https://ralphhoweministries.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/finale.jpg 265 375 ralph https://ralphhoweministries.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/ralph-howe-ministries1.png ralph2018-10-17 20:54:462020-01-12 13:00:38The Church, Past, Present, and Future
The New Testament Church
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 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.
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,
We are looking at the way the New Testament writers saw the early Church. So far, we have seen:
1> The early Church had an incredible understanding of the experience that they had lived through
2> The early Church had a genuine revelation of an indwelling Lord
3> The early Church met together regularly for a very high and noble purpose
This point comes out of the previous one where we discussed being a “new creature in Christ” and the fact that Christ is in us living His life through us…
Galatians 2:20 “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.”
When the early Church gathered for an assembly their purpose was to display the living Christ who indwell them. They met to give the most glorious Person in the universe visible expression. They understood that they were literally His Body on the earth, and as such, they existed to manifest Him through His every-membered, functioning Body.
4> The early Christian had an incredible Christ-centeredness in their thinking and joint life together.
They made Jesus Christ central, supreme, and preeminent in their lives individually and corporately. He was their focus and in everything they did “the lifted Him up” exalting Him as Lord and Saviour. Because of this the Church grew quickly because Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to Myself (John 12:32).
He was, of course, referring to His crucifixion on the Cross of Calvary. However, we can also understand from that Scripture that as we lift Him up and exalt Him in our activities – both in our individual and corporate lives He will be seen for who He is and others will be drawn into the fellowship (see: 1 John 1:1-4).
Their Christ-centeredness was reflected in their conversation. That might be how they got the name “Christian” because they were always talking about Christ.
Their Christ-centeredness was also reflected in their songs. Some of the early Christian hymns appear in the New Testament. And there are intensely Christocentric.
Hymn example #1:
Colossians 1:15-20 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Hymn example #2:
Philippians 2:6-11 “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
So, read the New Testament Epistles including the Book of Revelation and count the number of times Jesus Christ is mentioned or referred to. It is astonishing. The New Testament authors were spilling over with references to their Lord. He was their point of reference for all things.
Someone wrote: “I believe that we have lost the centrality of Jesus Christ. Religious, spiritual, and theological pursuits have replaced it. Doctrines will evolve, theologies will change, interpretations will be adjusted, and religious fads will come and go. The only reality that will never wear out is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is a Person – not a doctrine, a theology nor a religion. He is a real and Living Person who can be known, experienced, enjoyed, worshipped, loved, served, and adored.”
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 Today
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.”
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.
A little history..
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.
We live in the age of unbelief. Fewer and fewer people are claiming to be Christians through the western world. Christians are losing social status and favour more and more, almost by the day. And, the Church and the Christianity that is seen and heard often does not resemble the Church of the New Testament nor the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Today, as we look at most functioning churches, we see that many churches are no longer preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, Some never did. It seems to me that we have three types of churches in the world today regardless of the culture, language, or location.
Let’s look at these three approaches to church life today in the midst of this age of increasing unbelief.
1> Churches that take what we might call THE CONVERTING CULTURE APPROACH
In this mindset, what matters most in that the culture or society that we live in should reflect biblical principles and values. So, we go about working to convert our society, people group, or nation to the Christian faith. We go to great lengths – doing almost anything – to make it happen. We become networked with others who want to see change – others who have their own agenda and non-Christian values. We make moral compromises.
This set us into a battle mindset. So, we see what is often referred to as “The Culture Wars.” This pits the Church against the world. We, the believers, are right. The world and non-believers are wrong. We work hard to convert them; to convert the culture often regardless of the cost or the alliances we have to make.
Don’t get me wrong, Christian should be engaged in all of culture, seeking to transform culture through the power of Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom all things are sustained. After all, Christi is not just Lord of the Church, but of the world. But, we need to recognize that, until Christ returns, this world will never look as it should. We should not be trying to build the new Jerusalem and you can’t force people into the Kingdom of God.
