with the community of believers. They did not become spiritual “Lone Rangers.” Those who responded to the preached Word recognized a covenant relationship with one another as a logical part of their personal covenant with the Lord.
        • A leadership structure of trans-local apostles and prophets as well as local elders governed the community of faith. The twelve apostles appointed by the Lord composed the original leadership team. With the leading of the Holy Spirit, they did not hesitate to exercise the authority the Lord delegated to them (Matthew 28:18-20).
        • Believers entered into a new lifestyle almost immediately — a pattern of receiving and living according to the instruction of the apostles (Acts 2:42). As a result, they lived together in a vibrant and dynamic fellowship.
        • Given to prayer and praise, the New Testament Church was a worshipping community in love with the Lord. Christians visibly celebrated His Lordship.
        • The presence and power of Christ was evident. The Lord confirmed the preached Word with miraculous signs and wonders (see: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Mark 16:20). The supernatural events brought the fear of the Lord upon believers as well as upon their neighbours and onlookers.
        • Members took fellowship seriously and expressed it practically. They lived a lifestyle of selfless service, living out the dynamic of the cross putting others first before their own comfort, safety, and security.
        • Believers maintained unity (Ephesians 4:3, 13; 1 Peter 3:8). They  assembled together at various places and times for worship, instruction, and for simply sharing their lives together.
        • Neighbours and people in surrounding areas were impresses by the markedly different life in the Christian community. Many chose to believe the Gospel of the Kingdom and became a part of the remarkable community.

The pattern demonstrated in the book of Acts is still the pattern for the Church today. The Lord is restoring and building His Church according to the same principles and dynamics. They hold true today and will continue in every generation. The closer we come to the return of the Lord, the more we will experience, in our own lives and churches, the living reality of the dynamics of the New Testament Church.

Begin now to study the pattern. Believe it, contend for it, and to believe God for the wisdom to implement it. 

The Pattern – Part Four

When Jesus said, “I will build My Church,” He went on to say, “the gates of Hades (Hell) shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Church Jesus is building is an overcoming, triumphant Church. His statement implies that if a local church does not conform to His pattern, then He is not building it and the gates of hell will prevail against it.

The apostle Paul warned the Church leaders to take heed how they build. Jesus is the foundation, but Paul said not everything built on the foundation will last.

1 Corinthians 3:12 “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw…”

A house of gold, silver, and precious stones will endure, while a house of wood, hay, and straw will not last. For that reason every local church or “house of God” will be tested. Fiery trials reveal the true qualities of each house.

1 Corinthians 3:13 “… each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”

A house built according to the pattern will last.

1 Corinthians 3:14-15 “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

The Builder (Jesus) wants His co-labourers to use eternal building materials and to follow the pattern He has revealed. All who study God’s pattern must commit themselves to use it. True leaders long for the Church to reflect God’s pattern and purpose. Every leader who is following Jesus and loves the Church wants the dynamics of the Church to be ordered by the Lord. No one has the right or freedom to build the Church in his or her own way. No one has the right to decide what it should be like, how it should operate, its mission and lifestyle. Moses had no choice how he was to build and neither do we.

Programs do not always – in fact, seldom – build a house of gold, silver, and precious stones. They might be important and may benefit the members of the local church but they are not the essence, dynamic, or purpose of the Church. They certainly do not make the Church come alive. They are often additions to the house. They are rooms in the house at best.

Adjustments will be necessary, and everyone has to be willing to make adjustments to build according to the pattern. Throughout their lives, individual Christinas have to make adjustments. As they do, their vision of what God’s Church should look like gets clearer. They see God’s pattern for their lives and for the Church more fully before them. If they are wise, they will make whatever adjustments might be called for by the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, the Bible.

If believers are not teachable, they will not see and understand the Lord’s pattern for the Church. If they do not grasp the pattern, they surely will not implement it. An unteachable person says, “I have done it this way for 30 years, and I will continue to do it this way until mI die.” That is the way of death. Seeking the heart of God for His Church, receiving revelation of what the blueprint looks like, and constant change and adjustment to build according to that pattern, will be part of the daily life of any believer who has decided to glorify the Lord and do what He has called us to be and do. 


The Pattern – Part Three

Today God is restoring His Church to the same life and power that enabled Christianity to influence and impact the known world in Bible times in one generation. The principle of restoration is one of the most foundational in all of Scripture. It rests on the belief that God’s original works reveal unblemished patterns and blueprints in creation. It also assumes that fallen sinful man tends to stray from the original pattern over time. As man strays, he loses his life and he needs restoration.

