I meet together with a small group of believers in the town where I live. This is something we talked about shortly after we first began meeting as a church. Call it, “The Necessity of Experiencing Christ.”
Lately, as we’ve been talking about what it means to be the church, a few things have come to mind. Mainly, the necessity of us experiencing Christ. Only the revelation and experience of Christ, and that experience being shared among us, will constitute us as His church. Else we may meet together, but those meetings will be dead; else we may sing songs and read scripture together, but those songs will be lifeless and the scriptures largely meaningless to us.
What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Is it that we experience Christ individually, and then gather together to share what we each know of Him personally, or is it that in our gathering together we find the experience of Him we each desire? Or is it a mix of both? Honestly, I don’t know. I do wonder how lively any meeting together of ours will be, or how much we will really touch Christ together, if we are not pursuing and knowing Him in an individual way. And yet at the same time I know that if I neglect the fellowship of the body-if I “give up meeting together”, as the writer to the Hebrews advises against-and rest solely in my personal experience of Christ, then I will never go very far at all into the depths of His life.
We may say that we’ve given up institutional ways. We may say that we recognize how so much of what prevails in modern Christianity is not really necessary to knowing the Lord and being His church, and at worst may be a hindrance to knowing Him. So what? We know what we are not, but do we know what we are? Church history teaches us that if we stop in this in-between place, if we make our centrality to be what we are “not” and what we have left behind, and so build ourselves upon the negatives, then we’ll never get anywhere. We’ll simply fade out. We’ll destroy the very thing we’re dreaming of and seeking to be a part of. We’ll end up a statistic… a part of that vast throng of people who sit around doing nothing more than talking about how everyone else is wrong and only they have the goods. I believe the only way to avoid this pitfall is to go on experiencing Christ in a real and living way.
Let’s say we decide to meet together every Friday night, but we are not experiencing the Lord’s life every day. We come together, we eat some food, we sing a few songs, we have some small talk, we stare at each other. Is that the church? Obviously not. The church is not in a style of meeting, and the church is not even in you and I becoming good friends. The church is in Christ. She is found in a living, daily experience with her Lord. This is what I mean by “the necessity of experiencing Christ.”
I won’t hesitate to add that I hate to use that word “necessity,” either, as if our pursuit of Christ were nothing more than a mere obligation, something we do because we “have to” if we want to survive. But I think you understand what I mean. You know all this. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t experiencing Christ. I’m only really pointing out the obvious, which is why in this context I’m ok with using the word “necessity.” Because when it comes to the church, it is the experience of Christ that is central. It’s the experience of Christ, and our mutual sharing of that experience, which is the dynamic of church life. Should we adopt all the right forms, do all the right things, shed all the unbiblical traditions for a simpler, freer style of meeting, and yet not have this dynamic operating in our midst-governing everything, giving birth to everything-then we will have nothing. At most we will have more frustrations when this new way of doing church fails to deliver the spiritual life we thought and hoped it would.
We understand that the new wineskin is not meant to produce life, only to contain and express it. Sure, the wineskin is hugely important, and all who go on with the Lord will be driven to this issue, but even still, what good is a wineskin without wine? No good at all!
But we have seen the wineskin. Better yet, we have seen Jesus. And in so many little ways, we have begun to touch Him. My suggestion, and the point of this message, is this: Let us pursue Him, as individuals and as a body. Morning, evening, and night let us seek Him. Let’s wake up in the mornings longing for His presence. Let’s go on knowing more and more of His loveliness until our hearts break with longing and we go to bed at night dreaming of Him, even in the midst of hardships. Forgive all the romantic allusions, but I want nothing more than to be a part of His bride. I’ve been waiting three years to be part of a group of people who want nothing more than to be His bride, who have this passion in their hearts as a mighty force that overrides everything else they are a part of in life. This isn’t just something you can do on your own, you know. And it’s not something you can create, or organize into existence, either. Which makes this all the more special, because evidently we share something together that is right out of the heart of God.
Ok. All of this has just been the introduction. Here’s the real issue. Having seen the necessity of experiencing fellowship with Christ, and having in our hearts a desire to do just that, how do we do this? In what practical ways can we daily touch the Lord, and then meet together to share Him in life-giving fashion? Let’s talk.