So, making compromises and unholy alliances in the pursuit off converting the culture leaves many people suspicious of the Church and hardened to the message of the Gospel.
2> Churches that take what we might call the CONDEMNING CULTURE APPROACH
In this age of unbelief some churches are pursuing the idea of removing themselves from the world, retreating into a subculture and staying well away from the wider culture because society is sinful, corrupted, and antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
These types of churches have always been a part of the church’s response to the challenge of living in this world. It was once seen in the rise of the monasteries. You see it today in the blogs and books advising Christians to create their own sub-culture, withdrawing from the increasingly un-Christian and yes, anti-Christian wider culture.
Sounds good. God does call His people to holiness. The Scriptures are clear about the Church being distinct from the rest of the world. We are to be salt – we are to ‘taste’ different.
However, we are to be “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). And, salt maintains its flavour while it is rubbed in the foodstuff it is being used to preserve. Also, salt spreads its flavour. To do so, we must be engaged with the culture we are working to influence. We must actually get our hands dirty and show and share the Good News of Christ, and proximity and relationships are essential to making that work. It requires involvement in the local community and in the public square. Culture is not the source of evil. That’s the human heart (Mark 7:18-23). And so, closing out the culture won’t close out sin.
3> The third popular response to post-Christian culture is the most attractive, the most widespread, and the most scary. It is to follow the trends – TO CONSUME CULTURE.
So, wherever culture and historical Christian teaching disagree, the Christians accommodate the culture. After all, if we want to stay relevant in a post-Christian age, then some of the Christian stuff will have to go. So we redefine sin to allow for lifestyles, attitudes, and behaviour that are anything but biblical.
This looks good because it usually starts in a good place, with good intentions of seeing where the Bible speaks boldly and clearly about social issues that we often ignore, and embracing the connection between faith and culture. However, it often ends up with the church involved in social issues at the expense of the gospel. We neglect the Gospel because we are focused on the implications of the Gospel. And then the social gospel ends up not being a gospel at all.
Those who take the ‘consuming culture’ approach follow culture, first and foremost, before the Bible, neglecting and compromising on significant aspects of faith. These men and women begin to look more and more like the world and less and less like the Church. When the voice of a culture, and not the Word of Christ, is what governs the Church, then it is no longer the Church. It is just a social club of people desperately trying to keep up with the cultural fashion and trends. Ironically, that is the quickest way to close your church. Why would anyone bother coming to a church that is indistinguishable from anything else?
These three styles of a church interacting with the society and culture within which it is located simply do not impact the people they are trying to reach with the true Gospel of the Kingdom. However, the vast majority of churches today fit into one of these three categories. Thus, the church today is in trouble and needs to change.
The early church was one that lived within the culture in which it was located. The early Church did not try to convert the culture – they simply witnessed to the life-changing power of the Gospel and saw thousands come to Christ. They did not condemn the culture thus turning people off the biblical message of salvation. They simply unconditionally loved people who lived in and embraced a specific culture. And, they did not consume the culture thus appearing to act and live the same as those they were trying to influence and impact for the Kingdom.
Instead, the early Church believers had the courage of their convictions and were free to be the people of God living out the mission of God, marked by the joy of God. They lived with a sense of hope and saw what was going on around them as an opportunity to tell others of the Gospel of the Kingdom and an alternative way of life.
So what about the Church after God’s own heart in the future? What changes will be needed to bring about the Church of the future? What will the Church look like? How will it function? Will we see traditional type churches continue on into the future? Will, the institutional church simply fade and eventually disappear?
There are so many things to consider and so many questions to answer. And, no one has all the answers nor does any particular flavour of the Church even have all the questions.