The principle appears first in Genesis. In the beginning when man sinned, he lost all God originally had intended for him. He lost his fellowship with God, and as a sinner he could not fulfill his original, God-given purpose. But God immediately made a way for mankind to be reconciled and restored. The Lord established the plan of redemption. Jesus is mentioned first in the book of Genesis. 

Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The Mosaic Law instituted restoration into civil regulations of the land. It required the return of stolen goods to their owners — with interest.

Exodus 22:1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.”

Exodus 22:6 “If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.”

King Solomon echoed the principle in his wisdom writings.

Proverbs 6:30-31 “People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house.”

Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s perfect order in the earth until they sinned. Later, the Church followed a similar path. The Church was born following an original visitation of the Holy Spirit. The visitation revealed God’s original design for the Church. Truth and power characterized life among first-century believers; however, soon human pride and sin led Christians astray from the God-given pattern. As a result they lost the life they enjoyed and needed restoration.

The Church was just newly born when Peter preached about the end of its history. Between the beginning and the end, believers woulda enjoy times of refreshing as a result of their faith in Christ (Acts 3:19). Eventually Jesus would return for His bride. Peter said Jesus would return only after all things spoken of by the prophets had been restored.

Acts 3:20-21 “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

The Bible declares that God is restoring His Church and that He will continue to restore it until it is the glorious bride of Christ.

Ephesians 5:27 “so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

If God is restoring the Church, and if the Church will conform to the glorious pattern, then discovering the pattern becomes absolutely essential.

Humanists view man as his own god and believe man is perfectible without God’s help. They think humanity is regressing over time and that things continue to improve as a result of new discoveries and achievements. They do not recognize designs or patterns in origins. They assume everything began in a primitive form and steadily gets better on its own. They see no need for restoration of things that get better by themselves. 

Many, even in the Church, have been trained by educators, the media, and politicians to think like humanists. If they believe the Church is automatically progressing, getting better over time, then restoring an original pattern is irrelevant to them. 

I am convinced that before the return of the Lord, the Church will be restored according to God’s design!

The Pattern – Part Two

Moses was instructed, “And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40). The Bible records this phrase, or variations of it, nine times in reference to the house of God. To be mentioned nine times, the pattern must be very important to God. He is very interested in how things are done in His house.

Exodus 26:30 “Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.

Exodus 27:8 “You shall make it hollow, with boards. As it has been shown you on the mountain, so shall it be made.”

Exodus 25:9 “Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.”

Exodus 31:11 “and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”

Exodus 39:32, 42-43 “Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the people of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did … According to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work. And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them.”  

Numbers 8:4 “And this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold. From its base to its flowers, it was hammered work; according to the pattern that the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.”

Disharmony had marred creation in the first place due to man’s independence and rebellion. Therefore, God required His people to set aside their independence and faithfully follow His lead. It was absolutely necessary. Any generation that refused to follow God’s pattern ended in death and destruction. (See Joshua 22:28; 2 Kings 16:10; 1 Chronicles 28:11-12, 18-19; Ezekiel 43:10). Israel obeyed the Lord’s instruction and built ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN.

The New Testament deacon, Stephen, was martyred shortly after he testified before the synagogue council. He had referred to the Old Testament story of Moses and the tabernacle pattern.

Acts 7:44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.”

Stephen points out that God had directed the construction and daily operation of the house of the Lord by revelation. It was God’s house, and He wanted it built according to His design. In addition, Stephen referred to the Israelites who had lived around the tabernacle for forth years as the symbolic “church in the wilderness.”

Acts 7:38 “This is the one who was in the congregation (church) in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.”

He reminded his listeners that their forefathers’ constant rebellion had forced them to wander in the wilderness until a whole generation died — even though they travelled in the presence of the tabernacle. Today the Church wanders in a wilderness of conflicting opinions, traditions, habits, and man-made patterns searching for the presence of the Lord “though He in not far from … us” (Acts 17:27).

God was explicit with Moses about the pattern for the tabernacle because it was a shadow of the true tabernacle (the Church), which the Lord would build later.

Hebrews 8:5 “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’”

Hebrews 8:2 “A minister in the holy places, in the true tent (tabernacle) that the Lord set up, not man.”

The True Tabernacle

The true tabernacle – the true house of the Lord, the Church — is the Church Jesus is building.

Hebrews 3:2-6 “Who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honour than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

Matthew 16:18b “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

If the tabernacle in the wilderness had to be built according to God’s specific pattern, how much more must the true tabernacle, the Church, be built according to the New Testament pattern. Today hundreds if not thousands of books about church planting, church growth, and church multiplication crowd the shelves of Christian bookstores. They tell how to target areas according to demographics, how to promote and market churches, how to conduct services, and how to do whatever it takes to see a church grow in numbers. In other words, they attempt to show leaders how to build the church. Few of these books say, “Let’s go back to the New Testament and build according to the pattern.”

