When I look at my own life and see the way God has led me-the experiences, the failures, the shortcomings, the victories-and most of all, when I examine the conditions that surrounded my own first experience of true unity among brothers of differing religious backgrounds, one thing stands out above all else as the catalyst for that experience, and I will describe it like this:
The absolute centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as Head over all things.
You see, we can talk till we’re blue in the face about the church-what is the church, how should we do church, what makes a church, ect. (and not that I don’t think these are valid issues to consider, especially as God gives us practical light on these matters)-but in the end none of it will matter unless it is born out of an inward revelation of the greatness and preeminence of Jesus Christ.
For me, it wasn’t until I began to see Christ revealed in my heart in such ways that I’d never seen Him before-greater, more vast and all-inclusive… and not until I began to know His headship in a living way over my own life that I began to find a unity with other brothers and sisters that transcended our racial, social, and religious differences and gave birth to a living experience of the Body of Christ among us.
That, my friend, was a glorious day. And it was more than mere rhetoric, I can assure you.
As Christians we hear so much talk about love. “God tells us to love another.” “We must love one another.” “This is how the world will know we are His, by the love we have for one another.” And all this is true. But it wasn’t long after throwing my own messed-up lot in with a bunch of other imperfect people that I discovered how impossible it was for me to really love them with the love of God, and vice versa.
True love, like anything else, flows out of Christ. It’s not until a group of people begin to touch the Lord together that true love begins to well in their hearts for one another. I say this from experience. I’ve watched it happen, and I’ve known it myself. I can take you back to the very room where I was sitting the night I first recognized this, talking with a handful of brothers, sharing out hearts and the work the Lord Jesus was doing in them and how He was being revealed to us. At the end of about two hours together I suddenly realized that I would die for any one of those brothers at that very moment, my heart was so drawn out to them. I realized that I loved them. Not because I was told to love them, and not because we had so much in common, but because we had touched the Lord Jesus Christ together, and His Life was a Bond in our spirits that could not be broken.
This isn’t something you can just teach into existence. It is born out of the mutual experience of a group of people who are pursuing and finding Christ together. Nothing else.
Once I began to know this kind of unity I knew I could no longer denominate myself from other believers. I became convinced that this experience-this bond of life and fellowship-was the answer to all our questions and all our seeking. So I became hungry for more. And eventually I realized that to know this kind of fellowship on a daily basis-which is what the New Testament envisions-I was gonna have to live close enough to my brothers and sisters that we could see each other as regularly as we wanted. No more driving to “church” thirty minutes away, having a couple hours of fellowship (if I was lucky), then having to return home and try my best to survive the rest of the week all alone as a Christian. No. I would spend all my moments within the community of the redeemed, for this is where the Christian life is meant to be lived.
This is how the Lord first led me to see the local character of the church. I saw that the church was local not by reading a Watchman Nee book, not by being told this is how it should be, and not even by seeing from scripture that this is how the churches were recognized in the first century. I came to see this issue in a very positive light, simply as I sought to find some practical way to experience and express the fellowship I’d discovered with a handful of brothers and sisters who together had found Christ to be their centrality. And now I sing with Charles Wesley, and will sing to the day I die-
“Names and sects and parties fall-Thou, Oh Christ, art All in all!”