But, we can see over the horizon and begin to get a glimpse of the future. George Barna wrote:
“The United States will see a reduction in the number of churches, as presently configured. Church services will decline as Christians devote their time to a wider array of spiritual events. Donations to churches will drop because millions of believers will invest their money in other ministry ventures … A declining number of professional clergy will receive a livable salary from their churches. Denominations will go through cutbacks, and executives will be relieved of their duties as their boards attempt to understand and halt the haemorrhaging. To some, this will sound like the Great Fall of the church. To Revolutionaries, it with be the Great Reawakening of the church.” (Revolution, pages 107-108)
Statistics show that the number of Christians who attend a traditional church will drop from 70% to 30% in the next 20 years. (Revolution, Page 49)
If that truly happens, we will see the demise of the institutional church as we know it today. Not that it is going to vanish, but the number of Christians who are wedded to it will drastically decrease making the survival of some churches totally impossible.
We will also see the rise of the ministry of the apostle. A rise in numbers; a rise in influence and authority; a rise in visibility. As a result churches will begin to receive the ministry of the apostles and new life will be released and received.
Apostles (and prophets) are foundational for the Church to be built correctly and for the Church to become effective (Ephesians 2:20). Along with the apostles we will see full fivefold ministry teams ministering in churches (Ephesians 4:11) as the Church – the people of God – are equipped and trained for the work of the ministry. As a result we will see the mobilization of the Church as she begins to effectively reach out proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) and seeing the lost saved.
Programs will disappear as more and more churches embrace organic life and leave behind the institutional aspects of the Church. Personalities who are charismatic and strong will no longer be the leaders of these churches as the regular believers will rise up and lead so that it is no longer a “one man show” as it has been over the many centuries. Many para-church ministries will fade in importance and even cease to exist due to declining donations and thus a lack of income. Also, as many new churches are planted – the majority being in homes – the need for para-church organizations will decrease because the church will once again be locally oriented (in each neighbourhood) and will be truly the Church in the society thus eliminating the need for para-church organizations because, once again, the Church will be doing what the Lord has commanded it to do – win the lost, disciple the believers, equip the saints, mobilize the troops, and release them into the work of the ministry.
The Church of the future will resemble what we see in the Book of Acts and the Epistles to the early churches. However, the Church described in the pages of Scripture will simply be the starting point for the Church of the future. Yes, we will look like the early Church and we will see and experience what they saw and experienced. However, we cannot limit ourselves to repeating what has already been. What we know from the Scriptures will be the foundation upon which Jesus can then built His Church. A Church that will truly take the Gospel of the Kingdom to every nation and people group on the face of the earth.
The Church of the Future
Much has been written regarding the Church of the future. One would hope that this Church is the one that Jesus is building (Matthew 16:18). That He would be the foundational Cornerstone as well as the Head of this Church (Ephesians 2:20; Colossians 1:18). And, that it will be designed and built by people who are guided and directed by the Holy Spirit.
The majority of churches being planted currently are what we refer to as “non-traditional” churches. This means that the way they express their corporate life is not the same as the more established and traditional type churches. Examples of the latter would be: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Church of England (Anglican), Methodist, and others.
Within the non-traditional churches we see a wide variety of approaches to establishing churches and expressing the corporate life of the church once established. Within these non-traditional churches we see:
1> Relationship-centered churches
These churches are built on the notion that a church should exist for no other reason than to forge deeper human relationships. Churches of this variety begin strong and are valiant, but after the first few years they typically begin to run out of steam and disintegrate. The become a ‘country club’ for members and others who look, act, and talk like they do. The reason these churches will have a short lifespan is simply – they are built upon a foundation other than Jesus Christ and the mandate He gave to His Church – The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
2> Evangelism-centered house churches
In the New Testament the purpose of evangelism was to win the lost. As the numbers being born again grew they gathered together and formed house churches. The purpose of evangelism was to build the Church.
Evangelism-centered churches have reverse this order. Proponents of these kinds of churches exist in order to evangelize more effectively. Because of this, these churches will multiply as a strategy to gain more converts. But the concern is that often they will multiply far too rapidly. Because their emphasis is on evangelism, they will be slow or even negligent in developing a solid biblical and theological foundation. Because these churches will be built on a very thin theological and biblical foundation, most of them will disintegrate and burn out within several years.