The apostle Paul followed a spiritual blueprint or pattern. First, he laid a foundation, and then he built upon it. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 3:9-10a “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it.”

1 Corinthians 3:10b-11 “Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Christian believers are God’s building. We are the Church. However, we are also the Lord’s fellow builders. From the foundation up, builders must build the right way, according to the pattern. Paul warned every builder to “take heed how he builds.” Paul himself worked to keep God’s order in the Church. He said,

1 Corinthians 14:40 KJV “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

Colossians 2:5 KJV “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.”

Titus 1:5 KJV “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you.”

The Pattern – Part One

In my study of the Book of Acts (of the Holy Spirit) I was struck by a specific verse the other day. Acts 7:44 states, “Our fathers had the tent of witness (tabernacle) in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.” There is a pattern to the birthing (planting) and building the Church that we would do well to understand and follow. 

Starry night skies boast of a divine order in the universe. Planets crisscross the heavens in charted paths. They move precisely and predictably. Astronomers know exactly where was one will travel. Men can set their watches by the movement. Every visible star obeys the order God built into His creation.

God is not the author of confusion and disorder but of peace and wholeness.

1 Corinthians 14:33a “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”

Order and harmony are in His nature, and anything that is truly of God reflects His divine order. Intricate details in the balance of nature testify that God created the earth to function in order. When examined closely, even things that appear at first to occur by random or by chance have an exact pattern.

God placed humankind at the highest level of creation. He uniquely created man in God’s own image. Everything about us shows an astonishing intricacy that also reflects the order of God. God marvellously fashioned the human body by divine design. Even the human soul reflects the nature of God.

The Old Testament nation of Israel received the Mosaic Law to establish order in the nation’s civil and ceremonial affairs. Priests and the people had to follow precise instructions when approaching the Lord to worship. God commanded Moses to build a tabernacle (tent) in the wilderness “according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40). He did not allow the Israelites to stray off and build according to their own design. He did not permit them to follow tangents. God said, “Just make it the way I tell you. Don’t do it your own way or take short cuts.” Faithfulness to the pattern held supreme significance because at the tabernacle God said He would dwell, meet, and speak with His people.

Exodus 29:42-46 “It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.”

Likewise, in the New Testament times Jesus said, “I will build My Church,” a spiritual temple for the habitation of God in the Spirit.

Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Ephesians 2:21-22 “…  in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

As Jesus builds His Church, does He have a plan, blueprint or pattern? God required Moses to follow a pattern while building the tabernacle, but is He less careful about the design of the Church? Does Jesus just ad-lib and react as needs arise, or does God have a divine blueprint for ordering His Church in this generation? Fortunately, He did leave a pattern.

Jesus said He would build His Church, and the book of Acts shows Him doing it. Acts preserves the history of life in the first New Testament Church. Written by Luke, it gives modern Christians a glimpse of the divine pattern before men had time to mess it up. J.B. Phillips notes that the reader of the book of Acts “is seeing Christianity, the real thing, in action for the first time in human history … the Church as it was meant to be.”

When Jesus began to build the Church, His powerful dynamics created explosive growth, resulting in the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) touching the known world. The Church was born on the Day of Pentecost; it multiplied in the city of Jerusalem; it eventually spread to the Samaritans, to a Roman centurion, and to the Greeks in Antioch. Starting in Jerusalem and ending in Rome, the Church of Jesus Christ quickly established a beachhead in the Roman Empire. Although ti did not eliminate every problem — members had disagreements and doctrinal differences — it profoundly impacted its generation with truth and purity.

The principles Jesus uses to build His Church are universal and timeless. While methods and programs may vary, principles work in every generation and culture of the world. It is just as important for Church leaders and the people of God — the priesthood of all believers — today to build “according to the pattern” as it was for Moses. The tabernacle Moses built was a pattern or a symbol of the complete plan that was being progressively revealed. The New Testament presents the Church as the fulfillment in time and space of the Old Testament pattern. 

In Love – Encourage One Another

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

The New Testament word most often translated “encouragement” is parakaleo. This term comes from two Greek words: para, meaning “alongside of”; and kale, meaning “to call.” When people come alongside us during difficult times to give us renewed courage, a renewed spirit, and renewed hope — that’s encouragement. That is love, pure and refined.

