When believers seek to gather around Christ in simplicity it is suddenly made clear how well they are really knowing Him. Take away the clergy, take away the guy up front leading the meeting and handling all the ministry, and now there is a dynamic in place which will result in a true expression of spiritual life.
Now, to unpack that a bit, let me explain what I mean. It is easy for a congregation of Christians to look spiritual and strong as they shout amen to the roaring sermon of their pastor. What is not so easy to come by is that same group of Christians functioning together in a coordinated way that reveals Christ in His fullness through every members’ supplying their portion of spiritual life and experience.
It was about five years ago I began to understand that for the church to really be the church than God’s people, when they assemble, must gather together unto Christ and not unto a man or a ministry. In other words, Christ must be the practical Head of their gathering. What this means is that there must be no intermediary class of ministers (the clergy) standing between God and His people (the laity) who minister His word while the rest passively receive it. At the time I was part of a ministry team whose very job was to travel around among different churches doing just that-being the clergy for the laity. But my heart was becoming more and more conflicted as I saw the purpose of God, so in one meeting I decided to try something new. After I finished speaking there was more time left in the program, so they asked me to go on. Instead, I asked everyone present to arrange their chairs in a circle and I opened the floor for dialogue about what the Lord was doing in each of our lives.
The result, as you might guess, was a lot of long stares and loud silence. 🙂
Now, what good is a meeting like that? Nothing, unless you think that a true expression counts for anything.
The purpose of the church meeting has been lost and buried among the rubble of 1700 years of man-made tradition. What is the purpose of the church meeting, you ask? Well, it could be stated in a number of ways. Mutual encouragement and building up, yes. The proclamation of God’s Word, yes. Fellowship, yes. The exercise of spiritual gifts, yes. But there is something very unique about the purpose of God’s people gathering together that is often overlooked, and it is found in Ephesians 3. Here Paul makes a very mystifying statement about God revealing His many-sided wisdom to principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church. But what in the world does that mean?
Every believer in Christ has been given a portion of Christ to show forth. The uniqueness of the gathering is that in the church (or, in the “assembly”) there is an opportunity for all the members of the Lord’s Body in a given town to come together and, as one, give expression to this rich, multi-faceted Christ who indwells them, to the end that there may be a resulting display of Christ as the All in all. This is why Paul calls the church “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
I know this calling goes beyond the meeting alone (of course!) but it also entails the meeting itself in a very unique way which is often overlooked.
We need this dynamic as believers. We need it for our own spiritual health, we need it for the salvation of the world, we need it for spiritual warfare in order to show principalities who is Lord of heaven and of earth!
I’m getting way ahead of myself, now, though. Dismantle the clergy system and you have made an important step in the direction of God’s purpose for the church, but there is much more than that which is necessary. For the church to really be the church it takes a people who are relentlessly pursuing His presence in their daily lives, who know His headship in a real and living way.
As opposed to the way I once knew and practiced “church”, now I am part of a small gathering of believers who seek to gather around Christ in simplicity. And to be fair I have to say that sometimes our gatherings are pretty pathetic. (Sorry for any of you who are reading this, I indict myself along with you :).) When ministry is in the hands of all God’s people then it becomes the responsibility of every last member to function as a priest in the Lord’s House, ministering both to Him and to the other members. No longer do we wait on a man or a pulpit to fill the need that no one man or pulpit could ever fill. So if Christ is not real to us in our day-to-day lives, and if we are not experiencing His life in a fresh and living way, it will show in the meeting when we all sit down and stare at each other with nothing to say.
But, like I said, if you are one of those who count a true expression of spiritual life as something worth having, then there is at least one good thing about a bad meeting. What we have may be weak and sometimes pathetic-looking, but it is ours and by gosh at least it is real! So instead of being discouraged that our efforts to rebuild the house of God in our city are falling so far short, let us seek after the Lord Jesus and settle for nothing less than His reality in our lives.
And in conclusion, may I take Paul completely out of context as I say “comfort one another with these words.” 🙂