3> Small-is-beautiful churches
Many believers from traditional churches will continue to give up on the format of the traditional church. So, they will move out and form neighbourhood house churches. However, in spite of having physically left the bigger, traditional church they still maintain the traditional style and structure of what they have left. It is familiar and they are comfortable with it. As a result, there is a hierarchical structure firmly in place. Eventually, aside from moving out of the building into the home there will be very little that will distinguish them from the garden-variety traditional church.
4> Biblical blueprint churches
These sorts of churches will be built on the idea that an ironclad blueprint can be found in and extracted from the New Testament and mechanically followed. Instead of allowing the functions, gifts, and ministries of the Church to emerge naturally and organically our of life, members will be put into offices immediately in an attempt to conform to a “biblical blueprint.” Most of these churches will devolve into elder-controlled churches. Their meetings will be stiff and perfunctory.
5> Personality-centered churches
Led by human personality, these churches will be part of their own narrow circle of networked churches headed up by a gifted teacher. They will be narrowly elitist, labouring under the delusion that they are the only real game in town.
They will have their own exclusive vocabulary and sayings that no one outside the group can understand. They will speak disparagingly of other Christians, mocking and demeaning them as lacking the spiritual insight that they possess. Each church in the union or network will be little more than one mirror looking at another mirror.
Despite what the leader preaches, the gifted leader will draw disciples unto themselves rather than to Christ. The leader will encourage hero worship – although this encouragement will never be verbally admitted to.
Church politics play a major role in the life of these churches. The leader’s disciples will seek to win prominence with the leader regardless of what it costs relationally with other leaders and the people who attend. Various tests will be given to prove the disciples’ loyalty , not to Christ, but to the leader. This will naturally spawn tattling among the leader’s understudies, as each disciple fights to sit at the leader’s right hand.
The growth in these groups may be strong in the beginning. But slowly, members will begin to get disillusioned and leave. The ‘faithful’ who remain to hold down the fort will become part of a very tiny movement will declining numbers. They will become a non-issue in the Christian world. They will not appear on anyone’s radar screen, but will exist only in their own tiny universe.
Even though they will be sitting on the periphery of the periphery of Christianity, they will remain convinced that they are the center of everything. They will have stepped into a black hole, and they will be out of touch will what God is doing in other places and with other people. The Lord will quickly move on from them. But tragically, few in the movement will have enough discernment to recognize it.
6> Christ-centered organic expressions of the Church
There will be a number of non-traditional churches that are truly organic and centred on the Lord Jesus Christ. If they are smart, they won’t use the term ‘organic’ since it has been hijacked and rendered meaningless. However, Christ will be the focus of their sharing, ministry, songs, and conversations.
But more importantly, He will be exhibited by their conduct. This does not mean perfection, of course. But the graciousness, kindness, humility, and inclusiveness that marks the character of Jesus will be evident among them.
These groups will explore fresh ways of knowing Christ through varied Christian traditions. They will receive the help of outside Christian workers. At the same time, they will be genuinely open to all of the body of Christ. Not in some surface manner, but in a deep and practical real way. They will not deem themselves to be anything significant or special in church history. They will not obsess over their legacy nor their unique contributions to the Christian family. They will be content to live and die in obscurity.
As a result, God’s favour will rest heavily upon them. Perhaps without even realizing it, they will be His instruments for spreading the revolution to mainstream Christians as well as to the lost.
These groups will not only express Christ to one another, they will also display Him to the world. They will reengineer evangelism, displaying Christ’s love, compassion, and service to the lost. Like their Lord, these churches will become ‘the friend of sinners.’ They will preach the gospel in words and in action being very involved in the life of the various communities in which they live.
In short, they will reclaim the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world.