William Barclay tells us that parakaleo is a call to arms, a rallying cry from a sergeant leading us into battle. The encourager sees hesitation and fear and he comes alongside and says, “Follow me.” He exhorts ordinary people to perform noble deeds. Life, Barclay says, “is always calling us into battle.” And for us, it is parakletos, the Holy Spirit, who leads and encourages us to move from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

The most powerful source of encouragement is the Bible. Paul tells us that those ancient chapters of the Old Testament inspire and encourage us for today’s living. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The New Testament also is jam-packed with inspiration and encouragement for Christians. It contains a number of passages exhorting us to encourage other. For example:

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

“But exhort [encourage] one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). 

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

We are to soak up God’s Word in order to maintain our own courage and keep in step with the Spirit. And we are to be diligent in passing on that encouragement to others.

In his book, A Simple Blessing, singer Michael W. Smith tells of Justin, a high school freshman who was walking home from school one day when he saw a group of students bullying a smaller boy. They knocked him to the ground, scattering his books, sending his glasses flying. Justin started to walk on, but when he saw the hurt in the boy’s eyes, he stopped, found his glasses, and helped him pick up his books. The boy was so overloaded with books that Justin offered to help him carry them home. On the way, he learned that the boy, Kyle, was a recent transfer to the school, had no friends, and was often harassed by those bullies. 

Out of sheer pity, Justin invited Kyle to come over and toss a football with him. The two became fast friends, and at the end of his senior year Kyle emerged as valedictorian of the graduating class. As he began his valedictory speech, Justin was stunned. Kyle told of his early misery. Uprooted, friendless, bullied, and hopeless, he had decided to end his life and was taking his books home so his mother would not have to clean out his locker. But this time when the bullies attacked, Justin came along with kindness and encouragement, which turned Kyle away from despair and gave him a new grip on life and hope. 

Encouraging words carry a special power, and it’s a power you can exercise every day. Think of those around you who may have a deep need for one word of positive inspiration that you, in the service of God, could provide. How many of these opportunities do we tragically overlook every day? I am constantly thankful for those who encourage me in my life. I can think of many times when someone sent me a note or called me to offer a word of loving encouragement precisely when my spirit was dragging and I was down and almost out. Their words lifted me from drudgery, fueled me in the Spirit, and spurred me onward. Encouragement puts the wind in our sails.

Wouldn’t you like to be that person for someone? Enlist today. Simply tell God you are ready for service, and I guarantee that He will show you the when and the where. Be a blessing, and He will bless you. 

In Love – Build Each Other Up

The Bible states that we love one another by edifying one another. Ephesians 4:29 “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

We can better understand the word edification if we take it apart and put it back together again. In Greek the word is oikodome, which is a combination of two words: oikos, meaning “house”; and dome, meaning “to build.” So to edify means “to build the house.”

Paul took this common Greek term and applied it metaphorically. We are called to edify, to build up one another just as a house is built brick by brick. We are called to promote spiritual development in other believers.

Along the roads of our culture we encounter decrepit, decaying lives. They can’t fix themselves; they need people filled with the love of Christ to come along side and perform the ministry of holy renovation. Sadly, I have seen too many churches filled with demolishers instead of renovators. They judge, they exclude, they condemn. Like residents of exclusive neighbourhoods, they tolerate no substandard structures within their boarders. Tearing things down requires no thought, no skills, no care. A few angry vandals can do it. We who have received the love of Christ must be builders and not demolishers.

Even believers who have been renovated need continual repair. The building that is my life needs your hammer and nails, and the building that is yours needs mine. We must help each other simply because God designed the church to work that way.

We flourish when we are under the loving care of each other and we wither away when we try to go it alone. We must be about the intention business of renovating one another. As Paul said, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding …  So also you seek to abound for the edification (building up)  of the church.”

Erwin McManus observes that we seem to have lost sight of this core value of the church, allowing the self-absorption of the world to infiltrate the body of Christ. People want to talk only about themselves, and they’re interested only in the parts of the church experience that do something for them. They seek tingling sensations in worship, classes that help them cope with their problems, and sermons that make them feel good about themselves. It’s a consumer mentality based on what’s in it for me. Though we are sheep needing to be fed, we must also learn to be shepherds who feed others.

McManus pleads for us to get away from the “meet my needs” mentality, stop church-shopping, and start looking for ways to minister to others. Our battle cry should be, “We are the church, here to serve a lost and broken world” and not “What can your church do for me?” Just as we are a physically obese society, we may also be a spiritually gluttonous one fixated on consuming rather than serving.”

The ultimate tool for building one another up is the unchanging Word of God. The immortal book has changed lives for thousands of years, and it has lost none of its power. When we feel ineffective and fear that we have no encouragement to offer those whose heads are down and hearts are broken, maybe the problem is that our Bibles are closed.